Rome is the home of la dolce vita. Any visit here needs a hearty dose of ‘the sweet life’. But what is la dolce vita and how do you do it? Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered
The sweet life
What is la dolce vita? Well, it’s a Fellini movie (you get bonus points if you work any element of that film into conversation with a film major), but it’s also a lifestyle. The phrase is Italian for, literally, ‘the sweet life’. The meaning is pretty self-explanatory, and you already know that when you’re in Rome, you should do as the Romans do. But how do you live that authentic LDV while you’re in the Eternal City?
Here’s a few suggestions.
Breakfast of champions
On a sunny Rome morning (there’s hardly any other kind), walk into any bar in the city and order a “cappuccino e cornetto, per favore“.
You’ll be rewarded with a small but immaculately made frothy coffee and a delicious flaky pastry. That pastry looks a lot like a croissant, because that’s what it is. Don’t sit down. Instead, stand at the counter like a real Roman, and sip and munch your light breakfast. Italians don’t fill up on breakfast, because lunch and dinner can require superhuman feats of appetite. It’s best to pace yourself.
Aperitivo of champions
Find a good cafe or wine bar and ask if they do an aperitivo. If so, make sure to show up early evening (around 5 or 6pm). Like appetizer, aperitivo comes from the latin verb aperire, which means “to open” (as in “to open your appetite”).
And then get ready to ‘open your appetite’ with a finger-food feast of tiny pizzas, arrays of salads, prosciutto-wrapped melon, and other colorful edibles. All while enjoying a refreshing beverage. Most aperitivos include the buffet with the cost of your drink.
Ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner
For many of us, ice cream is an occasional summer indulgence. But as the saying goes, “when in Rome, eat ice cream as often as you can”. There are gelaterias all over this city, and their styles range from old-fashioned classic, with a range of 8 flavors or fewer, to Willy Wonka-esque promised lands of frozen treat delights as far as the eye can see. As a benchmark, try and have ice cream at least once a day.
When Romans greet friends (or even acquaintances), the protocol is a kiss on each cheek. Although it’s actually more of a cheek-to-cheek air kiss, rather than the kind of sloppy cheek kiss a great aunt might give you. But remember: this isn’t something you do to everyone (no cheek-kissing the bus driver or waiter!). But if you meet someone and they come in for the double-cheek kiss, it’s cause for celebration: you just made an Italian friend!
This is key to la dolce vita. After all that pasta, pizza, ice cream and aperivitos, you’re probably due for some calorie-shedding perambulation. In other parts of the world, we might throw on some sweatpants and a hoodie and go for a brisk stroll, but this is the Caput Mundi; think of the streets and squares like a catwalk and dress up before you go for a saunter. In Rome, your afternoon or evening stroll is also a chance to see and be seen.
There’s a stereotype that Italians are late all the time. Of course that’s not always the case, but generally: it’s true. Sure, a tendency to keep someone waiting may seem inconsiderate, but when you peel away the annoyance, you arrive at an admirable unwillingness to be beholden to the ticking clock. Besides, everyone knows everyone else is going to be late and acts accordingly. Treat all appointments as ‘generally-around-the-time-of-more-or-less’, and don’t run from appointment to appointment.
Rome offers some of the best people-watching in the world. You could pass almost a whole day sitting on the newly refurbished Spanish Steps and watching the comings and goings of tourists, locals, shop assistants, student groups, flower salesmen, and assorted stragglers. The whole city is a swirling melting pot of consumer leisure activity, and it’d be foolish not to make time to sit back and soak it all in. Bonus points if you have an ice cream while doing it.
Your dolce vita lifestyle will feel void of context if you don’t make time to soak up the ancient, Renaissance, and modern wonders of the city. From the Roman Forum to the Sistine Chapel, to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, there’s a hundreds-of-years-old marble marvel awaiting you around the corner. Just be forewarned, there’s more here than you could ever hope to see. So don’t even try, and balance out the museums and monuments with plenty of breaks.
Rome is literally the capital of indulgences. In the Middle Ages, the Pope used to sell ‘indulgences’ (a break on your sentence in purgatory); it was pretty big business for the church. It was also one of the things that led Martin Luther to start the Protestant movement.
Nowadays, an indulgence is just treating yourself right. But Rome is still the capital!
This city knows how to look good, eat well, and feel fabulous. So while you’re here, indulge yourself. That second bottle of Chianti? Order it! That rakishly dandy hat, silk cravat, or razzle-dazzle necklace you’re not sure you can quite pull off back home? Go for it! Tiramisu for dessert two nights in row? Obviously!
You know the saying: “when in Rome, make the most of it.”
The more gelato, the merrier! You’ll need a lot of it to power through the streets of Rome
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