Our Roman Holiday

After much discussion, we commemorated our second wedding anniversary this year with five days/nights in Rome, Italy.  It could not have been more wonderful.  This trip marked my second visit (I was there back in 2005) and Jim’s first.  Since moving to France, we had been avoiding trips to Italy.  Jim didn’t want me to have to revisit places I’d already been.  After explaining returning to Rome would be a treat and not something I’d have to do, we set out on planning an amazing vacation, chock full of events and activities that were new to both of us.

Our trip began with a quick flight from Toulouse (where we ran into a few of Jim’s coworkers who were moving back to the USA), arriving in Rome just after lunchtime.  We caught a cab, which dropped us off just outside our B&B in Trastevere (which translates to beyond the Tiber) where we were met by the owner who gave us tips on the best ways to get around/see the city.  The B&B was quiet and a nice walk to just about all the sights.  Our favorite part was staying in an area where more of the locals live.

We dropped off our things and decided we’d grab a quick bite to eat on our way to see Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon.  We crossed Ponte Garibaldi and stopped at a pizza shop aptly named Pizza Time not too far from the Campo dei Fiori (though we didn’t realize there were all those other food options at the time so close by).  We each ate a tasty slice and slowly proceeded to our first stop – Piazza Navona.

We meandered through the streets and stopped to take in the architecture and ruins along the way.  We first arrived at Largo di Torre Argentina.  Upon first view you can tell this is Roman ruins (4 temples, actually), but upon further inspection it doubles as a cat sanctuary (sadly, though, I can’t see any of the cats in the photo…but there were TONS in there).  We probably passed this almost every day we were there.

From there we took a left and made our way toward Piazza Navona, my favorite square in all of Rome.  When I first visited Rome, this was one of the first places I visited (so it seemed fitting for it to also be the first for Jim).  It was the evening, there was a drum circle, the fountains were lit with purple and green lights, and everyone was dancing.  It was intoxicating.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t exactly the case on a weekday afternoon in October.  But, it’s still gorgeous with the Neptune Fountain (below, bottom) and the Fountain of the Four Rivers & obelisk (below, top 2)

From here we continued on toward the Pantheon, a temple to “all” the gods of ancient Rome.  This is one of my favorite Roman buildings.  For one, it is absolutely HUGE (photo of me hugging one of the columns later), but it’s also an engineering feat (it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete domes and has an irrigation system to account for the oculus [those little holes by our feet]).  The engineering and architecture of this building amazes me.

I think one of Jim’s favorite parts was putting all his Latin schooling into practice.  He read the inscription, “M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT” and translated it to say, “M Agrippa son of Lucius made [this building] when consul for the third time.”  If you’re planning to visit, we were told this will be a pay for entry spot starting in 2018.

From there we walked over to the Trevi Fountain or the fountain where three roads meet.  This is probably the coolest fountain I’ve ever seen, and it’s definitely the largest.    I’ve never seen the movie, Three Coins in the Fountain, but I LOVE La Dolce Vita (wouldn’t it be fun to go wading in that fountain?).  So the story goes, coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder.  If you thrown them in, you’re destined to return (I threw mine in 2005).  You can see Jim throwing the coins from his right hand, but over his right shoulder (I blame this on slow Internet there).

You can’t see it from the photos I took, but this place was an absolute zoo and incredibly crowded.  All levels and spots were covered with people.  It’s estimated about 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day with over $1.5M thrown in 2016 (!).

From here we looked around for a place to get gelato (we found a spot close to the Pantheon) and enjoyed it while hiding from the rain.  We leisurely strolled back toward our B&B, passing a few other landmarks like the Vittorio Emmanuelle (above, right), another monument we passed at least once/day.

That night we had a dinner reservation at Casa Coppelle.  It was delicious.  We brought our fancy, dining out game with us to Rome and on our first night we both dressed up in our Sunday best for a tasty, Roman tasting menu.  The food was all delicious (we were both stuffed), but if you’re looking for an amazing cocktail – look no further than the bar there.  We each had a gin cocktail that would knock anyone’s socks off/convert anyone into a lover of gin.

After dinner, we decided to retrace our steps from that afternoon and see how the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain looked all lit up at night.  I’d recommend visiting the Trevi Fountain at night, as it’s about 1/16 of the crowd and the water glows in the most wonderful way.

The Pantheon is equally stunning at night, though you cannot go in (one reason to go during the day).  But, all the ropes are removed and you can walk more freely around the building.  You can see me hugging a column & Jim touching the bricks (something he did as often as he could).

The next morning we had tickets to see The Roman Forum/Palatine Hill, complete with audio guides.  As you can see from the photos below, the gray skies from day one were completely replaced with beautiful blue skies.  We wandered past the Vittorio Emmanuelle on our way to the Forum, and it’s amazing how pretty that area is in all times of day.

We got our tickets for the Forum outside the entrance, but were directed to pick up our audioguides inside the Colosseum.  We thought this was strange, but followed the instructions (in hind sight – it’s not possible to buy the Roman Forum audioguide online, beforehand.  You have to buy it inside the Forum…but it did mean a free tour with an audio guide of the Colosseum for that afternoon), which added some additional walking and confusion, but got us a little closer to the audio guide station (where the woman working spoke at least 5 languages fluently – Italian, French, German, English, Spanish…it was insanely impressive to watch/hear.)

Once inside the Forum we had three hours to explore to our heart’s content (with the audioguides, without you can spend all day if you want).  I wish I could remember more specifically what each building (below) was/is, but I cannot.  I will say, though, that many of them were remnants of churches or areas where sacrifices took place…and often those places were also the site of the bank/treasury, which we found interesting.  One spot I do remember is the area dedicated to the Vestal Virgins (I just kept singing “Whiter Shade of Pale” in my head while we were walking around) and the remains of the Temple of Saturn.

I think the best view was easily from up above, on Palatine Hill (see below).  Here you can really get a feel for how tight the streets were, how tall the buildings, and what it could’ve been like so many years ago.  It’s wild to think we were walking exactly where Julius Cesar and others had once walked.  It’s just something you never think you’ll be able to do when learning about the Roman Empire in school.

At about the 3 hour mark, I was starting to get hungry, and we cut the Palatine tour a little short (I’m sorry, Jim).  We returned our audioguides and quickly found a spot where we could eat a little lunch.  We decided to head back toward the Colosseum and walked up above the metro station to some of the spots that had a good view.  We both ate pizza (though it was called foccacia) with some cider.  It was perfect, and I felt 100 percent rejuvinated.

With that, we decided we’d take a tour of the Colosseum, as well (we bought tickets for a night tour).  This is where I’ll say the Colosseum was infinitely more crowded in October of 2017 than it was in late May of 2005, which shocked me a lot.  There were so many people EVERYWHERE.

With our audioguide tickets, we were able to walk around the first and second floors, with limited vantage points for various areas.  Still, though, it’s an amazing place to explore.  The seating arrangements are interesting inside, as many of the original seats were wooden (where all women but the vestal virgins sat) and are no longer there.  One of the coolest things we saw was the Senator’s seats (top, second from the left), where their names were etched in the stone.  I think it’s also incredibly neat to see the underground portions (there was a wooden floor covered in sand to absorb the blood, etc.) and tunnels.  It’s hard to stand there and not think of Spartacus or Gladiator .  It’s such a wild feeling.

We then started our walk back to our hotel, passing through the Arch of Constantine (the one you think of most often, and probably in the best shape) on our way to Circus Maximus.  We sat looking up at this arch for at least 15 minutes, just wondering what it must’ve been like in all its glory.

From there we walked alongside Palatine Hill (from the street), turning once we reached Circus Maximus, which today  is not much more than a giant grassy field.  I’ve seen Ben Hur at least a few dozen times, and it’s just so fun to stand at various points and see him charging along with his chariot of Arabian horses.  We joked people who lived on Palatine Hill could’ve just watched from their homes.

That evening we had a wine tasting dinner planned with Forno Roscioli.  This was probably one of the best dinner/tasting events I’ve ever attended.  It was all in English, but led by two sommeliers (Alessandro & Lindsay).  There were 30-40 people in the restaurant (all seated at large tables).  We were sandwiched between some Irish tourists as well as a few folks from the Bay Area.  The night consisted of us trying 7 or 8 wines, all paired with local dishes/ingredients.  We started with a trio of mozzarella (some of the best I’ve ever had), moved on to various cured meats, tasty pasta, fancy tiramisu, etc.  It was heaven and such a treat to get to talk to so many other travelers as well as the sommeliers (Alessandro let me try some Italian beer as well as some orange Italian wine and a fancy Chardonnay…and Lindsay and I chatted about Zingermans as well as SOMM and how she knows a few of the guys in it).  What’s even more interesting is that this spot wasn’t open to the public yet (when it is, I bet it’ll be CRAZY busy).  At the end of the night we had an opportunity to buy some of the wines we drank (we LOVED 2 of them) and even join their wine club (they ship all over the world).  If we lived in Rome, I would go here ALL the time and desperately want to be friends with both of them.

Our third day started a little later, as it was the only day we didn’t have something scheduled to go see in the morning.  This morning we decided to try out some Italian coffee at Caffe Sant’Eustachio.  This was a crazy experience.  First, you enter into a small coffee shop – there are people on the right where you pay and get a ticket.  You then hand your ticket to folks making your coffee on the left.  What I didn’t say is that this coffee shop is packed to the gills like it’s Black Friday – it’s absolute mayhem.  Jim ordered a latte (or a cappuccino) with these little Italian donuts while I ordered a hot chocolate and croissant.  My hot chocolate was amazing and Jim said his coffee was OK.  The real star, though, was the Italian croissant.  It’s similar to a French croissant, but there is a glaze on top that is just amazing (it was also piping hot).  I’m convinced it’s an apricot glaze, but Jim thinks it’s just a plain sugar glaze.  Regardless, we ordered two more on our way out.

From there we decided to finally visit the Vittorio Emanuele Monument or the Alter of the Fatherland.  This monument was built in tribute to Victor Emanuel II, the first King to rule over a unified Italy.  In 2005 I was told Americans & Canadians think this looks like a typewriter, a wedding cake, and even teeth.  I think it’s just a gorgeous monument.  I took a number of photos of Victor Emanuel II on the horse, as I think it’s fascinating to understand just how large both he and the horse are.  Victor has a mustache (couldn’t get a good photo of it) and said mustache is 1 meter wide.  And that horse he’s sitting on?  It’s so big that a crew of something like 10 people who were working on the building (architects, masons, etc) were able to dine inside of it!  How wild is that?

We had passed this monument more than a handful of times since we arrived, and each time I commented to Jim that I had climbed up all the steps back in 2005.  What I didn’t realize, however, was that in 2006 they opened up the roof to visitors.  We noticed that while we were in the Forum and decided we’d head over for some views of the city.  It’s too bad it was such a gray day, but evenso the view of the Forum & Colosseum was amazing.  While up there we also started to look for other landmarks and were pretty proud of ourselves that we found The Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc.

Next we decided to check out The Spanish Steps (below).  It was a bit of a gross day, so I was totally surprised to see how packed the area was, but excited there wasn’t any scaffolding up (it was covered in 2005).  We climbed up and back down before finding an English pub where Jim could watch at least some of the Browns game (they were up for the first quarter, maybe even the first half…and we met a guy in the bar who lived in Akron for at least 20 years!).

We had opera tickets that night (more on that in another post), so around halftime we started to make our way back to Trastevere to get cleaned up and eat a proper meal (and maybe take a nap/relax).  We decided we’d grab a quick bite at a restaurant near our B&B (where I think the waiter was a little sweet on me) then caught a cab over to the Teatro dell’Opera to see La Traviata.  It was a magical evening filled with some interesting driving (we 100 percent do not want to ever drive in Italy) along with wonderful performances.

The next morning we had tickets to tour the Vatican Museums (and the Sistine Chapel) as well as Peter’s Basilica and the following morning the Vatican Gardens.  More on that in a post on The Vatican.  But that afternoon (Post Vatican visit) we had lunch at Open Baladin, an amazing burger and beer spot (SO much beer on tap).  Jim had an Italian Pumpkin ale while I drank an Italian sour (both were so tasty).  These were probably the best burgers we’ve had in Europe and served with homemade potato chips (we got traditional & cacio e pepi – YUM).  I can’t think of a much better place to rest our feet than in an amazing pub with fantastic beer.

A late lunch (I think we were there at 3 or 4pm) meant we’d be ready to go for our night tour of the Colosseum.  We decided to walk to the Colosseum from our B&B and were amazed to find the streets by the Forum and Colosseum near empty (aside from some street performers) and tickled to see the Romans projecting imagery on the buildings at night.  This is probably one of my favorite night walks, ever.  It just feels like it’s Rome, but slowed down and less hectic.

We had a little trouble figuring out where we should go, but eventually found our tour group and stepped into the Colosseum, where it was so quiet I swear you could’ve heard a pin drop.  Having been there in the middle of the afternoon a few days earlier – this experience could not have been more different.  The tour was about 30 people, and I’d wager there were probably 5 or so tours a night, separated by about 30 minutes.  So, we were the ONLY people in an area at any given time.  We were able to walk around and see the Colosseum in all its glory without it being covered in tourists.  It was amazing.

Our guide was equally informative, so much so that the audioguide we had from the day before was pretty useless.  In the above photo you can see us on the main platform/stage with great views to the level below before we passed through what was essentially referred to as the “murder door” (I can’t remember the real name), where all of the slain gladiators and animals were dragged after competition.

From there we were led downstairs!  In a million years I didn’t think we’d ever be able to walk around below.  This, we were told, was some of the best preserved areas of the Colosseum and most recently excavated (that’s why the stones are the whitest).  We were also able to see the pully system in place that was used to transport animals from below to the platform/stage for the fights.

We then stopped at the steps (above), which are noted to be some of the oldest in Rome.  From there we went up the levels (same as the audioguide tour), but were also able to tour through the “museum,” where there were models of how it looked throughout history.  That’s something we wished there was more of throughout Rome – models or images of models depicting how it would’ve looked when intact.  This had been a colosseum, a quarry, as well as a plan for a church (to me, that one was the craziest notion).  One thing we noticed/heard a lot concerned Christian persecution.  Everyone wanted us to be clear that the Colosseum was never a place of Christian persecution.

All that history got us hungry for gelato, which we found closer to our neighborhood in Trastevere – Gelateria del Viale.  This might be the best gelato I’ve ever had (though I’ve honestly never had gelato I thought was bad or even just OK) and the portions were hefty (my favorite kind).

Our last day of explorations was also our anniversary.  We started off with a visit of the Vatican Gardens and ended with the most special anniversary dinner at La Pergola.  Jim had made the reservation months earlier, and it was set to be our first 3 Michelin Star dining experience.  We got all dressed up for the third time in 5 days – me in a floral dress and heels, Jim in slacks and the jacket of his wedding suit (plus his wedding cufflinks and tie).  I regret we didn’t have someone take our photo, as we were dressed to impress.  More on that dinner in another post, as well.

The following morning we said our goodbyes to Rome and set off for the airport.  Luckily we both threw our coins in the Trevi Fountain, so I’m confident this won’t be our last trip.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate two years of marriage than in Roma (Amor, backwards) with Jim.

 

 

 

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