Paris Through the Eyes of a Roman [Video]

I love Paris. But, Rome will forever be the Caput Mundi. La Città Eterna. La Città Più Bella del Mondo.

This video, from the guys from the Ritals web series, does a humorous job of breaking down what makes Rome great even in the face of Paris’s beauty and comparative orderliness. Continue reading Paris Through the Eyes of a Roman [Video]

Italy Hit Parade Vol. I

Discovering new or new-to-me music has always been one of my favorite things about traveling and living abroad. So I plan to use this space to bring you some of the songs that I’m listening to in Italy. Some of the music will be bubbly pop, some hip hop, some…I don’t know what. But most, if not all, will come from the radio and MTV (which actually plays videos here).

Note that some of these videos may not play because of region restrictions or on mobile. I really have no way of knowing if every video will work. So consider IHP Vol. I the first test.

Rocco Hunt is one of the more successful (and accessible) hip hop artists in Italy. Continue reading Italy Hit Parade Vol. I

Ancients Doing Modern Things

I posted this silly tweet on my personal account one week ago and people are still retweeting it. Some replied with suggestions that it was Marcus Aurelius attempting a selfie. While quite a few suggested photos like this could become a trend. Is this a meme in search of a hashtag?

Either way, I hope to be doing more of these while I’m in Rome. Stay tuned for photos and musings posted on my personal and italofile twitter accounts. I’ll also be posting more Italy stories, how-tos, and travel news as I get settled.

Video: Italian Hand Gestures

Even if you’ve never been to Italy, you’ve seen them. I’m talking about the hand gestures that Italians use to complement their vocal language. Indeed, sometimes all you’ll get is a hand gesture so “fai attento” – pay attention – and learn a few with this video from Nada’s Italy. This is also a lovely little primer because you get a glimpse of some piazze, cafes, alleyways, and the countryside while the gesture demonstrators give their little lessons.

Favorite Italian Words: The Sequel

Text in ItalianEver since Jessica at Italylogue wrote a guest post about her Five Favorite Italian Words, I have been getting great feedback about the post via comments, Twitter, and Facebook. For the past three months, the post has been one of the most popular posts on Italofile and I credit that to Jessica for her wonderful writing and to the Italian language itself.

So many people enjoy learning Italian. It is so melodic – it’s the language of beautiful poetry, music, and the closest to Latin, the “dead” language that spawned dozens of others. While not everyone can travel to Italy, everyone can try to learn Italian, which is the reason that the five favorite Italian words post struck a chord with so many readers.

One of those readers – we’ll call her N.A. – recently wrote to me asking where she could learn even more Italian words using the five-words-per-day method. Here’s a snippet of her email:

Recently I have started the plan to learn Italian by myself. I used to have a phrase book, and I also brought a better (Colorful) one with a CD. However, I found it hard to learn things too quickly, mostly sentences gave me the hardest time.

So I went back to the basics and rules, learned and reviewed them, and used sites which helped such as livemocha.com. Then I suddenly realized an easier way for me which is learning five different words everyday. Those words are preferably random, and not categorized, such as: family members, colors…etc.

So I started searching about this online when I found your blog which had a topic ”Five Favorites: Italian Words” I really liked the way they way [sic] written, the words are differently nice, the pronunciation is there, and the meaning with a lovely story also there.

This got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great to get a meme going around of other travel bloggers and Italian language learners to share their five favorite Italian words on their own websites? This way, we could help out N.A. (and maybe others?), promote the Italian language, and get to learn some new Italian vocabulary words ourselves.

The way that it will work is like this:

1) Write a post on your own site about your five favorite Italian words. You can choose anything you want, but do refrain from curse words. Also provide a short back-story on why you chose the words that you did…why are they meaningful/amusing/helpful/memorable to you?

2) Within your post, link to this post using “five favorite Italian words” as the anchor text. Also link to the friend or friends who tagged or linked to you (see #3).

3) Also within your post, tag (link to) 2 or 3 other friends’ blogs who you think would enjoy writing about their own five favorite Italian words.

4) When you’ve finished your post, also leave a comment here. This way N.A. or anyone else following this meme will know where to look for their next language lesson.

So, who is up for this challenge? I’m hoping that the following friends and Italian language lovers will consider writing a post of their own or spreading the word to others:

Cherrye of My Bella Vita

Madeline J of Italy Beyond the Obvious

Alex of Blog from Italy

Vince of Scordo.com

Robin of My Mélange

Jessica from Italylogue is, of course, off the hook. But if you’re reading this, Jessica, I’d love for you to spread the word (or, um, la parola)! And thanks again, Jess, for the great post!

Photo © dneese_l

Buon Natale

Here Comes Babbo Natale!

Like many of you, I have already started my Christmas vacation. So, I thought I’d check in one last time before December 25 and share with you some of the prettiest Christmas pictures from Italy this year. I’ve done this by creating a gallery on Flickr. My Buon Natale 2009 gallery will feature up to 18 photos (per Flickr, only 18 per gallery). If you’ve found some great Christmas photos from Italy this year, please comment below or go over to my gallery and let me know.

Enjoy your holiday!

Photo © Giorgio12.

Google as Tour Guide

google_city_tours_logoFirst they want to scan my copyrighted books and now Google wants to be a tour guide: has Google gone too far this time? I recently received a Google Wave invitation, so I was browsing Google Labs to see what else was on the backburner. It seems that Google will soon be launching City Tours, putting people like me – travel writers – out of business. Or will it?

Here’s Google’s thinking behind City Tours:

Making holiday planning as easy as searching the web. City Tours helps you identify points of interest and plan multi-day trips to most major cities. You just specify the location of your hotel and the length of your trip and City Tours will map out an itinerary for you.

I thought I’d look up Rome as a test. Google presented me with a three-day itinerary – complete with map, of course. The plan included walking time, distance, and links to the sites included on the tour. The first day had me going to locations such as the Museo del Risorgimento, the Pasta Museum, Les Musées du Capitole (Capitoline Museums – Google’s link was spelled the French way), and about five other place. Fine. Some of these sites, especially the Capitoline Museums, are worthy of a first-day visit even for a first-timer. But the itinerary didn’t tell me, for example, that the Pasta Museum is near the Trevi Fountain (though you can see that fact if you zoom in on the map), or that the Museo delle Cere (the Wax Museum) is totally lame.

I’ll give Google points for being able to add/delete sites from an itinerary and change dates. For example, if I were beginning my trip on a Monday (when many museums are closed), the auto-generated agenda ostensibly should steer me towards sites that are actually open. You can also choose the length of your tour, from 1 to 5 days. Unfortunately, when I chose a one-day tour of Rome, Google came up empty-handed. The program should at least generate a basic tour for one day – ya know, Vatican Museums, Spanish Steps, a handful of churches.

So Google City Tours is still in the Labs stage. And, in my opinion, has a long way to go to get it right. Thankfully, I think this tool, like an online translator, is helpful and pretty cool. But, in a field as subjective as travel, nothing beats the human touch.

Am I right?

Photo from Google

Italy Is A-Twitter

It happens to the best of us. We stop to check out a new technology/trend/what-have-you and forget about our blogs.

For the past several months, as I’ve relocated to the U.S. once again and tried to make a nice summer for my two young sons, I’ve certainly had my blog on my mind. Unfortunately, I’ve had the attention span of a [insert distractable creature here – toddler?] and have not had the opportunity to really sit down and write any meaningful blog posts about Italy – my passion.

This is where Twitter comes in.

I signed up for twitter in the spring to see what was all about. What I found was a parallel universe of people dishing out travel, writing, technology, humor, etc., in 140 characters or less. I’ve become hooked – to the detriment of this blog.

You don’t need me to tell you about twitter, of course. It’s a worldwide trend. Lots of PR firms and tourism agencies are using the power of twitter for marketing. But I was particularly interested in which official Italy tourism boards were tweeting and where some of the most prolific tweeps were tweeting from (if you don’t understand the lingo, google it!). Here is a short run-down. I’m hoping that by getting this blog post/tweet out there that more tourism boards and people from areas not covered below will start tweeting and/or more of my twitter friends will send me leads for more.

Rome Tweeps
@RomePhotoBlog
@ItalyTravelista
@Rome_Shopping
@WikiRoma (in Italian)
@VinoRoma

Venice Tweeps
@Seindal
@VeneziaSi

Tuscany Tweeps
@DivinaCucina
@ThriftyTuscany
@TuscanyTraveler
@DiscoverTuscany
@CasinadiRosa
@PamelainTuscany
@Tuscanycious
@TuscanyforWomen

Umbria Tweeps
@LoveUmbria
@UmbrianDream

Campania Tweeps (Naples/Amalfi Coast/Capri)
@Capri_Com
@CiaoAmalfi

Sicily Tweeps
@SicilyGuide
@Modicana

Tourism Board Tweeps
@TuscanyTourism – Tuscany Tourism Board
@APTVersilia – the tourism board of the subregion of Versilia in Tuscany
@RegioneVeneto – Veneto region tourism board

You can find more fine tweeters, such as Jessica at Italylogue (@italylogue), by looking at the people I follow by going to my twitter account @italofileblog or checking out #italy via twitter search.

Photo by tentonipete.

Travel Partner Wanted for Calabria

Cherrye, an Italy blogger colleague in Calabria, posted the following information about Jennifer Rafferty, who is looking for a (preferably female) travel partner to accompany her as she searches for her family’s roots in the Catanzaro province of Calabria. You’ll have to pay your own way, of course. But what a nice story this is…

WANTED: Fun-loving, Free-Spirited Travel Partner to Tackle Calabria | My Bella Vita.

Become a Museum Reporter for Tuscany

As we reported last week, Tuscany has a brand new tourism website. We have also now learned that the regional tourism board is considering letting visitors weigh in on the Tuscan museum experience. According to the Florentine, the tourism board will be asking visitors in May to become “museum reporters” as part of the Amico Museo 2009 initiative.

Those who choose to become ‘museum reporters’ will be asked to send their photos and thoughts to [email protected]. The best entries will be featured in a virtual album on the region’s official Web site, in the ‘Culture’ subsection.

So here’s your chance to be heard and let others know how impressed (or underwhelmed) you were by a particular museum in Tuscany.

Caravaggio’s Innovative Painting Techniques

Caravaggio's "The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew"

Discovery.com recently reported that the master 16th century artist Caravaggio used a “camera obscura” among other techniques to trace the models in his paintings. According to a Florentine researcher, Caravaggio made use of a dark room, first described by Leonardo da VInci, and was able to fix the outline of his subjects in order to paint them.

It’s unclear whether the artist used or needed optical instruments to paint his famous scenes of food and banquets. These, of course, were the subject of a book we mentioned in an earlier post titled Caravaggio’s Kitchen by Gianni Ummarino. Several readers have written to us to ask how to obtain this book. We haven’t been able to find it on amazon.com or through other vendors. But we did find the author/photographer’s website. Go to ummarinoeummarino.com for more information.

Update! The title of the Ummarino book is 15 Ricette del Rinascimento (15 Recipes from the Renaissance) and can be ordered directly from Ummarino’s website.

Photo from Discovery, Inc.

The Pope’s Online

You no longer have to go to Rome to have an audience with the Pope. Now, with the new Vatican YouTube channel, the Benedict XVI will come to you. According to Reuters, the daily videos will be about two minutes long and will feature info about church events and the Pope’s activities. Hopefully, the site will include more than just Pope Benedict talking. It’d be neat to see a Vatican tour around Easter and Christmas – I always love to see how St. Peter’s is decked out for the holidays.

Initially, the briefings will be broadcast in English, Spanish, German, and Italian. For more info about the Vatican, you can go to www.vatican.va, where you can also find links to the Vatican’s live radio feed.

Aerial Views of Ancient Rome

Leave it to Google to continue to make geography cool and engaging.

Yesterday, Google revealed the new Ancient Rome 3D layer, which allows viewers to “fly” over the city as it was during the heyday of the Forum and Colosseum. With this new layer, Google is also encouraging educators to use Ancient Rome 3D in their lesson plans and submit such curricula for a chance to win prizes such as a MacBook, digital camera, or $500 for school supplies from Target or Office Depot. According to the Google LatLong blog, this is the “first time” that Google has “incorporated an ancient city in Google Earth.” So, does that mean that fly-overs of Pompeii are not far on the horizon?

Further endearing Google to me more is the company’s recent release of Street Views for Italy. Again, the LatLong blog provides examples of Italian streetscapes, with many more in the works.

Ah, technology…what a wonderful thing.

If Obama Were Tuscan Wine, What Would He Be?

Have you ever wondered what kind of characteristics Sarah Palin or Barack Obama share with Tuscan wine? No? Neither have I. But here’s a fun little post from On the Wine Trail in Italy comparing the U.S. presidential candidates and their surrogates to various Tuscan vintages. I wonder if there’s a corresponding Facebook quiz…

Sarah Palin is “a Chianti ‘in fiasco’…something fresh and fruity and not too deep.”

Joe Biden is a Chianti Classico in Riserva: “untapped potential and surprise.”

Cindy McCain is a Vernaccia di San Gimignano that “licks, kisses, bites, pinches, and stings. Ask Carol McCain (the 1st wife) about the sting.” Ouch!

Further, Obama and his wife are Super Tuscans, John McCain is a Brunello, and Colin Powell is a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Skip on over to On the Wine Trail in Italy to read more.

La Cucina Italiana Recipe Contest

A luscious soup recipe from the recipe archives of La Cucina Italiana
A luscious soup recipe from the recipe archives of La Cucina Italiana

I’ve mentioned before that blogging, especially this blog, is a labor of love. But, occasionally, the gods of the blogosphere shower you with interesting opportunities, such as one I recently got from Alex over at Blog from Italy.

Alex and the U.S. version of La Cucina Italiana magazine (a title I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog) are going to sponsor a recipe contest this fall and I’m going to be one of the tasters/testers!

Details are supposed to appear on the La Cucina Italiana site tomorrow (September 5). Stay tuned!

A 360-Degree Spin Around Italy

Do you ever feel like you don’t get the whole picture when reading about Italy in guidebooks or on blogs? There are now a couple of websites that go one better than the usual two-dimensional picture.

Expat Peter Ryder, a resident of Sardinia, has two websites that can give you a better picture of the island – www.360sardinia.net and www.360alghero.net. In addition to providing information on where to stay, where to eat, etc., these two sites provide 360° looks at some of the beaches, marinas, and piazze of Sardinia.

Similarly, there’s a newish website called 360travelguide.com that features, according to a press release, the “world’s largest free access panoramic image library.”  For Italy, they offer virtual tours from Amalfi to Verona, as well as user reviews and travel blogs. There’s also an ongoing competition for users who provide reviews to win an iPhone. Ooops…gotta go write a review now…:-)

See Italian Cities in 3-D

This tip comes from Google Earth’s Lat Long Blog, which reports that Italy is one of several European countries to be included in Google Cities in 3D Program. It’s not immediately apparent if any Italian cities have completed the 3D task, though here are models of some buildings and piazze in Florence in the Google 3D warehouse.

Indeed, we’re excited about the tourism potential of the Google Earth tool. Just think – soon you’ll be able to “walk” the streets of Florence from your desktop or reminisce about the routes you followed while on vacation in Rome. Stay tuned to Google Earth for more info.

Win An Italian Cooking School Vacation

If the price of an Italian vacation has you down, here’s your chance to win one. Through October 1, 2008, you can register win an Italian Cooking School Vacation from La Cucina Italiana. The winner gets:

  • Round-trip airfare for two to Italy*, with transfers to and from the airport.
  • 4 nights accommodation in a 4-star hotel in the center of Milan, including daily breakfast.
  • 5 hands-on cooking sessions at La Scuola de La Cucina Italiana.
  • A fabulous Tuscan-themed dinner and wine tasting.

We’re not quite sure why guests will learn to cook Tuscan food in Milan (which is, of course, in Lombardy), but it sounds like a nice time, nonetheless. No purchase is necessary to register for the prize. But, if you love to eat and cook Italian food, a subscription to La Cucina Italiana can be a prize in itself.

Two Of Summer’s Most Intriguing Reads Are Set in Italy

The Monster of FlorenceRome 1960

I am supremely excited about two new nonfiction books this summer: The Monster of Florence and Rome 1960. Both describe tumultuous times in central Italy, the first being a period of time in Florence when an unknown predator or predators who “stalked lovers’ lanes in the countryside,” and the second describes the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

Set in Florence and the Florentine hills, ‘Monster’ trails author Douglas Preston on his quest to solve – or, at least, learn more about – the case of the horrific murders of scores of young lovers from 1968-1985. Chosen by Amazon.com as one of the best books of the month for June 2008, and here’s the review:

When author Douglas Preston moved his family to Florence he never expected he would soon become obsessed and entwined in a horrific crime story whose true-life details rivaled the plots of his own bestselling thrillers. While researching his next book, Preston met Mario Spezi, an Italian journalist who told him about the Monster of Florence, Italy’s answer to Jack the Ripper, a terror who stalked lovers’ lanes in the Italian countryside. The killer would strike at the most intimate time, leaving mutilated corpses in his bloody wake over a period from 1968 to 1985. One of these crimes had taken place in an olive grove on the property of Preston’s new home. That was enough for him to join “Monsterologist” Spezi on a quest to name the killer, or killers, and bring closure to these unsolved crimes. Local theories and accusations flourished: the killer was a cuckolded husband; a local aristocrat; a physician or butcher, someone well-versed with knives; a satanic cult. Thomas Harris even dipped into “Monster” lore for some of Hannibal Lecter’s more Grand Guignol moments in Hannibal. Add to this a paranoid police force more concerned with saving face and naming a suspect (any suspect) than with assessing the often conflicting evidence on hand, and an unbelievable twist that finds both authors charged with obstructing justice, with Spezi jailed on suspicion of being the Monster himself. The Monster of Florence is split into two sections: the first half is Spezi’s story, with the latter bringing in Preston’s updated involvement on the case. Together these two parts create a dark and fascinating descent into a landscape of horror that deserves to be shelved between In Cold Blood and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Less gruesome but no less engaging in its subject matter is David Maraniss’s Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. Though not particularly about Rome, rather about the last Olympic Games that were held in Italy, Maraniss’s book covers one of the pivotal episodes where sports and politics collided. This book is due to be on shelved July 1. So, if you need to get in the mood for what is sure to be an interesting Olympics in Beijing, check out the review and decide for yourself:

Overshadowed by more flamboyant or tragic Olympics, the 1960 Rome games were a sociopolitical watershed, argues journalist Maraniss (Clemente) in this colorful retrospective. The games showcased Cold War propaganda ploys as the Soviet Union surged past the U.S. in the medal tally. Steroids and amphetamines started seeping into Olympian bloodstreams. The code of genteel amateurism—one weight-lifter was forbidden to accept free cuts from a meat company—began crumbling in the face of lavish Communist athletic subsidies and under-the-table shoe endorsement deals. And civil rights and anticolonialism became conspicuous themes as charismatic black athletes—supercharged sprinter Wilma Rudolph, brash boxing phenom Cassius Clay, barefoot Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila—grabbed the limelight while the IOC sidestepped the apartheid issue. Still, we’re talking about the Olympics, and Maraniss can’t help wallowing in the classic tropes: personal rivalries, judging squabbles, come-from-behind victories and inspirational backstories of obstacles overcome (Rudolph wins the gold, having hurdled Jim Crow and childhood polio that left her in leg braces). As usual, these Olympic stories don’t quite bear up under the mythic symbolism they’re weighted with (with the exception perhaps of Abebe Bikila), but Maraniss provides an intelligent context for his evocative reportage.

Gosh, I hope that I find the time to buy and read these fascinating sounding books before the summer is over!

‘Angels and Demons’ Tourism

The book – and now movie – Angels and Demons isn’t too kind to the Catholic Church, with murders taking place at some of Rome’s famous and not-yet-famous churches and squares, including Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria. But, city officials don’t think that will deter tourists from wanting to take an Angels-and-Demons-based tour, as this article from the New York Times suggests.

In fact, Dark Rome Tours and Walks has been taking tourists on the “official” Angels and Demons tour since 2004. Group and private tours are available, and start at €56 per person and last for four hours. The tour visits Santa Maria del Popolo, St. Peter’s Square, Santa Maria della Vittoria, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the outside of “Il Passetto,” the Vatican Corridor. Of course, you can visit all of these sites on your own for way less than €56 – indeed, among all the sites listed above, only Castel Sant’Angelo charges a fee (approx. €5) – so you may want to tote the book along and create your own tour.