You may be wondering why these posts are always about a 'quick trip.' 2 days in Barcelona here, 2 days in Frankfurt there, 1 day in Nice, and now only 2 quick days in Rome. Why spend so little time in these magnificent places? I'm beginning to ask myself that too. But simply, at this stage in the game, it's a question of cost. Cities are expensive. Even budget accommodations, coupled with food and the biggest expenses for us - accommodations and attractions - make it difficult to be able to spend a lot of time in big cities. It's a shame really, because there's a lot to see in these places. But we've settled on the idea that these are small 'scouting trips,' for future visits. At least then I can convince myself that I'm coming back :) Regardless, Rome is an incredible city. I mean, for one, it's Rome. There's old stuff there; and that's an understatement. It may not be as old as Jerusalem, Athens or Cairo, but let's face it, Rome has an undeniable importance in the world's history.
This is our first trip to Italy and so everything is new and shiny (even if it's 2000 years old). Through a fluke in my understanding of Jon's arrival from Frankfurt, I arrived in Rome on the 31st, while Jon arrived on the 1st of September. No worries, I got a head start getting the layout of the city, trying gelato and taking a glimpse at the once-center of the western world.
Alone in Rome
I will admit, I was a little nervous to be a very blonde woman in the Italian capital. But I quickly realized that Rome is extremely safe. Also, given that Italian ladies are gorgeous I'm pretty sure no one is interested in hassling an obviously-unfashionable tourist who clearly isn't carrying much other than a water bottle and camera. So with confidence I easily managed to walk to a nearby restaurant in the Termini neighborhood and dig in on a 9euro 3-course meal. Pasta, the best chicken salad I've ever had and beautifully roasted eggplant were a perfect introduction to easy Italian food. I spent the rest of my first evening memorizing useful phrases (like, 'una coppette di gelato per favore' or 'a cup of gelato please') and creating our plan of attack for our 1.5 full days of sight-seeing. Plus, I had to find out where great pizza was located.
What to see in Rome when you have no time
The theme of this post is clearly that we had little time in Rome; as well as a small budget. Once we were happily reunited from our 10 days apart, we did the best free thing one can do in our situation. We walked everywhere. Jon and I walked to the Piazza della Republica down to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (which is enormous and incredibly impressive) through the Roman Forum down to the Colosseum and back to the Termini station where our hotel was located.
First impressions? Roman ruins are everywhere. Some of them don't even have signs. I felt that Rome must be much taller than it was in Roman times, given how deep the excavations are, and how much has been built upon since then. I also wondered if Rome has a building ordinance for height because nothing is taller than the Colosseum. No skyscrapers, no modern buildings. This is really interesting to me.
We of course stopped for a slice of pizza - which they price by the kilo - and gelato at the recommended Il Gelatone on Via dei Serptenti. Delicious. I satisfied one of my images of Italian cities of people sitting around a fountain in the center of a piazza, chatting, drinking wine and socializing. We partook in this and it was lovely. There are beautiful tiny churches everywhere and one of the joys of walking in Rome is stumbling upon them, going inside and seeing the frescos and art.
I cannot overstate the grandeur of Rome. It's different from that of Paris, which is hugely expansive with iconic monuments popping up everywhere. Rome is actually quite compact, walkable and accessible to the visitor. But you cannot help but feel steeped in history, with something to oggle at every turn of a corner. Indeed during our walk across town at night, we were dumbfounded by the constant thought of, "Oh, there's another Roman thing!"
Finally, I love eating in Italy. It's such a fantastic food culture and just the prospect of another meal is exciting. I did find a great pizza joint, and according to Let's Go Rome, this is one of the best in Rome - Pizzaria Baffetto. We pulled a Spain and arrived around 11:15pm, but we scored a small table right near the pizza counter and got to watch the magic happen. The pizza was fresh, delicious and overall a great neighborhood experience.
Having been to all these catholic churches all over Europe we couldn't see a reason to visit Rome and NOT see the Vatican. It is, of course, the smallest country in the world - so that naturally sealed the deal. But really, the Vatican is impressive. Plus, it's the Pope's house - and Pope Francis is hip, so we had to go visit his digs.
The freaky narrow stairway to the very tippy top of St Peter's Basilica and dome was not a stairway to heaven. It was hard - and freaky narrow. However, you can't beat the 360 degree view of Rome and the Vatican square below. I can't really convey the massiveness of St. Peter's - it's simply grand. Fit for a Pope as they would say.
We're not sure if we actually had to pay the 5 euro to get in or if we somehow got herded into the pay-line, because I'm sure there were people going into the basilica without paying. But, there aren't signs for anything here, so whatever.
Unfortunately, the time it took to wait in line to go up the non-stairway to heaven, the crowds at the Vatican Museum, and the new entry cost (12euro per person - apparently 3 years ago everything in Rome was free) meant that we were not able to see the Sistine Chapel. I'm super bummed about this. It's the Sistine Chapel for goodness sake! I'm resigning myself to one of those, "next time" moments.
Onward from Rome
After spending the morning at the Vatican - where you can actually send a postcard from the world's smallest country if you're willing to wait in a line that doesn't match the size of said country - we made our way back to central Rome and headed north to Umbria. We had agreed with our new hosts to be in the small town of Todi on the 2nd and had to battle the complicated, unsigned and erratic Umbrian regional train system.
We're here for the next 4 weeks. We're about 15 minutes from Todi, on a beautiful piece of property owned by Ev and Claudia an American/Italian couple who are building a wine and olive farm. It's a HelpX work exchange - we live here and work 4 hours/day in exchange for room and board. We'll be here for the wine harvest. The food is delicious, the company is great, the work satisfying and the scenery divine. All in all, between Rome and here, I feel incredibly grateful at this time.