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Is Rome Really All That?

written by Penny Sadler

“One sidewalk cafe coming right up!” and off they go, bumping over the cobblestone streets of Rome. Imagine them: she choosing to experience a life she has, up to now, only dreamed of, temporarily abandoning her responsibilities. And he playing the role of modern day knight, on a Vespa.

She sits in front, laughing and smiling broadly, the wind in her face, as he points out the ancient monuments and tourist attractions. He takes her to the Colosseum and then Rocca’s, a cafe near the Pantheon, the first stop in fulfilling her fantasies of having an adventure.

Cliche? Of course. Wishful thinking? Obviously. And we all know how that film goes.

But I’ve done it. It happened.

Well, sort of.

audrey hepburn in Roman Holiday @PennySadler

scene from the film Roman Holiday courtesy Wiki creativecommons

The first time I went to Rome, a lovely Italian man I’d met arranged for a friend of his to show me around on his scooter. “Penny, I hope you don’t mind, I have arranged a surprise for you. I’d like to take you myself, but this is wrong. I can not!”
Why didn’t the Roman take me around you ask? The Roman guy was married. Anyway, that’s another story. I had my Roman Holiday, minus the romance.

That was ok with me, I fell in love with Rome instead.

I’ve often wondered if I lived in Rome would I feel the same? Or am I a hopeless romantic hypnotized by a Hollywood version of Rome? Would I move to Rome and discover I’d made a huge mistake?

On that first visit I called a friend in the States and said, “I don’t know how to explain this, but I love it here.” I didn’t expect to love Rome.

Is Rome Really All That? #&64;PennySadler 2014

There is something about Rome that is hard to define. It’s evocative, demanding, amazing, friendly, graceful, inspiring, ageless, gritty, chaotic, energetic, crowded, loud, frustrating, unexpected, exhausting, modern, ancient, generous and greedy. A city of striking contrasts.

Trying to define Rome is like asking, “What is beauty?” Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. I suppose what I like most about Rome is that it is never ever apathetic, ambivalent, or boring.

And yes, Rome is beautiful, blessed with a warm Mediterranean light, ancient ruins, and gorgeous people. The larger than life monuments: the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, all seem to appear out of nowhere, demanding your attention.

Sunset in Rome, Italy @PennySadler 2014

I thought that I would find Rome cold and unfriendly, like many large cities. Interesting for it’s amazing art and history, but dirty, crowded, and noisy. Instead I found that Rome felt like a good friend, one who knows you inside and out and still loves you.

As I watched Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday zipping in and out of traffic on the back of a scooter, eating gelato at the Spanish Steps, flirting and dancing with a handsome man, I relived those same experiences. But the film didn’t end on the back of a scooter for me. On my internal screen I saw myself living in Rome. Enjoying new experiences. Creating new memories in that crazy, beautiful, and exasperating city. No, moving to Rome would not be a mistake at all.

Is Rome Really All That? @PennySadler 2014

When In Rome!

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KareninCalabria March 10, 2015 at 2:20 am

Hi Penny,
Nice reflections on your Roman holiday! For me, what sets Rome apart from some of the other major Italian tourist cities is that there are actually Italians living there, so you can walk in a cafe or shop and have some semblance of how it is to be in Italy, not just how it is to be treated like a tourist in Italy. Put that together with the Roman ruins, the churches and monuments, a suave Italian on a scooter, and well…you have your Roman holiday! Or at the very least, there was probably someone else watching you having it that day!

Penny Sadler March 10, 2015 at 10:03 am

Thanks for the comment. It’s true. In fact sometimes I think they should try harder to treat tourists like visitors instead of locals. 🙂 But actually that’s one of the things I like about Rome too.

KareninCalabria March 10, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Funny. Yes, it’s nice to know that you aren’t being treated differently from one of their paesani. But on the other hand, Italy unfortunately doesn’t top the list in customer service skills.

Cacinda Maloney December 2, 2014 at 8:08 pm

I love Rome!! I will see you over there when you finally make the move!!

Penny Sadler December 2, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Fingers crossed!

Ryan O'Rourke August 19, 2014 at 9:43 am

I don’t get why people bash Rome so much—it really is a fantastic city! Like you, I went in with low expectations: It’s just a bunch of ancient ruins surrounded by endless traffic and rude people, right? Definitely wasn’t the case. Loved eating the food, loved walking the streets, and especially, loved staying in Trastevere. Would go back to Rome in a heartbeat!

Penny Sadler August 19, 2014 at 10:00 am

Ryan, thanks for the comments. Yes, I love Trastevere too. Did you see my article, How To Make An Italian Neighborhood Your Own? It’s about Trastevere.

Ryan O'Rourke August 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

Not yet, but I’ll be sure to check it out, Penny 🙂

Nicole July 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm

We haven’t been to Rome, but by your description, it sounds very pretty. =)

Penny Sadler July 14, 2014 at 9:48 am

Thanks for reading Nicole. I think it is by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. But of course there are others. Rome is unique however.

Ashley and Alex July 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Rome is a fantastic city but living there is a bit of a love hate relationship. It’s charming, so full of history and culture and great food and wine of course. But it also has some of the worst public transportation in Europe and people and things are never on time. I lived in Rome for two and half years and I would never change it for the world but if you do move and you need to work while you are there just realize you will never be on time and you will come to hate the roman busses :). It’s a fantastic city but it can also be exhausting as well.

When I left Rome two years ago I said I would never live there again but here we are two years later and I am planning my return. It’s a crazy, wonderful, exhausting city and as much as I hate it, I also love it and Rome will always be a home for me.

Penny Sadler July 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I love hearing this. It’s exactly how I imagine I’ll feel. Well, maybe I’ll see you there!

Debbie July 11, 2014 at 5:09 pm

How fabulous to be living in Rome! The first time we visited in 1990, I said I could easily live there for a couple of years. 🙂 You’ve really captured the flavour of Rome, Penny and I enjoyed this article. Roman Holiday is one of my favourite classic films as well.

Penny Sadler July 12, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Thanks Debbie! Alas, I am not currently living in Rome. But you Will KNOW when I am.

Gran Canaria Local July 10, 2014 at 5:47 pm

We’ve neither been to Rome or seen the film. Clearly, we need to do both. Thanks for the recommendations.

Penny Sadler July 10, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Hi Matthew, since you’re so close I’d say yep, get on over there!

Ken Kai July 10, 2014 at 8:44 am

I’d like to go to Rome, just not yet. Maybe when I’m in my 30’s for a Europe trip!

Penny Sadler July 10, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Hmmm. I think Rome is good any time.

Lillie - @WorldLillie July 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Thanks for the reminder, not only of a great city, but that I need to see “Roman Holiday.” 🙂

Penny Sadler July 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm

Yes, you do!

Cathy Sweeney July 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Wonderful to know that Roman Holiday is not just fiction. I’ve been dreaming all of this about Rome. The 2014 goal of visiting is still in my sights, but not yet certain. I can picture myself on that scooter — and posing with that handsome Italian man!

Penny Sadler July 9, 2014 at 5:48 pm

And you’ll be smart enough to get a pic! 🙂

Valen-This Way Paradise July 8, 2014 at 12:30 am

You made me feel like I was there with this story. Rome is a very special place, indeed!

Penny Sadler July 8, 2014 at 10:05 am

I know Italy is not your favorite but I am glad you like Rome. It will always be special for me.

Wandering Carol July 7, 2014 at 11:27 pm

That is one rocking photo of Rome. Love the sky. I’m still working on loving Rome, but the movie The Great Beauty has gone a long way in opening it up to me. Funny how films change how we see a destination.

Penny Sadler July 8, 2014 at 10:04 am

Carol, I haven’t seen the Great Beauty yet. Can you believe it? It’s on my list. And yes, movies are magic. I’ve gone on a number of trips as a direct result of a movie. Thanks for the photo luv. ; )

Maria July 7, 2014 at 10:49 pm

“Roman Holiday” – great film, saw it again recently.
Oh, also love your “date” 😀

Penny Sadler July 8, 2014 at 10:03 am

It is a great film. Funny how it hits you differently depending on the mood you’re in. The last time I watched it I boo hoo’d about the lost romance. 🙂

Lesley Peterson July 7, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Sigh-worthy post and photos, Penny! I especially love the one of the sunset. Rome’s magic is in its tremendous skies. And in its less-travelled neighborhoods. I was often surprised by the small-town feel in parts of this big city. Love Rome! How can you not?

Penny Sadler July 8, 2014 at 10:02 am

“how can you not?” indeed! Thank you for reading and commenting.

noel July 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Total fan also, I could spend hours at any piazza day time or night so much wonderful art, history, people watching to enjoy.

Penny Sadler July 7, 2014 at 10:03 pm

And what’s so great about it is, you don’t have to “go someplace” or “do something” you are just by being there!

Theodora July 7, 2014 at 7:27 pm

I’m a huge fan of Rome. I like the way you’ve balanced the different narrative threads in this piece, and the different perspectives on Rome, to create something a bit more nuanced that gives an angle on the place. Also, kinda jealous that you live there. Although, as I live in Bali, the grass is always greener…

Penny Sadler July 7, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Hey Theodora, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t live in Rome. I’ve been thinking about it since that first trip in 2008.

Mary @ Green Global Travel July 7, 2014 at 5:46 pm

I loved how you perfectly captured the essence of Rome in your storytelling. I didn’t expect to like Rome either, but I did 🙂

Penny Sadler July 7, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Mary thank you so much for this comment. I really worked that story over and that was the goal. Much appreciated.

Jessie Voigts July 7, 2014 at 5:19 pm


Penny Sadler July 16, 2014 at 7:06 am


Mike (Nomadic Texan) July 7, 2014 at 4:45 pm

I can’t wait for my 5 day trip at the end of September and beginning of October. Thanks for sharing this post!

Penny Sadler July 7, 2014 at 7:00 pm

I can’t wait for you either! LOL Looking forward to seeing what you write!


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