1. The antiquities. Steinbeck said that many who can not speak write with fullness. I hope I am one of them because when I walked up to the Pantheon, all I could manage was a string of excited profanity. I managed only slightly better with the Forum, the Senate building and the Coliseum. I come from Washington, D.C. and something that dates to the 1800s is very old. In Rome, pillars from 500 AD are hardly noticed.
2. Pastry. I now live in the Bay Area. Food nerds are all of a flutter about everything from Bakesale Betty’s to the French Laundry around here. I’ve never eaten at the Laundry but I tell you now that any given corner bakery in Rome could change your life forever. That good.
3. The Trastevere neighborhood. I’ve never seen anything like it in the U.S., Amsterdam, Paris or Cape Town. The Trastevere is a maze of winding, narrow streets lined with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. The English language book store is particularly nice when you miss your native tongue. Every bend in the road is another photo opportunity in the Trastevere, and every door you pass another chance at the perfect latte. The night life here is fantastic — a 20-30 something crowd every night of the week at the Baccanale.
4. The coffee. I’m a coffee connoisseur. Junkie might be a better word, actually. After 10,000 failed efforts, I found the perfect latte in Rome – at a nothing-special cafe. The perfect balance of espresso and milk, the most exquisitely pulled shot yet drawn by steam and the human love of coffee… I should generalize this to “the food”, which is uniformly delicious no matter where you sit down to eat, but for me it is all about the coffee. Worth 20+ hours of travel time? You bet.
5. It’s casual. Paris felt uptight by comparison. Walking in to a restaurant in Rome, even a nice one, feels as much like dinner with your family as it does like dining out. Waiters are friendly, helpful and familiar. In Paris dining out feels like graduate study, in Rome it is drinks with the professor. How else to say it? Despite the wealth of Rome’s culture and cuisine, it feels relaxed. Open. Fun. It is an easy place to be foreign.