As part of my own mental relaxation, I try and get away at least once a year and travel anywhere in the world that has captured my interest. This year Rome was where I chose for my annual trip. I was in Rome over 30 years ago and I wanted to see how much one of the World’s oldest cities could change, so my best friend and I jumped on a plane from Birmingham, England to Rome.
Location, Location, Location
As we’ve done many times before, we rented a flat through Airbnb. I noticed when I made the reservations that Airbnb have updated their security and I had to give personal details to confirm who I was. I had no problem with the additional security because I also found out that the property owners also had added extra security. The measures were put into place so that both parties knew each other and knew that payment would not be an issue. Also it protects the renter from potential fraud, by letting you know that the property is real and the renter has permission to rent it out.
Instead of getting a hotel room a little off the beaten path, I was able to secure a flat right down the street from the Colosseum. I can’t even put into words how amazing it was to walk out of the front door of the flat and turn my head and see the historic Rome Colosseum. Not only was the Colosseum a few hundred feet away, it was just one of the attractions and historic buildings that we could see as we walked down the picturesque streets. Living and walking the cobbled, uneven streets among the native Romans is an experience that you cannot compare to anything else.
Food, Food and Yes, More Food
As we all know Italy is the place for food, and oh my God we were not disappointed with eating in Rome. Since the flat had a small kitchenette, we found the closest “market” and grabbed some of our favorites; cold meats, fresh bread, cheese, cheese oh yeah and more cheese. Now if you’ve never been to an international City “market” it is much different than what you would find in the States. They are very compact buildings, with small locally owned stores, but they are full of the freshest meat, vegetables, fruit and breads. So expect the largest counters to include fresh meat, fish, cheeses, vegetables and fruits. Not just any produce either, this is the freshest and sweetest produce you have ever tasted. You have not had a cherry tomato until you have eaten one in Rome. Nothing here is prepared in a can or frozen, not even close. In fact, native Romans rarely use anything other than fresh produce to cook with and YOU CAN TASTE THE DIFFERENCE. There are, however, a few really HUGE key points to make note of when eating out in Rome and here you will find the biggest ones below.
Restaurants are a little different than what you find in the States. In a large city with thousands of tourists expect to see restaurants everywhere and people on streets practically dragging you into their restaurant. Do NOT Go! These individuals get paid a fee for every person they bring into the establishment and most of the time there is nothing fresh on the menus, everything is prepared Frozen and then reheated in a microwave. They are not true Romans and they do not serve true and authentic local cuisine. Their main focus is to get as many tourists through the door as possible and charge them as much as possible knowing they will not know the difference or complain as they are on vacation. These places know you are not coming back and they don’t care. They are higher priced than what you can find in smaller local restaurants, so go a little bit further down the side streets and look in the windows. See if it’s full of Italians, listen for the language being spoken and that’s where you want to eat
Here’s some other key items when choosing a restaurant in Rome:
- Make sure the menu is in Italian and English only (restaurants in more than these languages are for tourists and not locals).
- Make sure there are prices listed next to each of the descriptions of the food. (don’t be stung by the “they can give you a bill for any amount since you never saw the prices”).
- Stay away from menus that only have photos of the food (locals know what a dish they have been eating for years looks like) the chefs in the kitchens of these types of restaurants historically have little to no cooking experience besides heating up frozen meals.
- Italians truly have 5 courses, you will see them separated on any menu (so please don’t ask for spaghetti and meatballs as they are from different groups on the menu. Well that and a Roman would never eat spaghetti with a meatball on the same plate). Remember, as you order dishes from different sections of the menu, If you truly do want your meatballs and pasta together, ask your waiter to bring both courses together or you will see that you only will be served one dish at a time.
- Expect some type of “service charge” this is like a table rental fee in Italy. Italians believe every meal is an experience and a dinner can take two to three hours as they enjoy each others company and each of the courses. Don’t feel like you need to be rushed away as you can sometimes feel in a busy restaurant. You are paying for the seat at the table; eat and enjoy. Oh and have another glass of wine or two, trust me the Italians will love that too.
- Just like in the States, if you get a great service from the wait staff leave a tip, but unlike the USA, if you pay on the credit card the restaurant owner will not share that tip with his staff. There is no standard tip amount like you will find in the States, that is left to your discretion on how well you felt the service was. Money talks in Italy, so remember to tip good service and not bad.
- In a rush and want to get back out sightseeing again? Make sure you ask for the check when you order dessert or coffee (depending on what you order last) and make sure you ask for them to be brought together. Italian waitstaff are not quick at bringing the check at the end of a meal, they are busy serving other patrons and not in a rush to get you out of the door.
- If you don’t have the pleasure of knowing any locals in the area use apps like Yelp to find restaurants around where you are. Use other Traveler’s recommendations to help guide you to a restaurant off the beaten path and do trust going off the beaten path, you will not regret it.
Coming Next: Part 2 of my blog trip to Rome where I shed some light on how not to spend 2 hours in line and other time saving tips.
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