You’re hot. You’re hot. You’re hot. That’s all you can think about. You lashed out at your travel partner somewhere between the last gelato and the line for the Colosseum. Those shoes you thought would be cute/suave/sooooo Italian are creating oh-my-gosh-I-can’t-go-on blisters that would cripple even a gladiator. You want to enjoy this magnificent city but your head is spinning with all the ‘piazzas’ and ‘Via this’ and ‘Vicolo that’. Everything seems so close on the map but you take one wrong turn at that ivy-covered palazzo and suddenly you’re crossing a bridge that isn’t even in the centro storico…
There, there. It’s okay. Dry your eyes. Fold up that city map and let me help you.
I remember my very first time to Rome I was with my parents and my sister in summer and at one point on the holiday literally ALL four of us went our separate ways after a melodramatic fight about where to eat for dinner. Of course, when the sun went down and the city cooled down, so too did our tempers and we reunited in our mutal awe of Rome’s beauty. In fact, I ended up coming back to live full-time, start this magazine and make two TV shows in which I gush unabashedly about this city… but that’s another story. I‘m here to give you some survival techniques for Rome in August.
Sleep is Not the Enemy
I see all these tourists getting up at the crack of dawn to start their attack on the city and cram in as much as possible. I also see the Italians sniggering at the ‘stranieri‘… (foreigners) eating dinner at 6 or 7pm. It’s a great idea to start your day early when the city is still waking up, the streets are cool and tranquil… BUT go home before or after lunch and have a siesta. It will feel like you’re wasting your precious holiday time in bed but it will save your holiday (and maybe your marriage). It’s craziness to be on foot in the city between the hours of 12.30 and 4.30pm. Take a long lunch somewhere, head back to your hotel for rest and a nap. While times have evolved and most Romans don’t take a siesta, they also think it illogical to stay in the city during this heat and all head for their favourite beach or island. So in this case, it’s not ‘do as the Romans do’ but ‘do as the Romans would do if they had to stay in the city’. Then reemerge into the evening around 9pm, showered, in something more civilized then your Birkenstocks and sweat-stained t-shirt, and dine among Romans as opposed to irritable Anglo-saxons. Rome is magical at night. I believe it’s actually a good idea to organize seeing some of the best sites like the Colosseum, Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain by night when they’re floodlit and filled with people licking post-dinner gelati and kissing as they stroll stress-free enjoying sultry temperatures as opposed to glaring heat.
The Humble Bicycle
I go everywhere on my bicicletta. It is THE ONLY WAY to get around in August. Buses will frustrate you unless you’re a seasoned local. The Metro doesn’t enter the historic centre so aside from the Spagna stop, you’ve got Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Navona and parts of Trastevere nowhere near a station. Driving a car or a Vespa in this city can be intimidating even for Italians who aren’t from Rome. Rent a bicycle and suddenly it doesn’t matter if you’re lost because ‘going back to that last piazza’ isn’t going to take you half an hour. You have the wind in your hair, no blistered feet, a basket to carry around water, that heavy guidebook you brought before you discovered our magazine was far superior, and your 5-kilo Nikon camera with that super expensive lens that was killing your shoulders in the backpack. It’s also a great way to get exercise so you can indulge in MORE EATING, which is always a good idea in Italy.
Ask and You Shall Receive
You think you know where you’re going. You’ve been to Rome before. It seems so clear on the map. Your concierge said “Ah, but it is so close to here – cinque minuti!”. You’re good with directions. ALL OF THIS IS IMMATERIAL. Getting lost in Rome happens to the best of us. When I first moved here I would step out of my casa all smug thinking I could meet someone in ‘that very well known square that is soooo close to my house’ only to find myself hot and bothered and walking around in a maze. Ask as often as possible to make sure you’re still on the right track because with the language barrier there can often be misunderstandings and everyone has a different route for weaving in and out of alleyways and piazzas so it’s best to get a second and a third opinion. Most Italians are incredibly friendly if you use this phrase:
“Scusi! Mi sono perso. Dov’e’….” (Excuse me! I’m lost! Where is…) MALE
“Scusi! Mi sono persa. Dov’e’…” (Excuse me! I’m lost! Where is…) FEMALE
“Scusi! Ci siamo persi. Dov’e’…” (Excuse me! We’re lost! Where is…) PLURAL
When in Doubt
Most of all, don’t deprive yourself of a coffee stop (try caffe’ shakerato which is sweet black coffee shaken over ice and served in a martini glass), a gelati stop and an aperitivo stop (Italian happy hour where one drink gets you a complimentary array of tapas). If one person in your travel party wants to try on countless pairs of shoes or wander leisurely through an art gallery that is not to the others’ taste then I would suggest that you leave the less-interested party to sit in a nearby cafe or gelateria so that they’re not waiting around and complaining. Rome has so many sites but I would say the best moments come from just sitting sipping a coffee or licking an ice cream and people watching.
I wish you a beautiful summer holiday.