When in Rome,
If you want to avoid tourist rip-offs, go native in the Italian capital, writes Jemimah Steinfeld
IFOUND MYSELF suspended five metres above the ground on a tourist bus, poor man’s champagne swirling in a plastic glass clutched in one palm, camera enclosed in the other. At that moment the bus was stationary, the pale bricks of the Vatican were just ahead, shimmering in the midday sun. and six companions jovially bellowed happy birthday, the notes resonating in our distinctly British accents. Unconcerned by the scornful stares we were attracting from fellow travellers, we were happy to be archetypal tourists. But the moment was fleeting, a mere detour on an otherwise local experience. By no means regrettable, but not representative of our stay in the Italian capital.
The idea to visit Rome was born of my desire to see the city, meshing perfectly with my friend’s decision to move there. With that expertise on tap, I already had a head-start over other tourists — my own personal guide.
A quick recce on the internet revealed that although we thought we were planning well ahead, all the decent mid-range hotels were booked up for mid November. Thus, we decided on an apartment instead.
We arrived in Rome late in the evening, our moods dampened by Ryanair service. We were advised that the rate for a taxi to shuttle you into the city walls was 30 euros, but short of small change, we handed over a crisp 50 and watched as it vanished into the distance.
These inauspicious beginnings quickly faded as we were greeted by the friendly landlady. We were ushered into an apartment that surpassed my expectations — clean, modern, with large, high-ceilinged rooms and Baroque furniture and grand furnishings. Having already paid a deposit, we handed over three days’ rent and that was that; no queuing, no form-filling. It seemed too simple and certainly — at 31 euros (£20) each per night — remarkably cheap. Apartment accommodation appeared genius on a Stephen Hawking scale.
Bags dropped and in need of a drink, we headed to the bustling Campo di Fiori. With a soundtrack of interna- tional club songs booming from the bars that framed the square, this is not the place for a peaceful tête-à-tête.
It is, however, the place to go if you enjoy rubbing shoulders with rowdy international college kids. A few Italian cosmopolitans later, we called it a night, squeezing in a quick bite at a local pizza joint just off the square — completely nondescript in appearance, but far from Dominoes in taste.
The next day, post tourist bus, we headed to the Jewish quarter, not to explore the area this time, but to visit restaurant Il Portico.
Portico is the kind of joint you only get in Italy. Indeed, the kind of joint that makes you want to emigrate to Italy: on a lazy, cobbled street, with patrons overflowing on the pavement, Portico serves up fragrant, delicious food at unpretentious prices — 4 euros (under £3) for pizza and 5.5 (£4) for melt-on-the-tongue pasta.
Starting early on Saturday evening, we headed to Centro Storico, a maze of narrow streets, boasting some of Rome’s finest antique architecture. First stop was for aperitifs at Caffe Della Pace, a Roman institution.
Then one big sidestep next door to “La Focaccia”, where the sensory indulgence, seated downstairs in a warm, cavernous den, continued. La Focaccia would not score Michelin stars for its fancier dishes, but the simple starters and mains are worth going back for.
And then on to boozing and boogying — this time round the corner, first at Bloom, a Japanese-themed bar playing the World top 40, followed by La Maison, a more opulent affair, with chessboard tiles, huge, ornate chandeliers and a colour palette of red highlighted with polished metal.
Our timing was good as well — any later and we would have ended up with the crowd of uninvited on the pavement.
On Sunday morning we visited Piazza di Pietro, an understated square with the must-see Pantheon located to one side and the Trevi fountain and great shopping lying to the other.
Bleary-eyed and in need of livercleansing nosh, the 15-Euro buffet of fresh soups and salads at Salotto 42 — a healthy take on modern Italian — fulfilled this mission perfectly.
A spot of people watching on the Spanish steps was, alas, curtailed as the sky turned an ominous grey. Instead, we visited Etabli, a new enoteca (wine bar-restaurant) as yet undiscovered by the guide books.
By nightfall it was rainy and cold, so instead of going out for dinner, we stopped off at the delicatessen Roscioli, where we picked up a platter to savour back home in our apartment.
We did more sightseeing on the final day, but Sunday was really defined by eating a gargantuan ice-cream, followed by a trip to the ultra decadent (and ultra hard-to-find) Supperclub, where we sipped over-priced cocktails while having our knotted shoulders soothed by their in-house masseuse.
Sadly a Ryanair flight put the knots right back, but at least we had our lives as residents (ok, temporary ones) of this fabulous city to keep us happy.
A view over the Castel Sant’Angelo, built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum
The Vatican with St Peter’s Basilica from St Angelo’s Bridge
The fabulous Pantheon
Rome’s historic Synagogue in the Centro Storico was built in 1873 by the Jewish Community of Modena