Out of the four cities we visited (Florence, Venice, Rome and Milan) the Italian capital was my favourite. We were there for three days, our longest stay in any metropolis, and by the end I felt less of a tourist, and more… well, like an ex-pat. With our frayed (and free) hotel map, we could navigate the city like it was our own. Streets became familiar and we became regulars at a restaurant… quasi-Romans, you might say.
Well, we could walk like locals, but Rome still surprised us. Here are the things we discovered whilst there (some more ironic than others)…
Pick a monastery, not a hotel
Thanks to the recommendation of Italian family members, we ended up spending our three nights at the Domus Sessoriana. The rooms and facilities are located in the two wings of the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (thirty minutes walk from the train station). The room was a staggeringly cheap €70 per night for two of us, including breakfast (via booking.com). I’ll do a review of this place soon, but to summarise: highly recommended. Brilliant setting, helpful staff and intriguing building. I felt part of Rome’s history when I was staying here.
Rome is walkable – use your legs!
Yes, the midday sun is unbearable, and yes, your sallow Scottish skin might get burnt, but walking is by far the best way to get around Rome. You can wander from the Colosseum to Vatican City in just 45 minutes, passing by some rather nice gelaterias on the way. In one day, we went from our hostel via the Colosseum to the Pantheon; by Piazza Navona across a bridge towards the Vatican; over the river again to Piazza del Popolo and past the Spanish Steps to fall asleep at the end of the evening. My feet were rather sore in Toms, so a tiny tip? Stick to trainers.
Stay hydrated at the fountains
‘Water one euro one euro.’ This mantra is the background music of the Colosseum, but make sure you activate your eyes as well as your ears. Look around and you’ll probably spot a fountain where others are filling their flasks to fight off dehydration. There are several in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, and more around the streets of Rome. There are designated drinking points in the Roman Forum too, thank goodness. We were parched after just a few hours of wandering though crusted stone and spinal ruins.
Buy your Colosseum ticket… at the Forum
Talking of the Forum, we got lucky. Unless you get to the Colosseum at 9am, you’re nearly always guaranteed a wait. We arrived at 3pm and it was buzzing, bodies stretching back down the block. We decided to head to the Roman Forum instead, where we bought a €12 ticket (€7.50 reduced fee) which gave us access to the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine for the next two days. The following morning, we were back at the Colosseum, tiptoeing past the queue of tired tourists into the arena. It took us all of two minutes to get in… and yes, the place is phenomenal.
Become a regular at Spaccio Pasta
I won’t go into too much detail about our first night meal near the Colosseum at Pizzeria Luzzi (stick to the pizza and pasta. I’m not entirely sure a sweaty mound of spinach equates to ‘mixed vegetables’…) After that, I was understandably anxious about our restaurant choices. Would we be forever exploited by tourist traps? Would I, an ex-carb addict, find anything to eat? The next evening, we took a chance on Spaccio Pasta, a Zizzi-esque chain which we found on the quieter western side of the Ponte Regina Margerita. I ordered a massive mozzarella, tomato and grilled courgette salad whilst C took gnocchi. We were back the next night: safe to say, there’s no better sign of a good restaurant than the presence of actual Italians.
Don’t miss the Sistine Chapel!
As I’ve mentioned, we walked big in Italy. In fact, we walked so far on the day of our scheduled trip to the Vatican that the crypts and Sistine Chapel had already closed! Obviously I was fairly disappointed by the 4pm shutdown, but the ethereal atmosphere of the basilica more than made up for it. In fact, we were still able to ascend to the top of Saint Peter’s Dome, where we had an avian outlook across the Eternal City. I couldn’t help but miss Michelangelo though. Oh well, just another excuse to return to Rome and explore its ancient alcoves.