All road lead to Rome…either by accident or on purpose. Considering that I ended up there during the peak of summer when temperatures climb up to +30C before noon and all you want to do is escape to beach or mountains, one would surely think my ‘road’ led me there accidentally. Highly likely but not true. In light of upcoming move to US, I found myself scrambling to plan last-minute trips to places I felt I should visit while still in the European ‘neighborhood’. With that in mind, I plunged into ‘the eternal city’, determined to see the ‘famous’ places, get lost in ancient alleys, and discover artisanal gelato shops – all in just a little over 24 hours.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Rome and its inhabitants, my mind conjures up images of tanned people in tunics and sandals (or was that Greece?), warm brown buildings and stone-paved roads, tiny cups of strong caffé and melting mounds of colorful gelatos. Apart from the first thing, everything else turned out to be surprisingly similar to my imaginary Rome including blazing sun, long queues, chain shops selling garishly-colored frozen concoctions, street markets with overpriced pasta, and crowds of tourists glued to their iDevices, posing for ‘look how cool i am’ facebook photos. Instead of being annoyed, I found this environment mostly comforting and relaxing because it gave me an excuse to quickly skim through the ‘must see’ areas and venture into quieter streets in search of the ‘real’ thing.
Below I listed some scattered thoughts, observations and recommendations in case you are interested or planning a trip to Rome.
Awesome tall umbrella trees
You will find them sprinkled all around the city, their flat tops creating a prehistoric yet also modern look. The Italian stone pines, native to the Mediterranean region, have indeed been used and cultivated since prehistoric times as their cones produce pine nuts – the fanciest and most expensive nut in the world! These precious edible gems are not widely known in North America apart from being used to make pesto but Italians and French use pine nuts extensively in salads, meat dishes and desserts. If you want to learn more about pine nuts and why they cost a small fortune, read this cool article explaining why its totally worth splurging on them once in a while.
Scattered ruins overgrown with wild flowers…and more awesome tall flat trees!
If you come to Rome, you obviously can’t skip on visiting Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Colosseum (after all, a ticket you buy lets you in to all three places). My advice? Go early (before 9:00), bring water, and get in queue at the entrance to the Roman Forum or even better at the Palatine Hill (but never at the Colosseum). If you are lucky (and early), you’re in for only 5-10 minute line but if you ignore my advice and head to the Colosseum, you’ll be there long enough to forget why you came there in the first place.
Get your tiny cup of caffe and a choco-croissant at a local bar
You’ll get amazing flavors for very little cost (1€ for a caffé plus 1.5€ for a pastry) less than ten minute walk from the Colosseum. Head north to via Merulana 54 to find busy and impossibly cute bakery Panella with endless assortment of sweet and savory baked goods. Enjoy your tasty snack at the bar (like the locals do) or grab a seat outside if planning to stay longer (you’ll probably have to pay more if you plan to sit). If you are near Piazza Navona, there is a cozy cafe Emporio Alla Pace (via della Pace 28) with books, newspapers, and cheap but very good coffee and snacks. This cafe rescued me when I was looking for a place to sit down and have a quick bite while trying to dodge all the touristy sit-down restaurants with English pre-set menues. For a mere cost of 3.8€, I was rewarded with a caffé macchiato and a pizza-sandwich filled with zucchini flowers and mozzarella.
Get ready to be impressed with Pantheon
One of the most impressive buildings built by human kind of all times. There is nothing like it. If you are lucky like me, you might catch a free classical concert inside. (If you are not as lucky, check Rome concerts schedule online in advance). Oh and please be respectful. People seem to forget that this is a church and often behave like they are at a shopping mall or zoo.
One more church that will leave you in awe despite noisy tourists
Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack of there of), you won’t be left indifferent after walking through St. Peter’s Basilica. Possible reactions: a) wow look at all this gold and paintings! b) shouldn’t Catholic Church advocate modesty by setting an example? c) i want a photo with the Pope (or nearby hot Italian security guy)! d) can someone please kick all these people with iPads outside; e) why do all these people take photos in front of seemingly random background? f) really just want to pray in peace…but not possible.
Castles that don’t look like fairy tale castles..they look way cooler!
Castel Sant’ Angelo is nearly two thousand years old and has been used as a fortress for protecting former Popes. Climb to the top for a breathtaking 360 degree view of Rome!
Just because you are in Rome, you don’t have to gorge all the time on random pasta and pizza you see at every corner. If you have a chance (and patience, and time), choose places where you eat mindfully. For example, go to Zoc (via delle Zoccolette 22) for a global twist on traditional Italian cuisine. There is a short seasonal menu, changing brunch menu on weekends until 3pm, a wide array of cozy sofas and armchairs inside and beautiful garden outside. If you are looking for a cool place to hang out in the evening, go to Freni e Frizioni in Trastevere (via del Politeama, 4/6) for all-you-can eat veggie buffet with a purchase of a drink during aperitivo hours. You’ll get a nice variety of snacks and a great people-watching spot. Finally, if you want good quality gelato, look for Grom – they have several locations in Rome as well as in other parts of Italy and even Paris, Tokyo and NYC. Ice cream just doesn’t get any healthier than this and its incredibly delicious.
I would love to hear your feedback if you have been to Rome and had similar experiences. Ciao!