Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dressing Like an Italian (Or What to Pack for Your Trip to Rome)

“ The Roman woman has spent a lot of time thinking about how to put herself together, how to please, to attract, to allure, to intrigue, even perhaps to seduce. [Italian women] are always ready to receive a special but unexpected invitation to dine in elegant splendor in a seventeenth-century palazzo without having to change clothes.” Alan Epstein

I have several friends and family visiting Rome this summer, some of them for the first time, so I thought about putting together a list of tips on what to #wear while in #Rome. Of course had to share it here with you!

Italians are a very stylish bunch, most regular people on the street look put together, and I don't mean those dressed head-to-toe with designer brands, I am talking about normal people out doing their groceries.  On my first weekend here I took the bus to #PiazzaNavona, and knowing that I was taking public transportation, I dressed down, only to find myself surrounded by Sofia Loren look-alikes all done up, in the bus.  Dressing up is not exclusive for when you receive a dinner invitation, dressing up is part of their DNA.  You never know what could happen today...

So here is the list, from the bottom up:

1. Wear comfortable shoes!  This is my number one suggestion when traveling anywhere but it needs especial consideration here since you will be walking on uneven cobble stone roads.  I know you must have seen several movies of classy Italian women strolling around the city in stilletos, but unless you have been born here and can navigate the "sanpietrini" (square stone bricks of which roads are made - see picture below) with nine inch heels, stick with wedge soles.  Of course sneakers are the best, but not so stylish... The locals wear chic walking sneakers, not your regular running shoe.  During the winter months, flat heel boots, motorcycle booties and oxford shoes are perfect for walking around Italy.  Ballerinas are great in warmer weather, preferably ones with a thicker sole.  Flip-flops = not stylish.

2.  Locals dress warm during the winter months, even though the winter in Rome is very mild.  If you are coming to Rome during the colder months and you want to blend in, don't go around wearing shorts and t-shirts.  You will be stared at and sometimes scolded for putting your life at risk by not covering up.  Dressing has more to do with the calendar than the actual weather.

3. Don't wear tops with spaghetti straps!  I know this is the land of spaghetti, but bare shoulders are a big No-No when you are trying to enter a church.  Some won't let you in or will very kindly sell you a paper cloth for you to wear as a shawl.  Be respectful and plan for a proper attire when touring religious places.  Shorts are also banned from some churches.  

4. Wear a scarf.  This is the one piece of clothing that I admire the most.  #Romans, both men and women wear scarves almost year round.  They are all colorful and wrapped in the most creative ways.  I've heard that Italians cover their necks from a sudden wind that may hit them and send them unavoidably to bed, sick for a few days.  Whatever the reason, scarves are a must here.

5. Wear playful earrings (leave the expensive ones at home).  True Roman ladies wear big earrings.  They are just what your outfit needs to be Italian-perfect.  And you can throw on some red lipstick if you really want to shine...

6. Favor a messenger bag.  Since you have to be careful with your belongings (please read my article about the 10 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Italy) messenger bags are a great accessory for keeping your belongings in front of you where you can see them and being chic at the same time.

7.  Don't be afraid of color, Italians are not.  And of course, color coordinate!

8.  Lastly, this one is for the younger crowd, don't go walking around drinking wine straight from of the bottle.  It's like wearing a big red flag that says: I'm a tourist, I'm drinking and I'm an easy target.  

Happy packing!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rome with Kids: Villa Borghese

"Spring is nature's way of saying,  'let's party!' Robin Williams

Rome can be a challenging city to visit with young children. Especially if you are still using strollers as the main method of transportation for the kids.  The cobble stone roads can be a bit difficult to navigate but mostly, because the art and history this city has to offer can drastically differ from the idea of a fun destination on the eyes of little ones.

Now, there is always a positive spin to any situation, like telling them the stories of the Roman Gods represented on the sculptures or about how animals used to be brought to the Colosseum for public entertainment.  I had my boys read Lonely Planet's "Not-For-Parents, Rome, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know" by Klay Lamprell.  At least when we toured Rome, they had a better idea of what they were seeing.

You can always promise gelato as a reward for good behavior during church and museum visits.  But at the end of the day, if you need to sit for a while and let them run around, consider visiting Villa Borghese, the equivalent to Central Park in Rome.

Villa Borghese is a vast park that sits north of the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo (to learn more about Piazza de Popolo click here).  It's easily accessible by public transportation lines 52, 53, 217 and 920.  On any given day you will find bicycles, carts and segway rentals at several points of the park (Rolling around for an hour on a segway will cost you 15 euros and a cart or bike rental is 5 euros per hour, very affordable!).  The segway ride is a fun activity for kids of all ages, including my mother.  If she can segway, so can you!  

If you are already there, don't leave without taking some nice photographs from the Pincio terrace (just above Piazza del Popolo), from where you get a wonderful view of the city center.

On the opposite side of Villa Borghese, you will find the zoo, another family-friendly destination inside the park.  And since you've been so good with the kids, now it's your turn for some cultural activities, visit the Galleria Borghese, a private museum located in the grounds Villa Borghese, which was original a private vineyard that was expanded by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V.  Galleria Borghese houses the art collection of Cardinal Borghese and some contemporary exhibitions too.  It's well worth the visit.

You will also find several fountains, a lake, a movie theater and countless sculptures.  It's really handy to rent some sort of wheels to see it all.  Or you can do as some Romans do and run through the park to burn some of the calories you may have been racking up.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Keeping Your Identity After Your Move Abroad

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun." Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild.

After leaving behind the life you once knew to embark on a new adventure, your life will take a drastic turn.  You have probably been on autopilot for a while and now a million changes are coming your way, all at the same time.  And after juggling pack-outs, going-away parties and all the logistics needed to get you and your family from city A to city B, where do you rank on the priorities' list?

Throughout my years as an expat I have met many professional, talented and super smart people who for one reason or another choose to put on hold their professional lives in order to embark on this overseas adventure.  Some are happy with their choice and some struggle with it, but there are ways to take advantage of a new life, the possibility of reinventing yourself into a new you.

Within the diplomatic world, it's somewhat easier than in the private sector, to continue working while abroad.  If you are set on continuing your career, check the bilateral agreements with the host country before you commit to the move.  Some professions are more portable than others.  I have seen many teachers and nurses do not miss a beat on the professional arena.  Any job that can predominantly be performed through the internet is portable, and more and more employers will appreciate the time difference aspect of hiring an expat (as when the work can be done while they are sleeping).

Sometimes though, working in your field is just not possible, but are you really a one dimensional person?  No!  You have many other skills that can be used.  Try to be creative!  I have worked on paid jobs ranging from a software translator to a senior logistics officer.  Never in a million years I though I was going to work as a translator as there are countless people who can professionally translate from English to Spanish and viceversa ,,,,,,but not in Sri Lanka!  In Sri Lanka it was only me!
I have worked in all the countries I lived in, except two.  The first one because I was giving birth to my second child and my oldest son had not learned how to walk yet.  It was my mommy tour.  The second time I have stayed unemployed is now, but I am exploring my creative side with the blog and dedicating time to my photography, which I am enjoying very much.  I also have a friend who is a mechanical engineer and who has turn around her professional life to become a recognized sculptor.

One of the most important skills that will allow you to survive any new situation is adaptability.  Once you are settled into your new country, think!  How can I reinvent myself?  What skills can I use that will land me a fulfilling new life in this country?  Don't dismiss volunteer opportunities,  they can lead you to your next paid job! Get out, get involved, meet people.  The more you network the more you will be able to market your skills.

Yes, when we move and we are the ones holding down the fort, it is easy to lose yourself into being Mr.Right's spouse and Kid#1 and Kid#2's mom (or dad).  Making a life for yourself is also a priority, allow yourself to think outside the box.  Do you have story of personal fulfillment you can share with me?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

What to See While in Rome: Piazza Navona

"I came, I saw, I conquered" Julius Caesar

In my own humble way I also came, saw and conquered #PiazzaNavona and in the lines to follow I will do my best to let you know why you should come too.  While other city attractions may be more renown, Piazza Navona has a unique charm that has captivated Romans and visitors alike for centuries.  

The first thing Piazza Navona has to offer is its vast size.  For a bustling city of narrow streets and crazy traffic, this pedestrian-only square is a relaxing but still vibrant part of town.  It is great to spend some time admiring the three fountains that adorn it; and if traveling with kids, it's a great place to let them run around a little bit and enjoy, as Romans do, this beautiful public square.

In the center of Piazza Navona you'll find the Fountain of the Four Rivers, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (you can read all about its history by clicking here).  It represents the Gods of the four great rivers as recognized in the #Renaissance world.  On the southern end of the piazza you'll find the Fountain of the Moor and the northern end of the square is adorned by the Fountain of Neptune, my personal favorite one. 

There are several restaurants surrounding the piazza offering al fresco dinning and the colors and magnificence of the buildings make it a postcard perfect setting.  During Christmas season an open market operates in the piazza and offers all imaginable pieces for a Nativity set and many other decorations. During the rest of the year there are always artists selling paintings, photographs and souvenirs.  On weekends it's a popular and family-friendly destination.  At night time it is a happening part of town.

The drinking fountains around Rome, called "Nasone (big nose)" by the locals, provide potable water to all.  Just cover the flowing water with you hand and a spout will shoot water up towards you, the best way to quench your thirst in Rome.  There is one drinking fountain in the north end of piazza Navona, and 2000 others around town.

When hunger strikes I normally walk a couple of blocks away from the piazzas where most restaurants gear towards tourist and find more local venues.  A couple of blocks from Piazza Navona I found Pizzeria Ristorante La Focaccia (Via della Pace 11).  I sat on the outdoor tables and enjoyed their brick oven pizza and local cuisine for an affordable price.  Another fun venue around the area is Bar del Fico at Piazza del Fico 26-28 (their website shows a fully naked lady so I won't link it, just is case:   Their grilled steak is very nice.  And since we are talking about food, here is the recipe for a typical Roman dish:

400 grams of Spaghetti
200 grams of bacon cut in small bite size pieces (or guanciale: a bacon of pigs cheeks)
250 grams of Pecorino cheese 
2 egg yolks and 1 1/2 egg whites
Salt and Pepper to taste
*This dish is almost a religion in Rome!

Scramble the eggs in a bowl and add a third of the cheese and a bit of pepper, let the mix rest for 5 minutes.  On a frying pan fry the bacon until crisp without any extra oil.  Get rid of half the bacon oil after the bacon is crisp.  In the mean time, boil your pasta "al dente" which means until you can still bite into it (always save some pasta water, it is almost always used in the sauces).  Transfer it to the bowl with the egg mixture and mix well.  Add the hot bacon to the seasoned pasta.    Mix well until creamy, away from the stove.  In order to get a creamy consistency you can add pasta water if necessary.  Sprinkle the rest of the Pecorino cheese before serving.



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Rome on a Budget: How to Take Public Transportation

“Don't spend money on things... spend money on experiences. You'll enjoy life a lot more!” Ziad K. Albdernour

They say when there's a will, there's a way and there is certainly a way to see #Rome on a #budget. Rome is such and enchanting city that just sitting on one of its many piazzas and enjoying a two euro gelato can make for a perfect day.  Think Julia Roberts on Eat Pray Love, you know what I mean!

The center of Rome is small enough that, if you are in for the challenge, you can just walk from one must-see place to the other and hop on a bus when you are trying to cover longer distances, that is if you can figure out how the public transportation system works.  Here are a few tips that will make your experience a little bit easier.

1.  You will need a ticket: A one time ticket costs one euro fifty and it can be purchased in any #Tabacchi (tobacco) store.  There are Tabacchi stores all around Rome and the ones in the city center are certainly used to visitors.  The tickets are not dated nor route-specific so you can buy a bunch to last you the length of your visit.  The same tickets are used in #buses, #metro and trams.

2. You certainly need to arm yourself with a good map to plan your route.  ATAC, the agency that administers public transpo in Rome, has published this official map (click here) of transportation in the city center.  #Bus lines are identified by a number and each bus stop lists the route of your bus line.  A bus stop normally serves several lines and it looks like the one pictured on the right.

3.  On the suggested map you can follow the route of your bus by just following the bus line number along the map.  It reminds me of the game connect the dots. Tip: sit by the window so you can identify your position by looking at the street signs and following the route on your map.

Validating machine inside tram.
4. Once you board the bus it's time to VALIDATE YOUR TICKET! This is a very important step.  The tickets you bought are not valid until you punch them on the validating machines inside the buses or trams.  Once you validate your ticket two lines will be printed on the back of your ticket, one with the time you started using the ticket and the other with the time when it will expire; you have an hour and a half to travel in the public transportation system with that same ticket.  Don't mind it if you are the only one validating the ticket.  Most Romans hold monthly or yearly tickets that don't need validation.  Every so often there are controllers that board the bus and ask everyone for their tickets.  If you don't have a validated ticket you will be fined!

5. Rome has two metro lines, the A and the B line.  They form an X on the map.  The same ticket you bought for the bus can be used to take the metro, however, once the ticket is used to enter a metro station, it cannot be used to enter another metro station even if it hasn't expired.  It is still OK to make a connection with a bus line after your metro ride.

6.  You can hop on and off different bus lines, trams and metro without having to re-validate the ticket every time.  Just validate the first time and keep the ticket handy until it expires.

7.  When it's time to get off the bus, press the red stop button (located in several handrails) and the bus will stop on the next stop.   The bus will not stop unless someone on the bus requested it by pressing the button.  So don't count on the bus stopping at every bus stop on the route.

8.  There are also trams around the city and the system works just like the buses. Check your route, get in, validate, press the stop button, get out.


As mentioned in my article "10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Italy", public transportation strikes in Rome are frequent.  Check the ATAC website for updates.  Lastly, watch your belongings specially in crowded buses.  The buses leading to Sain Peter's and to the #Termini train station are infamous for being frequented by #pickpocketers.  Be smart, keep your bag in front of you and your money in different pockets.

Go places and enjoy the ride! Arrivederci for now,