I hope you’re sitting comfortably with a cup of tea or glass of wine by your side, ready to settle in for a rather long blog post, as I take your imagination on a trip to Rome…
After much deliberation of how to appropriately celebrate my boyfriend’s 30th birthday, we decided to get away. We chose Rome, for his interest in archaeology and history, for the amazing food, and for the fact that we needed to warm up after a long winter (it was about 10 degrees warmer there in March than in the UK).
I’d been before and wanted to make this a trip to remember, so I toiled over a meticulously crafted itinerary in the days leading up to the holiday. We didn’t even do half of the things I had planned. C’est la vie. But we did have an amazing time. Here’s what we did get round to doing and (perhaps more importantly) where we ate.
Late afternoon we arrived in Rome. Our hotel was situated in Trastevere. I didn’t fancy staying in the city centre, but within walking distance to most sights. I searched far and wide for a hotel with some character that fit the bill but wasn’t too expensive. I found all of that in Hotel San Francesco in Trastevere (Via Jacopa de’ Settesoli 7). I would describe the décor as quirky Italian, the bathroom was huge, the continental breakfast buffet plentiful and the staff very friendly. If you come in summer there’s a roof terrace with a bar. But March is still too cold for Italians to open their terraces. We spent the evening walking through the cobbled streets of the city centre getting lost trying to find a particular British bar that was showing Premier League football. Not the most Italian start to our holiday, but my birthday boy was adamant.
I’d been to Rome before, but never inside the Vatican Museums. People had always tried to discourage me, but I wouldn’t be deterred on this visit. By the time we arrived, the queue was already around the corner and almost on to St. Peter’s Square. Luckily, I’d bought tickets for the museums online with an early time slot which enabled us to go straight in and start soaking up the culture. Despite it being morning, the route that leads you through various papal apartments to the Sistine Chapel was very busy. So many people were jostling for position in front of the most famous artworks, taking photos when it was expressly forbidden and generally not thinking about others at all. I see why people tried to discourage me going, but the Sistine Chapel is definitely worth seeing once in your life.
By the time we left it was lunchtime and our bellies were growling. We decided to go for ice cream at the Gelateria dei Gracchi (Via dei Gracchi 272). Thia tiny parlour took some time to find and was a bit of a walk but it remains one of the best ice creams I have ever had. I warmly recommend their gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut) flavour. On the way back to St Peter’s Square we also got some pizza slices from a bakery. Fully content, we joined the security queue for St Peter’s Basilica. I never feel like there’s much to say about St. Peter’s. It’s impressive, but personally seeing it twice is definitely enough for me.
It was still light and I wanted to stick with my original itinerary as much as possible, so we walked along the river to the Piazza del Popolo. After a quick peek inside Santa Maria del Popolo, we walked down the road to the Spanish Steps (which were really overcrowded and there were a lot of people pestering us to buy flowers or selfie sticks – not the most pleasant experience) and down towards the Pantheon. We tried to get into a restaurant that I’d heard a lot about without luck, but I managed to snag a table later in the week for my boyfriend’s birthday meal.
Feeling like we’d done plenty of walking that day, we hobbled back to Trastevere and found a well-hidden gem of a pizzeria called Dar Poeta (Vicolo del Bologna 45). It was a weeknight and quite late but the place was crammed full of locals and tourists alike. We shared an antipasti plate and had a pizza each (eyes bigger than our bellies…). It was one of the best meals we had in Rome.
If religious Rome was the theme for our first day, ancient Rome was the theme of the second. After some online research, I decided the best (and least crowded) way to see ancient Rome was to go up to the Palatine first. We bought tickets at the entrance that allow you to see the Palatine, Forum Romanum and Colosseum all in one go.
I started in awe of the minutest ruin and column pillar, but, to put it bluntly, ruin fatigue had set in for me by the time we’d finished on the Palatine and reached the Forum Romanum. Before we even got to the Palatine Hill, we’d passed famous sights, like the Bocca della Verita and the Circus Maximus. But I persevered and made it past all the Forum temples, the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum without becoming too complacent (not wanting to ruin it for my other half). As with other famous landmarks in Rome (*cough* Sistine Chapel), the Colosseum was overrun with tourists (bearing in mind we weren’t even visiting in high season). It was a very eerie place to be, having been the site of so much suffering for pleasure. I won’t need to visit the Colosseum again, but the Forum and Palatine Hill are beautiful, for the views and the extraordinary ruins. I’d need a few more trips to take it all in.
It was way past lunchtime by the time we were done. I persuaded my boyfriend to take me for a beer and a pollo Romana at the Antica Birreria Peroni (Via di S. Marcello 19). The food there was more northern Italian than Roman style cooking but it was hearty fare and the beers were a very welcome refreshment. After an extended lunch break, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, which was emptied of water due to restoration works, but we were able to get very close to the statues and the conservators via a walkway that had been set up. Another mid-afternoon ice cream break followed and we returned to Trastevere for dinner at Trattoria da Lucia (Vicolo del Mattonato 2), which was hard to find but worth the effort for the homely feeling and rustic food – I tried the spaghetti cacio e pepe and the osso buco.
By our third full day in Rome, I’d come to realise that we wouldn’t even come close to completing my itinerary, so it was overthrown. We decided that we really wanted to see the Castel Sant’Angelo (which my boyfriend had vetoed on the first day). I’m glad we visited the Castel Sant’Angelo. It’s worth it for the views alone and its history is very impressive. If you’re looking to learn more about papal Rome without the queues for the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s, I’d suggest going here instead. On the way there, we walked past the Campo dei Fiori and bought foodie gifts for ourselves, friends and family. On the hunt for penis shaped pasta? You’ll find it there (other shapes are available too).
Having had a list of recommendations from a Roman colleague of my mum’s and not having visited a single one of them yet, I determined that we would lunch at Hostaria Romana (Via del Boccaccio 1). As with all places in Rome, I underestimated how far it would be and how long it would take to walk there, especially on an empty belly. In hindsight, I was very glad we went as the food was really good (a messy bucatinia all’amatriciana for me, pollo Romana for him, and a creme caramel to share) and the waiters more than friendly. It’s an informal place, where former guests have scrawled messages of approval on the walls.
In the afternoon, and after much discussion over my taxing sightseeing schedule, we took it easy and settled in a cafe on the Piazza Navona with a glass of wine and spent time people watching and soaking up the atmosphere. Yes, the cafés there are slightly pricey, but when you’re on holiday you can allow yourself a little treat!
After returning to the hotel to dress for dinner, we made it to the little restaurant that I had reserved for a birthday meal. Armondo al Pantheon (Salita dei Crescenzi 31) was the perfect place for a couple to have dinner; informal and without too much fuss, but quality food and wine, delivered with impeccable service. The spaghetti carbonara was excellent (I’m trying to emulate it at home with no luck yet) and my slivers of beef fillet in a balsamic sauce were an unusual but delicious main. We were too full for dessert at the restaurant, so we walked around the corner for our last look at the Pantheon. I then realised that we hadn’t eaten enough gelato on the trip and immediately took us to the nearest ice cream parlour to complete our culinary farewell.
Not due to leave for the airport until lunchtime, we decided to go for a walk to explore a little bit more. Crossing the Tiber, walked past the Circus Maximus along to the Baths of Caracalla. We spent our last remaining euros on the entrance fee and didn’t regret it. The baths weren’t on my original itinerary, but I believe they should be for anyone visiting Rome and interested in antiquities. You can walk through the various ruined bath rooms, the extensive gardens, and view some of the old intricate mosaic flooring that still remains. It’s a quiet little haven compared to the Colosseum and I think you get a better feel of how Romans lived.
After a tour of the Baths, we walked up the Aventine Hill looking for the famous Keyhole View. I couldn’t find it, but the views were spectacular enough without keyholes. Slowly we made our way back to the hotel to collect our bags, talking about the beauty of Rome, our favourite meals, how much fun we had together and thinking about when we could return.
I think this trip made me fall even more in love with Rome than I had been on my first visit. There is still so much to see. One of the things I love are the ancient monuments and temples that are dotted around the city by roadsides and next to modern buildings. They are still standing tall, for everyone to see with no costs attached. The past and culture isn’t hidden, people are living with it on a daily basis, it pervades everything and it is for all, not just for those who can afford to visit a museum.
On my first trip to Rome, when I was 22, it was all about the churches. This second trip has been all about Rome’s ancient history. On both trips I had sightseeing fatigue so I’d like to combine the two and find out more about modern Rome next time. Of course, there was a lot of walking…I underestimated how much I was expecting us to do in a day. But there is a metro, or buses if you’re not strong on your feet or want to take it more slowly. I’ve kept my itinerary, which is worn from constant refolding and covered in almost illegible scribbles of restaurant addresses. We’ll be back.
My 30th is yet to come, what would your perfect celebration look like, or do you remember how you spent yours? Have you been to Rome before? Which landmark would you love to see?