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Helpful (maybe?) tips for a 1st time traveler to ROME

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(Hopefully) helpful words for the overwhelmed person planning their first trip to Rome:

When I started planning my first trip to Rome (back in June 2009) I was completely overwhelmed. I seriously almost threw in the towel and thought about going to Branson instead (OK ~ that was a bit of an exaggeration). I was using several guidebooks, recommendations from friends & family, and chowhound as my resources. As a first time traveler to a non-English speaking country, all the Italian words and cultural differences and, well, EVERYTHING was too much. About this time I read a travel blog (www.wired2theworld.com) that discussed the author’s March 2008 trip to Rome. After reading the blog, I could actual wrap my mind around the trip and I was off and running.

I am by no means a particularly savvy foodie. I like good food, abhor chains, try to support local farm to table efforts, but will be the first to admit I do not have a sophisticated palate. I was not searching for the Holy Grail of Momma’s Trattoria, but rather a nice, satisfying meal after a long day of exploring the Eternal City.

As my husband and I are returning in March 2013 (along with our two preteens ~ God help us!), I’ve started perusing the Italy Chowhound board. I’ve noticed a great deal of chatter about service and shoe wear. The following is by no means a commentary on any of those dialogues…just our experience.

We made reservations for about half of our meals over our 6 days in Rome. (We also spent 2 lovely days in Orveito) I made the reservations several weeks in advance, but I think we would have been fine waiting until a couple weeks before hand instead. For dinner, I wore either little casual black dresses with a wrap or black/khaki capris with a nice top. My husband wore dress slacks with a button down shirt. Sometimes we were the fanciest people there, sometimes the least fancy….but never did we feel out of place or judged (except for my husband at Al Ceppo which I will touch on in a bit).

We DID engage the server everywhere we went because that’s what we do at every restaurant we go to whether it be in the US, Mexico, or Ireland. We learned a few key Italian phrases and familiarized ourselves with seasonal foods. I always started out the conversation with lamenting how sorry I was that I missed artichoke and puntarelle season. I then always asked the server what he/she liked to eat on the menu. This was not contrived or fake, but genuine questions.

With the exception of Coline Emiliane, we had excellent service everywhere. I found the women servers to be a little friendlier than the men. We ate late, had all three courses, and plenty of wine (usually a bottle over the house wine – for dinner anyway). I would definitely make reservations for your first night at somewhere close to your hotel.

These were some of the places we ate with comments on service:

Armando al Pantheon – 1st night – made reservations – delightful female server – loved the squash flowers.

Coline Emiliane – made reservations -horrible service, horrible food, horrible wine. Obnoxious American tourists (Were we guilty by association?

)

Paris – made reservations - Good solid meal with a very fun server. He gave great recs on both food and wine.

Al Ceppo – Sunday lunch after Galleria Borghese. Husband wore shorts with a nice dress shirt as it was a particularly hot day. Some French people at the next table were criticizing him for it (he speaks a titch of French so he got the general bulk/tone of the comments). He approached and apologized to the owner/manager/hostess (?)…she laughed and put him at much ease. The food was incredible and the service more than acceptable.

Our favorite night was the night we went to Cul de Sac for a charcuterie platter of local meats, wandered down to Ciccia Bomba for a primi, and ended the night at Frigaderium with some delicious gelato. We loved this little area over by Piazza Navona. We spent a lot of time on this street and were treated like locals at the establishments we frequented often. We would be waved at and/or greeted when just walking by a place.

Pizza Baffetto – not the best pizza I’ve had, but we had great table mates from Ireland, Italy, Russia, and Germany. We had so much fun! And our server was a delight – he was a big flirt who spent a lot of time with us. It is my understanding this is not the norm.

Ristorante L’Angoletto – Recommended and reservations made (day of) by our hotel, Albergo del Senato. Delicious seafood and an incredibly handsome and helpful server.

We also went to Volpetti’s where they made sandwiches for us (highly recommended). We had a nice little picnic.

I apologize for the length of the post, but when I was planning my FIRST trip this sort of information would have been helpful. I’m anxiously anticipating our next trip in March 2013…and plan to try the artichokes & puntarelle. I also want to try pujata this time.

Our experiences were overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had friends that have gone over sense that have not had our same happy luck. Cin cin!

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  1. Thank you for this reasonable and helpful account. I'm curious about the horrible food at Colline Emiliane. It certainly doesn't win for ambience, but I've always found the lasagne, tagliatelle, and tortelli di zucca a real treat, except for having to choose among them. The primi are the strength there.
    Your account of Baffetto, though I'm glad you had fun, sums up why many locals snub the place: lots of foreigners and waiters who play to them, which, I'll grant, is better than waiters who are rude. Can't win.

    As for the footwear, it is only that people do ask about dress codes and sticking out and looking like tourists. Dress codes are practically unknown. Gym shoes after dark look like tourist garb and are not the thing for middle to upscale restaurants if you care what you look like. Romans pretty much don't care what anybody else looks like and in general people are quite casual.

    1. Mbfant: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to expand on my Colline Emiliane remarks. After I posted (of course), I reviewed my notes and saw that Lance and I both had the tagliatelle. My remarks were, "Very Good". I think over time our memory put the whole meal down as "horrible". This is unfair. As far as Baffetto goes, I think we both hit the nail on the head. I can see why tourists like it and locals snub it.

      Tuscanlover: I have to respectively disagree. I very much wanted to know how to dress appropriately. I do the same thing here in the States. I think Maureen has also been very clear about stating "if you don't care ~ don't worry about it". As it is, due to a knee injury I will likely be wearing tennis shoes or some ugly-arse orthotic shoes on next years trip. For fashion reasons I'm not happy about it, but would rather be comfortable than hobbled. If anyone says anything, I'll knock them upside the head with my cane. Kidding!