Hello everyone! I’m finally getting around to adding travel pieces. I’ve been getting emails with travel questions for a while but I only like to give the best information and that usually comes from people who are living in that particular place for a long time. Locals always have the best places to go and the best things to do and see. So, in my travel series I’ll be getting some locals to fill you in on the best way to see their city, luxury travel as well as traveling Italy for cheap. (If you’ve lived somewhere in Italy for a few years and you want to contribute, send me an email).
Name: Rick Zullo
How long have you been in Italy? Four years
Where do you currently live? Rome, but travel often to Sicily.
What is your favorite thing about your city? Rome is constantly stimulating—usually in a good way. You only need to walk out of your front door and turn down a street that you’ve never been down before to discover something amazing from 100 years ago—or 2,000 years ago. You never know what you’ll encounter in this endlessly diverse ancient city. It still surprises me every day.
What bothers you the most? Sometimes it can be overstimulating with the traffic, the tourist crowds, the inefficient public services that cause you to waste days and days in a bureaucratic vortex.
Have you attended school in your city? How would you rate your school and experience? N/A
What job do you do? What are some of the jobs you’ve had in the past? Any job advice you’d give to future expats? I’ve taught English, which seems to be the default option for many expats. I like it because it gets you out into the city and mixing with the Roman people, as opposed to computer/web based jobs which keep you inside your apartment all day (which is what I do now, unfortunately). Getting a TEFL certification is easy, and in Rome, finding a job is easier still. However, finding a contract job is nearly impossible, so you’ll likely be working as an “independent consultant” or whatever you want to call it, hired on a month-to-month basis. The money is decent, just enough to live on if you work 25-30 hours a week and share an apartment with someone else.
What are the top five MUST SEE things in your city? It doesn’t have to be typical tourist destinations. It can be anything that you find awesome or generally badass. A first time visitor will probably want to run down the usual checklist, such as the Coliseum, Vatican, etc., which is understandable. And many of those sites are justifiably included on the “must-see” lists. For example, St. Peter’s and The Pantheon deserve every bit of praise, and then some. But don’t miss some of the “second-tier” jewels like San Clemente, The Crypt of the Cappuccini, and Castel Sant’Angelo. Also, too many tourists never make it across the river to Trastevere. That’s where many locals go for dinner and nightlife.
What tourist attractions do you think are underrated or over-rated? Over-rated: Campo dei Fiori, Spanish Steps, Giolitti Gelato, Tazzo D’Oro Caffe. Underrated, the ones that I mentioned above, plus a few from the list that I’ve included on my Rome Recommendations page.
Favorite caffe? I don’t really have a favorite place for coffee in Rome. I usually just go to the bar next door to my apartment. I feel that the “famous” coffee places are all overrated. The coffee in Rome is great most everywhere, so it’s really hard to go wrong.
What are your favorite restaurants or places to eat? Most of my favorite places are outside of the city center. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few great spots, even in the very heart of the tourist district. In fact, I offer a free restaurant guide on my site so that a visitor doesn’t have to take any chances.
What is your favorite supermarket, farmer’s market, butcher or bakery? Candlestick maker? The weekend farmer’s market at Circo Massimo is a good one. Then most neighborhoods have their own daily markets, which is where we do most of our shopping. The one near our house is on Via Orvieto, and that’s where we find our butcher, baker, vino sfuso, and futtivendolo. No candlestick makers, however.
Favorite Aperitivo place? This one is my own “secret” and I hesitate to give it away…BUT, if you promise not to spread the word, here it is: Il Catanese. It’s a Sicilian place near Piazza Cavour. Not a ton of atmosphere, but the best food at an incredible price. Via Lucrezio Caro, 14. You can thank me later.
Favorite thing to do at night? Depends on the season. In the summer, I like to go down to the riverside where there is a line of seasonal bars, restaurants, and shops that hug the Tevere for about a kilometer. It’s so festive, and the air is just a little bit cooler right next to the water.
Best nightclub in your city or place to drink and dance? I’ve never been a nightclub guy, and I’ve always preferred a cozy pub to a discotheque. My favorite pubs in Rome are Scholar’s Lounge, Abbey Theater, and Trinity College.
Places to avoid? I guess avoid any of the big tourist areas (Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Trevi’s Fountain, etc.) in the middle of the day during tourist season. In fact, I’d suggest visiting Trevi’s Fountain either late at night or very early in the morning. Not only less crowded, but prettier. And obviously, avoid any restaurants that have pictures of the food outside and menus written in six or seven languages.
Favorite place to buy clothes/shoes? There are several “shopping streets” in Rome. Certainly Via Condotti is known for its fancy stores like Gucci, Prada, etc. Then there are the “normal” shopping streets like Via Cola di Rienzo, Via Appia, and of course Via del Corso, the main passeggiata street in Rome. For bargains, go to Porta Portese, which is an outdoor bazaar full of all kinds of clothes, shoes, household items…anything you could want.
What are the best ways to meet interesting people in your city? For a foreigner/expat, a good starting point is some of the expat groups in the city. There are several, but I’ve always been partial to Expats Living in Rome, who meets up every Tuesday for aperitivo, and once or twice a month for a weekend disco/dancing party. If you don’t speak fluent Italian, this is the best way to ease into the shallow end before drowning in the chaos of Rome.
A great place to find a date? Same as above. The crowd tends to be about 50-50, foreigners to Italians, and almost everybody speaks at least a little English.
Advice for dating in your city? Any wisdom you can share? Like anyplace, it’s best to always be yourself, BUT it pays to at least be aware of dating protocols and social standards. Manners and formalities are not only important in Italy, but they are slightly different than in the U.S. I wrote a popular post on customs and etiquette in Italy, which you can read here.
What’s your favorite day trip destination? If I had to pick one, I’d say Villa D’Este in Tivoli. Orvieto would be a close second choice, followed by Ostia Antica. All of these places can be reached in an hour or less by train.
Favorite local food or products that everyone should try out? For example, oil, wine, or a specific dish? For typical Roman food, I’d advise a newcomer to stick to the “primi piatti,” the pasta dishes, unless you’re a very adventurous eater. Famous pasta dishes include Carbonara, Amatriciana, and Cacio e Pepe. On the other hand, the “secondi piatti” tend to come from the “quinto quarto,” the so-called fifth quarter of the animal, meaning the nasty bits that in the U.S. we usually throw away. For example, the trippa alla romana is cow stomach cooked in a heavy sauce. Tasty, but not for everyone’s palate.
What advice would you give to students, new expats, or vacationers in your city? Don’t be shy or you’ll get stepped on! Get out there, meet people, try to learn some Italian. Sign up for language lessons. Take a cooking class. And yes, be a “tourist” in this crazy city…it’s a good way to learn about the history and culture while enjoying some of the best sites on the entire planet. And I’ll suggest one “don’t.” DON’T drive! Not a car, not a scooter, not even a bike, in my opinion. Walk and take public transportation. It’s easier, safer, and cheaper.
What are your top five favorite sources for information on Italy or your city in general? Favorite blogs, newspapers, or events lists? For general information on Italian culture and vacationing in Italy, it’s hard to beat Italy Magazine. For news, politics, and economics (in English), I enjoy the no-fear approach of Italy Chronicles. As far as events and such within Rome, there are a few good ones: Wanted in Rome, Romeing, and Buzz in Rome.
Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome – an American expat living in Rome. Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, he came to the Caput Mundi in 2010 and forgot to go back. When he’s not exploring his adoptive hometown or writing for his blog, he spends his time teaching the world English, one Roman at a time. Rick is also the author of the silly little eBook, “Live Like an Italian,” available on Amazon.