Warning in advance...this is a long post. If you want a concise lessons learned type of post...scroll down to where it says "JUST THE FACTS AND TO THE POINT...".
Well this report is certainly overdue. My wife and I returned from Italy a little over a month ago and personal circumstances threw me way off schedule on this report. My wife was involved in an accident and injured her knee about a week after our return. All is much better now and she should be back up to speed within the next 4 weeks or so. So...we are planning a party with friends...and Italian Night to show some of our 3000+ photos taken from the trip. So...here's what I can say about Rome...
We absolutely loved Rome! I could tell so much more than I have time for but I will give a basic rundown of what we saw. The first day we arrived without incident and checked into our lodging (Navona Gallery Suites) and went straight out for lunch. Our first few meals in Rome were a bit intimidating. Not that anyone intimidated us...we just felt like we were in a foreign country. Hey...we were! :) Some of the names are foggy now...but I believe our first lunch was at Ristorante Da Ottavio. I remember the Diavola Pizza was pretty much the best of the trip. After lunch we pretty much stayed on schedule and headed through Piazza Navona to the TI booth to get the Roma Pass...and then we marched onward to the Pantheon. Next we proceeded on an ambitious route....we walked towards the Trevi fountain. We saw a sea of people and decided to keep moving without a stop. We walked through Piazza Colonna and saw the column of Marcus Aurelius....then we walked on towards the Fontana del Tritone (my wife loved the various fountains). Next we moved on to the Cappuchin Crypt. Outside a man was ranting about blasphemy in Italian and really giving one of the monks a major scolding. When a woman tried to take his photo he went ballistic! Ahh...the memories. Okay..so at this rate this will be a realllllly loooong post.
So let me just say that on this first day we saw way more than we should have...but not because of the amount of sites...because of our feet. If I have one piece of advice that is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT...it's take the most comfortable shoes you own!!! I really mean this...even if your most comfortable shoes are hiking shoes or flamingo colored running shoes. You really won't care what you look like when you feel foot pain that you never believed was possible. After the Capuchin Crypt we headed to the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria del Popolo Church and then walked down to the Ara Pacis Museum (which we could have skipped). To top off our day we walked what seemed like an eternity to eat at Trattoria Tritone. The pasta dishes that we observed others eating looked divine. We never returned to this restaurant...but we probably should have. Instead we ate bistec...it was okay...but probably not as good as the pasta! :) Did I say comfortable shoes. I bought for this trip, what I believed would be, extremely comfortable shoes...but I ended up buying a pair later in our trip in Venice....duplicates of a pair of jungle green hiking shoes I have at home...at triple the price...but I was desperate. Okay...so this first day hobbled both my wife and I...but it was a day filled with fabulous sites...and a good feel for downtown Rome. Oh...and on the way back from dinner we stopped at the Trevi...and had Gellato. (more on gellato later).
Day 2.... We went to the Capitoline Museum. We had breakfast and headed over to Trajans Column, then lingered outside of the Victor Emmanuelle Monument...and then visited the Campidoglio and Capitoline Museum. As I thought before the trip, my absorbtion rate is rather minimal post trip...but our visit to the Capitoline was awesome. The collection of history within this museum is amazing and a great way to get more intimately acquainted with the history of Rome. The view outside overlooking the forum was quite a treat after spending 4 hours...yes 4 HOURS in a museum that we thought would take about 2 hours. Did I mention foot pain? Anyway, we took bvlenci's advise and made a quick lunch here at the museum. The food was quite passable. What we didn't know however is that if you walk the lunch line and pick your food....you will be stopped from sitting outside. We were not advised of this option in advance and had already purchased our food...and had to sit inside. Not a big deal...but it would have been nice to have the option. Our next stop was to take a walk to Largo Argentina to catch the #8 Tram to Trastevere. We took the Tram 3 stops in and caught the #115 Bus to Janiculum Hill. Here we took in the lovely view of Rome and layed in the grass without our shoes for a while. It was a nice break from beating the pavement to be sure. WIth this said, I push a hard itinerary and so we headed towards San Pietro in Montoro church. I had researched times very well for this trip...but despite this the Tempietto was closed...and as advised by other people here on TA...you can't always have a rigid plan...things happen. As it happened on the particular SUNDAY...duh...there was a wedding. So we only got a glimpse of this church...and walked outside of the Tempietto. Btw...the operating times for the Tempietto were posted outside...and it was indeed supposed to be open...but wasn't. Oh well...so we continued on to Santa Maria in Trastevere. Guess what? They were having Mass...so we decided to wait...have a gellato...walk on bruises and see more of Trastevere. Later we returned...another service...and then an third attempt where we stayed inside for a bit...but they were having yet another service or function. Our timing seemed impeccable! LOL For dinner we tried two different places. This was when I learned my next big lesson. Don't just make a list of restaurants...and locations...and phone numbers...and reviews...but maybe, just maybe...you might think about jotting down the operating times. As it turned out we walked to two different restaurants only to find them closed. So...we ended up at a place named Ristorante Vernisagge. It was here that I had my first ever Spaghetti Carbonara! OMG!!! MMMMMM! Of course I had no other experience to compare to this one...but my wife had gnocchi quattro formagi....and I had my carbonara. They were both extremely flavorful...and quite ironically this was one of the best meals we ever had...even though this restaurant was nowhere on my radar! We never returned....but probably should have as our quest for better in Rome did not yield a positive result. More on that later. So...next we had Gellato...more on that later too! :)
Day 3...we awoke and hussled on bruised feet towards our meeting place for a tour of ancient Rome. We booked a 4 hour tour with Context Travel...and had a guide named Katy...that took us through the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and then onto the Colosseum. There were 6 people in our group as per their advertised policy...and the tour was excellent. It was intimate and the surroundings are awe inspiring. My wife and I loved love loved ancient Rome! I could really spend some time there given the opportunity! I would only say that I would have wished for more time...especially in the forum. One lady in our group brought one of the books you can buy at a kiosk that shows the sites both as they were in ancient times and now via use of a layover page. You can flip back and forth and it really helps make the leap from what you are looking at to what it would have originally looked like...well...originally! :) This was another great idea for getting the most out of your visit. After this tour we grabbed a quick lunch and then headed over to a nearby church...so that we could see an excavation of Roman House...complete with frescoes. I'm really sorry but I don't have the best memory and the name escapes me now. I can say that this museum is basically across the street from the rear entrance to the Palatine. This was a quiet lesser known tour...at least to us. Okay...my wife just said it was Giovanni e Paolo. This was a nice tour...but a bit scarce on explanation as it was unguided. But not to be ones who give up easily...we headed out for more gellato..and onto San Clemente Church to see the scavi tour there as well. As you might imagine these are some long days and our feet are indeed still in state of constant throbbing pain. This scavi tour was more in depth and more well known as demonstrated by the number of people. It was very nice but I think we were truly becoming numb to the history. After this it was back to the hotel for foot massage and rest...before heading out to dinner.
Day 4...this day was our day at the Vatican. We decided to walk to the Vatican early and go there on Tuesday morning at about 7:30. This was a very good time to visit as there were very few people. We were able to walk into St. Peter's Basilica without hesitation. During this time of day you hear singing and see people in prayer and fewer tourists. We had planned on doing the Rick Steve's ipod tour...but...we didn't record it. We thought we did...but somehow missed this particular tour. So we just walked around and took in as much as we could. After this visit we decided to go up in the Dome. We took the elevator and then climbed to the very top of the dome. The views were awesome and we got a kick out of the tilted stairwells. After spending some time up on the dome we descended and walked north of Vatican City for a few blocks to a neat little cafe...Caffe Castroni to rest and grab a snack. Next we met for our scheduled Scavi Tour. This tour was AWESOME! This was a great tour and we got really lucky with our guide. You don't get to pick your guide...but our guide was wonderful because he can read and translate Latin. So as we descended into the Roman Necropolis below St. Peter's....we were getting great details complete with translations of latin inscriptsions. One man on the tour said he had done this tour before but that this was the better of his visits due to the tour guides skill at translation. If you can book this tour you really should! So what do we do next? Well..if you're crazy like me and like to walk until your feet feel like your bones are only separated from the pavement by completely bruised flesh...you go on a tour of the Vatican Museum! We booked our tour with Eden Walks. Grant was out tour guide and everything people say about him is true. He's self admittedly ADD...and is non stop....truly non stop 100 mph...or is that kph? But...he's not overwhelming...he's very entertaining and we were anything but bored. In fact the guy is so filled with facts that it's a little scary. He's not confined only to a script...he really is EXTREMELY knowledgeable! Can't recommend him enough. While standing on one foot and then the other...and grabbing a bench wherever we could...we were still enthralled!
So, by the end of Day 4 I had things figured out a bit. To heck with walking...we took a taxi back to our lodging! In fact, I made the decision right there and then that we should have been using the taxi's from the beginning. Our feet would have still been sore...but perhaps not nearly as sore as they were at that moment.
Our return to Rome at the end of our trip was at about 15:30 on Saturday May 30th. We stayed two nights at Residenza Domizia. This was a great location...but really lacked warmth...and was a place we would only return to in a pinch. (I will try to write a separate review of our logings soon)
We decided on our return to Rome that we would be more relaxed and only do the things we really missed from our first stay...so....
We went to one of my favorite sites. During our first 4 days I had repeatedly mentioned how much I truly admired the beauty of the Vittor Emmanuel Monument....so on this day we decided to visit and take a ride up to the top to take in the views. There's something about the quadrigae pulling the chariots and winged goddesses standing tall that captivate me! I love this monument...even though it is a shame that a great part of the original site of ancient Rome was destroyed to make way for it's construction. We took in the views...and the architecture..well worth the visit!
After leaving the monument we decided to take an evening walk on the Aventine Hill. My wife took photos of roses while I sat on a bench admiring the ambience. The cypress trees that frame the Palatine Hill in the distance really are lovely. Next, we walked down the street to a door that is famous for it's peep hole view. We stook behind about 8 people to get our turn at seeing this view. It's a fun diversion. We kept asking for directions and some locals said to us...googli?...or something like this and I knew right away that this must be what we were looking for....and indeed it was! :) That night we went to Hostaria Dino e Toni. A true and authentic feeling place...but we wouldn't return. We were not treated the same as some of the locals that entered. And I can live with this...but have to say that the food was just okay. The feel is real, the food mediocre, and our treatment was poor. I think the owner recognized this and tried to make ammends at the end by bringing us a special bottle of desert wine...but truly it was a very trying experience. I don't say this easily. We left thinking that they really mean well....but that the rating of #1 in Rome here on TA is just flat out not even close to what we experienced with regard to both food and service. We really aren't that picky and had some truly wonderful and amazing meals during our trip...this just wasn't one of them. YMMV.
Finally, last day in Rome. Today was the final stage of the Giro d' Italia. We spent several hours down by the Vittor Emmanuel Monument watching the cyclists start...and then ran down to the Colosseum to see some of them finish. A very crowded mad house...but we managed to take some great photos of the riders...including a few incredible ones of Lance Armstrong. Our last meal in Rome...or Italy for that matter was sad in that it was a huge disappointment. After being dense enough to repeat our previous Sunday experience we headed out to 2 places only to find them both closed! So we started getting desperate...10pm....last night in Rome...want to find a great place to have carbonara. Should have gone back to one of the first few places we tried...but we wanted to see if we could have one last different and great experience. Well...what happend next was horrible. We spent from May 9 to June 1st in Italy. Our WORST meal and experience was on the last night at Hostaria Antica Romano. Now as I say this I can't remember the name exactly...but I'm sure I have the receipt somewhere. I can tell you that if this is not the name it is very close! The service was horrible. The waiters seemed not only over worked but hostile at worst...ambivalent at best. We weren't nit picking either! The pasta's...both of them were complete solid blops on delivery. The carbonara was suitable for pet food! Seriously...we didn't finish our food. And they didn't care! When I say McDonalds would have been way better it's not an exaggeration! Whoa...bad way to finish such a wonderful trip. And I must say that I will be following up once I know their name for sure...as I want to warn other. The strange thing is that I remember reading that this was a good place to get an inexpensive meal. If your in Campo di Fiori...beware of this place!
JUST THE FACTS AND TO THE POINT...
Our visit to Rome was lovely. The sites, sounds, food, people, and weather were awesome. In fact, the weather during May was made to order. The only rain we had was light and on the last day. We took a Garmin GPS unit on this trip. While excellent for driving it's very iffy in pedestrian mode. I spent a lot of time entering restaurants and points of interest only to find that the indicator would jump around...show us one block over or walking the wrong way. After walking in circles or retracing our steps we found that a good map would have been a better choice. There were a few times that the gps helped...but it's just not accurate enough in a congested city such as Rome. We ate gellato at least twice each day and sometimes 3 times a day. I think my record was 4 times in one day. We tried many different place...but in Rome our favorite hands down turned out to be a place not mentioned on TA...at least that I saw. It's called Frigidarium...on Governo Vecchio. Our very last bit to eat on our last night...close to midnight was one last visit to this place. Also, next to Vitto Emmanuel...just west of it on a side street near a small fountain there is a small place...I believe it's called Aeroceli? Mmmm...especially the chocolato! My favorite flavors were the Chocolate and Panna cotta. In the end...after much scientific taste testing it was Frigidarium that was the clear winner for both my wife and I! YUMMIO!
Did I mention foot pain. I paid 105 Euro for shoes that cost me $89 here in the states. I did this out of desperation once we got to Venice. I could have really used them in Rome. Were they fashionable...did they go with my slacks...did they look rugged and more suitable to trails?....no no and yes! But more than this I knew I had hiked several miles of trails in Costa Rica with them...and that this would certainly help on this trip. I am no wimp...but I must say I have never ever in my life known such foot pain. The bruised ache of the bottoms of our feet was not something I've ever experienced. It left me confused...how could this happen? Our theory is that the cobbled streets, constant walking...and then standing in museums is a real deal breaker. So I will wear my hiking shoes from day one in the future. Also....take a taxi...what the heck...you're on vacation...your gonna walk your butt off....so take a taxi..it's worth it! IMHO.
My wife and I discovered favorites during our visit with regard to menu items. We pretty much ordered Bruschetta Pomodoro and Prosciutto e Melone at every meal. And I had my Coca Cola Light without hesitation! We also discovered the pasta....especially carbonara while in Rome. I discovered new flavors that delighted my senses. We had more than a few experiences at the table where we were literally moaning and letting each other taste our individual dishes.
My biggest planning mistakes were not to take note of the hours of operation of the restaurants on my list....and to not have better maps already prepared. We got the maps locally...but a nice laminated map...or map with notes might have been a better move. The GPS had a steep learning curve and my wife and I cussed it more than a few times. The cursor showing our location indicated our direction of travel or actual street location incorrectly. We finally learned we might have to walk half a block before it might update our location. So...it might actually indicate the wrong direction..or show us hopped over a block from our actual location. I might take it again...but sometimes you just need a map.
The tours we booked at both the Vatican Museum, Vatican Scavi Tour, and tour of Ancient Rome were all great. These places did, I believe, truly benefit from having a guide. Other places were okay done individually. And we are quite independent and don't like to go cattle boat style while on vacation...but the tours with guides...or with audio guides really do give extra benefit. I would be much less hesitant to book a tour in the future. At a minimum...do it for the Vatican and Ancient Rome.
My wife loved the coffee. She was impressed. We buy her freshly roasted coffee here...over the internet from highly rated places. She has a very nice commercial style machine and is quite a barrista herself....yet she really enjoyed the coffee in Italy. It's not hype. And she's quite educated about the different styles. For example she would be quick to note the difference between a macchiato in Italy versus here in the USA. She normally drinks lattes but ordered alot of macchiato's and cappuccino's. I took her to Tazza d Oro where she also discovered the coffee granita. Later in Venice I had a double macchiatto myself...quite a feat since I don't drink coffee...but wanted the experience!
I really enjoyed the pastries....as did my wife. We really enjoyed the chocolate filled pastries. I did occasionally get ahold of a nutella type filling...and it wasn't my thing....so I became more careful.
We multitasked with regard to bathrooms. We bought coffee...or a soda...and used them...or went inside of museums. Not too much of a problem...although we did have one close call in Venice! LOL
While we were in Rome some big things were happening. The G8 summit, a championship football match...and then the Giro d' Italia. Police and military complete with automatic weapons were out in mass. These three events combined during our final weekend in Rome...the crowds were a little more intense and it was warmer. But when my wife and I look back to our trip....of all the places we visited...Rome is one we would put at or near the top of our list. It has a special feel. And there is so much more we would like to do there. If we ever make it back...I think we would take it more slowly...and pick wisely.
The planning done here on TA was priceless. A special mention to bvlenci. She did more than anyone to help us plan out our days. It was smart going to the Vatican on a Tuesday...and using guides for both that day and for the day in ancient Rome.
It's great to plan and think carefully about how you can over-do your daily schedule. You want to see as much as possible..but you do need to enjoy it. I think staying flexible is very important. We saw so much...possibly too much...but we both agree that it was a trip of a lifetime. We saw things we will never forget! We miss the sites sounds, tastes and feel of being there. It is my hope that one day we can return.