…and we walked those roads. By golly, we walked everywhere. And it was glorious.
My family and I were in Rome for my last (!) spring break. I’ve been wanting to visit Italy for a while now, so it was lovely to finally be able to go. Rome was old, full of history, breathtaking…and utterly delicious.
We spent our first day at Trajan’s Forum and at the Colosseum. Was it touristy? Yes. But was it amazing? Also a yes.
It boggled my mind that we were allowed to basically walk among the ruins at Trajan’s Forum. The ruins were grand, and the views from the Forum were gorgeous.
The Colosseum was truly a marvel. I’ll admit that it looked smaller than I expected from the outside. But whatever lack of awe it may have garnered from the outside, it more than made up for it on the inside.
Climbing up the steps and seeing the outlines of the arena from above; being able to see the depths of the catacombs previously hidden underneath so you can appreciate the maze of gladiators and animals that walked those halls prior to the fights; these are experiences that defy words and cannot be explained through pictures.
The next day was at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Some tours advertise a 2-hour guided tour of the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Palatine. But we spent three hours just at the Forum and Palatine, and two at the Colosseum. These are ancient sites, and I firmly believe you need to put in the time to appreciate them.
The site was incredible. We saw the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Romulus, what’s left of a massive palatial complex and baths (did you know the word “palace” has its roots in “Palatine”?), and old courts.
We then stopped by the Pantheon. The interiors are quite simply majestic. Pictures fall far short of depicting its beauty. (What’s also beautiful is that visiting is free and there is no line. You just walk in, as long as there isn’t mass happening.)
And then we had good food. We walked through the Piazza Navona (built over the old Stadium of Domitian and formerly a site for games and athletic competitions) and got a late lunch at Osteria Fortunata (Via del Pellegrino, 11).
We had Cacio e Pepe (amazing pasta texture, a lot of cheese), the best ravioli we’ve ever eaten (not pictured; it was simple cheese ravioli with tomato sauce, but it was such fresh tomato sauce), veal (also not pictured, but so juicy), potatoes (simple, with olive oil and fresh rosemary — incredibly fragrant), and really really good tiramisu.
The next day was at the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Altar of the Fatherland. (We did stop by the Circus Maximus and also the Mouth of Truth, since Roman Holiday is my favorite movie. Unfortunately, both sites were stunningly disappointing. But please appreciate this picture of me at the Piazza del Campidoglio.)
The Castel Sant’Angelo is best seen if you walk down the Ponte Sant’Angelo, which leads directly to the castle. It’s the most dramatic way to get to the Castel. It was first imagined as the mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian, but later became a military fortress that kept popes safe when they had to flee the Vatican. The Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican are connected by the Passetto di Borgo. Pope Clement VII ran down that bridge to escape the Sack of Rome, and many of the Swiss Guards protecting Clement died ensuring his safety.
Inside the Castel Sant’Angelo is, again, a great deal of history and splendor. The roof also offers spectacular views of Rome.
The Altar of the Fatherland is really mainly just for the balconies, where you can get great views of Rome. It does look gorgeous when you’re looking at it, but the main thing is the balcony and the roof. (Balcony is free; roof is not.)
We made sure to see the Trevi Fountain (I admittedly didn’t have high hopes since it’s so touristy, but the sculpture really is beautiful and the sound of the water was calming despite the crowds)….
…as well as the Spanish Steps.
And we saw the Vatican. Oh, the Vatican. I would go back to Rome solely to go back.
Let’s start with the Vatican Museums. (Make sure to book ahead. You heard it here first /sarcasm.) Each room was just so grand, especially the hall of sculptures and the Gallery of Maps.
The Raphael Room, with the School of Athens, did not disappoint. I first saw pictures of that painting in my ninth grade Global History Honors class, and it was amazing to see the real thing with my own eyes.
The Sistine Chapel (which does not allow pictures) was just beyond words in its complexity, detail, and artistry; just be prepared to have a sore neck from looking up at it. And then you exit the museum via the (new) Bramante Staircase, which is a lovely end to the trip.
And then there is the Basilica. We chose to go late in the afternoon, like 3:30~4pm, when the lines were much shorter. We waited maybe 20 or so minutes in line before we reached security.
The Basilica is splendid. That really is the only word. It is papal splendor. There is sculpture. There is gold. There is lore. There is history. Just go and visit. You won’t regret it.
If you’re on that side of the Tiber, there aren’t as many good food options. But there is one really really good place: Il Sorpasso (Via Properzio, 31/33, 00193 Roma RM, Italy). We had one of the best meals ever there: a bottle of red wine from Tuscany, a “selection of Italian hams,” Iberico pork (truly life-changing pork; I first had it at Dinner in London, and when I saw it on the menu here, I knew we had to get it; my dad said this was the best pork he ever had); pappardelle alla Genovese, with flavorful beef and onions (simple but very tasty and fragrant), and tiramifoglie (a special dessert they created, with thin pastry folds, custard, strawberries, and chocolate flakes; very very good). These dishes didn’t exactly photograph well….but they tasted divine.
On our last day, we took a day trip to Pompeii. We were debating between a day trip to Florence or to Pompeii, before settling on the latter. And I’m so glad we did. Seeing this history and those ruins was different. We got to see the way normal Romans lived their lives, preserved (tragically). The devastation was so sudden that freshly baked bread was preserved! The idea that I was walking on the same roads and sitting in the same theaters as ancient people over a thousand years ago was so humbling.
There’s been talk of Pompeii being closed off from tourism to preserve it, or fears that Pompeii is crumbling beyond repair, so I’m glad we were able to see it while we still could.
For our last dinner, we chose Taverna Romana (Via della Madonna dei Monti, 79, 00184 Roma RM, Italy). We were warned by the front desk of our (lovely) hotel that Taverna was all booked up, but we walked in hoping for the best. Luckily, they had a table.
This dinner was the best way to end our visit to Rome. Taverna Romana was arguably the best restaurant we ate at while in Rome. We got another bottle of red wine, ordered bucatini amatriciana (simple, fragrant, delicious), fettuccine with butter and anchovies (it tasted like the sea, amazing), fettuccine with ragu (not pictured, but the best ragu we’ve ever tasted), veal chops with prosciutto (also not pictured, but so incredibly savory), a whole artichoke for appetizer (really really good), and two tiramisu (because it was that great). Please keep in mind we are only three people.
(Our server also told me I speak good Italian because I pronounced alici, the Italian for “anchovy,” properly. Teehee.)
We were in Rome for a week, and it was a glorious week. We walked the city, took in the sights, saw things we’ve only seen in documentaries or read about, ate a bunch of carbs, and were amazed each step of the way. It was a fantastic spring break.