Travelling for faith to Rome

Posted on Aug 19, 2020 in Arts and History, On your own | No Comments

Rome is the capital of Christendom, but I rarely sense the spirituality of this city of martyrs and saints in the most celebrated basilicas. Nevertheless, a lot of travellers come here in reason of their faith, maybe it’s not the only push, but an important one. Therefore we ought to provide a list of activities and places to incorporate in your Roman holiday to nourish your spirituality:

  • the place I prefer to go for this purpose is the Abbey of the Three Fountains: here Saint Paul received his martyrdom. According to the legend, when the apostle was beheaded, his head bounced three times and three springs of water came out from the ground. Three fountains were built over this holy place and they are still visible inside the baroque church. Leaving aside the art and historical values of this location, the feeling I always have as soon as I walk through the so-called “Arch of Charlemagne” is peacefulness: simplicity, silence, a synergy between art and nature, harmony. For men, and for a maximum of 6 days, you can even reside there and live the life of the monks, sleeping in the Foresteria.
  • Just next to the entrance of this abbey there is a small convent run by nuns called the Petites Soeurs de Jesus, the order started by Charles de Foucauld. There is a little wood chapel in the garden, where everybody is welcome: no precious paintings, no comfortable seats, nothing that we are used to admire in a Roman church. Just your soul and blessed silence
  • If you wish to experience a traditional pilgrimage (with songs and prayers), every Saturday night from Easter to October you can join a group of local pilgrims and walk from Piazza di Porta Capena (Circus Maximus) to the Sanctuary of Divine Love. They meet at midnight and the whole night is needed to reach the sanctuary where you celebrate mass at dawn. Think ahead on how to come back and bring some water and food with you, the path is 15 km long!
  • A different kind of pilgrimage to do with us is the “Seven Churches Path, but by bike. In the old times, it was possible to walk pleasantly from one church to another, mostly in the countryside, for the 16 miles needed. But today traffic and chaotic urban life make this path less enjoyable on foot. Still, the spiritual significance of these seven basilicas and the symbolism of the path are worth a tour: we suggest by bike in order to spare time for a prayer and some artistic appreciation.
  • The Holy Stairs are a staircase which Christ is said to have ascended to be sentenced to crucifixion by Pontius Pilate According to tradition, the steps were brought to Rome in 326 AD by St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. The stairs, located opposite the Archbasilica of St John Lateran in Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano, have to be climbed on knees as a form of respect, praying during the devotional ascension. The staircase leads to a chapel known as the Sancta Sanctorum, or Holiest of Holies, the ancient private chapel of popes.
  • In the medieval beautiful church SS. Quattro Coronati (not far from the Colosseum) the Augustinian nuns celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours from 6.30 in the morning to 6.30 pm and anybody can join. They also offer hospitality for few days if you seek silence and solitude. The convent boasts a fascinating cloister and the frescoed chapel of St. Silvester, therefore a visit is well paid in any case.
  • Catacombs are usually in the top list of visits for a christian tourist and you find our infos on this visit here. Internal tours are provided, it is rather easy go on own.
  • In the same link you find infos on the Papal Audience, that you can easily attend on own, provided that you have reserved. Remember, it is free, do not pay somebody for this, it’s a fraud otherwise. The Angelus prayer with the Holy Father takes place almost every Sunday at noon sharp in Piazza San Pietro and you do not need a reservation.
  • Attending mass in Rome is the easiest thing to do, but you probably prefer an English “version” which is offered for instance in San Giorgio al Velabro, Saint Patrick, San Clemente (which definitely deserves a visit, especially the amazing excavations) or Caravita Oratory. If you look for a sung mass, you can head to Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Sant’Agnese in Agone on Piazza Navona. Very close to this famous piazza, you also have the Church of Jesus’ Nativity where the Congolese community animates the service with their typical style.
  • There are special days of the liturgical calendar when you might appreciate being in Rome: Christmas period is of course a magical moment with the Nativity and Christmas tree in St. Peter’s square and in most Roman churches, the Midnight Mass (book well in advance for St. Peter’s mass, while you can join any service in “normal churches”), Te Deum on Dec 31st (after the Vespers the Pope visits the Nativity scene on the piazza, no need to reserve for this “meeting”) and the Epiphany on January 6th, celebrated with an historical cortege following the Three Wise Men along Via della Conciliazione. On January 21st the church of St. Agnes outside the Walls, over homonymous catacombs, hosts the “blessing of the lambs”, a very old and complicated tradition we will be happy to explain when you come here! During Lent the main moment for a visitor is the Pope’s Via Crucis at Colosseum on Good Friday’s night. And check the date of Pentecost to be at the Pantheon and assist to the “red petals shower” through the oculus of the dome, symbolising the descent of the Holy Spirit. During summer the main event is the miraculous snowfall of Santa Maria Maggiore on Aug 5th, which recalls the event of the foundation of the basilica.

Contemporary Rome

Posted on Aug 19, 2020 in Arts and History, On your own | No Comments

“Eternal Rome” means that the jewel box of antiquity also has a very modern soul that will surprise you. Here is a list of areas, museums and venues we recommend, if you are looking for the contemporary aspect of Rome:

  • EUR district was the rationalist project that should have been hosting the EXPO of 1942, cancelled for WW2. Great buildings surround the area such as the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro (also called “squared Colosseum”), the former Palace of Congress and the new version, Fuksas’ Cloud, the artificial lake and the stele dedicated to Guglielmo Marconi, the huge domed church of St. Peter and St. Paul, meant originally as a mausoleum for Mussolini. We are happy to take you there for a guided visit, if you wish.
  • Interesting churches are Santo Volto di Gesù in Portuense area and the so called “Church of the Sails” by Richard Meier in Tor Tre Teste. Also faacinating is Paolo Portoghesi’s Mosque, accessible upon request on some days.
  • Street art is everywhere in Rome right now: Quadraro, Ostiense, San Lorenzo, Trullo, Pineta Sacchetti, Torpignattara, San Basilio, Rebibbia, Garbatella, Pigneto, Tormarancia… You can easily get lost and even accurate maps get old soon. We strongly recommend to visit these suburban districts with us, even better to rent a bike or a Vespa and get the highlights of Rome street art in a day…
  • Foro Italico is another creation of the Fascist age, with Mussolini’s obelisk, the great stadium “Dei Marmi”, the sport districts for tennis, swimming, diving and fencing and the nearby Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Not far from Foro Italico there is the Park of Music, anticipated by the recent “Bridge of Music” that leads to the MAXXI museum by Zaha Hadid and to Renzo Piano’s Auditorium
  • Other interesting museums dedicated to contemporary art are the MACRO, the National Gallery, the Civic Collection of Modern Art and the very unconventional MAAM Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove, a “museum of the Other and the Elsewhere”, a squat in a factory only accessible to visitors on Saturdays.

Food weirdos

Food can be a divisive subject, something so personal and “ancestral” that we immediately notice when somebody has different eating habits from us.

So, it was fun to collect some of the aspects that make us, Italians, seem weird to the eyes of people coming from another continent:

  • we usually eat lunch and dinner preferably at the same time, which means late! In summer we can easily have dinner at 9.30 or 10 pm, even when children are involved (at least in Rome and in the southern regions)
  • we mostly eat Italian food *all the time* ! Yes, we are fond of our gastronomy and eating “ethnic cuisine” is usually a special occasion. This is changing, though: new generations like fusion food and the spread of delivery services made Italians more familiar with different options.
  • We eat one kind of food at a time: only exception is the main course (fish or meat) with its side vegetables, but you never combine pasta and salad, for instance.
  • The reason for the previous point is probably connected with the presence of many fresh ad quality ingredients in our culinary tradition, which are better appreciated if they are “alone” or just in the good and well explored combination (tomatoes and mozzarella, for instance). We give a lot of importance to acronymous like DOP, DOC, IGT… What do they mean? For food, the best guarantee is DOP (a denomination of protected origin): it means the environment has a special influence in the creation of that product and the whole process must happen in a determined location. The easiest examples are Parmigiano Reggiano or Parma Ham, but we have 167 products in Italy with this special recognition, no other European country can say the same! A step below is the IGP products: we have 130 of these examples and it means at least one phase (growing, transforming or making the final product) happens in a specific geographical area. We care a lot for these quality marks and we appreciate genuine single flavours: in the end, a good hand sliced prosciutto only needs some focaccia and a glass of wine to be a perfect meal!
  • To continue this little “lesson” on food acronymous, best wines are labelled as DOCG, which means that their denomination is “controlled” and “guaranteed” by a commission. Not only they have to follow a disciplinary code during the production and can only be produced in a specific territory (as the DOC wines are), but they have to maintain this quality level for at least 10 consecutive years and be tested mechanically AND by a human analysis. Of course all this attention raises the price of the wine, but if you want to taste a good wine without spending a fortune be sure that it is a least an IGT (the territory is not too restricted, but the vines have to be carefully selected and indicated, without mixing too much)
  • pizza doesn’t come pre-cut. And we order one pizza each, it’s an individual dish, not something you share, at least not when you are sitting down in a pizzeria
  • salad is not served as an entree, but as a side dish with the main course. And the only dressing option is olive oil, salt and – for those who like it – vinegar or lemon juice. This seasoning is personally done, the restaurant is never serving an “already dressed” salad.
  • Fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmesan, pepperoni pizza... you won’t find these recipes listed in Italian restaurants in Italy! If you like the pizza with spicy sausage, ask for a “pizza con salame piccante”, and instead of those “movies pastas”, order “tonnarelli cacio e pepe” or “fettuccine al ragù”. Chicken is usually served here with peperoni (i.e. non spicy peppers) or grilled, while you will surely enjoy eggplant parmesan, really delicious!
  • coffee is better tasting at a bar instead of restaurants: so, it is usually better (and cheaper!) to ask for the bill before coffee and have a healthy walk to the first good bar (yes, the bar here serves coffee, not alcool… at least, not only) and drink your espresso standing … “as the Romans do”
  • we usually have gelato on a cone, generally two or three flavours at the time (same price!) and we eat it while we walk in our errands or during a promenade
  • cookies for breakfast are not a treat, it’s totally normal. While eggs for breakfast are extremely rare in an Italian house.

Do you know other weird aspect of Italian eating habits? Let us know with an email to info@afriendinrome.it

Aperitivo on the roof

Posted on Aug 19, 2020 in On your own | No Comments

In a time in which traveling is restricted, everybody is looking for alternatives, from staycations to any town activity that makes you feel “on holiday”.

For instance enjoying the sunset with a drink from the rooftop of a smart terrace. And, let’s admit it, when the view is the skyline of Rome, the trick is done!

Thanks to the suggestions of some friends who are actively “researching” and testing, we have here now a list of cool places for aperitivo with a view which will come useful when you are able to join us again from abroad.
If you have suggestion to add to this list, send us a mail to info@afriendinrome.it

Children in Rome: with us

Posted on Jul 13, 2020 in Children | No Comments

Following our post dedicated to families travelling to Rome, and our tips to enjoy your spare time with your children on own, here is the final section dedicated to what we can do for you: we offer tours and activities especially planned for family.

Up to 6 year old.

Very young travellers manage following short “theme tours” according to the special interests : animals, knights, ghosts… but also gladiators (there’s no better place than Rome!!). Kids with an artistic bent, enjoy our art labs and everybody is in for a gelato tour!

7 to 12 year old.

Theme tours and gelato tours still work very well at this age. But we can also add:

  • kids friendly orientation walks in the city centre (the gelato tour is one of those)
  • dedicated history and art tours : “Gladiators and games in ancient Rome”, “Every day life in ancient Ostia”, “Mythology  at the Borghese Gallery” are some examples.
  • kids friendly visits at the Capitoline Museums, Villa Giulia and Centrale Montemartini: these museums are very quiet  and it is easier for our guides to play with you and your kids when there is space at disposal and no confusion. 
  • kids friendly Vatican and Ancient Rome tours
  • VR tours (with the support of devices for virtual reality)
  • easy bike tours or more challenging depending on their age
  • a horse back ride along the Appian Way
  • art labs (fresco, mosaic, oil painting and watercolours) combined with special tours dedicated to the same technique (for instance our “best seller” of this section is “Michelangelo for a day)
  • food experiences: from walking tours with food tastings to cooking classes (pizza class and gelato lab make them thrilled!), 
  • underground Rome tours
  • “orienteering tour” in ancient Ostia, if they like maps 

Teens.

Several of the above proposals can suit your teens, at this stage they grow up fast and differently one from another, so we need your help more than ever to know what they might still like of the above proposals. About this age frame, we also recommend our article here.

What surely makes them feel “grown up” is a Vespa Tour: if you are able to ride a scooter, you can take your teens with you and – we bet – they will never forget it! Of course you need a good scooter experience! Otherwise just reserve our drivers in addition to the guide. We know that teenagers can lose attention quickly during a sightseeing, but this general overview onboard of a Vespa with short stops can help a lot to keep them interested for the whole tour. 

We also arrange “Street art tours” in several suburban areas of Rome: teens usually like the off-the-beaten-path itineraries, the adventurous feeling and this contemporary form of art. Moreover, we can reach these areas by Vespas or bikes, making the whole day an exciting experience.

A tour we especially designed for teens is Angels & Demons tour: inspired by the 2009 American mystery-thriller film directed by Ron Howard and based on Dan Brown’s novel. It is the sequel to the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code. Angels & Demons takes  place in Rome and this gave us the idea of following the footsteps of the main character, Robert Langdon, in his thrilling chase through the city. We suggest you watch this movie before your trip to Rome with your teenage travelling companions and then explore Rome and its “Altars of Science” with us! 

Children in Rome: on own

Posted on Jul 13, 2020 in Children, On your own | No Comments

Following our post about how to best arrange a family trip in Rome when young travellers are involved, here we collected several suggestion on how to spend your spare time with kids in Rome, divided by age groups:

Up to 6 year old.

  • Casina di Raffaello (indoor): it is a game room located in the Borghese Park. It’s open everyday except Mondays. It’s free for babies up to 3 y.o. (a ticket applies to older children). Check their website for workshops, special events and updated infos. A nice playground area is just outdoors 
  • Borghese Park (outdoor): apart from the “Casina di Raffaello”, the park is a perfect location for young children: you can rent bikes and rickshaws, even a boat to row on the small lake. A light train service is offered and drives across the whole garden. You can arrange a picnic and spend the warmest hours of summer days under the shady trees. 
  • Gianicolo Hill (outdoor): on top of this beautiful terrace overlooking Rome (which will delight grown-ups!) you can still enjoy a traditional puppet show on Sunday mornings: it’s in Italian, but usually young kids like it anyway! And – at noon sharp (every day, rain or shine!) – a cannon shots a ball to mark the time: you will be surrounded by several Italian children with their grandparents!
  • EXPLORA (indoor): check the website for the updated activities, opening times, prices and services of the “Museum of the Children”. It is within walking distance from Piazza del Popolo (Flaminio stop on metro line A or tram line).
  • Swimming pool (outdoor): during summertime many hotels open their pools to external guests (Parco dei Principi, Aldrovandi, ES, Exedra, Hotel del Gianicolo, Hotel Villa Pamphili, Waldorf Cavalieri…) and this could be a refreshing break for your children. There are also public pools such as the Piscina delle Rose in EUR district (B line of the Metro, Palasport stop) or the amusing water park Hydromania leaving the city.
  • Public playgrounds (outdoors): apart from the public parks (Villa Pamphili, Parco degli Acquedotti, Villa Ada, Villa Glori, Villa Torlonia…) there are several nice playgrounds around the city. We like the one at the back of the Auditorium (tram line n° 2 from Piazza Risorgimento to the end in Piazza Mancini)
  • Libraries and bookshops (indoor): usually young kids like relaxing in the quiet atmosphere of a library or a bookshop. In the city centre we recommend the children public library “Biblioteca Centrale dei Ragazzi” closed on Saturday p.m., Sundays and Mondays and located within walking distance of Campo dei fiori (Via San Paolo alla Regola 15-18). 
Explora Museum

From 7 to 12.

All the above activities can still be interesting to older children and we also add the following:

  • Catacombs (indoor): every day of the week there is an open catacomb, just check their websites (for instance San Sebastiano or San Callisto). Despite being ancient Christian cemeteries, they are not gloomy and usually fascinate children with their underground tunnels and little engraved symbols similar to their own drawings! If the weather allows it, you can plan a short excursion to the Appian Way where these catacombs are located and have a picnic on the grass. 
  • Climb St. Peter’s Dome! Don’t tell your children there are 551 steps to reach the top of the highest dome in Italy, but let them count the steps one after another! They’ll love it and they (and you!) will enjoy the breathtaking view from there. This is a physical activity you can promise them after touring the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. 
  • A theme park dedicated to ancient Rome has just been opened (July 2020), its called Roma World and it can be reached by shuttle from EUR Palasport metro B stop. 
  • The School of Gladiators: a gladiator instructor of the Gruppo Storico Romano will teach you how to fight with wooden swords and will train you. Dressed in a gladiator tunic, you will learn the basic techniques of gladiatorial sword fighting and take part in a gladiatorial combat. This is also the opportunity to ask any questions about the gladiator life and to touch good replicas of the weapons they used. You will come away with amazing photos of a unique experience taking a leap into history! 

Teens.

Chose the suitable activities of the previous lists (for instance, the school of the gladiator usually appeals at any age, including dads!) and here you have some extra ideas:

  • Capuchin Friars Crypt (indoor): not far from the Spanish Steps and Trevi fountain there is a creepy ghostly crypt that teenagers usually find fascinating: five little rooms used as a cemetery and praying chapels by the Franciscan monks are completely decorated with the real bones of the deceased friars! The surreal atmosphere should not distract from the miraculous preservation of the bones and the spiritual significance of this unusual decoration. 
  • Technotown (indoor): nothing compared to huge Science Museums in other major capitals of the world, but if your children like technology, this might be a suitable break from main visits. It is located in a beautiful park (Villa Torlonia) along the Nomentana (and we offer an off the beaten path tour over there, even by bike) and it is open every day except Mondays, for children over 8.
  • The Museum of Video Games: Vigamus is a small museum, but the selection of vintage video games is amazing and you can try them all. Video games are part of contemporary culture and art, therefore learning their evolution can be a break from all the “ancient stuff” and “church stuff” your kids will be exposed to during a trip in Italy…
  • A day at the beach (outdoor): if your teens love the seaside, you can treat themselves to a day at the beach. The sea around Rome is not spectacular, but beaches are fun! You can eat fresh fish, play beach volley, meet new friends and wait for a sunset drink or a night of dancing! As I’ve often been told by foreign friends, no trip to Italy is complete without a day on the beach, such is its unique atmosphere! The closest beach is Ostia Lido, which might be a nice relaxing time after a visit to the excavations in Ancient Ostia. Otherwise you can pick from Santa Marinella, Fregene, Anzio, Nettuno or the clean waters in Circeo National Park.    

Last part of this blog post is what we can do for you during your stay in Rome with young travellers: tours, activities and experiences tailored on these age ranges are collected here.

Children in Rome

Posted on Jul 13, 2020 in Children | No Comments

Rome offers a lot to families with children: many open air attractions, the food every child loves, curiosities for any interest or age, and professional guides with a special attitude with kids (yes, thats us!)

At A FRIEND IN ROME we do not offer standard kids tours, but a selection of itineraries and well prepared tour guides who have the experience and good will to manage a tour for a whole family, keeping the youngest involved. 

We rely on your help, you know your children better than anyone else and we need your support to interact and keep them interested. Before coming to Rome, let us know if there are special need and interest in your family, so we can be prepared. And we recommend reading this other post, with suggestions on family trips from Conde Nast Traveller magazine

It’s important to prepare your children with books, stories, cartoons or movies about our city, our artworks and history: they will be curious to see what they have been introduced to and eager to learn more. 

This is what we can do for you: 

  1. we help you planning: we know how much every activity/visit requires, we know distances, best accommodations and restaurants for families, how to celebrate a birthday during the trip or any special day… Just contact us at info@afriendinrome.it , we are here to help!
  2. we can give you several suggestions on how to spend your spare time with kids in Rome, see this special post divided by age groups 
  3. we offer here a list of tours and activities especially planned for families with children or teens, divided by age groups 

10 things you might ignore about St. Peter’s basilica

Posted on Jul 7, 2020 in Arts and History | No Comments

St. Peter’s basilica re-opend recently to guided visits (July 2020) and it has never been so empty and pleasant to visit. Usually, long lines force us to avoid a dedicated tour and only offer a quick visit after the Vatican Museum, when you are already tired and overwhelmed by beauty and information. Now the shortcut from the Sistine Chapel into the basilica is not available, so this is not even an option at the moment. 

The basilica surely deserves a specific tour as it is one of the greatest masterpieces created by mankind not only in Rome, but in the planet. I just revised my notes and added new ones in order to organise an in-depth-tour of the basilica: I have more pages for this building  alone than some entire neighbourhoods and museums! So much to learn and enjoy in there, basically the whole art history of our country from the end of the  XV century to recent years is condensed in this monument. 

Here are some “fun fact” to entice your curiosity before your next visit to Rome!

  1. The size of this basilica is already mythical. Just a quick point of reference: the piazza, elliptical  as the Colosseum is, could contain the Colosseum itself, it is in fact 50 meters wider (164 feet!). And did you already know that the Statue of Liberty could easily stand under our dome? 117 mt is the internal height of the dome (383 feet), while the top of the torch reaches 93 mt “only” i.e. 305 feet!
  2. We have four beautiful lamp-posts in the piazza , have you ever noted them? They were added by pope Pius IX as a symbol of modernity in 1854 ad they were the very first gas lamps in Rome! 
  3. On top of the facade of the church there are 13 statues: Jesus of course, surrounded by 12 “friends”… one would think, the 12 apostles, right? No, just 10 apostles. Judas was replaced by St. Matthias, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. and then you have St. John the Baptist up there. Why is that? Because St. Peter came down on the piazza to join his “colleague” St. Paul, they are always always always together here in Rome!
  4. Twenty three emperors were crowned in the basilica by the popes (well, in one occasion  – it was the year 1355 – the pope was far away, in Avignon, France, for a while – you know, about 70 years! So he delegated a cardinal to perform the ceremony on his behalf). The tradition started in the year 800 with Charlemagne and ended in 1452 with Frederick III, and this prestigious ritual gave them the title of “Holy Roman Emperor”. We still have the  red stone where they used to kneel down in the basilica. Amazing. 
  5. Let’s talk mosaics: do you know the interior of the basilica is totally decorated in stones (very few exceptions) and whatever looks like a painting is in fact a mosaic ? The surface  covered in mosaic is approx 2,5 acres! And the Vatican has the most important “mosaic workshop” iin the world, operating since the year 1727.
  6. There are many important tombs in the basilica and in the so called “grottoes”: do you know even three important ladies are buried in the basilica? The queen of Poland Mary Clementine Sobiesky, the queen of Sweden, Christine,  who renounced to her throne to embrace the Catholic faith and spent the rest of her life in Rome and the powerful medieval woman Matilda of Canossa, a key character of the Investiture  Controversy. None of them is a saint! 
  7. There are important relics preserved in the basilica of course, including remains of three apostles. Not just St Peter’s, also Simon the Zealot and Jude Thaddeus. 
  8. Ever heard of the “pallii”? it is a very interesting tradition of the special “stoles” for archbishops and this story connects St. Peter’s tomb to the nuns of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, the church of St Agnes, whose name means “lamb”, the wool of two lambs blessed on the day of St. Agnes, the abbey of the Three Fountains… you already get that it’s a complicated ritual! I find it so fascinating that these “protocols” are still followed in the exact same way  after a millennium, you can learn the whole story during a tour with us!
  9. Clocks: there are two in the facade (substituting the never accomplished bell towers… and BTW they are two mosaics of 4 mt of diameter!) and  two in the interior, one with the regular quadrant of 12 hours, but also one showing six hours only: it is the Italian , or Roman, system, another interesting story to learn.
  10. In Africa, and precisely in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Ivory Coast a huge church was consecrated in 1990 by Pope John Paul II, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.The design of the dome and encircled plaza is clearly inspired by the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City, although it is not an outright replica. Guinness World Records lists it as the largest church in the world, having surpassed the previous record holder, St. Peter’s Basilica, upon completion. It has an area of 30,000 square metres (320,000 sq ft)and is 158 metres (518 ft) high. However, it also includes a rectory and a villa (counted in the overall area), which are not strictly part of the church. It can accommodate 18,000 worshippers, compared to 60,000 for St. Peter’s.
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Ivory Coast

FAQ: how do you remember all this “stuff” about Rome?

Posted on May 14, 2020 in Time out to reflect | No Comments

Many people in this time of lockdown rediscovered the game of jigsaw… it explains well our system of memorising information and concepts connected to the history of Rome. At the beginning you are… puzzled! You do not know where to start from, too many pieces, let’s imagine an image split in 2773 pieces, one for each year of the history of Rome!

You start from the frame: corners and flat pieces are easier to identify and this way you create a container for the other pieces, right? These are the basic infos on the city of Rome, the milestones, main events and dates, main artists and characters. 

Then you proceed with groups of pieces similar by color or subject: these are the main stories related to a specific monument, church, museum, piazza…. 

Little by little all these clusters of pieces connect to each other and they “make sense”… the more you study, the easier it is to remember connections of events and people, because they have a logical relationship. 

And final pieces of a puzzle are easy to insert, as they can only be there, in the few spots left blank… that’s the refinement part of our job of understanding… when you put the final touches to your “picture”. 

Rome is our game, a fascinating endless game of putting pieces in a picture!

How do we create a new tour?

Posted on May 7, 2020 in Time out to reflect | No Comments

In this period of “travel freeze” we can devote time to studying and preparing new tours. Hopefully soon we will have access again to attractions, churches and museums to complete the path, as you’ll see below how essential is the inspection to the whole process. So, how do we proceed when we decide to introduce a new tour in our portfolio? (BTW, current portfolio already includes 82 tours/activities, but we love diversity, even when it comes to tours!)

  1. first of all, we have to be fascinated ourselves by a specific subject or period, or maybe a new site/exhibition … here below is the Crypta Balbi, a museum that opened in Rome only in 2001, included in our portfolio since last year, 2019. A new tour for 2020 is “Rome in WW2” and two more are almost ready: one is the “Raphael tour” , the other is dedicated to “Villa Giulia and the Etruscans”
  2. we start studying the context: for instance the medieval history and architecture of Rome for Cripta Balbi, the reasons why the Roman Empire collapsed, the sa called “late antiquity” phase…
  3. we visit several monuments or remains dating back to the same period or related to the same age (for instance I studied the churches of S. Maria Antiqua and S.Maria in Via Lata, together with some other underground sites of the city centre such as Vicus Caprarius and Domitian stadium…). If possible, we are escorted by some experts, for instance I had the chance to visit Crypta Balbi with an archaeologist who dug there, or I went to the Ardeatine Caves with a colleague who is also the granddaughter of one of the victims of the massacre happening there during Nazi’s occupation, in order to prepare the tour about WW2.
  4. of course we study the catalogue the site/museum (if available) in details at this stage, when every information in there makes more sense.
  5. this is when we visit the site again, with new eyes!
  6. at this stage (and not earlier) we are ready to revise our notes, organise all the infos, create an itinerary outdoors and inside the museum that follows our “thread”, and finally we select useful images to be loaded on our tablets and be at hand during the tour.
  7. Eventually we visit the site again, checking the itinerary, testing times and exact locations (where can we stop for short and long explanations, where is the sun/shade, where can we rest or give a break to our guests…)

I can’t wait to go out for points 5, 6 and 7 and be ready with the next two tours already “in store”. And then I’ll start planning for more!

Crypta Balbi, the exedra 

PS If you want to know more of the life of a tour guide “behind the curtains”, read the 16 chapters I collected in our Facebook Page at the dedicated album.