Rome off the Beaten Path

Giant foot in the Capitoline Museums

With over 10 million tourists a year, Rome is the third most visited city in Europe after London and Paris. And for good reason. It is a treasure trove of ancient monuments, history and art. Unfortunately, Rome is also one of those cities with a disproportionate focus on a handful of obvious sights such as the Colosseum or St. Peter’s Basilica. But what makes Rome so fantastic is not just the classics, it’s the sum of everything that lies in between.

Finding the not-so-obvious, however, can be quite a daunting task. Many of Rome’s lesser-known attractions are literally underground. But if you make the effort to look beyond the well-trodden trail, you’ll be surprised what you discover. After first introducing our Classic Rome Highlights in a previous post, here are some of our favorite off-the-beaten-path attractions in and around Rome to get you started. Continue…

Rome for Curious Foodies

Shopping at Volpetti

I don’t think it’s a secret that Tony and I love to eat. As bloggers, we cover all aspects of travel, but food is definitely one of our favorite topics. Needless to say, Rome was an obvious place for a little food-venture. Our research on local specialties had us drooling all over our keyboards. Stuffed zucchini flowers, truffled pecorino, and Roman Jewish-style artichokes were just a few treats we wanted to try. We couldn’t wait to start eating.

As it turns out, navigating Rome’s labyrinth of restaurants and food markets was a lot more challenging than you might expect. The city is gigantic, very touristy, and much of the center is plagued by mediocre, overpriced tourist fare. So where could we get our specialty cheeses, an authentic home-cooked meal, or the best gelato? Obviously, we didn’t want to spend our good money on bad food. So we did what any sensible blogger would do: we sought professional help. Continue…

Classic Rome Highlights

The Pantheon

They say that all roads lead to Rome. Well, we finally made it to the Eternal City, so it must be true. In our case, we traveled the long way around through Asia and South America literally taking every road known to man to get here. And to celebrate our victory, we spent one glorious month exploring Rome’s amazing architectural and artistic treasures as well as delving into the city’s exciting culinary world.

We quickly realized that Rome is positively overwhelming. The number of churches, Roman temples, gelaterias, street markets, fountains, villas, galleries, museums, and piazzas made our heads spin. We could spend years here exploring and never see it all.

For that reason, it’s even more crucial to plan your itinerary beforehand to get the most out of your visit. To help out a bit, we will be highlighting some of our favorite attractions both on and off the well-trodden Roman path. To begin, let’s start with the classics! Continue…

Plan your Visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper

Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Milan

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the second most famous painting in the world after that other da Vinci masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. The superstar 15th-century mural is probably the most duplicated painting on the planet. It shows up on posters, placemats, calendars, coffee cups, mouse pads and any other flat surface humanity can print a picture on. We have personally spotted this painting everywhere from Hong Kong to Las Vegas, from Buenos Aires to Nairobi. It’s everywhere. For that reason, it has become one of Milan’s most famous attractions. Unfortunately, many visitors never get to see it.

When da Vinci was asked to paint The Last Supper on a wall in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, he chose to paint on dry wall rather than on wet plaster as is traditionally done in frescoes. This meant that the famous painting started to deteriorate almost immediately after he finished it. As if that weren’t problem enough, the painting has a history of abuse which would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. French troops actually Continue…

Monteriggioni

Walls and churches, walls and churches – so sue me! Clearly, I’m not going to come all the way to Tuscany and skip Monteriggioni, an obvious destination for someone with a walled city fetish.

Because of bus connections, I arrived in the tiny town at 8:30 AM, hours before locals crawl out of bed. I literally had the entire place to myself – not a single human in sight – for at least an hour. Judging by the Continue…

The Sator Square

Move over Dan Brown, you’re not the only one with architectural mysteries to unravel. While I was exploring Siena’s stunning cathedral, I overheard a tour guide casually referencing the fact that somewhere on the cathedral’s exterior, there was a rare Sator Square. She explained that the Sator Square is an elaborate “word square,” an especially complex type of palindrome said to possess magical properties.

Like a basic palindrome, the Sator Square is the same when read forwards or backwards. But it goes a step further. When the five words are stacked, they can Continue…

Gothic Siena

Once upon a time, cities were built with a sense of fantasy. Crazy rulers would throw out an idea like, “Hey, I know, let’s build the city square in the shape of a giant clam shell. We’ll divide the shell into nine sections where the city’s rival clans can sit. Oh yeah, and we’ll construct a race track around it where horsemen representing those rival clans can compete.”

Siena is medieval madness at its very best. Not only did that clam-shell race track become a reality, the entire city is one huge example of Gothic magnificence. Even today, the city is still fully Continue…

Underground in Orvieto

Orvieto has its little secrets. In their mad dash across Europe, many visitors make the mistake of making a beeline from the funicular to the famous cathedral, snapping a few shots, and rushing back out again. Big mistake. This little tourist town offers a lot to those who take the time to go underground.

The baffling lead picture, which looks like a strange piece of abstract art, is actually a photograph from the Continue…

The Cathedral of Orvieto

As Thomas returns to Germany, I’ve diverted south into northern Umbria to take in the magnificent Duomo of Orvieto. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m on a quest, an “architectural adventure,” to take in central Italy’s best Gothic cathedrals. (That should give architecture fans a clue as to where I’m headed next.)

The small town of Orvieto itself is a sight to behold. Situated on a volcanic plug, the entire town is a natural fortress. Curiously, the location bears an odd resemblance to the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, one of my favorite places in the U.S. Most visitors arriving by train travel up the steep walls of the table mountain by a classic three-rail funicular quite similar to Hong Kong’s Peak Tram. A short walk through the atmospheric town and you come face to face with Orvieto’s pride and joy.

The cathedral’s interior alone would be enough to attract visitors. Extreme Continue…

The Towers of San Gimignano

After several days of Renaissance splendor in Florence, we decided to venture beyond the city and explore a bit of rural Tuscany. Yay! Setting out by local bus, we made our way from village to village through a patchwork landscape of colorful vineyards and ancient olive groves. We had timed our trip perfectly to witness locals out in the fields harvesting olives.

As we approached our destination, we caught a glimpse of the impressive skyline through the fall foliage. Like a medieval Manhattan, San Gimignano with its ancient towers and fortifications is the clear superstar of central Tuscany Continue…