A Weekend Away: When in Rome
For a long time, I was annoyed at myself for taking Latin in high school rather than a more practical language - one that wasn’t dead, meaning people actually spoke it to each other. Luckily, two good things have come out of my Latin studies. It’s proven helpful as a starting point for other languages, especially French, and it triggered my fascination with the city of Rome.
I loved learning about all things Roman - mythology, feasts, civilization and more. But being such an ancient, far-away, mythical city, I didn’t think I would get the opportunity to travel there. Little did I know, later in life, I’d have the opportunity to live in Europe, where these ancient, mythical cities aren’t so far away after all.
Our first excursion took us to Rome. We found a cheap flight on an open weekend. I was pumped to be able to see the things I’d read about and studied for years, but up close. Being there did not disappoint; it was amazing.
As we wandered the streets, I couldn’t help but think how OLD everything was. I grew up in a very new country, the US, and the oldest parts built somewhere between 300 and 400 years old. The west coast is even younger; some older structures date from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
One particularly memorable story: our Airbnb host told us about the city’s attempts to finish the metro. While working on it, they kept digging into parts of ancient Rome and had to stop so the archaeologists could take over. And that’s why when walking around Rome, you see these partially dug up structures around every corner.
Since we were only there for a weekend, I wanted to make the most of it. I did a lot of research going into the trip to put together a rough itinerary. You’ll find it below along with pictures and tips that may help you plan a jaunt to Rome.
We arrived late afternoon on Friday with an easy flight from Paris. We took the train into the city, specifically Testaccio, the neighborhood where we decided to stay. Testaccio is known for good food and is located right between Trastevere, the Tiber River and and the Forum and Colosseum.
Once we got settled, we headed to the Roman Forum, hoping to get in. As we circled the perimeter looking for an entrance, the loudspeaker announced that they were closing up shop for the day. Unfortunately, we could only admire from afar. We continued our little promenadearound the Circus Maximus (hello, chariot races), stared up at the Colosseum and generally, were in awe of those ancient Romans and everything they built. On our way home, we grabbed a few snacks and a bottle of wine for a little pre-dinner apero.
After putting in our names for dinner at the much-anticipated Da Enzo al 29, we wandered around the corner to a bar for a couple of Negronis. We returned for dinner but continued to wait. I swore we got skipped and my hanger was starting to make itself known (whoops). But we made it in! And I would have to say our Da Enzo dinner was the best meal of the weekend and one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.
After a quick clink of our wine glasses, we dove into the fresh bread and olive oil, but had to save room for all that was to follow. Our next course was a fried artichoke, carciofo all giudia, and a zucchini blossom, fiore di zucca. After that, we each had a pasta to ourselves - that was one thing I knew I didn’t want to share, though we did exchange a few bites. My cacio e pepe was like heaven in my mouth. It was like the most delicious pasta you’ve ever eaten, but better. We also devoured the tried and true polpette al sugo (meatballs in red sauce). And finally, we finished with one my faves, tiramisu for dessert and a 50-cent espresso each. Please go when you visit Rome and tell me everything you eat. I want to live vicariously through you.
We were up bright and early on Saturday morning to head to Vatican City. We even left a little early to grab an espresso and pastry on our way. Just our luck, we got stuck in an elevator.
We realized we hit the jackpot with our Airbnb because our Airbnb host not only called the elevator company to come let us out, but he also came to check on us. And after asking him for instructions on how to get bus tickets, he ended up just driving us to the Vatican himself. Fulvio - you are the best! (check out our Airbnb here if you want to stay - highly recommended!)
We spent the morning touring the Vatican Museums. Everything inside is so incredible and ornate, and, of course, it alls leads to the mother of all sites - the Sistine Chapel. I wish I had known more about the scenes that I was craning my neck to see, but it was pretty majestic nonetheless.
Because everyone wants to see the Sistine Chapel, parts of the Museum feel like you’re waiting in a very long line, rather than the grazing that I tend to do at museums. If you wander off to look at a painting or sculpture or exhibit, you feel like you’ll lose your place in line!
St. Peters Basilica was so grand. Like on the scale that you can’t really believe that humans actually built it. It looks big from far away, but it’s nothing compared to when you walk inside the doors and realize that the base of each of the columns is practically taller than a single person. This place is beautiful, impressive, and the line goes fast. I wouldn’t skip it if you’re in the area.
After spending the day in Vatican City, we decided to walk home so we could do some sightseeing and exploring on the way. We wandered around, stopping in a cafe for an espresso, munching on gelato and gaping at the Pantheon.
After a quick rest at home, we decided to try a couple of different local aperitivos before dinner. For an aperitivo, when you order a drink, you get some bites to eat or have access to a buffet, depending on where you go. The food isn’t mind-blowing, but it can be tasty and will fill you up quite well.
Saturday evening, we ate at Flavio al Velavevodetto. We went with same strategy as the previous night sans appetizer - a pasta dish each, one main dish and dessert to share. This spot also came highly recommended and was packed throughout the night. Though they tempted us with their tiramisu, we opted for a different dessert, an Italian cheesecake made with ricotta and topped with cherries. It was worth it.
We stopped for breakfast at Il Gianfornaio. It’s a cute little pastry shop down the street from our Airbnb. I couldn’t decide what to get; the cases of cornettos, cookies, cakes, and other pastries were overwhelming. I eventually settled on pistachio creme cornetto. It turned out to be the best thing EVER. Pistachio creme became my new obsession. It has the consistency of Nutella but only tastes of pistachio.
We took the metro to Villa Borghese to wander through the gardens and check out the view of Rome from a higher altitude. It was a nice escape from the busy pedestrian streets below.
We started back to our home base on foot (and then by bus) and literally stumbled upon the Spanish Steps. It was a nice surprise that we discovered once we got to the bottom and looked back. We made a quick stop at the Trevi Fountain just to see it. I also made Steve pop into a grocery store with me to find that pistachio creme. We found it! But it was much too big to take back with us in a carry on bag.
Back in Testaccio, we decided to take another espresso at the counter of Giolitti, a small cafe across the street. We had lunch at Trappizino for suppli, fried rice balls, and trappizinis, basically sandwich triangles holding different fillings like stewed meats or vegetables with a sprinkle of cheese.
The rest of our day was spent in Trastavere. We ran into a open air flea market that sold mostly new cheap goods. I was hoping for some old, eclectic things, but it was still interesting to see. We had another gelato experience, this time eating at Fatamorgana. There are so many flavors to try, it’s tough to decide. But for me, pistachio is always a good choice. We also ate a bomb pizza at a place whose name eludes me… but I will update once I find it. We shared a simple pepperoni pie. I know I’m repeating myself, but food in Rome is amazing.
Unfortunately, I had to leave earlier than Steve (attendance on day one of my 8am French class was mandatory). Before I hopped on the train to get to the airport, I found Eataly just outside of the train station. I only had enough time to make a quick lap and pick up a bar of Italian soap as a souvenir. Then I ran to catch my train.
While I was on my way home, Steve was eating at the highly recommended pizza spot that we could see from our window of our Airbnb - Pizza Nuovo Mondo - he ordered a broccoli and sausage pizza and washed it down with an Italian beer. He made me jealous with his Snapchat pics.
Getting to Rome via train:
- We landed at Fiumicino (FCO) and took the FR1 local train to the Roma Ostiense stop. We bought tickets at a self-serve kiosk for 8€ each person, each way. There was someone there to assist in case anyone had a question or needed help. We found our train, hopped on and it took 40-45 minutes to get to our destination.
Getting around Rome:
- Be prepared to walk a lot! Have a good map handy or make sure you have access to Google Maps (or any other app on your phone). CityMapper is now one of my favorite apps and I would recommend downloading it if you've got access to data or wifi while in Italy.
- Bus tickets: you have to buy them before you board the bus. You can get them at a tabacceria or any big transit station around the city. There’s no place to buy them near most of the ordinary bus stops and you can’t pay cash on the bus. So you probably won't be taking the bus on a whim...
Roman Forum Via della Salara Vecchia, 5/6, Roma, Italy
Circus Maximus Via del Circo Massimo, Roma, Italy
Colosseum Piazza del Colosseo, 1, Roma, Italy
Vatican Museums (includes Sistine Chapel) Viale Vaticano, Roma, Italy
St. Peter’s Basilica Piazza San Pietro, Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
Pantheon Piazza della Rotonda, Roma, Italy
Spanish Steps Piazza di Spagna, Roma, Italy
Trevi Fountain Piazza di Trevi, Roma, Italy
Food & Such
Da Enzo al 29 Via dei Vascellari, 29, Roma, Italy
Flavio al Velavevodetto Via di Monte Testaccio, 97, Roma, Italy
Il Gianfornaio Via Marmorata, 159, Roma, Italy
Trappizino Via Giovanni Branca, 88, Roma, Italy
Fatamorgana Via Roma Libera, 11, Roma, Italy
Giolitti Via Amerigo Vespucci, 35, Roma, Italy
Pizza Nuovo Mondo Via Amerigo Vespucci, 15, Roma, Italy
Eataly Piazzale XII Ottobre, 1492, Roma, Italy
- Buy tickets to museums and sites like the Vatican ahead of time. You feel really good about yourself (and bad for everyone else) as you pass the hoards of people waiting in line.
- Bus tickets. Like I mentioned above, get them in advance of riding the bus!
- If you have plans for a big night out, it might be good to eat a bit lighter in the evening and fill up during lunch instead. After every dinner, we were too full to experience any nightlife. After our meals, we just wanted to head home and relax. Luckily, we fit in a few drinks prior to dinner.
- Wear good shoes and bring an extra change of socks for a big walking day. It doesn’t seem like it, but it really makes a difference.
- Make to plan your days around when the places are actually open. We missed out on a neat Italian epicerie and farmer’s market because I assumed they’d be open on Sunday.
- It takes longer to walk than you think it will. Maybe have a bottle of wine on hand (with plastic cups and a wine key) just in case you decide you need to stop somewhere and rest.
- Read up on the history of certain places before you go. Sometimes it’s hard to digest everything in the moment and the readings can only get you so far.
Ah Rome. I must return to spend more time at the Roman Forum, go inside the Colosseum and have another meal at Da Enzo al 29. Oh, and I will definitely bring that pistachio creme home with me, where it belongs. =)
Do you have any suggestions for a weekend in Rome?