Rome, the capital of Italy, is one of the highlights for anyone interested in understanding and exploring Europe and its thousand years or so of recorded history. Wrapped around the Tiber river, the city is the namesake epicentre for the Roman empire and was its capital too until 330 CE. Now, it is occupied by loads of tourists. Loads of tourists.
November is a good time to go to Rome. It is still warm in the daytime, but the crowds have died down mostly from the rush of summer. However, as one of my hosts told me who works in the tourist industry, Rome always has crowds. There is no escape.
I landed in the incredibly large Fiumicino Airport in the late evening, and only barely caught the last train at 11:00 PM to Tiburtina station. My hosts live on the outskirts of Rome in the neighbourhood of Portonaccio. It is extremely residential, which I enjoyed fully. With a café or pizzeria on every corner and small local shops to quell an afternoon hunger, it is a perfect location for a more down to earth Roman experience. An adorable couple, they very kindly picked me up from the station despite it being around 12 AM when I arrived there. Tickets can be bought and validated at the airport for 8 €.
Rome’s public transportation has its highs and lows. The metro system is considerably smaller than one might expect with only two main lines and a few tram railways. Tickets are necessary and can be cheaply purchased at any of the local shops and kiosks for 1.5 € street-side.
On the upside, the buses can be generally taken without a ticket. You should buy and validate a ticket to use the buses too, but no one ever checks, apparently. However, the buses run a little erratically, especially on Sundays. So, at times, cheap/ no fare, and at other times, no/delayed transport whatsoever. C’est la vie.
Either way, transport is only really necessary when getting back and forth from the city centre. Most of the historic sites are concentrated on the eastern side of the Tiber while the Vatican is on the western bank. It is hilly, but a walkable city.
To begin one’s Roman holiday, I suggest the Colosseum, which is conveniently located right by the aptly named Colosseo stop on the metro line. Prices to enter it along with its sister monuments, the Palatine Hill & Roman Forum, vary anywhere from 12 € to less depending on one’s EU status … age … etc. Check it out and reserve entry online beforehand if you know in advance you want to go in.
Personally, I am not a fan of spending a ton of money and then wait in gargantuan lines, so I did not actually enter anything really in Rome. The grand scale architecture and ruins can be appreciated from their exteriors just fine too.
My main goal to visit Rome (unsurprisingly) was to consume as much as possible. The city is known for its gastronomy, which is, like the rest of Italy, regional, but is still generally considered some of the best in the country.
The main meals that someone has to enjoy in Rome include but are not limited to: cacio e pepe, carbonara, supplì (the Roman equivalent to arancini), carciofi alla guidia (Jewish style artichoke), trippa (tripe), Roman-style pizza (which is flat & thin) and of course, gelato.
I would stay away from most places directly around the main monuments. Some eateries are alright and not total rip offs like the gelaterie one will encounter by touristic zones. However, for other food and substantial meals, try going off the beaten path and finding smaller trattorie (sing. trattoria) and osterie (sing. osteria). For the record, osterie are less formal than trattorie, which in turn are less formal than ristoranti.
Basic Italian for ordering is “(Io) vorrei …” for [I would like …]. The waiter may ask for anything to “bere” [to drink], which you can reply whatever you like. And, when you are finished stuffing yourself, “il conto, per favore” [the bill, please] works just fine. I found that I was not able to always speak or respond in Italian, but I did understand at least 30 percent of any given conversation through Spanish alone thankfully.
I tend to just use my ears to find places to eat. Do I hear Italian spoken between bites, if yes, then this place might be worth my time. Works, usually.
The best location to go to in order to find a great meal is the neighbourhood of Trastevere. These maze-like street grids house what seems like endless amounts of eateries, some more expensive than others. A local spot of note is Tonnarello, which becomes crowded for lunches around 1PM-2PM. I was not even able to go since the line was literally non-existent and instead was just an endless chaotic mass, but it was recommended to me by my lovely hosts. Expect plentiful portions!
Another great place I was recommended was Trattoria Vecchia Roma, which is located not in Trastevere, but by Tremini station on the metro. It serves pasta within giant cheese wheels! Reservations are a must on popular nights, so plan ahead to dine in style.
So after a nice lunch, or maybe before, another stop to head to is, of course, the Trevi fountain. The largest Baroque fountain in the city, and possibly the most famous in the world as a result of its filmographic record, the Fontana di Trevi is a heavily visited tourist site, just as much as the Colosseum.
The iconography of the site is that of Triton, a Greek god actually, with statued hippocampi, Corinthian columns, surrounded by overflowing aquamarine water.
Just while enjoying this spectacle, be sure to know where your belongings are. Be on high alert for pick-pocketers, it is the environment for them.
I stayed at the Trevi Fountain for a good amount of time. I did not realise how large it really was, and despite not overly enjoying crowds, I just found looking at the detailing of the sculptures to be relaxing. It is located also close to the Spanish Steps, which are to the east. However, by this time, I was getting tired. I had gotten lost a few times before getting to the fountain, so my feet were killing me.
However, heading back to the subway station, I was able to see a few more iconic sites including the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo, atop the Capitoline Hill, one of the seven of Rome and the Pantheon.
These locations are a bit less busy during the late afternoon, and the Capitoline Hill is especially nice to sit down for a spell after a long day’s trek. It overlooks the Roman Forum as well to the west, so enjoy a spectacular view ascending and descending this mini mount. The Complesso del Vittoriano is also in the vicinity, so indoor art fans can be sated too. Check the website for tickets for select shows.
On a final note, I found my first day in Rome to be honestly a challenge, but an enjoyable one. It is not exactly as one might think. Although my previous blogpost does address my depression and how I realised things about it wandering around aimlessly, I must say I actually found Rome to just be physically exhausting. I thought I was in good shape? As usual, I think difficulties arose as a result of multiple factors. There are a lot of people in Rome everywhere, which is a bit anxiety-inducing, mixed topography, loud cars and motorcycles, and crossing the street is an extreme sport where if you see an opening, you go for it!
After eating so much, by the end of the day, I was not sure I was going to make it across without getting hit since I was as slow as a tortoise. Although, I would not take anything back from my first day — not a single bite or step.
Next up for our Roman recap, we are heading to the Vatican and looking at a few more Roman/Italian delicacies. I am back in Lund now, so I will have a good amount of time to write up some tips and tricks to make your visit to Vatican, quick and painless, unless most of Catholicism and its history! Stay tuned.