Our 14-day European tour concluded in Rome, Italy, a beautiful city full of history and wonder. Oh, and food. The food is excellent.
When we arrived in Rome, it was raining. We had spent almost two glorious weeks with nothing but fantastic weather, so I knew I really shouldn’t complain. But it did dampen my spirits a bit.
We trudged on in the rain to find the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. Coming to Rome in the fall, however, meant that just about everything was closed for renovations. The Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, parts of the Forum, and even a large portion of the Coliseum were all under construction.
Our cute hotel, Navona Gallery and Garden Suites, had a nice little courtyard and very friendly staff. The lady at the front desk gave us some excellent restaurant recommendations, as well as her very own paella recipe (she was originally from Spain).
Because it was raining, we found a cute little Irish pub, Abbey Theatre, right on our street that was so authentic that I was kind of jarred back to reality anytime someone spoke Italian around us. The bartender was Irish, and it was really kind of nice to talk to someone who spoke completely unbroken English for just a little while.
The second day was gorgeous and sunny, and we had finally learned our lesson and bought Vatican tickets online the night before we went. We got to skip an enormous line that wrapped around the building when entering the Vatican museums. However, that did not stop the people selling tours relentlessly trying to get us to “upgrade” our tickets…
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is amazing. And when you think about Michelangelo spending years painting it and coming up with ways to represent major parts of the Bible, it is positively breathtaking. You are really not supposed to take pictures, though. Most people kind of surreptitiously take them with their phones, but the peace and awe of the church is pretty frequently broken with the attendants yelling “NO PHOTO.”
Then we walked back around to Saint Peter’s Basilica. You guys. That place is the most ornate and elaborate shrine to Saint Peter you will ever see. It was also just ever so slightly creepy to know that lots of previous Popes (and, allegedly, St. Peter himself) were buried in (and under) the building…
We spent the afternoon walking around Trastevere neighborhood, a very authentic Roman area, full of cafes, churches, and architecture that is definitely worth seeing. And the best part is that this is completely free, unless you stop for a gelato or a glass of wine (which we definitely did…).
That night, we had the best authentic Italian meal of our entire trip. On recommendation from the lady at our hotel, we went to Osteria Da Fortunata by Campo di Fiori. You. Guys. All I had was the ravioli (in BUTTER SAGE SAUCE…ahem), but it was the best ravioli I’ve ever eaten in my life. Bri had just the ragu pasta, and he said his was fantastic.
The staff was hilarious. The lady who must have been the hostess or the owner or something did not speak much English, so we were given to a friendly, funny server, who recommended the chocolate mousse for dessert (um, YES!!!!!) and laughed at my Italian attempts. But when there was an issue in the restroom, the Italian lady kept coming outside and yelling up at a window high above us to a man called Enzo, presumably to get him to come down and fix the toilet. It was hilarious and so perfectly, quintessentially Italian.
Our final day in Italy was spent walking around the Coliseum, the Forum, and the Spanish Steps (which were covered and under construction).
But we did have a fabulous lunch at another recommended restaurant, Edy Ristorante, which is several blocks from the Spanish Steps, and in the heart of the high-end shopping district.
This place was fabulous. Again, very authentic, and absolutely the best bruschetta I’ve ever had. I keep wanting to replicate it here at home, but it is officially not tomato season here right now, so there is no way it will be as good.
We spent our last evening in Rome at a cute little restaurant right across from our hotel. The food was decent, but it was the atmosphere that made it feel like the perfect way to spend our last night. The candlesticks were stuck in old wine bottles and absolutely covered with wax drippings. There were little pieces of Italian memorabilia all over the walls. It was the perfect place to spend our final evening.
ColaTownTourist’s Travel Tips:
I learned a few things during my travels that I wish I’d known before I went. In case they are helpful to anyone else, here they are:
- Rome is FULL of people trying to make a dolla holla. You will be hounded at every turn with people trying (sometimes VERY persistently) to sell you something. Sometimes, even while eating dinner at an outdoor cafe, they will approach you trying to sell items. Even many of the restaurants have someone outside trying to lure you in. They don’t really take a polite “no” as an answer (nor do they take subtle hints like my pointedly trying to NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT), but Bri was able to put up his hand and they usually walked away. You have to be firm, but also, try to remember not to take out your frustration on one individual. He is just trying to make a living, and he is probably not the same person as the last 5 people who just approached you to buy something.
- The “tourist trap” restaurants have figured out that Americans like ambiance. Unfortunately, the places that looked the most appealing were just ambiance with a so-so menu. The most authentic places typically had bright harsh lighting and not-so-great service, but incredible food. Also, they didn’t need to try to lure people in, because locals already knew about them. And if you’re looking for the best, freshest quality, try to find a Trattoria. These are the places where everything is made in-house, rather than brought in on a truck.
- Sitting at the table costs money. In just about every cafe and restaurant, you will be charged a table fee. We found this to be the case in most Italian restaurants. If you are just going in for a caffe, do as the Italians do, and just have it standing at the bar. (It won’t be large enough to sit down and enjoy, anyway.) Even the pastries in the cafe display cases had a table price and and a to go price, which was cheaper. Obviously, if you’re having an entire meal, the table fee is worth it. But just know it’s coming.
- Water costs money. They will charge you probably between 3 and 6 euro for a bottle of water for the table. Sometime it’s nice bottled water, and sometimes I’m pretty sure they just got it out of the tap. If you ask for tap water, though, you will be seen as chintzy. Just pony up and pay for one bottle of water. Or just drink wine instead. It’s almost cheaper…
- You can’t find a public restroom, like, anywhere. I got a little frustrated on a few occasions because they don’t have anywhere for tourists to go. Even some smaller restaurants (like gelatarias and even Subway, for Pete’s sake) won’t let you use their restroom EVEN if you buy something!!! You have to go to a sit-down cafe/restaurant and make a purchase. And if you make a small purchase just to use the restroom, they WILL roll their eyes at you.
- We were advised that it was not worth the money (or the line) to go inside of the Coliseum and Roman Forum. There are plenty of things to see outside of these attractions, including lots of ruins. We downloaded Rick Steves’ audio guide, and still got plenty of interesting information.
- The Vatican is worth it. It costs money to go inside the museums (which include the Sistine Chapel – St. Peter’s Basilica is free), but it is worth it. Do yourself a favor and buy the skip the line tickets for the Vatican Museums. Also, don’t believe the people who tell you it will be over an hour to go inside unless you buy their special tour. The line for St. Peter’s Basilica moves much faster than you’d expect, and since we had our own free audio guide, there was really no need to spend extra money on their tour.
- If I had to do it all over again, I’d have started in Rome. Rome was by far the most touristy place we visited. The constant hounding to buy, to dine, to tour, etc., was exhausting, and having come from other cities where this wasn’t nearly as bad, it made me like Rome less than the other cities we visited. I still loved Rome, and I’m glad that I went, but if I had it to do all over again, I would have begun in Rome and ended in Paris. Paris and Florence were both so difficult to leave, that I think I would have enjoyed going in reverse of our trip.
Check out the other parts of my Adventures in Europe:
- Part 1 – Paris, France
- Part 2 – Bern, Switzerland
- Part 3 – Cinque Terre, Italy
- Part 4 – Florence, Italy, plus a quick stop in Pisa