What’s living in Italy really like? Here are some of the ways you’ll know when you’ve lived here for a while—and that Rome has changed you (…for better or for worse!).
1. You walk into oncoming traffic without blinking. And you’re impatient with others who don’t do the same.
2. You know that living in the “Ghetto” isn’t dangerous or cheap. It’s luxurious. And expensive.
3. You set aside whole afternoons for tasks you used to think of as simple, like mailing a package or getting passport photos taken. (Every once in a while, these tasks take 15 minutes or less. When that happens, you’re so astonished, you waste the next two hours by calling your friends to tell them about it, anyway).
4. Foods you used to find normal, like chicken with pasta or carbonara with peas and cream, now turn your stomach.
5. You don’t go outside with a wet head—not because you really think you’ll get the colpo d’aria (and die!),but because you can’t stand the looks from everyone around you who does think you will.
These days, Rome’s food scene goes beyond the traditional mom-and-pop trattorias. (That hasn’t always been the case). In a new piece on Rome for foodies for New York Magazine, I track down the best activities, restaurants, and accommodation for foodies, from hotels that house Michelin-starred restaurants to Rome’s best spots for artisanal beers. Buon appetito!
But you know what? Things change. (Even in Rome!). And for 2014, it’s time for an update.
For one thing, I Caruso is no longer a hidden gem. (I’ll take some of the blame for that). And on a recent visit, I found its gelato, while still good—and way better than the fake junk you’d get at most of Rome’s other gelaterias—not quite as flavorful as I remembered.
Meanwhile? Just up the street and around the corner, another gelateria, opened two years ago by a former I Caruso employee, blows I Caruso out of the water. At least if you prefer your gelato rich and decadent. Like I do. (Hey, go big or go home, right?).
Ah, Rome at Christmas! With the festive lights a-sparkling and families a-shopping, Christmas trees a-twinkling and nativity scenes a-…um, whatever nativity scenes do — well, it really is the most wonderful time of year.
Want to make the most of it? Here’s my complete guide to Rome at Christmas… and New Year, too.
Rome at Christmas basics: what will be open, what will be closed, and other burning questions
In the short video below, I answer some of readers’ biggest questions about visiting Rome at Christmas.
One of the biggest Christmas traditions in Rome is la befana. She’s the figure you’ll see across Rome come the holidays — and with her hooked nose and broomstick, she’s often mistaken for a witch. Here’s what to know about la befana, and this super-sweet video, below, explores the tradition further.
If you’re going to be a guest of an Italian family for any holiday meals, or you want to cook (or eat) according to Italian tradition this Christmas yourself, don’t miss this post on how to have an Italian Christmas meal.
Italian food is super-regional. But at every bakery in Rome in Christmas, you will see pandoro (a golden cake originally from Verona), as well as panettone (from Milan). Don’t miss my BBC Travel story about what you don’t know about panettone.
Want to know about New Year’s? These are some of the main New Year’s traditions in Italy. (Yes, my Italian friends really insist on wearing red underwear. So much so a [female!] Roman friend once even gave me red underwear as a gift… just to be sure I would).
If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.
‘Tis the season… for rain in Rome. (Ah, November!). And in a city where so many of the sights are outdoors, and so much is meant to be explored on foot, rain can feel like a real deal-breaker.
Sure: There are always the Vatican museums. And if you’re lucky, maybe you booked your Borghese Gallery or Palazzo Valentini tickets for exactly the day the skies opened up.
But let’s go beyond the obvious, shall we? Here’s what I’d call the perfect rainy day in Rome: an itinerary that hits up spots that are cozy, indoors, off-the-beaten-path, interesting — and located in neighborhoods that, while charming, aren’t so cobblestoned-street-picturesque that you’ll be upset to miss the chance to photograph them at their sunny best.
So get your umbrellas ready (and, by the way, one good thing about rain in Rome is that, as soon as it starts, umbrella-sellers pop up all over the city. So it’s okay if you’ve forgotten yours. Just, please, barter the sellers down to 2 or 3 euros for a small one; it’ll fall apart by the end of the day anyway!).
No matter where you’re staying in Rome, the neighborhood of Testaccio is easy to get to: You can take the metro (get off at Piramide, then walk five minutes) or a number of buses (including the 3 and 75).
Don't want to plunk down cash or credit for Rome's (pricy) accommodation? No problem: From Nov. 18 to 24, 83 B&Bs in Rome will—get this—accept a bartered good or service instead. And 35 are actually open to the idea year-round. Find out more with my piece over at BBC Travel.
Cleopatra, history’s most famous (and possibly fascinating) queen, is the insipiration for a new exhibit in Rome: “Cleopatra: Rome and the Magic of Egypt.”
On at the Chiostro del Bramante until February, the show’s aim is to contextualize Cleopatra’s life and times. It brings together more than 180 pieces from the ancient world, including frescoes, mosaics, jewelry, coins, and, yes, portraits of the major players, including several never-before-publicly-shown portraits of Cleopatra herself.
Ah, autumn in Italy: The weather is crisp, the produce beautiful (don’t you love it when apples and eggplant and truffles are in season?), and the tourist crowds have started to dissipate. It’s also the only time when somehow, inexplicably, I sometimes get a whiff of that countryside woodsmoke-smell—the kind that makes me want to bundle up and go for a hayride—in the center of Rome.