Rome. The holy catholic city. My mother’s deep religious roots had always mystified the city for me as a child. As I grew up I found other reasons to want to visit Rome but for my mother the reasons remained unchanged, simple, and uncomplicated – faith. I could go on forever about all the things I wanted to get out of Rome but what got me to book that ticket, the main reason was this. Rome was a challenge an unattainable dream of sorts that my mother has yet to achieve in her 66 years of life. For her, there was always an excuse a reason why not to. The reality though was this sense of undeserving like ‘this is something only certain people can do’. This idea is what created the web of excuses and so too – her sense of Rome being this magically unreachable place. I wanted for one to overcome this silly hurdle my mother had created in her mind – prove to her and myself that Rome was attainable and above prove to her that we could be/were certain people…
Phase 1: Choosing where and how to get there
Rome was the 3rd leg of my first trip to Europe. My friends whom I had traveled with during the first 2 legs of my journey had prefaced to me that i’d be on my own for my last two days in Europe. Being who I am, I wanted to make the most of my time and see as much as possible, so I decided I would make individual day trips to different cities with the remaining time. Rome was my first stop. I booked a VERY EARLY morning flight (6:45 AM) from Paris to Rome via the discount carrier airline Vueling (sort of a step up from RyanAir). Why so early? As you’ll notice this is a recurring theme with me – I wanted to make the most of my time.
Because my friends had planned most of the trip beforehand I had become a little lazy and left the solo legs of my journey virtually unplanned outside of major modes of transportation (planes) and lodging. So the first thing was figuring out getting myself from our Airbnb in Paris to the airport. Just to give you some background on my physical and mental state at this time. I’ll preface this point of my story with the following. I was on Day 11 of my Euro Trip and had managed to keep the side effects of sleep deprivation and a poor diet at bay with caffeine, sugar and carbs (albeit delicious but still). My body was running on fumes.We had finished off our last day in Paris very late into the night (11:30 PMish) and I still had yet to figure out what method of transport I would be using to get to the airport for my very early flight.
Because my flight was so early my options were limited. So I started running through scenarios and options at 12:30 AM. The Paris Metro unlike NYC’s subway system – does not run as often or at all during certain points of the night – in my case, for the time I would have to leave by, the Metro was out of service. Next option was a cab but after reading some travel blogs I realized it would cost me quite a bit and the added difficulty of even hailing a cab from where I was staying at 3:45 AM added complexities to that option I simply didn’t have the energy to deal with. In order to not have to wake up any earlier than I already had to or have think about any of this any further – I decided to instead to try Uber for the first time.
Now I had never personally used/booked an Uber before and I’m embarrassed to say it took me more than a couple of minutes to figure it all out because of one single reason. The text confirmation. I did not have cellular service to confirm to Uber I was not a bot. This simple but necessary step took me more than a couple of minutes to figure out a workaround to. Luckily my friend did have cell service and I was able to use her number as the point of contact for confirmation and validation.
This time I lost figuring out a workaround to that text confirmation was valuable time. Valuable in the sense that it was cushion time. Cushion time I like to afford myself whenever there is…
— Inflexible end time at stake (i.e. flight time)
— Unknown factors where I need time familiarize/acclimate/orient myself (i.e. first time some place)
— Factors outside of my control (i.e. traffic, I am at someone else’s mercy)
The loss of ‘cushion time’ is stressful because there is less room for error for all future motions. For me the cushion time lost here was time that might have helped me ease into the thought of the situation I was getting myself into.
The first image that came to mind as I descended those creaky stairs in the dead of night from the tattered old Paris apartment building we were airbnb’ing it up at – was that my life at that very moment – could have resembled a scene from the movie Taken. Picture this. A 115 lb. American girl carrying a ginormous traveler’s backpack walking out alone into the streets of Paris at the crack of dawn. Getting into a car with a driver who is always a stranger but in this case an unverified/uncertified stranger for all intensive purposes.
I like to take measured risks and I didn’t have time to think through, assess, and measure this risk I was taking. Up until this point I had had my cell service turned off, but with the aforementioned in mind, I decided it was better to be safe than sorry, incur the international roaming charges, and turn on my cell service. I pulled up my Uncle’s number, and kept my finger on the dial – at the ready – in the event this turned into an actual scene from Taken. As we drove I paid close attention to the signs looking for verbiage and visuals pointing towards an airport. Relief washed over me as I began reading sign after sign prominently featuring the word aéroport. I was safe. I loosened my grip on my phone, turned airplane mode on again and enjoyed the remainder of my ride to the airport.
All in all it took my driver around a half hour to get me from Rue des Moines (Airbnb Paris Location) to the Paris Orly Airport. The driver was very nice helping me to get in and out of the car with my Cheryl Strayed style Monster Backpack. Happy to report that my first Uber experience was positive overall and a rather important part of my story to Rome. I entered a nearly dead airport – exhausted, relieved, excited and ready to take on the challenges and adventure of the day ahead.
Phase 2: Choosing Where to Stay
Now I can’t speak precisely from experience here because I didn’t spend the night in Rome but I can speak to where you can ‘lodge’ your bag if you decide to spend just the day here. After getting off the flight I took a rail line into the city and had read somewhere that you could do a bag drop at the central termini train station. After searching around I read some signage that directed me to the ground level.
The cost is per bag
€3.80 for the first 5 hrs.
€0.60 for every hour after – between 6-12 hrs.
€0.20 beyond that
Actual attendants check in the bags so sometimes there is a bit of a queue.
Pickup is super easy – hand them your ticket – they fetch it rather quickly and you’re on your way.
**Just make sure you don’t lose your ticket – things are run old school in these parts and super slow when the process becomes ‘complicated’.
As for places to lodge oneself – I’ve detailed below criteria important to me when visiting a new/any city really, as well as how and why I choose where I’ll be staying in general terms. More specifically from there I’ve listed a number of locales particular to Rome I would suggest based on my research
— Centrally located/close proximity to…
— Major tourist attractions
— Good Reviews
— Good & Multiple Wi-Fi Hot Spots
— Safety & Security
Hostels: I am more partial to staying in hostels due to the social aspect especially when I am traveling alone.
There were a few others I have not listed here that were highly rated as hostelworld recommendations but after reading through several recent, and consistent poor reviews on spotty Wi-Fi and NO air conditioning they were nixed from my recommendations. The Yellow seems to be more budget friendly, good location and has a younger more social feel to it. The Blue Hostel or The Beehive both kind of look more hotel-ish to be honest but I’d recommend it if you’re looking for more privacy. Seem to attract an older crowd (30-40’s). Doesn’t seem to have that communal vibe you usually expect with a Hostel, as there is no communal area to hangout. A bit pricey for a hostel but the location is great and it seems to have quite a few perks you often lose with hostels like included towels and linens, private bathrooms, mini fridge etc…
Airbnb’s: when i’m really looking to …
– ‘live like a local’
– stay in a unique home
– traveling with a large group of friends where we’re getting more for our money with an Airbnb
Hotels: this is typically my last option unless I am going to a more questionable region where safety comes to the top of the list or I am traveling nationally. Also if i am looking to be ‘serviced’. In these cases I’ll often refer to lonely planet because I enjoy their recommendations, the breakdown and descriptions, from there I’ll use booking.com or another major travel aggregate site to affirm with reviews and ratings.
The following two options are Top Picks according to Lonely Planet and have great reviews from guests on a number of hotel booking sites. Added bonus is that these two places have some neat history and décor
– Hotel Campo De’ Fiori
– Voi Donna Camilla Savelli Hotel
For more details on the +/- of the aforementioned accommodations jump down to the Where to Stay Section
Phase 3: What to Do & Where to Eat
What to eat and where I ate. I’m disappointed to report that I ate one measly meal in Rome. This is particularly embarrassing because in order to truly experience a new country, culture – I strongly consider food to be equal parts as important to seeing a famous painting or piece of architecture. I love experiencing traditional flavors and foods of a culture because of this romantic notion I have about food. Some fundamental things in life bring us together no matter how different we are and food is one of them. I’ve always loved the idea of how food brings people together the breaking bread with someone so far and away from yourself. The amount of sightseeing I had set myself up to do did not leave much time for anything else except for the one meal I did have.
It was at the tail end of the day, the last two hours I had before I had to catch my train to Florence. I was exhausted, worn out from literally an entire day of walking in the blistering sun with nothing more than a bottle of water and what i’d been fed on the plane at the wee hours of the morning. I realized my body was nearing a brink when at my second to last sightseeing spot in the attempt to regain the motion to stand up my legs almost gave out. I decided i’d have my only and last meal of the day at my last sight to see – Piazza Navona. After walking into the featured church of the square – I decided park myself at one of the tourist trap restaurants across the way. My body couldn’t push on much further without some sustenance and I desperately needed some rest & shade from the sun. As I ate my pizza and wine I had a direct line of sight to the Fountain of Four Rivers a truly amazing piece of artwork and the only fountain to be admired in Rome at the time considering every other ‘important’ fountain was masked by scaffolding due to construction. Caffe Domiziano. If you click down I’ve listed a number of places you should visit if you have the time based on the account of my friend who studied abroad there and some of my own personal research.
What to do & what I did. I DID SO MUCH in the approximately 7 hrs. I was actually in Rome. Honestly I am still amazed by the amount of ground I covered in the staggering heat of that day. After my flight landed I took an express train into the city, making a pit stop in the tourism center beforehand to pick up a map and some advice. In order to ensure I was as efficient as possible in that day I had a representative help me prioritize things on and off the beaten path in terms of sights that were worth seeing with the time I had – I reconciled her knowledge and recommendations with the map that my friend had provided me and circled everything on the map I wanted to see.
All in all. Rome is a very walkable city but the metro system within the city itself is quite inefficient and stops along the lines are rather far apart from one another – to put it in NYC Subway terms – everything is like an express train – every stop is going to a point very far out of the way from the former. It is commuter friendly but not necessarily tourist friendly. I only took the subway once in Rome – to Vatican city and back. What can I say about Vatican City – nothing particularly peaked my interest or amazed me about it. I didn’t go inside to see the Sistine chapel because I probably would have lost my mind waiting in that line that resembled a theme park line at the height of summer to only be ushered in and out of the church in a matter of minutes. The square was massive but nothing there particularly struck me as beautiful or moving. I probably would have left just as immediately as I’d arrived but I felt like I had to give it at least 5 minutes. So I took some pictures for my Mom sake – wandered around for 5 minutes trying to admire this & that – then headed back to the metro in order to start the real sightseeing . With my trusty map in tow moved about the city visiting sight after sight at a rapid pace – gazing, admiring, picture taking and then moving on to the next sight. As I carried on like this I grew more and more tired and more and more disappointed. Disappointed that I was feeling nothing about what I was seeing. Why did I feel this way? Why did I feel like I was not getting the same enjoyment out of seeing these beautiful important things that everyone else got?
It was because I was seeing but I was not learning. Simply visually admiring something without having some sort of context or story is not fulfilling to me. Because I had focused my day on checking off a list rather than learning about what I was seeing I saw my interest leveling off at a more rapid pace as the list grew shorter. Adding to this other things I noticed as I made myself around furthermore disenchanted the city for me. How dirty the city was, the number of artifacts and ancient art that lay wasting and unprotected and also the number of important sites covered in scaffolding or tarps depicting what they would look like once renovations were finished. I started feeling as if i had made a mistake in choosing Rome for this trip.
I started dragging myself around at one point disillusioned to the point where I wanted to get it over with and be on my way to Florence. It really wasn’t until after finishing up at the Spanish Steps as I wandered rather aimlessly around a less populous path, seemingly leading to nowhere that I stumbled across a backdrop of The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Truly a magnificent set of Roman ruins leading to the coliseum. Now to someone else it may have looked like a bunch of decaying stones in a pattern of sorts but if you truly stared out you could see this area once made up an immense city with beautifully crafted architecture with a path probably walked by thousands of ancient romans on the way to view gladiatorial sport. A beautifully preserved, as it could be, piece of the city seemingly untouched by the modern world around it. I can’t put into exact terms what it was I felt in that moment as it was a combination of things. I felt small. I felt like the world was a beautiful place meant to be explored. I felt a sense of peace because I was seeing something amazing not because someone else said it was but because it truly was, to me, a sight to be admired.
The Colosseum was my second favorite sight in Rome – cliche I know. I grew up learning about in my textbooks and the reality of its grandeur did not disappoint. I ended up tour guiding myself around because I had missed the last park service scheduled tour. After perusing around the different levels, and taking some pictures I stopped and stood near the inside most ring that encircled the stadium/pit. As I finished planning my next stop, as I rummaged through my bag for some nonsense or another, I placed my map down. With one fell swoop, one of the few gusts of wind that passed through Rome that day took with it my guide to the city. I watched as the map its way down – not only was my guide to the city gone but so too was my memorabilia. Saddened by the loss of the map and truly starting to feel the effects of dehydration and the heat I decided to take a break and sit for the first time that day. Sitting on that fallen pillar out of reach from the sun felt amazing. Too amazing – as I leaned back I felt myself dozing off so I sat up resting only a couple of minutes longer in order to give my body some rest.
When it was time to get up – as I hoisted myself off that pillar I felt my legs almost give out as my feet contacted the ground. My body continued to shake and I knew that this was a sign from my body – telling me it needed rest and sustenance. I had just enough energy to make it to my last stop Piazza Navona. As I walked into the square I quickly looked into the church across the way took a picture in front of the fountain and then immediately looked for the nearest tourist trap restaurant along the piazza that afforded me the best view of the Fountain of Four Rivers. I ate that pizza like I had not seen food in days. Luckily I still had the Google Map my friend had starred and printed out for me so I used that to orient myself for the remainder of that day. Rome was not a mistake but I do wish I would have planned the day differently. Taken a tour of a few things like the Colosseum and Roman Forum & Palatine Hill. Even a tour of Vatican City may have made it more interesting for me.
Biggest learning from Rome was this. Yes the city can be viewed in one day. I would suggest no more than 2 days in Rome. But don’t be a crazy like I was and see Rome or any other city by that matter by checking off a list. Although I had this sense of accomplishment for the number of things I was able to see in that short amount of time I didn’t feel like I was able to truly experience Rome the way I experienced other cities.
Listed below are a number of accommodations I would choose for myself depending on the experience I wanted.
The Yellow: Budget friendly, good location and has the social feel you expect from hostels.
Blue Hostel or The Beehive– both kind of look hotel-ish to be honest but if you want some more privacy I’d probably stay here. These places seem to attract an older crowd (30-40’s). Doesn’t seem to have that communal vibe you usually expect with a Hostel, as there is no communal area to hangout. A bit pricey for a hostel but the location is great and it seems to have quite a few perks you often lose with hostels like included towels and linens, private bathrooms, mini fridge etc…
All the accommodations listed above provide the following…
+ Centrally located/close proximity to…
+ Major tourist attractions
+ Good & Multiple Wi-Fi Hot Spots
+ Safety & Security
How I got around:
From Fiumicino Airport to City: 2 options I would suggest.
Leonardo Express Train Easiest and fastest way into the city (Roma Termini)
Frequency: Train every half hour into the city and
Duration: is approximately 30 min.
Cost: One Way Fare is = €14
Coach bus services: Terravision bus is one of four competing airport bus services that also service into Roma Termini station.
Frequency: approximately 45 min.
Duration: 1 hr.
Cost: is around 1/3 of the express train = €4
Click this link for more info
Within the City: Use your feet. Public transportation within the city is simple but not as convenient as NY in terms of number of lines and number of points. Here are the basics.
Metro: there are only 2 lines the Blue (B) and Red Line (A) but its not very reliable or useful for getting around ‘locally’. By this I mean in NYC there are express trains and local trains – I would say the system runs in an express form with each point being quite a ways from the next no in between ‘local’ type stops for those shorter distances. I would suggest only using the subway lines to get to those far away places you might want to visit outside of the main city – like Vatican City. This was the only time I used the Metro to get around. Otherwise I walked the remainder of the time from sight to sight.
Bus: Provides more local transport around the city than the metro system. I didn’t use this at all during my time in Rome because from what I saw they looked PACKED. Being used to a constantly packed 6 train in NYC is one thing – but on buses that looked like they lacked air conditioning and pick pocketing being a common occurrence I thought it better to trek it around on my own 2 legs.
**Special Note: Metro line stops close to major sites
– Ottaviano (Line A) – Vatican Museums, St Peter’s.
– Spagna (Line A) – Spanish Steps
– Colosseo (Line B) – Colosseum, Roman Forum
Click this link for more info
What I did/What you should do:
Sights you shouldn’t miss out on are listed below. I’ve bolded my favorites. I’ve also highlighted things I would have liked to learn more about through a tour – the remaining I would suggest simply going to just view and admire.
- Roman Forum & Palatine Hill
- Colosseum: Walking tours are offered at no additional cost throughout the day through the museum services on sight just ask at one of the ticketing windows when the next tour is. Or you can use this company Rome Free Walking Tours
- Trevi Fountain
- Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers)
- Vatican City: if you care to learn more about Vatican City Rome Free Walking Tours offers a free tour here as well
- Spanish Steps
- Piazza Navona
Where I ate/Where I wish I would have eaten:
Breakfast: Italians like to keep breakfast simple something I truly admire. Savory breakfast seems to be something special to just americans regardless you must must MUST get a Cornetto. Though I didn’t have one in Rome – I did have one in Pavia and it was a pistachio cream filled one and it was EVERYTHING. A cornetto looks very much like a croissant in shape but the consistency is very different it is really a sweet roll that is either plain or filled with cream, chocolate or jam.
– Antico Forno Roscioli: This uber-traditional bakery has it all, from pizza to pastries. The cornetti, though, are where it’s at. Not too sweet or too bland, too dry or too moist, these cornetti couldn’t be more traditional, Roman, or delicious.
– Barberini: head inside for one of the best—and most authentic—cappuccino-and-cornetto experiences in Rome. Locals crowd the bar for their morning fix, which must, of course, include one of the cafe’s cornetti.
Gelato: Italy doesn’t mess around when it comes to the integrity and sourcing of its food I recently learned that a movement toward artisanal gelato has revitalised the local scene. Italy now certifies select shops as gelaterie artigianali. These establishments use only fresh ingredients and no artificial colours, flavours or thickeners. The standards of the three establishments I’ve listed here, without knowing it, fall within the artisinal gelato realm
– Gelateria Fatamorgana: adventurous flavors
– Gelateria del Teatro: flavor variety and cute locale
– Ciampini: Since 194, generations of family members have contributed to this purist gelateria. Go with the traditional flavors here as this is those go to places for its historical roots in its craft and the city itself.
Lunch Time: I’d suggest hitting up one of the salumerias (these are basically sandwich shops) though I didn’t have a sandwich here I did in Florence and the level, variety and quality of cured meats in Italy is truly amazing. From my research the following two are some of the best sought after by locals, and foodies, and more seasoned tourists alike
– Salumeria Roscioli: this place has amazing reviews from both locals and foodie travelers alike
– Franchi Ricevimenti: great deli near the Vatican where Italian’s come for a takeaway lunch.
– L’ Arcangelo: Classic rustic roman fare embraces seasonal, traditional recipes of the Italian capital
– Trattoria Dell’Omo Nice family run small traditional trattoria with delicious food frequented by locals
Map: Rome Google Map
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