Rome: Self-Guiding through Sights, Experiencing Culture

The last couple months, we’ve been in a travel lull. It’s been a boring, repetative schedule of wake up, work, come home when it’s dark, eat, sleep, repeat. Then, throw in the fact that I was home sick for nearly a week this winter, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for seasonal depression!

It’s probably an understatement to say I was excited when we finalized our plans to visit Rome. For the first time, we actually did a decent amount of planning and booked a couple tours through Viator. It cost more than we usually spend when we take a trip, but with only 72 hours to explore, I wanted to make the most of our time. I mean, it is Rome, after all. There is a lot to see.

Getting There

The flight from Munich only took an hour, and we were served cake and champagne on the plane: I approve! Once we landed, we took the Leonardo Da Vinci Express train that runs from the airport straight to Termini station in the heart of Rome. The train runs every 30 minutes going towards Rome, and every 15 minutes going towards the airport. It cost €28 for both of us, one-way, and the train ride was about 25 minutes.

Luckily, our Air BnB was only a 5 minute walk from Termini once we got there. We quickly checked in with our host, and hit the town. I feel like it’s the first time that we didn’t waste a huge chunk of our day on travel and logistics.

The Sights

We didn’t have any specific plan for that day, so we used the paper map graciously provided by our host and set out to explore. And let me tell you… Rome is a great place for that. We saw the Spanish Steps, the Altare della Patria, the Piazza del Popolo, the outside of the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain, and multiple churches–all in just four hours or so!

The city is incredibly walkable. Even if a destination seems a little far, It’s worth it to walk and have the freedom to explore along the way.

We booked a 3-hour tour of Vatican City on Saturday, and a 3-hour tour of the Colosseum/Ancient Rome on Sunday. This left our afternoons completely free, and we felt like we had plenty of time to see everything we wanted and plenty of time to relax, drink wine on restaurant patios, and enjoy each other’s company.

Our afternoon strolls led us to the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona and the Four Rivers Fountain, relaxing parks, beautiful streets lined with trees that looked like they were from The Lorax, little shops, and afternoon Gelato stops.

Getting Around

We did take the metro several times throughout our 4-day trip, but it wasn’t exactly preferred. The taxi drivers were on strike that weekend, so everyone and their mother was taking the metro. I’ve been on crowded metros in Athens, Vienna, and the Czech Republic, but  none of them came close to the tight quarters on the Rome metro. I’m always extremely careful with my purse, holding it in front of my body with my hand over the zipper. And still, I almost got pick-pocketed in Rome. After squeezing through a solid wall of people to get off at our stop, I checked my purse and discovered the zippers had been opened. Nothing was taken, but it definitely put a bad taste in my mouth and encouraged us to walk whenever possible.

Even walking can be its own art, though. Many busy intersections have no traffic signals for pedestrians, so you have to just walk out into the crosswalk and hope the traffic stops. This is terrifying to me, but doesn’t bother Lee at all. So, this resulted in many instances where he ran across the street and left me on the sidewalk cowering and unwilling to jump out in front of a slew of mopeds traveling at the speed of light. What can I say? I’m a sissy.

Food

Everyone loves Italian food, right? But you’ve probably never had real Italian food unless you’ve eaten it in Italy. The pizza, the pasta, the bread, and the gelato are on a whole other level. We stopped at a new café each morning for a cappuccino and a pastry or cannoli, and we ate at a different restaurant for every meal. On night one, we dined at a quaint, homey restaurant recommended by our Air BnB host called Taverna Romana. We each got pasta dishes, and then shared a plate of Coda alla Vaccinara–braised oxtail with hearty tomato sauce. YUM.

In fact, we enjoyed every dish we ate. It took a little work to find the places that weren’t tourist traps, but walked a little farther to stumble across lunch places and did a little research before going out each night. Please, please, go eat at the places off the normal tourist path. The good places are usually down alleyways, far away from main Rome attractions, and only open after 8pm. It’s also a good idea to get there right at opening  if you want to snag a table. We made it a point to arrive early (8-8:15 pm) and had no problems.

I had the best pizza of my entire life at Il Brigantino, right around the corner from our apartment. The crust was absolute perfection, the sauce was sweet and vibrant, and it was almost impossible to select which one I wanted, because the options were astounding. They also had an extensive menu of Italian beer, although we opted for a liter of the house wine. The thing about house wine is that sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not. We ordered it at a couple places and were very happy with it. We also drank our fair share of Nero d’Avola for dinner, and ever-so-slightly chilled glasses of Rosé at lunch time after a busy morning of sight-seeing. 

Avoiding Tourists

I know, I am a tourist. But, I want to visit new places for the experience and the history–not to take a selfie in front of each monument or globally-recognized backdrop. When I take a picture of the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, or any historical site in the world for that matter, I don’t want it cluttered by selfie sticks. I want to be able to capture the beauty of it without any trace of people seeking that instant gratification of snapping something for Instagram or SnapChat to say, “I was here. Look at me.” Why is taking a photo of something and saying, “This is here. Look at this,” not enough anymore?

We went back to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps at sunrise on our last day in Rome, and there were only two or three other people there. We had an entirely unobstructed view of the fountain and the steps (with the exception of a cleaning person wearing a bright orange coat!). It’s a completely different experience, and I cannot express enough how important it is to make every effort to see sights this way. Come to Rome in February. Wake up early. Enjoy the silence.

It was like a delicious cherry on top of a perfect cannoli. The perfect way to end my favorite weekend in Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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