Berlusconi Sentenced: don’t get your hopes up…..AHA alum Katie Campbell discusses

Recentlythe infamous former Prime Minister of Italy was sentenced to four years jail time a few weeks ago for tax fraud in relation to Mediaset, the broadcasting company in which he holds a majority stake.  The headlines on the online editions of newspapers across the globe must surely have excited joy or at the very least appreciation in the minds of many of the readers.  Berlusconi’s reign as three time Italian Prime Minister has long been ridiculed worldwide; his gaffes are infamous (we all remember his remarks about Obama), he has been the subject of numerous court trials, suspected by some of Mafia links and generally seen to be an ineffective leader of Italy.

Since his resignation in November of last year, Berlusconi has been in the spotlight over the “Ruby Rubacuori” (Ruby the Heart-Stealer) case; where he has been accused of having under-age sex with Karima El-Mahroug at one of his so-called “bunga-bunga” nights.  Both parties deny the accusations and the case is on going.

In comparison a case about tax fraud seems rather less glamorous, yet the sentence given does mark an important turn of events.  It is the first time Berlusconi has been convicted. Despite being accused and brought to court on numerous occasions he has always been cleared or the cases have over-run the judicial court limit.

The ruling has a number of serious implications for the former prime minister: he will not be able to stand for a position of public office for three years (a few days ago he declared that he would not stand for office in next year’s elections), Mediaset has taken a financial hit with share prices falling by 3% and if the conviction stands after two reviews in the courts of appeal then Berlusconi would have to spend time behind bars.

However here in lies the crux of the matter; the appeals could well take years to complete and in reality Berlusconi is unlikely to ever have to serve time.  Secondly if the conviction does hold through the successive appeals Berlusconi would only have to serve one year’s jail time rather than four years due to an amnesty law passed in 2006 to stop prison overcrowding.  Hence the don’t get your hopes up…..

Berlusconi was not present at the sentencing and it’s to be expected that over the coming months he will offer some typical “Berlusconisms” in response; expect a tirade against the judges out to get him, the Communist left destroying capitalist ventures and such like.  Whilst the immediate reaction of joy at the news of the conviction was tempered by the constraints of the Italian legal system, it does mean that we are distinctly unlikely to see him holding office for a fourth time.  Considering his remarkable ability to bounce back from media scandals, this small mercy is to be praised.

HOW TO BE ROMAN: Lucy Chiswell’s top ten substitutes for tourist traps in the eternal city


If you find yourself hunting for an aperitivo in Rome, you are already leaps and bounds ahead of the coach loads of iPhone snapping tourists in the race to becoming Roman. In fact, you are even miles ahead of some of the Roman residents. Something that sticks firmly in my mind is a bus journey I spent listening to a student describing a bar in Florence to her peers that has this ‘really cool thing where you like only spend like eight euros on a drink and then there’s like a whole buffet of like food for free’. Welcome to Italy. This is called aperitivo and it can be found in pretty much every bar in the country. Bless.

Thanks to luciagalant

But the trick to becoming one of the locals is to know where to go, when to go and most importantly, how to go. An aperitivo (more commonly known as an aperitif) is traditionally a drink before dinner which, in Italy, is accompanied by plates of food laid out in the bar area. What I might like to call a ‘forky talky’. It is routine for Italians to go for an aperitivo before making their way to the trattoria for dinner. For us English people however, it doesn’t tend to work like that. Doing things in moderation is what the Italians do well, and the English do badly. So for us aperitivo tends to replace dinner.

Search: combination of delicious food and good cocktails. Result: Fluid.

Disguised behind heavy, wooden, sign-less doors, in daylight the bar is tricky to pick out from Via Governo Vecchio’s endless restaurants and vintage shops. But between the hours of 6pm and 2am, you will find a hip and buzzing bar, full to the brim with trendy Italians gazing into each other’s eyes over passion fruit Mojitos and Moscow Mules. You will be drawn to the low lighting, the minimal music, the psychedelic oil-filled floor tiles and tables and the LED lit stools.

Not to give yourself away, remember to buy your aperitivo ticket as you enter and then choose from the extensive menu of deliciously fresh cocktails (I recommend the two aforementioned and the ‘Fluid’) whilst helping yourself to one, two , three, maybe four plates of Italian scrumptiousness. Aperitivi are traditionally carby and salty to encourage more boozing and thus more spending. But at Fluid, not only do they keep salt to a minimum (something that Freni e Frizioni could learn from – another great but salty aperitivo in Trastevere) but as well as offering pasta, risotto, rice and bread, you also have salads, cheese, vegetables and fruit to choose from.

The delicious food, the exotic cocktails, the fantastic atmosphere and the beautiful people, all make Fluid hands down my number one aperitivo in Roma. Just make sure you get there early to get a table and to be the first to get your hands on their gourmet spread.

HOW TO BE ROMAN: Lucy Chiswell’s top ten substitutes for tourist traps in the eternal city



Right, second up, it’s the museum. Museums are to me what the gelato is to Italy: life support.

Now, there’s no question that the Vatican Museums are a truly magical place. Knowing you are standing under the same roof as our very own Pope (as well as standing on top of the 15 billion popes that have been before), whilst simultaneously gazing into a Michelangelo-ey abyss can sure enough only be experienced in this very spot. But as a Vatican tour guide, doing that 3 times a week for 12 months of the year can wear thin; so it’s not surprising that I alerted my museum sensors to look elsewhere for satisfaction from inanimate friends.

Thanks to

This section of my top ten frustrates me. There are 5000 museums in Italy so where the diavolo am I meant to start? Answer: The Capitoline Museums.

If you want a less hectic, less sweaty, less churchy version of the Vatican, head to the Campidoglio. Like the majority of Italy, this piazza was designed by Michelangelo Buonarotti and finds itself plonked right on top of the Capitoline Hill. If you are successful in escaping ‘death by vespa’ in Piazza Venezia, you will make your way to the museums by ascending a set of sloping steps and arriving in what can only be described as geometric heaven. Paninied between Rome’s busiest piazza and the bustling Roman Forum, the Campidoglio, which forms a sort of internal courtyard to the museum buildings, is the kind of place you want to hang out if you love a stationery shop… if you know what I mean. It has the symmetrical perfection of St. Peter’s square, but on a smaller scale, and good grief there’s no queue to go inside. If heaven isn’t like this then we’re all wasting our time.

The Capitoline Museums are split: Palazzo Nuovo and Palazzo dei Conservatori. I am not going to attempt to walk you through the whole lot, but as always, it is vital I mention some of the ‘big names’. You’ve got Bernini, Caravaggio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck. You’ll see Rome’s iconic bronze of Romulus and Remus suckling on the she wolf, the famous Roman sculpture of Marcus Aurelius on horseback (a copy of which is in the centre of the Campidoglio) as well as hoards of other delicious Roman, Greek and Egyptian treasures. But for me, it’s the Dying Gaul that steals the show: a manifestation of perfection and pain in marble. One of those sculptures you sometimes like to just visit… as a friend… you know?

The Dying Gaul
The Dying Gaul
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

Even if you visit the Capitoline Museums just for their spaciousness, their peacefulness, or to pick up a date from one of their over-friendly guards, I can assure you that you will come away overwhelmed by its contents and thirsty for more.

Need a view? Florence has plenty…

Having been lucky enough to do a good amount of travelling in the last year one thing I have learnt is that it is great to get an impression for the place before you go.  How? Lonely Planet, Baedaker (those of you who have read the book in question, do you get this?!) Certainly, these are some good sources for knowing where to go/ what to see etc.

Yet, what about literature? I have found that novels often give a far more evocative insight into a particular place.



In addition, saying you have read some amazing novel makes you sound incredibly intelligent/ sophisticated/ cultured… and we all like to give off that pretence!!

For Italy, here is my first recommendation: ‘A Room with a View’ by E.M. Forster.

I read this after I had been to Florence but the beautiful descriptions took me right back. Regardless of its early 20th century setting, the Forster’s descriptions of Florence still apply; a perfect example of the enduring beauty of the city. This will get you more excited about Florence than anything you could read in a guidebook.

And for the girls reading this, it conjures up a sense that you are about to commence on an exciting and romantic journey, just like the novel’s protagonist!

You have a bit of Santa Croce in there…









Machiavelli’s tomb makes an appearance in the novel.



Check out this view from the Church:



Also, the vital part for anyone in the process of travelling/ finding themselves/ enjoying zero responsibility: it’s an easy-peasy read. Ahhh yeah.




N.B. All these photos were taken by me on my course with AHA.


HOW TO BE ROMAN: Lucy Chiswell’s top ten substitutes for tourist traps in the eternal city


As a tourist in Rome, it feels like you are in the majority doesn’t it? Queuing for the Vatican with two thousand fellow sardines, speaking English, eating with a view of St. Peter’s and buying a purple polyester shawl covered in Rome’s famous monuments; you are no different to the rest of them. But how much do you want to be the swarthy twenty four year old Italian, riding with a bella ragazza on the back of his Vespa and heading to the coolest aperitivo in town? Well I’m afraid I can’t make you twenty four, swarthy or provide you with an Italian lady, but what I can do, is tell you the top ten local hangouts and the ‘off the beaten track’ scenes of the Caput Mundi. But don’t worry, I’ll give you a well-known equivalent so you don’t feel too out of your depth…



Now if you think I’m easing you in gently, then you’ve clearly never had Italian ice-cream. Food is, without doubt, Italy’s number one pride and joy (you can forget the culture), and gelato sits up there at the top with pizza, pasta and the Fiat 500. The problem with Rome is that there are so many ‘gelaterie’ (sing. gelateria) to choose from that you just end up going to the touristy one that is next to the touristy restaurant  in the touristy area that you are having a touristy lunch. But the trick is to know the crème de la crème (or ice de la crème as it were) of gelaterie… So instead of heading towards the Pantheon (the area is infamous for its selection of gelati), I would head to Alberto Pica.

Thanks to Joan Allegretti


This is without doubt the numero uno gelateria in Rome… and that’s not just because it is situated one minute from my old apartment. Unassumingly placed off the busy Largo di Torre Argentina, you will know where you are when you see a group of eighty year-old Italian men shouting at one another, smoking, and eating gelati in the leafy outdoor seating area. Do not be put off by this, nor by the neon sign above the entrance or the surly wrinkly lady seated at the till in the dated Italian bar who, for a fact, has never smiled in her life.

Thanks to


Buying most things in a (traditional) bar in Italy usually goes a bit like this: choose, buy your ticket, give the man behind the counter your ticket, and then tell him what you want.  In Pica, you will have chosen your cup size (if only it could be that easy…) and after paying Signora Grumpy you will give her deceivingly friendly-looking son your choice of gelato.  If you’re feeling safe, go for the best Crema in town, if you’re mid way on the adventurous-o-meter go for Pistacchio and if you are feeling as daring as me every day that I was in Rome, dip your fluorescent plastic spoon into Riso or Riso e Canella. Yep, that’s right, your Italian translation skills are correct. Rice. Rice ice-cream. Or rice and cinnamon for those of you with more of a sweet-tooth. Just think rice pudding, but frozen.

In the name of the father, the son and the holy gelato, I can promise you, Alberto Pica’s Riso is the best ice-cream that’s ever passed these lips…

Thanks to


To visit Alberto Pica, you need to head to Via della Seggiola, 12 00186 Roma. For a map, visit: Alberto Pica Google Maps