After my first taste of Italy back in February, I decided to check out more of the south with my wonderful friend, Nabil. I started off with 5 great days in the bustling and beautiful Roma!
I arrived in Rome 2 days before Nabil, and wanting to save the big sights for us to do together, I headed outside the city to Ostia Antica on my first day. Ostia Antica is a Roman ruins site from 2-6 A.D. (according to the poorly written info signs placed around the area). It’s very similar to Pompeii and even has its own amphitheatre. I was pretty blown away by Ostia Antica; it was like an ancient Roman playground! So many of the ruins were still in tact and visitors were free to climb all over them and explore. The best part was after walking past the few school groups, I pretty much had the whole place to myself!
The next day I decided to check out some ruins closer to Rome. I walked down Via Nazionale, taking the time to check out clothing stores, see a National Geographic exhibit at the art museum, and, of course, get gelato. At the end of the street I found Il Vitorriano and more ruins. It was so cool to see these giant pillars and crumbling walls just in the middle of a busy city square.
Once Nabil joined me, we set off straight away to the most famous sight in Rome: the Colosseum! I had caught a view of it from the balconies of Il Vittoriano, but the structure up close was much more impressive. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait in a massive line to get in. Once inside, I think we were both pretty amazed to be walking around such an iconic place. But, to be honest, it wasn’t as spectacular as I thought it was going to be. I imagined it a lot bigger, and maybe with a gladiator or two 😉
Our Colosseum tickets also got us into the Roman Forum & Palantine Hill ruins next door. We walked over and had a great time exploring gardens and walking around some really cool pillars and archways. One of our best finds was an orange tree grove that smelt delicious (we were pretty hungry by then). The Forum was surprisingly empty, so again it felt like we had this bit of history all to ourselves. I think I preferred it to the Colosseum!
The next morning we managed to find the perfect North American breakfast. It was hands-down the best breakfast I’ve had in months and such a surprise to find in Rome. The best parts were the chocolate chip pancakes with butter rum syrup, authentic sausage and fresh squeezed red orange juice!
Heading off to more sights, we stopped at the Spanish Steps (of Roman Holiday fame). Luckily, our route spat us out at the top of the steps, so we only needed to bypass tourists and street vendors on the way down, instead of up. Apparently, they are the widest steps in Europe!
The steps lead us to….the Trevi Fountain! The Lizzie McGuire movie scene (where she throws in her penny, and then meets an Italian pop star) was the first thing that came to mind. The fountain was my favourite sight in Rome. It was so exciting to come around the corner and see so many people bustling around this GIANT fountain. It’s way bigger than I thought it would be and all of the statues are way more intricate and impressive. Nabil and I gleefully threw our lucky pennies into the water! 1 penny means you will come back to Rome, 2 pennies mean you will find love in the eternal city.
But our greatest find in Rome came right after Trevi. We had read about this gelato place hidden around the corner from the fountain. After passing the street a few times, we finally stumbled into San Crispino. The gelato was homemade, organic and extremely unique. We both chose Seville Orange and Caramel Meringue as our flavours.
And then we had our first bites….I have never been literally brought to tears over food, until now. This was, without a doubt, the best gelato I have ever tasted. It was like you were actually eating oranges! We couldn’t stop exclaiming about how good the gelato was, right down until the last melted morsel had been licked up. We spent the rest of the day pitying tourists who were obviously eating less superior gelato and comparing every good thing to Seville Orange-level amazing (“but is it as good as Seville Orange?”).
Next sight: the Pantheon! The building from outside was impressive but the ceiling inside was even cooler! It was also a great opportunity for us to rest our legs by taking a seat and just craning our necks to take in the place.
We popped into a few more churches, strolled through some piazzas, got gelato (again) and ended up in this tiny pizza place that was home to “arguably the best pizza in Rome” (according to our guidebook). It was really cool to see the pizzas being prepared and cooked right in front of us. Plus, it set us up for our coming pizza-tour through Naples!
Our last day in Rome was mainly consumed with a long and crowded, yet breathtaking and informative, tour of the Vatican. I was mainly blown away with how much there was to see….and by how many people were there to see it! We got to see the extensive art collection in the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. To be honest, the Sistine Chapel was not as awesome as I thought it would be. It came pretty late in the tour and was ruined by the hoards of people, many of whom were being told off for talking or trying to take photos. I personally thought a lot of the other parts were more impressive – like the Raphael rooms and St Peter’s Basilica.
After an exhausting 3+ hours in Vatican City we relaxed with delicious sandwiches, another round of gelato and a nap! That afternoon we walked across the river and got to see more ruins, more churches and an island in the middle of the Tiber. The coolest part about Rome is that it manages to be a modern, functioning city that just happens to house all of these awesome ancient relics. As a local, you could be walking to work and just happen to pass an insanely well-preserved piece of history – how cool!
After Rome we headed south for 3 days in Napoli and then I went solo for 2 days along the Amalfi Coast. Next post will wrap up that leg of the trip with a strong emphasis on food & coastal views 🙂
Side note: I came across this amazing comic about young women not letting fear stop them from travelling – a fact I hugely advocate for. Because in this “big scary world full of strangers”, I have been helped way more times than I been hurt.