After the tranquil small towns of Tuscany, we headed where all roads lead to: Rome.
Leaving sweet Volterra behind, we took a local bus to Saline. From there, we caught a tiny two-car only train to Cecina. And finally, we linked to a bigger train en route to Rome. As with any approaching arrival, we found ourselves wondering where we’d be laying our heads that night.
Luckily, it only took 15 minutes to find Hotel Giamaica, a humble little guesthouse run by an Italian mother and her adult son, Antonio. After checking in, she treated us to oranges in her kitchen and warned us of pervasive pickpockets. Her curious dog, Kika, sniffed at our feet.
After settling in, we opted for the “Dolce Vita” stroll recommended in our Rick Steves’ guidebook for our first outing in “The Eternal City.” Walking down the busy main drag of Via Nazionale to Piazza Venezia, we eventually met up with the monstrous Victor Emmanuel II Monument looming over the buzzing cars below. Emmanuel was Italy’s first king and the somewhat gaudy monument was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Italy’s unification (1870).
From there, we headed up popular shopping street, Via del Corso. It was late afternoon, the time when everyone begins to gather for the pre-dinner evening stroll. We also participated in another tradition: pre-dinner gelato.
Because why wait until after dinner to have dessert?
Arriving at Piazza del Popolo, we took in the central obelisk brought to Rome by Emperor Augustus after he conquered Egypt as a symbol of power. Over 2,000 years old and still standing in modern times. Nearby, we passed the massive, round brick Mausoleum of Augustus and his Altar of Peace, then made our way down to the Tiber River. The tranquility of water flowing through such a bustling city reminded us of the Seine in Paris. A steadfast constant over the passage of time.
Eventually, we made our way up Via Condotti where the famed Spanish Steps came into view. A popular gathering place (and the widest stairway in Europe), we joined the locals sitting on the steps and watched the world go by. Sadly, the city has decided to ban people from sitting on the steps. In our minds, this is a travesty as it’s one of the most quintessential experiences in Rome. Hopefully, they will change their minds. Below the steps, it’s hard to miss La Barcaccia, a fountain shaped as a half-sunken ship and powered by an aqueduct. Like all of Rome’s fountains, it provides drinking water just as it did centuries ago.
Later that week, we learned about Greek and Roman history and art at the National Museum in the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. A well-organized museum, it provided an overview of each emperor’s reign through the Roman Empire, featuring works of art, mostly sculpture, with detailed descriptions. Our favorites included Augustus Caesar, The Prince, The Boxer and The Discus Thrower.
In a word, the amount of sights in Rome is overwhelming.
One of our favorite landmarks was the Pantheon. According to Rick Steves, the Pantheon provides “the greatest look at the splendor of Rome… antiquity’s best-preserved interior.” It’s true, it’s an amazing feat of architecture. To this day, it stupefies architects who aren’t sure it could even be replicated using the same materials from 2,000 years ago. So many interesting features including the oculus (hole) in its giant dome. It also remains the largest unsupported dome in the world.
But Rome wasn’t all just sightseeing. Every night, we enjoyed gelato from various gelatarias. Giolitti, Rome’s most famous ice cream parlor provided the biggest bang for our buck. Two euros got us three generous scoops of delicious homemade gelato. Possibilities were endless, but my personal favorite was White Chocolate, Pistachio and Raspberry. Mmmmmmm.
With our handy Roma Pass transport card, we quickly zipped around town, saving time and getting a glimpse into everyday life. One morning, we made the mistake of traveling on the subway during the rush hour commute. Definitely not for the faint of heart… or anyone who might be the slightest claustrophobic. And speaking of crowds, nothing could have prepared us for the lineup in Vatican City. But that’s a whole other story…
On our last night, we took the subway to the Barberini stop to see the Trevi Fountain by night. Despite the ever-present tourists, it was still breathtaking. We made sure to do the obligatory coin toss over our shoulder to ensure we’d return to Rome some day. Guess what? It worked.
All in all, Rome does not disappoint. The Italian capital effortlessly blends its ancient past with cosmopolitan flair. At times, it must be a burden to house all those ruins. But how unique to have the opportunity to walk through the same grounds as Julius Caesar. Rome truly is the best of both worlds.