Bicycling in Rome

by Aysha Griffin on June 14, 2017

Common sense dictates that – with Italian drivers owning the reputation as the most aggressive in the world, coupled with poorly maintained roads, baffling traffic signals, millions of visitors milling about and no bike lanes or paths – bike riding in Rome is a ridiculous and dangerous undertaking.

This is true. And there is a group of dedicated bicyclists and safe-access advocates who challenge this monthly. At each full moon, hundreds of bicyclists of all ages meet at Piazza del Popolo around 8:30 p.m. and ride through the city together.

bicycle Rome

Monthly full moon bicycle ride through the streets of Rome.

You can rent a bike earlier in the day, as I did, and join them for a beautiful way to see Rome at night. It’s free and a remarkable experience of community spirit. It is also an act of civil disobedience.

Some of the veteran riders use their body and bike to block traffic at major intersections for the stream of bicyclers to pass. Car and bus drivers honk angrily as they wait, and aggressive motorcyclists roar ahead at any opening. “It’s dangerous to be a blocker,” explained my friend Giussepe Teano, an avid Roman bicycler, “but important.”

There are 27 associations, foundations and other organizations in Rome that have organized around issues of mobility and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to an interview I read online with Alfredo Giordani, a 53-year-old pubic servant turned activist. When his good friend was killed in 2011 while riding a bike, Giordani devoted himself to this cause of safety and access on the streets of Rome. (#VIVINSTRADA ROMA)

bicycling Rome

Pedalata di Luna Pierna, taking over the streets of Rome

In typical Italian bureaucratic style, the city administration requires individuals to participate in proposals for change via associations, organizations and institutions. All of these groups have been bringing attention and advocating to address “serious urban problems” like the conflict of roads and public spaces for bicyclists, pedestrians and those with limited mobility.

Giordani and others have proposed a number of solutions to transform Rome in a bike-friendly city and will propose them again at the next municipal budget of October – November 2017. “We have a program that could significantly transform the life of our city,” he says.

But, really, what are the chances for change now in a city where motor vehicles rule, laws are so convoluted that no one understands them, and national elections and unemployment are more on people’s minds than bicycle safety?

“Nobody can say if this will be a good time to take the human aspect to the streets of the capital. But there has been a great effort by so many, and this leads me to a moderate optimism,” concludes Giordani.

Personally, I am not optimistic and remain amazed that anything functions in Rome, or any major city in the world. Rome, with the friendliest population I’ve found, is a great walking city, supported by good tram and bus service and several metro lines (you can’t dig too deep or in many places, as history is buried everywhere!).

When it comes to bicycling urban streets, Amsterdam and Paris are two cities I’ve enjoyed renting bikes. Rome, not at all.

But if you find yourself in Rome on a full moon night, get yourself a bike and join in the Pedalata di Luna Piena. You may be rewarded with such a breathtaking moment as this:

full oon over the Colosseum, bicycling Rome

Full moon over the Colosseum, Rome (June 2017)




The Best Hairstylist in Rome

by Aysha Griffin on April 1, 2017

Call me shallow, but after two weeks in Rome, my favorite discoveries have been the best hairdresser in the world, the best artichokes, the best gelato store, the best shoe store for my size 10 (Euro 41) shoes, and the best new friends.

Like countless tourists before me, I’ve been to the Vatican Museum, the Borghese Gallery, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, piazzas galore, and at least 5 major churches, including the Mother of them all, St. Paul’s Basilica, overcome by the gob-smacking architecture, art and craftsmanship that adorns them.

I’ve loitered at street-side cafes all over the city, peered through the keyhole on Aventine Hill and into the Mouth of Truth on display near Circus Maximus. I’ve strolled through the Jewish ghetto and synagogue, eaten plates of pasta, baskets of bread-based sweets, over-cooked greens, and enjoyed many cups of strong caffé and glasses of pleasant vino rosso. But nothing is more exciting to me than the personal encounters, the stories of the choices and challenges in the lives of amazing people I encounter… and almost all my encounters are with amazing people.

Rome best hair dresser

Stefano and his friend Patrizio on the street leading to “TAZ,” the “Temporary Autonomous Zone” where Stefan works on just a few clients a day – so as to give them his full attention – and plans to soon sell “the most-excellent products for hair and skin.” Note that in Italy, friendships between straight men (as is the case here) are far more physical than in other countries I’ve visited.

“With every action we add or subtract to the goodness in the world.” So says Stefano Sillavi, as he gently brushes my hair, tangled and stiff from too much product in my perennial battle to make my curls look other than they naturally want to.

Have you ever had your head touched for an hour or more in a gentle way, as if the other’s fingers are sensing every centimeter of its shape and the texture and flow of each hair? I hadn’t, and it is a remarkable experience.

In a small shop in Trastevere, with an unassuming sign reading “TAZ,” I sit in front of a large framed oval mirror, crystal chandeliers hanging from the high plastered ceiling, as Stefan explains the nature of my hair and “what it wants to do.” He enthuses about its waves and flows how he will shape it, and why.

OK? Oh yes!

No one has ever taken the time to know my hair in this way, and then spoken about it with such knowledge and insight.

We move to the basin where he washes and conditions, continuing the constant hands-on movement of a skilled practitioner. Back to the mirror, he clips and snips and fluffs and dries, adding only a little oil to the hair itself.

Rome best hairstylist

Stefan Sillavi shaving his friend Patrizio who stops in for a visit.

We talk about consciousness and the practice of being present, and his work, to which he is devoted. He speaks with gratitude for a Japanese woman mentor he had in New York, where he studied and worked for seven years. His command of English, and philosophical bent, makes possible the depth of conversation we share.

At the end of two hours of having my head touched with such care, my hair shaped and fluffed, I felt I’d had a long, luxurious massage.

Touching and caressing the head is a sensuous and intimate action, which is perhaps why it is so seemingly rare. And unlike my countless previous haircuts – from a cheapo $8 SuperCuts to a $140 Vidal Sassoon cut in New York City – I’d never before left a salon feeling truly enamored of my hair and renewed, more confident, and more beautiful than ever.

I can say Stefano Sillavi is the best hairstylist in Rome, but he may be the best in the world!

Aysha Griffin with Stefan Cillavi, hair stylist Rome.

Stefano Sillavi and Yours Truly at TAZ… after a fabulous experience.

If you are planning a trip to Rome, or are in Rome, you can contact Stefan by phone or WhatsApp at: +39 388.759.7166. I will not quote his fee but it is very reasonable… even for just a haircut, which, as I’ve described, this is much more than simply that. He works his magic on men as well as women.

Have you ever had an extraordinary haircut experience? Please share in comments. I’ll write about my other “best finds” soon.


Vatican Museum

March 26, 2017

It’s too big and too crowded… and you must go. Of course, this is The Vatican, the seat of the predominant religion and government of the western world for centuries, Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s Basilica dominates the skyline and, well, it houses some of the greatest art ever created. To skip the lines that […]

Read the full article →

Wandering Trastevere

March 25, 2017

Pedestrian alleyways lined with trattorias, osterias, ristorantes, enotecas (wine bars), gelaterias and shops of all kinds intersect at odd angles, punctuated by piazzas offering a few tables and chairs in front of a small bar, great for people watching. This is Trastevere, across the Tiber and south of Vatican City, considered one of the oldest […]

Read the full article →

First Days in Rome

March 23, 2017

From our apartment on Viale di Trastevere, the Number 8 tram (across the street) takes us to its end at Piazza Venezia in just 10 minutes, and we are in the heart of the Centro Historico. The tram and bus systems are easy, especially with Google Maps (you can download an offline version to use […]

Read the full article →

The Worst Part of Travel

March 19, 2017

… and why going to Rome is worth it even if Cancun Airport sucks “The worst part about travel is the travel part.” So said my dear friend and travel writer, Judith Fein, as I blithely assumed that my extensive preparations for this trip from Mexico to Rome would be seamless. I insist my travels […]

Read the full article →

Cuba’s Finca Marta: A Model Organic Farm: Part II

December 16, 2016

Continued from previous post on Finca Marta, Part I     Fernando’s vision is broad, sincere and actually working: “I want to demonstrate that’s it’s possible to improve rural life and expand opportunities for the workers. There are lots of farms; many led by professionals – academic agricology projects, organic farms on a bigger scale […]

Read the full article →

Organic Farming in Cuba: It’s Not What You Think

December 16, 2016

Cuba’s Finca Marta: A Model Organic Farm: Part I West of Havana, 45-minutes’ drive, past the billboard announcing the province of Artemisa, an unmarked dirt road leads to Finca Marta, an impressive model of organic practices, integrated systems and respectful human relationships. But please, do not get too excited that this is the future of […]

Read the full article →

How Real Was The Grief Over Fidel Castro’s Death?

December 12, 2016

On Nov. 30, five days into the declared nine days of mourning for the death of Fidel Castro, I arrived in Cuba – on my 9th trip in 4 years – with a group of American travelers. Like some of my Cuban friends, I conjectured (in a previous post) that Cubans would compensate for this […]

Read the full article →

In the Wake of Fidel Castro

December 4, 2016

What is a trip to Havana without music, dancing and mojitos? My group of 11 U.S. travelers and I were about to find out. The Cuban government, which controls most aspects of everyone’s life, declared that there woulld be no music, no dancing, no alcohol and all public events would be cancelled for 9 days […]

Read the full article →