Will it be Paris or will it be Rome?
The song title is "April in Paris." But frankly, it's a bit too cold for me then. I'll take May or June, before the heat of summer and the crush of summer crowds.
And Rome is meant to be experienced sultry. Summer is when Rome is at its most Roman, and "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" is not ancient advice.
Sleep in, prowl late. See the sights when the golden light is sideways - morning and late afternoon. When it glares overhead, disappear for a little afternoon bed time. When the moon comes out, so does Rome. The squares and streets are vibrant in their low light and warm air.
Paris and Rome are romantic, eternal - and right now, in the prime season for American travel to Europe, pretty cheap. With the dollar flexing its muscles against the euro, and a worldwide economic slump, deals are as numerous as cafes on the Boulevard St. Germain.
For me, the warmth of spring and summer brings the senses to life.
Sight is the glow of the City of Light at dusk on the elegant bend in the Seine from Pont Neuf. Sound is shuffling shoes and hushed voices in Notre Dame. Touch is the soft grass when I take off my shoes in Parc Monceau. Scent is a bundle of lilies of the valley in the hands of a woman next to me on the Metro as it pulls into Etoile on a Friday night. But mostly, Paris is taste.
Butter and tomato. Wine and olive. Chocolate and Champagne. The crisp crunch of a freshly baked croissant bought from a tiny Boulevard St.-Germain shop.
The crack, slurp, and sip of an ocean-sized platter of fruits de mer at Brasserie Bofinger. The chocolate melted in a copper pan and poured into my cup at Le Flore en l'Ile. The chalky first taste of a half-bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine that needs more time to breathe. A fresh baguette, a summer sausage, some soft Brie, and a half-bottle of Minervois bought in the stalls near the Jardin des Plantes, then self-served on a step leading down to the Seine.
There are five things I do just about every trip to Rome: First, I buy a porchetta sandwich. I'm rarely around the Stazione Termini again after I arrive in Rome, so I usually drag my rolling bag over the bumpy pavement to the nearby Er Buchetto, a tiny sandwich shop at 2F via del Viminale. The specialty is porchetta, sliced off a large pork roast and stuffed into a fresh roll. You'll know you've found the place when you see the stuffed pig hanging from the green awning. It's a cheap ($8), traditional Roman lunch.
Next, I snooze in the hills. Rome has seven hills and my favorite is the Palatine, where you can wander among the ancient ruins and 18th-century homes. In keeping with Roman attitudes, there is no "keep off the grass" attitude, and I like to take a break to bask in the sun on a patch of green near one of the crumbled remnants of a Caesar monument.
Third: Experience rain inside the Pantheon. I hope for rain while I am in Rome, and if it comes, I hurry to the Pantheon, the great temple of the Emperor Hadrian that was converted into a Catholic church. The roof has a giant hole, called an oculus, where rain pours down into the marble interior (and off into drains). If you are really lucky, you can see lightning flash across the opening to the sky, then stay as the clearing clouds reveal a thick shaft of light flowing to the floor.
Fourth: See sunset at the Piazza del Popolo. There is something about the symmetry and color of the stone that makes for a calming late afternoon. The buildings and monuments glow golden from the sunlight, except where long shadows of the columns and monuments creep across the plaza. Grab a table at an outdoor cafe and enjoy the slow-motion dance of light and shadow.
Last but not least: Drink the best coffee in the world, at the small Sant' Eustachio Caffe. It is served thick and strong. Espresso. Cappuccino. Latte. The cafe's motto is "Men should be like coffee - strong, good, hot." The tiny cafe is at 82 Piazza Sant' Eustachio, just behind the Pantheon. Pay, then put a small-denomination coin atop your receipt for faster service.