So we are back from Italy and still trying to sleep it all off. The jet lag hasn’t been too bad, but having what was basically a 24 hour travel day made things exhausting (although for the record, Swiss Air is amazing…US Airways not so much). I’m going to try to pull our trip together into a couple of posts with explanations of the things we did and ate and experienced. So we’ll start at the beginning: Rome.
Rome surprised me in so many different ways. Although I knew we were going to a quite big city, the sheer number of people everywhere (and constant noise of traffic) surprised me. I started out feeling a little ambivalent about Rome (so busy, so many tourists, etc.), but by the end of our time there we had discovered the places that I loved: the little winding Italian cobblestone streets lined with restaurants, the peaceful early mornings and evenings, and the fountains always flowing.
Colosseum/Roman Forum/Palentine Hill
This was the first thing we did as soon as we were settled (we had to rush through the first day of our trip playing catch up thanks to a weather delay and the embarrassing way US Airways handled the situation which resulted in us sleeping in the airport terminal). We went in the late afternoon, right after a storm had come through, and I think it was the best time of day/weather combination we could have had. The Colosseum was of course stunning to see, but the surprise favorite was the Palentine Hill which gave us lovely views of the Colosseum and felt peaceful and uncrowded with so much space to walk though.
Tips: Buy your tickets in advance online. They are good for two consecutive days and you skip the line of everyone else waiting for tickets.
This was another surprise favorite. One of the best decisions we made was to go to St. Peter’s Basilica early in the morning (we arrived around 7:30). It was uncrowded and so peaceful. The church was beautiful, but the way the morning sunlight came in through the windows rivaled any marble sculpture in the place. I loved the quiet stillness of that morning.
After the church we went to the museum, mainly to see the Sistine Chapel (although there are many other interesting exhibits). Compared to the emptiness of the church so early in the morning, the museum was packed and Gerrit and I kept getting separated from one another by large tour groups making their way through. While I’m glad we went, and want to be able to say we saw the Sistine Chapel, it doesn’t go on my list of top experiences.
Tips: Get to St. Peter’s as early as you can. They open at 7 and we went in with no wait. By the time we got out, the line to get in stretched all the way around St. Peter’s square. And again, buy your tickets to the museum online ahead of time. The line to get tickets was amazingly long.
Piazza Navonna/Campo D’Fiore
This was my favorite area of Rome. We found ourselves here again and again looking for places to eat and wondering around the streets. While it can be a bit crowded on the main thoroughfares, the side streets can feel empty. The feel of this area is so charming, and because it is in the center of everything else (and close to where we stayed) it is easy to return to for food or gelato.
You see pictures of the Pantheon and its domed ceiling, but it is so much bigger than it looks. I was so in awe of the building, the beauty of the mable interior, and the way the exterior completely commands the square it sits on.
Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps
The crowds at the Trevi Fountain are overwhelming, but this is still not a sight to be missed. The fountain is giant, and you can hear the water rushing from it from blocks away. We went here twice, once during the day and once more to see it at night, during which a guy proposed to his girlfriend right in front of us causing the entire piazza to erupt into cheers.
The Spanish Steps give you a great view of Rome (and a good place to stop and rest), but other than that they weren’t one of the highlights for me.
This is one of the coolest things we did in Rome. San Clemente is a church near the Colosseum that was built in the 12th century. Below it is another church built in the 4th century, and below that is a 1st century Roman home. The levels below have been excavated and you can go down to each level. This was such an amazing place, and yet there were very few tourists here, which made it a relief and something you can fully experience without fighting your way through crowds.
We spent one evening wondering around Trastevere, an area of Rome that is just across the river to the south. It was charming and felt bohemian to me and was just a lovely place to get lost in.
Eating in Rome
To be honest, one of the most stressful things for us was deciding where to eat. There are restaurants everywhere. As you walk down the streets at night the sidewalks are literally covered with people dining. I will tell you this though: we didn’t have a single bad pasta dish in Rome. Both times we had carbonara, it was delicious. I had some amazing cheese ravioli at a restaurant called Cul De Sac, and Gerrit had a lasagna that he loved at a random restaurant in the Campo D’Fiore area (and it was ordered off the tourist menu, no less). We did however have several “main courses” that were not up to par. So my advice would be to stick to the pasta and pizza (best pizza we had was at Baffetto 2), and eat gelato at every chance you get. And have a few restaurant you’d like to try in mind before you go, because the choices can be overwhelming.
More thoughts and tips
– Learn how to use the bus system. We didn’t discover this until the second half of our time here, but it saved our feet so many times. The system is fairly easy to figure out, and Google has a feature where you can navigate somewhere using public transportation and it tells you what bus to catch at what stop which makes it even easier.
– Bring water bottles and fill them up at fountains. There are fountains everywhere at Rome that just run constantly, and the water is perfectly good to drink.
Coming next: Florence!