I write this nearly 7 months after we return from Rome however my memories of this fantastic city have not eroded and Rome still remains in my mind one of the most beautiful and inspiring capitals. 2 days and an evening were nowhere near enough to even scratch the surface of the history, culture, architecture and art that are present in every step you take and around every corner. I’m sure you could spend months here and still have more left to see.
But it isn’t just the culture and the amazing sites that made this weekend so special, it was also the dolce vita lifestyle, the relaxed pace of the romans and the abundance of good food and the mouth-watering smells that goes with that.
Below are the emails I sent home whilst in Rome. Hopefully they are of interest to someone and may hopefully inspire one or two of you to visit in the future. Enjoy!
Hello from a rather cold Rome
I think we should have packed some woolly jumpers as it isn’t particularly warm here!
Rome so far is great. We’ve only been here a few hours as we landed at 6pm, however, in that time we’ve had a lovely meal and walked around the Colosseum.
We’ve managed to get around using public transport which so far seems easy enough to navigate. It’s also relatively cheap. For 12€ you can buy an unlimited 48 hour travel card that covers trains, metro, trams and buses.
We are going on a food tour tomorrow and as part of the booking they have provided us with their choice of restaurants around the city so we decided to heed their advice and go to a Pizzeria close to the hotel (and just up the road from the Colosseum). A very easy restaurant to walk past with a hardly noticeable front. Definitely not somewhere that would have caught our eyes; yet inside it was bustling with locals. It was decorated so that it felt like you were eating outdoors with lots of light and high ceilings painted with the sky and the walls resembling house entrances. Very charming. Not expensive and probably the best pizza we have had. I’m glad we followed their recommendation!
We did however have a language misunderstanding. On the menu they had Chicken Croquettes which we assumed would be like the Spanish ones, filled with béchamel and chicken and then deep fried in bread crumbs. Nope. They were just chicken nuggets!
After dinner we wondered down to the Colosseum, which is really impressive, before heading back to the hotel. Can’t wait for our tour of the Colosseum on Friday.
Today has been a full day and we are now both knackered and so full with food we are having to waddle!
We had a lovely night’s sleep until about 7, at which time everyone in Rome decided to get out of bed and into their cars, drive to the road by our hotel and sit with their hand on the horn. This was even loud enough to wake me up and I could sleep through a bomb going off!
Quick breakfast in the hotel (big mistake) and off we went in search of the starting point of our food tour. This involved getting a tram and then off the tram and onto a bus which we monitored closely with google maps to try and establish when we needed to get off. We made it!
The tour took place in Trastevere which is one of the Roman neighbours on the other side of the river. It was where all the non-Catholics lived as they weren’t particularly welcome during the Roman Empire and as such they still hate being called Romans, they are Trasteverian. It also happens to be one of the few neighbourhoods that hasn’t been taken over by foreigners (the city centre is now mainly owned by Russians) and as such life still continues in the same way it did hundreds of years ago with many shops and restaurants still belonging to the same families they did centuries ago.
Our first stop was a patisserie where we had a bignè, which is like a very small pastry bun (think profiterole like pastry) filled with zabaglione cream. It was very nice.
Our second stop was a charcuterie that sells only cured meats and cheese. They specialise in Pecorino Romano, which is like mozzarella. As a matter of fact it is actually very hard to find Mozzarella in Rome as most use Pecorino Romano even if they tell the tourists they are having mozzarella. We also had some prosciutto crudo (Jamon) which was very nice.
From there we moved onto the Italian’s version of a fast food restaurant: a Suppli vendor. Suppli is a ball of rice filled with a chunk of cheese in the middle and some tomato sauce deep fried in breadcrumbs. Delicious!
From there we moved onto another charcuterie and probably my favourite stop of the tour. Here we had some porchetta on a slice of pizza bianca (plain pizza bread with olive oil, garlic and salt. Porchetta is two types of cuts of pork that have been rolled together with loads of herbs and then roasted for 6 hours. Absolutely delicious!
On again to a local market where we tried some more cheese and some fresh fruit. They don’t eat out of season fruit here (or not as commonly) which means that what you do eat if extremely juicy. The lady who sells the fruit will actually ask you when you will be eating the fruit so that she can select for you the pieces that will be ripe at exactly the right time.
From there to a gelateria where we learnt how to tell the difference between real and fake gelato. Needless to say it was amazing. I had hazelnut ice cream and straciatella.
Our next stop was an actual restaurant where we tried three different pasta dishes: ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, gnocchi in tomato sauce and pasta with a white wine and peppercorn sauce. All three extremely nice, however, by this time I was struggling!
Onto our next stop which was a Biscotti factory. Biscotti is not what we think of but actually covers the entire biscuit family. We had a lemon biscotti with apricot jam and then we had a hazelnut meringue like cookie (delicious!).
And last we finished at a slow food restaurant. The slow food movement actually started in Rome when the first McDonalds opened by the Spanish steps. The Romans came out in force and we’re giving out free pasta dishes to anybody who was trying to go into McDonalds for food, trying to put them off. Needless to say McDonalds still exists by the Spanish Steps, however, this idea of slow food started. Slow food is where the restaurants only buy food from small businesses and as such you can trace your food back to the exact location it was reared/grown. Here we had Crème Brule (taken from an ancient recipe) and dessert wine.
The other special thing of this restaurant is its cellar. It is housed in a building that was built 80 BC. That means it is actually older than the Colosseum. They believe the building was originally the villa of some rich business man. It is also where the statue of Apoxiomenos was found (now housed in the Vatican City).
I’m sure just reading about all we have eaten is making you feel full! We were definitely stuffed! We slowly waddled our way to the nearest bus stop and made our way to the Vatican City. No queues, straight in (in peak season people queue for hours trying to get in). We decided to go through the museums even though art isn’t really our thing. It would have been good to have a guide to know what we were looking at, however all the guides I could find online would have gone into too much detail and as such we opted for just wondering around.
I have to say it was all very impressive: The way they used shade in their paintings on the ceilings to make them look 3D, and the detail of the sculptures considering how old some of them are (although they were very obsessed with nudity which the Catholic Church does not appear to approve of so has covered all the penises with leafs). What takes people half a day, or even a full day, took us only 1 hour. But I’m glad we did it.
After finishing off in the Sistine Chapel we moved onto St Peters Basilica. We walked up 516 steps, all the way up the dome which gave us a really nice 360 view of Rome (worth the effort) and then had a wonder round the actual church. It is even a special year so you can walk through the Holly door and all your sins will be forgiven. We did it. Do I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders? No more guilt? Not really.
Finally after a long day we made our way back to the Metro and headed back to our hotel where we had a short siesta before getting ready to head out for dinner. We decided to try one of the restaurants recommended by our food tour company which was near Trevi Fountain. A quick Metro ride (I’m glad we got a hotel which was right by the Metro) and a 5 minute walk and we arrived at a really nice looking, but very busy restaurant. Unfortunately no tables. So we asked TripAdvisor for another suggestion and made our way there (in the rain) to find they were also fully booked. We asked again and third time lucky we found a pasta house. A little too touristy but nonetheless the food was good enough and not too expensive.
Doug had some tomato and bacon based pasta whilst I had spaghetti Bolognese. Very different to what you have in the UK (much drier sauce) but very nice.
And we are now back at the hotel ready for our Colosseum tour tomorrow.
Our time to say goodbye to Rome has already come. I write this whilst we have our final drink in the hotel lobby before we battle the metro and train back to the airport. I’ve actually had an email from EasyJet saying that the airport is a nightmare and to please make sure we allow plenty of time. It can’t possibly be worse than Luton?
Today we got up a little later, had a hearty breakfast and made our way down to the Colosseum. I had bought us tickets for a “Behind the Scenes” tour however we still needed to buy tickets to get into the actual colosseum. There were two queues, one for those with tickets and one without. A quick read of my paperwork made it very clear we were to go into the queue for those without tickets. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Everyone with tickets being given preference over us. Despite having arrived 1 hour before our tour was meant to start we were still not at the ticket booth!
And what happened as we approached the ticket booth? A man sees me holding my paperwork and says “you are in the wrong queue, you should be in the fast queue” which means we could have avoided all that waiting!
The wait was worth it though as was the extra money for the tour. We were taken into the arena, down to the holding cells underground as well as to the third tier, all of which is not available to normal ticket holders. The guide was very informative without going into too much detail and the building was simply astonishing. It is just a load of ruins now and hard to imagine what it would have looked like in all its glory, but even so, still a magnificent structure. And very interesting history.
Our plan for Saturday now involves watching gladiator!
We had lunch at a tourist trap restaurant overlooking the Colosseum. Prices were OK though and the food was tasty enough. From there we just walked on and on and got lost. The lovely thing about Rome is that it is relatively small and that there is history round every corner. No matter what direction you go in there is some kind of monument or ruin.
We walked past the Piazza Venezia, the Trevi Fountain (very impressive), the Spanish Steps (which were closed for renovation), the Pantheon (probably the best kept historic building in the city), the Roman Forum, the Largo Argetina (where Julio Caesar was killed). And finally back to the hotel.
I’m very glad we came. I’ve always wanted to visit Rome and it did not disappoint. With many of the cities we visit I feel I can tick them off without feeling the need to return, Rome however is somewhere I would definitely come back to and somewhere I would highly recommend everyone else to visit too.