2 March 2012

How to do nothing in Rome

Guest post & photos by Toni DeBella

In my everyday life I am somewhat of an “over-planner”.  I like to know when and where I am going far in advance.  However, when it comes to spending an afternoon in Rome, I prefer to let my day just unfold instinctively and naturally.  When in Italy, I prefer to improvise.

 Sweet Nothings 

 Italians  have asay ing: “il dolce far niente” (the sweetness of doing nothing), but I wonder if it’s possible to be in one of the great capitals of the world and actually not do anything.  I am about to test the veracity of this expression and set out into the Eternal City in hopes of answering the question: Is it possible to do nothing in Rome?

 Piano, Piano (Slowly, Slowly)

Walking is one of the best ways to pass time while doing nothing special. Rome is perfectly situated for kicking around all day on its ancient, uneven cobblestones.  I didn’t have a destination in mind, nor did I bring a guidebook nor street map.  I was a blank slate, ready to improvise away!


Today I started out from Stazione Termini (the main train station) and walked over to and down Via Nazionale to Piazza Venezia.  Because it’s Sunday, Via dei Fori Imperiali is closed to motor vehicles allowing everyone to stroll freely from the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as the Vittoriano) to the Colosseo unassaulted by honking taxis or buzzing Vespas.  A quiet walk into tranquil nothingness.  I ventured back up Via Dei Fori Imperiali, heading for parts of town undiscovered and unscheduled.


By zigzagging through the narrow, winding streets, I avoided the heavy foot traffic and loud buses and ambulances.  I loved translating the meanings of the beautiful and evocative street signs carved into the sides of old buildings along the way. 


Some streets are named for things (Vicolo dei Venti, Alley of the Winds and Via della Pace, Road of Peace), some for artisans (Via dei Cappellari, Hatmakers Street), some after famous people (Via Cesare Balbo, Via Garibaldi) and others after Cities (Via Napoli, Via Firenze).  Don’t be afraid to duck around corners and peek into alleyways – you never know what small treasure or grand masterpiece you might bump into along the way.


Time Flies When you are Doing Nothing

Much of Rome’s main sites are jam-packed into the historical city center, so quite a lot of territory can be covered in one afternoon.   For instance, today I encircled the Colosseum, glanced at the Roman Forum, walked along the Tevere (Tiber), waited in a long line outside a bakery in the Jewish Ghetto, “window shopped” at the Campo dei Fiori (in the past a place for flower sellers), observed artists paint on PiazzaNavona (read more about Painters in the Piazza here),



ate lunch in a centuries old portico, cruised past the Pantheon, made a wish in the Fontana di Trevi, people-watched on the steps at Piazza di Spagna, sipped espresso in front of Bernini’s statue of Triton at Piazza Barberini, marveled at one of the great intersections at the corners of Via delle Quattre Fontane and Via del Quirinale,


then finishedup at the famous church,Santa Maria Maggiore, where Gian Lorenzo Bernini happens to be buried.   Now I am just a few blocks from the start of my journey at Stazione Termini where I can grab my train back to Orvieto.


Idle in Rome?

In answer to thequestion: When in Rome, is it really possible NOT to do as the Romans do?  I don’t think so, but I wonder if perhaps one shouldn’t take “il dolce far niente” too literally.  Could it be that Italians aren’t actually suggesting one strive to do “nothing” as much as it’s a manifesto for living with more intention, savoring the simple moments and allowing life’s rich experiences to sink in and permanently imprint in our memory?  If that’s the case, my day in Rome was not about nothing – it was in fact really all about something.


Toni DeBella divides her time between San Francisco and Orvieto, Italy and writes about the adventures on her blog, Orvieto or Bust (www.orvietoorbust.com) – a collection of stories and articles based on her experiences of Italy, travel and life in a small hill town in Umbria. 

Leave a comment