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Leave your old trusted Lonely Planet at home. We have teamed up with good friends and family and asked them to curate the insiders guide to a city or a place they know better than most. Time to visit parts unknown. This time around we turn to Kasper Steenbach, Editor-In-Chief at Dossier and author of an upcoming book about the rebuilding of the Danish national football team. Here is his insides on how to experience Rome as a roman.
I moved to Rome in 2006 to cover Italian football for Tipsbladet. The national team had just won the World Cup and the Calciopolo scandal that saw Juventus demoted to Serie B was in full effect. Naturally plenty to report home about. My girlfriend and I agreed to stay in Rome for one year only and we settled in to an apartment on Via Del Governo Vecchio, close to Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori.
The old saying goes; when in Rome, do as the romans. And they start the day off$ on the local cafe with a macchiato and a cornet, the Italian equivalent of a croissant. Breakfast is not considered as important in Rome and is often consumed on the go with the scooter helmet still on. On the other hand, the older Romans sit and spend hours reading the daily paper. If you want to have a glance in Corriere dello Sport you have to arrive early. My local spot was Enzo on our street, but these cafes tend to look alike across the city. A simple yet charming decor.
Given the opportunity, I recommend you rent a private apartment. Hotels in Rome are fairly expensive and although there are cheap, rundown hotels around the Termini, nothing beats waking up in a genuine Roman apartment followed by a morning coffee down on the corner.
If you want to see and experience Rome away from the sights, take a walk to Testaccio. An old, authentic working class neighborhood, where the regular romans live, and everything comes at a fraction of the prices in the city center. I occasionally went to low key unofficial AS Roma clubs in Testaccio where locals meet up and watch the local heroes play football.
Rome is truly picturesque and is best experienced on foot. Most places of interest are within walking distance and you are guaranteed to stumble upon hidden gems on your way. Stroll from Piazza Novana, through the Vatican City and up to Gianicola; a vantage point in the hills with a great view of the city. The Metro-system, on the other hand, is not very widespread, but works fine if you are going to the outskirts of Rome.
It feels like there is a good restaurant around every corner in Rome. One of my favourite spots is Da Lucia in Trastevere; a former working class neighborhood now well-discovered by the young an creative romans. Da Lucia is located in a alley off the main road. They do classic Italian cooking in a really unpretentious manner. Stop by around 2 pm. That’s when the sun hits the alley.
Another is Da Francesco on Piazza del Figo. A great place with a local feel and an affordable menu. They do great takes on classic pasta dishes such as Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara.
One of my good friends used to work at La Pergola, a 3-star Michelin restaurant and a monumental experience in fine dining. But you shouldn’t go to Rome for fine dining. There is simply to many great, authentic restaurants. Rule of thumb, though: If the menu is in five different languages, move on to the next place.
If you are craving great Italian pizza with the famous thin crust, go to Da Baffetto. Romans line up to get pizza here and there is no better seal of approval. It looks like any other pizzaria with its laminated menus and touristy decor, but the pizzas are outstanding. On the walls are pictures of Mr. Baffetto arm in arm with AS Roma legends such as Francesco Totti and Gabriel Batistuta.
Right behind Piazza Navona is a little bar called Caffe Della Pace. It’s located on a tiny square and fits the charming Italian bill with an ivy covered and chipped off facade. A perfect place to spend a few hours in the sun with a glass of something.
The popular sights in Rome are popular for a reason. Especially the St. Peter’s Basilica is worth a visit and truly overwhelming. Religious or not, the midnight service is a special thing and quite the experience.
There is not much urban renewal going on in Rome due to strict regulations. Outside the city center, close to Stadio Olimpico is MAXXI, is a museum for contemporary art. The building is designed by the great Zaha Hadid and is an impressive piece of moderne architecture.
Just like the rest of Southern Europe, Rome is insanely hot during summer. Fortunately, the distance to the Mediterranean Sea is short in the emergency of a heatwave. The best time to visit Rome is in the late summer or early autumn. Temperatures are more humane and there are fewer tourists. That being said, there are many tourists in Rome all year round.
If you travel to Rome, these two sentences will be useful:
‘Totti è meglio di Del Piero’ and ‘Vorrei una caffè marchiato e un cornetto’