Expat Survival Guide: Part 2

expat rome

I got in trouble for the last instalment. Close friends and family stopped talking to me after I gave away all our ‘special’ places. In protest I told them, “I guess I just genuinely want foreigners living here to live well and fall deeper in love with Rome.” I’m not characteristically that altruistic. I hate returning to a place I love that has suddenly made it into guidebooks and been ruined by the ‘wrong crowd’. And yet, I can’t help remembering how overwhelming Rome felt to me when I first moved here; how utterly lost I got every time I walked out my door. Everyone believes moving to Rome is so deliciously fanciful and that perhaps language is the only obstacle. You couldn’t be unhappy in Rome – impossibile – because you are living the dream, no? But any expat who has lived here even a month knows that you can live this city on two different levels – that which is patent and accessible, or that which takes years of aimless flaneuring to discover.

So here are some more of my favourites – don’t ruin them, please.

An Aladdin’s cave of homewares/basic furniture/kitchenware for cheap prices when you have no way of getting out to IKEA.

KMARTE STORE. (Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 51/52)

Kettles, cushions, kitchen utensils, candles, chests of drawers, clothes racks, gifts, bedside tables, mirrors, storage solutions, curtains… I stepped inside and had to refrain from squealing in domestic delight. Finding these things in Rome is not difficult, but at cheap prices and in centro is a whole other cosa. If you’re not familiar with the area, it’s basically between Corso Vittorio Emanuelle and Via Giulia. The team of young guys that work there are so helpful they even carried a two-metre wrought iron mirror home for me and drilled holes in my wall to hang it carefully so as not to ruin my 5th century historic palazzo and get evicted from my apartment. I challenge you to go there and emerge without at least one purchase that will make your casa a home.

A restaurant to take your parents when they visit you in Rome.

RISTORANTE MONSERRATO. (Via di Monserrato, 96)

I love how atmospheric and Italian this place is – even though it’s frequented by tourists as well as devoted locals. The wood panelling, the staff, the table of elegant suited gentlemen in the corner talking politics, drinking good wine and feasting on pesce spada. I’ve eaten here on romantic rainy nights in the cosy interior and on balmy summer evenings alfresco with the eccentric foot traffic providing unparalleled people-watching.

A sexy cafe to meet a friend when you have months to catch up on or you want some privacy to recount sordid details of latest lovers.

CHIOSTRO DEL BRAMANTE (Arco della Pace, 5)

Everybody knows Bar della Pace but just two paces away, hidden in the corner, is this gorgeous gallery/bookshop/cafe. You enter the courtyard, venture up two flights of stone stairs and find yourself in the most poetic setting – complete with frescoes, a glimpse of the big blue Roman sky and snug corners conducive for gossiping.

A boy you can trust to make your hair silky and fabulous circa Monica Vitti in Antonioni’s L’Eclisse.

I’ve become slightly obsessed with Tore, this dark curly-haired Sicilian boy who does a blow-dry like no other. He now works in a new salon near Campo dei Fiori, HAIR ART SOUND (Via dei Cappellari, 87) and he’s humble enough to listen to your cappelli fantasies but competent enough that you can sit back with foreign copies of Elle without looking up at the mirror once until he’s finished. There’s no need to work out how to say, “It’s not quite what I was after” in Italian with Tore. P.S. They have parties once in a week in the salon with a DJ and drinks and local artists of the area.

A place to have ‘dinner’ when you’re bloated, feeling body conscious, have overdosed on carbs for lunch, detoxing for your latest crush or simply craving something OTHER than pizza and pasta.

I’ve written about this fruit heaven before but it bears repeating. GINGER (Via Borgognona, 44) is white, chic and open until well after midnight, serving up gourmet fruit sharing platters, fruit/vegetable juices and exotic salads. There is nowhere else in Rome where you can sit down in a cool setting and dine on a ‘centrifuga’ and often after a heavy Italian lunch or an aspirational (read: depressing) flip through Vogue Italia, a light nutritious option is exactly what you and your pancia need.

A treasure trove of vintage furniture, trinkets, clothes, crockery, lamps when you’re dying to furnish your apartment in stile italiano.

MERCATINO USATO (www.mercatinousato.com).

They have various stores all over Rome and their stock turnover is incredible. It’s a wonderland if you have romantic vintage taste but you haven’t the budget to be buying velvet upholstered armchairs and antique lamps from expensive boutiques on Via Giulia. My favourite is in San Giovanni. They also home deliver if, like me, you happen to find a queen-size mattress, bed frame, antique dining table and 1920s hat stand that you can’t quite strap to your bici.

A cinema where you can watch films in their original language.

Italians will protest “Ah, ma no, our Italian actors who are doing the dubbing are the best in the world!!” Yes, that may be but… there’s something that doesn’t quick work for us stranieri when George Clooney’s on the big screen crying “Mamma mia!”. Get your accents real and raw at NUOVO OLIMPIA (Via in Lucina, 16), conveniently located just off Via del Corso.

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2 Comments

  • Having literally just moved to Rome from Paris (7 days ago) and having discovered your website this very morning, I wanted to write and thank you for all the information you are providing because I know it is going to prove invaluable (it already is)! So, once again, thank you!

    • So glad you’re finding it useful, Craig. Just because it’s a beautiful city and everyone wishes they were living here doesn’t mean that it’s easy to settle in so we try to share as many tips as possible. Welcome!

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