There is an air in Rome that could exist only in Rome. Once you land here, there is no mistaking the place for anywhere else. I can’t quite put my finger on it and I am certain it has nothing to do with the soft colours of the buildings, the chaotic traffic, the tourists walking around with their noses in the air, or the landmarks one has seen many times over, even without having set a foot in the city. It’s the smell in the air, a mixture of reeds from the Tiber and the sun hitting the stone pavement; the debonair allure of Romans; the crowds spilling out of every cafe and the Vespas constantly threatening one’s life. It’s spectacular. I used to take Rome for granted, often commuting from Milan for the day, cursing the proverbial slowness of Romans and their wait and see attitude. But, when you are vacationing, it can be charming.
If you ask for directions, they will invariably be spotty and approximate – everything is approximate here: from the time you agree to meet, the price of an item, the bus arrival, the way cars are parked. To be able to live here, one has to learn to live with approximation and be happy with it.
For some bizarre reason only newscasters can explain or, maybe because it’s Summer and the news cycle is slow, they have taken to name heat waves here, the way they name hurricanes in the States. As the taxi driver who took my friend Sue and I from the train station to our wonderful apartment in Via del Governo Vecchio, it’s July in Italy, it’s always been hot and, until now, we never needed advice on how much water to drink, to stay out of the sun between noon and 3 pm and all the other common sense crap that the news is constantly feeding us. It’s Summer, it’s hot, drink water and go with the sweat.
While on the subject of keeping cool, a word of advice to my American compatriots, ladies in particular . When you think that packing Bermuda shorts is a good idea that will keep you cool and comfortable, please, look in the mirror and think again. What is it with American women of any age traipsing around in Bermuda shorts? Unless they are tailored by Celine and you look like Ines de la Fressange, chances are you will look hideous in them. If you have a slight belly, they will accentuate it; if they are cut above the knee, you better have perfect knees; if they are knee-length, they will shorten your legs and, unless your butt is as perky as Naomi Campbell’s, no favours in that department either. The same comfort and coolness can be achieved with a nice, wide or pleated cotton skirt – trust me.
I realize that, being Italian, I put far too much emphasis on how I look no matter where I am but, just because we are on vacation and not likely to bump into our neighbours or friends, it is not a good reason to look subpar. Which brings me to clothes in Rome. Surprisingly, apparel has always been cheaper in Rome than in most places in Italy. Right now, with Summer sales going on, the city is irresistible. So irresistible that a pair of Prada shoes found their way back to my apartment, together with a Max Mara dress – and now, even if those items were on sale, my shopping budget has come to a screeching halt. If you still have money in your pockets, take advantage, especially of the Italian stores in Rione Monti or, for more upscale offerings, around Via Condotti and Via del Babbuino. I came across a lovely store, filled with fabulous print dresses and handmade jewellery – Officine in via della Stelletta 21.
If it’s your first time in Rome, by all means go see all the sights that have made this city world-wide famous. But beware – especially in the Summer, the crowds are unbearable. At Trevi Fountain, the tourists were three rows deep. By the Spanish steps, throngs of organized groups were milling around but I understand, it has to be done, if your time is limited.
Eating well is usually reasonably easy to do but here are some tourist-free suggestions from my sister who lives here and whose boyfriend is a true Roman. For instance, every website mentions Baffetto, an old and famous trattoria and pizzeria right outside our apartment. I am told the food is good but the lines need to be seen to be believed. While seemingly every tourist is queuing out there, Romans will go to Francesco in Piazza del Fico, where it’s also packed but the service is extra speedy, the pizza paper-thin, the way Romans make it, and where you will sit at an outside table and will enjoy a great meal. Pastas are also noteworthy. Before pizza, stop for an aperitif at Osteria del Fico just round the corner. Both places are very close to Piazza Navona
As I live and breathe food, I did forgo a tour of the catacombs for a tour of Eataly in the Ostiense neighbourhood. If you have seen the NY counterpart, this is even bigger: three stories filled to the brim with artisanal products and drinks, from beer to lemonade, chocolate to prosciutto. The three floors also features a number of restaurants ranging from piadina to fish to panini -you name it. In the land where farmer’s markets still abound, butcher shops and greengrocer’s can actually be found, I am not sure why Italians would go for an American-type experience but, probably because Eataly is so un-Italian, I found it exhilarating and I could have bought everything. The sheep’s ricotta I bought was indeed delicious, as were the cold cuts and the fresh bread For locations and pics
If you find yourself in Rione Monti, a charming neighbourhood that looks livable and has a number of pretty stores and an adorable square, stop for a slice (or, rather, a rectangle) at Pizzeria Leonina (Via Leonina 84 – metro Cavour). The place is a hole in the wall but the pizza is fresh and tasty, comes in a variety of wonderful toppings featuring very many vegetables and it’s served either to go or on a wooden board that you can take to a tiny counter and sit on a stool while munching in the heat.
Finally, I am not sure if the ice cream tasted so good at Gelateria Frigidarium right outside our apartment because it was so close to home but the sabayon was spectacular and the lines pretty long. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one thinking that way. The chef- owner is eager to let you try different flavours, especially the more exotic ones like ginger, and is very proud of his product.For address and information in Italian