Cafe culture in Italy (Starbucks where art thou?)

1003527_10201378143309557_110463338_nA lot of people are surprised to find out that no, Italy doesn’t have a Starbucks or any kind of take-away coffee culture. And it’s easy to see why. Not to be all snobby (OK maybe I’m being a snob) but that double bubble mocha frappe latte chino crap on the Starbucks menu is not the kind of thing you would ever see here, because that’s not really coffee is it? Its more of a liquefied Victoria sponge cake blended to within an inch of its life, with cream on top and served in a Styrofoam cup with a mermaid on it. Who is she?

Having said that, I love the feel of American coffee shops; being able to linger over a coffee (or a mocha-OK I’m a hypocrite!!) and work on the laptop/read a book or hang out with friends is so enjoyable when it’s cold outside and Costa are offering double points. in Italy,  however, the coffee culture is completely different and you need a whole new vocabulary to navigate the murky, caffeinated waters of Italian coffee.

Firstly, SIZES. OK America, we get it, you like large, but forget the sizes of grande, venti or whatever, this is one size fits all. Here, they only have one size and its baby-sized, the coffees are tiny cups filed with one shot of coffee that you can take at the bar or at the table (tavolo), which is a little more expensive. A café is called a bar and a coffee is called un caffé. It’s normal for most Italians to start the day with breakfast (colazione) at a bar and eat a cornetto (sweet pastry dusted with sugar sometimes with chocolate) or biscotti with a cappuccino and a packet of sugar (zucchero). Dentists in Italy must be making a killing!

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Prices vary, but even in Rome if you’re not getting ripped off, you can get a coffee for €0.80-1.00 at the bar, more if you’re sitting down. This is in very stark contrast to the prices your normally pay in Starbucks and other coffee chains, where you can pay around €2.50 for take-away coffee, which will be watered down and filled with sugar. Another thing is that here, they don’t do take-away Styrofoam cups. The coffees are so small you can normally finish them in one gulp and people normally come to the bar between work hours to get their fix, not to shoot the breeze or take their Cake In A Cup to their stressful workplace, whilst yapping away on their BlackBerry.

Latte in Italy just means milk, so don’t bother ordering this at the bar. A macchiato is a shot of espresso “stained” with milk, a cappuccino is half milk and half coffee and a caffé normale is just a shot of espresso. My favourite drink is un marochino, which is a smaller shot of espresso with cream (panna) and chocolate sprinkles on top. It is definitely the prettiest coffee I’ve ordered (see main picture) and at the café near my house normally comes with complimentary biscuits. The calling card of a tourist is ordering a cappuccino after 11am, which most Italians would never do, because apparently milk hinders digestion. It seems only Italy got this memo and whilst there are stories of Italians recoiling in horror whenever an afternoon cappuccino is requested, they’re used to tourists by now.

You’re normally served a glass of water with your coffee, but if not you can ask for one. In some places you order first and then pay and in others you pay first at the cash register and then bring your receipt to the barrista. Try and ask for the coffees in Italian and you’re less likely to get ripped off in the tourist centre. The coffee culture is one of my favourite things about Italy and whilst I barely drink any in England, I have become addicted to them here!

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October Round-Up in Rome

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October is the best month to visit Rome as the weather is still summery and there are fewer tourists; don’t even think about coming here in August where it can get up to 40 degrees! This month I managed to sneak a few trips to the beach after work and got to know the teachers and students at my school better, with one of them inviting me to lunch with her family. I also got a little bit of independence and was able to plan some of my own lessons and handouts at school, which I really enjoyed.

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I experienced my first Italian strike (the first of many I’m told!) and got the day off school. Normally a strike (lo sciopero) will be planned in advance and everyone is given prior warning. It is almost always planned on a Friday, so as to give a 3-day weekend (called il ponte-the bridge) and buses will shut down, but metros will still be running.

A few days later, in San Giovanni I got to witness a protest where different groups were lobbying against different things; human rights, the poor treatment of refugees, taxes, the economic system.

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I got to do some more language exchanges but they have gotten far too infrequent. I’ve officially dropped my Italian lessons and decided to learn Italian only through language exchanges.

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I found the most incredible gelateria near my work and went there 5 times in 6 days. The first day I found it was magical! I went off of a recommendation from Revealed in Rome and chose two delicious flavours of gelato (chocolate and Sicilian almonds) and wandered over towards the river and caught the sunset by the Vatican next to the Corte de Cassazione, the grandest building in Rome!

IMG_3356The Justice Palace: definitely gives the Old Bailey a run for its money

I found my local fresh food market at Circo Massimo, part of the 0km “slow food” movement.IMG_3320

I had a crazy day at the beach where strangers just kept coming up to me and talking to me, I made a new friend and a woman took professional photos of me for her portfolio! I won’t put them up here but have included my own from the beach:

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I gave my first private English lesson and got to sample a lot of aperitivos. I also bought my first pair of real leather Italian shoes, bye-bye flip flops!

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This is me after work, hanging out at Piazza Navona:

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Until next week!

My First Month in Rome (September)

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Having visited Rome for four weeks last year, I had already seen all the tourist sites more than once, so I just set about exploring the city on foot, solo. I live just south of the Coliseum in San Giovanni. I love San Giovanni as its tranquilissimo; safe, pleasant and quiet, but the downside means that you have to travel further for all of the action.

1378328_10201195273657930_1012195736_nGROM: I love their gelato!

I paid homage to the traditions of gelato and pizza, making pilgrimages into central Rome everyday just to sample some sweet, sweet salvation. I was disappointed! The quality in the centre was poor and the prices weren’t cheap either. Because I can’t exactly live like a king (or queen) on my British Council salary in future I’m just going to go off of tried and tested recommendations, but the gelato above was my own find 🙂

The weather is incredible, much hotter than an English weather, with temperatures rising to 28 degrees some days. Coming from gray London, I couldn’t get enough of this. (Although to be fair to my native city, we had fantastic weather this summer, thank you London). Most of my time is spent walking around Rome and exploring. I love just looking at all the sunsets, ornate buildings, coffee rituals, Italian conversations, shoe shopping and lots more. I’ve been to the beach countless times…

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The hardest thing to cope with has probably been the language; I have a burning desire to communicate, but can’t transmute my thoughts into words. Its so frustrating, since I felt I’d gotten to a really good level in Spanish, only to have to start back again at square 1. In fact, just today I was speaking Spanish with a native Spanish speaker and once I heard their reply thought “man my Spanish is obviously shitter than I thought,” until I realised he was speaking Italian. Doh!

1383094_10201195279698081_489434106_nSan Giovanni: The melodramatic poses of the statues might even be my favourite thing about Rome

I’ve made a few Italian friends and am doing at least five language exchanges a week, which I feel is still not enough. I will be severely disappointed if I leave Italy not fluent in the language, so will have to step it up a notch. I spend a lot of my time reading and writing at Piazza Navona (the main photo) and my work is just a few minutes walk from there. It might be heaving with tourists, but its popular for a reason and I don’t think my mbile phone photos do it justice!

1378770_10201195276498001_192112001_nI also climbed this badboy made out of bamboo, fittingly called Big Bambu, in Testaccio. You had to sign a disclaimer waiving culpability for death or something like that, but walking up 25 metres on bamboo was scary! Its part of MACRO, the contemporary art museum. I’ve also made some lovely international friends here too.

1391966_10201195267377773_1837321592_nAnd finally here’s me on a vespa. Who’s Vespa? Who knows, but one of my goals is to drive one by the end of the year and maybe take a roadtrip. I don’t know if this will be somewhat impeded by the fact that I can’t drive a car…

Breakast at Guiliemo’s

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Italian’s are shocked at what us English eat for breakfast. Ham? Sausages? EGGS? These foods are far too heavy for early mornings and instead Italians prefer to indulge in un caffé and something sweet; biscotti or un cornetto. Due to early morning starts at the school, I have taken to this routine with gusto! Practicing my Italian with the staff at the café, nipping out of lessons for a quick caffeine fix and indulging my sweet tooth (which only gets sweeter with time) with un marrochino and un cornetto cioccolato for €2. This bar is a 10 second walk from the main doors of my school and can be found on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. It’s nice to have a quick breakfast with other teachers before returning back to the chaos of the classroom, alas I fear I am becoming a coffee addict!

Rome’s Most Underrated Attraction: The Tiber River

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Maybe its because I’m a Pisces. Maybe it’s because I can’t swim and like to taunt myself by staring at bodies of water and hanging out at Santa Marinella beach pretending to swim :p. Either way, one of my favourite places in Rome on a sunny day is the Tiber River. Walking down the riverside and descending down away from the chaotic Roman traffic (the sound is at least partially blocked out) and strolling along the Tiber is just incredible. The river bank is completely empty, though the odd cyclist/jogger/illegal vendor cycles/jogs/saunters past, you pretty much get the river to yourself. The reflection of the bridge on the water is bella! On warm days you can usually take part in watersports here or take a cruise downriver. Here are some of my photos, enjoy!

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And just today after work, walking around the maze that is Rome, I happened upon the river and saw this gorgeous sunset over the Vatican:

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Beautiful sights like these are why I always carry my digital camera around in Rome. Its also why I was really angry that I forgot it today so the sunset photo is from my phone..

Arrivederci!

Want a beach holiday? Come to Rome…

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Growing up in London means I’m a city girl at heart, but one of the harder things about adjusting to Rome is the lack of parks and greenery (which yes! London actually has a lot of) and with the 24/7 traffic, it just seems so…urban. Living in Nottingham for three years meant that I’d grown accustomed to forests, greenery and gardens aplenty so every once in a while my heart pangs for trees…leaves…verdure…!

One way of avoiding the traffic and getting my nature fix has been heading down to Termini and hopping on a 50 minute train to the beach of Santa Marinella. This beach is incredibly beautiful, clean and peaceful even when its really hot in September, one Italian even asked me “How did you find out about this beach?!” so the lack of tourists is very refreshing! This is because 26 degrees is “autumn” for Italians, but is tropical weather for a northern European lass such as myself, so the relative cold probably explains the lack of people. Getting there is cheap and costs €4.60 each way and there are a few trains an hour from Termini, Trastevere, Ostiense and San Pietro. There’s not much to see here besides the beach and the town itself is very small, but has a supermarket and a few seafood restaurants. I’ve come here 3 times already in two weeks! I’ll leave you some more pictures of the stunning beach and the sea:

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My First Week In Rome

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I have been in Rome just under one week and I love it here! It’s always been my dream to move to Italy and learn Italian and as some of you may know, when I tried to move last year, it didn’t work out. It makes a lovely change from London in that the weather is 27-28 degrees nearly everyday, Rome is fairly compact and easy to get around by foot and bus and the whole city is basically just an open-air museum. On my 20 minute commute to work I come across at least 3 different ruins (one which looks like a mini coliseum, as well as the Coliseum itself). The language is beautiful, but as of yet, pretty indecipherable to me. I completed a beginners course in Italian 3 years ago (I always had it on the brain!!) but for the moment I’m self-teaching and doing tandem exchanges.

I live in the San Giovanni district, a student area which is a 20 minute walk from the Coliseum and has really good transport.  I live with 3 other Italian students who are lovely and let me practice Italian with them and we live on the 9th floor, so I have this view from my bedroom window:

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On my very first day, I arrived at my flat and my new housemate prepared me lunch and was showing me around 🙂 This is my daily walk into central Rome:

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Sorting out a place to live was slightly difficult, as I’d heard that Italians only like to rent to people they know (still don’t know whether this is true or not) and had mixed success with renting websites like EasyStanza. In the end, I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone ELSE who was renting out a flat in Rome. Getting my tax code was a breeze and there are so many internationals in Rome that I can connect with. I don’t want to be one of those expats who spends a year in a foreign country who doesn’t learn the language or mix with the locals, so hopefully my friendship network will be a mixture of Italians and internationals. I’m planning lots of daytrips to the beach and other neighbouring towns which I’ll post soon.

Also, I’ve had gelato everyday since I’ve been here!!

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Ciao