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6 Glorious Days in Rome

I will try to keep this concise (ha!) with an eye towards practical advice for anyone considering Rome. But it's always important to explain where you're coming from and what your travel style is, so here goes:

Early 40s couple, both with a shared interest in ancient Western history (him especially) and medieval and renaissance art (her especially), "museum people", foodies, beer nerds, winos, experienced travelers as expats in Europe, FINALLY got around to our first trip to Rome after a brief trip to Venice a couple years ago and Naples earlier this year. We were supposed to go to Israel for this trip and reconsidered based on the advice of people on this forum, will be planning Israel for spring, hopefully. Dates were Oct 15-21 2019.

I threw myself into planning early on, then got really busy and didn't really "finish" planning until the night before. We had booked a flat in Trastevere just across from the Punto Sisto. Our "plan" was to splurge a little on this lovely flat ("Unforgettable Trastevere" on Booking.com) to use as a siesta spot but the reality of how large Rome is meant we never, ever went back to our flat in the afternoons for rest as we'd planned - just too time consuming. (Maybe an option for early risers, which we are not). Great location, though, the neighborhood is crazy at night (which we like) but the flat is amazingly quiet with an inner courtyard (which we also like).

Day 1: Mostly involved our flight from Germany, taking the normal train from the airport to the Trastevere station then the metro. Our check-in was simple (communicating via WhatsApp with the host) if not overly-friendly. The owners have the flat next door, and apparently my husband heard them fighting one morning. We had a couple odd run-ins with them (I answered a buzzer for a charity and the owner lady came out startled, another time there was water from some apartment rushing down below and the owner man entered without much warning but was in and out in 10 seconds so, no huge deal). Still, at about $135/night the flat was really lovely and uniquely decorated, and if that's what you'd normally spend on a hotel, I'd consider staying in a flat. I made eggs and salami one morning for breakfast, we ate the generous pastries supplied by the owners, and liked having cold fizzy water and beverages and snacks available to us at all times.

We skipped past a Conad store to get groceries at a Carrefour instead, which was a mistake I later realized - the Conad looked like a department store but of course, the very good grocery store was in the basement. (9 years in Europe, you think I would have figured this out by now!) By the time we'd settled in and stocked up, it was time for our short walk across the Tiber to our 5:00 p.m. wine tasting and dinner experience at Rimessa Roscioli. It didn't shake out like I'd hoped...

cont...

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This is apparently the wine bar of the Roscioli family and is highly reviewed and recommended by a variety of sources, from users on social media to well-respected guidebooks and foodie blogs. I have to say that while it was an enjoyable evening, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Some of the food and wine was very good, but the commentary did not give me the basic understanding of Italian wine I'd hoped, although it was charming and amusing. We enjoyed some delicious cheeses and meats, but my main point of contention was our first course. On the menu, which I photographed, it was listed as "cacio e pepe" the famous cheese and pepper pasta Rome is famous for. Our host also told us it was Cacio e Pepe. When we got it, it appeared to be something different - short tubular pasta in a pinkish sauce with guanciale. The pasta was VERY al dente, which again, I'm told is typical, but this was too al dente and as I later realized, it wasn't Cacio e Pepe at all, but rather Amatriciana. This would have been fine - I wanted to (and manged to) try all the typical Roman pasta dishes, but I don't like being lied to. If you have to make a substitution, tell us, don't just lie to us! Especially since the explicit reason I'm here is to learn!

Afterwards we wandered a bit to Open Baladin, an outlet of a craft brewery from elsewhere in Italy. Nice relaxed setting with friendly bartenders and decent beers, what we soon realized would just be the start of an unexpectedly great craft beer experience in Rome. Knowing we had an early day, with a rainstorm waiting, we decided to forego the usual bar hopping and relax in our flat, which was a good thing, since we witnessed quite the thunderstorm shortly after we'd returned.

Day 2:
So one of the most challenging things about Rome is that there's SO MUCH to see and do. With 6 days, I foolishly thought we'd be able to hit most of it. I don't know why my mind hadn't put Rome in the same category as London, Paris, or New York - cities where you could spend a lifetime trying to see and do everything and never get bored. Especially for fans of ancient history or art, Rome will leave you feeling like the ball in a pinball machine.

I won't go through my travails here, but I realized on Day 1 that we had to make a schedule that worked with the Roma Pass we'd purchased at the airport. I recommend the Roma Pass for 1st time visitors as it absolutely saved us a lot of money, but I hadn't realized how many places required advance reservations even with the Roma pass, add that to closed days and whatnot, assembling each day felt like a jigsaw puzzle and the evening of our first day I essentially laid out our plan (which still ended up changing).

Long story short, we had to have breakfast at the Vatican on Day 2. Because, idiot that I am, I hadn't purchased advance tickets to the Vatican Museum previously, and since it's not included on the Roma Pass we needed to it THAT day so we could hit the Roma Pass sites consecutively. So by the time I went to purchase Vatican Museum passes the night before, the only option available was including an "American style breakfast buffet" at 17 euros per person, in addition to the 17 euros museum ticket. Fine, why not?

It kind of worked out, but man, one thing we do not like doing is getting up at 7:15 a.m. on our first full day of vacation as we found out.

Our bus was late, then mired in traffic, and even skipping pass the crowds that early we still had a 15 minute wait and I was very nervous about figuring out where to go and if we'd make our breakfast on time (and was maybe a little bit hangry). The Vatican museums are confusing so if you've got a timeframe try to figure out where you're going in advance to save some stress. We finally found the "Pinecone" and got to eat our breakfast alone surrounded by tourists. Was it good? Nah. Did I drink my weight in crappy OJ? Hell yeah.

Cont...

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Day 2 cont.
After powdered scrambled eggs, weird sausages and bacon, but at least pancakes with maple syrup (hey, I live in Europe, give me this), we were ready to tackle the Vatican Museums. And it requires a firm tackle, because holy crap, there is So Much. We used the Rick Steves' Audio Guide app, which worked great for me, less great for my husband because the app doesn't show when you've fully downloaded a track, and he hadn't. He might have said some unkind things about our Lord and Savior. But I found the audio guide helpful if not a bit cheesy - that's the brand, right? We took much more time, however, because we're the kind of jerks who want to look at everything. The Greek collection was especially time-consuming. Before we started the museum in earnest, we bought and mailed a few postcards from the little post office right in the museum and a guidebook which didn't provide much more information than the written signage but I guess it's a souvenir.

We took a break for lunch and coffee - the cafe is not great, btw, even as far as museum cafes go - and continued. It's hard to convey the scope and size of this collection, or what a maze it is given how they randomly block things off. We may have jumped a few ropes just to get where we needed to go. We'd planned on trying to sneak into St. Peter's from the Sistine Chapel, but a) those guards weren't having it and b) my husband was art-ed and crowd-ed out.

That's something else I haven't gotten into: the crowds. I haven't really experienced crowds like Rome pretty much anywhere in Europe, let alone in mid-October. The place was manageable inside when we started after breakfast around 9:45, but by 11:00 it was a zoo. Things did calm down a bit by about 3:00 p.m. but it definitely requires a lot of patience. If you can stand getting up early, I'd really recommend paying a little extra for one of the early bird tickets, even in the off season, and having the museum to yourself for a couple hours before the hordes arrive.

I don't want to get too much into the museum itself, but if you have any interest in art or antiquities you'll be pinching yourself constantly. I mean, standing in front of pieces that were explored for 2 hours in art history class is really something else. And the Sistine Chapel - I'd heard people refer to it as disappointing or small, which is crazy. Even with a cranky husband tugging at my sleeve I spent 30 minutes in there and I teared up more than once. It was, literally, one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life.

Then we left to get some beer because wow we needed it, and a rest off our feet. We stopped first at Saxaphone Pub because the name is funny, they had outdoor seating and a kind bartender. Our shared museum sandwich hadn't filled us up too much so we decided to go on to Be.Re., a craft beer pub with a tiny outlet of the now-famous Trapizzino sandwich shop next door. Trapizzino makes little triangle-shaped "pitas" in pizza-bread with fresh special toppings, and combining that with a couple really stellar hazy IPAs was just what we needed. I'd eat a Trapizzino anytime, anywhere, although they're a little messy.

We could have walked 25 minutes back to our hood, but given how much we'd been on our feet that day we decided to take the bus. After relaxing at home we made it as far up our street to the famous beer pub Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, which had both a hazy IPA and a Double IPA on tap that night. I got the former, husband got the latter, and that's what did him in. Our plans for a second stop were over pretty quickly after he'd had a half-liter of delicious 9% beer - and we were exhausted regardless.

Cont.

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2987 posts

Day 3:

Slept in. Lazy breakfast. Adjusted and readjusted the schedule based on our Roma Pass and what was available.

By the time we left our flat at 11:30, I was already hungry for lunch, and since our destination was St. Peter's and our dinner reservation weren't until 18:00, we decided to eat locally. I'd seen a shop advertising pastrami sandwiches with decent reviews but after one of the most baffling encounters with service I'd encountered ("Yes we have pastrami, but no sandwich, only bagel. Yes, I tell the cook, maybe soft bread? But no pastrami, only bagel!" Repeat.) we decided to go into the unassuming little burger joint at Punto Sisto ("Eat.Street.Food" I believe it's called) and it was better than almost any burger we've had in Germany all these years, with a nice craft beer selection to match.

Then it was St. Peters. Again, no need to go into the details: if you go to Rome, you're going to go. Rick Steves' audioguide was really good here (and a little less cheesy, given the site). I was most excited to see where Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor given my interest in the HRE. Anyway, it was stunning.

Afterwards we took the Metro (1st and only time - and our Roma passes didn't work properly with it, go figure, we had to beg some guards to just let us go) to Piazza del Popolo, so we could visit the Santa Maria church there to see two stunning Caravaggio paintings.

Afterwards we'd just missed a tram up into the Flaminio district for dinner, and still had some time to kill, so Google maps recommended a little bar - literally called "Cafe Bar" at the Flaminio train station. I didn't understand why this hole in the wall had such great reviews, but then I spied the apertivio special - glass of house wine for 2 euros with a surprisingly good spread of mini-sandwiches? We'd originally just ordered espressos, but after I saw that in chalk I knew I'd found my place: uppers, downers, and food for a pittance? Friendly staff? I almost didn't want to leave.

But leave we did to take the tram to Bistrot 64, a Michelin-starred restaurant that's reported to be a good value, and at 50 euros for the cheapest tasting menu, it was! The chef is Japanese and the style is modern Italian with some Japanese elements. A splurge for us but we had an incredible and memorable meal for 160 (apertif, bottle of wine, water, and the tasting menu) and left stuffed, which was almost a shame because our early dinner reservation meant we'd made it to the locals bar next door during aptertivo hour, and the bartender was handing out generous bowls of pasta, in addition to bread, cheese, and olives at the bar. But we were so stuffed we couldn't partake of this "free" (for the price of a drink) meal. This neighborhood, which looked nearly abandoned during daytime, really came to life after dark. Walking to the bus station, we passed a gelateria and I decided I had to have a cone, and then it was simply the best pistachio ice cream I'd ever had in my life. I mean, it was the essence of the flavor (and a dull tan, as opposed to a bright green). This might have been the night I fell completely in love with Rome.

We'd missed our bus (or more accurately, walked up to our bus only to watch it pull away while we were clearly about to board, whoops) so we found yet another wine bar - Mosto - nearby for a quick quaff of Barbera wine and of course, some delicious salami offered by the host, on the house, because it just isn't right to enjoy good wine without good food. Why have I not been going to Italy all these years? When we finally made it back to Trastevere, we were sleepy - not surprising!

Posted by
837 posts

Fun writing, Sarah! Hope days 4-6 are coming. Hate to hear they're really guarding that back door of the Sistine Chapel now. I've been sneaking through it since 1970. Now what will I do??

Posted by
2466 posts

Love reading your report, brings back memories. While in the Vatican museum I actually was mesmerized not by the Sistine Chapel but by the other painting in the room - The Last Judgement. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was recently taking a class at my local Church, and there on the wall of the room was a copy. Again I was mesmerized. Art is definitely subjective.

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13490 posts

Looking forward to reviews of your remaining 3 days, Sarah! You've also VERY helpfully highlighted a few important details other new travelers to Rome should be aware of, such as....

I hadn't realized how many places required advance reservations even
with the Roma pass

The Roma Pass dropping Galleria Borghese from the list + requiring advance reservations for the Colosseum were big changes to the pass in 2019. They were significant enough to make the pass not worth the purchase price for all travelers, and there are folks still using outdated information. Also....

I hadn't purchased advance tickets to the Vatican Museum

To avoid long ticket lines, advance, timed-entry tickets or tours are pretty much gotta-dos for the museums. To book the entry slot that works best for you, don't wait until the last minute! To see the Sistine in relative sanity? Book an early-entrance tour (in by 7:30 or so) or even a Friday night opening, when available. And...

We'd planned on trying to sneak into St. Peter's from the Sistine
Chapel, but a) those guards weren't having it

This is actually nothing new but we hear that the guards are more consistently refusing passage access to visitors not on guided tours, as that door has long been reserved just for those. Solution if your time in Rome is short? Book a tour that includes both museums and basilica either through the Vatican itself or an independent company.

Posted by
154 posts

Thank you for taking the time to write your experiences. I’m really enjoying it.

Posted by
681 posts

Your report is great and bringing back such great memories. Thanks

Posted by
2173 posts

Love your report Sarah. I especially like reports where mistakes or ummm, there are learning experiences,

Posted by
958 posts

I can't wait to read the rest of it! Quite an entertaining yet informative report.