I haven’t been to Rome for over 20 years. Florence, plenty of times, it’s small and manageable but I remember Rome to be sprawling like Athens.
It is sprawling and choked with history and garbage. Even in the best neighborhoods, impeccably groomed locals don’t even glance at the piles.
Every street seems to have a church, some have two. The newer pushing in front of the old, it’s cheeky cornice blocking off part of the facade of its predecessor. The churches are not relics, as they have become in so many cities but filled with priest and nuns. Nuns- there are a lot of them and although they may have forsaken the pleasures of the flesh, they know how to savour a gelato.
Gelatos are something that everyone does, at least once a day. I’m here with my oldest daughter, Layla. We agree to have 2 gelatos a day. The smallest serving of gelato is 2 scoops and no matter where you go, artisan shop or industrial, the price is always the same: 2.5€. The local blogger celebrity and American called Katie Parla has gone to the trouble of compiling the city’s best gelatos and we use that list for reference.
We (I) decide to do one food tour- Eating Italy. In the neighborhood of Testaccio, which has no monuments save for the city’s former slaughterhouse which closed in the 70’s. It’s mercifully devoid of tourists (I am a seasoned hand at navigating the hordes in Barcelona but Rome is on another level entirely). My friend Marina who runs Barcelona Eat Local Tours has recommended it for being something different. She’s right, we spend 4 hours with a charming local guide called Chiarra. She introduces us to the holy trinity of Roman pasta: carbonara, cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and pepper) & amatriciana (a red sauce with guanciale).
Layla and I have been refilling our water bottles from the city’s many fountains but what we learn from Chiara is that if we block the faucet, water spurts out through a hole in the top making it a perfect drinking fountain. So clever, every city should have water fountains, it would do a lot to reduce plastic waste.
We stay in the Jewish ghetto in a clean modern B&B called Residence Regola with functioning air conditioning and a modest breakfast included in the room price. We are just behind Campo de’ Fiore market and around the corner from Salumeria Roscioli – a deli restaurant that is just about the hardest reservation to get in Rome at the moment.
We do get a reservation there, for lunch. We are vetted by a well-dressed woman at the front door before being sent to an older woman who checks our reservation again and directs us to our table. We have a good meal, the most expensive one of our stay, my bottarga pasta is 17€. The other tables are mostly occupied by other tourists, grateful to have secured their table. A few Italians come in to order from the deli counter – one wants half a dozen eggs and she wants them to check none of them are cracked. I find her infinitely more interesting and prefer her irreverent tone.
It’s a similar story at Da Enzo 29. The food is as good as they say but the tables are crammed with other tourists and a line of hopeful people leans across the adjacent wall, wistfully staring at our food.
I have downloaded an App called Eat Italy written by Elizabeth Minchilli. It is a bit temperamental to start but of great use during the trip. Particularly the map function, when we find ourselves hungry by the Spanish Steps we go to Fiaschetteria Beltramme same for creamy Turino style Gelato Come il latte when we are around the Villa Borghese area. While it’s true that some of the restaurants are not as perfect as Da Enzo or Roscioli the staff and atmosphere are more relaxed and I find that the vibe is of at least equal importance to the food. I speculate that it’s hard to have a bad plate of pasta in Rome in the same way that not one of the 1€ espresso macchiatos I have disappoints me in the least. One night when it threatens to start raining, Layla and I go to Obicà which is an old chain I know from Milan and she rates her Amatriciana as her second favorite and most of the other tables are Italians.
Faced with the crowds at the Colosseum, the Vatican and the entry slots at the Borghese Galleries, we opt to visit the Capitolini Museums and have the place mostly to ourselves.
Four nights, 5 days seem an ideal time to get a feel for the city. I get a 7 day, 24€ travel card and we hop on and off trams, metros, and buses using the excellent Citymapper guide to navigate the city like a local.