For hubby's birthday this year we packed our bags and headed to Rome for 5 days, and I have to say that it was one of our most memorable city breaks to date. If you haven't been to Rome, and you're contemplating whether it's worth the trip ... just do it. I can't recommend it highly enough, it is simply beautiful. The food is incredible, the locals are funny and warm, it is incredibly rich in culture and you'll find stunning scenery around every corner. Here's a little peek into our recent romance with Rome ...
1. Typical cobbled backstreet 2. Market at Campo De Fiori 3. Tiber river
Our apartment was located in Trastevere which is a wonderful base from which to see Rome - it has a relaxed, laid back friendly atmosphere; restaurants, markets and lovely little shops line the cobbled streets, yet all the big attractions are but a stone's throw away. We chose to stay in an apartment rather than hotel so we could experience Rome as a local. It can work out cheaper than booking a hotel and if you fancy a quiet night in, you can buy some incredible local produce and whip up an Italian feast at home!
We found our apartment on booking.com. We hopped in a taxi (organised by our host Maurizio) and 40 minutes later we were standing outside our new home. Maurizio was a true old school Italian gent - he greeted us on arrival, gave us plenty of tips and settled us in well with his warm, fatherly manner. The apartment itself was cosy, clean, well equipped with everything you'd need; linen, towels, maps and restaurant recommendations, utensils and fresh coffee of course - he even had English tea so I didn't feel too homesick :-)
Maurizio apartment in Trastevere. Photos courtesy of booking.com
Rome is quite small compared to most cities so we walked everywhere. There is a metro / bus service but we didn't want to miss a thing - some of the loveliest sights we experienced were walking from one place to another. I had been warned about pickpockets in the main tourist areas so I was a bit wary of how safe I'd feel in Rome but to be honest, I felt quite safe at all times ... day and night. You just need to keep your belongings secure like you would in any big city. Before we arrived we made a list of all the sights we wanted to visit using the lonely planet guide - I always find them quite helpful when looking for tips and restaurant recommendations ... but I also wanted to make sure we had plenty of time for wandering aimlessly and getting lost through the winding streets ...
Temple forum and the Colosseum
On our second day we headed to The Roman Forum and Colosseum, and it was hot! If you do plan to visit, Spring or Autumn may be the safer bet as I can imagine it gets pretty unbearable in the height of summer. It was quite an experience seeing the Colosseum. Built in AD 72 it is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Though while I found the history and architecture aspect fascinating, I also found it to be quite a sombre experience - so many lives were lost here in the name of religion and sport during gladiator games, battles and executions that were held in the presence of cheering spectators - it was quite sobering. But don't get me wrong, we had a lovely time wandering the maze of Temple Forum - taking a moment to drink from the spring water drinking fountains and resting under the tall pines. TIP: It's worth booking tickets in advance as it is so much cheaper and you can also skip the very long queues.
Wandering through the ruins in the Temple Forum and a brief espresso stop afterwards!
When you visit a city you often find there are nice areas or buildings, perhaps followed by a less desirable area, followed by a nice area again etc etc but in Rome, every road we walked down was beautiful ... old ivy-clad buildings, pastel coloured shutters, flower window boxes, fountains, rustic cafes and beautiful old churches. There may be a few tacky tourist shops near the main attractions but for the most part the shopping is excellent; lovely clothes shops, art and antique shops and gorgeous homeware shops. Unfortunately as I only took as small suitcase I couldn't take any thing back with me! so therefore TIP!!! Take a big suitcase and check it in :-) The markets are also excellent and worth a visit. We really enjoyed the daily market in Campo de flori where we also met this cute little pup and enjoyed a delightful marionette performance.
After a hot afternoon of sightseeing we looked forward to long lazy lunches along with the rest of Italy. Now I won't dwell on this because once I get started I won't stop but oh. my. word the food! It was just incredible. Every meal was completely seasonal and truly delicious, and then there is the gelato! Oh gelato how I miss you so. One of my highlights on this trip was heading down to breakfast at this cafe bar around the corner - where there was often a huddle of elderly gentlemen wearing flat caps, smoking cigarettes and drinking cappuccino whilst discussing (and sometimes arguing) about the news of the day. We'd sit and listen while enjoying our Cornetto *which is a delicious cream-filled croissant (very naughty but nice) freshly squeezed juice and cappuccino. We missed them them on the morning I took this photo, but that's hubby on the far right.
Trevi fountain took our breath away. Located in the Trevi district in Rome it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It was such a hot day when we arrived so I was itching to hop in like Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (although she had waders on under her dress supposedly which is cheating) but I refrained ... instead I cooled off with a delicious gelato. TIP: Theres a great gelato shop just to the right of the fountain ;-)
This made me really chuckle ... while admiring Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) in the famous square Piazza Navona I took this photograph (bottom right). It wasn't until I got back to the apartment later that day did I notice the shot had been photobombed by this smiley guy who clearly knew he was doing :-) It's a shame he never got to see it.
1. Ocean - Trevi Fountain 2. Near the Spanish Steps 3. Piazza Navona 4. Best photobomb of the trip.
Many recommended that when it comes to restaurants it is well worth avoiding the main tourist spots as you can get ripped off easily - simply walk two streets away and you'll see a difference in price but always check the menu prices before entering. We made the mistake of grabbing one slice of pizza each and a bottle of water in a restaurant near the Vatican without checking the price first, we were then slapped with a €40 bill. Most restaurants however are very reasonable, but there are some absolute gems so it's well worth getting recommendations from locals, guide books or trip advisor. Coromandel came highly recommended to us as a great place for breakfast, and we also had the most delicious meal in Trattoria Da Lucia in Trastevere - set on a cobbled backstreet and frequented by mostly locals - it serves authentic roman cuisine and the decor and the staff are all equally as charming.
Wandering around Trastevere
A trip to Rome is not complete without a trip to the Vatican, but if you visit do book well in advance. We left it until the last minute and had to pay out €50 a head (Ouch!) but if you book in advance you can get skip-the-line tickets which are much cheaper. The Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica are incredible - it's well worth getting a tour of the museum (or getting the headsets) so you understand exactly what you are looking at. Our tour guide was very informative and even made a point of telling us that the Pope's new advisor looks just like George Clooney, and if you stand by the tapestry floor window at 2pm you can see him wandering up and down :-) Hubby had wandered off by that point.
1. St Peter's Basilica 2. Santa Maria in Trastevere 3. St Peter's Basilica 4. Vatican Museum
There are so many incredible things to see in Rome, so I know how easy it is to get overwhelmed, trying to fit everything in. Initially I wrote a detailed itinerary (I'm just a bit of a 'Monica' in that way) but in the end we took it a day at a time, because part of Italy's charm is the slow pace of life. Even though it's a major city it is still laid back in nature and that is one of the things I love about it - that said, that does seem to go out the window when it comes to being on the road. I had to stifle a giggle a few times when our taxi driver rained fury down on other drivers for not pulling away from the lights within 2 seconds; arms are raised, shouts are exchanged but that just seems to just be the way of things here - and it's all an experience. In just 5 days this city crept under my skin and I was genuinely sorry to leave. Still I'm pleased we experienced all the big monuments and attractions this time around because there is still so much more to see, so we have every reason to return.