I came to Rome in a barrel. Ready to see the eternal city. It was dark all the way. I was in good company. Then we felt a tapping sound. Just twice. Then it went quiet. A day later, I felt pulled away. I saw light!!! I decided to sit and bask in the light. Since I was in Rome, I HAD to have my picture taken. Hope I looked alright after all that travel. I didn’t feel refreshed but I felt refreshing, if that makes sense.
(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)
Rome has an endless amount of sights to see, places to visit, and walks to take – it is near impossible, lest you are a travel guide company, to document all that there is to see and almost just as impossible to cover all the ground. At least not when part of your goals for the trip are to chill some as well. That was me. Here are two places I enjoyed in Rome: a mix of must-sees and places where I just sat and relaxed. Hopefully, this will give you ideas or validate what you have read in the travel guide!
Do you have places in Rome that you like to and relax in? Please share!
Campo de Fiore
I had not seen the Campo de Fiore (field of flowers) before. It was not as great a piazza as I expected but it certainly allowed for two of my favorite things when I am in Europe: sitting in an outdoor café sipping my favorite beverage (house red wine in this case) and watching life go by (read: people watching). The flower and other stands were mostly still there though they began coming down as we were there. The buildings in the piazza and the surrounding streets definitely had character and a walkabout the area is well worth it.
The crowds taking in the sun & sights
A table waiting for users and a rose waiting for admirers…
Bread waiting for its consumers…
Some of the goods in the stands
It was at Campo de Fiore where I met the golden beer who told its story…
The Trastevere Area
This part of town, across the Tiber from old Rome, as the name suggests, is trendy, charming, and chock-full of places to eat, drink, and walk around. The southern part of it has some really neat alleys and buildings. We ate at a place called Caccio e Pepe in a pedestrian part of the area (http://www.osteriacacioepepe.it/). We called ahead since there were 6 of us and our table was ready and waiting. We enjoyed the food and the casual atmosphere of the Osteria. The Trastevere also has a couple of churches worth visiting.
Crossing the Tiber on the Ponte Cestio
Doorway in the Trastevere
Typical alley in the Trastevere
Santa Cecilia in the Trastevere, a very old church in Rome!
Of course, this walk around the Trastevere ended up in food… There is always good food in Rome to be found whether on your own or with a food tour!
(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)
In Rome, once again, we enjoyed Italian cuisine (carbonara, mi amore!), wine, gelato, architecture, history, and watching people (tourists and locals alike). It seems like those are reason ENOUGH to go to Roma! Nothing like Rome to appreciate cultural diversity and food delights!
When I travel with friends, I don’t just travel with anyone. I travel with folks who love wine, food, exploring, and chilling – like me. One of my friend’s is a personal chef and she and her husband are big foodies (and so will be their baby one day!). Before the trip, they looked for opportunities to sample food beyond lunch/dinner. They found an awesome food tour in the Testaccio area of Rome, an area I had not explored or had even heard of before. The tour is organized by Eating Italy Food Tours, founded by a native from Philly. Domenico, also from Philly, was our tour guide that day and he was definitely the right guy to show us around! (Check them out at http://www.eatingitalyfoodtours.com/ .)
We arrived to the Testaccio area after passing a pyramid by a cemetery. Rome’s city walls seem to have been built around it. I had no idea there was a pyramid in Rome! It is called the Pyramid of Cestius as it was built as a tomb for a guy with that name. What was incredible to me is that it was built 10-20 yrs BEFORE Christ. It is incredible!
The food tour took us to the cemetery on the side of the pyramid which used to be where foreigners were interred in Rome in the not so distant past. It is referred to as the Protestants’ or the Englishmen’s cemetery. One of its most famous “eternal residents” is the poet Keats who died very young (I did learn something, see??). You must be wondering when am I getting to the food. So am I. So let me get back on track.
The route and targets of the tour
We started at the old local market which is marked for demolition in the very near future as they have built a brand new place for these folks. Sounded wonderful until our tour guide told us the vendors’ rent will be doubled which will likely put a few of them out of business. Yes, the old market wasn’t a beacon of perfection but it definitely had charm! Among the things we sampled was real mozzarella di bufala made by a lady named Lina - now I know how real mozzarella di bufala is supposed to taste like!! Here are some of the sights at the market:
This fish guy has been there for decades and his son and grandson now work with him.
Whose legs are those? It’s rude to put your feet out the window!
All sorts of goodness! (Where’s the chocolate??)
Carne Equina – an interesting stand…
After the local market, we meandered towards Volpetti which, as soon as I saw the sign, I recognized from an Anthony Bourdain episode I had recently watched! Volpetti is this piece of heaven on Via Marmorata, near the Pyramid. All sorts of cheeses, balsamic vinergars, cured and dried meats like prosciutto, etc. We got to sample (as we did everywhere in this tour) and my favorite was the San Daniele prosciutto (vs. Parma prosciutto – which was still good!). The San Daniele had a certain tinge of sweetness that I enjoyed. Needless to say, we loaded up on some goodies for that evening’s dinner (we decided there were too many good things not to devote one dinner in the apartment to them!). Prosciutto is worth reading about and sampling – here is a quick overview of this delicious piece of ham: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosciutto. An another that covers the difference between pancetta (bacon) and prosciutto (ham): http://italianalmanac.org/06may/ham.htm
Goodness at Volpetti
Right after Volpetti and further down Marmorata, we stopped at Barberini’s were the pastries all were calling my name, winking at me. Not being a cultural chauvinist, I understood they were tempting me. Of course I accepted the morsels we were given to sample including tiramisu in a tiny cup made of chocolate (modeled here by my friend Chris):
A nice array of pastries at Barberini
On our way to further destinations in the tour, we passed a hill called Monte Testaccio. If you don’t know any better, you walk right past it. It has vegetation and was behind a fence when we hit upon it. However, our tour guide stopped to tell us about it. Folks, it is not a real hill that mother nature (or Mother Nature, lest lightning strike me) created. In the old days, and I mean, the OLD days, people used amphoras to store and carry things. However, when they were used for olive oil, the amphoras were not really re-usable for long. So, they would break them up and pile them on what became a hill over time. Vegetation grew and the hill – someone discovered – would offer in its innards a great place to store wine at the perfect temperature! So in old days (not OLD days), small caves were built for this purpose. It no longer seems to be used for this but remains a great witness to how the old Romans did things. The area has become trendy with nightclubs while still hosting traditional trades like butchers.
After a little meandering, we next came to 00100 Pizza where we were in for a real treat: suppli – a cheesy fried rice ball that was a foodie’s dream.
As our mouths continued to water, we made it to the place, Da Bucatino, where we would have a traditional Italian lunch centered around bucatini, a thick and hollow spaghetti-like pasta (not common here in the States) in amatriciana sauce (my favorite red sauce). I did my best to clean the plate though all the sampling along the way was competing for space in my stomach!
Finally, after the day of sampling great cheeses, meats, pasta, and the like we ended up at a neighborhood gelato place called Giolitti. It has been there since the early 20th century. A place where the gelato and the panna are all homemade – true artisans! What a difference a homemade makes.
So, a little more off the beaten path than the Rome that most tourists see (including me in my first 2 trips there), yet a stone’s throw away from all those places, the Testaccio area offers not only great food but a different scene with history and charm to along with it. Don’t miss it next time in Rome!
Other things I enjoyed in Rome:
What other lesser known areas of Rome have you seen and would you recommend them to others?
(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)
When my friends and I decided upon a trip to Italy focused on Rome, I was really pumped to go back, see some familiar places and get to check off some that, though very important, I had failed to visit in my 2 prior trips to Rome (to my credit, they had been like 3-day stays each).
Lodging in Rome
All of us had prior experience with renting apartments while abroad as a way to get much cheaper lodging with the perks of a real kitchen, washer/dryer, and living room space so we could hang out late at night. www.vrbo.com is my starting point for any search like this. We found an apartment in Prati but, unfortunately, soon after booking, the building had some sewer problems so the agency that VRBO had connected us to, contacted us to offer other options. We took another apartment, very close to the U.S. Embassy (not for that reason) and paid the differential since it was a better apartment though it was beyond what we had hoped to spend. However, getting close to the date of travel and with not as many options for 3-bedroom apartments that we had liked when we first searched, we went for it. The agency that arranged the rental in Rome was very professional and helpful along the way with special requests; check them out next time you are headed to Italy: www.italyperfect.com. Our apartment’s owner was a marquesa, if that impresses you at all!
Living/Dining room was very spacious
So What Was the Plan?
Our individual goals in this vacations coincided a good bit. One set of friends had not been to Rome so they would have to cover some of the basics we already had. Pompeii and the Sistine Chapel were top of my list but more on those in other entries…
As soon as we decided on the trip, we “discovered” that there were 3 other basilicas outside of what is known as the Vatican. They are elsewhere in Rome but technically you are in the Vatican when you are in these basilicas. We decided that these would be a great item for our arrival day due to all the walking and metroing required to see them – hence, we would not be tempted by naps! We ended up leaving Sta. M. Maggiore for another day but we found these basilicas, though not as massive as St. Peter’s, impressive in their own right. The basilicas are:
- St. John Lateran (former home of the Popes until not long ago at all – who knew)
- St. Paul Outside the Walls (the clarification is needed: there is one INSIDE the walls; and yes, Rome still has segments of wall around it; again, who knew… oh, and St. Paul is buried here under the chains that held him captive)
- Santa Maria Maggiore (near the Termini station).
Rome has some fan-TAS-tic ceilings – check them out!
One of the main things for me to see in Rome (what an unfair thing to type… Rome has SO much that is a must-see!) was the Pantheon. Folks, it is a 100 years and change away from being TWO THOUSAND years old! Can you wrap your mind around that??? I can’t! And it is STILL the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome. I should have seen this on my first visit! Oh, and I had NO idea the hole at the top was open! Cleverly positioned and hidden drains take care of that water when it rains!
The oculus (giggle, giggle) “reflected” on the dome
We hit the Pantheon the day we went to the Papal Audience when we left the Vatican and started meandering streets. It was my 3rd Papal Audience with the last one having been WAY CLOSER to the Pope (check out my friend Chris’ account of that audience. As usual, the people watching sometimes is even better than the event itself!
Sweet looking but who knows if she is really a meanie!
Not sure who looks sillier but thanks for your service!
In that meandering, we happened upon the Gelateria del Teatro, a well-known gelateria due to the quality and uniqueness of the flavors of the gelato. It was OUT OF THIS WORLD! Take a look at this!!
We also walked around Piazza Navona always full of life and tourists and peddlers… That area is even more interesting and full of locals in the evening. Meander the side streets and find restaurants and other gelaterias (when in Rome, you are required to have gelato no less than 2 times per day!). There is a lot in that area of town just around the corner on a side street!
As we headed back to the apartment, we decided to take a short detour and go to the Trevi Fountain so one set of friends could see it for the first time but, more importantly, so we could throw our coin to ensure a return to Roma! Again, the people watching is superb. I loved taking a couple of pictures of this couple as they examined the fountain.
After recovering from all that walking, we headed to Hostaria Il Mozzicone in Via Borgo Pio right outside the Vatican, a place I had visited in my two prior trips. As usual the food was awesome (the carbonara is their specialty and the ONLY thing I eat there) and the service cold – but never mind the service; as long as you go in up front not expecting friendly, you will be OK. Below my carbonara!
Food has AWESOME food and a food tour is a great way to discover. We did a great food tour and highlight recommend that.
Finally, to help us walk off some of the food coma, we walked over to St. Peter’s for a great night time view of this majestic place, something I had not done before (the go at night part!). A great way to cap our day!
In this trip, I also discovered why Rome IS the eternal city -> http://ilivetotravel.me/2012/04/22/why-rome-is-the-eternal-city/
Not being keen on lines and much less crowds, I instantly mentally said “yes” when I saw there was a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum before the crowds got in. I was quite willing to pay for the privilege of going before the SC and VM opened – which is rather an inaccurate concept as the moment you go in, the museum IS open – but this “before it opens” thing is about beating the crowds who did not want to wake up earlier, who did not want to (or could) pay the extra cost, or who did not know/think about it ahead of time. Plus with a tour guide to be sure nothing noteworthy was missed in the eagerness to see the SC.
Sample art at the Vatican Museum
Dark Rome (www.darkrome.com) provided one of those tours. (I found them via my ultimate authority for local tours, Viator.) Their tour guide, an archaelogist from Ireland named Rachel (cute!) was engaging and well prepared. But beyond not missing any key artifacts, the value was getting background knowledge about the great pieces I was going to see.
I have to say that while there were other tour groups (I didn’t pay THAT much money!), there was space to move around and stop without getting crashed into or pushed. Lots of interesting art (Rafael’s masterpiece right before the SC being one of them) and architecture. The crown jewel, though, really blew me away. Having heard SO MUCH about it, I was expecting to be impressed but not blown away. One of those things were the expectations are made so big that by the time you get there, it is not the same as what it had been built to be.
NOT this time! I have to say that having learned how frescoes are made in the tour, having been explained Michelangelo’s design and process, etc. really made a big difference in the appreciation for those drawings up in a ceiling. Just thinking about how high he had to climb every day to do the job was quite impressive. (I did wonder if he took bathroom breaks and, if so, did he do it in a bucket and lowered it when done… or was he SO engrossed in his masterpiece that he could hold it however many hours?? The things that churn in my head…)
Soapbox break. The one shameful thing I observed was fellow tourists who did not seem to get the concept of no pictures allowed. First of all, these fools don’t realize those drawings are so far up that their pictures will do them no justice. Just buy a freaking post card or, even better, the book. But most importantly for me is the lack of respect they show for a place of worship. If you cannot respect the sites you visit, then why are you really going there anyway? I treat other faiths’ places of worship with the same respect I pay my own. Soapbox break over.
It is neat to understand where Michelangelo started the ceiling and how his technique evolved during the project. I didn’t realize he was rather inexperienced in frescoes when he got the commission (that he didn’t want to do but Julius II forced to accept). I will not get into it here as I am not an art connossieur nor is that the purpose of this blog. But it is really interesting to see how he learned about how to do the frescoes once he came down and admired one of the earliest panels finished – the ceiling was too far up and the figures were too small: he had to paint them bigger! I am surprised though that he didn’t re-do that first panel. Or maybe he did and I didn’t catch that…
The Sistine Chapel frescoes on the ceiling are matched by an imposing altarpiece fresco where Michelangelo gets back at a “foe” using his face as the face of someone being walked into hell. I think Michelangelo won that little feud of theirs… And remember Rome is eternal… Lots of good ceilings in the Vatican (and Rome)!
Finally, as a Catholic, picturing a conclave (where Popes are elected) taking place in the SC while standing there was priceless. I couldn’t quite picture all these cardinals in there but, I take it by faith.
I think in some future visit, perhaps I will explore more of the VM themselves. Lots of important artifacts and art that I may not really be prepared to explore. But something will be learned, something will probably impress me and… I can get to see the awesome work in the Sistine Chapel one more time!
My post on the ceilings from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg seems to have received a good level of interest so I thought I’d do another from my recent trip to Rome. Enjoy!
St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs (Rome, near Piazza della Republicca)
St. Paul Outside the Walls (Holy See outside of the Vatican)
St. John Lateran (Holy See outside of the Vatican)
Vatican Museums (Vatican)
Rome is eternal, the Eternal City! That much has been said before about it. But it keeps proving true over and over for me…
I just went for my third time, this time for the longest visit yet (about 6 days). I never seem to get to a spot anywhere near “I feel like I know this place”. I keep discovering new areas of town, new “must see’s”, new dishes, etc. It will take me an eternity to master Rome – and the money that goes along with that eternity! (Funding, anyone? Angel investor, I like to go to the Vatican in case that sways you.) Rome is eternal indeed…
Rome Has History and I Have History with Rome
Though I had been there twice before, each visit had been for about 3 days each. Both included Papal audiences as the Pope had changed inter-visit and I had to check out the new guy. Oh, and when I mean check out, I mean up close. I was not down with the masses that time. I was up by the stage. But I digress. This is about my 2012 visit, not my 2006 visit.
In any case, I had seen some of the key sights of Rome (the Forum, the Colosseum, St. Peter‘s all the way to the top and all the way to the bottom at the Scavi, etc.). But I STILL knew I had some key sites and sights I had not been able to get to. Most shocking of all the missing sites was the Sistine Chapel. It became my number one target for this trip (and I saw it!).
Laser-Focused Objective. Make that “Objectives”
Laser-like focus on the Sistine Chapel became a little less focused when friends coming on the trip raised the idea of getting to Pompeii. Scope creep! What I warn my clients about in my day job. But, heck I had been to Italy now 2 times and I had never made it south of Rome. And Pompeii… Images from all the history classes in school flashing like a neon sign in my head… Well, how could that be left out… But surely these two plus maybe a couple of churches and, of course, the Pantheon – how could I forget, I had never seen it either. OK, so now I had a definitive focused list of places I did want to see this time. The rest of the visit open for whatever…
And so the trip began on my way to reducing time-to-eternal, ETC (estimate to completion), shortening of the list of things to still do in Rome… and the trip ended with enough left over to ensure another return. A fourth…
Guest post by Chris Sanders on the trip we all took to see the Pope in 2006:
Wow, front row tickets to a Papal audience and get to see the Pope up close …read on!
One of the more unique, interesting, and fulfilling experiences one can have in Rome is to attend a Papal general audience. There is something almost magical about the crowds of thousands, packed into St. Peter’s Square to see and hear the Pontiff – the leader of a billion Catholics worldwide. Even for non Catholic and non religious people, the experience can be interesting and unique at minimum…and its free of charge!
My wife and I have been to no fewer than five Papal events, three of which were general audiences (the other two were the Beatification of Mother Teresa and an Easter Mass). During general audiences in St. Peter’s, the Square is partitioned into several sections – each section is filled with rows of plastic chairs. Sections are filled on a first come first serve basis…most of the time, despite arriving early, we get a seat somewhere in the middle of the Square, far away from the “action.” Thankfully the Vatican has invested in really good video monitors and a world class sound system…seriously, you can actually hear the Pope take a breath before he speaks!
However, during our most recent Papal audience, we (my wife and I along with our friends Raul, Beth Ann, and Bill) were treated to especially good seats, way up in the Pontiff’s “VIP section” (as I call it) – the boxed section just to the right of the Pope’s canopy if you are facing the Basilica…it probably has a more official name… now that I think about it, maybe its called the “IP” section, because across from our section (and to the left of the Papal canopy) were seated various European royals and other dignitaries, many of whom were invited to approach and receive a blessing from the Pope after the audience…I guess technically, they were in the ”VIP” section as it were…still, the IP section wasn’t so bad…:-)
View from our seats – no zoom!
Queens Fabiola (left) and Paola (center) of Belgium
Anyway, so there we were, in the “IP” section at St. Peter’s during a Papal audience. The experience was exhilarating to say the least…from this vantage point (as one would expect) the sounds are clearer, the sites more vivid — and in addition to being only a few yards away from the Pontiff, one also gets to view the Square and see the massive crowds from his perspective…I mean, imagine if – on an otherwise routine Wednesday at 11am – a few hundred thousand people came to see and hear what you had to say, wow!
The most exciting moment came at the end of the ceremony, when the Pope got into his Pope Mobile…and on his way to tour the Square, the white open air Mercedes made a quick pass by our section. The Pope himself passed literally just out of arms length of us…a few nuns who were positioned slightly in front of us actually made a connection with the Pontiff!
Each of our Papal events we’ve attended have been special, for different reasons. The day we were “IPs” was special in its own right as the vantage point was unparalleled. Also, this was the first time we saw Pope Benedict XVI…our previous three events were with Pope John Paul II. Viva il Papa!
If you are interested in attending a Papal audience, the below should help with your planning:
- Papal general audiences are held each Wednesday at 11am. In the wintertime or on days with bad weather, the audience is held indoors (in the Basilica or in the Hall of Papal Audiences). In the summer months, the audience is held outdoors in St. Peter’s Square.
- Tickets are free but should be reserved in advance and picked up at the Vatican the day before the audience. There are multiple outlets but I suggest going right to the official source, the Prefecture of the Papal Household http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/en/biglietti_en.html
- Remember, tickets to Papal audiences are TOTALLY FREE! If someone tries to sell you a ticket, don’t buy!
- If you want to sit in the “VIP” or “IP” sections (remember these are my terms, not the Vatican’s), you are urged to work through your local parish Church…even then, I don’t think anything is guaranteed. In fact, we didn’t realize our tickets were “premium” until we picked them up the day before the audience.
- Arrive to St. Peter’s as early as possible in order to get the best seat possible. Be advised, you have to pass through a security checkpoint
- Hit the restroom beforehand…there aren’t many restrooms available within the Square…
- Take a hat to protect your head from the sun…it actually can be quite intense in St. Peter’s Square
Good luck! If you want additional information or if you would like to share your experiences attending a Papal audience, let us know via a reply to this blog!