Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When In Rome: The Value Of Blending In On Vacation

Yes, it might be a cliché by now: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." But the old proverb is true, says KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley. When visiting the Italian capital, the best way to experience it is to blend in.

See The Sights

The Colosseum, the Forum and the Trevi Fountain are all worth your time and an important part of visiting Rome. See those, Brumley says. See the Vatican. Make the usual stops.

But then make time to focus on life.

“Don’t forget to put your guide books away and absorb life,” Brumley said, standing in the middle of Piazza di Santa Maria. “I’m looking at a dozen small mom-and-pop restaurants and people driving by on Vespas, and children and grandparents walking together,” he said. “It’s a festival of life here.”

Brumley says you should build time in your itinerary to wander around, and play things by ear.

“The people of the Mediterranean, in general, they just know how to live,” he said. “They remind us as Americans that time is precious. It reminds us to take time out of life and enjoy the moments we have with friends and family.”

Local tour guide Natalia Mandelli lives in Rome. She says when she leads visitors through the city, she focuses on people, not sights. Her itinerary on the day we spoke to her included hand gesture lessons, “because we gesticulate a lot,” she said.

Gesticulation And Gastronomy

Italy’s slow food movement is growing, Mandelli says. Agritourism, the practice of visiting a farm or ranch rather than a specific tourist attraction, is becoming more popular.

And food is an important conduit into Italian culture.

“Here in Rome, we have Roman artichokes, which come from Jewish Roman culture,” she said. “And then there’s the difference between Roman pizza and Neapolitan pizza. … The way you introduce food is also the way to introduce the people we are.”

It Never Gets Old

For Mandelli, living in Rome does not dull the city’s beauty or appeal. She never gets sick of it — well, almost never. Trevi Fountain (“Just drop your coin and go away!”) can get crowded.

But she has little trouble seeing how visitors fall in love with the city.

“Rome is beautiful. You have to be born in Rome to understand that,” she said. “Roma is bella.”

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.