I remember it as if it was yesterday – my first visit to Rome. I landed there with my mother, fresh off of whirlwind tour of Paris with just two days to spare en route to Florence, Venice and to the then-relatively known, industrial Italian city of Torino, where I would work and live for the remainder of the spring, all of the summer, and most of fall. I recall many things from that trip; just how small I felt the first time I emerged from the subway in front of the Roman Colosseum, the distracting nature of the hand gestures that seemed to be the answers to my questions asked in broken Italian, the ancient shape of the keys to the apartment that we’d rented for our stay. But above all, I remember the mass confusion that seemed to grip the city, and me in it.
So Rome was the first city I saw in Italy, just the second I had seen in Europe and nothing seemed to make sense; anything having to do with an automobile seemed to be insanity. There wasn’t a salad to be found, anywhere. The bathrooms were always dirty, and out of toilet paper, and my ears were filled – even long after I fell asleep at night – with the humming of scooters. We spent our 48 hours swooping all over the city, soaking up sites and checking off tourist blocks and I recall leaving feeling somewhat relieved, confused, and still curious. Even after all of this to-do-listing, there was a whole side to Rome that I hadn’t seen yet, and though I had no idea just how big the puzzle of Italy was, I had the feeling that Rome was a tremendous piece of it.
Rome is so much more than the Italian capital, and over the years, the more I’ve traveled to Italy and to other places, the more I have come to realize this fact. Rome isn’t just a crazy, bustling, fast-talking, always-eating city.. It’s an eternal one, with a tremendous history, and overwhelming pride, a fascinating, transcendent landscape, a vibrant food culture, and an undeniable electricity all its own. I’ve come to realize, too, that Rome isn’t an odd man out in its constant state of beautiful, delicious chaos. Instead, all of us are nuts for needing and expecting the utmost degree of order an organization.
Nearly 10 years, after that first trip, and of hoping for the chance to go back and just BE in Rome, (instead of floundering there) the opportunity arrived on our most recent trip to Italy. This time around, it was Derek’s first time to Rome and his first time to Italy, so I knew that we’d revisit a few of the places that had left lasting imprints on me so he could create stories, experiences and memories of them himself. But this time, I had a better idea of where to stay, what to do, and how to spend our short amount of time most wisely. As it turned out, the time we had in Rome were some of our most precious of the entire Italian trip. Here’s how we spent 36 Hours in Rome:
Gripping the seats of our taxi cab as he squeezed between busses, down tiny alleys, and around scooters, whizzing us to the doorstep of our hotel in the centro storico (the historic district.) I’d recommend anyone stay at little Hotel Indigo for its’ proximity, comfort, and generously sized, incredibly quiet rooms.
Navigating candlelit alleys near our hotel until we found an open table and a smiling maître d’ at a tiny restaurant we can’t possibly remember the name of. What we do remember, is that the entirety of Piazza Santa Caterina della Rota, (not far from the Campo di Fiori) off which it sat smelled enticing, ensuring us that we couldn’t have made a wrong decision so long as we were sitting to eat.
Wandering back home, past the illuminated Castel Sant’Angelo, where one million tourists seemed to also be attempting to take photographs of the impressive building by night, and yet we felt as if no one saw us slip over the bridge, and into the night.
Waking up the next morning, sipping cappuccino, dipping brioche + watching the historic center wake up in the unique atmosphere of Caffè della Pace, near the Pantheon. This is one of the few remaining historic cafes in the city and is presently being threatened by urban development.
Wandering our way from the historic center to the Colosseum + Roman Forum, taking in the bustling morning sounds + sights of the city as we went. (Tip: purchase tickets ahead of time here, and avoid exhausting, long, day-eating lines!)
Snapping photos, talking about history and making way into up and coming neighborhood of Monti, just north of the Colosseum to peek into the just-opening shops. If you wander around enough, you might find this little boutique, a little market that carries wild carrot honey, and an outlet of one of the best, and certainly the most creative gelateria in Rome; Fatamorgana in Piazza degli Zingari. We had gelato for second breakfast, of course.
Hailing a cab, we wiggled our way back across the city to Piazza del Popolo, where we promptly found quaint and creative Coso to have lunch and watch the world go by. Ask for one of the few tables outside, so that you can engage in the necessary people watching. (This is a proper pass time when in Rome!) and order the cacio e vaniglia with a cocktail.
Burning off our lunch with a nice walk from the piazza to the tremendous walls of the Vatican City. Again, booking tickets online allowed us to pop in to see the Vatican Museums (and specifically the Sistine Chapel) quickly and avoid the lines.
Popping in for a “pausa” (mid-day espresso) via a circuitous route straight past Cafe d’Oro, en route back to the centro storico, with the intention of stopping by Pasticceria DeBellis on the way to pick up edible souvenirs: hazelnut shortbread, dipped chocolates, and a few other treats.
Resting our feet, taking in the view over cocktails from the rooftop of our hotel, recuperating for dinner.
Swinging past the throngs of tourists at the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain en route to one of the most memorable dinners of our lives at Al Moro. The waiter wasn’t at all surprised when I took a photograph of the menu, still created with a typewriter on a daily basis – the way it has been since the restaurant opened in 1929. The wine list is equally impressive with nearly 700 pages of noteworthy bottles from all over the world, all handwritten. Along with fresh porcini, tiny wild strawberries, and baby octopus, we had the marinated artichokes, pasta alla amatriciana, and the pasta al Moro (their fabulous carbonara,) and would fly back around the world to have it again tonight.
Our last waking hours in Rome were spent deciding on ice cream flavors at Rome’s oldest gelateria – Giolitti. Ten years ago, my mother and I occupied a table here and enjoyed a sundae, taking in the late afternoon as passagiata began. Derek and I nearly closed the place down with a handful of boisterous Romans, who also couldn’t decide what flavor to have, and we enjoyed our cones all the way back to our hotel.
Of all the gelato that we had on this trip, we agree that those last cones were the best. But, we agree too that next time we return to Rome, we’re willing to attempt to find something even better!
Next time, I’d like to find some local running routes. And more spots to assemble a picnic. As well as some local craft beer (which it seems we really have to get out of the city for.) Any suggestions? Send them my way – I’ll be back for you Rome. -xo L