You can eat well anywhere in New York, but the settings are suitably refined and the cuisine is masterfully French-influenced in such gastronomic uptown spots as Daniel, Dovetail, and Jean Georges. Then again, refined French cuisine is served in sophisticated, subdued surroundings downtown, too, most notably at Bouley’s, while the mouthwatering sushi at Nobu in Tribeca is said to be the best this side of Tokyo, eliciting raves from celebrities and foodies alike.
For some genuine New York buzz, pull up a chair at the bar of the elegant Gramercy Tavern in the Flatiron District or charm your way into getting a table at the celebrity magnet Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village. To sample some of the most original and creative – some say bizarre – haute-cuisine in the city, head to Lowlife on the Lower East Side.
As the old song says, East Side, West Side, all around the town, the sidewalks of New York are a great place to trip the light fantastic – and to watch New Yorkers, some of the most fascinating specimens of life on the planet. Some especially rewarding stretches of pavement are Union Square, just west of Gramercy Park and animated around the clock – on many days with shoppers poking through the stalls of the city’s largest greenmarket.
On weekends, the streets of Soho teem with style-hunters – both locals and the Bridge and Tunnel crowd (named for out of towners’ means of egress into Manhattan), checking out high-end boutiques and each other New York goes to the dogs in enclosed runs in parks like Washington Square and Tompkins Square Park, great places to observe the antics of two- and four-legged New Yorkers. To see hipsters in their natural environment, make the trek to Williamsburg.
On a walk down 125th Street, Harlem’s main thoroughfare, you can step into such iconic bastions of black culture as the Apollo Theater and the Studio Museum in Harlem (no.44), then sample the local culinary scene on nearby Malcolm X Boulevard.
New Yorkers tend to think of their city as the center of the universe, and even if you aren’t willing to subscribe to that belief, you will have to agree that New York is one of the greatest places on the planet. At least, you will feel that way after you spend any time at all here.
With its skyscrapers and sophisticated ways, the city is the essence of urbanity, just about everyone’s notion of what a city should be. This is a place where dreams come true, vast fortunes are made and lost, and fame might descend briefly and flit away or linger for a spell.
What all this means for visitors is that New York is a fascinating spectacle. You can see top-rate drama and great art, dine and drink very well, and simply soak in the excitement. You might run into a celebrity on a grimy side street, or enjoy being drawn into streams of ordinary folks on the sidewalks. The city is so iconic that even visitors who have never set foot in Manhattan feel they are on familiar ground. You can look up the heights of the Empire State Building and imagine King Kong clinging to the spire or still hear Cole Porter hammering out a tune in one of the city’s refined cocktail lounges.
The best way to appreciate New York is simply to throw yourself into the fray. Walk up the Upper West Side to sample bagels, amble through the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ogle diamonds on Fifth Avenue, linger over coffee in Greenwich Village, listen to music on the Lower East Side or Brooklyn. Explore colonial New York, catch up on the contemporary art scene, ascend to the top of a tower to see the spectacle of the glittering city at your feet. However you choose to amuse yourself in this great city, you will find more to do than you have time to do it in.
Spend a day in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood and you’ll see just how multicultural the Eternal City is becoming. Once famous for its spice market at Piazza Vittorio, the neighborhood has fast become a multiethnic stomping ground.
In fact, finding a true Roman restaurant or a local shopkeeper is hard to come by in this area, now that Chinese, Indian, African, and Middle Eastern restaurants have moved in (a typical example: The Syrian restaurant Zenobia, perched on Piazza Dante, even includes a weekend belly-dancing show).
Homegrown and locally produced, the Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio is a perfect picture of the neighborhood’s growing ethnic population.
Made up of 16 musicians from Brazil, Senegal, Tunisia, Cuba, Argentina, Hungary, Ecuador, and Italy, the troupe was founded in 2002, and got its start in the ramshackle district just steps away from Rome’s Termini train station and, by 2006, had a documentary made about them; today, they play at festivals around the world.
With a big push to modernize parts of Rome particularly lacking in the luster department, visitors will notice some new and novel aspects to the city skyline. First, that former eyesore, the Tiburtina train station, was completely overhauled, to the tune of some €330 million, to become the new avant-garde Tiburtina Stazione, the first rail hub in Italy to handle super-high-speed (Alstom AGVs) trains.
Even more buzz has been generated by Rome’s first-ever skyscraper, the EuroSky Tower. Located in the distant EUR suburb, the 28-floor building (to be completed in 2013) will be the first to launch Romans into orbit for high-rise luxury apartment living (it’s eco-sustainable, replete with solar panels, biofuel power, and channels to deliver rainwater to plants and flowers). Feathers were ruffled when Vatican officials worried that the skyscraper would clash with St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome’s tallest building.
Located by the Tiber River, the grandiose new “Ponte della Musica” bridge has now “bridged the gap” between the worlds of sports and music and arts: it connects the Foro Italico area (home to Rome’s stunning Stadio Olimpico and Stadio dei Marmi) with the Flaminio district (Parco della Musica and the MAXXI museum). Designed by British star-engineer Buro Happold, the eco-friendly ponte can be used by pedestrians, cyclists, and electric buses.
Last but not least, the new convention center of Rome—EUR Congressi Roma—is expected to dazzle when completed by the end of 2013.
The renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas whipped up a vast design centered on the “Cloud,” an airy futuristic structure that floats in a showcase of steel and glass. City officials have high hopes.
After playing a prominent role in politics for nearly two decades, controversial tycoon Silvio Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister at the end of 2011. To put a new government into place and turn the country’s severe economic crisis around, Mario Monti—a multitasker whose background runs the gamut from professor to economist to president of the prestigious Bocconi University—was appointed not only as the new prime minister but also, due to his formidable expertise, as minister of economy and finance.
Wasting no time, he raised taxes, cracked down on tax evaders—and made a number of enemies, especially among Italians who weren’t so fond of how austerity hit their pocketbooks.
Complicating matters further, Berlusconi couldn’t stay out of the ring for long. A general election at the end of February 2013 included both Monti and Berlusconi as candidates. (Conveniently, a judge ruled that Berlusconi’s need to campaign for the new election impeded his ability to show up in court, thus postponing his trial for charges of paying for sex with a minor until after the election.) In the surreal world of Italian politics, the elections also include Beppe Grillo, a well-known Italian comedian. The result of the election was inconclusive, with no candidate gaining a clear majority, thus providing no real measure of where Italy stands today on austerity … or on the willingness of Italians to forgive and forget Berlusconi’s many past transgressions.
Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world in February when, without prior announcement, he declared that he planned to step down at the end of the month. The last time a pope resigned, the year was 1415—and the purpose was to end the Western Schism, where there were three people all claiming to be pope simultaneously. A conclave was held in March to choose the new pope: Pope Francis, who hails from Argentina, making him the first pope from the Americas.
When it comes to train travel in Italy, the competition is growing fierce.
Thanks to the introduction of “Italo,” Italy’s first private railroad (owned by NTV and operated by the president of Fiat), rail travelers now have a new alternative to the state-run TrenItalia.
NTV is the first operator in the world to use the new Alstom AGV train, which currently holds the highest speed record for trains and will service various big cities around Italy, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Bologna, Naples, and Salerno.
In Rome, the high-speed trains will use Rome’s new Tiburtina station rather than Termini.
The leader among Rome’s “It” neighborhoods is Pigneto, the working-class area once immortalized as the backdrop for Roberto Rossellini’s magnificent Academy Award–nominated Rome Open City (Roma Città Aperta).
Set in the northwestern part of the city on the other side of the Porta Maggiore walls, Pigneto has come a long way since the black-and-white days of the 1950s. This hot new quartiere has undergone a major transformation into a colorful hub for hipsters who tuck into the many wine bars and bookshops along main drags like Fanfulla da Lodi and Via del Pigneto.
To channel the days when legends Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti spent time filming here, enjoy an aperitivo at the historic Bar Necci (Via Fanfulla da Lodi 68), where Pasolini once filmed scenes for his 1961 Accatone (an award-winning look at how a pimp living in the slums of Rome attempts to go straight).
Another young neighborhood, San Lorenzo, is set just a stone’s throw away from the Termini train station. Just beyond the city walls near Via Tiburtina, Rome’s new “Left Bank” district is filled with students and a young bohemian crowd, thanks to its proximity to La Sapienza University. The area has an alternativa feel to it, with its plethora of starving artists, tattoo studios, and hippie musicians. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you could easily get lost in this maze of dark narrow streets, many now lined with underground cafés, bars, hip restaurants, and pubs with live-music venues.
Called the “Campo Marzio” (Field of Mars), this time-burnished district is the city’s most beautiful neighborhood. Set between Via del Corso and the Tiber bend, it’s filled with narrow streets bearing curious names, airy piazzas, and half-hidden courtyards. Some of Rome’s most coveted residential addresses are nestled here. So, too, are the ancient Pantheon and the Renaissance square of Campo de’ Fiori, but the spectacular, over-the-top Baroque monuments of the 16th and 17th centuries predominate.
The hub of the district is the queen of squares, Piazza Navona—a cityscape adorned with the most jaw-dropping fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, father of the Baroque. Streets running off the square lead to many historic must-sees, including noble churches by Borromini and Caravaggio’s greatest paintings at San Luigi dei Francesi.
This district has been an integral part of the city since ancient times, and its position between the Vatican and Lateran palaces, both seats of papal rule, put it in the mainstream of Rome’s development from the Middle Ages onward. Craftsmen, shopkeepers, and famed artists toiled in the shadow of the huge palaces built to consolidate the power of leading figures in the papal court. Artisans and artists still live here, but their numbers are diminishing as the district becomes increasingly posh and—so critics say—”Disneyfied.” But three of the liveliest piazzas in Rome—Piazza Navona, Piazza della Rotonda (home to the Pantheon), and Campo de’ Fiori—are lodestars in a constellation of some of Rome’s most authentic cafés, stores, and wine bars.
Getting Here and Around
To bus it from Termini train station or the Vatican, take the No. 40 Express or the No. 64 and get off at Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, a two-minute stroll from either Campo de’ Fiori or Piazza Navona, or take little electric No. 116 from Via Veneto to Campo de’ Fiori. Buses Nos. 87 and 571 link the area to the Forum and Colosseum. Tram No. 8 runs from Largo Argentina to Trastevere.
In spirit, and in fact, this section of the city is its most grandiose. The overblown Vittoriano monument, the labyrinthine treasure-chest palaces of Rome’s surviving aristocracy, even the diamond-draped denizens of Via Condotti’s shops — all embody the exuberant ego of a city at the center of its own universe.
Here’s where you’ll see ladies in furs gobbling pastries at café tables, and walk through a thousand snapshots as you climb the famous Spanish Steps, admired by generations from Byron to Versace. Cultural treasures abound around here: gilded 17th-century churches, glittering palaces, and the greatest example of portraiture in Rome, Velázquez’s incomparable Innocent X at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Have your camera ready—along with a coin or two—for that most beloved of Rome’s landmarks, the Trevi Fountain.
One of Rome’s handiest subway stations, the Spagna Metro station is tucked just to the left of the Spanish Steps. Buses No. 117 (from St. John Lateran and the Colosseum) and No. 119 (from Largo Argentina) hum through the neighborhood.
Coming off the Autostrada at Roma Nord or Roma Sud, you know by the convergence of heavily trafficked routes that you’re entering a grand nexus: All roads lead to Rome.
And then the interminable suburbs, the railroad crossings, the intersections—no wonder they call it the Eternal City. As you forge on, features that match your expectations begin to appear: a bridge with heroic statues along its parapets; a towering slab of marble decorated with allegorical figures in extravagant poses; a piazza and an obelisk under an umbrella of pine trees. Then you spot what looks like a multistory parking lot. With a gasp, you realize it’s the Colosseum.
You’ve arrived. You’re in the city’s heart. You step down from your excursion bus onto the broad girdle of tarmac that encircles the great stone arena of the Roman emperors, and scurry out of the way of the passing Fiats—the motorists behind the wheels seem to display the panache of so many Ben-Hurs. The excitement of arriving here jolts the senses and sharpens expectations.
The timeless city to which all roads lead, Mamma Roma, enthralls visitors today as she has since time immemorial. More than Florence, more than Venice, this is Italy’s treasure storehouse. Here the ancient Romans made us heirs-in-law to what we call Western Civilization; where centuries later Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel;
where Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Baroque nymphs and naiads still dance in their marble fountains; and where, at Cinecittà Studios, Fellini filmed La Dolce Vita and 8½. Today the city remains a veritable Grand Canyon of culture. Ancient Rome rubs shoulders with the medieval, the modern runs into the Renaissance, and the result is like nothing so much as an open-air museum.
But always remember: Quando a Roma vai, fai come vedrai (“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”). Don’t feel intimidated by the press of art and culture. Instead, contemplate the grandeur from a table at a sun-drenched café on Piazza della Rotonda; let Rome’s colorful life flow around you without feeling guilty because you haven’t seen everything. It can’t be done, anyway. There’s just so much here that you’ll have to come back again, so be sure to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain.
Most everyone begins by discovering the grandeur that was Rome: the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon. Then many move on to the Vatican, the closest thing to heaven on Earth for some.
The historical pageant continues with the 1,001 splendors of the Baroque era: glittering palaces, jewel-studded churches, and Caravaggio masterpieces. Arrive refreshed—with the help of a shot of espresso—at the foot of the Spanish Steps, where the picturesque world of the classic Grand Tour (peopled by such spirits as John Keats and Tosca) awaits you.
Thankfully, Rome provides delightful ways to catch your historic breath along the way: a walk through the cobblestone valleys of Trastevere or an hour stolen alongside a splashing Bernini fountain.
Keep in mind that an uncharted ramble through the heart of the old city can be just as satisfying as the contemplation of a chapel or a trek through marbled museum corridors. No matter which aspect of Rome you end up enjoying the most, a visit to the Eternal City will live up to its name in memory.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even locals themselves will tell you that it takes a lifetime to discover all the treasures the Eternal City has to offer. Jam-packed with monuments, museums, fountains, galleries, and picturesque neighborhoods, Mamma Roma makes it hard for visitors to decide which to tackle first during their adventurous Roman holiday. As Romans like to say, this one-day itinerary basta e avanza (“is more than enough”) to get you started!
So you want to taste Rome, gaze at its beauty, and inhale its special flair, all in one breathtaking (literally) day? Think Rome 101, and get ready for a spectacular sunrise-to-sunset span. Begin at 9 by exploring Rome’s most beautiful neighborhood—“Vecchia Roma” (the area around Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, and the Pantheon)—starting out on the Corso (the big avenue that runs into Piazza Venezia, the traffic hub of the historic center).
A block away from each other are two opulently over-the-top monuments that show off Rome at its Baroque best: the church of Sant’Ignazio and the princely Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj, aglitter with great Old Master paintings.
By 10:30, head west a few blocks to find the granddaddy of monuments, the fabled Pantheon, still looking like Emperor Hadrian might arrive at any minute. A few blocks northwest is San Luigi dei Francesi, home to the greatest Caravaggio paintings in Rome. At 11:30 saunter a block or so westward into beyond-beautiful Piazza Navona, studded with Bernini fountains. Then take Via Cucagna (at the piazza’s south end) and continue several blocks toward Campo de’ Fiori’s open-air food market for some lunch-on-the-run fixings. Two more blocks toward the Tiber brings you to fashionable Via Giulia, laid out by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century.
Walk past 10 blocks of Renaissance palaces and antiques shops to take a bus (from the stop near the Tiber) over to the Vatican. Arrive around 1 to gape at St. Peter’s Basilica, then hit the treasure-filled Vatican Museums (Sistine Chapel) around 1:30—during lunch, the crowds diminish considerably. After two hours, head for the Ottaviano stop near the museum and Metro your way to the Colosseo stop.
Around 4 (earlier in winter, when last entrance to the archaeological zone is at 3:30), climb up into the Colosseum and picture it full of screaming toga-clad citizens enjoying the spectacle of gladiators in mortal combat. Striding past the massive Arch of Constantine, enter the Palatine Hill entrance at around 4:45, following signs for the Roman Forum. Photograph yourself giving a “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” oration (complete with upraised hand) among the marble fragments.
March down the Forum’s Via Sacra toward the looming Vittorio Emanuele Monument (Il Vittoriano) and exit onto the Campidoglio.
Here, on the Capitoline Hill, tour the great ancient Roman art treasures of the Musei Capitolini (which are open most nights until 8, last entrance at 7), and snap the view from the terrace over the spotlighted Forum. After dinner, hail a cab—or take a long passeggiata (stroll) down dolce vita memory lane—to the Trevi Fountain, a gorgeously lit sight at night. Needless to say, toss that coi in to ensure your return trip back to the Mother of Us All.
In Rome traditional cuisine reigns supreme. Most chefs follow the mantra of freshness over fuss, and simplicity of flavor and preparation over complex cooking methods.
So when Romans continue ordering the standbys, it’s easy to understand why. And we’re talking about very old standbys: some restaurants re-create dishes that come from ancient recipes of Apicius, probably the first celebrity chef (to Emperor Tiberius) and cookbook author of the Western world. Today Rome’s cooks excel at what has taken hundreds, or thousands, of years to perfect.
Still, if you’re hunting for newer-than-now developments, things are slowly changing. Talented young chefs are exploring new culinary frontiers, with results that tingle the taste buds: fresh pasta filled with carbonara sauce, cod “tiramisu,” and mozzarella gelato with basil sorbet and semisweet tomatoes are just a few recent examples. Of course, there’s grumbling about the number of chefs who, in a clumsy effort to be nuovo, end up with collision rather than fusion. That noted, Rome is the capital city, and the influx of residents from other regions of the country allows for many variations on the Italian theme.
Via Cola di Rienzo is home to two of Rome’s best specialty shops: Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, Prati | 06/6874651), is a gastroshop that sells high-quality cured meats, Italian cheeses, wines, pastas, and fresh truffles. Next door, Castroni (Via Cola di Rienzo 196/198, Prati | 06/6874383) is well known among expats for its imported foreign foods from the United States, Great Britain, Japan, India, and Mexico, as well as its impressive selection of candies, preserves, olive oils, and balsamic vinegars. Castroni is a great place to stop in for caffè (coffee) and a cornetto (an Italian croissant).
If there’s one vegetable Rome is known for, it’s the artichoke, or carciofo. The classic Roman preparation, carciofo alla romana, is a large, globe-shape artichoke stripped of its outer leaves, stuffed with wild mint and garlic, then braised. It’s available at restaurants throughout the city from February to May, when local artichokes are in season. For the excellent Roman-Jewish version, carciofo alla giudia— artichoke deep-fried until crisp and brown—head to any restaurant in the Ghetto.
What may appear to the naked eye as spaghetti with red sauce is actually bucatini all’amatriciana—a spicy, rich, and complex dish that owes its flavor to an important ingredient: guanciale, or cured pork jowl. Once you taste a meaty, guanciale-flavor dish, you’ll understand why Romans swear by it. Along with guanciale, the simple sauce features crushed tomatoes and red pepper flakes. It’s served over bucatini, a hollow, spaghetti-like pasta, and topped with grated pecorino Romano cheese.
Rome’s largest slaughterhouse in the 1800s was housed in the Testaccio neighborhood. That’s where you’ll find dishes like coda alla vaccinara, or “oxtail in the style of the cattle butcher.” This dish is made from ox or veal tails stewed with tomatoes, carrots, celery, and wine, and seasoned with cinnamon, pancetta, and myriad other flavorings. The stew cooks for hours then is finished with the sweet-and-sour element—often raisins and pine nuts or bittersweet chocolate.
For many travelers, the first taste of gelato is one of the most memorable moments of their Italian trip. With a consistency that’s a cross between regular American ice cream and soft-serve, gelato’s texture is dense but softer than hard ice cream because it’s kept at a higher temperature. The best gelato is extremely flavorful, and made daily. In Rome a few common flavors are caffè, pistacchio (pistachio), nocciola (hazelnut), fragola (strawberry), and cioccolato fondant (dark chocolate).
Roman pizza comes in two types: pizza al taglio (by the slice) and pizza tonda (round pizza). The former has a thicker focaccia-like crust and is cut into squares. These slices are sold by weight and available all day. In Rome, the typical pizza tonda has a very thin crust. It’s cooked in wood-burning ovens that reach extremely high temperatures. Since they’re so hot, the ovens are usually fired up in the evening, which is why Roman pizzerias are only open for dinner.
The sign outside the Century 21 building that sits on the eastern edge of the World Trade Center site says ‘New York’s Best Kept Secret,’ but once you enter this madhouse of shoppers looking for bargains, you’ll wonder who is it exactly that doesn’t know about this place? There’s a reason it’s crowded: several floors of designer men’s, ladies’ and children’s wear at slashed prices.
Come armed with patience and a clear head to sort through racks and racks of pants, tops, dresses, suits, ties, and shirts, and pay attention to the price tags: even though the discounts here can be two-thirds off the original price, they are still high when the list price for a dress is $1,100. Coming very early on a weekday is your best way to avoid a shopping meltdown if you’re prone to them.
Nordstrom Rack (pictured above) (60 E. 14th just off Broadway, Mon–Sat, 10am–10pm, Sun 11am–8pm) in Chelsea can be a less harried place to shop for discounted clothes, shoes, and handbags, but also requires patience and focus. Like Century 21, it features slashed prices on designer names, but there are more mass-market, therefore cheaper items. Avoid weekend afternoons.