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!