The Colosseum, On High and Down Low

"Are you not entertained?" - I couldn't help but ham it up for this once-in-a-lifetime shot! (Note to self: get your roots done!)

One of the things you need to know about touring Rome (and many other places in Italy) is that if you want to see something really special, then you’ll have to pay extra for it by going on a guided tour. While tours can certainly eat into your travel budget, they can also transform a trip into something extraordinary.

I had always wanted to see the dungeons of the Colosseum, those underground niches where once were housed thousands of roaring, barking, gnashing, lumbering wild animals primed for gladiatorial showcases and death matches. The Colosseum dungeons are a gruesome, if not key, part of the Flavian Amphitheater’s history. And the only way anyone can see them today — meaning, walk down into and around them — is by booking a tour with a private guide. This limits the number of visitors into the bowels of stadium, thereby keeping wear and tear on the nearly 2,000-year-old monument to a minimum.

There are a number of reputable tour companies that can take you down into the dungeons (in groups of 12 or fewer). Last month, I was lucky enough to join The Roman Guy, a small but growing tour guide company, as a guest on its Colosseum-Dungeon tour.

Continue reading The Colosseum, On High and Down Low

A Tour of Rome’s Jewish Quarter

Marble tiles in the Jewish Quarter of Rome

 

“It’s impossible to do this tour or any other tour chronologically.”

This was one of the first things Lauren, a guide for the walking tour company Context Travel, told us as we stood in Largo Arenula, our starting point for a historic walk of Rome’s Jewish Quarter and Trastevere. In addition to Lauren, a British scholar who has studied the art, history, and culture of Rome for the better part of two decades, my group consisted of a quiet, young couple and a young, single woman. Context had invited me to be a guest on one of their tours and I chose to take this one as it was an area I knew the least about. I liked the idea of going on the tour as more or less a blank slate. I wanted to learn something.

At this point, I should back up and say that I have studied Rome, its landmarks, art, history, and neighborhoods for more than 15 years. Before that, I worked at an institute for German Studies and interned at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Even with this specialized knowledge, I’ve always found it difficult to find information about Rome’s Jewish heritage. Most guidebooks give it short shrift, which isn’t surprising; there are too many layers here to cover any one topic in detail. But I would venture to say that the story of the Jewish people in Rome is one of the few threads that weaves together the story of this city in a way that is both historically comprehensive and personal.

Following are just a few of the sites I learned about on the three-hour tour. Continue reading A Tour of Rome’s Jewish Quarter

Get Fit in Italy


Here we are, staring down another full year and wondering if or how we are going to make the most of it. For a lot of us, that means giving up vices or improving ourselves. For others, a new year holds the promise of traveling to new places or enjoying more of what life has to offer. So why not combine the two by taking a trip to Italy?

In this post, I’m going to look at the many ways to get  or stay fit while on vacation in Italy. If you’re looking for information  on golf in Italy, I’m saving that for its own post. Continue reading Get Fit in Italy

Ramble On: Tuscany Walking Festival

Walking Festival in TuscanyTuscany, with its beautiful vistas and thousands of hectares of nature preserves and woodlands, offers numerous opportunities for serious hikers and casual trekkers alike. This is the also the thought of the organizers of the Tuscany Walking Festival, a yearly event that happens goes on roughly between the first days of spring until the end of fall.

The festival highlights six of the great hiking areas in Tuscany, including the Maremma, the Monti Livornesi and the Tuscan Archipelago. In addition to the great walks are other events and promotions, such as photography exhibits, birdwatching courses, and restaurant discounts near the walking regions. What a great way to learn about Tuscany’s natural treasures and take a break from art overload!

Photo from Tuscany Walking Festival

The Ultimate Italian Driving Adventure

If you’re the type of traveler who likes to go it alone and doesn’t mind injecting a little technological know-how into your trip, then a GPS-driven self-guided tour may be the ticket.

Information about Zephyr Self-Guided Adventures through Italy just crossed our desks over the weekend. The company offers walks, biking, and driving tours through Tuscany, Umbria, and parts of Lazio, all of which are powered by GPS navigation. According to a press release:

The GPS Navigation systems have pre-loaded waypoints along the driving routes and are designed to accompany written turn-by-turn directions. With simple touch commands travelers can easily get from one destination to another. These portable systems not only allow for a comfortable traveling pace, but are also a cheaper alternative to the typical guided vacation.

In addition to the GPS Navigation systems, these driving tours come with a “virtual tour guide” in the form of a Portable Media Player loaded with short videos. In these videos, Zephyr Adventures President Allan Wright gives a daily route talk summarizing what to expect for each day while certified Italian guide (and Zephyr in-country support representative) Giovanni Ramaccioni gives entertaining cultural and historical presentations about sights on the route. The cultural videos were filmed at the exact spots the travelers pass through.

The combination of these two technologies allows for the ultimate driving adventure.

While Zephyr may have touched on a rather novel concept, we also like the fact that they have worked in the price of hotels and rental cars, so you don’t have to do any extra legwork (unless, of course, you choose to walk or bike your way through central Italy). Rates start at $1,250 per person, not including airfare.