Why I'd Move To Rome In An Instant
Spend four days with me in Rome
- seeing, smelling and almost tasting -
and find out why I'd easily make my home there
"Like a faithful old dog who knows every street in town, the Metro runs up and down an A and B line that serve the whole of Rome. No one gets lost, because it carries hordes of weary passengers to glaringly obvious stations such as Colosseo, Circo Massimo and Garbatella.
"More To Life" Is a lifestyle, not a goal
Garbatella is the slightly run down, authentic Italian neighbourhood we rented a tiny apartment in.
Here much needed paint jobs, revamps and even a good scrubbing appear to be less needed by residents who, in spite of the bitter cold and 5pm sunsets, spend far less time indoors than they do drinking wine and eating pizzas at trattorias.
In the pursuit of this reasonably priced, genuine Italian cuisine we found ourselves on the first night gingerly walking down an underground Metro tunnel long past what was a sensible time, to arrive at possibly the largest, but most satisfying tourist trap – Eataly. It’s a magnificent two story foodie market with the best restaurants and deli’s, live entertainment and fresh produce. €10 got us the tastiest pizza and beer of the trip, but it’s not advisable to return over the weekend when a lively crowd becomes maddening.
In Rome, not even the quickest and simplest of meals, breakfast, is taken in the peace and quiet of a home and it may be my favourite part of their unhurried way of life. Anywhere from 7am to 10am people and their well-groomed, well-mannered dogs make their way to work on the Metro, but not before a little detour via a local bar.
Instead of alcohol these bars sell espressos and a selection of freshly baked, delectably sugary pastries, the most popular of which is the cornetto – a type of filled croissant. This, along with a cappuccino and quick morning chat is taken standing up at a counter. There’s an extra charge if you sit down, but you’re unlikely to find the space or time if you don’t want to get caught upstream of a hungry Italian mob. These crowded little shops offer a haven from the cold and whatever the day may hold.
In our case it was the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica. Apart from the wealth of Renaissance art, there’s also the incredible opulence and enormity which makes it easy to lose track of time. Visit the crown of the Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, first and devote any spare time to the rest of the art and architecture. A sight much more peaceful and even beautiful, but not often mentioned is the Vatican Gardens. Special bookings are needed, but I have no doubt that it would be well worth it, judging by the small piece of greenery we enjoyed in the courtyard.
Eating is encouraged - especially carbs
It’s also a good idea to break the historical visits with something less lofty and more in the line of earthly pleasures. We pre-booked a food tour in another of Rome’s most candid neighbourhoods where shops are owned by families and closed for Sunday mass. It has a beautifully kept grave yard that boasts residents such as the tragic young poet, John Keats; and a sanctuary of stray cats. Along its fence elderly people dot the early morning mist, pulling baskets of books as they go.
Trastevere is situated between the west bank of the Tiber, or Tevere river and the boundary wall surrounding ancient Rome. The wall slinks through the city like a forgotten serpent – parts of it broken down and parts covered at the base in thick, earthy moss. Standing proud as though there’s nothing odd about a wall with no purpose starting in the middle of the street and ending against another building.
The walking tour guide, Gigi, was a petite and passionate American girl who came to visit Rome and never left. She’s an asset to the city and packed the tour with historical and cultural information that may even be news to some Romans.
Among the stops was a large and boisterous fresh food market in Testaccio, a neighbouring area that derives its name from a man-made mountain of broken olive oil jars. It also used to be the meat packing district where wages were paid in part with what was left of an animal once all its quarters were sold - aptly named the fifth quarter or quinto quarto and now a Roman delicatessen.
We expected to have brunch covered by the half day tour and then work up an appetite for dinner during the latter half of the day. But with enough delicious, truly authentic food to last two full days and having run a couple of hours over (this didn’t bother Gigi in the least) we were left with only an hour and a half to visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum before dark. This really was enough time to wander the gladiators’ playground, so we spent most of the next day at the Roman Forum.
There could not be a more realistic experience of ancient Rome than to walk through the houses and temples that were contemporary to their inhabitants. One and a half millennia of buildings converge among dust and lush greenery – steeped in the remains of their culture and extravagant building materials. Centuries of lives and stories meet in a single ruin, divided only by lines where new buildings were simply built on top of older ones.
Rome is enough
It clarified Gigi’s passing reminder that “ancient Rome is always beneath us”. Scaffolding both supporting numerous historical sites and aiding excavations and restorations appear to be a permanent and travelling part of the Roman scenery.
This meant we were fortunate enough to visit the recently cleaned Trevi Fountain – the most beautiful of all of Rome’s opulence due to its simplicity of material. Towering facades and statues of pure white marble reflect the cool, gem coloured water below where hundreds of tourists pose for pictures or simply sit and take it all in. Such jovial energy that it’s hard to imagine a single soul troubled by life’s difficulties while they’re there.
I was sad to leave. Romans seem to be set apart from the rest of Italy as their own people. The city is larger than her current inhabitants and thousands of tourists and they live in a place where no one needs to strive for excellence in anything other than their daily tasks. She’s large enough to hold all those that have gone before and she simply is enough.
Tassels & Tigers
If this article has inspired you to travel and see Rome for yourself, read on to get some travel tips!
Personal Travel Tips
- Make online bookings for main sites before departure to skip the queues.
- For food tours, visit www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com; and www.walksofitaly.com for really handy info.
- €1.20 should get you a cappuccino and brioche (pastry). Remember to ask for milk with your Americano.
- Don’t pay more than €5 for a pizza slice and €10 for a round pizza and drink.
- Fill up your water bottle from the running fountains – it really is safe.
- No two people will point you in the same direction. Make your first stop at a Tabacchi to get an Italian sim card and data. Don’t even consider attempting the shortest of journeys without Google Maps if you don’t want to drag your luggage up streets for three hours upon arrival.
General Travel Tips (122):
- Book your Schengen Visa appointment directly on the Capago website for at least 15 days before departure, but make the booking well in advance so you have enough time to get your documents together.
- Cash Passport is a safe and affordable forex option, but lots of small vendors only accept cash.
- Rent an apartment from a resident through www.airbnb.com.
- A 24-hour hop-on-hop-off bus pass gives you a good overview of the city, so you know what to return to and what you can tick.
- When the bus pass runs out, get a Roma Pass (www.romapass.it) which includes two museum entries and a 72-hour public transport pass. Be careful not to bend or damage your Metro ticket though, as it will stop working.