Roma è sempre Roma, as the Italians say. Rome is always Rome. Or is it not? How has Italy’s capital changed from the day of the first lockdown to today? Is it still the same, the well-known favourite “eternal city”? And finally, how open is it to tourists? With these thoughts in mind, I returned to one of the European capitals that I love and know well, having visited it more than ten times in the last five years.
Italy, like Greece in the midst of a pandemic, is divided into red, orange and yellow zones according to the number of cases. When I finally travelled to Rome last March, the Lazio district was yellow, which meant that I could normally walk outside until 10pm at night, when curfew began. The pleasant surprise was that restaurants and bars were open until 6.00pm: I could sit at the outside tables and order my food, drink and coffee without restrictions.
At the airport
Arriving at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport – Rome airport, there are very few tourists around, many of whom are at the airport as transit passengers before returning to countries outside Europe where they probably live or work. Several shops remain closed and it is very easy to find a seat in the waiting areas without having to wander for hours to find an empty seat.
The situation is not as numb as I found it a few months ago, but the airport has lost some of its old glamour, its colourful and multicultural “bustle”. Checks at the entry gates, ID and a negative Covid-19 test in hand, announcements over the loudspeakers about mandatory mask wearing in all areas of the airport, stickers to keep your distance, seats closed off with special tape so you don’t sit too close to the person next to you. The same logic applies to trains going into the city centre.
In the city
At the hotel check-in is done online in advance and contacting the reception is just to get the key. In some cases, in fact, a code is enough so you don’t need a card or key. As for breakfast, it is now strictly served in the room, as buffet access has been banned. Rome remains beautiful, but with few visitors. You walk around and all you hear is Italian. Of course, people are out and about, the city is not deserted as it was a year ago, and the lack of tourism has one good thing: it allows you to enjoy the sights almost privately at any time of day.
The sightseeing can be enjoyed at almost any time of the day.
The famous Fontana di Trevi, where you once had to crowd with countless people around you and try to push your way to the lowest point to toss your coin, was now there just for me. The days are sunny and a stroll and a little stroll around the Scalinata in Piazza di Spagna makes me realize how lucky I am to be enjoying it almost empty. The only people walking around are locals who seem to enjoy this special condition, a Rome exclusively for its inhabitants, as much as I do.
My footsteps lead me to the Colosseum. Although access to the attraction is open, the crowds are few and far between. No endless waiting lines, no crowds. Similarly, the museums are also open to the public, but for obvious reasons the visitors are few and far between, which means you are lucky enough to see great works of art up close without being disturbed. These unique images of Rome with its empty museums and nearly empty sights are stunning.
It is well known how much Italians love food. As long as the restaurant industry remained open, they had found a way, in addition to coffee, to enjoy in bars and restaurants both at dinner time and the 5pm drink, the famous aperitivo. So they came up with … apericena, that is, both a drink and dinner. Every afternoon, until 6:00 pm, you could drink your aperol, accompanied by a variety of cheeses, croquettes, pizzas, which, instead of the traditional buffet, you enjoyed at your table. Even if only for a little while, the joy of sitting at a table again and ordering your food and cocktail without having to take it away with you seemed unprecedented with all the tables outside bustling with life.
The bars were closing down at 18:00, but the fun continued on the street, with takeaway drinks, a stroll along the Tiber and appointments in the squares of the Trastevere neighbourhood, in piazza Santa Maria and in piazza Trilussa, opposite Ponte Sisto.
Some small bars had taken care to operate in the form of takeaways, and so small open-air parties were set up in the squares, with live music from street vendors and Romans enjoying their drink and their city even in this way. Of course, at the corresponding times some restaurants, mainly pizzerias, were also open for takeaway, where you could take your food home or on the road.
The 10pm curfew is a prime opportunity for a night out on the town. Wear comfortable shoes and explore Rome at night, walking past its illuminated sights – St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Altare della Patria in piazza Venezia. You see a different view of the city, quieter, brighter, perhaps a little melancholy but so magical.
Should I book tickets?
But does it make sense to visit Rome right now? And can you book tickets and accommodation for a weekend? And yes, and no. Because it’s worth it to see this different view of the capital of Italy without many tourists and without crowds. To admire the sights at any time of the day without the endless queues, to get to know the locals and their habits. The services offered are clearly better and more attentive, and most of the time, as the Romans have not been in touch with mass tourism for a long time now, they will be very happy to serve and strike up a conversation with the visitor.
On the other hand, there is still a certain amount of hassle in terms of the procedures of molecular or antigen tests, the extra documents that have to be filled in before each flight and of course the slight anxiety of the fact that there is always a chance that Lazio will change colour again during this time and that restrictions will start while you are in Rome or before your trip… Everything moves at different speeds, many tourist attractions are closed, while public transport timetables have been reduced quite a bit, especially since and before
Nevertheless, “Rome is always Rome” and, despite the lockdown and the pandemic, it has not lost its charm. With its romantic sunsets, the smell of fresh coffee and croissants with crema pasticcera, its impressive squares, its beautiful narrow streets and the gurgling waters of its fountains.
8 + 1 Places
1 La Boccaccia, Via Leonina 73, 00184
If there’s one place that packs the most delicious takeaway pizza, it’s in the Rione Monti area. The secret of this tiny pizzeria is the constant production of new flavours and always fresh and delicious ingredients. You will go and you will go again.
Roma RM, Italy
2 Pastificio Guerra, Via della Croce 8, 00187
Just 2 minutes from Piazza di Spagna, and next to one of the most expensive streets in the city, this little shop makes fresh pasta of two kinds of its own production every day for just 4.5 euros. Make sure you get there before 13.00 to have time to get your food and enjoy it on a terrace, as local workers queue up to order when they take a lunch break.
3. Tiramisu Pompi, Via della Croce 82, 00187
The best tiramisu in Rome will without a doubt be tasted at Pompi, almost opposite Pastificio. Although the variety of its desserts has now increased and there are many choices, the classic tiramisu recipe remains the most delicious in the city.
4. Gelateria del Teatro, Via dei Coronari 65/66, 00186
To put it mildly, Rome has plenty of options for gelato artigianale. But if you want to try special flavours, and seasonal ones at that, that you won’t find any other time of the year, then put this gelateria on your itinerary. The location is perfect for sitting on the steps to the right of the entrance of the shop and enjoying it.
5 Bar del Fico, Piazza del Fico 26, 00186
No matter how many years have passed, no matter how many new bars and cafés have opened, I always return for my coffee at Bar del Fico, near Piazza Navona. Under the shade of the huge fig tree, elderly neighbours in the area play chess while sipping their coffee. A perfect setting for a hazi.
Roma RM, Italy
6. bar del cinque, Vicolo del Cinque 5, 00153
One of the oldest bars in the Trastevere area, the bar at number 5 on Via Cinque. It may not be bringing out its few tables these days, but there are always people standing up and having a drink, chatting and laughing until the glass is empty and it’s time for the “second round”.
7. L’emporio alla pace, Via della Pace 28, 00186
Two steps from Piazza Navona, this bar-café is the ideal meeting point to meet interesting people and have a coffee in hand in the morning or a drink in the evening. Although very close to a tourist spot, it attracts quite a few locals in the afternoons, a sign that it’s definitely worth a visit.
8. Giuncart, Via del Pellegrino 93, 00186
Very close to Campo de’ Fiori, this small family-run business has been making everything from straw since 1960. Whether you want the family dad Umberto to knit you a basket, or have a custom-made wicker bag made for you, this so small but lovely little shop is worth a stop on your walk.
The source of the handmade hat is located just opposite the French Embassy, very close to ponte Sant’Angelo. Everything you will find in this small shop is handmade by Piera and Anna, who emphasize from the very first moment that all products are made in Italy.