Everything Old is New in Rome

Believe it or not, there has been a lot newness going in Rome, and a lot has to do with its Ancient and Renaissance past. I've shared it all in the article "Everything Old is New in Rome" for Fathom. From hotels and restaurants to historic sites, Rome has some great old news.  

Trevi Fountain, Rome.

ROME – Rome is a city that doesn't always follow the rules or live by definition, especially when it comes to the concept of newness. Living here, I've languished in the old-school vibe and old habits, while occasionally thirsting for that take-the-wrapping-off new feeling. I've come to the conclusion that newness is relative...  Read more on FATHOM.

Palazzo della Civilta Italiana
Imperial Ramps
Furriers at work at Palazzo Fendi
Casa Copelle Bar
Tiberino restaurant

The Rhythm of Ortigia

This article first appeared in Fathom in September 2014.

The Rhythm of Ortigia

Everyone flocks to the Solarium. All photos by Erica Firpo.

When she's not busy conquering her home city of Rome, contributing editor Erica Firpo is probably in Sicily, snapping beach scenes in Cefalu and writing love letters to Palermo. Here's her perfect day on the tiny island of Ortigia.

ORTIGIA, Sicily – My happy place has always had to do with rhythm and color, a tranquility easily achieved by listening to the first few bars of Naughty by Nature's "O.P.P." while envisioning Cy Twombly paintings.

This all changed when I caught sight of Ortigia.

A few years back, my husband brought me to Sicily, and specifically to Siracusa, for a Greek detour from our Roman lives. He promised me archaeology and UNESCO World Heritage, and I found the physical manifestation of my happy place — part Greek myth, part Sicilian fairy tale, sweetened with freshly made cannoli and a Caravaggio.

Lingering on the edge of Siracusa is Ortigia, a small island of 4,500 residents, limestone baroque palazzi, faded medieval houses, Greek temples, and DIY outdoor living rooms. Ortigia is rhythmic, a syncopated beat I fell into on my very first day on this gorgeous rock, and a pulse I pick up every time I return.

Fish Market

Big catch at the fish market.

Antico Mercato

Choices, choices.

Piazza Duomo

Piazza Duomo, the town center.

Here's how it sounds:

We wake up early for a walk to the Antico Mercato d'Ortigia so I can argue about the width of my swordfish carpaccio. I guzzle down oyster and sea urchin shots on street corners, then grab freshly made iris (deep-fried dough balls stuffed with ricotta) before winding our way home for breakfast.

At some point in the morning, we head to Piazza Duomo for the requisite iced tea or granita and make plans about where to find our post-lunch cannolo and cassatina (a breast-like tiny cake of ricotta and marzipan). If it's any day but Monday, we'll swing into the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia to say hi to Caravaggio's Burial of Saint Lucy. (Fun fact: When Caravaggio fled Rome, he swung by Ortigia to stay at his friend Mario Minniti's home and left the city a painting.)

We'll toss our hands in the air as we argue about which cultural site to visit: strong>Tempio di Apollo, Castello Maniace, Fonte Aretusa. Maybe, maybe not. We have a lazy lunch at home because the sun is too strong, and then we're ready to park our flipflops at the Solarium, a smaller rock off 'sto scoglio where everyone sunbathes and swims.

By late afternoon, we're ready for aperitivi, so its either back to Piazza Duomo (we're going to end up there one way or another...) or off on an adventure to find a different spot, a new view, or not. The streets are starting to fill with life. Conversations in the impromptu outdoor living rooms are more animated, and eventually everyone heads to Piazza Duomo or Piazza Artemide. Dinner is not until nine p.m. We have our usual spot, but we keep trying to get creative. Inevitably, we've claimed table space for the last granite or cannolo of the evening.

Eat. Meet. Cannolo. Repeat.

Pesco Mare

The courtyard at Pesco Mare.


Cassatine at Gran Caffe del Duomo.


Pesco Mare Via Saverio Landolina, 6; +39-0931-21075 A tiny, medieval courtyard with great fish.

Gran Caffe del DuomoPiazza Duomo, 18; +39-0931-21544 Their cassatine and iced tea with lemon granite are perfect.

Bar Marciante Via S. Landolina 7-9; +39-0931-67384 For morning cannoli, brioche con gelato, and freshly made granite.

Clandestino Via della maestranza, 128; +39-0931-465939 An enoteca focusing on Sicilian wines with an excellent raw fish menu.

Le Vin de l'Assassin Via Roma, 115; +39-0931-66159 For French flare on Ortigia.

Moon Via Roma, 112; +39-0931-449516 An artsy vegetarian restaurant with live music and installations.

Osteria da Mariano Vicolo Zuccolà, 9; +39-0931-67444 A traditional trattoria.

Fratelli Burgio
Fratelli Burgio

Sicilian delicacies at Fratelli Burgio.


I love walking around the Graziella neighborhood, home to the Antico Mercato (Via Emanuele De Benedictis). Fratelli Burgio (Piazza Cesare Batisti, 4; +39-0931-60069) is a must for the Sicilian delicacies and the five euro two-liter bottle of local white wine.

Nearby Via Veneto is not quite a fancy shopping street, but has great finds like beautiful hand-painted vases at Le Ceramiche di Renata (Via Vittorio Veneto, 43; +39-0931-714362) and hand-macramé ponchos by Donna Carmelo. Donna is an old lady who works from her home on Via Veneto. She just hangs her ponchos out of her window. Best to leave it as that.

DoLù Ceramiche Via Larga, 7; +39-0931-449451 For traditional ceramics.

Olive Via Cavour 27; +39-0931-185-4246 A Sicilian specialty shop with olive oils, Modica chocolate, and other tasty treats.

Alessia Genovese Via dell'Apollonion, 5; +39-0931-21778 Alessia's furniture is made from recycled material with a clever sensibility. She works with local artisans and makes her own signature pieces.

Ortiga Sicily


Ortigia is a Smart Cities lab with interactive information points all over the city that explain the island's history, from its origins as a Greek colony to the present. My favorite sites include Fonte Aretusa on Largo Aretusa, Santa Lucia alla Badia Church (Via Santa Lucia alla Badia, 2; +39-0931-65328), Teatro dei Pupi (Via Della Giudecca, 17-19; +39-0931-465540), and the hypogeum path at Piazza Duomo.

Or walk across the bridge to Siracusa. Find some local sesame cookies, then explore its archaeological patrimony — the Greek theater, Dionysus' ear, the Roman theater — at the vast Pantalica Necropolisruins.


Ortigia is 40 miles south of Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA) and is easily reachable by bus, car, or train.

Bari Is a Living Italian Food Fairy Tale

~ first published on Fathom in July 2014.

Bari Is a Living Italian Food Fairy Tale

The makings of a Bari fable: handmade orecchiete (ear-shaped pasta) and Basilica San Nicola. All photos by Erica Firpo.

In the Italian Adriatic port city of Bari, the food — and the people who make it — weave a sensory tale. Contributing editor Erica Firpo takes folklore icon Italo Calvino along as her unexpected travel companion.

BARI, Italy – There are two Marias: a Nunzia and a tiny street where women make pasta all day and night. That sounds like the beginning of Italian Fables by Italo Calvino that my nonno used to read to me — incredulous stories of mean men with no noses, clever old witches, picky young women, persistent princes, outrageous problems, and even more outrageous endings.

But it's not. Instead, I am walking around Bari Vecchia, the historic center of Puglia's largest port city on the Adriatic Coast. This place is a delicious and living food fable.


In a tiny alley called via dell'Arco Basso, women of all ages spend their days and evenings mixing, rolling, cutting, and drying Bari's bounty: beautiful handmade pasta of varying sizes that will go into my mouth and on the tables of houses and restaurants throughout the province. Orecchiette, cavatelli, flour pasta, chick pea flour pasta. This is their job, life, and love. I can't help but feel like one of Calvino's capricious characters, maybe the girl from "And Seven!" (the fifth story in the Italian Fables collection). I peek through windows and stick my head into open doors, gazing in awe as they make and organize thousands of tiny, ear-shaped pasta.

Sgagliozze in Bari, Italy

Fresh sgagliozze (polenta squares).


Around the corner is Basilica of San Nicola, a Romanesque church and reliquary of Bari's patron saint. I quickly run in to catch a glimpse of the "miraculous column" which allegedly can add a boost to the love life. San Nicola (aka St. Nick, Santa Claus, protector of children and sailors) is also the patron saint of unmarried women. He gets two shout-outs in Bari every year, with celebrations from May 7-9 and on December 6. Bari's pasta ladies make a local sweet called cartellate, wheel-shaped Christmas cookies for the celebration and for the Christmas season, which the city whole-heartedly celebrates. On December 6, single women dance three times around the lucky column for a love life pick-me-up. I look around for "Silver Nose" (story #9), but don't see him.


With a quick salute to Santa, I'm out the door, following the smell of fried something down another narrow side street to via dell'Arco di San Nicola. I meet Maria throwing polenta squares called sgagliozze into what looks like a boiling cauldron in her ground-level kitchen. She is exactly whom I envisioned when listening to the tale of Prezzemolina, a no-nonsense strega-nonna, bosomed, aproned, and armed with a pair of tongs. Maria has been deep-frying sgagliozze since the 1970s. She throws some salt on them (they look "Dear as Salt," I tell myself – story #54) and hands me a bag of six for 1 euro. I am bewitched.


Puglia Regional Website - resources, sites, history, useful traveler info

In Praise of the Sicilian Tease

this article first appeared in Fathom in March 2014.

In Praise of the Sicilian Tease

All photos by Erica Firpo.

We're kicking off Sicily week on Fathom, starting with the capital. Contributing editor Erica Firpo calls Rome her home but finds the siren song of Palermo irrestistible. Here's why.

PALERMO, Sicily – I am pretty sure that Palermo is a Gemini. The Sicilian capital seems to fit every definition of the astrological symbol: fickle, flirty, feckless, inconsistent, generous, brilliant, and entertaining. Whether it's a sultry summer day or a bitter, humid winter afternoon, Palermo is a tease, a three-dimensional split personality that will tell you one thing and then do another.

To be fair, Palermo has suffered the weight of colonizations, invasions, bombings, and restorations. Reinvention is second nature, and so is moodiness and distrust. The first time I visited, I just got it. You know that feeling when you intuitively understand the arrhythmic pulse of a person or a place? I felt Palermo's beat inside me, and immediately I was in love and still am.

I love the drunken heat that means you can't do anything all day, but you can go out until 5 a.m. every night. I love the food and its etiquette — as in, everything must be tasted, eaten, and discussed. I love its architecture — the decadent, decaying historic center; lovely Liberty buildings; and even the menacing late 20th-century skyrises. I love how shops close mid-day and people still get their groceries via a basket pulley system that courses all floors of the apartment building. I love how the beach seems to push up on the city suddenly and how the mountains overcrowd its perimeters. And I love its soccer team jersey of pink and black vertical stripes.

Palermo is the proverbial kitchen sink, a melting pot of everything good and bad that the centuries have offered; an ongoing social experiment in chaos theory. Its only constant is that it is a constant contradiction. Most Italian cities center around beautiful, coiffed historic centers, but Palermo left its historic center to fend for itself, and it is now a burnt umber mess of half-standing palazzi, beautifully painted street murals, and late evening ad hoc barbecues. The adjacent neighborhoods, in particular those to the northwest like Libertà, parts of Monte Pellegrino, and Partanna-Mondello, show off curlicues and picturesque turn-of-the-last-century architecture, wild concrete gardens showing the remains of World War II bombings, and new and newer buildings. Palermitani too are a crazy cross-section of the island's history. My fifth grade teacher (she of inflexible Italian sterotyping) should take note: Palermitani can be tall and blond, small and dark, lanky and curvy, gorgeous and ugly — and they are all beautiful.


Like I said, Palermo is a Gemini, a siren and a vamp. The city drags you in with its coquettish, technicolor skies and quaint attitude. But that's just for the tease, because you will never truly know Palermo unless you've lived there for centuries, which is why I keep coming back.


Palermo: Best Day Ever

Palermo: Best Day Ever

This article first appeared in Fathom in March 2014.
Palermo: Best Day Ever

Porta Marina. All photos by Erica Firpo.

Fathom contributing editor Erica Firpo has already told us why she keeps returning to Palermo. Here she breaks down her perfect day.

Eat sfincione ("sphin-shone-ay") for breakfast at any caffe on the side streets off Viale della Libertà. Sfincione is a savory, deep-dish focaccia garnished with a red sauce and anchovies.

Walk around the shops of Viale della Libertà, a long boulevard with Palermo's high end shopping, then meander the side streets shaded by cotton trees and lined with Art Deco houses. Stop in to Giardino Inglese, a lovely mid-19th-century English garden.

Axel Void

Axel Void's Life series.



From the garden, walk to Teatro Massimo, a gorgeous 19th-century opera theater, then on to the historic center. The Vucciria market area, one of the oldest outdoor markets in the city, is also an open-air museum of street art. Look for Axel Void's Life series.

Head down to Piazza Marina for a panino di milza, a spleen sandwich. If that's too much to handle, have panelle, deep fried chick pea fritters, at 'Nni Franco U'Vastiddaru (Via Vittorio Emanuele, 100).

Depending on the time of year, stay in the Kalsa, a neighborhood in Palermo's historic center whose rough-around-the-edges old decadence has become a hub for progressive arts projects. This is the place to catch an avant garde concert in a deconsecrated church or see an installation in a shelled-out 17th century rococo palazzo. Dinner is street food: fish, sandwiches.

Da Calogero

The view over Palermo.

If it is extraordinarily hot, make your way to Mondello, the neighboring beach community to the west, for a swim and a plate of fresh sea urchin at Trattoria da Calogero. Mondello is beach time, all the time, though expect chaos at the capanne (beach huts) from June through September. In the winter, take a walk along the water, when beaches are quiet and sun is strong.


Hotels in Palermo are tough, but these are my favorites.

Villa Igea is probably the best. It's on the water and it has a pool. Excelsior Hilton has a great location and is perfect in the winter. But in warm months, you need a place with pool. Palazzo Ajutamicristo harkens back to decadent of days of yore. Palazzo Sitano is located in the Kalsa, and has a very Y2K male vibe.

A Roman Holiday

This article first appeared in Fathom in March 2013.


A Roman Holiday

The view from the street is pretty amazing.

American expat Erica Firpo has lived in Rome long enough — and shown enough people around — to know how to build the perfect day.

1. Wake up with a cappuccino, preferably with a view. Rome has a whole breed of hotels with amazing views. My latest favorite view can be found on the rooftop terrace at St. George Hotel on via Giulia: 360 degrees of Rome's 400+ domes.


2. Walk down via Giulia to via del Pellegrino, 82, to rent a beautiful Collalti bike. The vintage colors and leather saddle bags are my souvenir of choice, but 12 euros for the Saturday-to-Monday rent is even better.

3. Park the bikes at the market at Campo de' Fiori. It’s about the atmosphere, not the prices. Grab freshly squeezed blood orange juice or pomegranate juice and talk market.

4. Pedal across the street and through Piazza Navona in search of Caravaggio paintings. Madonna di Loreto in Church of Sant' Agostino (Piazza di Sant' Agostino) and the St. Matthew series (The Calling of Saint MatthewThe Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, and The Inspiration of Saint Matthew) in the Contarelli Chapel at Church of San Luigi dei Francesi are just north of  Piazza Navona. Now pump those piedi to Piazza del Popolo for (Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion on the Way to Damascus) at Church of Santa Maria del Popolo.

Ara Pacis

5. Walk the bike down Via del Babuino for window-shopping and grab a coffee at Caffè Canova Tadolini. Walk through the bar's "museum" to admire the gigantic Canova casts.

6. It's time for photo ops. Head to Piazza Augusto Imperatore to compare three eras of history: the 1st-century AD mausoleum to Augustus Caesar, the Fascist arcades on the perimeter of the piazza, and Richard Meier's 21st-century museum to the Ara Pacis. Then cut through the side streets to the Pantheon. Go inside and look up. There is nothing like it.

7. Need some energy? Stop behind the 2nd-century monument to Piazza San'Eustachio for a deservedly famous cappuccino at Caffè Sant’Eustachio. If you need something more substantial, pizza al taglio ("by the slice") at Pizza Zazà, an organic pizza shop across the street, will hit the spot.

8. After all the biking you've done, you'll need a massage. Dump the bikes at Collalti (or at a hotel) and walk over to the Jewish ghetto for down time at AcquaMadre, a hamman inspired by ancient Rome. Think: vaulted bricks and underground. I keep it simple: a soak, a scrub, some tea.


Relaxation underground. Photo courtesy of AcquaMadre.

9. Relaxed and refreshed. Time for another view: cocktails on the rooftop of Grand Hotel de la Minerve, because only dome that is truly important is the Pantheon.

10. Tipsy? You're just about ready for Al Moro. Savor your walk from the Pantheon and Hadrian's Temple toward Trevi to the restaurant. Are you suddenly craving spaghetti alla carbonara, fried artichokes, and unforgettable zabaglione with melted dark chocolate? (Read my love letter to Al Moro on Fathom.)

11. If you still have energy, a few steps down the street is Trevi Fountain. The evening glow is my favorite nightcap.


See all the locations in this story. (Google Maps)


Fathom's Rome Guide


Can't get to Rome? Rome can come to you.

Photos: Courtesy of Collalti Bici; Ara Pacis by Erica Firpo.

The World's Best Hermes Vintage Shop: Parma


You may have an inkling that I've really liked Fathom from the moment it unleashed its gorgeous self on the internet. And more than liking it for the amazing insight, great writing and indelible personalities that contribute to it, I also like write for Fathom. This time, it is Parma and Hermès, my own private Narnia.

Rome's Al Moro, a Love Letter on Fathom


My love letter to the fabulous Fathom travel website is all about Al Moro, my favorite restaurant smack in the center of Rome.  Fathom was conceived and, hell, birthed by Pavia Rosati for those who love to get out, get around and share their experiences.  Every since I caught a peek of its splash page before its debut (a glossy shot of kids jumping into a pond/pool in Siem Reap?), I knew I would be hooked.  And once it was unleashed, I was.  My personal favorites of the postcards and guides are the Best Day Ever pieces that give a bit of insight not just into a city but the writer.  I'm already planning a trip to Dallas.  The Fathom team is an international collaboration of writers, experts, enthusiasts, and chatterboxes.  Take a look.