Rome is like that friend you’ve known for 20 years and yet every time you get together you need to set aside 4 hours for dinner and even then you will still end up closing the place because you will never run out of things to talk about and stories that you never heard the other one tell. And even the stories that they tell every time you see each other never fail to entertain.
This summer marked my 12th trip to Rome and it still inspires a passionate awe in me from the moment I drive in from the airport until my final night when I stare directly at it for long periods of time like it were an eclipse and I want to burn its image on my retinas.
The secret to my love of Rome is the secret to all good marriages: sex with other people. I’m sort of kidding, but whether it’s a key party or a new restaurant, you can keep it fresh by trying new things and the same can be said for Rome. Oh sure, we still do the old things, too, and find a comfort in the familiar or discover something new in it. But Rome has such a richness of activities and culture outside of all the “Greatest Hits” and it’s always fun to explore them.
For starters, there are so many great museums in Italy outside of the ones everyone talks about. When you’re sick of looking at frescoes and rocks there’s Palazzo Esposizioni which, when I went, had a wonderful photography exhibit and another one on the future that frankly creeped me out a bit, but I admired the effort. Look up. A lot of times these exhibits are being advertised on banners or buses. One time I found an ad in a magazine for a virtual reality exhibit at the Ara Pacis that showed you what it looked in ancient times. The Forum and the Colosseum are amazing, but it’s also nice to come home with vacation memories that are off the beaten track, too.
And the Colosseum will always be great. While walking past there on this last trip, we saw a new excavation site and watched as the female Indiana Jones working there methodically worked to put a marble floor back together like the world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle. We were on our way to the Monti district, a lesser traveled area that we had been to before, but decided to explore more in depth this time. In addition to vintage stores offering Burberry raincoats, we found La Vacca M’Briaca a charming restaurant with seasonal and local food. We washed down a rosemary and bean panzanella and a carbonara with a local Frascati.
After that we walked to the Termini to catch a train to Cinecittà, but not before stopping at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which was on the way and has amazing mosaics as well as an excavation site below the church, which we sadly missed the tour of. The famous Cinecittà film studio is a 20 or 30 minute Metro ride, very convenient, and the studio is right there when you walk above ground. There are two English tours a day, as well as galleries and exhibits you can walk through at your own leisure at any time. We spent a few hours there and I could have stayed even longer. Despite working in a town where I often walk across historic film studios and lots, I was fascinated by the history of this studio that was built by Mussolini, became a refugee camp after the war, then went on to employee tens of thousands of Italians as part of the economic boom of the 1950’s.
Twelve years ago in Rome it was harder for an outsider who didn’t know where to do to get a great glass of wine by the glass. Restaurants sold wine by the bottle and if you wanted just a glass you had to opt for the house wine, which seriously challenged the myth that there is no bad wine in Italy. But now enotecas are popping up like truffles in Piedmont in December.
Il Goccetto is a small eclectic spot a short walk from Campo di Fiori, down a couple of less populated streets past what look like artists’ studios. They have a great selection of reasonably priced wines by the glad or the bottle, small plates, and a casual atmosphere that spills out onto the sidewalk.
I’m embarrassed to say that this year we finally discovered Cul de Sac, which as it turns out has been around for 40 years. I never in a million years would have gone to a place named Cul de Sac mere steps away from such a touristy spot as Piazza Navona without a friend’s recommendation, but now I’m going there every time. With a selection of 8 different kinds of pate to choose from you can do a tasting of them if you can’t decide, as well as meats, cheeses, entrees and wines by the glass. Because we want to eat as local as possible, we chose the Lazio meats and cheeses which included the most amazing lardo. I’ve never been much of a fan, but this just melted into the toast and I’m pretty sure I finished it all myself. We also chose a tasting of 3 pates: chicken and cognac; pheasant and truffle and venison with black pepper. I’ve rarely been happier. Maybe never.
And of course, for wine by the glass, there’s always been Roscioli. After having
gone there for wine for the last decade, we finally ate there and it was amazing. Everything was excellent but the Spaghetti Gricia was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. I still think about the guanciale in it. It was cooked to perfection. Definitely get a reservation and sit at the bar. It’s more fun because you can talk to the people behind the bar and get their recommendations and of course you never know who you’ll meet sitting there. We met an American scientist who spends part of the year in Rome and it was over 3 hours (and 4 glasses of wine) before we stumbled off our stools. And that was just for lunch! It was so incredible, we made another reservation for our last night in town, even though the only time we could get was 11:30pm and our car was coming at 6am.
And speaking of Roscioli, they have a new pizzeria, Emma, nearby. Like the restaurant, the pizzeria sources all of the best ingredients from around Italy for its selection of pizzas.
I’ve also discovered a couple of rooftop bars which are perfect places for an aperitivo at sunset. Make a reservation at Borromini,
even if you’re just going for drinks. It’s probably the most you’re going to spend on a drink in town with LA prices on the wines by the glass, but the view is spectacular.
And if you’re near the Pantheon, go to the bar on the roof of the Hotel Minerve. Last I went they had a woman playing piano and singing and she’ll play Mina if you ask her.
I’m obsessed with Italy to a level that borders on ridiculous. I know. Even Italians don’t get it. I could go anywhere else in the world. At this point I could have gone *everywhere* else in the world. I wish I was this into gardening and home improvement. It would be better for my bank account and my figure. Instead I’m the lady speaking with my cab driver in Italian about rando 50’s pop singers and being greeted in my hotel like it’s Cheers and I’m Norm. I love every quirky thing from their autogrill paninis to their habit of dunking cookies in wine. When I see a toilet without a seat I smile because I know I’m home.
Fortunately I’ve found someone who is almost as obsessed as I am. Who reads every travel book even if we’ve been there before and always wants to see something new and different. Thanks to him we find it. And he’s also totally happy to drink a spritz on the beach while I spend hours in the water. In our case, the secret to Rome isn’t just like the secret to all good marriages. Rome is the secret to my marriage. And for us, our marriage, is the secret to Rome.