S is for Scraping the Barrel – Photos from the Italian Lakes

I’ve put this post under S but, quite frankly, it could just as easily gone under R for Random or Running out of Ideas.  Anyway, photos from a fabulous trip to the Italian Lakes a couple of years ago.  Mainly Lake Garda and Lake Como – they’ve sort of merged into one in my mind now.  But it was all very beautiful and totally worth visiting.  #atozchallenge

View from Menaggio Promenade
Menaggio Promenade
Menaggio Promenade
Riva Del Garda
Riva Del Garda
Castle at Sirmione


Sirmione Harbour
Sirmione Harbour
Garda Promenade

F is for Foodies

Today’s post subject is taken from my A-Z Challenge Suggestion Box:

Why don’t you write more about Italy and its heavenly cuisine through the rest of the month? At least, that is what I want to know more about. A closeup of a gelato stall, tossing pasta, cooking seafood…. drooool! You get the picture right?’

Good idea but I’m not much of a foodie and don’t tend to rave on about food.  I may have mentioned it before, but I don’t really love Italian food.  Yes, I can see the positives in fresh pasta, creamy tiramisu or an aromatic cappuccino.  I enjoy a good ragu or minestrone soup as much as the next woman. And I’ve had some extremely tasty meals in both restaurants and friends’ homes.

But I’ve also had a lot of plates of bland spaghetti, bowls of cold spinach and many, many dishes featuring sliced hotdogs.  Trips to restaurants where the menu is identical to the last restaurant I visited and the one before that. Fine when you’re in Italy on holiday for a week, but when you’re there for three years?? Sometimes you do just yearn for something different.

Anyway, putting all that aside, last week in Rome I really did have a couple of wonderful meals and this month I will develop my foodieness and share some of the highlights with you.

AristoCampo is a restaurant in Trastevere that I’ve walked past hundreds of times and it always caught my eye.  Mainly because of the sign, ‘We are against War and Tourist Menu’.     So when we were debating where to eat on our big (smokey) night out, this was my first suggestion.

I don’t eat tons of meat so after a starter of Bruschetta with tomato, I opted for one of the specials: Pasta with Aubergine, Tomato and Ricotta.  It was the tastiest dish I had in my whole time in Italy.  Rich, flavoursome and with plenty of sauce.

I’m sure the enjoyment of the meal was enhanced by the thrill of being back in Rome and really making the most of our short time there, and, after a couple of beers and half a bottle of wine, anything would have been tasty, but it was seriously good!

We finished the evening off with a shared tiramisu (it disappeared too fast for photos) and a moonlit stroll to Piazza Del Popolo.  A perfect Italian Foodie Evening.

D is for Dude on a Bike

Dude on a bike

Today’s A-Z Challenge is this rather snazzily attired gentleman in Piazza Del Popolo in the centre of Rome.  I couldn’t decide if he was on his way to a lunchtime rendezvous or heading back home to his wife to atone for a lunchtime misdemeanour!  I particularly liked the way he stopped in the middle of the square to take several selfies.

C is for (Cigarette) Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Friends in the UK used to ask me if smoking was a problem in Rome.   I always said, nope, not at all – no one smokes in restaurants and it’s not too bad on the street. Well, it turns out that I was living in some sort of fantasy Rome, where I only ever went to ‘naice’ middle-class areas to visit family run trattorias, kiddie friendly pizzerias and modern shopping malls.

We’ve been in Rome for a few days (lots more on that to follow – I need material for the A-Z Challenge from somewhere), catching up with friends and revisiting favourite places (but back tonight, Mr Burglar, if you’re thinking our house in England is going to be empty!) and we had dinner last night in Trastevere.

Trastevere is one of the loveliest areas in Rome, full of tiny lanes just perfect to wander aimlessly.  Last night was the first time I’d been there in the evening…I’m less of a social butterfly and more of a miserable moth who wants to be in her pyjamas by 9pm. Actually, that’s a lie – it’s more like 8pm. Or as soon as I get in from work if I’m really being honest.  Any nocturnal social life in Rome involved either a quick pizza with the kids before being home and tucked up in bed by 10pm or going to friends’ apartments for dinner, drinks and drunken dancing (as long as I knew them well enough to wear pjs).

Old lady, google images
Yes, hipsters like this one…

Anyway, Trastevere during the day has enough restaurants and shops to satisfy the fussiest of tourist, but at night hundreds of trendy bars and restaurants suddenly appeared from behind unmarked shuttered doors that give no indication that anything more than a lock-up lies behind them.   And with the trendy bars, came thousands of trendy hipsters, students and young people – WHO ALL SMOKED LIKE BLOODY CHIMNEYS!

I grew up in the 70s and 80s so I well remember pubs, clubs and people’s homes being full of cigarette smoke.   Coming home from a club at 2am (yep, that’s how early they shut in those days!), stinking of smoke and having to have a shower and hair wash before I could go to bed.   Eating a meal with the guys next to you blowing smoke all over your meal. Working in an office where everyone smoked and had an ashtray on their desks!   But things have moved on from that so I’m just not used to cigarette smoke anymore.

After a couple of drinks outside a bar where we were surrounded by smokers, and a meal just inside a funky restaurant where everyone outside the entrance was smoking, my eyes were streaming and my throat was sore.  I came home and actually put used teabags on my eyes to attempt to recover. It kind of worked plus I developed a nice, but very localised tan.

So, no, Rome doesn’t have a problem with smoking – but only if you don’t leave the house after 9pm.

When In Rome


Well, it’s been a few months since we returned to the UK and Rome now just seems like a two-week holiday that I enjoyed over the summer.  And, just like a holiday, apart from the occasional, ‘How was Rome?’ from acquaintances I bump into in Waitrose [Ed: what the hell are you doing in Waitrose?  You haven’t got a job, you daft bint.  Off to Lidl with you], nobody’s interested and I don’t really think about it, unless a TV show has the hero driving around the Colosseum on a scooter and I suddenly blurt out, ‘Bloody hell, I used to live there!’

But then the lovely Elaine from I Used To Be Indecisive asked me for my insider tips for a weekend in Rome and I remembered how much I loved it and decided that I really should reminisce more.  So here are my suggestions for a great visit:

DO NOT go in the summer.   It’s ridiculously hot and sweaty, there are thousands of tourists everywhere you turn and it’s ridiculously hot and sweaty.  September or October are the best times to visit, followed by April or May.   Roman autumns are just beautiful with warm, sunny days and cool evenings.

Unless you’re HWW or Lewis Hamilton, DO NOT attempt to drive.  Or cross the road.

If you decide to speak Italian while you’re there, Romans (yes, they are called that!) WILL laugh at you.  Possibly not to your face, but the waiter will be sniggering when he walks away from the table.  My coffee shop Italian spoken with a strong West Country accent was a particular source of amusement for pretty much every Italian I ever met.  I don’t have this accent when I speak English, only Italian…

WATCH OUT for the dog poo.  Italians are far too cool and lacking in a well developed sense of community spirit to worry about picking up cacca from the pavement.

Drink cappuccino after 11am just to annoy the locals. If you avoid the real touristy places, you shouldn’t have to pay more than €2 for a cappuccino. I can honestly say I never had a bad cappuccino but they are always served luke warm so if you like it hot (as I do), you have to ask for ‘bollente’ or ‘molto caldo’.

Ok, where to go.  Obviously all the usual places first:

The Colosseum, Forum and Palentine Hill.  Yep, definitely worth seeing, even after my sixth visit (tour guide duty for various sets of visitors).  The Colosseum often has long queues but you can get tickets online, or at the Palentine Hill ticket office (the ticket is for all three sites) which has smaller queues.

Trevi Fountain (once all the scaffolding is off).  Throw those coins in.

Vatican City.  St Peter’s Square and the Basilica are free to get into but the Basilica usually has huge queues. Tickets for the Sistine Chapel can be bought online if you fancy this, but it might take a long chunk out of a weekend visit.  Once you’re in the vicinity of St Peter’s Square, you immediately get hassled by tour guides who promise that you will skip the queues if you buy a tour with them.   I never did it but could be worth it if you’re time poor but cash rich.  I have to confess that I was underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel.  Yes, I’m an uncultured oaf.  I did however, adore the spiral staircase that you sweep down to exit the Vatican museums!

HWW’s favourite place to visit is the Pantheon, with its amazing concrete dome and oculus open to the elements.  Stunning to look at and totally free to get into, it has been in continuous use since it was built almost 2,000 years ago. It’s still a working church so expect to be ‘shhhhhh’ed every five minutes.

Now some of the less well known spots.  One of my favourite places to visit is the Aventine Hill, not far from Circus Maximus. It’s a lovely place to walk around, with great views over the city (from the gardens) and the most wonderful view through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta doorway.  Not far away is the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), made famous in the film Roman Holiday and now a popular photo-opportunity for Japanese tourists.

Trastevere is a lovely area to visit with lots of shops, bars and restaurants, especially in the evening when they all appear from behind shuttered doors.

The Vittorio Emmanuel Monument (or The Wedding Cake as the locals call it) has stunning views over the city, along with information boards so you know what you’re looking at.  Most importantly, it has a lovely roof top cafe with reasonable prices.

I will let you in on my secret bar where you can get a cappuccino for 90c. Go up the right hand set of stairs to the right of the Vittorio Emmanuel monument, through the statues of Castor & Pollox then across the Capitoline Museum Square.  Keep to the right and head through a small lane where there is a locals’ bar with the 90c cappuccino.  Not bad for the centre of Rome.  If you walk to the end of the lane, there is a fabulous view over the forum (almost better than going into the forum!)

Piazza del Popolo is up past the Spanish Steps and worth a visit.  There are two cafes at either side which are Roman institutions. Pricey but we had the best spag bol we had in Rome at the one on the right hand side looking back towards the Spanish Steps. From the piazza, you can walk up to Villa Borghese (more great views), where the Romans go for a stroll on Sunday afternoons whilst the tourists ride around on Segways.

Piazza Navona is a stunning square and has lots of touristy places to eat or grab a coffee.   There’s an excellent gelato shop, Grom, which offers natural, traditionally made (and delicious) ice-creams.

The Island in the Tiber is beautiful, it’s joined by two bridges so you can walk across the river and stop for a coffee halfway (well, it is a strenuous two minute walk…) In the summer, the usually neglected banks of the river are full of pop-up bars, restaurants and shops and the island is also alive with music and people.

I can’t help with many places to eat as we had two fussy-ish kids with us, so usually just got a plate of pasta which is much the same everywhere, or we went to La Boccaccio in Trastevere.  It’s just a tiny shop, with a few bar stools inside and three tables outside, but it does amazing pizza by the slice with a wonderful ever-changing selection of toppings, anything from pizza bianca (totally plain) or margarita, through to bacon and potato (the best!), peppers, courgette and aubergine or rocket and mushroom.   Sadly, no pineapple.  When will Italians learn that adding pineapple to a pizza takes it to a whole new level of yumminess??   You pay by the weight so a couple of slices of pizza and a beer would cost around €5/6.  Not bad for a lunch in the centre of Rome.

I’m sure I’ve missed off loads of my favourite places and I’ll update if I remember any more so that this becomes my tribute to my time in Rome.

I'm pretty sure David Tennant would stop for a Spritz so that fully justifies a random picture...
I’m pretty sure David Tennant would stop for a Spritz so that fully justifies a random picture…

But my biggest tip is just to take it easy.  Don’t try to pack too much in.  Enjoy a cappuccino at Caffe Greco and admire all the fashionistas tripping along, with their Dolci & Gabanni handbags in one hand and mini sausage dogs in the other.  Go into a church (they’re all lovely and individual) and contemplate the meaning of life…or just rest your feet.  Get lost in all the little lanes around Campo de’Fiori and stop for a Spritz and antipasti at 6pm.  Think of me back in England drinking tea and wondering why it’s so bloody cold.

PS And for god’s sake, whatever you do, please pack a guide book so you’re not relying on me and my half-arsed recollections.


Don’t Leave Me This Way

One of the conditions of my WordPress Least Prolific Blogger (Overseas) award is that I’m only allowed to blog twice a year.  So here is my bi-annual update.

Unbelievably, we leave Italy in just over a week.  Three years have flown by and, despite all my bitching about Italian drivers, Italian shoppers, Italian rudeness, Italian lack of awareness, mossies, unbearably hot weather, bland food, graffiti, rubbish strewn across the streets…etc etc, I’m going to miss Rome more than I ever thought possible.

View from my apartment towards Tivoli.
View from my apartment towards Tivoli.

I’m going to miss:

The hot weather (I finally got used to it just as we’re leaving!)

Cheap prosecco.  Cheap wine.  Cheap beer.

Perfect cappuccinos served in a proper sized cup, rather than a bucket.

My apartment, which is bigger and nicer than any house I’ve ever lived in. We’ve actually played tennis in the living room.  It’s ten minutes away from the centre of Rome but it looks towards the mountains on one side and over a nature reserve on the other.

Walking through Rome whenever I like and being surrounded by history and beautiful sights.

But most of all, I’m going to miss the wonderful friends we made here.  Both Italian and other nationalities have been so welcoming, generous and sociable.  I’m not overly emotional but there will be tears when I say goodbye to everyone.   I’m half-inclined to tell everyone I leave a week later so I can just sneak off and not have any blubbering farewells (red and blotchy is not a good look on me).

I won’t miss:

Conversations like the one HWW had in his canteen at work a few weeks ago –

HWW: Tre caffè (three coffees)

Lady behind counter: Eh?


Lady behind counter: EH?

HWW (very slowly and loudly): TRE CAFFÈ

Lady behind counter (getting very flustered): SCUSI SIGNORE, NON PARLO INGLESE… (EXCUSE ME SIR, I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH…)

Yeah, maybe it is time to go home 🙂

Venice Queen

Venice was amazing.  It was just like being on a film set – I kept expecting Casanova (David Tennant version, obviously) to appear or James Bond to drive past in a hovercraft gondola.

Every time we turned a corner, I had to snap away with my camera as the bridges and canals got more and more ridiculously picturesque.  It was almost impossible to take a bad photo (unless I was in it; which is why I won’t be sharing those with you).

How did Venice compare to Rome?   Let’s see…Venice had all the historic atmosphere and beauty of Rome but without dog poo, overflowing street bins or graffiti.

Best bits?  The tranquility that comes with the lack of cars, friendly locals, dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (yep, I’m that person but I don’t care…the pulled pork bap was awesome) and discovering Spritz, my new favourite cocktail.  Apparently, Spritz is so 2012 but I’m no trailblazer so I’m making it my drink of summer 2014.

Worst bits?  Nothing.  I loved everything about it. Ok, maybe paying €72 for a day’s water-bus pass was a tad pricey and the serenity of a beautiful piazza was slightly spoilt by the resident drunks singing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling at top volume but apart from that, everything was wonderful.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

And, of course, I couldn’t stop singing this everywhere we went:

Hooray Hooray, It’s a Holi-Holiday

I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday Oop North, staying in places where Wi-fi is obviously just some crazy-assed technology from the future.  No Facebook, no emails, no news and no Big Bang Theory.  Did I miss much??  Quick Google search…nope, not a lot.

Organising holidays is so stressful.  Once I’m there, I’m fine but the planning and booking part turns me into Mrs Grouchy.  For this holiday, we stayed in four different locations in four different hotels.  Which meant four times longer than usual planning the holiday and doing one of my least favourite occupations: searching the internet for accommodation.

It’s even worse since the inception of websites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com.  I find a hotel or apartment that looks good, isn’t ridiculously expensive and has vacancies.  Excellent.  Then I look at the reviews.  It doesn’t matter that there are fifty great reviews, there will always be some guests that weren’t happy: The room was noisy; The bathroom was grubby; Breakfast was dreadful; The male escort I ordered didn’t look like his online profile…. And once I’ve read a bad review, I’ve gone off the hotel.  But finally, after several hours and plenty of ‘gentle’ discussion, we had booked four places: three of them turned out to be fabulous and the other was so-so.

Fawlty Towers
This is where I usually end up staying…

But once the accommodation’s sorted, that doesn’t mean that the pressure’s off.   Just like New Year’s Eve has to be the most awesome party night of the year (or in my twenties it did; now it’s all Baileys and board games), a holiday is expected to be the most relaxing, adventurous, spiritual week ever.  The location has to be stunning, the food fantastic and the local people welcoming.  Hmmm.  My holiday experiences have included:

  1. A severe case of the squits whilst stuck on a twelve-hour bus journey in Thailand…where the only ‘toilet’ was a bucket in the back of the bus.
  2. Erecting a tent in the dark after arriving late at a campsite in Florida, and waking up the next morning to discover an alligator sunning itself six feet away from the tent.
  3. Opening the bedroom window at a B&B in Weston-Super-Mud and having to cling on for dear life as the entire window frame fell out of the wall.
  4. A driving trip of the Australian Outback where our car windscreen was smashed by a rock thrown up by a passing road-train, the front wheel fell off as we navigated a roundabout, and, after a night sleeping under the stars in, literally, the back of beyond with no towns or houses for hundreds of miles, we awoke to find that someone had thrown up on the car bonnet.  Plus, on the same trip, we had our credit cards stolen.  The thieves used them to buy flights to Tasmania, which was particularly galling because we’d missed out Tasmania as we couldn’t afford the airfare.

However, apart from falling up a flight of concrete steps whilst giving my daughter a piggy-back, a few complaints about boring Italian food, breaking my sunglasses and getting stuck in the middle of hundreds of cyclists taking part in the Giro del Trentino on Lake Garda, this holiday really was wonderful.  Honesty.



Inside Italy: The Streets aren’t Paved with Gold

One of the things that drives me mad living in Rome is the dirty streets.  As most people live in apartments, they have to bring their rubbish down to the street bins.  I’m pretty sure they get emptied regularly but these pictures show what the bins and surrounding area look like on an average day.  I don’t know if it’s people not bothering to put their rubbish in the bins (the bin in the main photo was actually empty) or if the gypsies who root through the bins on a regular basis looking for things to sell empty the rubbish out but it’s really horrible.  I live in a ‘nice’ area of Rome, full of middle-class families, expensive shops and private schools.  So why is it totally acceptable to have streets full of crap like this?

While I’m on the subject of crap, here’s a couple of recent examples of dog poo that caught my eye.  In the first photo, someone has actually gone to the trouble of laying a plate down for their dog to poop into – and has then just left it on the pavement, rather than picking it up and putting it in the dog waste bin.  Maybe it’s supposed to be Street Art??  The next one has so impressed a passer-by that they felt compelled to leave a note of appreciation.  It roughly says ‘Compliments to the producer and master’…

King of the Road…A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, not long ago, the people of Rome woke up to find that some kind Being had left an item called a car on their doorsteps.  Despite never having seen one before, had a driving lesson or been informed of the purpose of roundabouts, traffic lights or STOP signs, the people happily leapt into their cars, turned the ignition on, lit up a cigarette and off they went.

garfield car

The people could see many switches and dials in the car but it seemed easier to ignore them.  Occasionally they vaguely wondered if some sort of indicator would have been useful to inform the car behind which lane they planned to drive in (left, right or both lanes at once).  But, fortunately, each driver had located the horn and this served well as a device for warnings, greetings and ‘ciao bella’ signals.

The car was steered by moving the wheel mounted in front of the seats.  The people thought this was a bad design because it was often difficult to steer with one arm hanging out of the window, one hand holding a mobile phone to their ear and one hand holding a cigarette.  [Ed: hang on, that’s three hands.  How do they do that??]  But the people persevered until they had mastered this important skill.  And if they didn’t, well there was always the horn.

The car seemed to go best when it was driven with the accelerator pushed down all the way.  Occasionally a driver would lift his foot from the accelerator and other drivers would press their horn, shout and make gestures at him, before overtaking, preferably on a blind corner or a roundabout.

Although each car had five seats, it was just as easy to drive with six or seven people squashed in.  Extra children could happily sit on laps or stand on the front seat.  Each seat had a belt attached to it but this appeared to have no known purpose.

new driver

If the people had to get out of the car, they always ensured their car was as near as possible to, or actually on, the pavement immediately in front of their destination.  If other cars were already taking up these spaces, that was no problem; they simply left the car in the middle of the road whilst they picked up their newspaper or enjoyed their morning cappuccino.

Instead of cars, some younger people had been given motorini.  These two-wheeled vehicles allowed them even more freedom.  They could ride in between all the cars, overtaking on both sides and riding on the pavement when desired.  A piece of headwear called a helmet was apparently necessary but the people didn’t want to spoil their perfectly coiffured hairstyles so they gently placed it on their heads without pulling it down properly or doing up the strap.   The main disadvantage of the motorini over the car became apparent in the rain, however, the people overcame this difficulty by riding with an umbrella in one hand.

Sometimes visitors came to the city who didn’t have a car.  The people laughed at the visitors because they still had to walk to their destinations.  They were forced to attempt to cross the road at a pedestrian crossing but the people didn’t want to stop their cars for the visitors.  If they stepped onto the pedestrian crossing, the people would drive their cars at around them whilst making strange hand gestures.

The people liked their cars very much and stayed in them as much as possible. They liked being able to wear leather jackets, without ever breaking a sweat, even when the weather was warm.  They liked feeling superior to the pedestrians and using their cars as mobile homes, offices and heat seeking missiles.   Soon they had almost forgotten how to walk.   Now the people live in fear that one day the Being will return for their cars