Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Footware: Shades of Ancient Rome

Roman women don't wear togas (at least not yet). But they do wear the shoes that go with them, or what we imagine to be those shoes--open-toed, tied up across the ankle and up the leg with wide, often criss-crossing straps. We found them in side-walk displays, in the windows of shoe stores, on the feet of Roman women, on the feet of men in a fresco in the the early-16th-century Villa Farnesina (above left), built for Agostino Chigi and located in Trastevere, its back to Lungotevere--even on a 1940 statue in EUR (above right). It proved more difficult than we (in case you haven't figured it out, that means Bill) thought to capture footware in the flesh, so to speak: if the women are moving, they, and their feet, are gone in seconds; if they're standing still, one risks getting caught taking a picture that some women would consider inappropriate. But hey, it's all for science! Bill

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The "Retro Snobs" find themselves with the "in" crowd (and where to find a good lunch)

We’ve been called a lot of things, but “retro snobs” may be the best fit. Imagine our shock – and delight – to find that the tiny no-one-knows-its-name bar some Roman friends took us to turned out to be THE bar of the rich and famous, well, somewhat rich and famous – like Nanni Moretti (for those of you not into Italian cinema, we call him the Woody Allen of Italian film; author/director of Caro Diario (Dear Diary) and also The Son’s Room - the latter won the 2001 Palme d’Or at Cannes).

So here’s how the story beings. Our Roman friends who call us retro snobs invite us to lunch at a bar with no name outside, giving us directions to a corner in Monteverde Vecchio (considered a classy neighborhood, it's above Trastevere). “I think it’s called Bar Vitali,” she says, “but there’s no name – just ‘Bar’ on the sign. On via Lorenzo Valla. Vitali is into history; you'll like him." We arrive to find what we think is the place, but it doesn’t look like a lunch place – just a bar. We inquire and a smiling rounded Italian in his 60s who appears to be the owner gestures through a small door. We peak in, and there are our friends, awaiting us in a small lunch room.

Mario Vitali (right) talks Monteverde Vecchio history
We have a delightful full Italian meal and look at some old photos on the wall (see photo at end of post). The owner, Mario Vitali (in photo left, at right) is an amateur historian, especially of this part of Rome, where his family has lived for multiple generations and his father started with a small tobacco shop in the location. Mario has written a book about the area as well. We pause on the way out and buy his book. He likes our enthusiasm so much, he gives us another – in manuscript copy. The whole lunch and talk with Mario seem very low-key and perfect for us. As we leave and approach our scooter, we pause because we see a great view of the gazometro – across the river in Ostiense, but it seems close from this wonderful hilltop (as in “monte” – a mountain) view (photo below, right). What a great end to this mid-day treat. (And, did we mention we love talking with these friends?)

Gazometro from via Lorenzo Valla
Part two of the story. Imagine our surprise at a dinner party a few weeks later with some friends, in another part of Monteverde Vecchio, when they begin talking about filmmaker Moretti, how he lives in the area and frequents a bar… they describe the bar as being completely nondescript, no name outside, and having almost a hidden lunchroom. Says one friend “you go through a door that looks like it leads to the toilet” “…aaah,” say we, “perhaps we’ve been there…. Bar Vitali?” “YOU, YOU’ve been there? You Americans? How did you find it?” So we take on new luster with our Roman friends.

Old photos and Moretti film posters inside Bar Vitali
Part three of the story. A week or so later we’re telling this story to yet another Roman friend (this one an American who has lived in Rome for 30 years), especially the part about surprising the indigenous Romans that we’ve actually been to this “hidden” place. “Oh,” says he (the American/Roman friend we’re now regaling with the story), “I used to live on via Lorenzo Valla and know that bar. There’s no lunchroom there.” “Oh, yes,” we reply, “indeed there is… through a small door.” “Well,” he says, “I need to go talk to Mario.  I went there every day for morning coffee. And he never told me about the lunch room!”

As Monteverde Vecchio looked before building boom
Part four of the story. We go back to the Roman friends who first introduced us to Bar Vitali and tell them they were conning us into thinking we were going to a nondescript place. They chuckle over all parts of the story.

Ah, the pleasures of being a retro snob in Rome.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nero Burned Rome: A Favorite Poster

Italians, and Romans, love and hate their posters. On the one hand, the poster is a preferred form of advertising and selling a product, whether a film or a politician. On the other hand, there's plenty of abuse of a system that's not adequately regulated; the newspapers regularly feature stories about unauthorized posters and, more egregious, banks of unauthorized poster brackets, which are quickly filled with unauthorized posters. Anyway, each year we have our favorite posters, and here is one we enjoyed in 2010. It reads, "Nero burned Rome, and we're burning prices" (and below, Eurofurniture, in [the city of] Pomezia). If you have a favorite poster, send it in! Bill

Monday, September 20, 2010

Waiting for Caravaggio

On a miserably hot day in early June, we took out-of-town guests to see the Caravaggio exhibit at the Quirinale. We purchased tickets--reservations for a particular day and time--on-line, thereby avoiding an uncomfortable, interminable, and possibly fruitless wait outside in the scorching sun, where vendors were selling small, colorful, shade umbrellas to the ticketless. A tent protected the first 20 or 30, but the line was hundreds of feet long, and Godot wasn't showing up anytime soon. Bill

Friday, September 17, 2010

3 Moretti beer glasses on the wall

We like brand designs on glasses… all the better when it’s an Italian brand and a beer glass. That was combined in a recent promotion for the AS Roma soccer team and Moretti beer.

We happily put the 3-pack of glasses in our grocery cart and proceeded to the check-out. But, there was no price, no bar code… and the cashier was stumped. Then she learned that the glasses were free – if you bought 3 bottles of the largest size Moretti beer. Well, even that went beyond our drinking habits at the time. So we glumly told her to put the glasses back.

As we started to bag our groceries (one does it oneself in Rome’s grocery stores), she offered us the glasses… which were obtained for us because the man behind us in line had bought the 3 large bottles of Moretti. Oh, no! we said – you shouldn’t do that… but, the cashier said – he’s my husband and wants to do it for you. So we’re now the proud owners of 3 Moretti AS Roma beer glasses, and we have this wonderful story to tell of Roman thoughtfulness.

PS - This story has another aspect too. We were in the grocery store with friends visiting from NYC. They wanted the glasses too… at least SHE did. He definitely did not. He kept telling her she couldn’t get them in her suitcase – with all the other stuff – to get home. We ended up with only one set of glasses, and try as we did to get them to take them, they left them with us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Caffe Letterario: Chic Discomfort

Caffe Letterario has been around for a few years, but it's still irresistibly cool. It's on "lower" Ostiense, east side, a few blocks from the Pyramid, and it's "interratto" (subterranean), carved out of an auto repair shop or parking garage; you get down to the main room on a ramp, from which the photo at right was taken.
We love the look of the place--colorful, translucent surfaces, chic modernist furnishings off the set of a cheap sci-fi flic, inviting spaces ala "Cheers" for those groups of Roman young that somehow still enjoy nursing one cocktail for two hours.
There's a library of sorts, tables for reading, working, browsing the internet or, in back of the bar, participating in the occasional talk or seminar. Our only caveat: most of those plastic chairs are as uncomfortable as they look.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

RST Top 40. #16: Garbatella

The Garbatella itinerary is no longer available in blog format.

A new, expanded Garbatella itinerary is now one of four walks in the new guide:  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  Along with the tour of Garbatella, Modern Rome features three other walks: the 20th-century suburb of EUR; the 21st-century music and art center of Flaminio, along with Mussolini's Foro Italico, also the site of the 1960 summer Olympics; and a stairways walk in classic Trastevere.

This 4-walk book is available in all eBook formats for $1.99 through and all other eBook sellers.  See the various formats at

Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler now is also available in print, at and other retailers; retail price $5.99.

Dianne and Bill

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dianne Goes Shopping, and You Can Too

The title is a bit ironic, here, since I am not an enthusiastic shopper.  But I have my places, and one is "the watch guy," as we call him, in the fancy shopping district that spreads out from the foot of the Spanish Steps to via del Corso.  I've splurged here on 2 colored leather watchbands - red 3 years ago, blue this year.  And Antonio Senzacqua graciously puts them on my 20 year-old, only cost $20 then, Timex, and charges me at most Euro 18.  Definitely a better deal than the $5 band I bought at Target that lasted 3 weeks. 

Senzacqua has an enormous selection of bands (and patiently lets me look through them) and everything else.  His tiny shop is crammed full of clocks and watches, including antique ones dating back to the 1600s.  He specializes in antique and modern watch and clock repair as well.  The store has been on the same street since the 1920s. 

When we last stopped by and chatted him up a bit, he proudly gave us a copy of a news article about his shop and his love of his trade.  And, he posed for the photo above.

There's a lot of hue and cry in Rome these days about the loss of artisan shops, especially in the more touristy areas like the Spanish Steps.  So it's wonderful (to us) to see an artisan still hard at work and maintaining his piece of land here.

Antonio Senzacqua - watch repairer trained in both antique and modern clockworks, via della Vite 14/a; tel. 06.6789437.  Don't expect him to be open mid-day like typical tourist shops; he's a real Roman.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Rome Fashion Update: Open-Pants Look Seen in San Paolo!

Rome isn't known as a fashion trend-setter, and our modest, middle-class neighborhood of San Paolo is far removed from the chic shops of via del Corso. Yet it was there, in the window of a small San Paolo department store, that we caught a glimpse of fashion's future: the open-pants look. It's inevitable. It's coming. And it's here, now, in San Paolo. Bill