Natalie Kennedy is the author behind one of my favorite blogs about Rome. Her love for her adopted city is clear through her posts, which are honest, humorous, and informative for visitors and expats alike. The realm of Americans living in Rome is pretty small, yet though we have mutual friends and similar lines of work, Natalie and I never met. I guess that’s another reason for me to go back and visit. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for this Q&A, which made me miss Rome terribly. While watching this video tour of Trastevere I actually started tearing up! Or maybe that was just the wine… Speaking of, this post is so delectable you’ll want to enjoy it spritz or vino in hand.
You’ve lived in Italy since 2010 – Did you always have a love for Italy/Rome?
I was 19 years old when I applied for my first passport. I somehow conned my dear mother into booking us a 10-day tour of Italy. It was my first visit to Europe and I was enthralled by Venice, charmed by Florence and overwhelmed by Rome. Rome was chaotic, and I was tired of dragging my suitcase between hotels and trains. Bella Roma can be gritty and I quickly longed for the more ordered Renaissance beauty of other Italian cities.
I got on the plane home, finished college and moved on into my first career, but never really felt satisfied. I knew I wanted to get a Master’s degree, and I felt like I had missed out on studying abroad. I searched for programs that would meet my goals academically and offer the European lifestyle I was seeking for a year. I almost didn’t apply to the school I ultimately attended simply because it was in Rome and I remembered my first experience less than fondly. However, I took the plunge and came to Rome… and didn’t like it! For me, Rome was an adjustment, but now the city has completely stolen my heart.
What was the transition like moving away from the US permanently? Was it difficult?
My transition happened in little 1 year bites, so I am not sure it ever felt “permanent.” I was facing my life 12 months at a time, and rarely thinking beyond that time line. Renewing my visa or permesso (Italian permit to stay) became a major source of anxiety, which was when I started to realize how badly I wanted to stay. I was terrified that someone at the consulate would decide I had been here long enough, and send me packing back to California.
I never say never to going back to the US someday, but the move certainly felt more permanent once I got married last year. My husband is Irish, and so at least one of us will always be away from home. However, since the permanence took place gradually, I had time (and the mental space) to get through the difficult bits.
Did you start your blog right away when you moved?
I actually started the blog a few months before I moved. I found the process of applying for a dichiarazione di valore to be laughably impossible. Not to be deterred by my first taste of Italian bureaucracy, I decided to document every single hoop I had to jump through. Then, when I did move to Rome, I recorded all my missteps with Italian culture. The whole thing has been a learning experience.
Tell me a little bit about An American In Rome. What is the mission of the blog?
The mission of the blog has evolved over time. It started as a blog for me. I didn’t think I would stay in Italy forever and so it became a kind of open journal and a way to keep in touch with family back home.
Now the blog is about Rome, food and travel, in that order. So many people travel to Rome and end up only skimming the surface. I want to find and share the best that the city has to offer, because this kind of information is not widely available in English. For food, that is simply a personal passion. I am pretty sure most of my disposable income goes to eating out, and I don’t really regret that. Finally, Rome is so perfectly located for exploring Europe, the Middle East and even Africa, so I include some of my travels throughout Italy and beyond.
What are 5 things everyone should do in Rome?
Oh, man. Good question, but also hard to narrow down.
I am going to skip everything obvious like the Colosseum, and go straight for Roman experiences that everyone should have regardless of how long they are staying in the city:
- Drink out of a nasoni. The water is cold and fresh, and there is an 80% chance you are going to drench yourself or someone else when you try to use one. The fountains are iconic, and run continuously on corners around the city. Use them.
- Eat pizza bianca. You will be hard pressed to find a better snack in Rome, or anywhere really. Pizza bianca is “white pizza” – chewy dough topped with olive oil and salt. It is perfect mix of carbs and fat, and is even better when stuffed with savoury ingredients for a totally indulgent sandwich.
- Ride a scooter. I was terrified to try this, and the longer I lived in Rome, the more horror stories I heard. I finally took a Vespa tour, so that someone else could do the driving and I loved it!
- Sip wine outside. There are little neighborhood wine bars tucked into some of the best Roman corners. I love Al Vino Al Vino, Il Vinaietto and Il Goccetto. All are perfect for taking a glass outside to the steps or let you stand on the cobblestones as you watch the evening life of the city start up.
- Take in the view. Rome has the most beautiful skyline in the world. You haven’t really seen the city until you have taken in the view from the orange garden, the Pincio terrace or find a glorious rooftop bar for cocktails at golden hour.
Do you have a favorite weekend trip from Rome?
It has to be a beach trip for me. I love Procida, an island off of Naples that is essentially Capri’s grungy little sister. It is tiny, lovely and often overlooked.
Back across the bay, the Amalfi Coast is stunning. Lunch at Da Adolfo’s on a private beach near Positano? Don’t mind if I do!
The best part is that both destinations require you to pass through Naples, where I always stop long enough to grab at least one pizza.
What is your favorite thing about Rome?
Its stubbornness. Rome refuses to change. For a modern city, that can make very little sense.
It sometimes feels like Rome is slow to innovate, and always a few decades behind the rest of Europe in terms of technology and amenities. However, it is what makes Rome so interesting. There are these incredible layers of old and new that blend together so naturally. In the summer, you can watch an opera in an ancient bathhouse or take in a concert at Castel Sant’Angelo. It is like nowhere else on earth.
Oh, plus the food! Obviously.
Favorite pasta? Favorite place to eat it?
That’s not fair. Can a mother ever really pick her favorite child?
Unsurprisingly, my favorite pastas are Roman – cacio e pepe, carbonara, arrabiata… but if I had to pick one, it would be alla gricia.
Gricia combines cheese and bacon into a single heart-stopping tastebud-pleasing pasta dish. I love it at Armando al Pantheon and Osteria degli Amici in Testaccio (where they add artichoke hearts too!)
What has been the biggest challenge with blogging so far?
Staying motivated. Blogging is not my job in any way, shape or form. I don’t currently have any ads on the site, so it costs me money out of pocket to keep it running. Putting up a post that took so much time to research and write can feel like sending a bit of myself out into the void.
What is the most rewarding thing about blogging so far?
This is going to sound cheesy, but it is absolutely the people I have met. I love hearing from readers who have stumbled across the blog and planned an unforgettable trip, or even been inspired to make the move to the country of their dreams. The blog has given me an excuse to get out there into this glorious chaotic mess of a city, and to meet the real Romans who make it such an inspiring place to live.
What is one piece of advice you would like to share about Rome or blogging?
I have just one piece of advice that I give out (sometimes unsolicited) over and over:
Go. Try it.
If you are dreaming of moving somewhere, do it. The worst that can happen is that you move home, and that’s not actually so bad, is it?
If you are wondering if you should start a blog, try it! It is a great exercise for yourself, and it might very well be the entry point into a global community of people who have similar interests and world views.