When in Rome


Roman Forum
The Temple of Saturn – The columns were part of the Roman Forum’s oldest temple dating back to 497 B.C.

When my friend Thea and I traveled to Europe 19 years ago for a study abroad program, I couldn’t wait to visit France. I had studied the language through high school into college. We stayed in Paris for a few days, before making our way to Florence.

France was great. But when we arrived in Italy, I fell in love. Despite the country being a bit gritty, with strange smells, stray dogs and cats everywhere, the relentless catcalls, pressure to buy things when walking through the markets, I loved Italy. (A lot of this seems to have changed, by the way, Italy seems cleaner. The stray animal problem has virtually disappeared and the strays that you do see appear very well fed.)

Even though I kind of miss the Italy I first met, the art, the history, the food, the wine, and the laid back vibe, that all remains the same.


What brought us back to Italy last October was a conference that Thea was attending in Rome. Why not plan a trip around the conference? Matt and I, and Brian, whom Thea married in the midst of planning the trip, boarded a plane and met Thea in Rome.

I’ve had the same experience every time I have been to Rome. I spend the first day terrified to cross the street. Eventually I realize that I just have to cross and the traffic will stop for me. And then I spend the rest of the time in awe of the remnants of ancient Rome.

We spent 3 days and 4 nights in Rome. Thea put together a fabulous itinerary for us. Between her plans and Rick Steves Italy travel guide (affiliate link) we maximized our time in the city without feeling overwhelmed.

Our first morning in Rome, we woke up to a steady rain. A little reluctant to head out, we lingered over breakfast before walking over to Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum, slowly making our way over to the Colosseum. Too slowly though, the wait to access the interior of the Colosseum was long. You can purchase tickets in advance or get there early, but we were jet lagged, not thinking clearly, and that’s our excuse.

A sculpture depicting Romulus and Remus, representing the founding of Rome.

When we finally made it to the front of the queue, and entered through the metal detectors (Which are in most museums, by the way.), Matt was stopped because he had his pocket knife. He couldn’t enter with it, of course, and he didn’t want to throw it away, so he waited for us outside. But don’t worry, he and Brian came back on a different morning. They arrived at the Colosseum when it opened and walked right in without having to wait.

On the left, the Arch of Constantine, built to celebrate the emperor, and on the right, the Colosseum.
The Colosseum was built in the year 80. What you see in the middle is underground passages. There was a wooden floor covering this as you can see a small portion that was reconstructed on the far side of the arena.
The Colosseum – There were 50,000 seats with 76 entrances in the Colosseum. It was built so efficiently, it took only 15 minutes for an entire crowd to exit.
The Colosseum hosted all kinds of yucky battles involving animals and criminals, but of course the main event was the gladiators.
The Colosseum

Later in the evening, after dining on gnocchi with pesto, we relaxed on our hotel patio with a box of wine. Later, we ventured out to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps.

Even the boxed wine tastes good in Italy!
The Pantheon – A Roman temple dedicated to all the gods. It was originally built in 27 B.C. and later rebuilt in 120. (Also, way later it was turned into a Christian church, which is great because it would have otherwise been torn down.)
The Pantheon – The coolest part of the Pantheon is the oculus, an almost 30 foot opening in center of the domed roof. It provides the only light source. It’s hard to visualize the dome or the oculus in these images, so you should check it out in person, it’s free to enter. Oh, and Raphael is buried in there.
Trevi Fountain. Yep, selfie sticks are still a thing. And my how they’ve grown.
Trevi Fountain – (1762) This is where everyone hangs out. Here and the Spanish Steps. If you don’t like crowds, visit the Trevi Fountain in the morning so you can enjoy it. You can also go through the tradition of throwing a coin into the fountain, ensuring a return trip to Rome.

Our next stop was dinner at a fabulous place recommended by our friend Rick Steves. Antica Enoteca.

Antica Enoteca – I had Pasta alla Carbonara

After an amazing meal, we needed to stretch our legs. We walked along the Tiber River towards Vatican City.

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Tiber River.
Castel Sant’ Angelo – The tomb of Hadrian turned castle turned museum.
Vatican City

The following morning we were up early for our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums. If you have ever been to Rome than you know how insanely long the lines can get for these tours. If you value your time, even a little bit, sign up for this early access group tour.

St. Peter’s Square
Inside the Vatican Museums. There are 4 miles of museum to explore (what?!), including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Vatican Museums
St. Peter’s Basilica – This dome is 448 feet from the floor to the very top.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Michelangelo’s Pieta is inside St. Peter’s Basilica. I love this sculpture – it is so beautiful. Michelangelo was 24 years old when this statue was completed. (In the year 1500!)

I feel like this is also a good time to bring up the “dress code” while visiting many of Italy’s churches. Bare shoulders and bare knees are not allowed. We are well versed in this, there are signs everywhere and guidebooks give you lots of reminders, but we did see people turned away from places like the Vatican and the Duomo in Florence after having waited in line.

For over 500 years, the Swiss Guard has kept watch over Vatican City, they’ve also kept their Renaissance attire!
There are 140 saints dotting the top of the buildings in St. Peter’s Square. They are each about 10 feet tall and were chosen by Bernini, the architect who designed the square.

The whole Vatican experience is definitely a sensory overload. I recommend leaving time for a nap afterwards. And then having a glass of boxed wine on your hotel patio.

For dinner that evening, we wanted to try a restaurant close to where we were staying. We were intrigued by the metal garage door covering the entrance with the restaurant hours written in masking tape.

Who knew it would be so cute… And so delicious!

Anima Mundi – this is what the restaurant looks like when it’s open. Cute, right?
Anima Mundi
Anima Mundi – Here we had Pappardelle with Ragu and Tiramisu…and Lemoncello

The next morning we ate an extremely light breakfast in anticipation of a food tour. The Roman Food tour. It was informative and fun, and so, so good. We ate cannoli, pizza, cheese, eggplant parm, caprese salads, cured meats, ravioli, gnocchi, calamari, and gelato.

La Pasticceria Siciliana. A cannoli isn’t a true cannoli unless it’s filled on the spot, right before you eat it.
Pizzeria Bonci – we chose 8 different kinds to split!
The Trionfale Market
The Trionfale Market – I promise this is not my shopping cart.
The Trionfale Market
The Trionfale Market – Yep, we graduated from boxed wine to wine from these giant vats. Much classier.
The Trionfale Market – At 1.70 Euro/liter, 4 liters cost us around $8.50 USD.
Al Giardino del Gatto e la Volpe
Tough decisions at Fatamorgana Gelato. I usually go for crema and something chocolatey or crema and something fruity. It depends on my mood and the time of day. Here we tried, crema, fruit punch, banana with sesame brittle, raspberry, lemon, and white wine.

In our food coma, we walked back towards our hotel along the Tiber. Rome is a very walkable city – if you’re willing to put in the miles. I recommend those miles because you will eat a lot in Rome.

Along the Tiber River

We had a couple of hours to tour the Roman Forum before they closed the gates.

The Roman Forum – This is Rome. This is where it all began around 500 B.C.
The courtyard of the House of the Vestal Virgins. The six Vestal Virgins were chosen at a very young age. They came from noble families and were expected to serve a 30 year term. During this term, they performed their sacred duties, including keeping the sacred flame alive! Because as long as the fire burned, Rome would stand. After 30 years, if the virgins remained virgins, they were allowed to marry and they were given a dowry. These ladies were pretty important, they even had box seats in the Colosseum!
The Temple of Vesta – This is where the sacred flame burned, tended by the Vestal Virgins.
The Temple of Romulus
The Basilica of Constantine – Not really a church, more like a place to sort out legal matters.
Detail of the Basilica of Constantine
Santa Francesca Romana
The Temple of Antonius Pius and Faustina – This temple was built by the Senate to honor the Emperor Antonius Pius and his wife.
The Temple of Antonius Pius and Faustina – See the rope marks at the top of the columns? This was one of the many buildings that was ransacked in medieval times. What you see there is a failed attempt to pull those columns down.

And then we sipped a glass of wine before returning to the Imperial Forums for a sound and light show. I know it sounds corny, but these light shows are extremely well done. You have a choice between Caesar or Augustus. And for about an hour, you stroll through the grounds and a few buildings while listening to a recording while things are projected on the walls. It truly brings ancient Rome to life. Here’s the website: www.viaggioneifori.it

Imperial Forums
Imperial Forums
Imperial Forums
Imperial Forums

There is so much to do in Rome. There is so much history, and art, and gelato. If you visit, make sure you give yourself enough time to do all the things you want to do. While some of the popular spots can be overwhelmed by tourists, there are many ways to avoid the crowds. Book as much as you can in advance and visit the popular spots early in the morning.

Next stop: Sorrento!

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Want more Italy? Check out these posts: Italy in Pictures Part One and Part Two

6 thoughts

  1. WOW!!! What beautiful pictures you took……very impressive!!!! I loved the whole thing, makes me so want to see all these things in person! GREAT JOB!!!!!

    Sent from my iPad



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