We went to Rome for our anniversary back in September. We had a packed 3 days of museum hopping, pasta eating, and vino swilling.
Day 1 – Vatican and Villa Borghese, interrupted by an impromptu haircut
We stayed in a lovely hotel just a block away from the Ottaviano metro station, steps away from the Vatican. In fact, on our first morning, I looked out our hotel window and the stream of tourists, nuns, priests, and touts were already flowing into the Vatican museum’s main entrance by 8:30 am.
Thankfully, we got tickets ahead of time so we waltzed right into the museum right at opening. Actually, museum is an understatement; this place comprises 54 galleries topped off by arguably the greatest work of Renaissance art in the Sistine Chapel. Highlights for us were, of course, the Sistine Chapel and the Map Rooms. As first time visitors we were awestruck at every turn; one room here would be the highlight of any other city’s art collection.
After a couple of hours in the Vatican Museums we walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica and got in line. While the line looked long we were inside within 10 minutes. Just like the Vatican Museums, the scale of St. Peter’s is hard to describe and photographs do not do it justice. I know there were thousands of visitors inside but we never felt that it was overcrowded.
After the Vatican, we hopped on a bus and headed across the Tiber River to Piazza Navona where we grabbed lunch and a quick coffee and then went inside the Pantheon for about a half hour.
By this time, all that looking up at the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s and the Pantheon was starting to give our necks a strain. What better way to relax than with a visit to an Italian barber? While I got a haircut, the proprietor plied Amanda with chocolates and ran out to get us both espressos.
We had tickets for the Villa Borghese at 5pm so, after my haircut, we flew up the Spanish Steps and walked across the beautiful park to the gallery. Again, one room in this place would be the highlight in any other city.
After all that culture, we walked down to Piazza de Popolo for negronis and a wonderful meal at Porto di Ripetta.
Day 2 – Trastevere and more pasta
I woke up early and let Amanda sleep while I walked along the Tiber to the Trastevere neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that still looks medieval, with narrow winding streets and small churches seemingly on every corner.
After wandering around for a couple of hours and having a couple of great slices of Roman style pizza at la Renella bakery, I then met Amanda at Campo di Fiori for an early afternoon drink.
That evening we had our best meal in Rome at Salumeria Roscioli.
Day 3 – Ancient Rome and even more pasta
We got up early and headed to the ancient ruins. The ancient site comprises three parts: The Colosseum, The Forum, and the Palantine Hill. Knowing that most people start at the Colosseum and then tour the Forum, we did the opposite and started at the Palatine Hill.
This turned out to be a smart move as we had the place to ourselves for about the first hour we were there. The lack of crowds probably contributed to the Palatine Hill being our favorite section. We then headed down the hill into the Forum. By the time we were done with the Forum it was already after noon so we skipped going inside the Colosseum. Even though we had tickets it was clearly crowded inside.
That evening we had another great meal of pasta and Italian wine. Afterwards, I promised Amanda a trip to the Trevi Fountain. While she was skeptical of my navigation skills as I didn’t have the aid of a map, I got us there without any problem. The fountain, however, was closed for cleaning. Bummer.
- Rome is full of touts, hawkers, pickpockets, and scammers. While we didn’t have any issues, we both felt we had to be more on guard than any other place we’d been. It’s no surprise since Rome has been a top tourist destination for the past 2000 years; they’ve pretty much figured out all the angles on how to part fools with their money.
- Bars serve little snack with cocktails, like olives, small sandwiches, and nuts. So, while cocktails may seem a little expensive, at least they come with a bit of food.
- The airport in Rome is a joke. The non-stop train from the airport to the main station was surprisingly efficient but the rest of that damnable place was a nerve-wracking hellscape.
- Even if it had been running, I think the Trevi Fountain would have disappointed. It’s in a small little piazza that is probably wall-to-wall people when it is running.
- The food was the highlight, I think you could go into the most touristy restaurants and get a good meal.
- Before going to Rome, I planned ahead to find the best Roman style pizza. Some online reviews knock places for not complying with their idea of “authentic” pizza. The fact is, traditional Roman pizza differs from what most people think it should be, which is usually more Neapolitan. Unlike in Naples, Roman pizza has a thicker, almost focaccia-like crust, can handle more toppings, and is rectangular. It is also delicious.
- We went to Rome in mid-September, I can’t conceive of having to navigate the throngs of tourists during the high season.
- This probably sounds stupid and cliched but there are churches everywhere here and they all have world class art inside. One could live a lifetime and not see everything.
- The Tiber river is like the un-scenic, un-romantic cousin to the Seine. It’s flanked by high flood walls and is muddy,reedy, and slow moving. It’s really not much to look at.