Guys, I am a terrible tourist.
Or maybe I’m the best tourist because I am terrible at being one. I have a confession to make, which is that when I travel I actually am not too excited to stand in lines for hours to see things I absolutely MUST see. (As the years pass I fear that I may be seeing more and more signs of agoraphobia creeping in.) I am also dreadfully lazy about taking photos (i.e. giving myself away), and even lazier about waking up at the crack of dawn to go carpe the diem. When I am away from my normal lifestyle (which consists of long workdays- sometimes up to 12 hours at a time) I want to make sure I am doing more nothing than is possible at home. This is obviously much easier to do on a beach somewhere than in a city chock full of sights to see, things to do, and more importantly…things to eat. I took in the sights that required the least amount of waiting, and avoided crowds at all costs except for those few packed Roman buses which for me are nothing short of a nightmare, albeit brief.
My grandmother gave me some great advice before I went, which was to save my money for dinner out and to have breakfast at home and pack a lunch. Her reasoning was spot-on as I quickly saw that breakfast and lunch are really, really basic and not worth paying the mark-up on. We packed some proscuitto & cheese on bread every day- and I was perfectly OK with this- especially since the selection in even the most basic of the groceries is always amazing.
I have always been creating an image in my mind of this city, picking and choosing through references in films, books, and fortifying with the romantic stories told by friends and relatives. Coming from New York, Italy feels surreal – a bit of time traveling mixed together with a perpetual sense of being lost…mostly because you get lost a lot. The beauty of the city and its historical richness was inspiring for the first couple days as we made our way through the map of must-see stops (well, the ones with minimal crowds.) The Villa Borghese was probably my favorite part, an immense sprawling park in the heart of the city – go figure. It was so nice to get a breath of fresh air and feel some soft grass after a couple days of inhaling mostly second-hand smoke and bus exhaust. I found the best of cannoli of my life there, and came to grips with the fact that I will never be a good tourist- but does not mean I don’t enjoy just being somewhere different. Because I most certainly do.
I found that my favorite activity was to get as close to the monument as possible without getting too integrated into the mobs of tourists, finding a nice bench or step and having a snack or some wine while enjoying it from afar. The great thing about this approach is that you can also keep an eye on the crowd and wait for a good opportunity to jump in during a lull. Avoid the cafes and trattorias that closely neighbor the hot spots- they are there to overcharge you for mediocre food. You can purchase beer and half bottles of wine almost anywhere, and drinking in public is completely OK and practically encouraged.
The rest of the week was spent eating giant dripping spheres of mozzarella di bufala on church stoops and park benches. I made the mission of the remaining couple days to find a great Cacio e Pepe (a simple dish consisting of pasta, pecorino, and pepper). The Cacio e Pepe hunt was important to me because it stands for everything I believe in when it comes to food, which is that a good cook can make something out of practically nothing that can move you- and that it highlights the quality of the individual ingredients. We had a few duds before seeking out the (realtively) pricey Cacio e Pepe at Roma Sparita. Worth every Euro for the ability to find out what Cacio e Pepe should be…now I feel confident enough to make it myself. That is a pretty good investment in my book. The city drained most of my energy by the end of the week (as any city would) and I was ready to relocate somewhere a little less crowded, where the pace was a little slower. Our trip to Firenze came just in the nick of time (more on that next time).
Recommended eats in Rome:
Next post, Firenze!