RTW in 50 Days – ITALY, Rome

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Rome is a very easy city to wander and for five day this is exactly how we spent the better part of our time.  It’s a big city but, especially if you are a first time visitor, a lot of what you’ll want to see is within a comfortable stroll.  I chose to stay at Residenza Frattina, a small hotel on one of the best shopping streets in Rome near the Spanish Steps.  The hotel is clean, comfortable and well priced, but above all you can’t beat the location.

Turns out the stuff you see in movies and travel magazinesabout Rome is true – beautiful people dining at cafe tables on cobble stoned streets, passersby happily eating soft gelato pressed down into cones, history seeping from every monument, fountain and piazza, the doors of beautifully fashioned churches open welcoming visitors on every corner.  It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen.

After all, Rome nearly spells ROMANCE doesn’t it?

Site-Seeing Tips:

When we arrived at our hotel I picked up a copy of the Wanted in Rome, an English news magazine.  Turning to the local events section I learned that we could get tickets to La Traviata during our stay.  Opera in Rome?  Hell yeah!  I was able to go online and buy VIP tickets for a Tuesday night showing at a church, St. Paul’s Within the Walls.  I glanced at a few reviews of the small venue and decided it would be a good introduction to opera for the kids.  Considering our limited travel wardrobe, tuxedos and gowns were not in the cards.  Spontaneity at its best!

[HOT TIP: The church is not air-conditioned and the seats are padded pews, but you’ll be closer to the action than you would imagine possible!]

It’s best to pick up a taxi at a taxi stand.  In some cases taxis are not allowed to stop on the street, so hailing one from anywhere is not possible.  We didn’t use public transportation in Rome because we mostly walked, but we were also told that it is very unreliable.  For that reason we also chose not to do the Hop On Hop Off Bus in Rome.  Although we have used them successfully in many other cities, it gets terrible reviews here.

A lot of the most famous sites are within an easy walk from one another.  Keep in mind that the streets are not level or flat, so wear comfortable shoes that will keep your feel safe.  If you don’t have lots of time, consider spending one day walking to the Spanish Steps (being restored at the time of this writing) Via Condotti, and other shopping streets in the neighborhood, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and St. Agnese in Agone church.  If you are still wanting more, head toward the Tiber River and cross Ponte Sant’Angelo to the Castel Sant’Angelo.  The views from inside are stunning!  [Check the web for hours and ticket prices to the castle.]

PIAZZA DI SPAGNA & SPANISH STEPS

TREVI FOUNTAIN

PANTHEON

PIAZZA NAVONA & ST. AGNESE

CASTEL SANT’ANGELO

Just about every church is open and welcomes visitors, worshippers and photographers, except during Mass, which anyone can attend.

Consider going back to sites you’ve seen during the day to see them all lit up at night.  The Trevi Fountain is a good choice.

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If you plan to visit Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica I recommend you spend the money for a private guide and “skip the line” tour.  You can certainly save a lot by doing it on your own, but if you are only going to get here once in a lifetime, consider going with someone who knows what you’re looking at and can lead you.  You’ll get the most for your money.  I hired a guide through Eyes of Rome but bought the tickets to the Vatican online myself and saved a few Euros doing so.

[HOT TIP: You can only buy your tickets 2 or 3 months in advance of the date you intend to visit.]

Spend another day if you have it touring the Colosseum, Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum.  We booked a private tour again through Eyes of Rome, and had a wonderful day learning and being led through this magnificent part of the city.  Once you are down that way, consider a visit to the colossal Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Find your way to Campo di Fiori and have a meal at Roscioli, a family institution in Rome.  In case you don’t have reservations or can’t get a table (we got lucky at lunch when we popped in) grab a bite at the deli, a latte and pastry at the cafe or a glass of Franciacorta.

[HOT TIP: You’ll be in the know ordering Franciacorta, Italy’s lesser known sparkling wine popular with the locals!]

Speaking of food in Rome…hang on to your wallet!  It’s expensive for Americans who are getting less for their dollar against the Euro.

  • When you sit down if the waiter brings a basket of bread to your table be aware that it is NOT free!  Most restaurants charge a per person price for bread.  Munch accordingly.
  • You will pay for water too, which comes in bottles, even still (non-carbonated) water. Sometimes the bottle would come to the table with the cap already removed, which kind of makes you wonder if you are paying 3 or 4 Euros for tap water – which runs freely in Rome!  You can buy bottled water for 1 Euro at most little corner or souvenir shops all over the city.
  • If water is expensive soft drinks are worse.  One night my son ordered a Sprite and on the bill we noted that it cost 5 Euros!  My wine was only 6 Euros a glass.  Perhaps another version of the water to wine miracle is in order!

Speaking of water…Rome truly is the city of fountains, and you’ll see people drinking from them on a hot day all over the city.  Not the big ones mind you, but actual continuously running public drinking fountains.  Being the adventurous person that I am, I thought I would partake.  A few days later my body disagreed.  Sometimes, “When in Rome,” only refers to Romans!

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I recommend any of the following restaurants.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of touristy restaurants that get away with serving sub-par food to unsuspecting travelers, but we had decent meals at all of these establishments.

  • Roscioli – Via dei Giubbonari (near Campo di Fiori)
  • doRis Ristorante – Via della Carrozze (near Spanish Steps)
  • Pizza Rustica Birreria – Via del Lavarote (near Trevi Fountain)
  • Ginger Ristorante Bistro – Via Borgognona (near Spanish Steps)
  • Ritorno al Passato – Piazza della Rotonda (in front of the Pantheon)

Save room for gelato!  There are over 40,000 gelaterias in Rome!  By the time we had our third or fourth, we could, believe it or not, taste the difference in quality.  I recommend any of the following places, which were the best we had.

But really, is there such a thing as bad gelato?  I don’t think so!

  • Verde Pistacchio – Via Nazionale (across from St. Paul’s Within the Walls church where we saw the opera La Traviata)
  • Giolitti – open since 1900, Via della Vicario (near the Pantheon)
  • La Strega Nocciola – Via Della Vite @ Piazza de Spagna (near Spanish Steps) with other locations
  • Il Gelato di San CrispinoVia della Panetteria (near Trevi Fountain) with other locations

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