Rome is a beautiful and historic city with countless hours – even years – of things to do. It’s simply impossible to fully grasp the enormity and complexity of the “eternal city”. The city presents the fantastic rewards to those who seek them out, yet offers interesting challenges which many Americans find unique.
1. The Coffee:
The coffee in Rome, and Italy, is very different than what we are used to in the United States. Everything is espresso-based. If you order a coffee, or caffè in Italian, you will receive a small cup with a shot of espresso. It’s strong, yet sweet. There are many options for your caffè: cappuccino, doppio (double shot), lungo (more water), caffè latte, among dozens more. Try experimenting with the different coffees and try out a traditional Italian breakfast, which consists of a cappuccino and a buttery cornetto (croissant), sometimes filled with Nutella, cream, or a jam-type substance.
2. Live centrally!
Rome is a large city and it can be difficult to navigate at times because the attractions, sights, venues, etc. can be spread out in the different neighbourhoods. This difficulty is compounded by reliability with public transport, frequent strikes, and traffic. Not only that, but Rome is a lovely city to walk in. It’s safe and you can come across many cultural treasures during your walks around the city.
3. Hope you like pasta and pizza!
Yes, it’s true: many Italians choose to eat pasta very frequently! In fact, at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations based in Rome, Italy, the cafeteria offers several varieties of pasta every day. Your typical Italian mean includes an antipasto, primo, and secondo. Yes, that’s three courses – not including the dessert! Don’t worry, you can opt for only a primo or only a secondo.
Pizza is very common here and quite different than what we are used to in the United States. You will find many options and styles of pizza. The pizza here, especially in Rome, is very thin and crunchy. Toppings can include zucchini flowers, prosciutto, mushrooms, and potatoes. Pizza is typically considered a dinner item, but you can easily find quick grab-and-go pizza places open for lunch. I’ve never had a bad pizza in Rome! You simply cannot beat the food in Italy.
4. Yes, it’s busy with tourists, but you can avoid typical tourist traps:
Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s no surprise that during peak tourist season from April to October, it can be packed with tourists and tourist traps can pop up. It’s recommended to avoid restaurants which try to coax you inside with greeters on the sidewalk, and especially restaurants boasting large pictures of food items in English on the outside. At these types of places, the prices are expensive and the food is usually of subpar quality. Use TripAdvisor (more popular in Rome) and Yelp to find restaurants you might not otherwise notice.
As far as sightseeing goes during peak tourist season, ALWAYS book tickets in advance on-line or in-person! Many people spend hours of their vacation standing in line to buy tickets. This is especially true for the Colosseum and Vatican Museums. Have you seen the lines that wrap around the Vatican for nearly a kilometer? You can skip that by buying a ticket online!
Remember: play tourist! You may be here studying or working, but take the chance to still be a tourist, also.
5. Be careful crossing the street!
For your first few weeks in Rome, you will find that it’s incredibly difficult crossing the street. Try shadowing locals whenever they cross the street until you can get a feel for the technique. Cars will – usually – stop, but you cannot always rely on that. Don’t go if you have any doubt that the driver isn’t paying intention or has zero intention of stopping. Many cars will continue driving and will not brake until they are a few feet from the crosswalk – that’s always fun. Running stop signs and street lights is relatively commonplace, which poses hazards for pedestrians. Best advice is to remain vigilant and don’t take risks.
6. Research what Rome has to offer and what you are seeing.
We all know about the history and the wonders of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and St. Peters Basilica, but Rome offers many hidden treasures. For example, near the Colosseum there is a church called “San Pietro in Vincoli” which features Michangelo’s grand statue “Moses”. It’s an incredible experience as there are usually very few people people there, which offers the opportunity to take the time and appreciate it. San Giovanni, a Papal Basilica, features the original ancient doors from the Roman senate house. These are just a few examples of the hidden, little-known treasures Rome offers.
7. Be prepared for the infamous bureaucracy
The Italian bureaucracy is quite infamous and frequently discussed. My experience with the Italian bureaucracy was relatively smooth and painless, but for many it is not. Yes, if you stay over 90 days you will need to get a visa and then a Permesso di Soggiorno. The cost, when adding up all the fees and taxes, came out to nearly €200 for a temporary residence permit. It took multiple trips to government offices, but when it was all said and done, it was no different than getting a driver’s license in the United States. Remember: you’re no the first person to go through this process! Ask friends, ask colleagues, and scour the internet for information on how to fill out your forms.
8. Learn some Italian:
I came here with not-so-great Italian language skills, and I do regret not putting the time into learning the language better. Although in touristy and business areas some Italians will speak English, many will not speak English. This is completely understandable as it shouldn’t be expected for nationals to speak a foreign language in their own country. In my opinion, knowing Italian greatly enriches your experience as Italians are very expressive, friendly, and very people-oriented. For practicality purposes, it eases the transition and makes daily tasks such as eating at restaurants, getting groceries, etc. much easier. No one expects you to be fluent, but a little bit goes a long way for many locals.
9. Try the “acqua frizzante“
You may notice that many Italians and Europeans opt to drink fizzy water instead of normal, still water. If you read up on why this is, it’s a very interesting history lesson. The trend dates back to when naturally effervescent water from mineral springs was the optimal drinking water because it was safe and thought to offer medical benefits. Drinking fizzy water, or acqua frizzante in Italian, is a different taste than normal water. At first, I didn’t enjoy it. However, I eventually came to appreciate the taste and favour it over normal water. Give it a shot – maybe a few – and you might come to really appreciate it.
10. Bring an umbrella and rain coat!
When it rains in Rome, it pours. There have been many days where I walked outside into a pleasant, blue sky and come back from lunch soaking wet from the rain. It’s quite the experience. The metro tends to flood, the streets sometimes flood, and the whole city seems to come to a screeching halt. Be prepared!
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, Italy – Fall 2015