14 August, 2014


But for a cock-up, this piece would have appeared in The Commentator.
Another year, it would seem, another rip-off scandal in Rome. This time it was some Americans who felt they had paid too much for their ice creams and took the carabinieri along to the ice cream parlour. There they were shown the price list, which was clearly displayed in accordance with the law.  A similar thing happened to some British tourists last year.

Perhaps the daddy of them all was in 2009 in a famous restaurant called Il Passetto, where two Japanese ran up a bill for €700 before going back with the police. The restaurant, once the haunt of Ava Gardner and the Hollywood A-list, was closed down, for public health reasons. It has since reopened under new management.

In protest at his treatment, the proprietor pinned on the window what the Japanese had eaten: three starters each of mushrooms, scampi and oysters; pasta with 2kg of lobster; 1.5kg sea bass served with potatoes; fruit compote and ice cream. A pretty sporting lunch! They were presented with a bill for €579 which they made up to €700 having had their photographs taken with the waiter.

There is no need to be ripped off in Rome and no more likelihood of it than in London or Paris. In fact eating out is fairly cheap.

Here is my guide to your Roman Holiday.

Transport. The taxi fare from Fiumicino Airport is fixed at €48 (€30 from Ciampino) which takes you anywhere inside the Aurelian walls (built 275 AD). Far cheaper are the Terravision buses which drop you near the station and which you can book up online. The fare from Termini station to the centre is €10-12; there is no need to tip the driver although they are grateful if you do. Only go in licensed taxis. Look at the meter.

Roman buses are high speed and innards-shaking over the cobbles but a ticket is only €1.50 for 75 minutes, encompassing as many trips as you can take.

Eating and drinking. The way an Italian uses a bar is to enter, announcing noisily what he will have (the bartender can compute dozens of orders at a time), talk to someone briefly while standing up, perhaps waving a croissant or slice of pizza as he speaks. He leaves within minutes and might go back three or four times in a day.

In cities and tourist areas you pay to sit down; and the bill might be double or treble. I once paid maybe five times the going rate for coffee overlooking the main square in Siena. It was worth it. The going rate is about €1 for an espresso and around €1.20 for a cappuccino.

Naturally you pay a lot more for a restaurant in a known tourist location like Piazza del Popolo or the via Veneto. There are hundreds of restaurants in the cobbled streets to the west of Piazza Navona where you can get a decent meal for €25-30. A pizza and beer will cost around €12. If you like plenty of cheap wine (I do) go to one which has a house wine in ½ litre and litre carafes rather than stuff in labelled bottles.

It is years since I could get through a full meal of antipasto, Primo (pasta course), Secondo (main course) and dolce (pudding). Just tell the waiter what you want, perhaps antipasto and primo at lunch, antipasto and secondo at dinner. And why not try an ice cream afterwards?

I don’t know why ice cream should be the cause of so many complaints. Look at the menu and have an eye to the quantity you want. One of the best places is Giolitti in via degli Uffici del Vicario, near the Pantheon. Some say it’s the best. A scoop is around €3.50. You pay in advance and they don’t want you sitting down (reserved for people eating their expensive pastries). You can even jump the queue by ordering and paying on your smartphone.
Then do like the Romans: walk the ancient streets with your loved one, sharing the flavours and getting fat together. It is the only food it is acceptable to eat on the street.
Hotels: cheap and simple near the station, expensive in the centre.
Enjoy it and always come back.

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