A lot of friends sigh and go into a daydreaming mode when I say that I’ve spent a period of time in Rome long enough not to feel like a tourist, but short enough not to deal with much bureaucracy, save for a few trips to the post office, each of which lasted for over one hour. Efficiency is not a term that can be applied to any bureaucratic endeavour in this country of traditions and customs as old as the sewage system (yes, Romans invented modern day sewage system and many European cities still rely on those original principles). Romans are proud people of entrenched customs and social rituals, and if you want to test it, try ordering a cappuccino after 12pm. Or ask for extra tomato sauce for your pizza, which can be quite meagre. They will officially proclaim you to be another mad tourist!
As mentioned in my earlier posts, before you pack your suitcase lightly and buy that money bag which you heard is essential for a place like Roman metro or tourist spots where dodgy ‘photographers’ hang out (such as Fontana di Trevi or Piazza del Popolo), take a deep breath, and your iPad or portable laptop and sit in a wi-fi area in your neighbourhood. Any online guide to Rome will either start with history, or ruined buildings, some relics from the ancient Roman-Greco civilisation, or modern-day shopping areas (many of which do not actually stock Italian brands, but fake imports which can also appear on the street with a label ‘Made in Italy’ for five times less the price). If you want to buy Italian, go with familiar brands (or google them in advance before you embark on getting yet another import). Not every Benetton store is real either. Benetton style shops, for example, resurface around the spring or autumn sale times, but it is not Benetton brand. Just look at the labels inside (which are usually covered or cut off) and you will feel cheated on. However, this seems to be totally legal in Italy, as greedy tourists should have read the ‘Style’ suffix after Benetton…
What do you want to do in Rome? See museums? There are over 120 exhibitions in Rome on a daily basis. Museums stretch from the suburb of Eur (second last metro stop towards Laurentina) towards Rome and beyond. Their entry fees and requirements vary. For some, you might need to book online in advance AND PRINT OUT your ticket and take it with you, since showing your iPhone or Android app won’t get you far. Other museums can only let you in for a specified amount of time, eg. between 1 and 3pm. That’s why pre-purchase may work in your favour. Or a bundle for a couple of museums in a few days.
Apart from museums, which can be also quite dull (with huge amazing statues but absolutely no signs as to what they represent or why only a head is there), a favourite tourist activity is simply, walking around. And when you feel like a coffee, DON’T Sit at a cafe, as those coffees are usually much weaker since real Italians drink at the bar near the cashier (you must also pay for a coffee at the bar first then take your receipt to the barman). And bar is any cafe that serves alcohol, and every second one does. 2000 years old Pantheon has many amazing cafes nearby, but NOT on the main square (those are weak cappuccinos for tourists). The difference may be 4-5 europe between the two, and don’t be surprised to see locals just sitting around ancient walls and enjoying their fifth ice-cream gelato. Or with a bottle of wine in their hand in the evening, hanging out with friends, talking to their ‘AMORE’ (love) or just standing, or sitting, no matter what the temperatures are. That was something that I had to quickly get used to since my first attempt to dress up and put on high heels for ‘going out’. Four hours later of standing in the middle of a square with hundreds of others, I realised why heels are not a very good idea for cobbled streets of ancient Rome. Where nobody minds their own business, and where people watching is a major pass-time activity!
So, take your comfy flats, a bottle of water and map of Rome on your iPhone and start walking. It’s OK to get lost in Rome, everybody does it. To cross the street, you may need to take a risk and either follow others if unsure or just be fierce. Most drivers will stop, but you have to look out for the motorbikes, which have their own road logic. The best time to see Rome, in my opinion, is after 9.30pm. The buzzing city at night becomes very peaceful and almost abandoned. Those chatty Romans also go home to enjoy homemade gnocchi, and you can easily by yourself enjoy ancient ruins, sites and well-lit buildings with interesting statues on the top. This has been my favourite time of the day, listening to Rome falling asleep after a glass of something (not wine) and a light meal. And that is precisely what for me was Dolce Vita, Sweet Roman life in adorable Italy.