Trastevere: From a violent, fiery past to Rome’s giant souvenir stand

Last week I learned a lot about Trastevere’s history going way past the ‘70s. It goes back to before the birth of Christ, to the height of the Roman Empire. Back then Trastevere was a neighborhood of slaves, violence and graft. I went with Rome Explorers, a wonderful, learned Meetup group dedicated to the history and nature of Rome and beyond. Leading the group again was Massimiliano “Max” Francia (, Rome’s ubur guide whose library of Roman history could fill the Colosseum.
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What I miss about U.S. — and what I do to compensate in Rome

People ask me that all the time. What do you miss? They are little things, not big things. I never knew happiness until I woke up with a cappuccino on my terrace looking out at the Tiber River with birds chirping and then deciding what pizzeria I want to eat at that night.
But some things America can provide that Italy can not. However, I have learned to compensate.
So for those dreaming of a life in the bella paese, here’s a list of things that occasionally cross my mind, like the train passing your window every day back home and you always took for granted.
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A weekend in Spain: Confessions of a Marriott whore

We settled on Denia, a town in Spain I’d never heard of which, if you’re seeking a path less beaten, is always a good sign. A map showed it’s on Spain’s famed Costa Bianca, on the point of a peninsula just across the Gulf of Valencia from hip Ibiza. On its website, the Marriott’s swimming pool looked like something out of a Las Vegas architect’s sexual fantasy. We were sold. I bought two more nights for a Wednesday through Saturday stay. It was the perfect extended weekend in a sexy part of the world.
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Talking to Michigan State sports journalism students brings back memories, advice for a new age

Tuesday I spoke to a group of sports journalist students from Michigan State University. Twenty-two students are traveling for a month to Paris and Rome with weekend jaunts around Europe in between. We met in the Palazzo del Banco di Santo Spirito, built in the 1600s to house the Vatican Bank. Just a Frisbee throw from Piazza Navona, the Baroque palace with the four columns bordering the front door is now home to study abroad offices, language programs and the Belize Embassy. It sure beat sitting in a featureless, plaster box at University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
I’ve spoken to journalism classes at numerous colleges. I can usually tell the quality of students by the quality of questions. Michigan State’s students get it. They asked how Italy has changed me. They asked what was the most memorable sports event I ever covered in the U.S. They asked what I thought of the direction of writing in American journalism.
At UNLV, they asked me what Mike Tyson is like.
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Nice another in a long list of great weekend getaways from Rome

EasyJet is the greatest boon to European travel since the sidewalk crepe stand.
Which is why celebrating birthdays in Europe is so special. In March I spent my birthday in Sicily. This past weekend I took my girlfriend to Nice for her birthday. I’d pat myself on the back and say I’m not a cheap boyfriend but, in fact, the round trip tickets for two of us was all of 138 euros. That’s 69 each. Sixty-nine euros on a U.S. airline sometimes won’t even pay for your stored luggage.
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Police ride around Rome a glimpse inside a non-violent city — but watch your wallet

Salimbene and Mastrangelo were going to further impress upon me the safety of my adopted city. I’ve always been fascinated by the soft underbelly of touristy towns. What’s it like behind the back-lit monuments, art galleries and romantic piazzas? Where’s the graft? The violence? The danger?
Growing up in America, you can find that in any city. Every metropolitan area in the U.S. has neighborhoods where guns are rampant and murder is common. For the last 10 years, Detroit, a city of 700,000 people, has averaged 345 murders. Oakland, Calif., (pop. 404,000) has averaged 106, Baltimore (pop. 622,000) 234. From 1990-2014 I lived in Denver. It averaged about 150 murders a year.
Rome, with a population of 2.6 million, has averaged 35. Two years ago it had only 27.
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Monti Sibillini is Italy’s answer to New England in fall

I just returned from three days in one of many areas of Italy that Americans have not overrun. The 270-square-mile park straddles the underrated regions of Umbria and Le Marche east of Tuscany. Sibillini has massive green meadows stretching between mountains bearing trees with multi-colored leaves. Purple, red and yellow wildflowers line a hiking path that forms a 75-mile loop around the entire park. Spaced somewhat evenly around the park are nine rifugios, an Italian shelter with great beds and fantastic meals.
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My five best pizzerias in Rome: 72 Ore tops the list

In Rome, all the ingredients are fresh. The tomatoes taste like apples. The mozzarella has bite. The prosciutto is lean. Finish a pizza and the tin plate does not have a spot of grease. You could wash a doily on it. In Rome, pizza is almost like health food. So here are the five pizzerias I go when I get a craving, which hits only slightly less often than a heroin addict itches the inside of his arm. Keep in mind, some places are based on just one favorite pizza. I have gone to these many times and some dropped off the list and others were added. It’s kind of like a college football poll. Except my pizza poll is more important.
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Liverpool a British success story that took more than a hard day’s night

I recently spent four days in England on assignment and came to Liverpool for my first time. The impressions I’ve always had of Liverpool partially come from Beatles songs — strawberry fields, blue suburban skies, cold cathedrals — and partially from history. Fallen port city. Massive unemployment. Soccer matches on windy, rainy weekends.
New impressions: Revitalized waterfront. Vibrant museum scene. Pedestrian malls. Soccer on bright, sunny afternoons.
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Following in The Beatles’ footsteps through Liverpool

I followed The Beatles’ footsteps around their hometown which, when they grew up in the ‘40s, was still undergoing urban renewal after getting bombed in World War II. I started at the Mecca of all Beatles’ fans, the Beatles’ museum. Called The Beatles Story and built by the waterfront in 1996, the museum traces the group from start to finish with fascinating Beatles’ paraphernalia scattered around like confetti. It draws 300,000 visitors a year.
Some things I didn’t know about The Beatles (and I bet you didn’t know, either):
* Both Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s mothers died when they were teen-agers. Paul’s mother, Mary, a midwife, died of an embolism when he was 14. Julia Lennon, a movie usher, was killed in an auto accident by an off-duty policeman when John was 17.
* In their first performance abroad in 1960, promoters in Hamburg, Germany, changed their name to The Beat Brothers as they thought The Beatles was too confusing.
* The 1967 album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which spent 27 weeks at No. 1 in Great Britain, took 700 hours to produce at their Abbey Road studio in London.
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