Several fairytale stories and a wide range of romantic movies paint Rome as a place for lovers…
…which is a bit of a drag if you want to travel solo.
The idea of being alone in a restaurant surrounded by couples while a violin serenades you is a nightmarish one. The couple to your left starts making out while the couple to your right gets engaged and you’re left desperately playing footsie with the empty chair across from you.
But rather than cry into your parmesan-dusted spaghetti or completely avoid booking a trip to the Eternal City, there are a number of ways you can enjoy the romance of Rome without a partner hooked to your elbow.
I know because on my recent trip, I fell in love.
The Charm Of An Italian Morning
I found that when sipping a cappuccino at the bar alone, the barista is more likely to strike up a conversation than when you’re with someone. I took advantage of these Italian morning conversations to hear a few local secrets about where I was headed for the day. After several morning runs to the same café, I began to feel like I belonged in this city.
Plus, there’s never really an opportunity to feel awkward about dining alone – in Rome it’s not unusual to have breakfast on your own. Italians grab-and-go in the morning, which is why you’ll often find that some cafés have nowhere to sit!
*Travel tip: A quick pastry and a cappuccino is the preferred Italian breakfast. I’d recommend the Roman speciality, the Maritozzo, which looks like a sweet version of a hot dog, but instead of a hot dog inside the bun, it’s filled with cream!
The Language Of Romance
As I attempted to converse with the locals, I found myself almost singing. The words seem to bounce with every word chiming perfectly to four beats in a bar. Tutto bene… Bellissimo… even their swear words sound like opera music!
Italian is one of the Romance languages – one of the languages that are derived from Latin – and I think ‘romance‘ is the correct word to use. Learning a bit of Italian before my trip helped me interact with the locals so that I was never lost and even helped to spark some connections. When you find yourself singing all day, it’s hard to feel lonely.
An Affair With Food
I don’t know how Lady shared her plate of spaghetti with the Tramp because when in Rome, Mandy doesn’t share food.
Italian food is one of the finest cuisines of the world. It is tummy-warming dough topped with little nuggets of Mediterranean vegetable gold. It is long golden strands coated in a creamy sauce with parmesan sprinkled on like the first snow in winter. Even a simple Cacio e Peppe (cheese and pepper) tastes like it was crafted with the love and affection of a mother.
One night I found myself seated at a table with a number of locals in Da Augusto, a restaurant in the Trastevere area well known for a great selection of restaurants specializing in traditional cuisine. Da Augusto only has sharing tables which would make it ideal for playing footsie with a stranger rather than a chair.
At the table, I was in my element as an Italian Bradley Cooper helped me order. My small arsenal of Italian vocabulary really helped here and I even learned some new words. But when I saw the waitress making her way over with a plate of garden-green Vignarola, Bradley Cooper may as well have been a potted plant. My real date had arrived.
Experiencing The Magic
In Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn was offered a tour of the city by a charming local who owns a Vespa. She naively agrees, hops on, and experiences Rome like a local. But instead of waiting around by the Spanish Steps in the hopes that a local might offer to take me on a ride, I was happy to find that many locals were offering Vespa tours as a service.
I opted for a three-hour tour that took me through the streets and stopped for a moment at all of the sights that I’d seen in the movies. My driver told me stories about his city and drove me to his favorite spots. He wasn’t Gregory Peck, but he certainly showed me a magical side to Rome that I would never have seen otherwise!
An Italian Passion
After having multiple nightly affairs with food, I had decided that I was going to take a dish home to meet the parents. I was going to learn how to cook.
Rome has so many cooking classes that a girl is spoiled with choice. After hours of scrolling through Google, I finally settled on cooking stone-baked pizza, which was beautifully paired with a wine tasting. During the class, I met other travelers, many on their own, and discovered the Italian’s raging passion for cuisine. I quickly learned not to make the mistake of dipping pizza in sauce – an act of treason in this part of the world!
A Renaissance Backdrop
Almost every corner of Rome is decorated with the romance of the Renaissance. Cherubs, grandiose water features and ancient ruins, weaved with ivory. Who needs to take a couple shot when you can have a selfie with a muscular statue that looks at you longingly?
Aside from all the selfie sticks available from street hustlers, a number of photographers on Airbnb offer to take photos for tourists. Because of this, I have a selection of photos that capture my experience in the best light: candids of me walking through the streets, making a wish in the Trevi Fountain, looking for Gregory Peck on the Spanish Steps. Each photo reminds me of how beautiful the city is and how I was the center of it all!
Rome After Hours
There was no way I was leaving Rome without sampling some of that ‘La Dolce Vita’ lifestyle that I’d seen in the 1960 movie of the same name. In the movie, Italians went to trendy bars for new experiences, meet new people, and indulge in late-night conversations.
My search for the late night Italian party began at the Black Market in Monti where I listened to live music alongside the locals in what felt like someone’s home. It was welcoming, lively, and entertaining but I still felt it didn’t align with the La Dolce Vita style I was looking for.
I continued my search on the streets of central Rome and when I came across the speakeasy Club Derrière, I knew I had found it. The entrance was through a secret doorway down a little narrow street. I was a bit nervous walking in, not sure if I qualified to enter.
But once there, I was immediately greeted by the bartender and was encouraged to perch at the bar next to a few others drinking alone. I ordered a cocktail mixed with champagne and drank under the dim lights. All through the night, the waiters and bartenders kept us entertained while locals and other tourists mingled with strangers until 4 a.m. when we all left as friends.
On my last day in Rome, before I walked down the steps to the metro, I watched as the sunset turned the streets of Rome a dusty pink. I soaked myself in the view in the hopes that some of it would come with me. I felt an overwhelming sadness as I tore myself away, and slowly entered the subway. It was the kind of sadness you feel when you’re leaving someone – a lover, an old friend, or even a slice of pizza that you just had no more room for.
But I told myself, Rome and I aren’t leaving each other. We’re just taking a break.