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Published: March 5th 2016
Despite popular belief, not every fight ended in a gladiator's death
When in Rome, do as the tourists do. Sounds like terrible advice, but it's inevitable in the Eternal City. Life's too short to live like a travel guru who denounces "tourist traps," because if you're searching for an off-the-beaten-path itinerary, you probably should've looked at a tiny cave in Kenya or a Bill Cosby slumber party. In fact, the "All Roads Lead to Rome" phrase comes from a time when every street in the Empire was directed towards this city, hence its title of the "World's Capital." So skip the hipster method of eating insects and showering in rivers to get an "authentic" travel experience, because when in Rome, buy gelato by the liter, pasta by the meter, and pizza by the kilo.
This is far from proclaiming gelato, pasta, and pizza are the only things to try in Rome, but when one of the world's best gelaterias is located here, when locals gorge on their favorite pasta dish of cacio e pepe, and when pizza was invented just south of here, it'd be blasphemous not to. And just like the locals, use any method besides a car to get to and around town; the ZTLs here are quite extensive
Attending the Papal Audience in St.Peter's Square in front of the world's largest Christian church
and the suicidal tendencies of Italian drivers make driving worse than voting for Trump.
To get to the city, book a train ticket online either through TrenItalia (www.trenitalia.com) or Italotreno (www.italotreno.it/en). Look for the high-speed frecciarossa or frecciargento, not the slower regionale trains. Our round-trip tickets from Florence's Santa Maria Novella to Roma Termini (the most central station) were Є37/person and took 1.5 hours, whereas driving would've been fatal and cost Є170 (Є50 tolls + Є100 gas + Є20 parking).
Once in town, use the public transit system, which is the simplest we've seen in Europe. The metro only has two lines that run like an "X" through the city, so buy a Є1.50 BIT Standard Ticket that allows access for a 1-way trip of any distance. Our group's first rule of order was to take Line A to the Vatican for the weekly Papal Audience in St.Peter's Square. The Pope doesn't wait for anyone, but was kind enough to allow late attendees like us to listen to his sermon in a dozen different languages. This event is usually held in the auditorium, but the nice weather allowed them to move it outdoors to accommodate what looked like
The famous spiral staircase exiting the museums
10,000 people. We then got some lunch at Pastasciutta (5 Via della Grazie), which was arguably the best pasta I had in Italy. This no-frills eatery makes fresh pasta to-order, with simple decor and disposable plates/utensils. I tried the carbonara while Kristina got the cacio e pepe, both beautifully drenched in a creamy sauce with a chewy texture, something we enjoyed al fresco.
After lunch, we returned to the Vatican to visit their Museums, widely considered one of the world's best. In retrospect, the Є16 admission was solely to see the Sistine Chapel at the end of the tour, which for all the grandeur and aura surrounding it, was a bit disappointing. That doesn't detract from the painstaking effort Michelangelo put into painting this masterpiece, but I've seen abstract art more aesthetically pleasing.
We then proceeded east to Ponte Sant'Angelo--one of Rome's most romantic bridges--connecting Castelo Sant'Angelo to the city center. Continuing southeast, we found ourselves in Piazza Navona, one of the city's most famous squares. The cafes and restaurants surrounding it make this plaza the perfect spot for people watching. A quick stint here and we were off to the Pantheon, a pagan temple built in 120
Gelato by the Trevi Fountain
Legend says that tossing a coin into the fountain guarantees your return to Rome
A.D. renown for its perfect proportions, which helped it survive two millennia to become the best preserved Roman architecture. Raphael, part of the Trinity of Renaissance Art along with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, is buried here, so take advantage of the free admission to visit his tomb.
Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain, which has been reopened to the public after its recent facelift. The turquoise water and pristine sculptures are the ideal backdrop for enjoying some gelato, which we did. We were so busy chowing down we ignored the hordes of visitors throwing a coin over their left shoulder, which legend says will guarantee their return to Rome. City officials state that Є3000 are collected from the fountain daily, which makes me believe this is all a money-making ploy.
With our pocketbooks unchanged minus the fortune we spent on gelato, we headed down Via del Corso--the Italian equivalent of the Champs-Elysees--ending up at Piazza Venezia. This roundabout is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (just like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris), and the palace atop the hill was Mussolini's official residence during his reign, an unpopular building that locals snarkily dubbed as
Former residence of Mussolini and dubbed by locals as the "Typewriter"
the "Typewriter" for its ugly facade. The road running south from here leads to the Colosseum, which regardless of how much Russell Crowe insists, was not the site of unimaginable deaths. On the contrary, most gladiators lived and even received better medical care for their injuries than regular civilians; understandably, no one wants a star athlete like Peyton Manning to suffer after a bout, so these gladiators, despite their status as prisoners, were hailed as celebrities. Nonetheless, the floor was filled with sand to soak up blood and the 50,000-seat venue was an engineering marvel when it was finished in 80 A.D. Unfortunately, we arrived shortly after 4 p.m. when the gates closed (even though their website stated 5 p.m.) and were denied entry despite booking our tickets online in advance. We sold our tickets at a discount to the lucky souls who could use them the following day, but left disheartened and annoyed by the Italian customer service.
To compensate, we strolled around the Roman Forum, which was included in our Colosseum tickets. The forum was the epicenter of the Roman Empire, which now lay in ruins but can still be appreciated from afar. We then sought out
Dinner consisting of prosciutto pizza, penne carbonara, shrimp spaghetti, calamari, and ham-stuffed tortellini
a good dinner spot to end the night and found ourselves at La Base (270 Via Cavour). The menu was extensive and offered many local fare, including prosciutto pizza, spaghetti with shrimp, calamari, ham-stuffed tortellini, and penne carbonara, all of which we ordered. The food was great, the service was excellent, and the price was phenomenal (Є37 for 4 entrees and an appetizer). With a good meal under our belts, we returned to Termini Station to catch the train back to Florence, thus concluding our day in the Eternal City, which we'd come to realize as our favorite destination in Italy. Up next: Lucca and Pisa.
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