Quick trip to Rome, anyone?
My big 10-day trip to Italy is over, and I’m still dreaming of Cacio e Pepe in Rome, family fun in Grottaminarda, and stunning Sorrento views.
The trip was ten days and strictly planned—tours, stays, rides, and most meals set up in advance. It’s not the way I normally travel, but it was nice to experience something different. I talk about this adjusting to a new travel style in my last post “Get in Loser, We’re Going to ITALY!”, where I also note our entire itinerary and my apprehension about sharing a room.
Ten (very planned) days is a long time. There was just WAY too much to fit our whole trip into one post, so instead I’m breaking it up. Today I’m highlighting the first portion of our trip—The three days spent in Rome. I missed some major landmarks, as you’ll read later. This is just part of the deal when you’re making a quick stop to a big city. Things will be missed. But not to worry, it gives a great excuse to go back someday.
This post goes over our Rome itinerary, as well as some last minute add-on activities I opted to do by myself. If you’ll be taking a quick trip to Rome, this is a great place to start.
Scenes from Roma
Arrive in Rome, from a redeye, far too early to check into the hotel. Drop your bags and go exploring.
Our early morning arrival in Rome was perfect timing to see some of the sights that don’t require a tour or ticket. When we arrived at 7am to the Spanish Steps there were only a few people there, and the temperatures were still bearable.
We stopped for a much-needed breakfast after this, at a cute café called Numbs Pizzeria, where half of us got eggs and half got pizza. (When in Rome!) I opted for a crepe with mushrooms and spinach. Mmmm. This stop was important because we were all starving, and because it was the first time outside the airport that we could all sit around and get to know one another, a little pow-wow on our first morning in Italy. The downside to our tasty stop was that in the time it took all 12 of us to order, eat, and pay the tab, the sun had risen to mid-morning heights and offered a scorcher of a greeting as we stepped outside the shade of our café’s terrace.
Trevi Fountain & Pantheon
The walk to the Trevi fountain, just 10 more minutes away, was our first taste of what Rome would be—searing and sweaty. We arrived at the Trevi Fountain just after what seemed to be a million other people, and inched our way, through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to get our own absurd pictures at the landmark. Some of the people in my group went back later that night, to catch a glimpse of its white marble all lit up and glowing in the darkness. There were still crowds of people around, they told me.
I wanted to check out the Pantheon, so another 20 sweaty minutes we walked. By this time, most of our group had gone back to the hotel in hopes of a room becoming available, and if not, to wait in the air conditioned inside. Just Jerry and I, related apparently, but strangers until the night before, were the so-called “troopers” to brave the sun and walk on.
The Pantheon was impressive from the outside, but I had no idea about what it all meant. I’ll be using “Dumb American” as my excuse, but I get it if you’re rolling your eyes. I would have happily gone inside (I would have gone inside anywhere to escape the sun’s heat), but the line stretched back throughout the baking square for so long I thought the last people in line would surely be shriveled chards by the time they reached the entrance. I vowed to look up information about the Pantheon later that night in my room, so my visit would seem significant. (It is good to know things, even if you are a Dumb American.) I never did look it up. Not that night, when I got surprising and terrible news. Not the next day, when I got kicked out of the Colosseum. Not the several days of hours-long drives in a private van for 12 with seating for 20. Never. But I did read about it after I started this post.
The Pantheon is an ancient temple, since converted to a Catholic church. Very on-brand for Rome. It is the site of some important burials: The painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, composer Arcangelo Corelli, and two former kings of Italy; Vittorio Emmanuele II and Umberto I. Because it is still in use to this day, it is one of Rome’s best kept ancient buildings.
A much needed breakfast, for our stomachs & family bonding.
Spanish Steps in Rome
The Pantheon houses the Remains of some serious VIPs
Note: I don’t normally talk about where I stay in blog posts because many of the great hotels I stay in are for my job. I don’t want to put myself or any of my coworkers at risk by publishing our locations. When I’m not working, I only write about hotels or Airbnbs if they are particularly great. But since this was not a work trip, and I don’t plan on being back any time soon, I’ll spill the deets about our accommodation on this Italy trip.
The Hotel Savoy was perfect for a quick trip to Rome. It is a ten-minute walk from the Spanish Steps, an 11-minute drive to the Colosseum and ancient ruins, and just two blocks from the Borghese Gardens, a large and leafy city park. The rooms were comfortable and the rooftop terrace is picturesque. The breakfast, which was included in our stay is fantastic.
Find more info at Savoy.It/en.
Three hours, in the middle of the day. YES. PLEASE.
Dinner & Drinks
Drinks on the terrace of our hotel, overlooking the cityscape of Rome at sunset, was a nice gathering spot for our herd of newly refreshed travelers. If you are in the area, the terrace at Hotel Savoy is worth visiting for a cocktail and sweet views.
Dinner was at a cute restaurant near the hotel, who’s insides struggled to hold us all. I was impressed that we were able to get in anywhere with 12 people and no reservation, but these servers really made it work. I dined on Cacio e Pepe and an enormous salad and sipped on glass after glass of sparkling water, parched from the day.
First group dinner in Rome
Somehow a photo of my breakfast plate is the only image captured from the Hotel Savoy.
Ancient Ruins & Colosseum Tour
Day two of our trip was a morning tour of the ruins of ancient Rome and the Colosseum, where the gladiators fought.
Seeing the ancient ruins, learning about the systems of society—parliament and convents and fire keepers and grand processions, even learning about the sewer system—was really freaking cool. There are ancient ruins to be seen all over this area of Rome, and much of it is free to walk by. However, I strongly recommend going inside to the paid area with a tour guide. You get so much more out of the visit by having someone knowledgeable show you around.
Due to a communication error on the part of our group’s travel agent, I unfortunately did not make it into the Colosseum.
Word to the wise: the ticket takers at the gates of the Colosseum do NOT mess around. Because my ticket was purchased last minute, separately from the group, they made me split off from the pack to go to the single ticket entry line. Our guide argued, but to no avail. When I went to the individual ticketholder line, I was turned away because my timed entry had expired over the course of the conversation and brief walk. The guide, again, argued on my behalf, but they were in no mood to make exceptions. It was bullshit, to be frank.
In the high noon sun and heat, the embarrassment of getting kicked out of the colosseum and the annoyance at what was an entirely preventable problem, bubbled inside me and threatened to explode in what would surely look like a very American response. I huffed away to recover myself in what little shade was available. And then I made a new plan.
This section of Rome is filled with ancient ruins. I walked along the streets, taking in more of the city that once was—the face of an empire. I stopped by a gelato shop and got a pistachio cone entirely too big for the heat outside. I stood in an alleyway and ate it, holding it as far as possible from my body to avoid drips of earth-colored cream on my clothes. Then I had another idea.
Touristing at the ancient ruins
As far as I got at The Colosseum
Where to be in the middle of a scorching day in Rome? In an air-conditioned building, of course. So, while my group toured the Colosseum packed with people, I sauntered around galleries in a cool museum. The Capitoline Museums are a series of museums housing art, artifacts, and archeological items. Located in Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of Capitoline Hill, a short walk from the ancient ruins that line the streets of Rome. Admission is 16 Euro and well worth the price just to be inside!
As for the contents, this museum did not disappoint. I know I should care more about the ancient pieces of buildings and facades, about the everyday items from another time, recovered and sealed in glass. But if I’m honest, I was therefor the beautiful things. Sculptures of epic proportions—in marble and bronze—the She Wolf, The Head of Medusa. Murals that covered the walls of great halls, not an inch of space untouched. Paintings that swallow you like little Jonah in the belly of the whale. Carravaggio’s The Magician, perhaps my new favorite painting; the light and golden hues so real I longed to touch the subject’s shirt. Whether you’re in search of history or just beautiful things, the Capitoline Museums are a good choice.
To learn more about the Capitoline Museums, or to plan your visit, click here.
It is worth stepping out onto the Capitoline Museum's rooftop terrace while you're there
Bust of Medusa
Dinner for 12
Ristorante Angolo Dell Aurora
Later that evening we went to a four-course dinner at Ristorante Aurora, steps from our hotel. This was pre-planned in our itinerary and would have been a great option for a couple or smaller group. Having a set menu for 12 people, including a vegetarian, two kiddos, and several picky eaters just wasn’t the move. The restaurant was super accommodating of our needs and preferences, but it probably would have been best for all parties involved to do an a-la cart style. We kept this in mind for the rest of the trip. Still, dinner was good and it was time well spent getting to know each other and to sit and relax in our otherwise very busy days.
Dinner for 12, please!
I said this ‘Quick Trip to Rome’ itinerary was sans Vatican, and for me it is. Because I was a last-minute add-on to this trip, and because it was August—the holiday month for Italians, we were unable to secure an entry ticket for me to the Vatican. It didn’t bother me any. A quiet morning moseying by myself was a welcome change of pace in our tightly planned itinerary. Plus, it gives me an excuse to go back to Rome.
If you’re looking to plan a trip to The Vatican, check their website for hours, admissions, & info.
While the others were touring the Vatican for hours, I found another sweet spot in Rome to spend my time.
This is as much as The Vatican as I got to see.
Another of Rome’s Impressive museums is the Galleria Borghese. It’s located inside the Villa Borghese Gardens, a green and leafy city park, sometimes called the “Central Park” of Rome.
Tickets are 13 Euro for adults, unless you stroll in shortly before closing and get an end of day discounted ticket of 8 Euro. If you don’t want to book in advance, you can show up before opening to stand in line and wait for the few last minute tickets the museum holds daily. I saw people waiting in line for this, and they didn’t seem bothered. I bought a skip-the-line ticket from a third party site that cost double the face value of a ticket. Since I wanted guaranteed entry and I had a small window to visit the museum, I didn’t mind paying the premium.
Housed in an old palace, the ornate setting is nearly as impressive as the statues, busts, paintings, and tapestries that fill its halls and hang on its walls. Every inch of the place is art, from the mosaics on the floor to the exquisite Mariano Rossi painting on the ceiling of the entry hall, summing, with brush strokes, the inception of the Roman civilization. The museum was quiet and uncrowded during my morning visit, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend an hour and a half on a summer morning in Rome.
If you like museums, both the Galleria Borghese and the Capitoline Museums are a big YES from me.
For more information, including hours and admissions, click here.
Scenes from the Villa Borghese Gardens, the park surrounding the museum.
Entry hall, Galleria Borghese
“Never Ending Footsteps”
Don't forget to look up at the Borghese Galleries.
A Long Drive
& Saying Goodbye to Rome
I Ubered from the Borghese Gardens to meet up with the rest of my group at The Vatican. (Yes, Uber is available! So are city taxis!) From there, we got into a 20-passenger van and set off for the Avellino province, where we would meet long lost family still living in Italy. After busy days of long walks, thick crowds, and sweltering heat, we were all glad to be leaving Rome. But I left with a sense of missing, that I’ll have to go back to amend someday.
It is impossible to see and do everything in a quick visit. Two or three days just isn’t enough in a major city. I missed important landmarks like The Vatican and The Colosseum, of course, but I missed more than that. I missed the artsy neighborhoods where young creatives live. I missed the hippest restaurants and coolest bars. The family-friendly neighborhoods and people walking their dogs. The coffee shops and vintage shops and smaller parks—the places you see locals, dressed coolly, making you think “I could live here.”
I missed the heartbeat of the city, its personality, its true colors.
The history of a place is important—especially when it’s had such an impact on shaping the larger story of human history. But I’d like to go back someday, to meet the today of Rome. It will be a different type of trip; fewer people, cooler temps, likely on my own.
It’s a big part of traveling for me, realizing that I can’t do it all. But with cheap direct flights from Boston, a flexible schedule, and a desire to try to, getting back to give Rome a proper go should be no trouble at all.
Please feel free to send me your best recommendations for the “Today of Rome.” Your restaurants and hipster bars and coffee shops, your galleries and parks and shopping areas. (And favorite foods, of course.) All the things I’ll need to see and do to get a real taste of Rome.
Until next time, Rome
I’ll be publishing more Italy content in the weeks to come. Gaining a brand new family in Grottaminarda, Touring Pompeii and feeling like the biggest teacher’s pet from my 6th grade social studies class, and spending days taking in the picture-perfect views of Sorrento, Almafi, Positano and Ravello. I hope you’ll come back for more.
In the meantime, thanks for stopping by. I realize my publishing schedule is off, and I appreciate your patience and still showing up here. I have had to shift around some things in my life to accommodate other, bigger things. Writing has been tough while I wrestle with the weighty curveballs thrown my way and the new normal they’ve presented. Life is beautiful, and it can really come through and knock you on your ass. I’m trying to get back on track and into the flow of things here. So, with that being said, thank you for your patience and continued support. For showing up here to read the things I’ve written, and for making it all the way to the end of the page. Thank you for your suggestions and recommendations, for the comments you leave and the posts that you share. Thank you for subscribing, if you do.
I hope you’ll come back and hang out again.
Have a kick-ass weekend and a lovely September. <3