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Viva La Italy, Yes It’s as Great as They Say

The Martyrs Cross stands in front of the Colosseum to honor Christians who were never actually killed there.

O.K. sports fans. So my career is traveling the world and telling people’s stories. Mostly I write about people who are oppressed, subjugated, the victims of violence, terrorism, hunger and the vilest affliction – poverty. So in short I go places most folks wouldn’t dare to go. But once in a while I get to travel to the usual tourist traps but being me my travels aren’t your typical American vacay stories. So I thought I’d share my travel log and today we are being whisked off to Italy.

The Colosseum

No trip to Rome would be complete without a dip into the concrete palace that is the Colosseum. Commissioned by Roman Emperor Vespasian in 70 A.D., this 50,000 seat amphitheater was finished just 10 years later. (It’s 2010 and we still don’t have a 9/11 memorial. What’s up with that?)

Sorry sports fans describing with words is inadequate. You’re just going to have to go there. But I did take a picture that I think captures its essence.

I took the picture on the left with my iPhone. I love the scale of the Christian cross dwarfs the secular Colosseum which is much like Rome is today, where the Catholic Church rules all on the foundation of thousands of years of human advancement. The cross was erected as a monument to the Christian martyrs who were slaughtered after Jesus’ proclamation. However, there’s no historical evidence to suggest that Christians were actually killed in the Colosseum. Instead they were usually slaughtered in a one mile pathway behind the Colosseum known as Circus Flaminius. (I had a picnic lunch there, beautiful park now.) The Colosseum is officially a Roman museum so you have to pay to get in and they give expensive tours in a zillion language. You don’t need the tour. Read a book before you get there it’s cheaper.

MUSEUM TIP: Here’s a tip when visiting a European city with old stuff: Get a Museum Pass. In Rome it’s called a Roma Pass and you can find them at any Roman tourist office. (They have one at the central station in Rome where all the trains come in called Tivoli, it’s like Rome’s version of Central Station.) The museum pass will save you a ton of money and time. With each pass you get a map of all the museums plus information on bus lines, trains and cab routes as well as discounts and even some freebies. It’s a gold mine and will save you some foot wear and tear. Getting around Rome is much more difficult than other European cities. Its city transportation is very limited, because the city can’t dig deep tunnels for metro stations for fear of destroying some ancient artifact.

Colosseum on a Beautiful Day

When In Rome: Get off the Street

Rome is probably the most tourist packed city I’ve ever been too, besides New York. And just like New York it has its tourist traps which are mostly in the Colosseum, or Ancient Monuments district. This district has limited car traffic and heavy foot traffic. You’ll hear every language from Italian, to Nigerian, to Arabian, to Spanish to good ole’ fashioned Texan on the ancient road Via dei Fori Imperiali which runs right through the heart of Rome and end at the Colosseum. To see what people see in Rome you have to go to Via dei Fori Imperiali.

HOTEL TIP: Rome is just one big circle but if you want to see the ancient sites without having to walk a ton then you have to stay near Fori Imperiali. But as you can imagine the hotels on this street are pretty expensive. Many charge up to 200 euros ($400) a night for a room the size of your childhood bedroom. So here’s a tip, try to stay in a hotel that is just one block west or east of Fori Imperiali. I got a killer deal, staying at the Fori Imperiali Cavalieri on via Frangipane, just one block to the left of Fori Imperiali. I paid about $100 bucks a night for this  air-conditioned hotel that was just blocks from the Colosseum where I walked to basically everyday. Another tip: book online and book a night at a time. It’s a long story but I arrived in Rome without a place to stay. So I found an Internet cafe and found this hotel after getting a map. Normally, this hotel can run as much as $185 a night but I got a great deal on line. When my accommodations still didn’t come through the next day I asked for a late check and booked another room at the killer price around 4 p.m. online. They wanted to fill the hotel so I got a cheap rate. The next day the guy at the desk just kept telling me to check back each day and I never had to pay more than 60 euros. NICE!

Eat Like a Roman, Not a Tourist

Black Truffle Veal with Homemade Fettucini - La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, Rome Italy

My first full day in Rome I took a bus tour just to get the lay of the land. It was the best 12 euros I’ve ever spent because it gave me the lay of the land and allowed me to chart a course around the city. One thing I learned pretty quickly is that the food that’s sold on the main tourist streets in Rome is crap. No offense but they pizza isn’t fresh and they leave it under these heat lamps. Those little cute trattorias with the red-and-white table cloths are expensive and the food is average. If you want to eat real Italian food then eat where Italians eat. The picture on the left (another iPhone masterpiece) was taken at La Taverna dei Fori Imperali. Even the New York Times calls this place a real find. You won’t find this restaurant in ritzy travel books but just ask Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, they both eat there when they’re in Rome.

Pic of Pacino and DeNiro in La Taverna

Whenever I travel to some place I usually never read travel books, blogs. I guess since I talk to people for a living I prefer to ask natives where the good things are. So we got this recommendation from a guy staying at the same hotel who got it from the hotel night manager. It is a true Italian restaurant, rarely visited by tourists despite it being just steps from the tourist trap that is Via dei Fori Imperiali. The

Chef of La Taverna

food is excellent, a great variety and  the family-owned restaurant is filled with love, laughs and Italians. Entrees were ONLY 10 Euros. I was floored. It was amazing.

Tomorrow I’m doing a Mother’s Day tribute but I’ll do more Italy on Monday. Next up: Getting to know Rome by getting out of town.



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