#28: Visit a New Country – Italy (Rome)

Rome has been on my list ever since I decided I wanted to travel. Becky has been there once before, in art school, but didn’t get to do it the way she wanted – they were rushed through everything, never got to stop and enjoy anything, and her schoolmates would go to McDonalds. We wanted to do it right this time. As for scheduling, we stole an idea from Becky’s sister: Thanksgiving week! Flights out of the country are cheap, and it isn’t peak tourist season, so crowds are smaller.

This is part of our 100 Things in 2018 challenge. Make sure to click on the photos!

Day 0 was for traveling. One of our flights had been delayed, so we had to wait around while the helpful ticketing agent made sure we were going to get to Rome. There were 12 hours of flights, so we busted out the Carry-On Moscow Mule kit we had received as a gift last year, and watched I think 5 movies. There was also a 5-hour layover in Amsterdam, during which we tried to stay awake, mostly successfully. We arrived after dark at our cozy, perfect Airbnb in Trastevere, and after a lovely dinner, went to sleep for 10 hours.

Day 1 included a guided tour of the Colosseum, where we got to stand on a reconstruction of the arena floor and shout are you not entertained but not really because we don’t want to be that kind of tourist. It was really cold this day, so we stopped for lunch on our way back to the apartment, and took a nap. We knew we were going to be jet lagged today, so we deliberately planned an easy day, so in the evening we just walked around our neighborhood, got lost a few times, ate what turned out to be some of the best gelato in Rome at Fatamorgana, and started a habit that became a Thing – carbonara.

Day 2 was the day of rain. We had an umbrella, but as the day wore on it got windier and stormier. We did the “Heart of Rome” walking tour from the Rick Steves book, and found that the audio versions you get with the phone app are really excellent. We managed to see the Campo de Fiori market, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain, all without huge crowds. This is unheard of, and better than we could have hoped for.

Towards the end of the day, the storm intensified. There was lightning, but it was a ways away. Then, right as we were leaving Piazza di Spagna, a bolt struck, and it sounded like it was right overhead. It was time to find dinner. Indoors. We grabbed dinner at a place nearby, which is a risk, but we were rewarded with the best gorgonzola gnocchi we’ve ever put into our faces. On our walk home (once the storm had passed) we stumbled across the ruin of an old theater, that had modern buildings with people living in them right on top of it. Breathtaking.

We also started to really enjoy the coffee culture in Italy. It’s not like the USA, with the huge paper cups, and in fact it costs more to sit down at a table. You order your drinks at the cashier (due macchiati was our go-to) who gives you a little paper slip, belly up to a bar (yup, like in a tavern), give the slip to the barista, and they deliver you a tiny shot of espresso with a dash of steamed milk in under a minute. You drink it standing, because once it gets cold it’s no good anymore, so you’ve got maybe 5 minutes. It’s delicious and fast and if you can do it without making anyone speak English, it’s like being Italian for just 5 minutes. Pro tip: there aren’t a lot of public restrooms in Italy, and when you do find one it probably costs money, so if you have to go, duck into a bar! You buy a tiny coffee for just €1 (the cost of most public toilets), and you get to use a clean restroom.

On day 3 we had almost completely adjusted to the timezone. We discovered that our neighborhood bar was actually really well-known for having great coffee, and we walked back towards the Colosseum to where the Roman Forum is located. Again, the Rick Steves audio tour was excellent, and we loved walking the stone road where Julius Caesar did, and through the ruins of the basilica that Constantine built. We took a winding way home, and had our usual mid-day nap. (We got into this habit because of jet lag, but kept it because of practicality – people eat dinner here really late, and restaurants don’t generally open until 7pm. We weren’t going to last that long without a little break.)

In the evening, we met an Airbnb guide for a fantastic experience that I would recommend to anyone. Melinda took us through the old city, tasting food all along the way, and explaining the history of the places we were walking. it was just us and one other family, and we had a great time. There was a cheese shop (where we bought some pecorino to bring home), a seafood restaurant, a Sicilian bakery where we had the best cannoli we’ll probably ever have, and what we’re told is the best tiramisu in the city. It was so good.

Day 4 started off with another Airbnb Experience, this time through the catacombs of an old Catholic church! We had breakfast as a group (in Italy this means a pastry and a cappuccino), then walked about a mile to the Basilica di San Pancrazio, where our guide (who is one of the few people with access to the keys) led us down some stairs into the labyrinth of hand-dug tunnels under the building. There were lots of little berths where people would pay to be buried, and some of them still had bones in them! Super creepy.

On our way back into town, we stopped for some gelato, managed to see the cannon fire at noon at Terrazza del Gianicolo, stepped into the Spanish embassy to visit a tiny shrine in what is assumed to be the place Saint Peter was crucified, and back through Trastevere (drinking from the fountains called nasone – “big nose”) to an absolutely amazing butcher shop and the market in the square. All this in one tour!

Day 5 was our last full day in Rome, so we walked to Vatican City. The architecture is stunning, and it’s hard to imagine the amount of power and money that flows through this place. We went through St. Peter’s Cathedral, but not the museums – we’re not that into Catholic lore and history, and wanted to avoid the crowds. We walked around behind the city walls to Pizzarium Bonci, which makes supposedly the best pizza in Rome. It might have ruined American pizza for us.

We strolled home past Castel San’Angelo, past some heavily touristy areas that we usually avoid, and through a shopping district with really interesting window displays. After our siesta, we got some unique cocktails and snacks among the hipsters at Freni e Frizione (check out their menu!), and stood in line for 15 minutes at Trattoria Da Enzo, which was well worth the wait. They even had a dessert made of mascarpone and tiny little wild strawberries!

We were slated for evening flights on day 6, so we had a chance for just one more food tour through a part of the city we hadn’t seen before. We dropped into a basilica during Saturday Mass, which made me think of my childhood. We had snacks at a neighborhood bakery/grocery store that was truly amazing. And we helped make gelato at Gelateria Fassi, one of the oldest and largest in Rome. Strolling home, we saw the ruins of the old city wall and an Egyptian-inspired pyramid, and had a very unique experience in a public bathroom.

Then it was off to the airport, where, with the usual number of hiccups, we made our way home. This was a truly lovely trip, and we’ll treasure it always.

One thing we want to mention again is Airbnb Experiences. We have nothing but good things to say about them. They’ve always delivered exactly what we’re looking for – a person who lives in the place we’re visiting, showing us the places and things they love about it. It’s become so easy to book these things that we make sure to do at least one wherever we go now. Highly recommended.


2 thoughts on “#28: Visit a New Country – Italy (Rome)

  1. Pingback: 100 Things in 2018 | Band of Charac­ters

  2. Pingback: #22: Carbonara | Band of Charac­ters

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