I’m recently back from a four-day visit to Rome, The Eternal City (it’s still there, still going) and thought I’d share some newfound wisdom.
1. Look Up
When in Rome, look up. Tear your petrified gaze from the traffic, from looking left and right to treble check it’s safe to cross the road – it never really is – and wonder at the amazing buildings, mostly religious, that pepper the skyline. When inside these buildings looking up is even more important. The Ceiling Painter section of the old Roman yellow pages must have been replete, every chapel trying to vie with the Sistine, and all worth an upward gaze.
2. Choose the Real Thing
Don’t eat the ‘fake’ gelato that’s all garish colours and effectively just second-rate wholesaler-bought stuff made by a global food conglomerate. Go for the real, homemade delights. Seek out Come il Latte and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. (Although it may spoil the rest of your ice cream going forward as not much will ever measure up.)
Pre-book the major attractions in advance online before you go, and in the case of the Villa Borghese, way before you go (it was already fully booked a week in advance of our trip). This avoids disappointment and a long wait in a queue to buy tickets on the day. If you forget to pre-book the ticket for the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum (one ticket gets you into all three), then go to the Palatine Hill first and buy your ticket there. It has by far the shortest queues.
4. Stand Up For Caffe
Drink your espresso standing at the bar as the locals do. Life’s too short and Rome has too much to see for you to be wasting time sitting down with your coffee. Re-caffeinate and go.
5. Look Left, Right, Left, Then Right Again
Driving in Rome goes like this: accelerate, brake; accelerate, brake. Crossing a Roman road is a life-affirming experience, like bungee jumping, white-water rafting, shark diving or any other of the extreme sports. Keep your wits about you, look left, right, right, left and right, then left again before crossing. When you step out onto a zebra crossing, stand tall, stare the driver down and walk like you own the road. Show the slightest sign of trepidation and they’ll sniff it out and mow you down.
6. Try the Cappuccini
Not the breakfast drink, but the monks the drink was named after, specifically The Museum and Crypt of the Capuchins. It’s a fascinating look at the origins of the order and their work, a frugal, selfless life of spartan contrast to the opulence we’d witnessed in the Vatican on the previous day. The ossuary at the end of the tour sounds ghoulish but is in fact haunting, beautiful and spiritually meditative.
7. Eat Away From The Herd
No matter how hungry, don’t plonk yourself down outside the restaurant nearest to the attraction you’ve just visited. Walk a few side streets away and you’ll usually stumble upon something a bit less tourist-popular but a lot more special. Menus written in English aren’t always bad, but anywhere that has photos of the food? Keep walking.
8. Wear Good Shoes
By this I don’t mean handmade leather footwear to pass the Italian style test. Wear something comfortable. Rome is a walk-able city (you stroll from one espresso to the next attraction, to the next espresso and on), with many of the main attractions in reasonably easy reach of the centre. Plus, the metro is often overcrowded, even outwith rushour. So why not walk through the sunshine instead. On the three and a half days of our visit we did just that and covered over 46 miles on foot.
9. Visit The Botanic Gardens
Last but not least, don’t leave Rome without visiting the Orto Botanico in the Trastevere district. Its 30 acres hosts over 3000 species of plants in various themed sections and greenhouses, a heavenly oasis of calm hidden away from the city’s frenetic streets.
Any top Roman tips of your own? Let me know in the comments. Ciao and grazie, ragazzi!