When in Rome…
‘Scusami’ says a tall handsome Italian waiter dashing up to me with his arms outstretched, cupping my face with his hands and attempting to plant a kiss on my red lips as I walk along the cobbled street of a restaurant in the town centre.
Ha! Welcome to Rome!
I shouldn’t have been surprised by his advances though, did I forget where I was? Just a few nights before I had been walking to the train station and walked right past a waiter talking to a friend. He entirely stopped chatting and turned to look me up and down, making ‘mwah’ noises whilst he looked me straight in the eye. Good job he was gorgeous otherwise he would have never gotten away with it.
This is what I love about travel; no, not getting sexually harassed in public, but learning about different cultures – how the lines are blurred, how different behaviours are socially accepted in different places and how different we are in general. Yes, that wouldn’t have gone down well in the UK but in Rome as the sun was just setting and people were getting ready to go out for dinner, it seemed to just fit somehow. And later I got told that it is their way of appreciating beauty, so I shall take that and run!
When I think back to these two weeks away I think of the cat who got the cream – total unadulterated happiness, full of laughter and sunshine and charm and artistry. Of course it now seems like a total blur, being back to the hum-drum of routine life in England in October. Blustery winds and rainy days. Rome was so incredibly idyllic.
I arrived very hot and sweaty from Amsterdam where I had spent the weekend. I was meeting my good friend Svenja that night and we were staying close to the station. Very first impressions I have to say weren’t actually great but that was only because all I saw was a sea of tourists stepping off the bus and large buildings around the outside of the city without much character.
However that all soon changed as I checked into a cute top floor apartment and went exploring to find some dinner at Il Mercato Centrale, lapping up the feeling of being in a new city this buzzy and beautiful.
The first day we thought would be spent having a slow wander and finding our feet. We found a cute place to have coffee and made it to both the Colosseum and The Roman Forum (which takes forever to walk around – there’s so much to see!).
Then we decided to keep wandering,
Past the Fontana de Trevi, onwards to Piazza Venezia, over the Ponte Sisto.
My feet never tired (thanks Birkenstocks!) and there was something new to see around every corner.
Finally we made it to Trastevere (what became our favourite place!) for dinner and Svenja pulled out her phone to announce the fact that we had walked 20km that day.
It was actually good to have had a walking day first as it meant we instantly got a feeling for the whole city. We made a few plans each day to visit the places we wanted to see, as well as the places we liked the look of initially.
I really loved what is called ‘The Heart Rome’ – central to Piazza Navoli where parts of Eat, Pray, Love were filmed. Make sure to take a left off the Piazza in order to walk past Ristorante Saint Lucia (where Julia Roberts eats with her friends in the film). This takes you down the most gorgeous side streets – past hand-made gelaterias, bespoke clothes shops, quirky coffee bars and hip vegan hide-outs. Tilly and I had lunch around here once and it was totally magical. There are always street vendors selling lovely jewellery along here – I found a gorgeous hair clip made from steel which I absolutely adore and is my favourite souvenir from my time in this wonderful city.
Most of my recommendations come from Italians themselves – that’s always the best way, to hear from those who already know the area. If you don’t have those to hand, definitely check out withlocals, it’s a great website that for a small fee connects you with locals in many cities around the world. They take you out to bars/restaurants or just show you around, whatever you fancy. Worth looking into if you want more than the touristy experience of Rome.
Rome just has so much charm about it, from cute dogs keeping watch out of shop doorways, to handsome Italians serving you espresso at a bar with a smile, to the sweet little fountains and doorways you see around the city, this city is oozing with character and charisma.
Allora! Where to Eat…
Everything I put into my mouth in Rome was some sort of heaven. I think if I had to go to die, I would certainly choose to perish here. From delicious take-aways to drawn out, sit-down dinners, I was in paradise here every single day. Of course there is an overwhelming amount of choice in this city and you’ll have your own favourites. Here are mine:
Freni e Frizioni – www.freniefrizioni.com – An aperitivo Trastevere classic, they do things a bit differently here; instead of picking from a menu and having the aperitifs served to you, there is a large and very delicious vegan/veggie buffet style set-up where it’s pick and choose what you would like. The price is included in the drink, which is very generous, although they’re definitely not a wine bar (bleugh) so opt for their amazing cocktails instead!
Roscioli – roscioli.com – An absolute hit with the locals, this bakery tucked down the side street of Via Dei Gubbonari serves THE BEST PIZZA I’VE EVER TASTED!! My favourite was the pesto and mozzarella slice which was simply heavenly. They also do an amazing pistachio round loaf cake which was utterly scrumptious with a cup of tea later that day. They’re always super busy and there aren’t many tables. We would often grab to go and sit directly opposite on the cobbled pavement, gorging on every last crumb on our plates (and making orgasm noises whilst eating) and marvelling at all the handsome locals who came here to eat on their lunch breaks.
Il Fornaio – on Trip Advisor – Also a bakery but whilst you’d go to Roscioli for pizza, you’d go to Il Fornaio per la dolce (sweet things!) It’s close to Piazza di San Pantaleo on Via de Baullari and OH MY GOD I’VE NEVER TASTED A CANNOLI LIKE IT! Whilst you may be thinking of cannelloni pasta (no, just me?) I’m actually taking about Sicily’s signature pastry, made from fried dough, brimming with a sweet, creamy filling of ricotta cheese. I think I lost my mind that day at Il Fornaio when I tried one of their pistachio cream ones, it was that good! Their counters are also brimming with other mouth-wateringly tasty treats so you can really let your sweet tooth go wild in here (I won’t tell you how many times I visited!)
Enoteca Liquorini – A lovely cosy wine bar you feel like you could sit in for hours. It’s on Vicolo del Giglio just off of Campo dei Fuori. The owner is charming and recommends the perfect wine to go with whatever dish you order. Whilst waiting for our lovely ricotta and spinach lasagna as well as a scrumptious tiramissu for afters we had a laugh with the waiter about how to say ‘l’aquolina in bocca’ (I’m drooling).
Ginger Sapori e Salute – gingersaporiesalute.com – a health food gem in the busy part of town. Perfect for lunch, this place serves delicious fresh juices, delectable avocado salads and frothy coconut milk coffees. Word’s got out though so you may find you have to wait outside for a while to be seated.
La Taverna de Mercanti – tavernademercanti.it – tucked away in the even older part of Trastevere, this ivy-clad building feels like a step back in time, serving traditional Roman dishes in an authentic setting with red and white tablecloths and live music. I got taken out to dinner here by a local Italian (lucky me!) and I think I only saw locals here. It’s a bit of a hike but well worth it if you fancy something a bit different. Try the house carbonara with their vino bianco and you won’t be disappointed!
Take your Time – takeyourtimeroma.com – despite the English name, this place is actually very authentic and the owner, Giacomo is just charming, always happy and jolly with his customers, interested in where they come from and how they are enjoying Roma. A couple of times we stayed all evening here, sampling their amazing eggplant parmigiana, mozzarella and tomato contorni and scrummy Napolinese desserts. Giacomo supplied us with his favourite wine and we shared stories of our travels until one of his friends would greet him from the street and he would bound over to them in delight, just happy to constantly be chatting.
There was also this divine little place just off the narrow streets in the heart of Rome..we quite literally stumbled upon it. A tiny little shop no bigger than 5ft by 15ft all in. They had outside a couple of tiny wooden chairs either side of a beer barrel and some sweet fairy lights overhanging the shop entrance door, with the shop owners nattering away inside sharing a bottle of wine. Despite its small size, the wine bar held a vast array of bottles from across the country, neatly placed in their own compartment, with beautiful hand-written labels displaying their names and dates of bottling. The whole set- up warmly invited us in and we knew we couldn’t miss this chance to cosy up in such a gorgeous setting. From their tiny house wine menu we asked for the kind waiter’s recommendation and were delighted when he brought over not just wine but also a succulent platter of delicious cheeses, olives, cold cut meats, warm breads and baked snacks. We could have sat for several hours here, listening to the bubble of chatter coming from locals popping in and out of this tiny little place.
If you’re heading to Rome and you read this you’re going to hate me because I’ve made this place sound so idyllic and yet I can’t remember its name or its exact location. I honestly think that’s part of the beauty of this city though, the fact that you don’t have to make plans for dinner, you can just have a wander and stumble across the most delightful little places and have them all to yourself.
One thing I wasn’t too sure of over there was il gelato. I’m not much of an ice-cream fan anyway (I know!) but after finding the most delicious Gelateria in Florence I was looking forward to a helping of some of Rome’s finest. However it turns out that not all gelato is created equal and honestly I think it pays to do your research on the best Gelateria, rather than just walking into one whenever you fancy.
What to Do…
Well you certainly won’t be short of things to do and see in Rome. I was there for almost 2 weeks wandering around every day and I still don’t feel like I saw all of the city. If you’re a fan of all things historic please don’t judge me but instead of queuing for hours on end to see The Vatican City’s inside walls, I opted to read my book in the sunshine, talk to locals and join an Italian yoga class.
Trastevere – I absolutely adore Trastevere – you may have to walk a little out of the way and across the bridge but this place is well worth it if you like pure charm. It has the essence of being a little village inside the city, with its own concentration of beautiful buildings, artisan shops and an enormous array of charming places to eat whatever the hour. We saw a lot of Rome but we spent most of our evenings in Trastevere. This place is just delightful with its quaint rustic cottages, overhanging baskets, sensual music playing and sweet side streets.
Piazza Venezia – needs little introduction – it’s a large non-pedestrianised square surrounded by monuments. It’s one of Rome’s most beautiful squares and it’s quite a hub here.
Fontana de Trevi – a must in order to be delighted by such a gorgeous work of art after making your way through the winding streets. It’s literally only clear of tourists in the middle of the night!
Piazza del Popolo – grab some wine, some cheese, biscuits and olives and take the easy hundred or so steps up to the top of the look out point across the piazza for sunset. You’ll be swarmed by romantic couples kissing everywhere but this just adds to the charming atmosphere. After all, it is Rome! You can also take a stroll through the gigantic gardens up here, complete with lakes and beautiful paths.
Giancolo – take an afternoon stroll (or just get a taxi) to the look out point to see some awesome sweeping views across the city.
Colloseum – my biggest tip is to buy your tickets around at the entrance to The Roman Forum where you can get a combo ticket for both the forum ruins and the Colloseo. This will save you so much time as there is often a massive queue at the Colloseum.
Vatican City – I didn’t step into the Sistine chapel but I hear it’s marvellous of course. The sheer magnitude of the 284 columns that flank St. Peter’s square in a horseshoe shape was enough to blow me away.
Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary – Roman cats have always found shelter amongst the ancient ruins of the city and Torre Argentina is home to 150 feline friends amongst the oldest temples in Rome. Volunteers help feed and look after them and visitors are always welcome to look around and give what they can to the non-profit organisation.
Church Hopping – Step into and stand in absolute amazement at the intricacy of artworks at one or many of the gorgeous churches scattered around the city.
The Pantheon – gorgeous signature style of Rome. Enjoy it early morning to save you just looking at the back of tourist’s heads.
Santa Marinella Beach – If you’ve got a bit of time to play with you can hop on the train from Termini Station and take the hour or so ride to this cute seaside town. It was disappointing to see litter in the sea here but there’s a great restaurant a few minutes walk from the beach which serves the best linguine.
Where to stay…
I really only have one recommendation here and that is an Airbnb in the heart of Rome (next door to Roscioli bakery – you’re welcome!) It’s a penthouse apartment overlooking the Dome of the Church “Sant’Andrea della Valle” with its own private terrace and 2 bedrooms, with space for up to 6 people. Tilly and I shared the cost of this place for a few nights and I’m so glad we decided to spend a little more money for something so luxurious – it totally made our stay. It feels like you are a true local staying here, opening up the old-fashioned front door and climbing the steep steps to the top.
We would take turns in the mornings popping downstairs to grab some breakfast supplies from Roscioli, some fresh fruit from Campo dei Fuori market and some strong coffee to bring back to the apartment and enjoy up on the sunny terrace. So delightful! (the listing is here).
I also stayed at The Beehive Hostel in Rome which I loved for its quirky style, cleanliness and friendly staff. It’s a bit out of the way in my opinion but the city is supported by a network of continual buses, so it makes getting around super easy.
Well, it’s probably safe to say that I enjoyed Rome (no way!) It’s another city that struck me as a place I could happily live (along with Melbourne), although I’d definitely have to limit my intake of delectable pastries to maybe one a day otherwise I’d be rolling out of there! I do understand that it’s not for everyone – I think some would say it’s far too crowded and too much of a big city, but these beautiful cobbled streets spoke to me and I’m already looking forward to returning.