When in Rome...a visitors guide
Apr. 3, 2014 6:35 am
Updated: Apr. 9, 2014 3:15 pm
Rome. Either you hate it or you love it. Mostly I do both. It is the centre of Italy, the Capital - meaning this is where the politicians are and the reason why I have such a hard time adjusting to this country.
Most Romans, at least the stereotypical Roman, is exactly the opposite of me. It is not a question of who is right and who is wrong. Romans are just different than I am and I am very inflexible therefore have a hard time dealing with daily life in that
I lived in a suburb of Rome for 2 years. I'd been in Italy for about 13 years by then so when I was told we had to move there from Milan, I knew it would be different but wasn't prepared for what awaited me. I went through more culture shock moving to
Rome from Milan than from the US to Italy. :-o
First off, I can't understand the Roman dialect or accent. When I met my brother-in-law (from Mabank, Texas), my sister had to translate from his Mabankese to English for me. So, I am used to having to get used to accents. But Romans lay it on thick
and I couldn't understand a word.
Then I got on a bus and found this sign:
Gli orari invernale in vigore sono gli stessi del'inverno scorso. (The winter bus schedule active now, is the same as it was last winter.)
Having never been on that bus nor in that city, it would seem obvious that I couldn't have any idea what hours the buses ran last winter. So, instead of complaining to the bus driver, I went online to see if maybe the ones from last year were published.
After and hour of pulling my hair out in front of the computer trying to understand their website, I finally called the bus company to ask. After an hour on the phone getting no one who understood me or anyone who could give a flip, I gave up.
I mean, if you spend time and money posting signs that talk about a new schedule, wouldn't it make sense to just print the table?
So, this is just to tell you about Rome. So, when you say "when in Rome, do as the Romans" they mean to do everything without any clear sign of logic, don't park your car but just abandon it in the middle of the road, make no sense when you speak, don't
go to work, eat a lot, laugh, enjoy life, did I mention not going to work?, do nothing.
However, for those of you going to Rome for holiday I have a few tips on how, when and where to eat and enjoy your holiday without any need to pull out your hair.
First off, in the Rome Fiumicino airport, where I worked for 2 years, there is some great pizza waiting for you. Rustichelli & Mangione. To DIE for. Once you land in Rome, expect to wait for your checked luggage for at least a couple of hours. I learned,
and if you are courageous you too can do this, pass the luggage claim area and just leave the secure area (airside) to go to the public part of the airport (landside). Eat some pizza, dink a beer (try Peroni, Moretti or Nastro Azzuro-a bit more bitter than
the other two, Peroni is a bit sweeter and Moretti is in the middle) have a good coffee and piece of homemade Tiramisù and then stroll to the baggage claim area and say "my luggage didn't arrive could you check to see if it has made it here?". Now this is
true doing as the Romans do. Italians will lie just to suit their needs. It's called being "furbo" or "as clever as a fox". This delinquent behaviour is actually praised here. :-( Anyway, they'll let you in, go to your carousel, grab your luggage then
go wait outside for your late bus, late train or criminally expensive taxi (in 2010 a trip from the FCO airport to the city center cost 127 euros).
Rustichelli pizza is naturally leavened for 24 hours, it is handmade in front of you as you stand there drooling over the pizzas. It is so fresh you won't believe you are in an airport. All the staff, crews and locals eat there. Trust me, I even ate
the pizza a few times knowing it would make me sick for weeks, that is how good it is. They have different toppings and even pizza sandwiches. No cauliflower Doug, but they do have some nice variety. A foccaccia with brie, speck and rucola that melts in
your mouth. Bacon and cheese (Asiago, I think) is to die for. There is also a focaccia with bologna that literally only lasts minutes on the table before it gets bought up.
They have some stores throughout the city too. Check before you arrive in Rome because internet connections aren't that great here and roaming charges will kill you.
Then, once in Rome, find I Primi della Classe. A chain restaurant (in Italy a chain restaurant means that there are four or five but trust me there are no industrialised things going on inside-just homemade goodness) specialising in "first" courses. That
is pasta. They have a million types of pasta with a million types of sauces and condiments for said pasta. They have a plate that you can try from two to four different types of "primi" and it is great to have a sample of each. If you have a few people
with you I suggest you order one "primo" each and share. The overabundant servings are on a serving plate so you can share quite easily. They also have a fish plate for 12 euros that is very good and very fresh.
There is also Rosso Pomodoro. Another franchise deal, but again, just fantastic. The pizzas are heavenly. The second plates (especially the steaks) are superb and always fresh. Prices are truly competitive. Rome is expensive, especially for those used
to North American dollars.
To not get duped: don't buy water or cokes from street vendors. You'll pay 2-3 euros for a 50cl bottle. That is water! If you see water fountains in the city, drink that, they are safe. Fill your own bottle everyone does. If not, buy bottled water
and/or soft drinks from grocery stores found off the beaten path and as far as possible from train stations or airport.
Ice Cream. My favourite subject. If you read a sign that says "produzione propio" be weary. It is a law in Italy to announce the origins of food (no OGM here either!!). You can't sell pre mixed or industrial processed food and market it as "homemade".
To get genuine ice cream it must read "artigianale". This means it is made from fresh milk/cream, fresh fruit and/or other ingredients. It is for sure real gelato. Otherwise it is made by adding milk to a pre packaged powder and then frozen. It tastes
different. In fact, you can taste the powder granules in some.
To make sure you are getting genuine gelato go to the Grom website (they have an English version) and check out where you can find the stores. There are many. Everything is genuine AND they are sensitive to gluten free customers. You can choose the GF version
and they'll get you a GF cone and gelato from the GF bins. Also, here you can get REAL granita. Not that slush from the machines. Nope. Grom sells real hand made granita. My favourite is mandorla macchiato con caffè (almond, "stained" with coffee). Make
sure you tell them that you need a GF version and they'll treat you right.
When in Rome eat the Amatriciana . It should be made with Bucatini (large, fat spaghetti with a hole in the centre). Yum!! This IS the typical Roman dish. Also, there is no reason to leave Rome not having eaten Porchetta. It is a stuffed, seasoned
ham. They will have it whole on display and will cut it fresh for you. Get a sandwich of that while walking around and you'll be in heaven.
I don't suggest eating near big time monuments. These will be VERY expensive and the food is typically not that excellent. I mean, it will probably be good, but walking another few feet you'll find an off the beaten path place and you'll be happier with
the quality and price.
Don't expect to be seated in restaurants. Walk in, find a place and sit down. No hostesses. Don't expect swift service anywhere. Also, occasionally a stranger will sit at your table if it is a busy time of day, there are few open tables and you've got
two or more seats free at your table. If this happens, watch your purse. Sometimes these people aren't really there to eat. Eyes open!
Credit cards are more frequently accepted especially at the restaurants I've written about here, but be careful that in Italy, throughout Italy, cash is preferred and in some cases the only means to purchase things. Also, the stores will discourage you
from using your credit cards for anything less than 10 euros.
Bathrooms. Public bathrooms are few and far between and only for customers. They are not clean and typically unisex and the turkish type-where there is only a hole in the floor. Beware. Kids have a hard time with these.
Anyway, if you get to Rome and don't know where to eat, these are my easily found choices. The smaller, more quaint places (meaning mom-and-pop looking places) may be just as good but I can't guarantee it. If you see a place full of people, especially Italians,
then you should be ok.
Next time: Garda and Milan as well as other Northern Italian spots.
PS. About the water: San Pellegrino water is expensive here because it is popular. When you go to a restaurant or take-away and ask for "acqua frizzante" (sparkling water) they will bring you whatever they have, and it will be good. If you ask for San
Pellegrino by name, they'll charge you more because you are a tourist or even just because it is popular and they can.
Also an important note: in Rome, "acqua frizzante" is a lighter fizz than what you may be used to (and different from what is served from let's say Bologn or Parma and upwards). Romans have "leggermente frizzante" (lightly fizzy) and this is the norm.
If you want a highly carbonated water (like "Levissima or Brio"), they may not have it at a restaurant or take away. If you need carbonation, then ask for soda or tonic water. That's the best they'll do in Rome.