For our two-year wedding anniversary my husband and I took a 16 day trip to Italy starting and ending in Rome and exploring several places north of the ancient city. It was my first time in Italy and his second; he took a trip when he was a teen to Milan, Venice and a few other regional towns. We set out to take our (long for us) trip with the following goals:
- Don’t spend a million dollars.
- Eat really good authentic/regional Italian food and learn about how it’s made.
- Experience authentic Italian culture.
- See as many of the main sights/sites (art, churches, piazzas, ruins, etc.) as we could.
I have a lot of thoughts on the above after our trip so that will live in a separate blog post. Over all, we wanted to learn about Italy. This post is just about the first city on our itinerary, Rome, but will link back to future posts on the other stops on our trip as they are posted. Links will also be provided for recommended accommodations, tours, and restaurants where applicable.
In keeping with our first goal, not spending a million dollars, we flew at times when most people don’t: departing on a Wednesday night and returning on a Saturday morning. We booked with American Airlines but ended up on British Airways with a connection in Heathrow. On the way there we ended up sprinting through the airport to make our connection (single hour layovers in Heathrow are no bueno) but we made it!
We got quite lost on our way to the first place we were staying, Roma Trasteverina B&B in the Trastevere area of Rome, but we eventually made it and luckily were met by the owner four hours after we were supposed to get there. This was basically a studio apartment in a regular ol’ apartment building and it was perfect for us. I would recommend it to anyone staying in Rome. My husband also met his first bidet in our ridiculously tiny bathroom. And that’s all I’ll say about that.
The next morning we had booked a tour in advance of the Vatican, St. Peter’s Cathedral and Sistine Chapel with Dark Rome Tours & Walks. Worth it. Worth every single penny. This tour allowed up to skip the line (which was CRAZY LONG) and learn way more than we would with a free walking tour. Did I mention that we got to skip the line? It was still very crowded– and this was the “off season”– but we were both so thankful we booked the tour with an English speaking guide.
The first part of the tour took us through the Vatican Museums somewhat quickly which was probably good since there was tons to see and I would have been overwhelmed even more if we had spent more time there. I especially liked the funny looking statues!
We zipped through the museums then went on to St. Peter’s Basilica. That is one HUGE church. And really, a picture can’t do it justice. But none of the other churches in Italy really were quite on the same level as this one in terms of size and decoration.
We also saw the Sistine Chapel which was cool because you see it so often in textbooks and print that it is somewhat surreal. My husband would tell you he was underwhelmed but I would tell you it was really amazing and I was impressed.
Why is this picture up our noses? Because there are guards telling you “NO FOTO” and so I took a sneaky picture of us with the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel above us.
This is another sneaky picture in the Sistine Chapel of The Last Supper. No foto!!!
Check out all those chairs behind us for when they have mass and people want to see the pope. Again, while this tour was looong (3 hours!) it could have been even longer with so much to see.
We referenced our guide book for lunch and had a really great lunch of cacio e pepe, a red sauce pasta, and fritto misto. I would recommend this restaurant for the food but I don’t have the name in front of me. Sorry!
Recharged after a good lunch, we were back on our feet and headed to the Colosseum. On the way we ran across this monument which we hadn’t seen or read about in our research before. It’s the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, the king who unified Italy. It’s huge. And super white. And while I think people look at it as gaudy in a city of ruins, I believe that the Colosseum must have stood out like this in its heyday so it was a cool comparison.
At the Colosseum we used our free walking tour which was perfect for this site. Also, word to the Roman traveler– they don’t make it obvious but your ticket for the Colosseum can also be used for the Roman Forum and vice versa. Tickets are good for the day they are purchased and the next day. Anyhow, the Colosseum was super interesting and different/bigger than I had imagined. Very impressive.
They tell you to make reservations at restaurants but until we tried getting an unreserved table at a guidebook recommended place we didn’t realize how necessary it was. My husband and I learned that going to the restaurant the day before or earlier in the day (if you don’t have someone to call for you) is a necessary step if you don’t want to stumble into the first tourist trap you come across.
One evening we weren’t extremely hungry and didn’t want to sit down some place– just about every restaurant in Italy has a “cover” fee for a table– so we happened across a pizza al taglio place where they serve square pizza by the weight. Lots of folks, both English speaking and locals, were in this standing room only place so we went for it. And we were rewarded. Pizza marinara is my new fascination and I will recreate it!
Pizza with squash blossoms and anchovies, pizza with uncured ham, pizza with potato and mind blowing marinara pizza
On our second day in Rome the owner of the apartment/B&B we were staying at had recommended taking a walk up a hill into a park in Trastevere to see all of Rome. It wasn’t too hot first thing in the morning so we took his advice and had a great view of Rome from up high!
The signs, in English and Italian, said that there were some serious battles fought on this hill therefore there are now lots of busts of various generals and lots of Garibaldis. I’m thinking I need to get a bust made of the husband to have on display in the house.
The park allowed us to see some of the places we had already visited and the Pantheon which we were off to next. This was another Rick Steves audio tour one (which is why we both have earbuds in below).
I would highly recommend seeing the Pantheon because it’s wicked old and super impressive that people built this so long ago (on the backs of salves). I mean, check out the size of the blocks below! Also, behind me in the below picture you can see that the city level is higher than some of these old buildings due to the rubble that the city was built up on.
Did you know the Pantheon has an open hole in its dome? I didn’t until I visited. Yes, there are drainage holes in the floor to accommodate rain.
Walking through Rome is a different experience than I had imagined. It never occurred, although it should of, that there were all these other historical sites along the way that we weren’t going to spend time on but surely had an interesting history. Check out this beautiful old church that we ended up eating outside of at a ristorante in a piazza.
Everyone mentioned Trevi Fountain as a “must see.” Yes, it’s beautiful, and maybe I didn’t know enough about it’s history but we saw it and then were quickly outta there. Why?
Because it was one of the most packed places we came upon while in Rome! My husband and I have heard about people being pick pocketed and so we wanted to get away from this crowded tourist area as quick as possible despite it being pretty.
A short walk from Trevi Fountain are the Spanish Steps. I will admit that by this point my feet were killing me and it felt like it was a million degrees out so we were mostly going through the motions. But check out those nuns!
My husband is a giant who can lift obelisks.
Our last stop in Rome was seeing the Roman Forum and the ruins. Again, this ticket can be shared with the Colosseum if you plan ahead.
For those interested in history and especially Greek and Roman history this must be so eye opening. Just don’t do it when it’s four thousand degrees outside and your feet are killing you. 🙂On our last night in Rome, once we had rested up a little, the husband and I had a wonderful dinner at Trattoria da Lucia. It serves Roman food and especially amazing gnocchi if you like feeling like you are eating clouds covered in happiness. It was the perfect way to end our somewhat short stay in Rome before we moved on.
See Italy Stop 2: Florence here!