A Week in Rome

It’s official. Rome has stolen my heart, and I don’t know how any city is going to top it. We spent a week exploring the cobblestone streets, ancient ruins and candlelit restaurants of Italy’s capital city and I never wanted to leave. Our Airbnb apartment was pretty much nestled right into ancient ruins and allowed us to walk everywhere on foot with a map. But there were many nights when we spent the evening walking around our smaller, quainter neighborhood, where the locals eat their meals around the fountain in the center square and Christmas lights hang from wires above the streets. I drowned myself in ravioli, prosecco and gelato and wouldn’t have it any other way. The best meals we had came from two restaurants on our street, Er Baretto and Ai Tre Scalini, with the pastry shop around the corner providing us sugar-dusted pastries each morning. “Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city,” wrote Anatole Broyard. I couldn’t agree more. Everything I’d read and seen about Rome was even more true, more romantic and more magical in person. I cannot wait to go back.

On our first morning, we planned on getting a feel for the city by visiting the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. We were pleasantly surprised to find that nearly the entire city was within a 30-minute walk from our apartment-- much smaller than we initially thought! Our two-stop trip became an all-day excursion through nearly every part of Rome. Much to the chagrin of my calves, this has happened in every city we’ve visited: we plan a mini adventure and inevitably end up on the complete opposite end of the city. Rome is the kind of place to get lost in, however, so I didn’t even realize my feet were throbbing until we sat down to dinner that night! Our first stop on the way to the Pantheon was at Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola, or the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius. It was built in the early 1600s and in honor of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Society. The church is one of DOZENS on Rome that we poked our head into-- anytime we saw an open door, we’d step inside to marvel at the immaculate architecture!

Our arrival at the Pantheon marked our first experience with the infamous “selfie sticks” continuously shoved into tourists’ faces by Rome’s street merchants. For around five euros, you literally attach your phone to a long stick that has a button at the bottom that controls your camera. By the end of the trip, we found great enjoyment out of taking “traditional” selfies right in front of the group of selfie-stick sellers. Despite the constant invasion of personal space, we made our way through the crowd into the Pantheon, which has no entrance fee! It’s Rome’s oldest Catholic Church and houses the tombs of Italy’s first and second kings, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as the sarcophagus of Raphael.

Our second stop of the day was Trevi Fountain, one of the sights I was most looking forward to seeing. Remember our luck with Montjuic’s Magic Fountains in Barcelona? Yeah, our track record with fountains got even worse in Rome. THE TREVI FOUNTAIN IS CLOSED FOR CONSTRUCTION UNTIL MARCH. The little pool of water with a picture of one of the statues was the closest we got to tossing a coin in the iconic fountain. There was a large bridge that allowed you to walk over the fountain, however, and Mike and I hysterically laughed our way across at the irony: the bridge allowed you to get closer to the fountain than you would if it was working, but the scaffolding literally covered up the entire thing. YOU COULDN’T SEE ANYTHING.

From Trevi, we explored Old Rome and reached the Vatican within half-an-hour. We had bought Vatican tickets for a few days later, however, so we moved onto Via Giulia, a kilometer-long cobbled street that follows the Tiber River and pretty much connects Vatican City to Campo de’ Fiori. The street is filled with old palaces and churches of the 16th century bourgeoisie and is now where Rome’s most wealthy citizens live. 

Via Giulia ends near Campo de’ Fiori, a square just south of Piazza Navona that houses Rome’s daily markets. You can buy anything from produce to hard liquor at these merchant stalls, and there are several darling restaurants lining the outer edge of the square.   

Just north of Campo de’ Fiori is Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most renown city squares and our favorite spot in the city. In the center stands the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of the Four Rivers, built by Gian Loreanzo Bernini as well as the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The piazza is buzzing during the day, with dozens of street performers and, of course, selfie-stick sellers. But our favorite time to visit was in the evening, when street violinists replaced the merchants, the music from their bows mingling with the rushing water of the lit-up fountains. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside Sant’Agnese, whose history also lends itself to a fascinating story. The church’s architects were harshly criticized for many aspects of their initial designs, so much so that it is said Bernini sculpted the Fountain of the Four Rivers figure that faces the church with his hands covering his eyes. 

On our second day, we decide to explore the ruins of ancient Rome around the city, namely the Coliseum and Palatine Hill. There are ruins all over the city, however, encased by railings and set deep beneath the modern buildings. 

We bought our tickets to the Coliseum ahead of time and were so glad we did. The line to buy tickets was long, even when we arrived at noon, and we got to jump the queue with our reservations. If you forget to buy your tickets ahead of time, I’d advise visiting the structure in the afternoon-- the crowds had thinned after 2:00 PM. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed when we first walked into the amphitheater. The more time we spent walking around the outer tunnels and tuning into neighboring tour groups, however, the more I appreciated the historical magnitude of its grounds.

In that last picture, you can see the Arch of Constantine through the archways of the Coliseum, which honored Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in an AD 312 battle. Just past it are Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which we got into for free with our Coliseum tickets. They comprise two of the most ancient parts of Rome, with Palatine Hill housing Rome’s wealthiest citizens and royal palaces, and the Roman Forum serving as a public market. It took us three hours to walk the entirety of the grounds, and it was a good thing we started early-- just as we reached the end, sirens started blaring and the park security guards began herding visitors towards the exit! 

Right above the Roman Forum sits Capitol Hill and the huge piazza that Mike’s standing in below. We took a left right out of the square towards Piazzale Caffarelli, where we stumbled upon the Terrazza Caffarelli, the terrace on the top floor of the Capitoline Museums. It offered amazing views of the city right at sunset and is open to the public from 9:00 AM to 7:30 PM on all weekdays except Mondays. It’s a hidden gem you do not want to miss on your “ruins” day of sightseeing! 

To cap off our night, we decided to try and find the Villa del Priorato di Malta, a building on Aventine Hill that belongs to the Priory of the Knights of Malta. We’d heard that the outer doorway of the property contains a keyhole through which you can see a picture-perfect view of St. Peter’s Basilica. For some fun, we thought we’d try and reach the site by foot and with no map or GPS. Needless to say, the sun went down long before we arrived at the keyhole. We walked aimlessly uphill for a while before turning onto a street called Via Santa Sabina, which just HAPPENED to lead to the Villa. And let me tell you, the view from that keyhole is NO JOKE. There were only about six other visitors at the gate when we arrived-- I’ve heard the site can garner upwards of 45 people in high season-- so we were able to gush about the view without the pressure of a long line behind us. Even better was the fact that we overheard a tour guide explaining that the view from the keyhole is actually better at night when St. Peter’s is artificially lit up-- all of the natural light during the day washes out the image. We then proceeded to gush even more about our “perfect” timing. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of the keyhole, but Google has some amazing shots taken by photographers much more talented than me! Another plus were the two parks we came across on our way down Via Santa Sabina, which both offered amazing panoramic views as well as dozens of teenagers making out in the shadows of its park benches.

Another night adventure included our trek to the Galleria Borghese and the Spanish Steps. We were so glad we had the chance to view the collections, which are dominated by the works of Bernini and a few by Raphael. Visitors are allowed to get uniquely up close and personal to the art, and the minimal crowd allowed us to move through the rooms with plenty of personal space at our own pace. We’ve decided we appreciate sculptures more than paintings, and tennis shoes over all other shoes. If you’re going to visit the gallery, make sure you do it in the day. By taxi. We hear the gardens are gorgeous in the sunlight.

After our excursion to Galleria Borghese, we took the next day off and got a couple’s massage at Kamispa in downtown Rome. We figured out later that our spa day came on our year-and-a-half anniversary (woo!) and felt a whole lot better about the euros we dropped for their oriental blend massage with complimentary access to a spa pool and sauna. The money was completely well spent, however, and we can’t recommend Kamispa enough. The staff was incredibly kind and enthusiastic, and they even served hot tea in the spa pool! 

That night, we bought tickets to tour the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel the next day on the same website we’d purchased our Coliseum tickets. Or at least I thought they were tickets. We arrived in Vatican City an hour before our tour started, cheery and bright eyed, only to find that the entrance to the Vatican Museums (scheduled first for the day) was an extra 15-minute walk up the hill behind St. Peter’s. We made it all the way through security and handed our “tickets” to the scanner when she informed us that we did not in fact have “tickets” but “reservations.” After being redirected to another three people, we finally were informed that we’d need to walk back down the hill to St. Peter’s square below to collect our tickets at a building we’d passed 45 minutes earlier. By that time, we’d missed our first tour of the museums and made it just in time to follow our group (who even knew we had signed up for a group?!) into St. Peter’s. All that being said, the women at Omnia, whom we had apparently booked our tickets through, graciously allowed us to reschedule our second tour for the next morning. We were then off to view the inside of St. Peter’s, which still takes my breath away when I look at the pictures. Designed by Michelangelo and Bernini, it is built on the place where Peter was crucified.

To bide our time between Vatican tours, we took a trip to Gelateria del Teatro, hands down the best gelateria in Rome. We went back multiple times and highly recommend the chocolate chip/strawberry combo. We also ate multiple times at a small Irish pub, Trinity Bar and Grill, where the hamburgers were to die for. Sometimes you need a one-meal break from ravioli! Those who know me well are aware that my favorite mixed drink is Sex on the Beach. Well, let me tell you, they are on EVERY MENU in Rome and at Trinity College, they basically come with a FULL FRUIT BASKET on top. Heaven in a cup.  

On our last morning, we woke up and headed back up to Vatican City for our tour of the Sistine Chapel and museums. From the outer courtyards to the rooms filled with sculptures, the galleries really took me by surprise. I didn’t expect there to be so many rooms, so many different types of art; it took us about two hours to make our way through the dozens of halls to the Sistine Chapel finale. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel, but I have included photos of my two favorite hallways in the Vatican Museums, which housed floor-to-ceiling woven tapestries and hand-painted maps. 

After our tour, we sat on the bridge above the Tiber for a few last photos while we listened to a street violinist serenade us with his bow. We then walked to the last place in Rome that we wanted to visit, a neighborhood called Trastevere on the southwest side of the city. Our bartender at Trinity College recommended the area to us, and it exceeded all of my expectations. The cobblestone streets are enchanting, with pastel homes and small restaurants around every corner. We attempted to have dinner at Spirito Di Vino, Rome’s oldest wine cellar, but arrived too early… at 6:00 PM! Dinner does not start until about 8:00 PM in Rome, so we opted for the smaller wine bar near the Tiber called Vin Allegro, where we stuffed ourselves full of chocolate fondue and bubbly rose. 

That’s all for Rome, folks! Next up, Florence!