The next stop on our trip was Rome. And what a city! I couldn’t get over how cosmopolitan and commercial it was while still being home to so many ancient ruins and historical structures. One part of me was excited to get my shopping on, while the other part wanted to soak in all the history. Luckily, we were able to do both!
We took the local train from Sorrento to Naples and then the Eurail from Naples to Rome. I think the total trip was under two hours. Upon checking into our hotel and relaxing for 30 minutes, we made our way over to the Trevi Fountain area for dinner. We wanted to get to bed a little early because the next couple of days were going to be full of sightseeing…and LOTS of walking.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at Hotel Stendhal which is centrally located and close to restaurants, shops, and train stations. Again, the concierge was super helpful and friendly. However, this hotel was much smaller than the last one. Our room was almost half the size. But I can’t complain because everything was super clean (as you can tell that was the #1 priority for me). I think they even changed our sheets twice in one day. The breakfast buffet here wasn’t filled with as much variety, especially for vegetarians who wanted more than carbs. But we…ok fine, I…made it work!
WHAT WE DID (for all of the major sites, you have to buy your tickets in advance or book tours because the lines are incredibly long if you don’t)
Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill – We booked a special Dark Rome Tour of these three things beforehand. It was special because it included both underground Colosseum and ‘third tier’ level access. IT. WAS. AMAZING. Vishnu and I couldn’t get over the fact that we were finally seeing all the things we learned about so many years ago in our World History classes. To be honest, it didn’t all come crashing back to me, so I’m glad we had a tour guide to explain everything to us and even provide some lesser known insight.
The Colosseum was obviously grander than life. I could not get over how well preserved it is. The underground level was interesting but made me a little sad for all the animals and people who awaited their potential deaths down there. And the view from the third tier was unbelievable. It was quite a special moment!
The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were also fun to see and explore. I’d forgotten that Palatine Hill is believed to the birthplace of Rome. Crazy! Walking around, you can just imagine what life was like all those years ago.
Vatican City – We booked an afternoon tour of Vatican City through Viator and were thankful that we did. We learned more than we would have walking around on our own. In fact, before entering the Sistine Chapel, our guide gave us a detailed explanation of each panel and how it all pieced together. It made the actual experience of seeing it super emotional (for me at least). We also got to explore one exhibit of the Vatican Museum. Vishnu wishes we had the opportunity to see more, but like he put it, you’d need days to see everything. And finally, the final stop of our tour brought us to St. Peter’s Basilica where we used Rick Steves to provide us with all the details. And it was just as beautiful and grand as you’d imagine it to be! Seeing Michelangelo’s La Pieta also made me tear up. I was a hot mess!
This brings me to a random but somewhat related point. I am in love with Michelangelo and his work. I’ve never been an art lover…more of an appreciator. But after seeing and learning about so much of his work, I have a new found respect for him. I mean, we all know he was nothing short of a genius, but actually seeing what he created and knowing he did so much of it in his [early] twenties…there are just no words. Our guides kept telling us that he wasn’t a pleasant man to look at, but all I could think about was how beautiful his mind was! It’s insane!
Heart of Rome walk – My friend Shelly told me about the Heart of Rome walk – a walk through the city that includes various Piazzas, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, etc. We did this on our last full day in Rome using a Rick Steves’ map to guide us.
Borghese Gardens – Vishnu wanted to walk through the gardens on our last morning in Rome, so we woke up early, ate breakfast, and made our way over. There are a number of statues to see and even a bike rental station. I wish we had more time because that is something I would’ve loved to do!
WHERE WE ATE (that was notable)
Maccheroni – We ended up eating here twice. The first night we went for dinner and ordered two of the most mentioned dishes from all the reviews we read – pasta carbonara and cacio e pepe (spaghetti with a goat cheese and pepper sauce). We also ordered a couple of salads. I’m glad we did that because the pasta dishes were a bit underwhelming. Personally, they didn’t live up to all the Trip Advisor and Yelp hype! After rereading some of the reviews, Vishnu decided that he wanted to give the restaurant another chance, so we went back for lunch. And this time we ordered what we thought sounded good – gnocchi gorgonzola for Vishnu and pasta arrabbiata for me. And both dishes were delicious! We also ordered a cheese plate to share, which went great with the house wine!
Old Bridge Gelato – This little gelato shop is located right outside of Vatican City. When we first saw it, there was a long line, so we decided to visit after our tour. I’m glad we did because the gelato was super creamy and the flavors were on point!
Gelateria Venchi – Outside of Capri, this was the best gelato in Italy. The fancy exterior almost kept me away, but we decided to venture in and check out the flavors. When I saw that one of them was a dark chocolate nougat with a caramel, almond, and hazelnut topping, I was sold! What dreams are made of, people! This stuff was freaking delicious – so so rich! In fact, you’ll see in my Florence recap that we found a Venchi there and had it again (same flavor and everything!).
Est, Est, Est – Our Colosseum tour guide mentioned this place when we asked about her favorite pizza place in Rome, so obviously we had to go! I would say this was one of my favorite pizza experiences in Italy. The crust isn’t thin and dry, but it’s not a Sicilian crust either. It falls in the middle and is quite delicious. I decided to go with a plain Margherita and Vishnu went with the Diabolo (Margherita with some kind of spicy meat). The sauce to cheese ratio was perfect, and the whole experience was quite satisfying!