Rome is a city that feels like an old friend. The kind of friend you can go years without seeing, but as soon as you reunite, there is an instant feeling of warmth and familiarity that feels like home.
I have been to Rome with my family, with friends, and even lived there and studied at the university for some time, but no matter how much time I’ve spent, I always depart feeling like there is much left to discover. Rome is a geographically expansive city and is so rich with history and culture spread throughout its many unique neighborhoods. No two visits feel the same, but I knew this trip would be particularly special. It was a personal reunion with a most cherished place after far too many years apart, but it was also my boyfriend’s first time in Italy – and we were beginning with the city of Romance. I could not wait to share this enchanting city with him, knowing that he would be equally as captivated by Roma as I am.
We touched down at Fiumicino airport after spending a pleasant afternoon layover sipping beers in Denmark. It had been a long journey since we left directly from our offices in New York City the previous day. My body wanted to feel exhausted, but my growing anticipation and excitement kept me awake and alert. Our taxi drove through narrow cobblestone streets to the Campo Di Fiore neighborhood; a vibrant square in the city center, which was one of my favorite hangouts while studying abroad. The driver stopped abruptly in front of two massive green wooden doors and signaled that we were “home.”
Our apartment in Rome was small, but so perfectly located in a bustling residential area – close enough to all of the major sites, but far enough tucked away in a courtyard garden shared with locals, so the experience felt authentic. Upon arrival, the logical decision would have been to go to bed (after all, we had been up for well over 24 hours) but seeing the city in its golden hour as the sun was going down was too enticing. We both felt revived in our energy and decided we would waste no time venturing out into the city.
Our first evening was the quintessential Rome experience – sidewalk cafe seating at a restaurant with a with incredible food, adjacent to the vivacious Campo Di Fiori – perfect for people watching and local musicians. As soon as I gazed over the hills of Rome from the plane, my eyes remembered why I loved the city, but in that moment as soon as I took a bite of velvety cacio e pepe pasta, perfectly al dente, my taste buds remembered what I loved about Rome even more – the food is nothing short of ethereal. It was this meal where my boyfriend discovered that he shares my same affection for Aperol Spritz (the traditional summer cocktail of Italy with a bright orange citrus aperitivo and prosecco.) Once we had a bubbly little buzz and bellies full of olive oil, bread, and hearty pasta – we continued our mini night excursion.
Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe – for good reason, but if you have the endurance to outlast the crowds and romp around the city after-hours, you will find a uniquely intimate experience with the city that few visitors get to enjoy. While we were floating on the fumes of anticipation, I wanted to take advantage of having the city to ourselves for a bit during the late hours. We wandered deep into the city past many monuments and ended up at the Trevi Fountain. (*Admittedly, we not really “wandering,” as I was navigating us to the fountain because it is my favorite place in Rome, so I couldn’t wait to see it!) The marble of the Trevi glows with extra brilliance at night and is much less hectic than during the day. We sat beside the fountain for a while, marveling at the detail and beauty of it.
We decided to head back on our long journey to our apartment, but on the way I took us on a last little detour. We approached Lungo il Tevere (which translates to “along the river.”) The Tiber River divides the city of Rome and has many footbridges spanning one side to the other, and a staircase that leads down to a nightly market along the rivers edge that runs all summer. My intent was merely show Dani the river from a walk bridge so he could see how vibrant the river night market was– but the lights and music and excitement pulled us in again.
We found ourselves strolling the riverbank, passing through open air shops, hookah lounges, past arcade games and street artists. With lit up tents lining the sidewalk, the river transformed into a trendy fusion of an open air night market meets outdoor nightclub. Eventually we landed at a cozy table that looked too inviting, perched right on the river with views of all of the lights reflecting off the water and the glow of basilicas illuminated in the distance. While I am generally eloquent, my words cannot adequately describe how picturesque it was. We completely lost awareness of all time or cares as we sat just looking at the cityscape and taking in the fact that after so long of talking about it and planning…. we were finally here! We finished off our night with arancini balls (because what better to soak up all the procsecco than cheesy and sumptuous balls of fried risotto?) and a few more Aperol Spritz for good measure.
We indulged just enough and got so lost in the moment that we inadvertently extended our casual dinner into an all-night romp around the entire city – but I did not regret a thing. It is the Roman way to relish in leisure and excess, and we fully embodied that immediately upon arrival. We walked to our flat hand in hand past a man sitting on the cobblestones with an accordion serenading the few remaining passersby with his rendition of “That’s Amore.” As we passed, he sang a few of my favorite lyrics: “When you walk through a dream, but your know you’re not dreaming signore.”
I looked at the city around me, and at the man holding my hand and could feel my heart smiling from the inside out. In my bleary-eyed tired, but blissful trance, it did feel like I was walking through a dream. I thought to myself, “I don’t think any lyrics could more aptly summarize our first night.”
And I knew this would be a trip for the books (or in this case, for the blog!)