Did you know that Rome is the 3rd most visited city in Europe and the 12th most touristed city in the world? Every year millions of people come to Rome. The problem is, most of them just hit the same handful of major tourist sites – The Colosseum, The Forum, The Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, plus a few others. So everywhere they go they have to deal with huge crowds, long lines to get in, too many selfie stick selling vendors, and pickpockets. They eat at tourist restaurants close by the big sites and overpay for underwhelming food that no self respecting Roman would ever eat. And at the end of it all they are happy to leave the city in the rear-view mirror.
I on the other hand LOVE Rome. I just absolutely love this amazing city. I spend a lot of time in Rome every year and along the way have discovered incredible places to visit and things to do that the tour buses don’t know about.
You will not even believe how many staggeringly brilliant sites there are in Rome, hiding in plain sight, right under your nose, just around the corner from the big tourist spots! Even better, hardly anyone knows about them. You can look up the street and see (literally) thousands of people waiting to get into a well known attraction like the Colosseum, then walk inside one of these mind blowing places and have it all to yourself, or maybe share it with a handful of others in the know.
What’s In This Book?
In Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome I don’t tell you about the big sites – you already know about them! Instead every page is devoted to telling you about places you probably haven’t heard of before. (You may know of a few of them but chances are you won’t know them all). Rather than just tell you the name of a building, set of ruins or place to visit, I tell you the story behind it. The stories are at time hilarious, frequently intriguing and other times just plain crazy!
Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To do In Rome is broken up into 18 categories:
* 13 Places To Discover Ancient Rome * 12 Places To Find Underground Rome * 5 Special Places To Look for At The Forum and Palatine Hill *10 Fascinating Churches and the Intriguing Stories That Go With Them * 11 Really Unusual Things To See In Rome * All About Piazza Navona * The Battle of Bernini and Borromini * The Caravaggios in Rome and Where To Find Them * 12 Magnificent Museums In Rome * The Ghosts of Rome * 8 Fantastic Markets In Rome * What To eat In Rome * Where To Go Wine tasting In Rome * The Best Instagram Spots In Rome * The 7 best Places To watch The Sunset in Rome * Rome After Dark * 10 day Trips From Rome * Tips For Travelers To Rome
There is something here for everyone. If you’re not into ancient history, art and churches you can enjoy learning about the best markets, the ghosts of Rome and the best Instagram spots in the city.
How To Use This Book:
The last thing I want you to do is to try and see everything in the book! Instead read it all and then pick and choose items to add to your itinerary. You may not be interested in Caravaggio, but after reading some of the crazy stories in the chapter may decide to pop around the corner and go see one of them.
You may not have any interest in visiting churches, but find yourself intrigued with the story behind one of them and decide to go inside for a quick look.
You may want to add to your itinerary a market or two, a couple of underground Rome sites, and a museum before snacking on Rome’s best street food, taking in the sunset, going wine tasting and then seeking out the city’s famous ghosts. It’s all easy, close by and walkable!
If you are coming to Rome on a cruise and have only a few hours in town, chances are you will choose to spend that time visiting several of these places instead of spending 3 hours doing the Vatican or the Colosseum. If you are here for a few days you will find lots of places to add to your existing plans, or maybe replace some of them!
Each place in the book has a What’s Nearby section at the end so you can see just how many cool things are all grouped very close together. In fact almost everything in this book is within a mile radius of the Largo Argentina, a fantastic ancient site in the very heart of the historic center of Rome. You won’t need a taxi – just walk from one to the next!
Are you heading to Rome anytime soon and want something new and cool to see? I just found out about a new ancient site that has recently re-opened that I absolutely have to visit, and maybe you will want to too!
Let’s Talk Nero…
I didn’t know too much about Nero until somewhat recently. I knew he was a madman and an emperor, but not much more. During a visit to his golden palace in Rome (you can read about it in the Underground Rome section of my new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, available on Amazon.com) I was asking my guide, an archaeologist from the site, some questions about him. She pulled me to the side and very emphatically told me Everything you know about Nero is wrong! I am down here with him every day. I know him! They have lied about him and I know the truth.
Which is why I say I didn’t know too much about him until then. It would appear the senate changed the stories of more than one emperor once he died, so maybe we will never know the full truth, but her urgency got me interested in Nero and I plan on tracking her down when I get back to Rome to get the next part of the story.
Nero was the last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He was born December 15 in 37 A.D and died June 9th in 68 A.D at the age of 30. He ruled the empire for 13 years and 8 months.
A Guy With Mommy Issues…
Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger was an interesting character. He was adopted by his great uncle Claudius and became the her and successor upon Claudius’ death. Agrippina is thought to have had a hand in the death of Claudius and in Nero’s nomination to be emperor. Apparently she dominated his early life and weighed heavily on all of his decisions a.k.a. controlling mother/stage mom. Five years into his reign he had her murdered.
… And A Guy With Many Wives
The story of Nero’s marriages is intriguing by itself. First he married his step sister Claudia Octavia, daughter of Emperor Claudius.
It was a very unhappy marriage (because he was nuts) and he tried to strangle her on more than one occasion. While married to her he had many affairs including one with Poppaea Sabina, the wife of his friend Ortho.
Poppaea divorced Ortho and became pregnant with Nero’s child,
which in turn prompted Nero to divorce Claudia and banish her to Campania. The
baby died at 4 months old.
Claudia complained about her banishment, so Nero had her maids
tortured. The people of Rome like Claudia and marched in the streets to have
her returned to them, which scared Nero so he not only had her brutally
murdered but also had her head chopped off and sent to Poppaea.
Nero and Poppaea had a tumultuous relationship but it would
seem that she was his favorite wife, even though he ended up killing her too.
In the summer of 65 A.D Nero kicked a pregnant Poppaea in the belly, killing
both her and the child. After her death he went into deep mourning.
While married to Poppaea Sabina Nero had been having an affair
with another married woman, Statilia Messalina. When Poppaea died in 65 A.D
Statilia’s husband was forced to commit suicide so that Nero could marry her.
And then things got even crazier.
In sometime around 66 A.D-67 A.D Nero also married a young boy
called Sporus, who bore a remarkable resemblance to Poppaea. Nero had Sporus
castrated and paraded him around dressed in the clothing of a Roman Empress,
and called him Lady, Empress, Mistress, and Poppaea. It is thought that he used
his marriage to Sporus as a way to assuage his guilt for killing Poppaea.
After Nero’s death Sporus was then taken on by Praetorian
Guard Prefect Nymphilius Sabinus who treated him as a wife and also called him
Poppaea. Nymphilius wound up getting killed by his guardsmen, and the story got
even crazier when in 69 A.D Poppaea’s ex husband Ortho, who now became emperor
albeit for only 3 months, then took up with Sporus!
Sporus ended up committing suicide to avoid being used as a
victim in a gladiator show. He was probably not even 20 years old at the time.
But back to the wives of Nero, there was actually one more. Back in 64 A.D after a series of banquets during the Saturnalia Nero married one of his former slaves, a freedman named Pythagorus. Except this time Nero was the bride and Pythagorus the groom. Nero even wore a bridal veil! After the ceremony the witnesses had to watch the consummation of the marriage too.
Nero’s time as emperor is generally associated with tyranny,
compulsive behavior and extravagance. (As well as lunacy). Many historians
believe he started the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D to clear the way for him to
build his gigantic pleasure palace, the Domus Aurea. Apparently he blamed
Christians for the fire and had them burned alive.
There are modern historians however who believe the ancient sources who wrote about Nero were unreliable. The archaeologist I went through Domus Aurea with is convinced that the history we know of Nero is in fact based on lies and hatred, not the truth.
The Domus Transitoria
Nero’s first palace, the Domus Tansitoria is now open to the
public after a 10 year renovation.
Transitoria was a lavish palace decorated with marble, inlaid
marble, porphyry, mother of pearl, frescoes and mosaics, dating back to 54 A.D.
It connected the Palatine Hill with the Esquiline Hill, which is how it got its
name. It was built partially underground to help Nero beat the Roman heat.
Most of the Domus Transitoria was burned to the ground during the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D. The ruins were discovered, robbed and looted during the 18th century.
What remained has been restored, so you can see the floors, frescoes and structure. One of the best preserved areas of the complex contains the 50 communal toilets thought to have been used by the slaves and workers, almost 2000 years ago.
You can take a guided tour of Domus Transitoria, but the tours
are for small groups only, around 12 total. There is new lighting down there,
so you are not wandering in twilight. There is also a virtual reality component
to the tour. This is something that Rome is doing so brilliantly, the
multimedia and V.R. components to the newer tours are just sensational.
Domus Transitoria is open Friday – Monday and is part of the new SUPER Foro-Palatino ticket. Check the website for more details and ticket options.
Would you like to enjoy a cold prosecco with a mesmerizing view while in Rome? I have created a downloadable PDF of the Best Rooftop Bars In Rome. Each of these fabulous spots is right in the heart of the city and easy to get to, especially after a long day of sightseeing! Download your PDF here
Are you planning a trip to Tuscany, or maybe just dreaming about one? Any trip to Italy is defined by the food you eat while there. Food (along with wine) is at the heart of Italian culture. Italian life and history all begins at the dinner table, so to understand this magnificent country you need to understand the cuisine.
First it is important to understand that food here is entirely
regional. It is not like “Italian Food” in America, which is typically made up
of heavy pasta dishes drowned in cheese and sugary tomato sauce, and doesn’t
vary much no matter where you are.
One thing I have learned from years of private tour guiding is
that many travelers expect to find lasagna, fettucine alfredo, baked ziti and
foods like that everywhere we go. Fettucine alfredo is American, not Italian.
Lasagna, although readily available at tourist restaurants is not a national
food, and I have never seen baked ziti anywhere in Italy!
My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) has an entire section on foods and wines by region, and tells you what to order, where. The food is vastly different in Florence and Rome for example, and you don’t want to miss out on an incredible local dish because no one told you! My new book GlamItalia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome tells you all about what to order in the Eternal City, and goes into much more depth.
If you are heading to Tuscany (ever) you need to know about the cuisine and what you absolutely must try while you are there. Tuscan cuisine is one of my personal favorites. Known as cucina povera, (poor people’s food), Tuscan food is locally sourced (nostrale or ours) tends to be quite simple with few ingredients. It started as a cuisine forced by economy or poverty but has remained that way by choice.
The Top 14 Tuscan Foods You Need To Know
I spend a great deal of time in Tuscany and just love the food there! You see provincial differences as you travel across the region but the following foods tend to be available in most areas and are definitely worth seeking out. Lets start with cheeses:
Every local market will have vendors selling slices of pecorino from giant wheels. It is fantastic on its own or drizzled with a little local honey. I also love the piquant pecorino with peppers or chilis, and the pecorino tartufo flavored with local truffles.
One of my friends serves this every time I come for dinner.
Don’t confuse Tuscan ricotta with the stuff you buy here at the supermarket –
that’s like comparing a beat up ’81 Fiat Panda with a tricked out brand new Ferrari.
The 2 ricottas share a name only.
You can find fresh Tuscan ricotta at local markets as well as on the menu in many restaurants. Ideally you want fresh ricotta from the farm. It almost looks like a cake or a jello mold, and you slice it and drizzle fresh local honey over it. Sometimes it is sprinkled with nuts. You will be hooked at first bite – it is unbelievably good!
One of the reasons I just love being in Tuscany in the winter or early spring/late fall is because of their hearty soups. Even in the summer if we get an overcast or rainy day I always find my way to a bowl of Tuscan soup. Both the soups below are very traditional and in my opinion can also be filed under Tuscan comfort foods.
3. Pappa al Pomodoro
You can’t get more cucina povera than this soup! Yesterday’s leftover oven baked bread, olive oil, garlic, basil and tomatoes. Sometimes it has more of a mush than soup consistency, but however it comes it is incredible.
This is another peasant soup that will fill you up and warm your soul. This time yesterday’s leftover oven baked Tuscan bread is mixed with cannellini beans and vegetables.
5. Fagioli con Salsiccia
This is a soup made of beans and sausage, normally a local spicy sausage.
Every area within Tuscany has its own breads, and really, you
should try as many as you can! Before you panic about gluten and swelling up
from eating carbs – don’t worry it’s all good! Unlike here in the U.S. wheat in
Italy is uncompromised. They don’t have Monsanto filling the wheat with
pesticides and they don’t have GMO’s, so even the most sensitive digestive
systems seem to do just fine. Personally, I can’t eat bread in the USA, I swell
up, get an upset tummy and feel like hell. In Italy I can eat it every day with
I love buying breads at local markets to take home to my apartment, but if you’re not doing the vacation rental thing at least make sure you always at least try the bread in restaurants.
Before we leave breads behind you need to know about this bread salad. Once again it uses yesterday’s bread, this time soaked in olive oil, mixed with fresh tomatoes and basil and dressed in olive oil with maybe a little vinegar. I’ve had it with olives in there too – I think it varies depending on where you go. Sometimes when lunching at friends’ homes they have served up variations on the traditional panzanella with sliced red onion, cucumber and lettuce. However it is served, it’s fantastic!
Each area of Italy has its own types of pasta. The size and
shape of any given pasta is based on the type of sauce it is served with. One
traditionally Tuscan pasta that you will find on almost every restaurant menu
is pappardelle. This is a wide,
ribbon type pasta, served with heavier meat sauces.
Tagliatelle is another local pasta seen on menus everywhere. Also found all over neighboring Emilia-Romagna, tagliatelle is a narrower ribbon than pappardelle.
8. Pappardelle con Cinghiale
This is the king of pastas in Tuscany! Cinghiale is wild boar, the taxidermied versions of which you see everywhere. Don’t panic – it doesn’t taste gamey, it’s just incredibly hearty. Every restaurant has its own recipe and way of preparing its cinghiale, so you can have it every day (as my son has done) and never have it quite the same way twice. This is really, really good, and if I were to recommend only one traditional Tuscan food for you to try, Cinghiale would be it.
9. Tagliatelle con Tartufo
Tuscany is truffle country, so when truffles are in season you
will find this dish everywhere. Again, each restaurant seems to have their own
recipe, so you can eat it everywhere you go and it will always be different,
but also will always be super good.
About pastas: I’ve seen cinghiale served with either pappardelle or tagliatelle, so it may also be a restaurant’s personal preference.
Italians typically eat multiple courses, way more than I can handle. If I am ordering pasta I normally don’t order anything else. That bowl alone will fill you. Also, if planning on ordering pasta I exercise extreme caution with the antipasti when it comes out – it is so easy to fill up snacking on meats and cheeses and olives!
You will see giant steaks in restaurant windows all over Florence and nearby town. These are the famous steaks from the Chiana Valley. Each one is 3 to 4 lbs on its own – they really are enormous! So big in fact that they not only cook them front and back but also on the sides. If you are a meat eater this is a must try food.
This is a Tuscan fish stew, and you are more likely to find it closer to the coast, especially around Livorno. Traditionally it has 5 different types of seafood, from fish to shellfish, one for each C in the name. Fishermen would clean out their boat at the end of market day, and whatever was left in the bottom would be thrown into Cacciucco. The stew would have broth, garlic, pepper flakes and red wine vinegar and would be served over toasted bread.
To this day it is served the same way, the bread soaking up the broth. If you love seafood, this one is amazing.
12. Tuscan Pizza
Pizza is different everywhere you go in Italy, from the chewy
base in Napoli to Rome’s super thin crust to Tuscany’s not-quite-as-thin crust.
Always cooked in a wood burning oven, you have to try pizza in Tuscany at least
once. This could not be more different to typical American pizza. Not drowned
in sugary tomato sauces, and not weighed down by heavy melted cheese, Tuscan
pizzas tend to be fresh and light.
Don’t expect American pepperoni – pepperoni in Italian means
giant bell peppers. Don’t be surprised to see raw rocket (arugula) scattered
across the top of a pizza. It tastes so amazing!
Most of the time you won’t find pizza served at lunchtime.
Pizza is prepared in wood burning domed ovens that take hours to heat up to the
correct temperature of 485 Celcius/905 Fahrenheit. When thinking about having
pizza plan it for no earlier than 8:30 at night, and ideally at a restaurant
with an outdoor patio.
My favorite evenings in San Gimignano are spent on the terrace at Il Trovatore around a large table with my Glam Italia Tour ladies or local friends, eating their insanely good pizza, drinking jugs of wine, and talking all night long.
I have 2 favorite sweet foods in Tuscany, one is a day time food and one happens at the end of a long, satisfying Tuscan dinner.
This is not a strong bread (pan-forte), it is a spicy cake. Its origins date back to 1205 when
servants had to take it as gifts to the nuns of Montecelso Abbey in Siena.
Overtime it became a Christmas gift to the nuns and a treat aristocrats would
enjoy on special occasions. Made from sugar and honey and nuts and dried fruits
with pepper and spices (cloves, ginger, cinnamon) panforte is typically cooked
in a shallow pan, dusted with powdered sugar, and served in narrow slices with
This is a Sienese specialty, and in my humble opinion it is a
crime to go to Siena (or Florence) and not at least try it. Panforte is my
favorite thing – I love it with coffee in the morning. Despite the sugar and
honey it is a guilt free food because you walk so much over there you burn it
off before lunch!
Note: you can actually eat it all day and night. The morning thing is just my favorite. If I allow myself one sweet thing, in a toss-up between having a gelato at some point in the day or a slice of panforte, the panforte will always win.
At the end of a long Tuscan dinner you may be served with a
couple of cantucci and a short glass of dense dessert wine called vin santo.
Cantucci are small crunchy almond cookies that look like mini
biscotti. (The word for cookie in Italian is biscotti, so if you want to get technical, they are biscotti). You dip the cantucci (or
cantuccio?) into the vin santo ad then take in your final calorie hit of the
day, as if your tummy wasn’t already about to explode.
I have learned over the years that I cannot eat like an Italian. As in I can’t do all the courses they do. I’m good with just antipasti! Truth be told, on most nights out in Tuscany I don’t have room for cantucci unless I have planned it in advance. If you, like me, feel like you cannot possibly ingest even one more mouthful, then I am sorry my friend because at least once while you are there you’re going to have to take one for the team and at least try cantucci and vin santo
Traveling to Florence? Download my free Secret Florence PDF and find out which are my favorite restaurants, the best secret bars, secret jewelers and other fantastic things to see and do in Florence. Any of the items on this list will take your trip from great to completely fantastic! Download your copy here