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Aperitivo Time in Italy

Aperitivo time is the perfect antidote to cure whatever ails you.  During that blessed and blissful hour (or two, or three) of easygoing snacking and drinking and talking, time slows, and stress slips away.   I love aperitivo time in Rome because it can be anything you want.  It’s that in-between time of day — not work, not dinner — when you can meet as few or as many friends for as long or as short as you like and drink as much or as little as you like. Many other ‘meals’ in Italy have so many rules. But with aperitivo, it’s a social opportunity that you can put your own spin on.

aperitivo time

Yes, you may drink as much or as little as you wish, but during aperitivo time, no one seems to drink too much. Drunkenness is not the objective, and it helps that many of the favored drinks are relatively low in alcohol: a glass of wine, a spritz of some kind. In the latter category, a friend introduced me to the Pirlo, a classic from his native Brescia in northern Italy. The recipe is as simple as it gets: Campari and a dry, sparkling white wine — ideally Pignoletto frizzante.

And the effects of drink are always mitigated by the presence of food: Good, salty cheese, cured meats, bread and olives frequently appear, but I had pizza, and even sashimi, at aperitivo gatherings. The ritual is equally unfussy at home in a small group before dinner or in a crowd at a bar.

aperitivo snacks

Aperitivo time is among the most civilized drinking traditions I’ve ever witnessed. There is no pressure, no pretension: It’s all unhurried, unforced pleasure. “Piano, piano,” they say in Rome. Slowly, gently. Cheers!!!!!

aperitvo time rome

Most beautiful Piazzas in Rome….which one is your favorite?

Roman life revolves around its Piazzas.   Your local Piazza is where you do your shopping, have a coffee, catch up

with neighbors and friends, or have a drink and enjoy the best people-watching!  Piazzas are not only popular with

tourists, but the locals as well.    Piazzas have at least a couple of bars or restaurants, are aesthetically appealing and

usually a fountain of some sort.   Some you find shopping markets and even live entertainment.

Piazza San Pietro doesn’t make the list, because in spite of its beauty, history and cultural importance, it doesn’t have the

true spirit of a Roman Piazza.   Piazza di Spagna, which is undeniably picturesque, but feels more like a tourist thoroughfare

than a proper Piazza.

Here’s our list of our favorite Piazzas, in no particular order:

 

Piazza Navona

Arguably the most beautiful of all the Piazzas in Rome, Piazza Navona is particularly stunning at night.  The stunning

Baroque architecture and the theatrical splendour of the Fountain of the Four Rivers create the impression of a stage

backdrop or a film set; it was used to particularly good effect in La Grande Bellezza.    The restaurants, bars, markets

and street performers prevent it from seeming like an open-air museum, and there’s always something going on.

piazza navona

 

 

Piazza della Madonna dei Monti

There’s always an interesting cross-section of people hanging out on the steps of the fountain, from chain-smoking

hipsters to elderly men taking a nap.  At lunchtime,  locals eat their panini and piadine by the fountain, next to

tourists persusing their maps as they find their way to the Colosseum.    Depending of the time of day, the Piazza

can feel like a tranquil retreat, or the centre of Rome’s nightlife.

piazza della madonna dei monti

 

Campo dei Fiori

You could easily spend a day hanging around this Piazza, eating, drinking, people-watching and reflecting on the

strange contrast between the beauty of the square and the horror of its history.  Look up from the flowers to the

solemn, hooded figure that watches over the square.  Giordano Bruno, a friar and philosopher, was accused of

heresy and burned to death here in 1600.   The Piazza can get quite busy at night and is best experienced in the

morning, when the market is open.

campo dei fiori market

 

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo rivals Piazza Navona for elegance and drama.  Whichever way you look at it, entering from Via Del

Corso, or admiring the piazza from the terrace of the Pincio, it is graceful and symmetricaly square. One side is framed

by twin churches built in the 17th century, while another side leads towards the imposing Porta del Popolo.

piazza del popolo

Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere

It’s easy to get lost in the narrow, winding streets of Trastevere, but sooner or later you know you’ll find yourself in

the heart of it all, at Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.   Everyone ends up here eventually, sitting on the steps of the

fountain, enjoying a gelato, watching the street musicians and people watching.

piazza santa maria in trastevere

Piazza Mattei

Last but not least,  Piazza Mattei is hidden away in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto.  Every piazza in Rome has a fountain,

but the Fontana delle Tartarughe is a fountain with a difference.  Four smiling naked boys throw turtles into the basin

above, or catch them, depending on how you look at it.  The Jewish Ghetto is an area not to be missed!

piazza mattei

Markets In Rome

Rome’s markets are a food-lovers paradise!  Whether you’re on the hunt for the most

beautiful and round artichoke or some pecorino cheese straight from the sheep, in Rome you don’t

have to look far to find fresh products at the market.   For visitors to Rome, a trip to a local market

can be one of the best Roman experiences.    Here’s a list of our favorite markets:

 

Campo dei Fiori

Head to the market in Campo dei Fiori, held every morning but Sunday, for a slice of local

color.    Sure, it is the most tourist-visited market on this list, mostly because it’s located in

the Centro Storico, but plenty of locals shop here daily.   It’s also one of the oldest markets

in Rome, since 1869!

Campo de' Fiori, Rome, Italie

Campo de’ Fiori, Rome, Italie

 

 

Testaccio Market

The market in Testaccio is another Roman standby.   You can find anything from artesan house

furnishings to a butcher slicing fresh meats.   Be sure to stop at the stand serving hot sandwiches

made with tripe, a district speciality!

testaccio market

 

 

Porta Portese Flea Market

Early every Sunday morning, the streets around Via Portuense in Trastevere fill shoppers

and sellers of every kind.  This market is Rome’s largest, and busiest, and most raucous flea

market.   There is lots of new stuff on sale but there is also a significant second-hand section

of the market.    Expect to do some searching as the market gets crowded, especially on a sunny

day.

porta portese market

 

 

Piazza Vittorio Market

One of the oldest markets in Rome, the Piazza Vittorio Market, or Esquilino Market, is full of

vendors from all over the world, not just Italians.    You’ll find hard-to-find vegetables  and

wonderfully smelling spices.   This market is more international so you never know what

you will find!   This market is open Monday to Saturday, 7am until 2pm

piazza-vittorio-market-b

 

Happy shopping and hope to see you there!

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre, or “Five Lands”, is a string of seaside villages on the

Italian Riviera coastline, in the Italian region of Liguria.

 

cinqueterre-italy-map

 

The five villages, in descending order, are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia,

Manarola and Riomaggiore.  This area was named a Unesco World Heritage

site in 1977 and is becoming more popular each year.

 

Each village has its own charm and character.  Monterosso is known for

its luxurious beach and Vernazza has the picturesque harbor.   Local

wines are produced from vineyards that cling to the the terraces that

cascade down to the Sea.

Vernazza

Vernazza

monterosso

Monterosso

 

The villages are connected by railway, ferry and the world-famous

hiking trails.   To hike the trails, you must purchase a park-entrance

ticket, available in each village, which will include a map of the trails.

hiking trail cinque terre

 

For more information on our guided-tours or a custom itinerary, contact us

at info@citylightstours.com

 

 

Subiaco

Want to get out of the hustle and bustle of Rome?  The town of Subiaco is located in the eastern Lazio region of central Italy, at the head of the Aniene valley, close to a hill about 400 meters above sea level, and across the slopes of the Simbruini mountains.

subiaco

The medieval town, built  on a rocky cliff, looks over the entire valley of the Aniene, where we find the Benedictine monasteries of the ‘Sacro Speco’ and ‘St. Scholastica’, the principal attractions of a visit.

At the entrance to Subiaco is the medieval bridge of S. Francesco, built by Abbot Adhemar in 1358 and with a single span reaching almost 40 metres. The tower at the end of the bridge historically controlled access to the city.

St Francis Bridge Subiaco

Across the river Aniene is the Church of S. Francis, dating back to 1327 and built in the Romanesque-Gothic style. The interior of the church has a single nave covered by a trussed roof, with a great triumphal arch and a square choir.

Be sure to enter the church which contains frescoes of considerable importance, such as those by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called “Il Sodoma” (1477-1549), who painted a cycle of frescoes depicting the life of Mary, which concludes with the Passion of Christ.

In the church vault are paintings of the Evangelists and Christ the Redeemer while below there are some scenes in the ancient relief style and two pilasters with grotesques.

 

Outside the town, we find the famous monastery of St. Scholastica. Of particular interest is the Romanesque bell tower, dating back to the eleventh century, with three cloisters (of Renaissance, Gothic and Cosmatesque style).

Of the twelve monasteries in the valley constructed by St. Benedict at Subiaco, it is the only one to have survived the various earthquakes and destructions. It appears as a complex of buildings built in different periods and styles.

The monastery is structured with three cloisters. The first, the “Renaissance cloister,” dates back to the 16th century, while the “Gothic Cloister” with pointed arches, is 14th century. The third cloister dates from the 13th century with the colonnade by the brothers Cosmati and ornamented pavements, walls and columns with enamels of gold.

 

Saint Scholastica Monastery

City Lights Tours can arrange a day trip from Rome by private coach for you and your

guests, contact us today at info@citylightstours.com

 

When in Rome….drink the water!!!!

As you stroll around Rome, you will see many public water fountains called “nasoni”, which Romans say resemble a “big nose”.

nasoni3

In 1874, the town built by the first mayor of the capital circle, Luigi Pianciani and Councilor Rinazzi, a series of fountains for public use and access. The cylindrical cast iron stood 120 cm high, with three simple vents from which water would rush directly into the storm drain, through a grate on the road base.

nasoni1

The only decoration was the dragon heads that housed release torches. Soon the dragon heads disappeared from later models, and was simply a single curved metal tube, which even today are known these fontanelle. One of the oldest is still working in Piazza della Rotonda, at the Pantheon, a couple of meters from the great fountain.

Children, lovers and even pups enjoying the thousands of “Nasoni” around Rome.

Nasoni - Piazza della Rotinda - fotografo: Benvegnù - Guaitoli

Nasoni – Piazza della Rotinda – fotografo: Benvegnù – Guaitoli

Positano, Amalfi Coast… an unforgettable experience!!

Do you have the Winter Blues? Dreaming of Summer? Now is the time to start planning your Italian escape to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, the Amalfi Coast!

Positano1

Your private driver will whisk you away for a day of eating, drinking local wines, limoncello tasting and visiting a local buffalo-mozzarella farm! If one day isn’t enough, we can arrange a week-long itinerary for you as well, to include private boat trips to Capri and Sorrento, cooking classes in a private Villa, day-trip to Ravello and much more.  You can also visit the ruins of  Pompeii easy from the coast!

Positano3

 

You can choose among our several itineraries or we can arrange a customized itinerary only for you!

Message or call us today to set up your day trip!!

Positano2

 

 

 

The charm of the Venice Carnival and its inimitable masks through the centuries

 

You have probably heard about Venice Carnival, but did you know that it is one of the most famous Carnivals in the world and most of all, it is probably one of the oldest Carnivals ever existed. And it has a very interesting history that you probably didn’t know.

carnevale_venezia_2013_00007

There are some records of Carnivals held before 1000, but the first certain evidence is dating from 1162 when people of Venice were celebrating the victory of the Republic of Venice against the Patriarch of Aquileia.

However, throughout different historical periods, Venice has been conquered and dominated by several external powers. Although the importance and significance of the Carnival have evolved during the centuries, there were some dark times when the Carnival was prohibited and even outlawed. During the rule of Hapsburgs, wearing masks in public was forbidden. The dominators were afraid of their political opponents who could have easily hidden their identity and organize a conspiracy against the Austrian dominion.

After these ups and downs, the Carnival of Venice has been officially established only in 1979! The mask makers have again started to craft these fantastic creations made of leather, papier-mâché, gypsum, with ornaments made with hand painted decorations, gold and silver applications, feathers, silk, crystals and precious stones.mm0006

Some of the most famous Venetian masks are: bauta, colombina, medico della peste, moretta, volto, pantalone, arlecchino, zanni… Each of them has a history behind and all of them were used in different occasions throughout the centuries. They were not only related to the Carnival but to the social traditions through different centuries.

venice-carnival-masks

Nowadays more than 3 million tourists visit Venice during the Carnival period that starts with “The Flight of The Angel” in San Marco’s Square. This year the Carnival will start on 11th February and it will go on for two weeks. Let’s see who is going the win the “Best Mask of the Venice Carnival”, the competition that gathers mask makers from all over the world.

carnevale_award2012

All those “lies”….at Carnival

If you happened to be in Italy during the pre-Carneval time, you will be wondering what are those strange, irregular shaped pastries you see everywhere. You will find them at the counter of the coffee bars, bakeries and pastry shops. You can get a paper bag full of these pastries and once you started to eat them you won’t be able to stop. Well, if you didn’t know, these are “lies”. Yes, they are called bugie or chiacchiere, according to the region you are from, or in some parts of Italy they are also called frappe. In English speaking countries they are known as Carnival fritters.

chiacchiere dolci blog1 maschere

These fried sweets are made of flour, eggs, liquor and honey mixed together. By shaping them in small rectangles and by frying them, you will obtain this irregular shaped “clouds” of dough, that, once sparkled with powdered sugar you will have these fragrant and crunchy sweets that you will become addicted to.

ricetta-chiacchiere-carnevale-fritte-forno-3

The origin of the Carnival fritters brings us back to the Roman times when frappe were made and offered to the crowd celebrating on the streets. Usually, a big quantity was prepared and it was lasting for the whole period of the celebrations.

In case you have never tried them before and you still don’t have an idea what are we talking about, just imagine crunchy thin sweet fried dough that first noisily breaks under your teeth and then melts in your mouth releasing the taste of vanilla, honey and liquor.

chiacchiere2

And if this is not enough, here is the recipe!

Michelangelo’s grocery list… a piece of art

When we think about Michelangelo, Raffaello and many other artists who left their indelible sign in the history of art, we always think about their artworks that leave us breathless every time we look at them.

But we never think they were also (almost) ordinary people and they used to do all the things that ordinary people do.

If they were living nowadays they would be probably using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and their thoughts, opinions and ideas would be spread in real time all over the world. What we know about their everyday life has been written in books and probably we will never know most of the things…

However, this important and, somehow, amusing document tells us a bit more of what Michelangelo was dealing with on a daily basis. And guess why he draw all the items? Because he was an over-ambitious artist? Wrong! His servant was an illiterate person therefore he wasn’t able to read! Can you understand what Michelangelo wanted his housekeeper to buy for him?

And don’t forget that if you want your doodles and scribbles to become famous “artwork” first of all you must realize something as famous as the Sistine Chapel…. at least…

michelangelo-lista-spesa2

 

 

 

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