As the famous saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Johanna and I did just that, for five days at the end of September 2015 (I’m a few months behind writing this post). It was an outstanding trip filled with seeing the sites, exceptional food, and education around the history of Rome. There were too many great places and experiences to list them all, so we picked a few of the highlights to share below.
Via Del Corso
A long street with lots of food, shopping, and street performers
Via Del Corso was a long street that ran between our AirBNB house (in Piazza del Popolo), and the major tourist attractions around Rome. To get from one end to the other (depending on foot traffic) usually took us about 30 minutes or so. Along the way you could find gelato, pizza, Italian cafe’s, espresso shops, chocolate shops, and other retail stores. While walking down Del Corso, there were fun little side streets that had incredible restaurants and Mom & Pop shops.
Piazza del Popolo
Our AirBNB house was located here at this Piazza. It had everything we needed: restaurants, pharmacies, gelato, and vendors peddling selfie-sticks at every opportunity. It was a great place to settle back to after a long day of site-seeing in Rome.
This was by far my favorite part of the trip. The tour we went on was very well done and organized. As we went through the tour, it blew my mind that we were walking on the same grounds Gladiators did battle, and where mob’s of people roared over bloodshed. We were humbled knowing this was a graveyard just as much as it was a historical landmark. It was shocking to learn about the amount of resources and lives it took to keep the Colosseum operational. The entire Roman culture revolved around the inner-workings of the Colosseum, and maintained a key political placement between the church and the people.
After the Colosseum, we walked through the countryside where the royalty of the time made their homes. It was interesting to see the distinction between housing for the elite rich, and those for the help / servants. Although they were on the same plot of land, the difference between feast and famine was evident and substantial. The entire complex was beautiful, and we enjoyed seeing the homes of the Caesar’s and their royal families.
We stopped in here quickly to get a few pictures and walk around the Piazza that surrounded the Pantheon. I’m not the biggest fan of crowds, so because it was densely packed inside the Pantheon, I spent most of my time outside getting shots of the fountains and monuments. What I will say about the inside is that the architectural structure was brilliant. To think that the people of Rome designed buildings like this without the technology we have today, really shows how advanced they were as a society.
If you want a great place to people-watch while enjoying an espresso… this is the spot. There were a bunch of sidewalk cafe’s to sit down and eat at, and people from all around the world were there buying paintings from artists in the square.
After walking down Via Del Corso for about 30 minutes, we encountered Piazza Venezia. It was a central point between the Colosseum and the other major sites on our list. The building itself seen in the picture above is massive and has symbolic statues sitting on top of the major columns. These statues represented themes from war, justice, and other virtues the Romans held closely. Every architectural piece Romans built seemed to be done with careful thought, either in remembrance of military victories or to specific soldiers of the past.
Mouth of Truth
The first time we went to the Mouth of Truth the line was huge so we just took photos from the outside of the exhibit. A little later in the week we went back to get our stereotypical Audrey Hepburn picture. The monument is located at a church, and they have their tourist racket working like a well-oiled machine. In order to leave the exhibit you have to go through the church’s “tour” which is ultimately a mechanism to give them money. We bailed on that within the first two minutes, and played up the dumb American tourist card as much as we could.
Johanna had this place on her list from the second we got into downtown Rome. She had good reason to – their espresso was out of this world. What’s funny about the coffee scene in Rome is that everything is quick. It’s accelerated dining-in. The espresso bars have walk-up counters where you pay for your drink, get the receipt, hand the receipt to the clerk, clerk makes your espresso, you slam it down while standing at the counter, then off you go to your daily activities. It only took Johanna and I about 15 minutes of people watching to figure out how to order. We chose to go outside and enjoy ours from a stand-up table, rather than deal with the morning rush. We relaxed and appreciated the experience without getting rushed away. We also took some espresso beans and Nespresso cups back with us so we could enjoy the tastes from back home. Two thumbs up from us on this place!
Another “Roman Holiday” checklist item was eating gelato on the Spanish Steps. We had already made a gelato run a little earlier in the day, so we settled for simply climbing the steps and getting some pictures. About fifteen minutes after we arrived, it started to rain pretty bad. We quickly turned our attention to finding a cab and heading back to the AirBNB for a nap.
Our first Trevi Fountain experience was a disappointing one. It was 100% under construction (and restoration) when we visited. No water whatsoever, and big glass partitions separated us from the construction workers. Not only was it inconvenient to look at, but also inconvenient to navigate around as all the construction was causing foot traffic to back up. We stayed here for approximately seven minutes before I wanted to bail and get away from the hoards of people.
Castel St. Angelo
At first, Johanna and I had no idea what this building was in it’s function. We knew it must have been military, but weren’t sure if it was still in operation or just converted into a tourist location. We never got an answer either. No one spoke English around here. We stopped and took some pictures on the bridge connecting this Castle to the main roads surrounding it. This was another Audrey Hepburn / Roman Holiday checklist item (remember the scene of them dancing down at the docks?), so we checked it off our list and moved on.
The Vatican was massive. Again, I’m not a big fan of crowds, so some parts of the Vatican tour were brutal for me. I can only take so much of small people bumping into me while they’re trying to operate their selfie-sticks. Once we got out of the narrow hallways portion of the tour, the remainder of the Vatican was incredible. The Catholic church is loaded. Tons of money. They have some of the rarest articles of architecture and rarest worldly materials within their walls, and that’s not including everything they had locked away in the vault. Viewing all of the paintings and tapestries within the Vatican’s interior rooms, was like walking through an encyclopedia. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience being able to view with my own two eyes all of the paintings and architecture pieces of Michelangelo and his peers. The only other part of this tour I wasn’t in love with was the Sistine Chapel. Yes, the painting(s) themselves were enough to take your breathe away. But there were very pushy guards shoving everyone through the exhibit as quickly as they could. This left me feeling like a hurd animal being prodded through the turnstiles. Annoyances aside, the Vatican was a very impressive piece of history.
If I haven’t stressed it enough, the food was fantastic. Every place we went had excellent wine and great food. I joked with Johanna that I’ll never be able to have prosciutto back home again because of how fresh it was in Italy. Our favorite restaurant there had a little old lady in the window making spaghetti by hand. The waiter didn’t know any english and was unapologetic about it. That made the experience fun for us, trying to communicate our orders and feedback on the meal with only hand gestures.
All in all, the trip to Rome was well worth it. We had a terrific time and are looking forward to our next trip where we can see other parts of Italy. Thanks for reading along!