Tor Bella Monaca bar owner has seen it all in his 20 years

Via dell’Archeologia stretches along five of the most dangerous blocks in Rome. On one side is a series of drab, gray, seven-story apartment houses. On the other are 15-story apartment towers, yellowing like last year’s newspaper. The buildings could be in any lower middle-class neighborhood in the world, except for one element.

You’ll find it in the back of the buildings. Or it’ll be below. It’s away from foot and car traffic, away from eyes that, in this neighborhood called Tor Bella Monaca, are usually averted.

“NOOOOO! I don’t go behind there,” says Rocco Sansotta who owns a bar in Tor Bella Monaca. “It’s like the Bronx. They say, ‘You don’t go there.’ I don’t go there. They say, ‘You don’t go back there. You don’t go underneath the garages.’

“I hear stories.”
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Tor Bella Monaca: The Black Hole of Rome is city’s dark underbelly of drugs and violence

What we’re doing is touring Tor Bella Monaca at night. Travel guides list a few things you don’t do in Rome: Don’t take photos inside art galleries. Don’t order a cappuccino in the afternoon. Don’t drink in excess. It says nothing about touring arguably Rome’s most dangerous neighborhood after sunset, an area simply known as the Black Hole of Rome. When I told my Roman friends my plan, they all said I needed counseling. I knew exactly what I was doing. And it wasn’t thrill seeking. I wanted to write about crime in one of the world’s most glamorous, most beautiful tourist cities in the world. I wanted to dive head first into the dark underbelly of Rome, a part of the Eternal City that outsiders never see nor know about. I also wanted to show how crime in Rome doesn’t compare to crime in American cities.
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FC Trastevere shows grass is often greener in Italian soccer’s bush leagues

This lower level of Italian soccer is where I’m finding new joy. I’ve peeled away the sterile veneer of Serie A, Italy’s top classification, and uncovered an all new level of culture. It’s kind of like cooking in Italy. The longer you’re here, the more different pastas you discover and cheeses you can try. Some are better than others but they’re all good. It’s at this level, these Italian bush leagues, where I found myself enjoying a very different Sunday afternoon in Rome.

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Puglia wine tasting brings back memories of long coastlines and purple-red wines

Wine Tastings of Rome, a terrific Meetup group that could only have a more attractive name if Beyonce held its sign, brought in wine makers from around Puglia to one room at the Hotel Imperiale. Built in 1895, the Hotel Imperiale is as elegant as it sounds. It’s a gold palace with small balconies overlooking tree-lined Via Veneto, perhaps Rome’s most glamorous street where its rich and famous once preened for panting fans and fought with prying paparazzi. Walking into the snow-white interior, I felt thankful I wore a sportcoat as “retired journalist” and “elegant” aren’t usually found in the same sentence. The Hotel Imperiale makes you at least try to look the part.
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London theater beats Broadway but plays about one-legged sodomites do not

Theater in London is on every visitor’s to-do list. But here’s a tip: First check out the plays in the “fringe” theaters. They are London’s equivalent of off-Broadway. They’re only about 20 pounds ($29) and if they’re good they move to the West End. On the West End tickets are so expensive, theaters should have bankers out front negotiating loans. Tickets for “Mr. Foote” were 90 pounds ($130). However, my friend went to the theater desk in the Piccadilly Circus station that afternoon and bought them discounted that day for 35 pounds ($50).
Considering what we watched, it was like getting a discount on a colonoscopy.
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London markets a very English way to spend an afternoon

If you want a clear window into the lives of a people — as well as buy a candlestick holder from the 19th century — come to London. London is the public market capital of the world. It lists 73, covering nearly every neighborhood in a city the size of Rhode Island. From Bromley to Enfield, London has something for everyone, from old Beatles records to umbrellas, from silver earrings to top hats.
I came to England on a recent assignment and spent one day prowling public markets. Shopping is free. Buying is expensive.
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Prague in winter feels warm in a capital that has come in from the cold

Prague in winter is like curling up with your girlfriend in front of a roaring fire. It’s beautiful and romantic and oh, so warm if you find the right place. I’d been here in the summer of 2014 when the Charles Bridge had so many tourists it felt more like a mall after Thanksgiving than a 15th century European landmark. l heard as much English as Czech. I believe I saw shirts from every college in the Pac-12 Conference. The city made enough money off its “Prague Drinking Team” T-shirts to build another bridge.
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Liechtenstein: The Alps’ last monarchy is a tiny slice of royal beauty

The first thing you must know about Liechtenstein is how to pronounce it. Just imitate a cat coughing up a furball: LEEEECCCHHHHT-en-stein.The fourth smallest country in Europe is all of 62 square miles, the size of Staten Island. From one end to the other is 17 miles. It’s nine miles wide. Driving from one end to the other takes 25 minutes. It takes that long to get out of Heathrow Airport. Yet it still has 240 miles of well-marked hiking trails.

A few things you didn’t know about Liechtenstein. If you did, you need to get out more. Liechtenstein has:

No airport
No military
One train station
One ski resort
One hospital
One TV channel
One radio station
Two newspapers
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Two-year anniversary inspires all new list of why I love living in Rome

Two years ago today I landed in Rome with three bags, fewer friends and more risk than a mob informant. But today, I am approaching my 60th birthday in two months at the apex of my life. My happiness is growing like the lemon tree on my penthouse terrace overlooking the Tiber River. Retirement in Rome was the biggest chance I’ve ever taken but has made me happier than I’ve ever been. Looking forward to retirement, folks?
Retire to paradise, wherever you consider that is.
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