Friends With No Benefits Tour to Umbria goes to the heart of rural and religious Italy

No region in Italy is less influenced by outside sources. This is what I love about Umbria. In a country that gets nearly 50 million tourists a year, Umbria may be the most authentic region of them all. Walled hill towns void of tourist buses. Remnants of the most beloved saint in Italian history. Ancient local delicacies ranging from piccione (pigeon) to cinghiale, the wild boar that has so overrun Umbria one might check you into your hotel room.

I recently made my second annual fall trip to Umbria, thanks to my partner in crime, sportswriter Alessandro Castellani, whose good friend, Umbrian innkeeper Leonardo De Mai, seemingly knows everyone in the region. Seven of us piled into cars and trains and headed north from Rome about two hours.
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L’avanzamento della squadra Nazionale Italiana di calcio in una nazione con guerre regionali

La squadra Nazionale Italiana ha sempre risvegliato un grande interesse in Italia. Gli Italiani la seguono ma l’Italia è diversa da qualsiasi altro Paese del mondo. Nonostante abbia radici che risalgano a circa 3.000 anni fa e, indipendentemente dall’impronta indelebile che l’Impero Romano abbia lasciato nel mondo, l’Italia solo nel 1861 è diventata una Repubblica. Circa 100 anni più tardi degli Stati Uniti d’America.
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Italy’s national soccer team advances in a nation of regional wars

It’s the 21st century, and Italy remains as regionalized as any country in the world. All 20 regions have their own dialect, their own history, their own cuisine. They also have their own soccer club. If a country rallies around its national soccer team, Italy’s regions rally around its soccer club. It takes precedence. Always. I listen to Rete Sport on 105.6 FM. It’s a radio station that is devoted all day to A.S. Roma. That’s it. No other team. No other sport. For 23 years I lived in Denver where domestic violence rises on days when the Denver Broncos NFL team doesn’t win. They don’t have media coverage like this.
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Coffee in Italy is a culture you must taste to understand

To live in Italy, one must do more than drink coffee. One must understand coffee. When you visit Italy, order a coffee in one of the following ways:
Caffe. This is the most common yet the most shocking to Americans. It is a simple shot of espresso that fills about a third of a small cup just a bit bigger than a thimble. I still enjoy watching Americans’ jaws drop when they see it and ask, “Where’s the rest of it?” This isn’t Starbucks, Bubba. Thank God.
Caffe macchiato. This is halfway between a caffe and a cappuccino. It’s a caffe stained with a little spot of milk. Pronounce it correctly, mock-ee-OTTO, and you’ll be treated like a local.
Cappuccino. The classic Italian coffee. Espresso coffee covered in warm milk then topped with creamy foam, it is the perfect way to start the Italian day. Please note the word “start.” Do NOT, even if the craving eats at you like a heroin withdrawal, order a cappuccino after noon. Only tourists do that. Yes, you’re a tourist. Just don’t act like a stupid one.
Cappuccino ben caldo. “Ben caldo” means “extra hot.” This is my favorite. Italians like to drink their coffee fast and don’t like it so hot it singes their tongues like American coffee. I like mine with a newspaper.
Marochino. A small cappuccino sprinkled with chocolate, popular with Italian teen-agers and wimpy American expats.
Ristretto. A shorter shot of espresso and isn’t much more than a sip. It should not be confused with ristretto’s other meaning: What happens to a man’s penis when he comes out of the cold Adriatic Sea.
Americano. A long black coffee that, in more than three years in Rome over two stints, I have never seen an Italian order unless he lost a bet.

A.S. Roma draws with Barcelona and gives a city hope

This is Roma’s season. In my refrigerator, chilling well, is a large bottle of Prosecco.

The Champions League, however, is what draws attention from the entire world. And on Wednesday night, the world’s soccer fans bored their collective eye on Rome’s Olympic Stadium. It was the opening game of the Champions League group stage and in town was the greatest team in the world, the defending champion, boasting the best player in the world.

F.C. Barcelona.
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Lake Como: My favorite lake in the world is Italy’s watery exotic dancer

The Italian Alps come down around Lake Como like giant, jagged claws clutching a basin of cool, clean water. In September, the mountains don’t have snow but they’re still majestic in their height, their steepness, their proximity to my favorite lake in the world. Also, I can’t help staring at their color. They’re covered in green forest. Above the tree line, the brown rock sticks out high above the lake as if to protect it from unwanted foreign objects — like jet skis, yachts and drunk Texans.

This is my view as I’m sitting at my hotel pool along the lake. I went to India in March to learn the meaning of perfect bliss. I may have found it on Lake Como: reading the Italian sports paper next to a beautiful pool in front of me and a gorgeous lake behind me after spending the day walking through a villa garden. I just had ravioli a few feet from the water. The summer’s suffocating heat has left, replaced by high 70s with the sun peeking through the high clouds.
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Travel guide to Castelli Romani: Hidden gems in the hills southeast of Rome

don’t want to turn this blog into a travel guide. This blog is about experiences, not information. But I have to switch gears this once. I have recently been touring an area outside Rome that I just can’t keep to myself any longer. It has been around for 2,000 years, inhabited by emperors and popes, ogled at by Romans and savvy Europeans. But very few Americans ever get out of Rome to marvel at this extraordinary area.

It’s called Castelli Romani. It’s a series of 14 small towns, most sporting castles (thus, the “castelli” in the title) and perched on hillsides or cliffs among the picturesque Alban Hills southeast of Rome. Less than an hour from the city, they were once used as defenses against a Pac-12 lineup of foreign invaders but now offer some of the best views in Italy.
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Saldi: Italy’s twice-annual sales near another sad end

Saldi is one of the magical Italian words few outside Italy know. But it makes Italians sprint up streets as if racing for a gold medal in the Olympic marathon. In a way, saldi represents a marathon. Saldi is Italian for “sales.” Italy has two every year. The exact dates vary by store but the months do not. The winter saldi begins the first week in January and ends in early February. The summer saldi starts the first week in July and ends …

… about Tuesday.
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Rome in August is when Romans flee and Rome is your own personal trattoria

But in Rome, one month is hugely underrated: August. I recently ripped Rome in July. It’s hot, crowded, touristy. Everyone is sweating. An empty bus seat is a rumor. However, when I turned my calendar page from Il Vittoriano to Piazza Navona, Rome changed. Half of it emptied. I’m actually sitting on buses. I’m sitting on the subway. I’m no longer twisting my body in yoga positions to avoid roller bags and gypsies’ lightning-fast hands. I’m walking down the middle of streets downtown not worried about runaway Fiats passing idling cars stuck in traffic.
Rome, in August, is fabulous.
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Reeling Rio de Janeiro still dancing to a samba beat

I love Rio.

I love its pulse. I love its vibrancy. I love its toughness. I love its softness. I love its skyline, its beaches, its weather. I even love its food. This is my third time in Rio and it’s like no other city. Besides having the most beautiful urban beach in the world, Rio de Janeiro seems to be always in rhythm. Music is everywhere. I don’t like music much, yet I can feel the locals, called, not ironically, Cariocas, constantly swaying to a distant beat. Rio is Havana with a democracy. Samba. Bossa Nova. Cariocas seem too mellowed out from constant sun, gentle waves and music to worry about pollution, corruption and crime. Every lyric of “The Girl from Ipanema” still runs through my brain on a 24-hour loop. No song outside The Beach Boys’ in Southern California better represents an area than “The Girl from Ipanema” represents Rio de Janeiro. A beautiful girl in a string bikini walking to the beach without a care in the world. To me, Rio is still that beautiful girl.
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