Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Best 5 Free Apps When Traveling in Italy

These days, having a smartphone with you while traveling has become quite a common thing to do and also, very helpful!

If you usually travel with a smartphone, I am sure you do it because of all the perks you can get from the millions of applications there are regarding travel and everything else travel related. So, what you usually do is search for any (quite commonly called) apps that you feel will help you with your upcoming travels, download them and expect the to work their magic while on the move, right?

Well, one of the biggest inconveniences is the fact that you don't always have data or wi-fi available while traveling, which is when the app search becomes more interesting, as you have to search for some that particularly work offline, you know, just to be safe.

Well, I found a few of these that came quite in handy while I was traveling through Italy and now I wanna share them with you. So, here's a list of The Best 5 Apps When Traveling in Italy:

GuidePal City Guides - GuidePal used to have many different apps for different cities around the world, however, they decided to make it easier for everyone and put it all together in just one app, which includes several of the most important cities in the world. It has maps and they're helpful, but, if you want/need too much detailed information, it'll cost you; however, the basic stuff that is for free is good enough to get you started.

City (Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, etc.) Map and Walking Tour - If you're a fan of Tours but are traveling on a budget, this is the App for you as it helps you make your very own Walking Tour. It tells you the more important places and landmarks to visit, where they are, their opening times and some more info that may be useful. The down side on this one would be that you have to get a different app for each city, but still, it's worth it and they're all free!

City (Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa, etc.) Street Map Offline - This is one of my personal favorites as it contains a lot of general information about the different cities you're visiting. It tells you a bit of story about the place, how to get there by different kinds of transport, what to eat, and some more very helpful info you could only get from the locals. The very best about this one is the 404 it gives you on every city, and everything is completely offline, so you can take it with you wherever you go and it can get you out of trouble a few times.

Metro Roma Free - The Metro in Rome is quite easy to use as it only has 2 lines, however, it always comes in handy to know where you're going and which metro station would be easier to use and/or the walking distance from one place to another.

SpeakEasy Italian Lite - Last, but not least, comes in the communication. Oh yeah, whenever we travel we wish we had a chip with the language we'll be needing inserted but, as we all know, that is not possible (yet, anyways), which is alright since -at least- we can get these wonderful apps to help us go through life, if not speaking proper Italian (in this case), at least getting us to communicate our basics needs and to understand what the locals are trying to tell us. With SpeakEasy you'll be able to order like locals do at restaurants and to understand when crazy sales people are trying to overcharge you for your espresso.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eating My Way Around Italy II: Gelato

Italy is very well known for making (some of) the best Gelato in the World and -me being a huge ice cream fan- I went there to do some tastings and find out if it was true...turns out, it is!

I arrived in Italy determined to confirm they're masters of gelato-making, to do that, I was all ready, peprared and willing to try a different gelato everyday; it sounds like a difficult task, I know, sort of was.

Giolitti Gelato

The 2-flavor rule made it all easier (and better!) cause that way, I got to try 2 different flavors a day. I was in traveling through Italy for 2 weeks and I did manage to have gelato pretty much everyday; I'd only skip my gelato duties when it was really, really cold.

Now, thanks to the Food Tour I took early on my trip, I was able to tell fake gelato from the real one, which was awesome cause, when you're on a quest to find the best gelato, the least you wanna do is try fake stuff. So, I can honestly say I am sure every gelato I tried was real (traditionally made and with natural instead of artificial flavors, that is).

Giolitti, the most traditional gelateria in all of Rome

Gelato Tourist Trap

There's obviously a wide range of flavors to go crazy over, so I did my best to try as many different ones as I could, although I have to confess I sometimes failed since I did find my favorite flavor very soon: Nocciola (hazelnut)!

These are a few of the most popular flavors: Panna (cream), Cioccolato (chocolate), which can be "regular" cioccolato or cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), Limone (lemon), Pistacchio, Frutti di Bosco (fruits of the forest), Caffè, Fragola (strawberries), Cocco (coconut), Stracciatella (chocolate chip), Banana, Menta (mint), Ricotta Stregata ("bewitched ricotta"- a type of cheese), Nocciola (hazlenut).

Delicious Gelato!

So, the conclusion to this exhaustive investigation is that Italy, for sure, has the most amazing and luscious gelato in the World, particularly in Rome. So, if you wanna have something soft, creamy and full of flavor, Rome is the place to go

If, however, Rome -or Europe, for that matter- is too far away from you and you're in America, you can always go to Bar Harbor in Maine (US), there you will find a pretty close second-best!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

10 Secrets When Eating in Italy

When traveling through a Country like Italy, where most of the activities you wanna do involve food, it's important to consider a few things; however, as a tourist, it's not always easy to know which are those things and -most of the time- you end up eating just anything, anywhere. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but, why eat well when you can eat superb? Right?

Well, if eating superb is your thing, you've come to the right place cause I'm about to share with you 10 Secrets When Eating in Italy!  

1. Two Gelato Flavors Rule. In Italy, you're entitled to 2 flavors of gelato for no extra cost and no matter where you buy it. So, before ordering, make sure you choose 2 delicious flavors to try out!

2. Avoid fake wood-oven Pizza. Italy has a law that doesn't allow Wood-burning Ovens to be on before 6pm, this means, if during the day you walk by a place that says "fresh wood-fired over pizza", sorry to break to you, but that's not fresh, it's either leftovers from the previous day or not made in a wood-burning oven.

Real Pizza

3. Sublime Tiramisú. If you wanna have the very best Tiramisú in Italy, you will find it in Rome, right outside the Vatican (in Via Leone IV, to be more exact). It's a small shop where you'd only enter by accident (like I did), but if you try their Tiramisú, you will -for sure- wanna go back! Bare in mind the secret to a good Tiramisú is in the cream and its softness; the softer it is, the better it will taste. 


4. The Best Arancini. You can stay in the same area (right outside the Vatican) on Viale Giulio Cesare and go to a place with a big red sign on top that reads "Tavola Calda" (which is an informal eatery) and is right next to a cinema called "Multisala Giulio Cesare". They have all kinds of pre-prepared food to eat there or to go and their pizza is very good but their arancini is just sublime!

5. Spot Fake Gelato. When you see gelato in a huge and incredibly colorful pile, and fruits on top of away, I repeat, run away! That is, for sure, fake gelato. Even if the sign next to it says "artisanal", trust me, if you wanna have real gelato, that won't be the place you find it.

Obviously, FAKE gelato!

This is how REAL gelato should look like.

6. Food by weight. That's right, in Italy most food is sold by weight, which may sound like an inconvenient, but it's actually quite the opposite as there is no minimum required to order. Why is this good? You see, you can order as little of 100 grams of pizza so that you can try different specialties instead of just one big slice of one. Same thing with everything else, that way, you'll be on your way to become an expert on Italian Food.

7. Supermarkets, hidden treasures. If you do CouchSurfing or B&Bs (or similar, where you can cook your own food) you should seize the chance to wonder through local super markets as I can assure you you'll find, not only delicious stuff, but also of really good quality and price -that's a triple win! Another great thing about this is the wide variety of products you can find, so whether you're a vegetarian, vegan or even a foodie, this is a spot you'll want to hit. You can even find some interesting (edible) souvenirs to bring back home.

8. The greatest Crostatina di Ricotta. When visiting small towns around Italy, if you happen to drop by Lucca (which is actually quite common, as it is very near Pisa), you'll obviously go to the San Michele in Foro Church in Downtown in (surprise!) Piazza San Michele. In the corner of this (across Via Roma), you'll find a Pasticceria that looks just like any other in Italy, however, they have really good coffee and a great assortment of pastries, but I'd strongly recommend their Crostatina di Ricotta, which is an amazing mini tart filled with sweet ricotta cheese; it is so soft and crunchy on the outside you will want to eat 10 at once!


9. Traditional Tuscan Food. Believe it or not, Italy isn't just about Pizza and Pasta, they also have traditional food that's quite unknown for the outsider. You think you won't get invited to eat at a local home? Don't worry, if you're in Florence, all you have to do is go to the Mercato Centrale (aka Mercato di San Lorenzo) and look for Nerbone, which is an Osteria that serves homemade-like food, right out of the fire you can get delish chicken stew, soup or many more dishes prepared in a way only a Nonna could.

10. The Drinks. Oh yes, "too much food and not drinks" you thought? Well, think again cause I got something you will love! There is -of course- wine, yes, and (the very best!) sparking water, yes, but that's not it. I wanna highly recommend you beer, Italian beer, of course. Splügen is a Pale Lager beer by Carlsberg Italia and as soft as it feels when you drink it, watch it, cause after the almost-1-liter bottle, you may feel a bit tipsy. The taste is really good and soft, yet quite rich so it goes well with pizza, pasta, paninis, chicken and well, pretty much anything. You can find it at any local super market for less than 1 euro. Chin, Chin!

Well, now you know, the secret's are out in the open so it's all up to you! Happy eatings and mangia bene!!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Eating My Way Around Italy I: My Rome Food Tour

You know that old saying: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."? Well, that means, if you're in Rome, one of the things you have to do like the Romans do is eat, which may seem challenging at first, but if you're able to make it, you will never go back!
When in Rome (or Italy in general), you can get caught on tourist traps, that being: restaurants with huge neon signs offering pizza, gelato, pasta and all the succulent food Italy is well known for, which are usually near to touristic sites. Now, avoiding that is very easy, really and, if you do, you will get to eat better food, more real, the real Italian deal. However, I would say that to be absolutely certain that you're eating not only the real deal but some of the best of the best when it comes to the real deal, then you'd need to go on a Food Tour -oh yes, now we're talking!

And who better to take you on an amazing culinary experience in Rome than the guys from Eating Italy Food Tours? The answer is: nobody -unless you have an Italian Nonna, that is.
Testaccio is known as the "Food Neighbourhood" in Rome, it's filled with small-independent businesses, usually owned by Italian Families that want to keep the tradition of good food alive, and it's there where the Eating Italy Food Tour takes place. For this Food Tour, you don't have to be a foodie, you can be just someone who enjoys eating good food.

 At around 11am, the Food Tour starts at  El Oasis de la Birra (The Oasis of Beer) which may sound like a bit too much for such an early time, but don't worry, that's just the meeting point. 

The real start is at Barberini, a pastry shop that has been making tasty goods since 1945. 

They have a variety of pastries as well as cakes and, of course, coffee. 

At this point, I believe it is important I mention that a Bar in Italy isn't precisely a bar as we know it in the rest of the World, but a Cafe where, yes, you could have a drink or two if you wanted, but where you would mainly go get your café + cornetto fix every morning. 

So, in Barberini you'll get to taste a really good Tiramisú in a tiny chocolate cup (so you can eat the entire thing, literally!) as well as an amazing cornetto freshly baked and with a secret ingredient.

Afterwards, Volpetti is said to be Rome's #1 gourmet food shop for quite a few years now. Just entering the shop will make you drop your jaw from the incredible assortment of gourmet products they have: cheeses (over 150 types!), prosciutto, fresh pasta, sausages, olive oil, balsamic vinegar (some as old as 100 years!), chocolate and whatnot, all of great quality. And don't worry about not having this luscious stuff at home because you can buy whatever you want and they will vacuum-seal them for you to take all the way back home and prepare yourself amazing Italian sandwiches and more and feel like you're in Rome again -that's what I did and I have to say that 7 weeks later, I still have a lush pecorino cheese with truffle and it tastes just as if I bought it yesterday. 


Just around the corner, Emilio and Claudio (owners of Volpetti) have a cafeteria called Volpetti Piu, where they serve one of the best and most fresh pizza in all of, not just Rome, but Italy! My personal favorite one: Margherita, of course. It is a simple as scrumptious -I couldn't get enough of its thin crust and melted mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes and basil...and...I'm almost drooling now, so I'd better continue with their menu. They sell a great diversity of food to eat there or to go, such as: arancini, many kinds of pasta, chicken, salads and, of course, pizza.

Then, we moved and walked towards the Cimitero Acattolicico di Roma (Non-Catholic Cemetery or Protestant Cemetery), where you can find the tombs of famous people such as English author/poet John Keats and the Bulgari Family (worldly renown jewelers), among others. They say this cemetery rivals Pere Lachaise in Paris and Highgate in London, but for me -as creepy as it may sound- there is no more beautiful cemetery in the World than Pere Lachaise.


So, after the little historic break at the Cemetery, we headed to the Fresh Food Market of Testaccio, which used to be a street/farmers market but now, due to hygiene and electrical reasons, is located in a more "settled" market which looks quite clean and modern. If you ask me, it takes off a bit of the excitement and coolness produced by a real street market, but oh well, the amazing stuff they sell there, totally make up for it. At the market, we made our very own bruschetta and found out that Italian's secret to get crunchy-not-leaking bread is a double toast -so, now you know! We also made a mozzarella di buffala Caprese salad and I have to say -though you may already know- I love cheese in general, but this mozzarella di buffala was just something, I tell ya! Super fresh, and soft, and yummy, perfect for a tasty Caprese salad or anything you like. I actually came back afterwards and bought some as well as some ravioli and pesto to make our own dinner at the B&B.


What's next? A little dessert, of course. And Constanza at Dess'Art has good cannoli for your sugar fix. They say the best cannoli is the one they fill (with cream) when you order it, opposite to the ones they have already filled by the time you buy them; however, this was the only place (in all of Italy) where they actually do that. Wherever else you go, you will for sure find your cannoli already filled and ready to eat.


Next stop was 00100 Pizza where they serve the famous fried rice croquet called Suppli', which is a variant of Sicily's Arancini. To be a bit more specific, they're balls of rice with (or without) tomato sauce and raw egg around a piece of mozzarella, all soaked in egg and coated with breadcrumbs, and then fried. This was, for me, one of the most amazing discoveries in Italian food and something that we definitely don't get in Mexico. They're absolutely delicious and one of my favorite things to eat in Rome.

If by now you think you're all done and already ate too's true, but think again, cause the next stop on the tour is Da Bucatino, said to be one of the best Trattorias in Rome, they've been serving good food for over nine decades. This is the place where you will sit in a big table with everyone on the tour and where you will get to talk and get to know each other a bit more and, of course, share a wonderful meal. We had the always-popular cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta) and other type of pasta, both accompanied with wine.


Once you're super full and swear never to eat again, they make you completely disregard that by taking you to the last place of the tour: Giolitti da 1914, because -obviously- gelato couldn't not be a part of a food tour! And what better place than Giolitti, which has been making Rome's best gelato the old-fashioned way for 98 years! Oh yes, you're all full alright, but when it comes to gelato, there's always room, right? (Or was that jello? lol) Here you get to order 2 flavors in a cup and, trust me, that decision won't be easy as all of them look absolutely delish! 

And that's how this awesome Food Tour comes to and end and becomes a great experience for travelers, locals, foodies and whoever takes it. It is absolutely enjoyable and, for sure, a great thing to do when in Rome. Seriously, not only do I recommend it but I'd say it's a must!. And, this post is not all regarding Eating Italy Food Tours, stay tuned for an awesome surprise coming up soon!

Special thanks to Kenny, María and Sarah from Eating Italy Food Tours -loved eating with you!

If you wanna live this experience by yourself, go to Eating Italy Food Tours and book your tour now!