“How was Rome?” everyone asks.
“It was great!” is what I want to say, but I stumble over my response. Of course our visit to Rome was great—the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Pantheon are all amazing—but it was also a bit of a chore.
Like many travelers, we have a bucket list of places to see. Rome was near the top, so when we found affordable direct flights from Valencia we decided to check it off our list. We soon discovered that it’s not easy to visit a touristy city like Rome, where millions of other tourists have a bucket list just like ours.
For our first time in Rome, there were some sights that we simply needed to see. Purchasing advance tickets and making reservations was a must. We typically don’t like this kind of travel. We prefer to spend our time wandering through a city and discovering things for ourselves, but in Rome it’s hard to do this. Too often we found ourselves tired and hungry, rushing to the next reservation instead of doing what we wanted (pulling into a cafe for some wine and cheese). But for this trip, it was all about the sights.
Our top priority in Rome was to see the Colosseum. Visiting in November seemed to help us avoid the high season crowds, as there were very short lines. We waited only about 10-15 minutes to get through security with our pre-purchased tickets.
There was a lot more to Palatine Hill than I expected. This is where legend says Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC. Later it was the ritzy neighborhood of Rome and many noble families built their palaces there in the fresh air above the city. In hindsight, we should have allowed more time for wandering through Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.
We spent a lot of time walking through the city and saw things we wouldn’t have found otherwise. The city is vibrant, noisy, colorful and chaotic. Ancient ruins and monuments are scattered through out the city with modern Rome rising up around them. The rainy November weather added drama to the skies and sparkle to the streets.
The Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria) is the largest monument in Rome and all streets seemed to lead to it somehow. We passed by many times. Climbing the stairs to the top revealed fantastic panoramic views over the city, made even better by taking the elevator to the tip top.
We stayed in a hotel located near the Roma Termini train station, where we appreciated the easy access to the Villa Borghese Gardens. With so many people gathering outside of all the historic sites, it was impossible to have a personal, intimate moment in the city. This large public park provided a refuge from the chaos of the city center. We started each morning with a stroll through the gardens discovering treasures like a hydrochonometer, little cafes perfect for a relaxing drink, theatres and numerous fountains.
We had set aside a full afternoon to visit the Vatican Museums and Vatican City. Once again, I had greatly underestimated the size of the art collection in the museums. Many people choose to take guided tours of the Vatican Museum to hit the highlights, but we prefer to explore on our own. We decided to wing it and just wander our way through the museum on the way to the Sistine Chapel. There are over 4 miles of hallways and galleries. We spent hours working our way through early Etruscan pottery, masterpiece paintings, and ancient Roman statuary. The Gallery of Maps itself was an overwhelming riot of visual stimuli. It contains 40 maps of the Italian peninsula, painted by artist Ignazio Danti from 1580-1583. Then we looked at the ceiling, and said “Whoa!”
Typically, one of the highlights of our travel is enjoying the local food. We came away a bit disappointed with our gastronomic experience in Rome. Finding a good meal at a reasonable price can be very difficult in a touristy area. We put a lot of effort into researching where to avoid the tourist traps. Despite our efforts, we still had mixed results but we did find a few fabulous restaurants and bars which I’ll write about soon. Of course, there was plenty of pizza.
We had four full days and nights in Rome, which was not nearly enough time to take in all of the significant sights to see. I feel that we owe it to Rome, and ourselves, to go back and do the city slowly. Without reservations. Without obligations. I believe that there is a wonderful side to Rome hidden beneath all of the tourist clutter; we just need the time to find it.