Ciao again guys! Come with me to Roma as we finish up the last part of our first anniversary vacation in Italy. It was a country I will definitely never forget, but as I mentioned, I was sick with strep and pink eye…so there were some parts I tried to forget! So basically I’m convinced that Italy hates me, more specifically Rome…like I have a serious personal vendetta for Italy now, but I know I’ll return and get it right the second time! Don’t get be wrong, I loved the country, but it would have been a lot more enjoyable if I hadn’t been slowly dying inside…so now I travel with lots of Vitamin C!
So Italy was our first big trip out of the country, and we learned a lot of things first hand -most the hard way- but it has made us better travelers. Below is the Altare della Patria, a monument built to honor the unification of Italy. It’s close to the Colosseum and Roman Forum and is within this huge intersection of some very busy roads (strada) in Rome. It’s a great area to catch street artists!
Where we stayed
Rome was more big city hustle-n-bustle vibe, so very different from Florence, the laid back Renaissance capital. We stayed in a neighborhood called Trastevere, which is where you’d find yourself mixed with middle class working Italians among narrow cobblestone streets…a true Italian neighborhood. It’s across the Tiber River from the Trevi Fountain and Colosseum areas, so complete opposite side of the city from most busy-ness. It’s most well known for Santa Maria Piazza, which includes the Basicilica of Santa Maria-one of the oldest in Rome!
What we did
Our first day in Rome, we booked a tour to the Colosseum and Roman Forum through the USO. My husband was military at the time, so an added perk was being able to use the USO, and their facility was a block away from the Vatican-PERFECT! It was nice to have some familiarity in a foreign country ya know. The tour lasted about 3-4 hours, and we had a local Italian lady show us around the city. It’s a shame that the Colosseum has been destroyed so much over the years…it was torn down little by little by different Popes for supplies to build their monuments or homes…greedy much?? It’s hard to capture it all in a picture while inside. You can see the catacombs below where the animals and gladiators were kept before fights. We all love a good gladiator & lion story, huh?
The Colosseum was massive and beautiful, even in it’s destroyed state, but they had scaffolding around the entire outside of it for some restoration (Reason #1 Rome Hates Me), so forgot those stunning views as you’re walking down the hill to the plaza ha…proof that famous monuments don’t always look like your favorite Instagram photos! But this is travel. The good, the bad, and the ugly! I’ve had some of my best memories while traveling, but it’s taught me to have realistic expectations for my favorite sites because, well, sometimes they look like this.
The tour also took us by the Spanish Steps and the Roman Forum, which are the ruins that sit adjacent to the Colosseum. The Forum was the city center of ancient Rome and holds some really old structures (we’re talking like 7th and 8th century BC!). They are constantly excavating the area and reassembling buildings, so it’s always a work in progress. The tour was about $80/person, which included all the perks of the USO facility too. It’s also totally doable to buy the separate entrance tickets and just see everything yourself, but I liked having a local guide helping you understand everything.
Palatine Hill stands overlooking the Forum and contains the most ancient parts of the city where palaces and temples were built. You get some awesome views of Rome from the Hill, and you could easily spend an entire day wandering around the Colosseum, Forum, & Palatine Hill areas. We actually visited the Forum and Hill the following day because a bunch of tourism employees had gone on strike the day of our tour (which evidently happens frequently), and it was closed! Italy taught us to be flexible for sure!
Definitely a highlight of our trip! The next day we spent wandering around to the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain areas. I love the skinny, wandering Italian streets…how you’re making your way through the maze, then suddenly a big piazza opens up and Oh Hey! there’s the Pantheon! The beautiful Pagan temple turned Christian sanctuary. We took a quick look inside and then chilled out front by the fountain with a beer where this street performer was playing some music. This is what Italian dreams are made of yall! The Pantheon has the largest un-reinforced dome in the world and was the largest until the the Duomo of Florence was completed in 1436. Best of all, it’s free to enter!
Later that day, we made our way to the Trevi Fountain, hoping to throw a coin and make 3 wishes or whatever the song says. I’m sure it is beautiful without the scaffolding, but instead we got this…Reason #2 Rome Hates Me.
I attempted to throw a coin over my shoulder into the water-less fountain, but there were 15 feet tall barriers around the outside too (not pictured), so the penny probably never made it in…so I guess I’m damned eternally now?…oh well…
Another site we loved and visited on our last day in Rome was the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel). It’s on the west side of the city close to the Vatican. It was originally built by Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and eventually used by the popes as a castle and fortress-it even has an ancient underground tunnel connecting it to the Vatican! Today it’s a museum that offers some great views of Rome and the Tiber River.
Here’s some more views around and inside the Castel. You get great views of the Vatican from the rooftop and can see just how close it is to Vatican City. We spent a good half day here and entrance was only 7€/person.
One of our favorite restaurants in Rome was Piccolo Arancio (little orange). It was actually recommended to me by my dentist (see it always pays to have travel connections!) and was only a block away from the Trevi Fountain. We had some appetizers and pastas and a super delish chocolate mouse dessert. Is your mouth watering yet? We were always walking somewhere, so most other food we just got a grab and go meal…our favorite stops were little pizza shops in Trastevere! And of course, we couldn’t forget our nightly gelato fix!
I had some super cool moments in Rome, but how could you not with so much rich history! It was for sure a site on my bucket list, but it didn’t move me like Florence…I know me being sick played a part in this, but I don’t know if I’d ever go back to Rome. Been there, done that thing but honestly I enjoyed the smaller cities of the Tuscany region so much more! We actually never visited Vatican City or saw the Sistine Chapel…I didn’t feel like I needed to for my “Roman Experience.” If I’m not feeling it, I have no problem passing up famous landmarks out of obligation, but I encourage everyone to plan their trips around what they want to see. Don’t visit places just because Google says it’s in the “Top 5 things to do in Rome.” Be sure to learn some basic Italian words and phrases before visiting because it makes things a lot easier. People are instantly more receptive and friendly when you at least try to speak Italian, even if you’re using a translator app like my husband. Thanks for coming to Rome with me, and be sure to check out our first 5 days in Italy here where we visited Florence & Tuscany region.