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What the Locals Do in Rome
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do." Undoubtedly, the catch phrase may sound a bit cliché, but locals themselves will even suggest this advice is not to be taken lightly. Romans certainly know how to live life to the fullest, indulging in the simplest pleasures and doing so with style. So put yourself in their shoes (Fendi preferably); try being Roman for a day and you'll learn how la vita è bella!
There's no other place to take in a slice of real Roman life than at your local mercato all'aperto—or open-air market. Vendors take center stage turning the sale of some of the freshest fruits and vegetables (often at half-price), into a theatrical performance. The best mercato is the Campo de' Fiori (Piazza Campo de' Fiori), Rome's oldest food market, situated just south of Rome's Renaissance/Baroque quarter and the Piazza Farnese. Too wide to be called picturesque, the market is nevertheless a favorite photo-op, due to the ombrelloni (canvas umbrella) food stands. You have to look hard to find the interesting regional foodstuffs, such as Colle Romani strawberries or chestnuts. Other top food markets are the recently renovated Mercato Trionfale (on Via Tunisi in Prati, north of the Vatican) and Nuovo Mercato Esquilino (on Via Filippo Turati), which is strongly influenced by the multi-culti makeup of the district. Open-air markets typically run Monday through Saturday from 7 am until 2 pm, with Saturday being the busiest shopping day.
For nonfoodies, there are plenty of other street markets scattered about Rome that specialize in clothing, fashion accessories, and every imaginable kind and variety of knickknack. The two largest are the one on Via Sannio in the San Giovanni district (Monday-Saturday), which deals mostly in new and used clothing and accessories, and the Porta Portese market in Trastevere (Sunday only), offering everything from antiques and bric-a-brac to clothing and souvenirs, including finds from your neighbor's trash or treasure. Make sure to ask for a piccolo sconto—a small discount.
For Italians young and old, la piazza serves as a punto d'incontro—a meeting place—for dinner plans, drinks, people-watching, catching up with friends, and, as Romans would say, exchanging due chiacchere (two words). Some of the most popular piazzas in Rome: Piazza di Spagna is not just a postcard-perfect moment for tourists, but is also a favored spot among adolescent Italian boys looking to meet American girls. By day, Piazza Campo de' Fiori is famous for its fresh food and flower market; by night, the piazza turns into a popular hangout for Romans and foreigners lured by its pubs, street caffè, and occasional street performers and magicians. Over the last few years, Campo de' Fiori has even been dubbed "the American college campus of Rome," as pubs in the area now cater to American students by advertising two-for-one drink specials and such. The main attractions of the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere are the grand bell tower and marvelous mosaics of its namesake church—a picture-perfect background for some pretty trattorias.
Romans can't claim the fame to starting l'aperitivo; we have i Milanesi to thank for that. But i Romani can surely boast about making aperitivo time molto moda in the Ancient City. Similar to the concept of happy hour sans the two-for-one drinks, l'aperitivo is a time to meet up with friends and colleagues after work or on weekends—definitely an event at which to see and be seen. Aperitivo hours are usually 7-9 pm, with Sunday being the most popular day. Depending on where you go, the price of a drink often includes an all-you-can-eat appetizer buffet of finger foods, sandwiches, and pasta salads. Some aperitivo hot spots on the trendissimo list are Crudo (Via degli Specchi); Societè Lutece (Piazza Monte Vecchio); Gusto (Piazza Augusto Imperatore), and Salotto 42 (Piazza di Pietra) in the centro storico; and Friends Cafè (Piazza Trilussa) and Freni and Frizioni (Via del Politeama) in the Trastevere area.
If there's something Romans certainly can't live without, it's their cup of Java. Caffeine, or il caffè (espresso), may be the most important part of their day, and there is no shortage of bars in the Eternal City to help satisfy that coffee craving. A breakfast caffè or cappuccino is typically enjoyed at the counter while debating last night's soccer game or some aspect of local politics. Another espresso or caffè macchiato (coffee with a dash of milk) is enjoyed after lunch, and again after dinner, especially when dining out. Thinking about ordering that cappuccino? Depends on what time it is. Italians consider it taboo to order one after 11 am. During the summer months, Romans drink a caffè shakerato (freshly made espresso shaken briskly with sugar and ice, to form a froth when poured) or a caffè freddo (iced espresso). Rome's best coffee? Some say the Tazza D'Oro (Via degli Orfani), not far from the Pantheon; others, Il Caffè Sant'Eustachio (Piazza di Sant'Eustachio). If you like a dollop of chic along with your caffeine, head to Bar della Pace (Via della Pace 3), set on one of the most fashionable piazzas in Rome (but don't forget that outdoor tables sometimes treble the price).
A national obsession, this Italian version of ice cream is tastier, less creamy, and traditionally made with only the freshest ingredients. Though many bars and stands purvey it, the best gelatos are found only at gelaterias. Small cones cost anywhere from EUR 1.20 to EUR 2.50. Most places allow you up to three flavors (even on a small cone) and portions are usually quite generous. Typical flavors are nocciola (hazelnut), pistachio, chocolate, and anything fruity. Or hunt down the latest and greatest flavors, such as the sweet-with-a-kick cioccolato con peperoncino (chocolate with hot pepper) at Millenium (Piazza Santa Maria delle Grazie 2/a, near the Vatican Museums). Quality varies: A good sign is a long line at the counter, and two of the longest are at Old Bridge (Via Bastioni di Michelangelo 5, near St. Peter's Square), and Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario 40, by the Pantheon).
A favorite Roman pastime is the passeggiata (literally, the promenade). In the late afternoon and early evening, especially on weekends, couples, families, and packs of teenagers stroll Rome's main streets and piazzas. It's a ritual of exchanged news and gossip, window-shopping, flirting, and gelato-eating that adds up to a uniquely Italian experience. You may feel more like an observer than a participant, until you realize that observing is what la passeggiata is all about. Rome's top promenade is up or down the Corso, with a finale in the Piazza di Spagna shopping district.
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