Global Roman - Rome and The Eternal City
To begin, what hasn't been said about Rome already? It's either one of your favourite places or it's something of a disappointment, but one thing for sure is, it's changing. I have visited Rome wearing many hats. The boys weekend hat, worn at a slightly rakish angle and showing signs of wear and tear. The romantic long weekend away hat, which can be both formal and spontaneous like a mortarboard being thrown into the air on graduation day, and finally on my own. A solitary figure wearing a wide brimmed Fedora, with coat collar upturned, almost hiding from the shame of being here on one's own, but having said that, its the time you have when you are here by yourself that you truly get a chance to have a look around.... at your own pace, making your own mistakes with no repercussions and no apologies necessary.
I have said it on many occasions, that if you take all of the charming and historic rubble out of Rome, you would still be left with a wonder. Ancient Rome is mere icing on the cannoli. I love Rome with all my heart and I like nothing more than just wandering, finding and sampling. Not for me the incredibly long queues at...., let's say.. The Vatican to see the Sistine Chapel. I know it's well worth visiting but I had a pretty good idea about it before I went and unless you get there really, really early, I see little point in wasting half a day in Rome queuing in possible high heat and being pestered by pedlars, with their selfie sticks, sticky jelly bombs and helicopters. So, if you do really really want to go, get there as early as possible. Get it done so you can enjoy the rest of your day.
By the way, The Vatican is still an incredible place to visit even if you can't face the queues and the mayhem. I have actually found it quite peaceful when away from the numbers. The Vatican Museums and its amazing spiral staircase would be high on my list too. Wonderful and less busy, although its popularity grows. I love what is commonly known as Old Rome and Trastevere. Great for wandering and accommodation. I migrate here, always. The Pantheon, Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona are well trod tourist Meccas in Old Rome but the cobbled streets and innumerable Renaissance and Ancient wonders that also lay in these areas, are well worth stumbling across.
My idea of Rome are these very streets, cobbled and filled with a luminescent apricot light. A murderous Italian hatchback is nonchalantly parked half on and half off a derelict pavement The occupant having dismounted in a distinguished deep tanned flurry of a lightweight suit jacket, before greeting what appear to be very long lost friends for an aperitif in a sprawling kerbside cafe. Long lost friends that, by the way, he probably saw only yesterday. The tables are partially hidden by tall greenery and heavily laden with glowing Aperol Spritz's, crisp, pale Soaves and large bowls of olives. In my mind's eye, I also deserve to join them.... Not actually join them - That would be rude, and with my big hat on, they would probably say no anyway. I mean join them in having a late afternoon thirst quencher. After all, I have eaten on the hoof all day
There are many new boutique sandwich shops popping up in Rome and they are proving ideal for both cash-strapped backpackers, families on a budget or those who would prefer to spend their money on a fulsome dinner somewhere later on and that has Trattoria writ large all over it, like me. Crisp, whole, fresh and thin ciabatta filled with your choice of the usual suspects but totally delicious and great value for money. They are also a much better option that the infernal American fast food outlets that are really beginning to encroach into the territory of the local Trat. Why come to Rome to eat Dunkin Donuts and Fried Chicken? It will be the ruination of the place and it's already becoming terminal. If you then also factor in the laminated tourist menu places, it can be a bit of a struggle to find somewhere traditional, decent and atmospheric; possibly in the Piazza Rondanini, along the lovely Via dei Portoghese, or the Via Margutta, made famous by Audrey H & Greg Peck in Roman Holiday... Although to be fair, there's not a lot on the latter, and as pretty as it is, it's just a movie reference.
The best plan is to avoid Trip Advisor, ask people you meet who may be in the know, but by far the best thing is to make a note of places you find beforehand, make a note and reverse research them. You can also just tell by the atmosphere if it's truly somewhere you want to spend an evening in this mesmerising city. In many restaurants there is a tourist area, usually outside, and there is also an indoor area frequented by locals. If I were you, I'd go in and join the them, and with a big cheesy grin ask the chef direct what he or she recommends. You will soon know if you want to stay or not. My finest meals in Rome have happened thus including the finest Saltimbocca I've ever tasted.
I usually head elsewhere for dessert. There are so many Pasticceria's across the city that it has become a terrible/wonderful habit never to pass one by. I always go in for a reviving espresso and a little cake. I cant help it. The coffees are excellent, the patisserie superb and all very cheap when eaten at the countertop. You order and pay at the till located near the entrance and give the docket to the barista who will complete your order. Once done, you can't help to not only smile, but feel a part of the whole sweet process. Italians really like the coffee and sugar kick, especially for breakfast, and I can't help but agree. None of this sitting around for an hour over a cold Caffe Latte for the Romans - Too busy, too much life to live. I wholeheartedly buy into it too, but then again I would, wouldn't I? This is my country.... It's not really, I'm Welsh... but in my heart it is. Giolitti's is a pretty famous example and very popular.
The reason I mention it here is because it's not only good, it's huge and you cant miss it. Do not walk past or there will be trouble. There is no time when it's open, that not going in for something can be justified.
Whilst we are on all things sweet, the Gelato situation in Rome is not as great as you might imagine. Many of the outlets, especially in the most touristy spots, offer up pretty terrible fair and it bears no relation to the good stuff, so be prepared. By all means, cool down with some readily available, substandard ice cream but please don't be thinking that this is what it is supposed to be like. There are still some great Gelateria's however and Gelateria del Teatro is right up there amongst the best.... The fact that it's down cobbled streets and well away from the inflated prices of the tourist traps, makes it extra appealing. It's still right in the heart of the action too but it's where you know not what you know, in this case anyway.
As for accommodation choices, the hotels are there for every budget; from the Hollywood choice of The Hassler atop the Spanish Steps, to very Romanesque 3 Star Hotels that can be very comfortable indeed. Room sizes in Rome are very small and downgrading the Hotel but upgrading the Suite is a good idea, but a better idea still, is to go for a B&B or apartment. I have had the pleasure of staying 5 Star (Pretty pointless, unless you are trying to satisfy an ego or you won it in a competition.) and 3 Star standard hotels and apartments.
I really do feel that with an apartment you get the best of every world. I don't need a swimming pool in Rome or a buffet breakfast... or the Hotel Restaurant so why pay for them? By way of an example, I negotiated a great price for an apartment when I was last in Rome.
It was 400 m2, centrally located a hundred metres from the Spanish Steps, decorated in the Roman Imperial style and why wouldn't it be? It was Napoleon lll's old digs and it was utterly incredible. Still owned by the Ruspoli family, authentic in every way and money well spent indeed. The Residenza Ruspoli Bonaparte will always live long in my memory and I still feel very privileged to have stayed there. Romeloft.com is a pretty good starting point for your apartment search should you choose to go down that route.
Oh, and if you walk past a Basilica, do please go in. You may never have heard of it, there may be no queues, no cafe, no trinkets and no guide, but you never know, it may just be the most beautiful place you've ever accidentally fallen into.... and there are literally hundreds of them in which to trip.
The Orangery is also worth a mention, as is the Villa Borghese gardens - Near the top of Spanish Steps, the views are wonderful, great for a picnic and from up there, it's downhill all the way, ... as it were. The Colosseum is probably a lot nicer to visit at nighttime. During the day, the previously grand avenues can appear tatty, both tourist and litter filled... and then there's those infernal pedlars again - Smacking their balls of gloop into the pavement at your feet. You just have to ignore them and get on with enjoying it. Whoever buys this crap needs to have their nipples pinched... at best. Piazza Navona is pretty commercial these days too but you have to visit. Its beauty and grandeur far outweighs the urchins and commission crazed waiters demanding your holiday cash. Good value can still be found here however, and laying up here and watching the world go by, with a glass of Birra Moretti, some nibbles and a slice of pizza isn't exactly the worst thing you can do. I actually had a wonderful Turbot dish in one of these hotly touristy cafes on a previous trip. So much so that I went back on my next visit, only to find that it was no longer wonderful and most definitely not Turbot. Oh well.
The Forum is also obviously well worth a visit and although the area can be a bit thin under the ground for decent food, Via dei Fienili, north of Circus Maximus, offers several places suitable for most peoples tastes and pockets, and is a lovely situation in which to relax and take it all in.
Considering you're almost sitting in a car park, and almost certainly looking at one, the ancient surroundings manage somehow to take over, and that's often what makes Rome work so well. The magnificent puts the drab, mundane and functional well and truly in its place. It's also worth remembering that some of Rome's finest bars are in the high end hotels, so whether it's rooftop or in the hotel gardens, as a treat, away from the teeming masses, they are well worth considering. The Straviskiyj bar at the Hotel de Russie is a prime example.
Right, that's enough. The rest is for you to find out. It's easily still one of the world's top destinations, whether for a long weekend, a quick pass through or as a base to explore Italy as a whole. It's magical, truly, it is being spoilt by tat and litter, it can be annoying and very touristy but ultimately it's a joy. Find a route through and away from the cheap and nasty and find your space, your Eternal City - If you are very lucky indeed, you will have your Rome moments, ... to pocket, to cherish and to keep... Enough to start a huge collection of them, hopefully. Too many to keep under your hat.