I just returned from Italy yesterday and need to write this report simply to relive my experience. WARNING. This is long. Sorry guys.
My impression of Rome:
I loved it! In other words, I spent 6 days in Rome and have decided that I want to live there. It may be the most beautiful and vibrant city I've ever seen. Even though English wasn't as prevalent as expected, people were generally very helpful if you simply asked "dove". I was traveling alone and this was not a problem at all. I was rarely lonely because there was so much to see and so many tourists and Romans to talk to. A dinner alone was something I looked forward to each night as I usually ended up talking to the people dining next to me or to the waiter.
On the other hand, It is a difficult place. Romans seem to be proud and the city streets can be confusing and, at times, frustrating, but by the end of the second day, any frustrations I had were put on hold and I decided to just go with the flow and accept everything as it came. This included not seeing the Sistine Chapel (see the full report for further details). Basically, I loved Rome because it wasn't easy...it wasn't made simply for tourists and it felt the most "real" out of all of the places I went.
My only real complaint would be that my feet will never be the same again. Cobblestone hurts! But, because the walking was hard, I never felt guilty when I stuffed my face with pasta at the end of the day.
I stayed at Villa Della Fonte in Trastevere. I highly recommend this little bed and breakfast, as it is not only charming, but also comes with an extremely helpful and friendly staff and two sweet little kittens. My only complaint is that the air conditioner did not work quite as well as I would have liked, but then again, I like to crank up the air so that I will freeze and be able to use a couple of blankets. Although, I was right off of Piazza Santa Maria, the street I was on was very quiet and the terrace was particularly peaceful.
Trip Report...Rome, the pink city:
DAY 1: I arrive after a hectic drive through Trastevere with a cab driver who knows little English, but who smiles a lot and is seriously cute. He has great blue eyes, is dressed amazingly well, and has TWO cell phones! Yes, I am in Italy. I must walk a small distance to my hotel. My room is not ready yet (9 a.m.), but the kind proprietor, Simone, leads me to the world's most peaceful terrace. There is no street noise here, but only the sound of the fountain in Piazza Santa Maria. Soon, I am served a cappucino and a croissant by a sweet old lady who knows no English, but simply says "ciao". It's perfect.
I decide to walk around and get utterly lost in Trastevere while my room is prepared. Trastevere is dead quiet. No one is out really, though some shops are open and I browse. There is ivy strewn about and I am struck by the fact that this little neighborhood is decidedly a salmon color. Eventually, I find my way back to the b&b and take a much needed nap.
That night I decide to do the Rick Steves la dolce vita tour (I think that's the one anyway). I start in Campo di Fiori and move on to the Piazza Navona, where I, do, in fact, try some tartufo at Tre Scallini. Then, I moved on to see the Egyptian obelisk Augustus stole to commemorate his victory over Antony and Cleopatra and at this moment am completely struck by the history of the city. Afterwards, I walk on to the Trevi Fountain. Here, I am first confronted with bald tourism. However, it doesn't bother me at all and I am the only person to throw a coin in the fountain! A nice Italian couple took my picture after laughing at my vain attempts to both throw a coin and take a picture of myself at the same time. Next, I move on to the Spanish Steps and decide to eat dinner at another Rick Steves suggestion--Fiaschetteria. Because I am alone, they seat me at a big table with other English speakers. There is an American couple, a Russian businessman, and a Swedish woman with her Russian husband. They are extremely nice and friendly and the food is good.
I walk home to Trastevere and am utterly amazed to find that the quiet neighborhood has transformed into a giant party! There are people selling jewelry, clothing, purses in the street. Street performers are in the piazza and the streets are filled with people looking for a place to dine or drink. However, I am so tired that I just crawl into bed and go to sleep...
DAY 2: I have made a decision to forgo public transportation while in Rome, so I walk along the Tiber until I reach the Colosseum area (about a 30 minute walk). I meet with some friends and we pass the line at the Colosseum by paying 21 Euro for a tour. The tour is filled with a few little facts that I didn't know before and I consider it money well spent as it also includes later tours of the Forum and Palatine Hill.
My friends and I grab some pizza at a restaurant across the street from the Colosseum and it is surprisingly tasty (sorry...I didn't catch the name!). Then, we meet up for the tour of the Forum. The tour is decent, though I may spend more money for a different tour next time. Also, it is insanely hot. However, I am so excited about being in the Forum that I hardly notice the heat and look for any little patch of shade.
We decide to get some gelato while waiting for the next tour of the Palatine and just people watch.
The Palatine was my favorite part of the Forum area. It is surprisingly cool and the first area the tour guide takes us is in a cavern like place with running water and two statues on either side. Then, we move up the hill. The ruins here are a lot more interesting and complete.
My friends and I part ways and agree to meet up on the Ponte Garibaldi later that night. I go back to my hotel take a nap and shower. This becomes a daily routine for me.
As I wait on the Ponte Garibaldi, someone thinks I am Italian and I am, of course, elated as I say "non parlo Italiano." Finally, my friends show up and we eat at what becomes one of my favorite restaurants of my trip--Hostaria del Moro da Tony. It's in Trastevere and while the service is a little rushed, the food is fantastic. I had the truffle ravioli and it was absolutely scrumptious. After dinner, we decide to go down to the Tiber River area where restaurants and bars line the river. We end up =drinking until 4 a.m. A lot of fun, which I end up regretting the next day...
DAY 3: I wake up very late the next day and end up just walking around the Campo di Fiori area. I try lunch at Magnolia Cafe. I absolutely do not recommend this place. I do some window shopping and rest up for dinner.
I stay in Trastevere for dinner and try Trattoria de Lucia, another Rick Steves suggestion. The food is solid and the service is friendly and attentive. There are pictures of famous people lining the walls and I am struck by the fact that most Italian American restaurants are modeled after the place where I am now dining.
I walk back to my hotel and notice two old men sitting in chairs out in the street next door to my hotel. This is the first day I notice this...Every day for the rest of the trip they will set their chairs in the street at about 7:30 and go back in at about 10:00 p.m., just watching people walk by.
DAY 4: I walk to Villa Borghese. You must check your bags at Villa Borghese, so be prepared for this and allow enough time to both check your bags and be in time for your reserved time. The Villa Borghese is a wonderfully peaceful place. Although you can not take pictures of the beautiful scupltures inside, you can take pictures of the gardens surrounding it. Even if these statues outside are not of the same caliber, they tend to emanate the tone of the place inside.
Next, I walk down the Via Veneto. Not really what I was expecting and I would skip it next time. This is very touristy and not really as chic as I thought. Therefore, I continued towards the Pantheon and go inside. To me, the Pantheon is the most impressive building in Rome. Its size is amplified by filling the piazza it sits in and making the surrounding space seem small, as if the building itself will burst out of the confines of the square. And I found that every time, I happened upon it, I was surprised to see it there.
Then, I walk home and clean up for the opera at the Baths of Caracalla. I decide to take a cab. Before the opera, I drink some prosecco at the little stand and review the somewhat fantastical storyline of Turandot. The opera is pretty spectacular and my cheap seats provide a good view of the stage. It is a good night and I decide to walk home because the taxi line is obscenely long. Although, it is late, there are so many people walking along the Tiber, that I feel perfectly safe walking back to Trastevere. I crawl in to bed.
DAY 5: I wake up early for my visit to Vatican City. I hop into line for St. Peters and decide to go down to the Pope's tombs. I actually found these to be really interesting. First, to see JP II's tomb and second, to see St. Peter's tomb. I feel somber walking around down there and it puts me in the right mood to see St. Peters. St. Peters itself, is massive. I see the people lining up to kiss St Peter's foot and it amazes me and makes me feel a little ashamed of being here, like I have no right to be in this place of worship. In fact, this feeling never really leaves me in any church I visit in Italy...
I exit St. Peters and ask someone where the line for the Vatican Museums is. I am sent outside the square. I proceed to walk the entire length of the Vatican Museums. This was fun. Hot, uphill, and no entrance in sight. I later find out that, of course, this was not where the line would have been located. By the time I make it back around, the Museum is closed. I'm mad for a second. Then, I decide to go to the nearest gift shop, buy a postcard of the Sistine Chapel and sit in St. Peters square gazing at it, while eating a gelato. Almost like the real thing, right?
Later that night, I end up at a restaurant called Da Giggeto after the place a guy at my hotel recommended is closed. This place was awesome. Lovely service and the yummiest pasta I'd had thus far. Basically, it tasted like the best mac and cheese with beef in the world. Afterwards, I walked back to Trastevere and went to a little bar near my hotel named Bacchanale. I ordered grappa. Why? Because it's something you should do? Well, I have now tasted grappa. I even finished the grappa. I quickly switched to Peroni. I ended up talking to a nice English couple about the Arsenal-Ajax game that was on...and then walked back to my hotel.
DAY 6: Today I went to Porta Portense Market. It is a crazy, packed flea market selling mostly junk, but I enjoyed the crowded, hectic atmosphere... I left with a passable Louis Vuitton bag. AFterwards, I walked to Testaccio, trying to find someway to get to Via Appia. TEstaccio is a bit seedy and is the seediest part of Rome I've seen thus far. I probably would not walk around here at night, but during the day it was fine. At this point, I am completely lost, so I grab a cab who drops me off at San Callisto catacombs.
You can't just go down into these catacombs. Their tour guides take down small groups by language. While the catacombs are pretty interesting, I wish that the tour guide had been better. He did not speak the best English in the world, so he was unable to answer any questions and I had many after walking through the tombs.
I walk down Via Appia a little bit. After waitng for a bus for awhile, I decide I'll just walk it. The walk ended up being a bit further than I anticipated...however, it was scenic and if my feet hadn't felt as if they would fall off, it would have been perfectly pleasant. As it were, I felt like I had completed quite a task once I reached the Circus Maximus and looked at the view of the Palatine Hill.
My last night, I decided to dine at Hostaria del Moro da Tony again. Once again, the food was great and the service was a little nicer this time because they recognized me. I talked to a couple of nice Englishwomen at the table next to me and later to a girl from Montreal. AFterwards, I went to a little bar to get some espresso and talked for awhile to the barrista who was from Australia. I reluctantly walked back to the hotel, give a little smile to the men who sit outisde next door and see the corners of their mouths turn up to for small smiles. Even as I smile, I am sad that I have to leave the next day for Sorrento...
PART TWO of TRIP REPORT...Coming Soon...Sorrento