My first Christmas in Lazio

This is going to be my first Christmas in Lazio, my first Christmas in Italy. I'm not quite sure what to expect. Christmas in Italy, as in most Western countries is traditionally celebrated December 24th to January 6th, or from Christmas Eve to Epiphany (when La Befana, the kind witch, brings presents to good children).

Being English, I'm used to Christmas being all about eating as much roast turkey and trimmings as possible, whilst falling into a semi-prostrate pose in front of re-runs of 70s episodes of Morecambe and Wise. Rather than Morecambe and Wise, I'll probably end up watching some cine panettone such as 'Natale in Sud'Africa' with Belen Rodriguez, who seems to be everywhere (but doesn't seem to actually do anything). Another difference is that presepe, or nativity scenes are quite big in Lazio. These are fantastic, and seem to be on every corner in every village you come across. Here's a picture from Santuario di Castel Sant'Elia.

Nativity scenes are not the only thing that will be different. My adopted family celebrate on Christmas eve more than Christmas day itself. The whole family are going to head over to Nonna’s and have a big feast on Christmas eve evening. I'm told this will consist of a simple pasta dish, and some kind of combination of mare e monti, such as mushroom and shrimps, before we eat fried fish (probably cod) and fried vegetables (such as cauliflower or artichokes). Then, after heading to Church for midnight mass, we'll open our presents (when it's just Christmas).

We'll stay at Nonna’s for Christmas day as well. We’ll finish leftovers from the night before, as a prelude to a marathon eating session. We’ll have three different homemade pasta dishes, most likely tagliolini in brodo, spinach and ricotta ravioli and pappadelle with a rabbit or hare sauce. At this point in proceedings I usually start to get worried about the amount of food. After the THREE pasta courses, we struggle on to the secondi, the meat courses. I’m not sure what we’re having yet, but usually there is chicken, sheep and pork somewhere in the mix. This will be followed by a sweet pasta such as maccheroni dolci (pasta with sugar, nuts and pepper), with the coup de grace provided by a slice of panettone or Torrone.

Hopefully I’ll be able to walk some of the food off while screams of ‘Tombola!’ ring out over the deserted streets. Tombola is essentially like bingo, with each player having a scorecard with rows of numbers. However, unlike the American version, where you can shout ‘house!’ whenever you get a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, in Tombola, only horizontally counts. In our particular case, game-playing is sexually dimorphic; the women and children play Tombola while the men play an Italian card game called Tresette.

So that’s how I plan to spend my first Italian Christmas. Not much difference to Christmas elsewhere really, but with an Italian twist (and definitely more food!)

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, Buon Natale!

Christmas shopping in Rome - special deals on travel

Like any city, Rome gets awfully crowded at Christmas time. Thankfully, Comune di Roma have come up with a cunning plan (in Italian).

Until the 24th December, and then from the 2nd to the 30th of January, Comune di Roma have put on three specially designed free shuttle bus routes to take people from the outskirts to the city centre. A PDF map of the routes can be downloaded from this link.

(from, no copyright infringement intended)

The "Shopping 1" shuttle bus (navetta) theoretically runs every 7 minutes and runs from 8 December to 30 January. It follows a circular route, starting/ending at Porta Pinciana, and runs from 15:30 to 20:30 from the 8th to the 10th Dec and then 10:30-20:30 in the run up to Christmas (including Christmas eve).

The "Shopping 2" shuttle bus runs from Tor di Quinto to Augusto Imperatore from the 8th to the 24th December, with departures every 15 minutes between 10.30 and 20.30.

The "Shopping 3" bus serves north Rome and connects Via Pieve di Cadore to Piazzale delle Canestre. It runs from the 8th to the 24th December, every 15 minutes from 10.30 to 20.30.

In addition to these buses, ATAC are running more metro services at the weekends. On top of that, until the 24th December, you can buy 2 bus tickets for the price of one, i.e. you only pay €1 for three hours travel and then €0.77 for successive hours.

If you prefer to cycle, you can use Romes bike-sharing scheme for €0.50 per half hour (you'll need to register first, which as far as I'm aware only residents can do at the moment). A map of the bike stations can be found here.

If you must drive (seriously, is it worth it?), you can take advantage of free parking or greatly reduced rates at many of the city's car parks (e.g. at Villa Borghese). You simply need to get a receipt from one of the city centre shops (a directory of which can be found here) to qualify for reduced parking for 2 hours.

As if that wasn't enough to tempt you into Rome city centre, during the weekends running up to Christmas there will be an extensive pedestrian area between Largo Arenula and Piazza del Popolo. A map of the whole area can be downloaded as a PDF from here.

Buon Shopping!!

PS If it all gets too much and you need to concentrate purely on shopping, check out my previous post on Rome's many outlet shopping malls?

(all information taken from the Comune di Roma website)

Italian Gestures - A Handy Guide

We've all been there, your Italian fails you so you resort to gestures. Should be easy, right? Everyone knows Italians speak with their hands. How hard could it be? Well, the most important thing is to know exactly what you're saying! That's where this handy blog post comes in...

One of the interesting things with gestures is that most Italians think that they are universal. They expect everyone to know them, so often, when word fail you (or them), they start gesticulating and expect you to understand. Even after six years of learning about Italian culture, many of these are new to me!

For instance, for quite some time I've thought the 'You are nuts' gesture above actually meant someone thought I'd had a good idea or was particularly bright that day!! For all this time...

All images taken from

So do you agree with the meanings of the gestures above? My adopted Italian family use them all the time (well, most of them) and I'm only just learning what they all mean. Are there any other gestures I should know? Or, like me, have you had a funny experience with Italian hand gestures'?

Christmas Shopping in Rome - get me outlet here!

It's that time of year again, when, if you're anything like me, heading into town becomes a nightmare as you have to squeeze past stressed shoppers (or more recently protesting students), with everyone running around like headless chickens as they go back and forth from shop to shop to find all the best bargains.

However, if you're in Rome, and you fancy a break from the city, why not head to one of the out of town shopping outlets? I've always found these more fun, after all, they are designed for shopping, rather than Roman chariots.

Here are a few near Rome:

Parco Leonardo

This centro commerciale houses over 216 shops, covering houseware, womens clothes, a few clothes shops for men and an absolutely massive Auchan, which has pretty much everything you could ever need. It's open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m, including Sundays, and even has some nice places to stop for coffee or pasta. This interactive map details all the shops and restaurants.

Parco Leonardo is so called as it is very close to Fiumicino airport, which is officially called 'Leonardo da Vinci'. This means it's really easy to get to. From Rome, you can take the train (FR1) from Roma Tiburtina, Tuscolana, Ostiense, or Trastevere (or from even further afield, such as Stimigliano, as I do!) More information can be found here.

By car, take the GRA to exit 31 (follow the signs to Fiumicino airport) and then follow the signs for Parco Leonardo (on Autostrada Roma-Fiumicino).

Porta di Roma

Like Parco Leonardo, Porta di Roma contains over 200 shops, including Ikea and a massive Auchan, along with a cinema.

Porta di Roma can be reached by bus from Stazione Termini. Bus line 38 leaves Termini every 10 minutes (direction Baseggio). There is also a free shuttle bus from Piazza Bologna to Porta di Roma every hour from 9:30am till 10pm (thanks to fellow twitterers Gillian and BuzzInRome for this info).

Porta di Roma ('door of Rome') is as you'd expect just off the ring road (GRA). Take exits 9-10 for Settebagni and follow the signs for Bufalotta, then Centro Commerciale Porta di Roma.

Castel Romano Designer Outlet

If you crave top designer brands, you'll feel right at home at the Castel Romano Designer Outlet. Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Salvatore Ferragamo, La Perla, Zegna Outlet, Etro, CK Jeans, Camper, Diesel and more, all at factory prices. They often have very good discounts (on last year's stock, if that makes a difference to you) and it's even quite a pleasant place to walk around. It's open all week 10-8pm (9pm Friday-Sunday).

Castel Romano is just 25 km south-west of Rome, at the Castel Romano exit off the Via Pontina SS 148 (exit 26 of the GRA). I'm not sure if you can get there with public transport.

and here's one a little further afield:

Soratte Outlet

This is a new outlet commercial centre found in North Lazio, near Sant'Oreste. It's smaller than the rest, with just over 50 shops, but consequently is quieter and sometimes has better offers. The shops are of the high street variety, rather than designer, but we still enjoy having a look around. They are open from 10am-6pm and there are also some restaurants on site (I say that with a pinch of salt as they are of the Burger King variety). If you are interested in better food, or fancy mixing shopping with a bit of sight-seeing, check out a previous blog post on Sant'Oreste, a nearby town.

From Rome you can take the A1 autostrada (Rome-Florence), taking exit Ponzano R. - Soratte to Sant’Oreste. On their website they claim this will take 27 minutes, although I would give it 40. Alternatively, take the SS3 (Via Flaminia) up to Sant'Oreste and then follow the signs over Monte Soratte to the outlet. See here for further directions, and a handy map of the journey from the autostrada to the outlet. The nearest train station is Stimigliano, which is served by trains from Roma Trastevere, Ostiense, Tuscolana, or Tiburtina (direction Orte) and costs less than 7EUR for a day return.

There are a few more Outlets near Rome, such as Roma Est and Valmontone, but I haven't had chance to go to these yet, so if you've been to them let me know how they compare to the ones I've listed here.

Buon Shopping!

Translate Tuesday - Max Pezzali - Il Mondo Insieme A Te

OK, it's been a while since the last one, but since this super-cheesy song was playing a lot on the Radio when I spent my first 3 weeks in Rome (when I met my wife), I figured I couldn't do another Translate Tuesday without covering this song. Enjoy! (and apologies for the cheesiness) 



Il Mondo Insieme A Te Lyrics


Forse Non Sarei
Perhaps I would not be
come Sono Adesso

as I am now  
forse Non Avrei
maybe I wouldn't have
questa Forza Addosso

this Force I lean on
forse Non Saprei
maybe I wouldn't know
neanche Fare Un Passo

neither how to make a step
forse Crollerei

perhaps I would collapse
scivolando In Basso

slipping lower
invece Tu Sei Qui

instead You Are Here
e Mi Hai Dato Tutto Questo

and you have given me all this
e Invece Tu Sei Qui

and Instead You Are Here
mi Hai Rimesso Al Proprio Posto

you have put me back together
i Più Piccoli

even the little
pezzi Della Mia Esistenza

pieces of my existence

dando Loro Una Coerenza

them to give a coherence

come È Bello Il Mondo Insieme A Te

How Beautiful is the world together with you
mi Sembra Impossibile

to me it seems impossible
che Tutto Ciò Che Vedo C'è

that all this that I see is
da Sempre Solo Che

always there only that
io Non Sapevo Come Fare

I did not know what to do
per Guardare Ciò Che Tu

to watch all that you
mi Fai Vedere

make me see
come È Grande Il Mondo Insieme A Te

How Big is the world together with you
è Come Rinascere
it is like being reborn
e Vedere Finalmente Che

 and to see finally that
rischiavo Di Perdere

I risked to lose
mille Miliardi E Più Di Cose

a thousand billion and more of these things
se Tu Non Mi Avessi Fatto

if you had not given me
il Dono Di Dividerle Con Me

the gift of sharing them with me

forse Non Avrei

perhaps I wouldn't have
mai Trovato Un Posto

ever found a place
forse Non Potrei

perhaps I could not
regalarti Un Gesto

have treated myself a gesture
forse Non Saprei

maybe I wouldn't know
neanche Cosa È Giusto

not even what is right
forse Non Sarei

maybe I wouldn't
neanche Più Rimasto

even stayed more
invece Tu Sei Qui

instead You Are Here
sei Arrivata Per Restare

you arrived to stay
invece Tu Sei Qui

instead You Are Here
non Per Prendere O Lasciare

Not to take it or to leave it
ma Per Rendermi

but to render me
ogni Giorno Un Po' Migliore

every day a little better

to teach me
la Semplicità Di Amare

the simplicity of love
come È Bello Il Mondo Insieme A Te

How Beautiful is the world together with you
mi Sembra Impossibile

to me it seems impossible
che Tutto Ciò Che Vedo C'è

that all this that I see is
da Sempre Solo Che

always there only that
io Non Sapevo Come Fare

I did not know what to do
per Guardare Ciò Che Tu

to watch all that you
mi Fai Vedere

make me see
come È Grande Il Mondo Insieme A Te

How Big is the world together with you
è Come Rinascere
it is like being reborn
e Vedere Finalmente Che

and to see finally that
rischiavo Di Perdere

I risked to lose
mille Miliardi E Più Di Cose

a thousand billion and more of these things
se Tu Non Mi Avessi Fatto

if you had not given me
il Dono Di Dividerle Con Me

the gift of sharing them with me

come È Grande Il Mondo Insieme A Te
How Big is the world together with you
è Come Rinascere
it is like being reborn
e Vedere Finalmente Che

 and to see finally that
rischiavo Di Perdere

I risked to lose
mille Miliardi E Più Di Cose

a thousand billion and more of these things
se Tu Non Mi Avessi Fatto

if you had not given me
il Dono Di Dividerle Con Me

the gift of sharing them with me

Where am I? - The Answer

It's been two weeks since my last post. Two weeks of sun, sea and fantastic Mayan ruins. Do you know where I went?

Perhaps it would help if I gave a few more clues...

As I said, it was somewhere Mayan...

... with one of the new seven wonders of the world,

Chichen Itza
 as well as more modern fare.


Ruins in the Jungle...

... as well as by the sea...


Yes, I went to MEXICO!!!!!

And I can thoroughly recommend it!

Well done to Dona for guessing correctly!! (How did you know?)

(all images copyright

Where am I?

I'm taking a two week vacation!

Can you guess where I'm going?

(Image taken from, no copyright infringement intended)

The best bottled water? Acqua di Nepi of course!

One of the things that I love about Italy is the passion for food. It's an obvious thing to say, but from the top to the bottom, Italian's love food, preparing it, eating it, talking about it. As an Englishman, this is a revelation and a welcome new world to explore (even if, by default, they don't give any weight to my opinion...). The Italian commitment to culinary excellence is only surpassed by the Italian aspiration to have a strong opinion about food. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, the 'which bottled water is the best' discussion is a common debate in most Italian families. In our household, and the household of most Italians we know (living in the Provinces of Rome and Viterbo), the discussion is pretty quick, with an obvious winner - Acqua di Nepi*.

Image from the Acqua di Nepi site 

Acqua di Nepi is found in most restaurants in the province of Rome (i.e. the area around Rome) and the province of Viterbo and is generally regarded by my adoptive Italian family to be a sign of quality. I have to say, that while I'm not usually a fan of frizzante, Acqua di Nepi frizzante (the green label) is wonderfully sweet with a soft sparkle, and I'm defintely developing a soft spot for it.

Nepi itself is also worth a visit, if you get the chance. It's a wonderful town about 30km south-east of Viterbo and about 13km south-west of Civita Castellana. As of 2005, there were 8,438 inhabitants. We were there two weeks ago and enjoyed a lovely walk around the pedestrianized town center, taking in the Borgia castle (from the outside, it was closed on the Sunday we were there) and the outstanding views over the surrounding ravines, right on the edge of the town. We particularly enjoyed hanging around in the square in front of the town hall, which was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and has a working bell tower. Just in front of it there's a fountain that is believed to have been designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. On the left (when you're looking at the town hall) there is the Cathedral of the Assunta, built in the 12th century over a pagan temple. It was rebuilt in 1831 after French troops had set it on fire during the Napoleonic Wars (according to Wikipedia). Nepi was pretty sleepy when we visited, but it has a certain charm, perfect for a Sunday stroll, accompanied by a bottle of Acqua di Nepi of course!

Getting there from Rome:

By car - Take the SS2 - via cassia from the GRA, then follow the signs for Nepi (it's pretty easy). I'm afraid I don't know if it's possible to get there from Rome with public transport :-(

* Oh yeah, and only drink it out of the glass bottles, as not only is this classier, but it saves on the mounting piles of plastic we're throwing away. Seriously, don't drink from plastic bottles. See this excellent blog piece from Italexpat's blog for more info.

Renting a car at the airport in Rome? Be very careful...

Recently, we organised for about 36 people to fly to Rome for a celebration. We always knew it was going to be tough, moving 36 people (of varying degrees of travel-savvyness) around, but we suggested people hire cars and bring a satnav, and we were prepared for the worst.

Now, Italian road signage is not the best, Italian drivers are not renowned for their driving prowess or etiquette etc. etc., but you know what, our biggest problem was with the car rental at the airport, both airports to be precise!

Now, in my day job, I'm a scientist, and this kind of thing excites me, so bear with me. Six groups of people hired cars, four from two car rental companies in Fiumincino, two from the same car rental company in Ciampino (these are the two airports in Rome). Of the four in Fiumicino, two experienced problems. Of the two in Ciampino, well, both experienced problems and one experienced more than one problem! (Grazie a Europcar, by the way...) So on balance, we can say from the empirical data that Fiumicino fared better than Ciampino, but lets look in more detail at what actually happened.


Budget car rental company:- 2 groups went with this company. Both experienced additional charges at the airport, on top of the price agreed and paid for on the internet. These charges included a road tax, a further insurance charge, a full tank of petrol (I think this one is actually legitimate) and extra mileage coverage ("oh, you're not just driving it to Rome, then you need this further cover"), all of which was on top of the agreed price. One unhappy family paid an extra €189 in total.


There were a number of problems in Ciampino, the first of which has very little to do with the car rental companies.

When you arrive at Ciampino, you are greeted by about three coach kiosks (terravision, National Express and the local bus/metro option) and a caffe bar. At no point do you see any signs as to where the car rental places are. Even if you ask around (and this is on two different occasions), no one knows. Thankfully, we were with one of the groups and we knew that you actually have to leave the terminal and cross the road to a bus shelter with the words 'Autonoleggio'  (i.e. car rental) written on it. Once there, you wait for a small navette bus to come into view. This bus won't have any markings and the driver won't be looking out for you, so you need to keep your wits about you. The bus came sporadically about 3 times in two hours, although our two hours may not be representative (12-2pm on a Thursday afternoon)

Europcar car rental company:

The group we were with (my parents and sister) had hired a people carrier with Europcar and had confirmed everything including the price by e-mail and phone before leaving the UK. Once at the Europcar kiosk, they were informed that they would have to pay an extra €40 'insurance' charge, on top of the agreed price. They argued this (I know it's only €40 but my sister is not one to be argued with), ended up having to phone with their own phones back to the UK (the office in Ciampino said they couldn't do this themselves), who confirmed that they shouldn't pay the extra €40, while the guy at Ciampino said that the UK office was wrong and that they have to pay it. In the end, they got the guy to write a letter confirming that they did pay the extra charge, and then, after over 2hrs of trying to sort everything out, managed to get the car and get on the road.

Anyway, I don't want to write a totally negative post, as I know these things happen and often it's no ones fault, but I do feel there is a 'cowboy'-element to all of this and I expect these are not isolated experiences either in Rome or in other airports. The thing is, you're at the airport, you need a car, so you almost have to pay whatever they want, then try to get everything sorted out afterwards. It just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. I guess you just have to be careful when renting a car, and be prepared to stand your ground when they spring unexpected 'charges'.

OK, that's my rant over. If you want any more information on this kind of thing, I've found this article in The Guardian newspaper (UK) on rental car problems:

Oh, and the two groups at Fiumicino who had no problems? They were with Hertz*

*Although I'm sure all car rental companies are the same ;-)

For the best view of Rome from the air....

... fly Ryanair into Rome Ciampino!

This is just a short post to jot down a piece of advice I always forget to give to people until they've landed.

If you're flying into Rome Ciampino (in which case you'll most likely be flying with Ryanair), then remember to sit on the right-hand side of the plane for the best view of Rome! You'll get to see the Stadio Olympico, the Vatican, Piazza Venezia, Piazza della Repubblica and the Colosseum, all as you fly past at low altitude on the final descent to the airport. Honestly, it's an amazing view, and a great introduction to Rome.

Toilet traps - Viterbo Vs. Rome

One of the strange things about Lazio, and perhaps Italy in general (I don't know - is Lazio representative of Italy?) are the variety of laws that change between one area and the next. One example is the toilet seat law.

Now, Italy is a civilized, modern country, and this post isn't going to be all Italy-bashing, so you can stop right there. However, I think it's fair to say that, as with any country, sometimes Italy could perhaps be accused of occasionally having laws that don't quite add up, or that don't quite make sense.

In the province of Rome, i.e. the area of Lazio associated with Rome, toilet seats are required by law in public toilets. OK, fair enough. Of course, there may be the occasion toilet lacking in a seat (see the Stadio Olympico if you doubt me), but this is simply an oversight that will be fixed asap (apart from in the Stadio...)

In the neighboring province of Viterbo... well, you see, there they do things differently. A toilet seat is considered unhygienic and in fact, is illegal in a public toilet. Wow. I was shocked by this. It's illegal? Apparently you can be fined and everything. Is this true? Well, my Italian isn't up to researching legal documents, but, I've been to at least 5 restaurants in the province of Viterbo (Vazianello being my favourite, incidentally), and they all tell me the same thing. How can one area think they are a good thing and by law force restaurants to have them, and the area next door, still in Lazio, say that they are illegal and will fine restaurants if they have them?


Do you have any stories of bizarre laws in Italy?

Rome Day Trip - Viterbo

Viterbo is an ancient papal city in north Lazio, central Italy and is the capital of the province of Viterbo. I've been there many times, and each time I find something new to like. It's a strange town, similar I guess to York in England, in that it was obviously once very important, but now, to modern eyes, it seems a little anachronistic and out of place. It's beautiful, for sure, with it's medieval walls (built during the 11th and 12th centuries) and it's Papal Palace (Palazzo dei Papi), but there's something else. As with many cities I've been to in Italy, it seems stuck between a glorious past and an unsure future. Almost as if it doesn't know what to make of itself. It's well worth a trip out from Rome though if you fancy seeing something a bit more authentic and off the beaten track.

Getting Married in Italy - What you need - the civil side

In my last post, I talked about what you need for a Catholic church wedding in Italy, now, it's time to talk about the civil side of things. Here's our story...

We started looking into the civil side of things about a year before their proposed marriage date. The wedding is to be between a British guy and an Italian girl, and will take place in her hometown. Her side of things were all automatically taken care of (including the comune rustling up a Certificato di stato libero in 5 minutes, forgetting the whole 21 days notice thing...), however, the other side would be quite a different story.

Six months before the proposed wedding date, we asked the comune what we would need from the straniero to allow the marriage to be valid. The comune simply said to bring 'whatever you would normally have in your country'. So, off we went to get a 'Certificate of No-lawful Impediment' (CNI) from the local council registry office in the UK. So far, so good. Great.

However, after calling the comune to check a few times exactly what was needed, it transpired that the CNI would have to be translated (OK, no problem) and legalized. This posed a problem as we weren't sure exactly what that meant: translated by a professional translation service? Translated in front of a solicitor? Getting some stamp or apostille from the government? No one could help. No one (including the comune) seemed to know the answer and there seemed to be a real disconnect and 'lost in translation' moment.

So we phoned the Italian Embassy in London. They were closed. OK, call back. They don't know what you need as a UK citizen to get married in Italy, but suggest calling the Stato Civile in Italy. OK, fair enough, why would they know? We call the stato civile who also don't seem to work that much, or at least answer the phone. The stato civile don't know but promised to find out and get back to us.

In the meantime, we called the British Embassy in Rome. They suggested that we need a nulla osta also for the Brit, and that this basically consists of the CNI plus birth details. At the same time, the comune got back to say that a CNI is probably fine, and that maybe, yes, with a birth certificate translated as well, it would be better, but they're not quite sure. OK, so what do we do? Translate two documents into Italian, somehow legalize them, and then hope that this is enough? (this would have cost about £150) Or do something else? Also, why does no one seem to know what documents you need to get married in Italy!

This was all compounded by the fact that time was running out. We were scheduled to go to Italy to sign the 'compromesso', which is like a pre-wedding contract and is a legally binding document, about 2 months before the wedding. A week before this point, we had only just found out that the CNI was probably not enough. These were stressful times.

In the end however, we simply sent everything off to the British Embassy in Rome and amazingly, after a fair amount of phone calls and pleading, they processed everything, translated it all into Italian, and produced a nulla osta in 3 days flat, all for about 82EUR.


So what do you need for a nulla osta (as of August 2010):

- Original, long birth certificate, showing both your parents names
- Photocopies of both your passport, and of the passport of the person you want to marry
- The Certificate of No-lawful Impediment from your local council (this takes 21 days and costs about £35).
- The original 'Certificato di stato libero' from the Italian side (a photocopy will not work)
- Any documents relating to previous marriages or name changes

The British Embassy has a great page of information about all this here.

I would suggest anyone who wants to get married in Italy (and who isn't Italian) to immediately contact their Embassy in Italy to get them to sort everything out. It's unfair to ask the local comune to know what documents a foreigner needs to get married there, and it's unfair to ask the Italian Embassy in another country to know either.

So, with a nulla osta for the foreigner and the Certificato di stato libero for the Italian, we finally had all we needed to sign the compromesso and go ahead with the wedding :-)

Oh, and if you're wondering, the Stato civile did get back to us and said that a CNI was all you needed (which is wrong).

So, as with the church side, I would recommend starting the whole process as early as possible, and also getting the local embassy involved from the start.

Good luck!

Getting Married in Italy - What you need

You may be wondering why I haven't been tweeting so much or posting so much on this blog recently. Well... I've been busy sorting out documents to get married in Italy! You would think it wouldn't be too difficult. Sure, there's the certificates you have to give to the council, banns that have to be read in a church, but it should be pretty straightforward right?

Well, here's the story, split over two blog posts.

We're going to have a full-on Catholic wedding, so we need to get documents for the church as well as the council. In this post, I'll talk about the church side, in the next post, I'll cover the civil side. Hopefully people stumbling across my blog will find this useful, as (as you'll see) there isn't so much help available online or indeed from the people/institutions involved. Please remember that I'm not an expert on these things, so take all of this with a pinch of salt.

Allora, here we go...

The Church side

In our particular case, the wedding is a cross between a non-catholic christian (an Anglican, if you will) and a Roman Catholic (literally, she's from the province of Rome). After we had decided on the church and got the local priest and comune (council) to give permission, we received the banns from the Italian priest and were told to contact our local priest back home (in the UK) to sort out their wedding preparation and reading of the banns. As it turns out, the wedding preparation is a couple of hours with the local priest going over the ideas of marriage and how to resolve arguments (including such handy tips as 'the guy even has to help around the house' and 'a woman is allowed to work nowadays' - all very enlightening I'm sure you'll agree...) and is also the point where the priest provides information and ideas for the service itself (including possible readings), which was perhaps more useful. Further to this, we had to go on a full-day 'marriage preparation' course (for a small fee) which went over the same ground in greater depth. Despite our grumblings, I think this is overall a good thing to do and I'm sure it will help us both now and in the future. Once this is completed, the UK priest prepares 'documents' detailing the baptism/confirmation details of both parties and dispenses the banns (apparently Catholic churches don't 'read' them in the UK). The most important document that the priest prepares is the ‘Religious Non Objection Declaration’. Once all this is sent to the Diocese for the area in Italy (in this case Civita Castellana in the province of Viterbo), then the local priest in Italy takes up the baton and finalizes all the details of the day itself and posts various documents around the towns giving notice (the most important document being a 'Religious nulla osta')

Overall this was relatively easy, but there were a few problems arising from translation problems (nothing was translated in the end, but the priests do have the right to request this, so be prepared).

Things you need:
  • Baptism/first communion/confirmation records from your church (even if it's now miles away)
  • A few weeks for the local preparation (which in this case was 2 hours over the course of 3 weeks)
  • A few months for the whole process to work it's way through. Expect nothing to happen in August (as the Priest will most likely be on holiday), and expect things to take longer than expected at both ends. 

I would definitely recommend starting this process asap as we were lucky to get onto the last marriage preparation course of the year (despite it only being in July!).

For us, for start to finish, the process took about 7 months.

Good luck!

PS In my next post I'll detail the civil side of getting married in Italy.

Yet another Etruscan remain - but this time with a Royal tomb

Don't you just love the Etruscans? There they were, making civilisations and breaking bread, years before the Romans came along and flattened them. Seriously, I'm actually really interested in them, perhaps moreso than the Romans. After all, I heard about the Romans at school, and I come from a town founded by the Romans, so I'm kinda bored of them. The Etruscans however, they've got something of a knowing smile that I find hard to resist. So what's happening in the Etruscan world?

Well, archeologists have discovered another set of Etruscan remains, this time in Tarquinia, an ancient city in the province of Viterbo (Northern Lazio). They've uncovered a Royal crypt, created in the mid-7th century BC, illustrated with strange markings that could carry a religious meaning. Unfortunately, the article I've found (on ANSA) doesn't say anymore, so if you find anything else out about these remains at Tarquinia, do let me know, as I plan to visit there in about 2 weeks.

Translate Tuesday - Il Regalo Più Grande

OK, I was thinking about why I've set up this blog, and, after reading the excellent blog from Dreaming In Italian, I've realized that one of the reasons was to improve my Italian and knowledge of Italian culture. With this in mind, I've decided to give myself a challenge.

For one Tuesday a month (or thereabouts, I have a demanding day job as well), I'm going to pick an Italian song from YouTube, and then attempt to translate it. Now, first of all, my Italian isn't great, so this is really a challenge. Secondly, I may not be perfect, so please do disagree with me and correct me (but please don't be too harsh!!)

OK, here goes....

For my first 'Translate Tuesday', I've picked a song by Tiziano Ferro called Il Regalo Più Grande. Initially, I didn't like Tiziano Ferro songs very much. Coming from the UK, I found them too wordy and not catchy enough. However, they've grown on me since then, and this one is actually one of my favourites. I can catch most of the words when listening, so this should be a good test to see if I actually do understand as much as I think!

So here's my translation:

Voglio farti un regalo
Qualcosa di dolce
Qualcosa di raro
Non un comune regalo
Di quelli che hai perso
Mai aperto
O lasciato in treno
O mai accettato

Di quelli che apri e poi piangi
Che sei contenta e non fingi
In questo giorno di meta`  settembre
Ti dedichere` 
Il regalo mio piu` grande    

I want to make a present (i.e. give you a present)
Something sweet
Something rare (precious?)
It's not a communal gift (i.e. to share)
something you have lost
never opened
or left on the train
or never accepted
It's the kind of thing that you open, and then cry
Something that satisfies, where you don't pretend
In this day in the middle of September
You've decided this
My greatest gift.

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna perche`
Di notte chi la guarda possa pensare a te
Per ricordarti che il mio amore a` importante
Che non importa ciu` che dice la gente
e` tu mi hai protetto con la tua gelosia che anche
Che molto stanco il tuo sorriso non andava via
Devo partire per
che` so nel cuore
La tua presenza a` sempre arrivo
E mai partenza
Il regalo mio più grande
Il regalo mio più grande

I would like to donate your smile to the moon because
it is the night that watches what I think of you
To remember that it is my love that is the most important
It's not important what the people say
Because you have protected me with your jealousy and also
no matter how tired your smile did not go
I must leave something in your heart
Your presence is always arriving there
It never leaves
My greatest gift
my greatest gift.

Vorrei mi facessi un regalo
Un sogno inespresso
Donarmelo adesso
Di quelli che non so aprire
Di fronte ad altra gente
Perche` il regalo più grande 

A` solo nostro per sempre 

I want to make you a gift,
A dream expressed,
Let me donate it know,
Those things I do not know how to open,
In front of other people,
Because this is the greatest gift,
That is only for us for always.

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna perche`
Di notte chi la guarda possa pensare a te
Per ricordarti che il mio amore e` importante
Che non importa ciù che dice la gente
Perche` tu mi hai protetto con la tua gelosia che anche
Che molto stanco il tuo sorriso non andava via
Devo partire perche` so nel cuore
La tua presenza e` sempre arrivo
E mai...

I want to donate you smile to the moon because,
The night can then see what I think of you,
To remember that my love is important,
That it's not important what the people say,
Because I will protect you from their jealousy and also,
Even when you're tired your smile will never leave,
I must leave because I know in my heart,
That your presence is always arriving,
It must never...

E se arrivasse ora la fine
Che sia in un burrone
Non per volermi odiare
Solo per voler volare
E se ti nega tutto questa` estrema agonia
E se ti nega anche la vita respira la mia
E stavo attento a non amare prima di incontrarti
E confondevo la mia vita con quella degli altri
Non voglio farmi più del male adesso
La`’amore amore 

And if the end arrived now,
That or to fall in a ravine,
Not for wanting to me to hate,
Only for wanting to fly
And if it denies all that extreme agony to you
and if it denies to you also the life I breathe
And I was careful not to love before we encountered
and confused my life with that of the others
I do not want anything that makes me evil
The love my love 

Vorrei donare il tuo sorriso alla luna perche`
Di notte chi la guarda possa pensare a te
Per ricordarti che il mio amore e` importante
Che non importa ciù che dice la gente
E poi 

I want to donate you smile to the moon because,
The night can then see what I think of you,
To remember that my love is important,
That it's not important what the people say,
It must never...
And then

La`amore dato amore preso amore mai reso
Amore grande come il tempo che non si e`arreso
Amore che mi parla coi tuoi occhi qui di fronte
Sei tu sei tu sei tu sei tu sei tu
Il regalo mio più grande

Given love taken love, love never rendered
Great love like the time that surrendered,
The Love that speaks to me here with your eyes at the front,
It's you, it's you, it's you, it's you, it's you,
My greatest gift.

What do you think? Is it a reasonable translation? I have to say, translating it, I'm less fond of the song. It makes Tiziano Ferro sound like a stalker!

Rome fetes Piranesi

(ANSA) - Rome, July 30 - A selection of the original plates used by 18th-century artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi in etchings that helped reshape popular images of Rome has gone on show in the Italian capital. They are on show at Rome's Palazzo Poli until August 17. [Read More]

Keeping cool - water fountains in Rome

The heat is well and truly on right now. Earlier today, Rome reached temperatures around 38 degree C! Thankfully, Romans have been through all this before and have a pretty handy solution. What do you need when it's baking hot? Water.

(image from

There are over 2000 of these water fountains, called 'nasoni', dotted around Rome. The water is perfectly drinkable, and often lovely and cool (thanks to all those underground channels).

There are a few maps detailing where all these fountains are in Rome, some of which are incomplete. The best I've found so far are on the acea website (they are a water utility company), here. You can even download a map to take around with you on your travels. Let me know if you find a better one somewhere.

All you need is an empty water bottle, and you're good to go!

Rome Day Trip - Sant'Oreste

Need to escape the city heat? You need to get out into the countryside and explore! How about a day-trip to Sant'Oreste?

Heat wave warnings and staying cool in the sun!

Italy is in the middle of a heat wave, but what can you do to keep cool? Well, other than staying out of the sun for as much of the day as possible (leaving it for mad dogs and Englishmen), other suggestions include modifying your diet and drinking plenty of water.

According to the Coldiretti farmers' union (and, meals on hot days should include starches like pasta, rice and bread with ample portions of lettuce, onions, radishes and 'sweet' fruits like peaches and nectarines. Heavy food should be avoided as well as alcohol and foods seasoned with too much black and red pepper as well as salt. Coffee should also be consumed in moderation.

More information is available on the UK NHS website.

The main thing is to use common sense though. Stay indoors during the hottest hours of the day (usually lunchtime till dinner time), drink plenty of liquid and eat lots of fruit.

Oh, and of course, apply plenty of sun cream!!

Sagre - local food festivals

According to wikipedia, a sagra (plural: sagre) is a local festival, very often involving food, and frequently a historical pageant and sporting events: when the sporting event is a historical recreation as well, such as a joust or a horse race in costume or armour, it is called a palio.

I've been to one or two, and they are great fun, and, if you go to the less touristy ones, they can be a great window onto local life. If you want to see a few posts I've written about sagre, click on the 'festa' topic on the left-hand sidebar.

There are so many sagre that it's impossible to list them all, but here is a list of Sagre in Lazio compiled by and another, searchable list, courtesy of Sagra in Italia.

Festa dei cacciatori - Sant'Oreste

A few years ago, I was lucky to be in Sant'Oreste (where the better half is from) while there was a festival on. Sant'Oreste is great for festivals, they have a few different ones over the year, and the whole town gets together for a few days to eat, drink and party. I really enjoy all of them.

The Festa dei cacciatori (party of the hunters) is, I guess, some kind of sagre, i.e. local food festival (although I can't find it on this list of Sagre in Lazio). It's usually held in May or June (although this year it's been over the first weekend in July - i.e. right now), and consists of a big marquee (where they have seats and tables lined up like a beer-hall) and a stage, covering their main car park just underneath the main gate to the old town. Basically, you take a seat with friends and wait for someone to take your order. As it's the hunter's festival, dishes on offer revolve around wild boar (cinghiale) and hare (lepre) and are reasonably priced (4-5EUR) for a decent sized dish. Local wine is also available (1EUR a beaker) and tends to be very light and crisp (they tend to be between 7-11%), along with grappa and other local moonshines.

It's a great party, and usually lasts the whole weekend. I can heartily recommend it. All the meat is caught locally (pretty much from same mountain that Sant'Oreste is perched on), and it's a great way to get introduced to local culture, and see a part of real Italy, rather than a tourist trap. I'll mention Sant'Oreste a lot on this blog, as it's the town I visit the most and I genuinely think it has a lot to offer. Obviously, the easiest way to get there is via a car (up SS3 - via flaminia from Rome), although it does have it's own train station (with trains from Piazzale Flaminio -next to Piazza del Popolo, four metro stops from stazione termini on metro A), and is a short bus ride from Stimigliano, where there is another train station (with trains from Tiburtina in Rome)

Sant'Oreste has a few other sagre and feste throughout the year, with the main one being the Festa della Madonna, on the last Sunday in May. Check out this Sant'Oreste Pro-loco website (in Italian) for further information.

Calcata - Art on the edge of a cliff

 (Photo by Claudio G. Pisani taken from the Calcata website)

Perched on the top of a volcanic plug an hour north of Rome (just off SS3, via flaminia), Calcata is described by the New York Times as 'the grooviest village in Italy'. It's home to a community of about 100 artists, bohemians, aging hippies and 'New Age types' (not my words). We liked it as it's a bit quirky and has stunning views. It's well worth a visit, especially if you're heading that way anyway (I wouldn't recommend it for a whole day, but it's fun for a few hours).

Queue dodge the Italian way!!!

Oh yes!! Tourists wanting to visit any of Italy's top 40 sites of cultural interest will soon have the chance the dodge the ticket queues by buying their admission in advance on their mobile phones (currently only the iPhone, although they claim they will open this up to other smartphones as well at some point). [Read more]

Getting to Rome from the UK

Well, the first step to becoming a Roman is to actually go there. Here, I'll explain how to get to Rome from the UK by plane.

Rome has two airports - Leonardo da Vinci, the main airport commonly referred to as 'Fiumicino', is 30km (~18 miles) out to the southwest of Rome. While Ciampino, a smaller airport, is 15km (~9 miles) southeast of the city.

Fiumicino airport:

Airlines flying from the UK to Fiumicino include: British Airways, Alitalia and EasyJet. They fly from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Stansted, London City, London Luton, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Fiumicino to Rome

To get to Rome, the Leonardo Express train can be taken to Stazione Termini (the main train station in Rome) and costs around 10 euro. It arrives at and leaves from platform 27 at Stazione Termini and takes about 30 minutes. If you prefer to drive, Fiumicino is connected to Rome by an autostrada. Follow the signs for Rome out of the complex and exit from the autostrada at EUR, following the target sign for the centre. From there, Via Cristoforo Colombo will take you directly into the centre.

Ciampino airport:

Ciampino is the airport I know best, as this is the one I use from Stansted. Ciampino can be reached from London Stansted (with Ryanair), London Gatwick (with Easyjet), Bristol (Easyjet), Glasgow Prestwick (Ryanair), Liverpool (Ryanair), Edinburgh (Ryanair) and Nottingham East Midlands (Ryanair) among others.

Ciampino to Rome

Stazione Termini in Rome can be reached by Terravision bus for 8 euro return (children under four go free). The journey takes 40 minutes. See the Terravision website for more information and to reserve tickets (they might be more expensive if you just turn up). Cars can be rented from Hertz, who have a deal with Ryanair and are found in the terminal.


Welcome to my blog!!

So let's get started! Why am I starting a blog? What makes me so special that people will spend time reading my blog? Well, I'm writing a blog for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it's somewhere to leave my thoughts - I find writing things down helps me think about things and structure my life.

Secondly, I'm learning about Italy and I figured other people are too, and could perhaps help me understand the 'un-understandables' of a foreign country. It's very easy to get the wrong end of the stick and very easy to resort to stereotypes and taking everything on face value.

I'm writing this blog as I think other people in similar situations would like to know that they are not alone (as I would like to know I'm not alone!). That kinda answers the second question, why am I so special. Well, I'm not, but when, five years ago, I met the love of my life and realized I would have to get to know Italy and Italian culture pretty darn well, I would have appreciated having read a blog detailing someone else's experiences, and knowing other people are going through similar travails. So here it is, a blog on how an Englishman becomes a little more Italian, or gets in trouble trying. Hope you like it!