During the semester that I studied abroad over my spring break , a group of friends and I went on a week long trip to Italy that consisted of visits to Milan, Florence, Pisa, and Rome. It was a quick whirlwind of a trip that allowed for half days in Milan and Pisa, 2 days in Florence, and 3 in Rome. This was my first time off of the Iberian Peninsula during the semester, as I had taken a long weekend to Lisbon, Portugal. Spending the most time in Rome, allowed me to truly experience The Eternal City. While I enjoyed all my experiences in Rome, there were a few that stood out in my mind as the best things I did there:
If I have one guilty pleasure, it’s ice cream/frozen yogurt/gelato. Italy was unfortunately the wrong place to go if I was planning on trying to control my sweet tooth. Luckily though, the excessive amount of walking counteracted the mass amounts of gelato I consumed. I ate about 3 servings of gelato per day. My favorite flavor was espresso, but that didn’t stop me from sampling nearly every flavor. A helpful tip is that there are gelato stands and stores all over Rome, but many of them serve fake gelato. Trust me, you want to eat the real stuff. The real gelato will not have a neon green pistachio flavor, but rather a earth-toned, natural tinted green color. Make sure to buy the real stuff. It tastes much better. Everyone will have their own favorite, “must-try” gelato place, and while I enjoyed many places if you happen to be near the Trevi Fountain, take a quick jaunt over to Il Gelato di San Crispino. It’s well worth it.
2. Trevi Fountain
Standing in the middle of the Trevi district in Rome is the impressively large and detailed Trevi Fountain. There were tons of people, mostly tourists all lining up to snap their photos in front of the fountain with its azure blue waters, and most were flipping a coin over their shoulder while making a wish. An important side note is that all the coins thrown into the fountain are scooped out and donated to help a local supermarket for those in need. Aside from essentially “donating,” the Trevi fountain provided me with a good place to people watch and drink some wine from a box that I had been carrying around in my backpack.
3. Wandering the winding streets of Rome
The tight and winding streets of Rome provided an escape for me. Yes, I was in a world-class city that was bustling at every turn, but exploring these small twisting streets that always seemed to spill me out into a piazza gave me a sense for the original feel of Rome, without cars and traffic. It was a calming retreat from the bustle of the rest of the city, and especially the tourist sites.
Wandering the city, I just so happen to stumble across the Pantheon, so I wandered in. It is free for admission, which was very nice and not nearly as crowded as other sites. I began looking around the inside of the structure when I found myself not being able to look anywhere but up – the domed ceiling. The ceiling is built out of concrete and was coffered out of necessity. Coffering is the act of making square, rectangle, or octagon shapes into a ceiling. It offers support to the structure while reducing the weight of the concrete dome itself. Consequently, in my mind, the technique poses a great aesthetic value as well. Especially because it’s free, I’d recommend a quick stop at the Pantheon to Rome visitor.
So far I’ve mentioned the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain as great aspects of Rome. It’s needless to say that I admire art and architecture. Therefore, in one swoop I’ll encompass all the sculpture in Rome, be it on fountains, churches, statues, or buildings. Each and everyone of them were outstanding. Obviously some I preferred over others, but I couldn’t point out a single one in which I did not appreciate. The sheer skill these artists needed was impeccable to say the least. Not matter where you are in Rome, there should always be an example of beautiful sculpture nearby.
6. High speed trains
Now, I understand that this is not specifically in Rome. However, the simplicity and efficiency of the Italian high speed trains made moving about the country and city simple. When in Rome, I actually stayed at a hostel in Ciampino, which was outside of the city about 10 minutes and only cost €1,50 each way. The cost of the hostel we stayed at, the Central Station Inn, definitely made up for the cost of the train as many of the hostels in Rome were super expensive as it was Holy Week.
Everyone Roman I met was incredibly kind and will to help me. I am well aware that there are many travelers who have had different experiences, but during my time in Rome, I did not encounter a single person who was disrespectful towards me. There were of course people who were trying to get my money because they knew I was a tourist, but hey, I guess I can’t blame them for doing that. We had one run in with the police and even they were friendly! Apparently it’s required in Rome for businesses to give out receipts with any purchase in order to help catch illegal transactions with fake merchandise.
I do not believe that there are many people, if anyone, who think Italian is an ugly language. The romantic cadence it’s native speaks have is undeniable and irresistible. It seems to flow so naturally, and while someone could be telling me off or insulting me, I would probably still be in awe of the sound of the language rolling off their tongue.
9. Vatican City and Sistine Chapel
Technically an independent state which is not a part of Rome, but would a trip to Rome be complete without visiting St. Peter’s square? Heck, even if you didn’t “visit” Vatican City while traveling Rome, you couldn’t ignore at least catching a glimpse of St. Peter’s Basilica at some point during your time there. Regardless of your identified religion, actually being in St. Peter’s Square is an experience worth having. It’s a massive plaza surrounded by columns adorned with sculptures with a giant Egyptian obelisk in its center.
The Sistine Chapel is only being included with the Vatican since both are not technically in Rome. Simply put, the Sistine Chapel is worth a visit because it’s arguably once of the most impressive works of art ever. Its magnitude, detail, and the skill it all took mystified me. I was taken away from the chapel full of tourists trying to illegally snap photos and into the art. Very few pieces of art have ever made me experience this. It’s hard to describe the beauty and elegance of Michelangelo’s work without seeing it in person. Pictures, illegal or not, only do it so much justice.
10. The Colosseum
Lastly, the Colosseum was definitely worth a visit, even with the €15.50 entrance fee. This place was just oozing with history. It was difficult for me to even imagine humans battling it out to the death with thousands cheering it on, but hey, it happened, and it happened here. There was this eerie, surreal feel about the place that I absolutely loved. Other than the history of the gladiators and battles, the architecture of the structure itself was unbelievable, especially since it’s still standing. A fascinating debate to me was that the arena was once filled with water in order to re-enact battles at sea. Some accounts say this happened, whereas others believe it’s still up for debate because there is no way the Colosseum could be waterproofed. Personally, I loved the Colosseum, and that’s from someone who isn’t a huge Russel Crowe fan. If you visit, just remember not to get tricked into taking pictures on your camera with the guys dressed up as gladiators outside as my friends did. They will charge you for the picture or make you delete it front of them.
Food – Italian food is incredible. Need I say more? However, I preferred the food in Florence better.
Have you been to Rome? What did you think of it? What would you recommend to someone visiting the Eternal City?