Our trip to Italy in November of 2014 was split into three legs. 3 days in Rome, 3 days in Tuscany and 3 days in Florence.
This trip was really more “my” trip than it was Nick’s. I’m the one that pushed us to plan it, I did a lot of the research of where we should go and what we should eat.
So I’m probably the one that should have had some sort of plan for what we do when we got off the plane, yes? But that is not what happened. Hahaha no, not at all what happened.
We got off the plane and started moving towards the Ground Transportation area. Right off the bat, some genuine seeming guy marched right over to me, started shouting in Italian (I assume?) and walked off with my luggage. In the complete opposite direction of the rest of the ground transportation. Ummm…? I looked back at Nick, panicked. Whaaaat was happening? Nick, being a little more seasoned in independent travel than I was apparently, ran over and engaged in a little tug of war over my maroon suitcase. The guy eventually walked off angrily and throwing his arms up in the air. Scam artist or actual nice guy just trying to help us to a cab? We will never know. We eventually found a legit cab and were en route to our first hotel!
We stayed in Hotel Gambrinus, located closeish to the Spanish Steps and Via Veneto in Rome. We weren’t able to check into our room but they had a locked room for us to drop off our luggage. I changed into my walking shoes, put some euros into my crossbody purse and we set off! First moments of our Italy dream vacation! We take a few steps out of our hotel and the following conversation ensues:
Nick: So, where are we headed?
Me: Haha, what? I don’t know, where do you want to go?
Nick: You don’t have a plan??
Me: Umm…no? I mean I have things we should do in Rome, I guess we should just pick one and start knocking off the list?
Nick: Ok great, what’s on the list?
Me: Umm…I don’t know. It’s in my suitcase inside.
With our tails between our legs, we went back to the front desk and asked to see our suitcases again. We perused the list and realized that a Free Rome Walking Tour was getting ready to begin. We rushed over to the Piazza di Spagna (plaza near the Spanish Steps), which is the meeting point for the tours. I found the free walking tour on Trip Advisor (this is a common theme you will notice throughout all of my trip recaps. If you happen to hate Trip Advisor for some unknown reason, you may want to tune out now). The tour had great reviews, and we thought this would be a great start to the trip! There are two sessions per day with the free walking tours, a 10am trip that ends at the Vatican and a 4 pm (or 16:00 if you fancy) that ends at the Coloseum. Each tour lasts approximately two hours.
The tour was so great! We had an excellent, knowledgeable guide. We walked through beautiful streets and saw columns, the Pantheon, the bridge of angels, and of course, the Vatican.
We got to Vatican City around noon and decided to grab some lunch. We were starting to feel the jetlag and exhaustion + hunger was not making either of us very happy people. We walked around a while looking for a decent place that was not 100% touristy (beware the restaurants with photos of pizza and burgers outside). We ended up at a place that was good, but not a place I would insist someone go out of their way to eat at. But our hunger issue was resolved and we were ready to check out the Vatican.
We then headed to the Vatican museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral. We didn’t take many pictures inside, I generally prefer to walk around and soak in the exhibits when I’m museum-ing (it’s totally a word), rather than spending my time taking my mediocre pics. Seeing the Sistine Chapel was a really special experience, I was really struck by how beautiful it was. I had seen pictures many times, but didn’t realize how different it would be, looking at pictures versus seeing something in person.
After we made it through the museum, we decided to climb the steps to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (the Cupola). There is an option to climb the steps for 4 euros, or you can take an elevator up for 7 euros. We obv took the cheapie route. This is where I found out that my husband is afraid of heights. We discussed it on the long trek up, while I was panting and trying to not act like I was out of breath. The views are really worth it though, and I recommend making it to the top by either of these methods if you are nearby!
After our trek up, we headed back to our hotel to shower and get ready for dinner. Prior to arriving in Rome, we had only one dinner reservation, a recommendation from a well-traveled friend. We dined at Sora Lella on Isola Tiberina, a small island in the Tiber River. The restaurant had a very cozy Mom-and-Pop feel and we felt like we were getting traditional Roman food. I ordered the carbonara which was fantastic, but in retrospect I would have done the Roman tasting menu. The dishes on the tasting menu seemed more unique and traditional, while carbonara was available at almost every restaurant we saw. We also ordered the house red wine which was amazing (and the cheapest, win-win!). Nick and I were both amazed at the quality of the house wines throughout our whole trip!
Day 2 was a very exciting day. It was Coloseum Day. Leading up to the trip, this is probably the thing that we were MOST excited for. The Coloseum is so iconic, and neither of us had ever seen anything nearly that old in person. I did a lot of research on guides and tours of the Coloseum beforehand and was very intrigued by the Coloseum Underground, and Third Ring tour. I was so completely amped to be underneath the Coloseum and pretend like I’m a Roman goddess/warrior preparing for battle. It’s a little tricky to find the tickets for the Underground tour, there is only one window that sells them out of the 15 or so ticket windows. When we went it was window 10, but I think that is subject to change so I would ask someone working there before you get in line to buy tickets. The next tour was scheduled to start in an hour, so we bought our tickets and meandered over to the Roman Forum (one ticket gets you into multiple surrounding sites, the Coloseum and Forum being two of them. Full list on the tourism website above.).
We used a Rick Steves audio guide for the Roman Forum, and had to rush our way through a bit to make our Coloseum tour. In retrospect I would have allowed us more time but it was still a great experience to see the ruins. You could see layers of different flooring and stairs, administrative buildings, signs and statues.
Then it was Coloseum time. I really can’t recommend the Underground tour enough. It was only 12 more euros if I remember correctly and you were able to access the underground and the third tier, which are typically closed off areas. Being below was a great experience and we got some of our favorite pictures from the third tier. Walking through the Coloseum was fanastic, it’s amazing to see what the Romans were able to accomplish. The Coloseum held naval battles (HOW? I still can’t imagine that whole thing filled up with water), animal fights and gladiator-on-gladiator fights. The first event held there was actually a naval battle. The events were free for citizens, they only had to claim their tickets. Citizens had assigned seats, which you can see in the photos below. The entire Coloseum was covered in marble, which you can only see pieces of today. It was stripped of its marble to be used for other purposes (including churches) in the 13th century.
By the time we were done with our tour, we were getting pretty hangry again, so we hopped on over to Trastvere and had one of our TOP 2 MOST AMAZING MEALS OF THE TRIP. I can’t even put into words how much we enjoyed this meal. Trastvere is known for it’s characteristic Italian look (cobbled streets, narrow alleys) and the FOOD. If we ever go back to Rome, I think I would eat every meal in Trastvere, maybe even at the very restaurant we went to, Da Enzo. We found Da Enzo on Trip Advisor and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. We got the house wine again, and the burrata appetizer. DO NOT SKIP THE BURRATA. If you do, we can’t be friends. Burrata is cream filled mozzarella. CREAM FILLED, FOLKS. We also had the fried artichokes, which is another delicious Roman specialty. For our main meals, Nick got the carbonara (so good) and I got the Matriciana o Amatriciana.
We weren’t sure that the day could even get any better after this. We were tempted to just call it. And then come back for dinner. But in the interest of seeing/eating as much as we could, we soldiered on.
We actually realized we could catch the other version of the Rome Free Walking Tour. This tour began at 4 pm and ended at the Coloseum. However, note that the Coloseum is closed at 5 pm. I could see how someone might go into the tour thinking that at the end you could tour the Coloseum, but unfortunately no. I still think the tour was worth it and we got to see totally different areas of Rome than on the Vatican tour, including the Trevi fountain.
This was probably our heaviest walking day, so we were especially tired when we got back to our hotel. We also had something exciting and early planned for the next day so we used Yelp to find a close to us restaurant. We landed on Al Forno Della Soffitta which was right across the street. They specialize in pizzas, which sounded right up our alley. They have all kinds of interesting combos and they let you mix and match the combos on one pizza.
After all of the above, we were dead. Dead dead. So naturally we walked down the street for some gelato, and THEN hit the hay.
TL;DR: Get the f&@$ing burrata!