Perhaps you have heard the phrase “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?” Credited as far back as 4th century AD (and also made popular in the sixties song by Barbra Streisand “When in Rome I Do as the Romans Do”), the expression simply means live as the Romans do, giving you free rein to indulge in all things la dolce vita.
When traveling, it’s always best to experience a country as the locals and Italy is the perfect place to do so. Between the culture, the climate, the food and wine not to mention the history, landscape, art, architecture and shopping, Italy is sheer heaven. Between the scenic coastal towns, historic cities and the greatest art collections in the world, what is not to like?
Here are a few tips on how to experience la dolce vita a.k.a. “the sweet life” on your next Italian adventure.
First, the food. Italians are the consummate purveyors of taste and extremely proud of their culinary heritage. Nothing is more important than the meal (one that is to be enjoyed and not consumed in an hour), the pairing of wine and a series of courses beginning with an antipasto starter, primo (often a home-made pasta with a simple sauce or minestrone) followed by secondo (meat or fish dish). Next comes cheese followed by dolce (dessert) and a limoncello or espresso. (No early bird diners here as dinner starts well after 7 p.m.) Forgo butter and request oil and vinegar with your bread that is a must with your pasta. Breakfast is often a sweet pastry and cappuccino or café latte (do not order the latter past ten a.m.!) And since pizza originated in Italy (Naples in 1889 to be exact) and a favorite national dish, note that it is a common practice to use your knife and fork. Stop and sample a pistachio gelato at a gelateria and you may never eat ice cream again. Order water or wine with every meal instead of a soft drink (which often costs the same as wine) or you will tip your hand as a non-local. And above all, savor the meal experience.
There is a reason the best couture comes from Italy (think Gucci, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and Giorgio Armani who give new meaning to the term “made-in-Italy”) as the country and its well-dressed residents exude style. If you want to blend in, don a pair of fashionable oversize sunglasses and a colorful scarf along with a good leather bag and remember that stylish comfort is the order of the day.
Not for the faint of heart, you can channel your inner Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck (as seen in the 1953 film Roman Holiday) and tour the city on the back of a Vespa. All you need is a valid driver’s license, a steel set of nerves (it can be a free-for-all and there are no posted speed limits!) or do as the well-heeled locals do and drive a classic Italian sports car for the day (a vintage Giuletta Spider is uber-stylish).
If you have already seen the Vatican, Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain in Rome, spend an afternoon at the ultra-trendy San Lorenzo neighborhood. Truly a hidden gem, the area is located near the city’s largest university La Sapienza and filled with bars, restaurants and graffiti and street art just waiting for an Instagram post. Check out the San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura (one of Rome’s most important churches) and the nearby statue and luminary-filled cemetery Campo Verano. Speaking of neighborhoods, the Quartiere Coppedè at the corner of Via Dora and Via Tagliamento is often compared to a fairy-tale with its charming setting For breathtaking views of the city not covered in most travel guides, hike or bike up Janiculum Hill (also known as Giancolo and coined the “8th Hill of Rome”).
One last tip, wander the city and talk with the locals. You don’t have to speak the language but a friendly come sta? (how are you?), buon giorno (good morning) and buona sera (good evening) comes in handy and remember, most Italians also speak English. And the Italians are friendly people so master the continental kiss-on-one-cheek greeting.
Buona Giornata! (Have a good day!).
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