Four years in Rome: An anniversary ode to my favorite city in the whole world
I went to my 101st country last year. Iceland blew my mind and wallet with equal explosiveness. Laos, No. 100 on my list, was a paradise I never knew. But No. 1 in my world remains the country where I live. And its capital is still my favorite city.
Today marks my fourth anniversary of moving to Rome. Much has changed since I arrived with a duffel bag, two backpacks and a roller bag. I’ve met the woman I hope to spend my life with, my Italian has improved to where I naturally speak it before English and I’m bitching about Rome’s lousy public services.
But no, the honeymoon hasn’t worn off. I still wake up and take my cappuccino to my terrace and get weepy thinking how lucky I am to live in this paradise.
Then I see a dead carp on the bank of the Tiber and come back to reality.
I never want to fall into the trap of being a whiny expat. That’s why every Jan. 11, my anniversary, I jot down all the little things I love about living in Rome. Read them. Get inspired by them. Dream about them. Because the reality of living in Rome is better than the dream:
I love driving the narrow alleys of Centro Storico with the windows down and feeling the warm summer breeze then emerge in front of a 13th century church, all back lit like a monument.
I love the bite of the salami piccante pizza at Pizzeria Remo down the street and how the lusty fresh tomato sauce makes it one of the greatest food combos known to man.
I love how you can swap recipes with an Italian buddy and no one thinks it’s gay.
I love watching the old couples gossip in my Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice, even though I don’t know the old Romanesco dialect and have no clue what they’re saying.
I love having lived here four years and never having a bad bottle of wine.
I love knowing I could live here 1,000 years and never try all the wines in Italy.
I love how the fishmonger at my Mercato Testaccio sees me and automatically says with a knowing smile, “Tonno? Centottanta e quindici,” meaning “Tuna? 180 degrees and 15 minutes” which I always order and always double check how to bake.
I love that Radja Nainggolan, my favorite player on A.S. Roma, turned down more money to stay in the adopted city he loves like I do.
I love escaping a rainstorm in Piazza del Popolo’s Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo and seeing a Caravaggio masterpiece over my head, totally free as I dry off.
I love getting up early for a conchiglia, the triangle-shaped puffed pastry named for the seashell it looks like, when it’s warm and gooey at Caffe In on my piazza.
I love how the cash register at L’Oasi della Birra, my local beer bar and enoteca, is surrounded by designer Italian chocolates to tempt you as you leave with a healthy buzz.
I love how I can wear a designer suit to a casual aperitivo when the sun’s still out and I fit in just fine.
I love strolling through Piazza Navona just after dawn in winter, before the tourists pour in, when fog settles in just above Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.
I love how Marina, and all Italian women, think sexy high heels are casual wear, too.
I love how every wine region in Italy comes to Rome to push their product in one room during wine tasting events in tony hotels.
I love Rome-Palermo 56 euros round trip on Alitalia.
I love the grilled calamari at Amelindo in Fiumicino, the town known more for Rome’s airport than boasting the largest collection of affordable, fresh seafood restaurants in Italy.
I love the Blow Lounge.
I love reading books about Roman history in the summer with my terrace door open and Andrea Bocelli filling the air.
I love how grated parmesan cheese gives fresh pasta the cheesy flavor it has and then topped off with a pile of parmesan on top.
I love how no cafes in Rome offer coffee in paper cups.
I love how Marina never complains about my Italian but always encourages me to get better.
I love how no Italian woman wears Birkenstocks.
I love going through Campo de’ Fiori in the morning just in time to stop at Forno Campo de’ Fiori for its ungherese, a big fat toasted dough ring covered in white icing.
I love standing in the Olympic Stadium’s press tribune and hearing “Grazie Roma” right before AS Roma and its opponent marches onto the field.
I love that my Testaccio is one of the few neighborhoods in Rome that still honors pausa, the afternoon break when everything closes from 1-3:30 or 4 p.m.
I love how Italian leather shoes feel as comfortable on Day 1 as they do on Day 100.
I love SportWeek’s photos of Italy’s beautiful women athletes.
I love looking down at my courtyard from my fourth-floor kitchen window and seeing cats sunning themselves in the morning sun before it disappears behind the building.
I love the view of Centro Storico at sunset from the top of Terrazza Borromini while clinking wine glasses with total strangers in overstuffed couches.
I love Marina serving me espresso in bed with her cat, Coco, asleep near my feet.
I love a cold Italian craft beer at 8 percent alcohol outside on a hot summer day with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
I love Sicilian takeout.
I love talking to people from around the world on Tiburina Island as whitewater rushes by us during an Expats Living in Rome Meetup.
I love how Italian has no word for “hangover.”
I love the Roman dialect profanity “La mortaci tua!” meaning “Your family is dead!”
I love sitting upstairs in Abbey Theatre Irish Pub with our private room full of romanista dining on the best pub food outside London and watching AS Roma beat the mortal piss out of another opponent.
I love Marina’s father was a member of Italy’s Communist Party and loves Barack Obama.
I love that Italy’s Communist Party was pro labor and not pro Stalin.
I love eating my prized pasta amatriciana, covered in parmesan, on my terrace with cold clementines while looking out over the calm Tiber River on a warm spring day.
I love leisurely Sunday mornings outside at my Linari cafe, with my chocolate cornetto, cappuccino ben caldo (extra hot) and Corriere Dello Sport, and dig into Rome’s best pastry and 30 pages of soccer news.
I love AS Roma 2, Lazio 1, Nov. 18, 2017.
I love getting thirsty in summer then taking a draw from the ice-cold cisterns that have graced Rome for nearly 150 years.
I love how only one-third of all Italians are overweight compared to two-thirds in the U.S.
I love the romantic walk along Via dei Vascellari, the narrow cobblestone alley in Trastevere on my way to Trattoria Da Enzo, home of the best carbonara in the city that invented it.
I love how Federico my macellaio (butcher) wears a white fedora, not like the thousands of tourists who parade around idiotically with them but as an ode to macellai who wore them in the early 20th century.
I love how Marina’s fantastic pictures of us in Rome make me more grateful for living here than I did when I first arrived.
January 11, 2018 @ 5:36 am
Happy 4th anniversary in the eternal city!!
I am planning a 3rd short visit in Rome next month and your blog has been my number 1 guide, grazie mille!!
January 12, 2018 @ 5:43 am
Thanks, Anna. If you have any questions about Rome, feel free to write me.
January 24, 2018 @ 10:17 am
Thank you very much for your willingness to help with my thorough planning 🙂
I’d be very much obliged if you shared your local input regarding these two questions I have:
1) We are coming for two nights in Roma, next month, on a Tuesday and Wednesday.
Which areas, do you believe will be more vibrant at night? Preferably with more Italian speaking people around! We don;t mind dodgy looking areas.
2) Since Roma is so superbly lit at night and all monuments look sublime, can you think of any specific monument/historical building/bridge that looks remarkably better from sunset on wards than in daylight? Apologies for sounding too vague, e.g: The exterior of the Colosseum was far more appealing to us at night time, each to their own, I guess.
Thank you very much for you time and help!!
If you ever happen to visit the island of Crete in Greece or, even, Lisbon / Portugal, I would love to share my views on both places.
Wishing you the best 5th year in Roma!
January 11, 2018 @ 5:39 am
Hey John! I LOVE what you just wrote. I am feeling many of the same emotions as you and I have only lived in Roma for two months as of January 16! I renting temporarily in a tiny village of Gerano, but when I have taken my two overnight trips to Roma, my entire being shifted from complacent to PURE JOY, ANTICIPATION AND LOVE for the people locals on the street who are kind enough to give me directions, to the shopkeepers in the supermarkets who teach me how to weigh the fruit then print out the price ticket!!! Every cobble stone, every cloud, the banners announcing art exhibits such as Bernini and Picasso, coupled with the Vatican dome hovering over the city like a crown of Roman pride. I LOVE IT ALL AS WELL. And I want to thank you for your online advice during the year I made plans to move here. I am happy for you and Marina and once I get settled in, would love to swap stories and laugh!!! Virginia Mastroianni
January 12, 2018 @ 5:42 am
Thanks, Virginia. Moving to Rome is like having the greatest weekend with the most beautiful woman in the world, then you search the world before you find her again and settle down. The honeymoon hasn’t died and I hope it never will. Although I write that while sitting in a freezing goddamn apartment.
January 11, 2018 @ 10:42 am
This post brought butterflies to my stomach and a flutter in my heart! I am half italian and half brazilian living in the US, and it is literally a DREAM to imagine life in Rome. I have been there 3 times (loved it each and every visit) and will be coming again within a month with my 2 kids (it will be their first trip to Europe so it HAD to be Rome!!!!) I am more excited than I can say. I have read each and every word on your post and will take some good notes on some of your recommendations!!! I can only say that you a truly lucky and it is great to see how grateful you are for each and every little thing about living there. I was born and raised in Brazil with Italian grandparents so I have the “european culture” ingrained in me, so living in the US is not always easy – I feel like there is so much to be learned here in terms of ways of living and quality of life – and the Italians have gotten that down to an art!!! Anyway, grazie mille per il tuo post… sto veramente contenta dopo averlo letto! (I need to bruch up on my Italian as well! ahhaha)
January 12, 2018 @ 5:33 am
Thanks, Jordy, so much for the kind comments. I will never take my life in Rome for granted. All I have to do is read what’s going on in America and I go find a 3rd century statue to kiss. But you’re also lucky to have Brazilian roots. It’s one of my favorite countries, too. It’s a country with problems, but one of its problems isn’t the people. I love the Brazilians — except for the bus station boss in Porto Allegre who charged me 50 percent more for a trip to Punta del Este just because I had no other option — and their way of life. It’s much like in Rome. I tell Americans all the time: In America, you learn to work; in Rome you learn to live. By the way, I love your blog. That’s one of the prettiest blogs I’ve seen. I’m changing my blog’s face this month and you gave me some ideas. If you have any questions about Rome before you come, let me know.
January 13, 2018 @ 11:30 am
And I loved reading this post! Birkenstocks – bwahahaha. And I have to agree that the reality of living in Italy (since we’re in Lucca) is better than the dream. So much better.
January 14, 2018 @ 2:54 am
Thanks so much, jcamato. I love Rome but Lucca is on my wish list.
Un po' di pepe
January 13, 2018 @ 11:02 pm
Auguri per tuo ‘Romaversario’! I loved reading all of your comments. Many of them had me nodding my head in agreement. The Birkenstock comment made me laugh-yuk! I look forward to my yearly few days in Roma on my way to Puglia, but one of these days I want to spend a whole month just in Roma. Ciao, Cristina
January 14, 2018 @ 2:53 am
Grazie mille, Cristina. The problem is, you spend a month in Rome you’ll never leave. Ciao, Puglia!
April 5, 2018 @ 5:59 am
John, I love this post! As a child my family lived outside of Naples so Italy and since that time Italy has been a huge part of me! 15 years ago my husband and I honeymooned in Radda in Chianti and Ravello, since we weren’t rushing off every second of the day to see everything everyone from the locals to the concierge at our amazing hotels questioned whether we were actually Americans. We will finally return this August with our 3 boys, so yes we will be quite touristy this go ’round but have hopefully planned enough balance that the boys truly experience the Italian way of living. We will arrive in Rome for just 3 nights and after reading this post I am so excited! It is one area we didn’t visit often while we lived there and not at all on our honeymoon but my children have made their wish lists of sights and now I feel confident I can balance those three days as well. I keep reminding the whole crew that Italy is not a one time trip… this trip is just for the kids to get their first taste. Thank you so much for your fantastic website, it will become our bible come August (I know it’s the very worst time to travel to Italy but with our good ol’ American schedules that’s the only time we can manage). 4 nights in Furore, 5 nights in San Ansano, 2 nights in Venice and 3 nights in Rome. Our Italian is terrible (I am hoping my language from 40 years ago magically returns while we are all trying to learn), our timing is terrible but we cannot wait!
April 10, 2018 @ 12:12 am
Thanks for the great email, Alisa. Sono contento that my blog inspired you even more to visit Rome. It does infuriate you after a while. The No. 170 bus just decided not to show up yesterday morning and I stood in the pouring rain for 45 minutes before one finally appeared. But the honeymoon is still on. I’d be devastated if I had to move. In case you want more incentive, here’s the list of things I love about Rome from the year before: https://johnhendersontravel.com/2017/01/11/three-year-anniversary-produces-all-new-list-of-reasons-i-love-living-in-rome/