The Romance of Rome
Rome was never on top of the excitement chart in terms of the cities in Italy I wanted to visit. "Too touristy," I thought. I had heard about the headaches of the lines at the Colosseum, the summer tourism crowds, and so on, so I was braced for having to hold back my impatient New Yorker self.
But the charm of Rome turned out to be in all the in-betweens. Of course, we visited the majority of the major staple sights, as we couldn't miss out on the rich, historical significance of some of these places, but the romance of Rome was in the little in-betweens of our journey for me. The amaaaazing food (best meal of my entire life was in this city), the laughs in our silly side-adventures, and the local experiences.
Unlike my more formal roundup lists, like Zürich or New Orleans, this post will be more about taking you guys on an adventure through our two days in Rome. I wasn't doing any work in this city, so it was purely for enjoyment and vacation. Don't worry though, I will be highlighting stuff you all should bookmark for when you are in this lovely city! Also, these photos are a mix of actual nice shots and then stuff from my iPhone, unedited.
The first night we arrived, we got settled into our Airbnb place right by the Termini train station. Tip: staying by the Termini station was a great convenience due to location of trains, but I would not recommend staying around here alone. The area is a bit off the beaten path, and as a woman, I would not have felt particularly comfortable if I were solo-traveling and staying here.
Upon a restaurant recommendation from our friendly host, we set off to grab some dinner at I Fratelli.
The place was about a 10 minute walk away, and we were a bit startled at first because Google maps decided to lead us down some barely-lit streets that were rather quiet, but then we were relieved to come across a populated area by the local university. The waiters were very entertaining, and the restaurant was very cute and quaint. With the nice weather, we decided to sit outdoors on the sidewalk and it was the perfect place to enjoy some amazing pizza. We loved this place for both the atmosphere, the local feel, and the prices were awesome for Rome too- the pizzas were about 8-14 Euros, and were plenty for one. We waddled home in a carb-cheese coma, and got some sleep for the jam-packed next day.
Bright and early, we hopped on the train from Termini to make our first stop of the day. Having been in Florence, we understood the Italian coffee ritual-- you first walk up to the cashier to order and pay for your coffee, then they hand you a receipt that you bring over to the baristas, who will then make your coffee. Coffee is also supposed to be drank while standing near the bar, as they say an espresso should be drank in 1.5 minutes while still perfectly hot.
We then stopped by the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. I was wearing (lengthy) shorts and a sleeveless shirt, so as we walked up to the church, some very aggressive street vendors with scarves kept yelling at us to buy these before going into the church. My bad, we weren't initially expecting to go to a church that morning and it was quite hot outside, so I wasn't dressed appropriately- so heads up, have your shoulders covered and wear a skirt or pants if visiting! Boyfriend's shorts didn't seem to be an issue... but that's a separate topic all on its own :)
This church is a bit out of the way from the main city center, so I'd recommend to skip this one if you are short on time, but it is quite pretty and worth the look if you manage to make it over.
Next stop was the famous Colosseum. If you are planning to see this historic sight (which I think was worth it!), definitely plan on buying tickets beforehand. We stood in line maybe not even 10 minutes before being let in, but the line for those without tickets wrapped around the building and looked to be about 2 hours long.
To see this historical landmark in person was pretty incredible. To walk around the entire amphitheatre and imagine the gladiatorial contests and dramas that happened in here was truly mind-opening. This may sound funny because it looks like it's crumbling down, but the Colosseum is actually pretty well-preserved for being built in 70-80 AD- the details in the architecture are very cool to see in person.
We then crossed the bridge over to Trastevere, but I'm saving that for later in the post (you'll soon know why!), then crossed back over a bit higher north to the main city center of Rome.
Now here was my one regret in Rome- not getting something at this adorable farmer's market we stumbled upon. I'm currently staring at that colorful pasta, growing more remorseful by the second. My reasoning for convincing myself to not get something here was that I'd have another chance to get something before the end of the day, and I didn't want to lug around a bag of groceries... bad, Minna *face smack.* Consoling myself by telling myself that one day, I will return and buy 10 pounds of pasta to bring home with me.
We just had some pizza for lunch, but that clearly didn't stop us from going to Frigidarium for gelato... I had this place recommended to me by several friends who studied abroad here, and Frigidarium, Il Gelato di San Crispino and Giolitti were the three most mentioned gelato places to go to.
We sadly didn't make it to the other two (from being so full on carbs already), but Frigidarium exceeded expectations. I got the fragola (strawberry) and the ricotta with wild berries, and boyfriend got the house special flavor (some chocolate caramel heavenly concoction) and stracciatella. I think the fact that they disappeared, cone and all, in about <10 minutes says enough about how we felt about it.
While immersed in deep concentration of savoring our gelato, we walked to Piazza Navona. I don't know what it was about this piazza, but this was my favorite open space in Rome. This piazza is rather big, and is wide open in the center. We walked across it later that night, and there was something quite romantic about the atmosphere- it evoked similar feelings to a cool summer night in Washington Square Park for me. Surrounded by local people, all in their own little worlds and activities, yet collectively joined together in this space. Also, there were so many beautiful florals hanging down from all the building's windows (my favorite photo being the second one from the top in this post!)
Our next stop was at the Pantheon. I didn't expect it to be quite as large and looming as it was. Standing there, marveling at the beautiful exterior structure of it simply reminded me of how small I am in this world and how much more of it there is to be seen. Built between 118-125 AD, this church is immaculate in it's architecture. We spent more time than expected in here, because it really takes a while to soak up all these details in design. For being built so long ago, it's astonishing how accurate the symmetry is in structure and detail.
Next on the itinerary was the Trevi Fountain. As you can see from my Snapchat screenshots, we didn't realize that it was going under a $2.4 million renovation, sponsored by Fendi (that was just completed day before yesterday). They set up a little pond for us to throw our euros in as a little substitute. Having zero hand-eye coordination, I somehow missed over the fence...twice. Then realized I threw it straight on instead of over my shoulder like tradition states. Giving myself an A+ for effort though ha!
A short walk away were the famous Scalinata della Trinita dei Monti-- or otherwise known as the Spanish Steps. So, I'm realizing now that I didn't take any good pictures of the actual steps because it was positively mobbed with people and mildly overwhelming. What I didn't realize was that this is the affluent shopping area of Rome- all the high end retail stores that you see on 5th Avenue are here. It is quite beautiful to walk around here, albeit crowded. This area was a different vibe of the city than everything else we had seen previously. Old and rustic Roman charm with a Spanish flavor, yet more modernized than some other neighborhoods.
After ascending to the top, we stopped at a little cafe for a classic apertivo, the Italian version of happy hour. Get a drink, and it comes with yummy snacks- some places will provide enough to substantiate a full-on meal, if you're looking to budget!
Our last stop on this side of the river was Villa Borghese- the Borghese Gardens. This is by far my favorite personal memory, for a few reasons. First, we got there right as the sun began its descent behind the skyline, which is my favorite part in any new city. But my absolute favorite was this:
We were walking around the gardens when I spotted these little tandem bicycle carts (no idea what to actually call them), and we were debating whether it was worth the 10 euro it would cost to rent one. So glad we did. We turned into hysterical 5-year olds while zooming along in this little contraption, frightening older couples (oops), and whizzing by all the Italian teenagers amore PDA (they have no shyness, apparently). I highly recommend seeing the gardens like this- we couldn't stop laughing the whole time, and it's a memory I'm going to forever cherish.
The sunset was also stunning over the city landscape. A beautiful, pastel sky was the sweetest way to end our garden adventure.
We had walked through the gorgeous neighborhood of Trastevere earlier in the day, and I fell in love with it 10 steps into the neighborhood. If I were to move to Rome, this is the city that I'd reside in. Small, local restaurants, many pedestrian-only streets, and quaintly charming.
Starving, because we were used to having carbs every 2 hours at this point, we had our eyes set on trying Da Enzo, a small neighborhood gem I had read about on CNTraveler. We walked there to Trastevere from Borghese Gardens, which took about an hour- now looking back, we should have definitely taken the train to shorten the time, because we were not anticipating the restaurant wait that was well, waiting for us when we arrived.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you go to Rome and want authentic local food, you must eat here.
I want to tell everyone in the world about this place, but selfishly I don't because I worry it'll get even more mobbed, or even worse, bought out and turned into a chain. And that can't happen, because I want to return to Rome for a week and eat dinner here every single night. The reason why I have two singular photos from here is because, one, my phone battery was practically dead, and two, I was busy trying to not eat the food off other peoples plates after my own.
Small, neighborhood gem was absolutely correct- the tiniest hole in the wall (see photo below) that apparently all the foodies had sussed out, because there was an hour wait. Both boyfriend and I were dangerously hangry at this point, but convinced ourselves to wait it out because it was supposed to be worth it. Let me tell you, this wait felt like the longest restaurant wait of my life. I also am accustomed to the New York pace of table turnover, and the Italian pace by comparison is slower than a snail.
The owner knows that people are getting antsy outside, so he brings out tiny sampling plates of the house Cacio e Pepe for those who have been waiting near the hour mark, us being one of them. I had never had pasta like this in my entire life. Granted, I think even a cracker would have tasted gourmet at this point, but I don't lie. Da Enzo uses all organic, local ingredients that they personally source, and it shows in the flavors of the pure ingredients.
The in-house olive oil and balsamic were beyond superb, and their fried artichoke is an absolute must for a starter. We then had the carbonara and the house special pasta, which were the best pasta dishes in my life, then finally dessert- oh man. I spied these miniature wild strawberries on top of these mascarpone dessert cups in the fridge, but I just wanted the strawberries. We managed to get just a little cup of strawberries that they drizzled with lemon juice and a light dusting of powdered sugar. It was the single best thing I've ever tasted. These strawberries were sweeter than any artificial candy can be made, but so perfectly tart.
Understandably, we went home and passed out in a carb coma. The next day though we were up bright and early for our trip to Vatican City. Also like the Colosseum, I highly suggest buying tickets to the museum in advance. It'll save you 1-2 hours of your life and your sanity.
The Vatican Museum is massive. Be prepared to walk in heavy crowds and do a lot of walking, but it is a fascinating museum for someone who wants a lot of different parts of history in one place. It is stunning, and even for those who don't know much about art, it's impossible to not appreciate the beauty and precision of the work in here. My neck was aching from how much I wanted to keep looking up.
We only had from morning until we had to catch our train to Amalfi in the afternoon, so we didn't have as much time to explore as we wished- I would definitely dedicate an entire day to thoroughly exploring Vatican City.