Ciao Bella!

Contactless in Italy

Baci e abbracci, I love Italy because Italy literally loves me.  Every time, I meet up with a friend, new or old, I know the conversation is going to begin with a hug and a kiss.  And when we say good bye, we repeat the ritual with maybe a little more fanfare.  Close contact and intimacy are part of being Italian, which is why contactless in Italy may seem a bit odd. In actuality, contactless in Italy has nothing to do with missing out on a hug or kiss, and everything to do with your wallet. It’s a simplified payment system that is making my mornings at Caffe Roscioli about easier and faster.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's about time to follow my Instagram stories.  

Almost every morning, I grab a latte macchiato and granatina (a small Roman pastry) at Caffe Roscioli, my neighborhood bar and the best thing that’s happened to the Campo de’ Fioriin this decade. Almost two years ago, bakers delicatessen owners and brothers Pierlugi and Alessandro Roscioli took over an the site of a run door/historic bar, renovating it into a modern coffee shop,  serving coffee drinks from Giamaica caffe, the relatively exclusive Italian torrefazione, and Roscioli's own specialty sweet and savory confections.  As you can imagine, the pastries and sandwiches are made on site, daily, and every taste is delicious. In the late afternoons, Roscioli changes the vibe to an aperitivo hangout featuring craft cocktails and food delicacies straight from its salumeria. There is, however, one downside-  the architectural design is cumbersome.  Long and narrow space means a tight squeeze at the counter and the cashier (niched at the entrance), and an uncomfortable wait when it comes time to pay.  Here’s how I make my life just a little bit easier -  by going contactless, in other words a ten-second turn-around - five seconds to key in the amount, five seconds for processing-  and I’m already out the door. . .

All the questions I asked myself as I tested out Contactless in Rome:

What the heck is a contactless payment?  A secure payment method (via debit, credit or smartcards/chip cards) using near field communicationNFC, essentially digital communication protocols allowing two electronic devices to transmit to each other.  Or, as I like to say, an intimate, finite conversation between your card and a point of sale POS terminal.

How do I know if I have a contactless credit card? Take a good look at your Mastercard, and any other card you have in your wallet. If there is a symbol in the upper right corner - four frequency waves - you've got contact, or better yet you have a contactless-enable card and can make contactless payments.

How does it work? Next time you are about to make a payment, whether at Roscioli or anywhere else, look for the Contactless symbol on the POS terminal and let the cashier know you will use a contactless-enabled card.  Once ready, bring your card within very close proximity to the POS terminal and wait for the beep. Payment is automatically transmitted. No need to insert, no need to sign. Best of all, your card never leaves your hand, and encryption protects your data.

If my card is "communicating", does that mean once I make a payment it will automatically communicate with other devices like what sometimes happens when I use blue tooth? Nope, communication is secured, encrypted and limited to POS terminal and your card, nothing else.

Is it true that there a maximum or limit to what I can purchase contactless? 25 euro is the maximum amount before the POS requests additional security, i.e. signature or pin code. In my experience, whereas many Rome-based vendors are aware that contactless payments can still be processed for amounts superior to 25 euro by simply asking you to sign or enter pin without physically taking your card out of your hand, there are still some vendors who don’t understand how Contactless works.  These vendors will either tell you that contactless does not work for amounts superior to 25 euro or will ask you to submit your card to them, and then process payment in the traditional method.  It may be up to you to educate the vendors on how contactless works with amounts more than 25 euro.

Where can I use it and what if my card is not Italian? Can I use my card in other countries? I’ve had a lot of fun researching this because there is no definitive answer.  All my research, theoretical and practical, says that any contactless-enabled credit card (regardless of country of origin) should be accepted where ever there is a POS with the contactless symbol. No matter what, I suggest you confirm with your issuer prior to traveling. Source: UK Cards Association

What if I don’t have a Contactless-enabled card, can I pay using my phone?  This is a bit of a trick question.  If you do not have a contactless card, you cannot make contactless payments. However, if you have an Android phone, you could be in luck.  Mastercard created Masterpass app where you register your card and use phone for contactless payments.  Since I don't have an Android, I did not test out this app.

Escape Lisbon at Sintra's Fairy-Tale Palace Hotel

When Lisbon starts to feel too much like a city, head to Sintra along the coast for palaces, parks, and a little R&R.   This article first appeared in Fathom, September 2017.

Your palace awaits.  Photo by Erica Firpo.

SINTRA, Portugal – We asked for a fairy tale, and we definitely got one. For a long weekend away from busy Lisbon, we went to the wooded mountainside of Sintra because it is home to a bounty of castles and palaces representing architecture and history spanning millennia. Perfect for hiding out. From medieval to Art Deco, our goal was full fairy-tale immersion in the UNESCO cultural landscape that is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s famous castle. Our hotel, the romantic era Tivoli Palácio de Seteais fell right in line with the fantasy.


Rates start from $490.

Salao Nobre at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais.

Salao Nobre at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais.

A room at the hotel.

You will feel like royalty.


A standalone palace set in the higher foothills of the Sintra Mountains, where the entire expanse of the Sintra-Cascais National Park is at your feet and the romantic Palácio Nacional da Pena and the medieval Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) sit high on the rocky peaks above. The hotel is walking distance to the town of Sintra, and taxis are on call.

Hotel Style
The late 18th-century neoclassical palace is a period piece, a Portuguese Downton Abbey with elegant period furniture and decor that immediately transported me out of the 21st century. Though it is a palace with regal sprawl, the experience is incredibly personal and intimate. In spite of crashing a christening party, we felt the manor was ours and ours alone.

This Place Is Perfect For
Couples seeking a discreet and gorgeous weekend getaway. Groups (weddings!) wanting a full-service sojourn with lounging, spa, photo ops, and Michelin-worthy meals. And flawless families clad in luxurious linen who need a few days off.

But Not So Perfect For
Families with small, active children who may not appreciate antiques.

What's on Site
Seteais is a micro kingdom, a stately palace with gardens, tennis courts, a 19th-century topiary maze, a beautiful pool, and a wood-slat terrace. The two-wing palace is divided by a neoclassical arch, a historic monument immortalizing Prince Regent John VI and Princess Carlota Joaquin. Sitting rooms, dining rooms, and salons network the ground and bottom levels; guest rooms fill the ground and first levels through both wings. The bar extends to an open-air terrace decorated with fruit trees. The former dovecote is now a tiny and delightfully tranquil spa.

View of the Garden Maze. Photo by Erica Firpo.

View of the Garden Maze. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Swim or rest by the pool. Photo by Erica Firpo.

A Romantic Meal for Two.

Food + Drink
We had brunch and dinner at the Palace restaurant, and both were rich in taste and design. But our favorite meal was lunch from the bar on the terrace overlooking the pool and valley — an amazing and light sopa de peixe (fish soup) and a tiger prawn risotto. The setting was magical. (I can only imagine what it must be like caught in a rain storm during tea time). In the late afternoons, we enjoyed lemonade and ices freshly made from Seteais’ own fruit trees poolside.

Number of Rooms
Thirty period piece rooms and suites. Our ground-level room faced the entrance courtyard, which gave us a front-row view to the mist over Palácio Nacional da Pena. The garden and valley views are even more spectacular.

In-Room Amenities
You had me at queijadas, those tiny egg pastries made with fresh cheese that appeared every afternoon alongside a bottle of port. We only glanced at the mini bar filled with local snacks, water, and beverages, and the de rigeur Nespresso machine. My daughter entertained herself with domino and Spillikin sets from the Tivoli Kids welcome bag, and we caught up Disney’s Soy Luna in Portuguese on the flat-screen TV. My favorite Elemis products were in the bathrooms.

After enjoying a cornucopia of a Sunday brunch, the weekday breakfast was a bit weak.

Standout Detail
Palácio de Seteais has decidedly maintained its late 18th- and early 19th-century architectural history, from the original royal arch to the garden maze. Thanks to the unique microclimate of Sintra, Palácio de Seteais is incredibly atmospheric — foggy in the mornings, sunny midday, chilly by late afternoon, and cozy cold in the evenings.

Palazzo Pena, the castle that inspired Walt Disney. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The stunning views from the Sintra mountains. Photo by Erica Firpo.


Sinatra is a beautiful, walkable town with lots of boutiques and restaurants, set in the green hills of the Sintra mountains. The area is great for laid-back walks or more strenuous hikes through the Parque de Sintra and visits to the numerous historic castles (from early medieval to romantic to 20th century) that hide in the hills. In 1992, the entire area became the first UNESCO cultural landscape. In other words, you can get your nature and culture on at the same time.

What to Do Nearby
The historic center of Sintra is a labyrinth of boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants. Souvenir shops abound, but the Sintra Bazar is a hub of traditional crafts. For culture vultures, plan to spend the entire day in the Parques de Sintra exploring fantasy Palacio de Pena, the medieval Moorish castle, a quirky chalet, a convent, and more. Then visit the eclectic Quinta de Regalieria, a turn-of-the-century architectural folly. My restaurant favorites are both set into the hills of historic Sintra: Tascantiga, a small tapas spot with a 21st-century vibe that definitely requires a reservation in the summer, and Tacho Real, an historic home with outdoor street seating, live Fado music, and traditional Portugese dishes.

Good to Know
Bring great walking shoes and a scarf. Plan to arrive early at Palacio de Pena (no later than 9.30 a.m.) for the ticket queue. You’ll want to buy the combined Pena/Moorish Castle ticket or, for the more ambitious, the five-park ticket. 

What I Didn’t Do But Wish I Had
A horseback riding trail tour through the park.


How to Get There
Lisbon International Airport (LIS) is 20 miles (a 35-minute drive) from Sintra. The airport is served by flag carrier TAP Portugal, along with US airlines American, Delta, and United, as well as most major European carriers like Alitalia, British Airways, Turkish Airways, and Air France.

Getting Around
You will need a car to get there, but not once you are there. There are buses, taxis, and tuk-tuks, but the entire area is walkable.

Cheat Sheet: Day Trip from Lisbon
I stayed overnight, but Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon, accessible by local trains, Uber, and taxis. (The locals prefer Uber to taxis.) For a perfect day, wake up early and catch an Uber to Sintra. Start with a visit to Palácio Nacional da Pena, where the exterior is more interesting than the interior, and doesn’t require waiting on an insane line. Next stop, the less crowded Castelo dos Mouros, where the interiors and exteriors are both outstanding. Then go to Tivoli Palácio de Seteais for a long, leisurely lunch on the outdoor patio, followed by a stroll around the hotel where you should totally pretend it’s all yours. From there, walk to Quinta de Regalieria and wander for hours around the Game of Thrones castle through the grounds and turrets, pausing for pictures at the subterranean tower. The only reason to leave Quinta is because you're tired of walking. From here, it’s a 20-minute walk back to the shops and cafes in town for souvenirs and refreshments and to catch the train back to Lisbon.

SLO down in California's Central Coast

Left Coast, Best Coast, Central Coast.  In the very middle of California is a gorgeous 350 mile stretch of coastline, countryside and mountains known as the Central Coast, an area of four regions and six, count'em, six counties linked together by a ragtag band of beach communities, old mission and university towns, and farmland, all tricked out with Mother Nature's very best from blazing sunsets and wintergreen peaks to mammoth-sized seals, cuddly otters, blue whales and herds of Hearst zebras.  Forget the panning, the Central Coast is true California Gold.

And in the center of it all, and almost equidistant from the California you and I know, is the old Spanish mission town San Luis Obispo.  Just as chill as its acronym, SLO is laid back, a home grown college town with a population of 47, 000, where A-Frames, Victorians, and Craftsman bungalows surround the agro-tech Cal Poly State University.   In the center of it all is San Luis Obispo de Tolosa,  the 18th century mission, the core to a network of coffee bars, vintage boutiques, pyschadelic donut shops, a Farmer's Market, and local businesses, in postcard perfect classic California style.  It's a slice of Americana pie, so picturesque that it's been a movie set back drop. In fact, when I was returned this past August for our annual family meet up, we bumped into Keanu and Winona in downtown SLO.

SLO, like most towns in California, is one of those place where it's easy to chill, to hang out, to get out.   Walk, run, hike, surf, zipline, sky dive, air balloon, ski, kayak. . . every outdoorsy adventure you want to have is right in front of you and under that gorgeous California sun. Each time I visit, it's like I am living the Nike slogan all the time- I just do it.  I've learned how to surf at Morro Bay and then spent a few hours watching the otters sunbather near by; rode some trails through the Oceano Dunes, the largest coastal dunes left in California- and backdrop to a Star Wars film, and zip-lined through the wineries

Everyone will tell you that the Central Coast is California's best kept secret.  It's beautiful, "real" California. The colors are intense, and so is the diversity of the terrain.  You can hike the foggy foothills in the morning, and lose yourself among the dunes in the same afternoon.  And there is no doubt that the sunsets are the best in the world, especially when watching the Pacific Ocean go technicolor.  Even more amazing are when California's incredible wildlife make guest appearances.  In my last visit, I tried whale watching, spied otters and elephant seals sun bathing, and caught up with the zebras running through Hearst ranch.  Next up: bird watching.  California keeps me outdoors more hours than in, and that's all I need.

No matter what, my favorite Central Coast moments, and there are so many, have been just taking in the panoramas and turning off, or better yet, putting down my phone.  Ironically I noticed something just a little different about SLO on this last trip- it was cash free and easy to be contactless.  I know, I know, contactless is the norm nowadays, except in Rome where cash is king and hovering a credit card or smart phone over a reader is ridiculous.  But in the Central Coast, contactless is just how things are done.  Take my morning zip line adventure at Margarita Adventures for example:  I signed the liability release, and then zip-lined over vineyards.  I spent what felt like hours picking out the prettiest tie-die donuts from SLO Donut Co.  My surf lesson with Trevor? That incredible clam chowder in a sour dough bowl at Tognazzini's Dockside?  Those tickets at Hearst Castle? Yep, I did it all.  


More favorites on the Central Coast:

Just an hour drive north up the coast to San Simeon and Hearst Castle, William Randolf Hearst's mountain top getaway -national landmark and true California history.  After the tour, look out for Hearst's zebras on the ranch, and then head to Piedras Blancas to see the elephant seals up close and personal.

Closer to SLO is Morro Rock, a humongous volcanic plug in Morro Bay, where you enjoy the otters sunbathing, or get your sea legs in a whale watching adventure with SubSea toursWavelengths is where I signed up for surf lessons, while my sister kayaks the bay.  We make pit stops for clams and chips and fried oreos at Giovanni's Fish Market, and barbecued oysters and clam chowder sour dough bowl at Tognazzini's Dockside.  

For laid back days, Pismo Beach and Avila Beach are two of many great seaside communities where you can pretty much just hang out, catch sunsets and live the beach life.  I'm pretty partial to the cuban sandwich at Paradise Beer Garden.  For more hands on adventure, Pacific Dunes Ranch has trail riding through the Oceano Dunes Reserve where you can race dune buggies around the largest beaches I've ever seen . .  .


How to get to San Luis Obispo

Whether from San Francisco or Los Angeles, coastal or inland, the lead up to SLO is beautiful. Drive north on the 101and you're drifting through seaside communities,  take the Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner** from Los Angeles and you're crossing through the very best of California terrain- red rocks, mountains and coast line.  Head south on the 101 (or north on the 5) and you're driving through FarmVille.  Every frame is an old Sunset magazine editorial spread, and every town is a movie backdrop with houses like Mitch Ever's ranch in the Parent Trap, the House of Seven Gables and Grandpa's house in The Lost Boys.  No matter what, when planning out a drive on the 101, keep an eye on current and up-to-date weather-related traffic conditions.  You don't want a landslide stopping your flow.

** Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight both take about in about five to six hours between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.  Though the trip is about twice as long as the drive, it's very scenic and the National Park Service is on board sharing regional heritage for Trails & Rails.

How to Improve Your Instagram Travel Shots

*This article first appeared in Endless Vacation, September 2017.

A Pro shares ways to up your game


With 56,000 followers watching her feed, travel writer and influencer Erica Firpo(@ericafirpo) knows how to make an Instagram post pop. We asked her to share her tips—follow the advice below to help reap likes, comments and Insta-envy.

Shoot It Like You Mean It

Hold the smartphone steady and with authority, making sure to align the camera perfectly parallel with the subject. Shoot horizontally for more range in the picture plane and then double up with vertical shots for your Instagram Stories.


Timing Is Everything

Early mornings and late afternoons, also known as the “golden hours,” are some of the best times to take photos because the light is warm and soft. For uncrowded shots, get up and out at sunrise to have the sites to yourself.

Get Some Perspective

Change up the vibe with a change of place. Head to higher ground for sweeping views, or kneel closer to the floor for action shots. My favorite, high or low, is to find a vanishing point for a stylized shot.

Keep It Natural

And as much as I like to frame a gorgeous golden ratio, great photos come when you don’t force the scene. Let the natural elements play out right in front of you, and shoot away. For help on where to shoot, you can research locations in advance with Google Earth and Instagram.


Sometimes a little editing (like cropping, alignment and light and/or color correction) can upgrade a photo from nice to amazing. For Android* and iPhone,** I like Snapseed(iTunes/Android; free) for overall editing; VSCO(iTunes/Android; free) for its tilt-and-level tool (which helps with photo alignment); and A Color Story(iTunes/Android; free) for adjusting color balance. Editing rule of thumb: Be as authentic as possible.

Bonus Tip:Bring an external battery so you don’t miss out on a shot.Mophie(cases, from $60)makes cases that can extend battery life by more than 100 percent while protecting your smartphone.

The Great Italian Chef Shines on the Big Screen

A new film chronicles the life and work of one of Italy's best and most influential chefs.  This article originally appeared in Fathom, September 2017.

Gualtiero Marchesi the Great Italian chef, in a scene from the upcoming film "The Great Italian."

If you haven't already heard of Gualtiero Marchesi, listen up. He is, by many accounts, The Great Italian, maybe even the Greatest. A larger-than-life, Milan-born chef who has spent more than six decades in the kitchen, Marchesi is the godfather of modern Italian cuisine. From the beginning of his career, his dishes have been multi-sensory works of art, beautiful and revolutionary recipes that inspired legions of students and chefs to define and drive innovation in Italian cuisine. And now you don't even have to go into one of his four restaurants in Milan and Monte Carlo to get a proverbial taste. Marchesi has landed on the big screen.

The Great Italian, a one-hour film celebrating the career of Italy's most famous chef, debuted last summer in a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and I was one of the wide-eyed viewers in the audience. Mixing a dash of Chef's Table with Paolo Sorrentino panache, the film shares the touchstones in Marchesi's life and career in a non-linear format. We sit at the table as colleagues, friends, and former students — Alain Ducasse, Yannick Alleno, Jean Troisgrois, Massimo Bottura, Davide Oldani, Andrea Berton, and Carlo Cracco among them — tell stories about their experiences with the chef. Marchesi himself brings us into wood-paneled libraries, fresco-covered billiard rooms, and contemporary kitchens to dish about his story, illustrated by enchanting diorama-styled animation from family photos and news clips.

The film, directed by Maurizio Gigola, is delightful and literal eye candy, but what had me at the edge of my seat were the vivid, jaw-dropping, close-ups of Marchesi's signature dishes — Raviolo Aperto, Dripping di Pesce, Seppia in Nero, and Riso Oro e Zafferano — spliced side by side with scenes of Marchesi walking through galleries filled with Pollocks, Stellas, Warhols, Fontanas, and so many others. This art and food lover saw stars.

Raviolo Aperto. Photo courtesy of Gualtiero Marchesi.

Dripping di pesce. Photo courtesy of Gualtiero Marchesi.

Marchesi shooting pool, in a still from the movie

A musician before he became a chef, Marchesi is also a lover of the visual arts. He uses avant-garde ideas — Pollock's drip paintings, Fontana's cut canvas, and Warhol lithographs — as ingredients in his dishes, mixing masterpieces with Italian produce and DOCG products to plate the perfect multi-art trifecta — visual, conceptual, and performance. And he started doing this long before modern Italian cuisine was even a concept.

It makes sense. Born in 1930, Marchesi grew up during the most epic periods of modern art — abstract, Arte Povera, optical, conceptual, performance, pop — experiencing all the genres that redefined the second half of the 20th century and set the foundation for the 21st. These ideas, images, and experiences flowed into Marchesi's sensibilities, inspiring him to play around with tradition, leading him to innovate Italian cuisine for the 21st century. And in turn to do so through his acclaimed protégés and their restaurants, a who's who of Italian gastronomy that includes Andrea Berton (Pisacco), Paola Budel (Venissa), Davide Oldani (D'O), and Carlo Cracco (Cracco).

On the silver screen and at the table, Marchesi comes across as humble and relatable, a chef who loves cooking for its ingredients and for who and what his dishes can inspire. After the screening, I briefly met the chef, surrounded by friends, family, and press. I congratulated him, told him how much the film moved me and how I remembered dining at Hostaria dell'Orso, his Roman restaurant, holed up on the top floor of a medieval palazzo on the edge of Piazza Navona. At the time, I didn't get that Italian food was supposed to be about tradition, not art. He chuckled. Now I get it.

For Marchesi, it wasn't about art at all. It was about love — for the ingredients, for the technique, for the experience, and, yes, maybe also for a little art.

The Great Italian, directed by Maurizio Gigola, will be in theaters in fall 2017. San Pellegrino is a contributor to the film and presented it together with chef Marchesi at the 2017 Festival de Cannes.

Keeping up with Contemporary Rome

This article first appeared in Marriott Traveler, August 2017

You'll find street art on nearly every corner and every wall in Rome, especially in the Quadraro neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images) 

You'll find street art on nearly every corner and every wall in Rome, especially in the Quadraro neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images) 

The Eternal City’s 3,000-plus years of history are visible every time you walk its streets — turn any corner and it seems an ancient ruin rises before you. But lately it’s become apparent that Rome’s sidewalks are also dotted with more modern interests. 

Turn away for a spell from the city’s storied wonders and lean in to new museum and gallery initiatives — you may discover contemporary art as Rome’s newest wonder. 

The Museums

The MAXXI Museum is housed in Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Flaminio neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images)  

The MAXXI Museum is housed in Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Flaminio neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images)  

When in Rome, it’s not all about the old. Though the city has an incredible and limitless lineup of museums devoted to Italy’s ancient, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art, the Eternal City keeps its eternal vibe with a dynamic modern and contemporary art scene.

La Galleria Nazionale, housed in a palace containing Italy’s main collection of post-unification Italian art, is dedicated to who’s who in Italian art, from neoclassicists, Macchiaioli and futurists to Arte Povera and contemporary artists.

In 2016 director Cristiana Collu revamped the century-old building and changed up the permanent collection to create a new interpretation in the nonlinear exhibition “Time Is Out of Joint.” Canova faces off with Twombly, while Clemente, Modigliani, Beecroft, Penone, Calder, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock and Balla hang out.

For a full-on 21st-century focus, head to the MAXI Museum, Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Guido Reni district in the Flaminio neighborhood. MAXXI devotes its halls to work produced only in this century, with a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions and Italy’s largest modern architecture archive.

Museo MACRO is Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Museo MACRO is Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. (Photo: Getty Images) 

For a smaller step into contemporary, Museo MACRO is Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. Located in a former Peroni beer factory, MACRO hosts exhibitions as well as artists in situ. Also, keep an eye on the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a temporary exhibition space that occasionally hosts contemporary art and photography shows.


The Galleries

La dolce vita refers to Rome’s heyday in the mid-1900s, when the city was a world’s stage of fashion, performance and art. Somehow that vitality took a slumber for a few decades, only to wake up, thanks, in part, to Gavin Brown.

The New York gallerist chose the “quiet” (i.e., southern) area of the Trastevere neighborhood for the Rome outpost of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (GBE), one of his six art spaces that include spots in New York and Los Angeles. Brown wowed the art world by choosing Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, a deconsecrated 8th-century church, for his Rome location.

Known for amazing exhibitions and even more amazing contemporary artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Urs Fischer, Alex Katz and Ed Atkins, the intimate space hosts site-specific installations as well as multi-work shows.

After GBE, keep on the trail of other emerging artists by visiting Frutta Gallery, Galerie Emanuel Layr and Monitor, and then catch up with contemporary art’s heavy-hitters like Giuseppe Penone, Cy Twombly, Rachel Whiteread, Kiki Smith and Richard Long at Gagosian Gallery and Lorcan O’Neill.

The Streets

Get outside. Everyone knows that Rome is all about life on its streets. Since the days of Julius Caesar, the city has been a hotbed of contemporary art; its walls were canvas to ingenious and indignant graffiti.

Over the centuries street art has painted itself into Roman daily life. From scratchings and tags to gorgeous calligraphy, rebellious stencils and larger-than-life murals, street art is on every corner and every wall, and there is no better area to experience all of it than Quadraro.

A periphery neighborhood outside of the city center, Quadraro has become a full-immersion outdoor museum since artist David Vecchiato (Diavù) launched Museo  del Urban Art MURO in 2010.

Some the best local and international artists including Diavù, Alice Pasquini, Camilla Falsini, Jim Avignon and Zio Ziegler have graced Quadraro’s walls with evocative paintings, transforming Quadraro into living and continually evolving exhibition of incredible street art.

Mastering Italy's Trains with Masterpass by Mastercard

Yes, that's me on the beach with my phone, and if you read through, you'll get why. . .

There are few, if any, forms of transport that I like more than trains. I love thesci-fi vibe of a maglev and the needle nose of a bullet train. Italy’s stuffy regionali (regional trians) make me just as excited Switzerland’s vintage Bernina Express carriages.  Along with trainspotting, I love the experience - from packing my bag (yes, I am an origami artist of efficiency, practicality and portability), and walking around the train station to interpreting seat etiquette and meditation to the ever-changing landscape.  For me, a rail adventure is more than just a journey to a destination and I’m lucky to live in Italy, where regional, intercity, and high speed rails crisscross to the most beautiful towns in the world.

What I’ve never enjoyed, however, has been the purchase of a train ticket. Back in the day, I used to walk into a ticket center, queueing for what seemed liked hours and often arguing about supplements (supplemental charges). When the macchinette (ticket machines) arrived at Termini, I was both ecstatic and frustrated over its simplistic tech thanks to its arbitrary credit card and change service.  The internet upgraded everything, but it also meant an increase of email in my inbox about purchasing tickets “Um, Erica, is Trenitalia’s payment down? What am I doing wrong?”

Here’s a clue: you are doing nothing wrong. Sometimes the Trenitalia payment system is finicky,  sometimes it just doesn’t work.  It’s almost like the payment system deliberately wants to derail its clients, allowing potential trips fall by the wayside.  I know, I know, it’s gotten better, and even though I have my own hack, I thought I should test another payment option: Masterpass.  Over the years buying tickets on Trenitalia, I’ve had my eye on Masterpass but always managed to lose patience in the system before I tried it.  It was about time I gave Masterpass chance.

In basic terms,  Masterpass is a free subscription, secure digital wallet.  Once signed up, payment data (i.e credit cards including Mastercard, Visa and American) and shipping information are entered, plus the necessary encryptions, and you’re logged in, ready to use it as a one-stop click-n-go payment method. I decided to test it out for next trip to Napoli.  Trains selected and voilà, Masterpass clicked.  No additional data entry, no worries. So far its the easiest option on the site.  Dare I say this is the light at the end of the tunnel for Trenitalia purchases. .  .

Disclaimer:  Mastercard Italia invited me to test out Masterpass and asked me to share my thoughts.  For a first time user, I found it easy and secure, aka the verified love child of Apple Pay, PayPal and others.  Would this be something my mom be comfortable using? Most likely not, but it is a reliable next gen payment system and I‘ll be checking out more of its in store/one click functionality.

Massimo Bottura Is On a Mission to Feed the Body and the Soul

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

The most amazing experience you can have in a restaurant is an emotional one, according to superchef Massimo Bottura, explaining a central idea behind Food for Soul, his global socio-culinary project. Fathom contributing editor Erica Firpo learns all about it.

Food. You need it. I need it. We all need it. Preferably in a calm moment, at a clean table. A meal is the world's common denominator, a full-body experience that nourishes body, heart, mind, and community — and that's exactly what superchef Massimo Bottura and his wife and partner Lara Gilmore thought when founding Food for Soul, a non-profit with community kitchens in Milan, Rio, and London.

Food for Soul is the umbrella for the ongoing sustainability project that began with Refettorio Ambrosiano, the now-permanent community kitchen that Bottura launched as a pop-up during Expo Milan 2015. The idea was simple but profound: Take surplus food that would otherwise have been considered waste (leftovers, stale bread, overripe produce) donated by restaurants and markets; use creative and sustainable cooking techniques to prepare it in clever, unexpected, and, above all, delicious ways; and invite celebrity and chef friends to participate and collaborate — and, in the end, feed people in need who are in some way disadvantaged, bringing dignity and a sense of welcome to the table. The success of Refettorio Ambrosiano inspired Bottura to launch Reffettorio Gastromotiva in Rio during the 2016 Olympics and Refettorio Felix in London during London Food Month in June 2017. Each refettorio (Italian for "refectory" or "dining hall") is targeted to its community and what it needs, which can be as simple as a good meal or as intrinsic as a safe place where people can relax and feel human. Menus change daily, depending on the surplus food available. The celebrity chefs not only brought attention to the project but also helped the community center staff cooks learn to create inspiring menus from that surplus food. The refetterios are not open to the general public, but people can volunteer to help with the project.

"It is not a pop-up but a spark — a way to make visible the invisible," Gilmore told me. More specifically, Refettorio Felix brings "light and attention to a center that has been working for 25 years and make it better, with better cooking, better dining facilities, and our know-how about hospitality."

Refettorio Felix under construction. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

Refettorio Felix done and ready to be open. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

Refettorio Felix done and ready to be open. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

In fact, every Bottura project begins with a spark, an incendiary hankering for a taste — whether for an actual flavor or for a sense of nostalgia — that ignites a way of being, an all-encompassing combination of honed excellence, spontaneous creativity, and practicality, both in the kitchen and tableside. He infuses everything he does with a subtle Italianità, an Italian spirit instinctively inherited from generations of nonne who fervently adhere to two commandments: No food is wasted and everyone gets fed. And he relies on armies of artigiani, farmers, producers, makers, cooks, and artists who painstakingly practice perfection with every stitch. Food for Soul embodies 21st century, universal Italianità — inclusion, nutrition, and waste-not practices.

In the way that Bottura pushes the boundaries in food, Food for Soul intends to do so with a cultural focus aimed at enhancing the proverbial wheel, not re-inventing it. Doing more than serving food, it educates and puts into practice food efficiency with simple, tasty recipes, using surplus food and overripe produce that would otherwise have been discarded, while fostering a loving, welcoming atmosphere.

As in Rio, London is a team effort. Food for Soul partnered with The Felix Project, a local surplus food collection and delivery service, and St. Cuthbert's Centre, a drop-in home whose kitchen and dining area were refurbished by Studioisle with donations from Vitra, Artemide, Larusi, Lasco, and Angelo Po. Food provider giants Tesco, Whole Foods, Sainsbury, and Mash joined in to bring in food. And as in Rio and Milan, Refettorio Felix opened its doors with a stellar line-up of visiting chefs, including Brett Graham, Daniel Boulud, Jason Atherton, Michel Roux Jr., Sat Bains, and Giorgio Locatelli, who worked with the Centre's full-time chefs and volunteers, cooking with salvaged ingredients.

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

I sat down with Lara and Massimo to talk about Food for Soul, Refettorio Felix, and the social importance of food efficiency.

Food for Soul sounds less like a kitchen and more like a philosophy.

Massimo: Our project is a cultural project, not a charity project. We are trying to fight what people think is waste. We try to make visible the invisible. We find ways to show the world that an overripe banana, an overripe tomato, a bruised zucchini, and two-day-old bread are totally fine ingredients. The brown banana is much better than the green supermarket banana. Mexicans and Brazilians wait until the bananas are ripe to eat them. This is about culture and vision.

Being more efficient with food is very easy. You have to dedicate a little bit more time, maybe a half an hour every few days. You have to buy seasonally, the right amount — not too much, not too little — and cook for two or three days. Enjoy fresh foods, enjoy cooking, enjoy spending time in the kitchen, enjoy spending time in your home. You eat better, you save money, and you help the planet.

Lara: Guest chefs were invited from a list of friends and family. We wanted to share an idea, communicate a message, and help teach others how to work with salvaged ingredients to make healthy meals.

That sounds Italian.

Massimo: It is very Italian. Totally Italian. It is how my grandmother was raised; it's our approach to food. But you have to rebuild this kind of relationship with the butcher, the fruit seller, with everyone. When I travel, I eat where my friends are cooking for me, where they treat me like one of the family, because I know they want me there with them, to share with them. The last time I was with Daniel (Boulud), he asked me "what can I cook?" and once served me a classic duck caneton and another time fried chicken. It's about creating this kind of family experience that reminds you of your youth with simple food that touches your heart.

If you think about it, if you close your eyes into that kind of reflection, you arrive at your childhood and you start reminiscing about when your mom cooked, or even made a simple sandwich. I remember a time Lara cooked vegetables for our son Charlie. At the end of the meal, he got a piece of paper and wrote, "1+ to Mommy." It wasn't the perfect vegetable, but it was cooked by Lara. That is why the most amazing experience you can have in a restaurant is an emotional one.

Emotional elements open your heart and make you feel like a kid again. We do the same thing in London, Rio, and Milan. Even without all the "right" ingredients, we find the right combination and try to evolve tradition into something amazing. Much lighter, less expensive, and you stimulate your creativity. You eat better, even with an egg and a rind of parmesan, because it is you.

Food for Soul's mission is to fight food waste and encourage social inclusion. Has the current political climate impacted the direction of the project?

Lara: In Rio during the Olympics, the government was closing soup kitchens to keep the poor out of the city center. So we opened a soup kitchen to shed light on the problem and also provide a potential solution. In London, we think that it is very important and essential to break walls when walls are being built. Inclusion is part of the Food for Soul mission. And yes, with the political climate in USA, it is a perfect time to begin working there.

Massimo: At the moment, everyone is building walls to separate themselves from others. They believe they are much safer that way. I think we are breaking walls and including people. This project is inclusive. It's about the chefs, the community — the word is share. We are sharing ideas, sharing decisions, sharing dreams, sharing the future.

The project is heading to the United States. How can people get involved?

Lara: We received a Rockefeller Foundation grant specifically to expand Food for Soul into the United States with the goal of opening Refettorio projects in the next two years. We are in the planning stages, finding the right partners, for the Bronx and scoping out other potential cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, and Seattle.

Massimo: You have a sense of responsibility once you achieve everything in life to give back. We should do it, everybody should. If you want to do it, you can. If you don't, don't. We need more people involved. We don't need another soup kitchen, but we need people and places to build a better community. We need more places that break walls and help rebuild dignity.

London was the right moment, and now that we have done that, we want to do the unexpected in the United States. In my dream, Detroit, New Orleans, even the Bronx. It could be very interesting in Los Angeles. At a university. A campus could be incredible because the volunteers would be students. If we did in Rio, we can do it everywhere.

This article first appeared in Fathom in July 2017.

Peroni, Italy and me, an interview

When Peroni asked me to share my favorite spots in Rome and Italy, along with a few photos, of course I said yes.  What happened next was an interview feature on PeroniItaly.

As part our Grazie series we’re taking a closer look at the most exciting artists, designers, chefs and creatives inspired by Italian style. If you’re looking for an expert on the best places to explore, relax and eat in Italy, you can’t do better than Erica Firpo. A travel journalist with a difference, Erica uses beautiful images (often shared on her popular Instagram page) as much as she uses inspiring words to share her experiences at some of Italy’s most gorgeous locations and unique hidden gems. We caught up with Erica to talk about her love of museums, her favourite spots in Rome and the ingredients for the ultimate Italian summer.


Hi Erica. Can you tell us a little about you and what you do?

I’d love to: I am a bit of a mosaic- a travel journalist and digital storyteller, creating stories through photos, video and words across platforms including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, I create and contribute to campaigns, and teach and consult on digital storytelling.  I share the broad facets of my work on, and I've recently launched, an Italy lifestyle/travel website.

How did you become a travel journalist?

Thanks to a little nudge from my former editor Christopher Winner, I went from writing art reviews and critique to travel writing – starting out as a columnist covering Pet Travel for Winner’s monthly The American, and leading to contributing writer, editor and author roles for publications including Fodor’s, Insight Guides, The Telegraph, the Guardian, Luxe City Rome and more.


You take beautiful photographs to share your travel experiences. How important do you think it is to tell stories through images as well as words?

Thank you! I love taking photos and I love telling stories in as many ways as possible. For me, images are extremely important to my story-telling process.  Through them, I can draw the viewer into the space, giving a sense of atmosphere, a timely glimpse or a behind-the-scenes idea, and offer more insight into the story. The ultimate goal is that the viewer has the chance to experience and interpret the scene as they want.

You were previously BBC Travel’s Voice of Rome. Can you tell us about your favourite places in Rome?

Ah, there are so many favorite places! I am crazy for carbonara, but only go to two places: Pipero and Trattoria Da Danilo. I also have a very sweet to tooth so I have a line-up of spots. In the mornings I get my latte macchiato and a pastry from Caffe Roscioli (they make pastries daily and always feature some near-extinct Roman recipes), and I go to Caffe Ciampini for hot chocolate in the winter, spritz in the afternoons and wild cherry gelato whenever it is available. I’ll go to the ends of the earth – in this case, the city – for good pizza and love Sforno near Cinencittà. Closer to home I’ll get my favorite napoletana at Pizzeria ai Marmi in Trastevere.

When it comes to exploring, I’ll take on the entire city any day of the week – and preferably underground. Lucky for me my husband, Darius Arya, is an archaeologist who prefers subterraneans more than anything else. If I’m relaxing outdoors, it’s Villa Borghese, a vast green park in the city centre, where I can take a little boat ride, bicycle, roller skate, or just chill out on the grass. It also happens to be home to a few great museums like Galleria Borghese (Carvaggio and Bernini!) and Museo Pietro Canonica (a wacky little spot), and nearby Etruscan museum Villa Giulia and La Galleria Nazionale - my favorite place in all of Rome to relax, with its incredible modern and contemporary collection.


What makes the perfect Italian summer escape?

The perfect Italian summer escape is anywhere by the water, with an ombrellone (big beach umbrella) and a beach-side restaurant with frittura di paranza (fried fish) and spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) on the menu. And it’s even better if there is a little bit of history and art.  My favorite summer getaway is always Sicily – in particular Ortigia, a small attached island in the south built on the ancient Font of Arethusa, with temples, duomo and a Caravaggio. Closer to home, I love Sperlonga, where there is an incredible seaside archaeological museum. I also love Terracina, the seaside town and ancient hilltop where the via Appia Antica passes, and of course the somewhat secret Argentario beaches in Tuscany.

You also encourage people to visit lesser-known museums and galleries through your #EmptyMuseo project. What inspired you to start this and why do you think museums are so important?

Museums, archaeological sites and cultural spaces have always been my home away from home. When I need a getaway, I can just walk out of the door because Rome has art everywhere, with every era and every genre represented. And so does the rest of Italy. Unfortunately, many incredible museums and sites don't get much visibility, as more popular museums (like Uffizi and Musei Vaticani) are bucket list must-sees. I want to change that, or at least make a little dent, by bringing Italy's museums to small screens. For me, any opportunity to bring people inside an Italian museum, gallery or cultural site is an opportunity to inspire dialogue that spreads outside of the museum and inspires visitors to come back inside. You can learn more about my Empties here.


What do think makes Italy, and the Italian way of life, so special?

Thanks to an enviable location in the Mediterranean, microclimates and microcultures, the inventiveness of ancient Rome and centuries of patrons, Italy has the best of everything. We have food, culture, cars, sports and nature, but most of all Italy has personality, or better yet, distinct, charming and utterly humorous personalities. Each town and neighborhood is unique unto itself, and Italians take a lot of pride in where they come from- be it Rome, Modena, Nicolosi, or Napoli. This combination of factors is what makes Italy so special.