I am struggling to find the words to relay the magic of our two week trip to Italy. It was all too good to be true! (And actually, I’m not struggling to find the words because HI, this is a 3400 word post!)
I guess a natural starting point would be the very beginning, when we decided to stop talking about going to Italy “someday” and just booked the flight. I’ll be honest and say I still felt some hesitation because a trip that far away for that long sounded like it needed a lot of planning and… I just wasn’t up for it. I wanted it to feel relaxed. I didn’t really care about seeing it all or even really knowing what “it all” was. A small part of me felt bad about this and like I was slacking by not intensely researching or planning but a much bigger part of me felt like this was okay, good even! And it would all work out in the end. So, we booked the basics — hotels, trains, a Vatican Museum tour, two dinners and winged the rest. And I just want to tell you (especially all my exhausted overplanners), that it all worked out PERFECTLY ♥
After a million hours of travel — including a short layover in Frankfurt, Germany where we saw just so many pretzels! — we made it to Rome and what a dream it was!!! Guys, when we originally planned our destinations I did not care about seeing Rome AT ALL. In my mind, it was crowded and dirty and underwhelming but it seemed like the easiest place to fly into and the more I thought about it, the more I felt like we should at least hear Rome out. Boy am I glad we did, because it ended up being my favorite stop on the trip BY FAR. First of all, it is gorgeous. The buildings reminded me so much of my beloved Paris and on top of that, there are some of the most jaw-dropping ruins and monuments and statues just everywhere you look. I could not get over it!
We stayed at the Hotel Chapter Roma, which was so unassuming on the outside and just beautiful on the inside. Plus it was right near Roscioli Caffé Pasticceria, where we went every single morning for our cappuccino and pastry 🙂 Even though Rome looks and feels kind of big — and we did definitely use taxis a good number of times — everything is pretty walkable if you’re willing and our hotel seemed like a good location to get almost anywhere. Highly recommended!
As soon as we got settled in our hotel — our room had this big window that I popped my head out of every morning to survey the glory of another Roman day — I was like “I’m hungry, where’s pizza??” So we walked over to Pizzeria Florida and were introduced to the beauty of the grab-n-go slice. I’m sure there’s a term for these pizza spots that are all over Rome, but the gist is, you go in, point to the pizza you want and they will cut you a strip WITH SCISSORS, then fold it in half, wrap it in parchment and hand it to you, to stroll to Vatican City with. This particular spot heated ours up for us and JUST WOW. Welcome to Rome!
Pizza in hand and happiness in our hearts, we took our time walking to Vatican City, wandering into pretty courtyards, crossing over the Tiber River, admiring gorgeous government buildings and then we finally made it to our destination. There was some sort of ceremony going on inside that they were airing on giant TVs outside, so that was cool!
We then maybe then accidentally took a really long route to the Vatican Museum but we had a lot of time to kill before our tour and the weather was basically perfect so it wasn’t that bad. We booked the Friday night tour at 7 PM and I HIGHLY recommend this move. Friday is the only day they do night tours and we were the first group in so by the time we go to the Sistine Chapel there were maybe 40 people in there?? From the reactions I got when I told people this, that’s pretty amazing. Also, there was some long line forming outside the museum that we chose not to get in the back of and I’m so glad because they let us right in at 7 and if we had waited in that line, who knows what time it would have been.
The museum is so stunning! I’m not going to lie, I found all the rooms leading up to the Sistine Chapel more exciting than the actual chapel. It was smaller than I’d expected, but just imagining how difficult it probably was for Michelangelo to paint that ceiling was surreal. After we’d wandered through the museum, we took ourselves back out to this courtyard where a brass band was just getting ready to play. Guys, their opening number was… the Ghostbusters theme song, ha! This is when we started to get really tired and I maybe considered just going back to the hotel and going to bed but we rallied, took an Uber to Hostaria La Botticella. In retrospect, this wasn’t one of our best dinners, but as it was out first in Rome and we had nothing to compare it to, it was still really wonderful. We stared with a caprese salad and that buffalo mozzarella!!! We’re ruined for cheese after being in Italy. Also, now is probably a good time to tell you that out of 327 pictures, I have 30, THIRTY, food pictures. That’s shockingly few! Turns out, you sometimes just want to eat and enjoy your plate of pasta without snapping a photo and basically raising a flag that says “I’M AN ANNOYING AMERICAN!” But it also means, I can’t SHOW you how good everything was, I have to TELL you. And I will tell you this… Italian food is AMAZING. I had the spaghetti alla carbonara and it was bacon-filled deliciousness and Joey was pretty happy with his gorgonzola gnocchi too!
This is how every morning started! With perfect cappuccinos and whatever pastry looked best, standing at the Roscioli Caffé. Before getting to Italy, I read that Italians quickly drink espresso standing at the bar and I was like “no, I’m not doing that.” American life is fast-paced enough that true breakfast luxury involves sitting down and taking your time, but then we walked into Roscioli and got drawn into what the locals were doing and ended up loving it! I’d say it was 10% intimidating and 90% lovely. The baristas are so professional and patient with us English speakers. This is also where Joey discovered the Maritozzo, an Italian bun that they’ll fill with whipped cream. It was really good!
Our routine for the entire trip was to wake up around 9 AM, go get breakfast, come back to our hotel to make a plan for the day and grab our water bottle — which you can fill up at any of the many fountains all over Italy! — then come back around 7 PM to put our feet up for a bit, shower and get ready for dinner around 9 or 9:30 PM and it was perfect! I’m a big fan of the late night vacation dinner 🙂 Our plan for the first day was to walk to the Spanish Steps but we got way sidetracked when we stumbled upon the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, aka the Alter of the Fatherland and it was too splendid not to check out. It’s a monument to the first king of unified Italy, so there was a museum exhibit inside explaining the Unification of Italy. We also walked up all those stairs to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven, where a wedding was going on! I need to mention how BIG all these Roman sights are. They are massive and it just makes it that much more impressive and beautiful.
Afterward, we made it to the Trevi Fountain with ALL OUR FRIENDS. Yikes, it is so busy over there. I had to force myself to focus because though the crowd and all those cheesy photos are a real turnoff and my instinct was to get out as quickly as possible, the fountain is actually STUNNING and really worth admiring for a bit. We passed the Pantheon right after! There was a big gap in the line going in, so we maybe cut in? I don’t know but we got in real fast and whoa, you can tell just how old this building is! That oculus is real cool and we got a kick out of everyone taking selfies from below to get a picture of it. I definitely caught Joey taking one 😛
Pizza break! We made our way over to Forno Campo de’ Fiori for a lunchtime slice. I’m not going to lie, the area immediately surrounding this pizza spot was not clean, so we quickly grabbed our slices and walked over to the Piazza Navona to eat them. It was much nicer — and had some good
people mime watching — over there! These were not heated up and I think I preferred it that way. I got a really simple tomato and fresh mozzarella slice but whoa, they perfectly salted it and I was so blown away! We wandered about for the rest of the day and stopped for a drink at La Buvette and our first gelato at Frigidarium. There was a short line but it moved fast. This was perhaps the creamiest gelato we ate but I just wanted a single scoop in a cup and they were kind of pushy about adding extra scoops and cones and whipped cream.
We took our chances without a reservation as Masto and were lucky enough to grab a little table near the counter, where we enjoyed this amazing cheese board. I had ravioli for my main course and it maybe wasn’t anything to write home about but Joey’s cannelloni was amazing, plus dessert, grappa and chocolate pieces made me forget about that ravioli. The woman who owned this place was so so generous by filling then refilling our glasses of grappa on the house ♥ Also, the power went out mid-meal so it was quite the eventful dinner!
Hey, look who finally made it to the Spanish Steps the next day! It was a bit busy down at the bottom but thinned out once you made it up to the top and what a view! The Borghese Gardens are above the steps and we couldn’t wait to see them. There was a 50K race going on inside! We sat on a bench across from the finish to watch the racers come in and it was very awe-inspiring. Afterward, we walked through the gardens and came across a place to rent an electric bike! Joey did all the work and my steering wheel was actually just for looks but you best believe I used it. Going downhill was really fun until you realized you had to pedal yourself back up.
After we had biked up an appetite, we caught a cab to Bonci, where a small crowd had also gathered. That’s when you know it’s good! We grabbed a number and anxiously waited for our turn as their closing time approached. We made it in time and this was definitely our best grab-n-go pizza of the trip! I even drank an Italian Coke because when in Rome! We grabbed a couple suppli (just the classic ones, because the carbonara and spaghetti versions felt a bit gimmicky) and I was into it but I don’t know if Joey really was. We strolled about after and ended up just walking all the way back to our hotel. I think it was a couple of miles, but what else did we have to be doing anyway?
We had a 9 PM reservation at Da Cesare that night and WOW. This was not my favorite restaurant atmosphere (a bit too quiet and while all Italian service is more professional than warm, this felt a bit frigid), but THE FOOD, MY GOD. I’ve spent a lot of time ranking the meals we ate on this trip and I’ll tell you, this one is definitely very very close to the top. We started with the fried eggplant and we were blown away! It is crunchy on the outside but somehow so light and delicate and soft inside. We also got the fried gnocchi because how could we not? But I will say I wish we had skipped it because it was pretty heavy and filling as an appetizer before pasta dishes. I had the rigatoni alla gricia and it was absolutely perfect. I have zero criticisms. Joey reported that has cacio e pepe was very peppery, but that gnocchi had a cacio e peppe sauce underneath so he may have just had pepper burnout. We had the panna cotta for dessert because Katie Parla said we had to and it tasted like ever-so-slightly sweet high quality cream in the most interesting and surprising way.
The next morning, we had our standard cappuccino at Roscioli but decided to try something different for breakfast and walked over to Boccione l’Antico Forno for their ricotta and sour cherry tart. It was just a little place and the women inside were busy working but I was able to point at what we wanted and how many pieces and this thing was insane! I’ll be honest, I could not finish it because that’s a lot of ricotta but I’ll remember how good it was forever. I read some bad reviews talking about the “rude service” and rolled my eyes. Heaven forbid someone’s only concern not be to give you attention.
The Colosseum! For some reason, the Colosseum was the sight I least cared about seeing and I don’t even know why. Maybe because I’ve seen a million pictures of it and because it sounded like a whole thing to go see it, but Joey really wanted to and I’m so glad because it was really amazing to see and interesting to learn about. I felt weird smiling for pictures at the site of so many deaths, but what can you do? We bought a combo ticket for the Colosseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill. You just show up at the Colosseum at the time indicated on your ticket and the line wasn’t too long. There are SO many people outside trying to sell you a tour or a “skip the line” ticket though! We saw the fluffiest pup in line ♥
We briefly considered walking through The Forum and Palantine Hill afterward but we were getting hungry and decided to save those two for the next day and walked to Dar Poeta instead. This was the best pizza of our trip, hands down! I was really worried it would be packed because this area was kind of happening as we walked through, but I think it’s just far enough off the main drag that people don’t wander into it as easily. We got a table right away. We were right near Otaleg, so we walked over for lunch dessert and oh my, it was good! I got pistachio and it was salty and perfect. After this, I got pistachio every time we got gelato, but this was the best flavor by far.
Since we were already in the Trastavere neighborhood, we decided to stick around. We really dug that area! Gianicolo Hill had just the most breathtaking view of the city and it felt like quite the reprieve of silence and space after being near the Colosseum. We tried to make it into the botanic gardens but ended up taking a trail to a dead end instead, oops! Still a lovely shaded stroll. After this, we took a cab back to the hotel. By the way, we discovered the taxi app was the way to go over Uber/Lift. Faster and more reliable (until it wasn’t, but more on that later).
Dinner at Roscioli! A different Roscioli than the one we’d been going to for breakfast (there’s three locations!) and it was wonderfully cozy in there. I had really really been looking forward to this dinner experience and the food and service did not disappoint! But I should mention that it was all Americans in there and it made me realize Americans are the worst. A table of four young people sat next to us and right away they asked the waiter for the wifi password then later I saw them filming him as he brought their food and it was too obnoxious to handle.
Anyway, we ordered the burrata and sundried tomatoes to start and I think this was the best cheese we ate in all of Italy. I’ve eaten burrata a handful of times here and was always so unimpressed but THIS? This was amazing! We also tried the anchovies (which came recommended) and they were SO SALTY and that’s coming from someone who honestly really loves salt. I got the rigatoni alla amatriciana and Joey got the carbonara and we ate every single bite and left feeling so happy and satisfied. Definitely one of our best dinners!
Back to the Forum and Palatine Hill for our last day in Rome! No disrespect to the Forum, which was sprawling and, I’m sure, impressive in it’s full former glory but we spent something like three hours wandering the grounds and we really had ancient ruin fatigue by the end. It’s just really big! Luckily, it wasn’t too hot but I bet walking this area would be painful in the summer heat. Palatine Hill was also surprisingly bigger than we’d expected, but it’s lovely up there. After, we had a really lame lunch at Pizzeria Emma that I’m not even going to waste time writing about.
Made up for lunch by walking to La Romana, which was an actual gelato shop instead of just a tiny space with a counter. I got, you guessed it, pistachio but Joey won this one with a chocolate-filled cone, some sort of sweet wine-flavored gelato and a wine-flavored whipped cream! It was so wild. There happened to be a nice little park across from the shop, so we enjoyed our gelato there and it all felt so good and happy ♥
Okay, now I have to tell you a sad story. As we finished our gelato, we decided we might just have time to make it over to the catacombs, but we would have to get there quick. Our cab got us there with minutes to spare, but we must have been out of range because we could not get the app to work and ended up using the last of our cash, knowing they accepted credit cards at the catacomb ticket office. When we got to the office, there was a sign saying their credit card machine was down for the day and we were told there was no ATM on the premises. It was honestly so disappointing and just really bad timing and luck. The grounds were really beautiful, so we just went on a stroll instead, but man, were we sad.
We regrouped for our final night in Rome by grabbing a pre-dinner drink at Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà, which turned out to be really great! They had a really solid selection of Italian beers and we both loved what we got. Give it a go if you’re in Rome! Dinner was at Tavern Trilussa, which I was sort of worried might feel touristy and maybe it was but we didn’t notice because we were too busy enjoying literal skillets of pasta. I convinced Joey to get the truffle pasta and it was so good but I got cacio e peppe and love love loved it! I took a picture and when I looked at it later, it was just a blur, so maybe don’t wine and photograph 😛
If you stuck with my through this beast of a post, you either have a lot of free time or you’re my mother, but either way, I thank you! If you just scrolled to the bottom, I’ll give it to you in short: Rome is beautiful, safe, clean, extremely interesting and has such amazing food. I can’t wait to go back some day ♥ Up next, Lake Como!