Friday, April 08, 2011

Rome in a day or two

All roads lead to Rome....so the saying goes. 
Colosseum by Day 
Or  the Colosseum by night,
probably Rome's most recognizable symbol
And so, we finally found ourselves there as well recently. 
What an exhilarating trip to Rome we embarked upon.
 It seems that all Italian trains eventually arrive in Rome too. At least, that is what it looked liked when we rolled in to to Roma Temini one Saturday morning in March. Our train stopped a fair way back from the terminal, with so many tracks stretching across to the other side it was difficult to count how many there actually were. 
We're not exactly that close to Rome, being that we are in the alps on the French border and Switzerland is just over our shoulder, so to speak. So to decide at 5:30 pm that we would take the overnight train to Rome and be on it by 9pm was one of those spur of the moment decisions that keeps life sweet and good for the telling of tales later on. One of my all time favorite things about Europe has always been the trains. Making connections to major and, to a lesser degree, minor cities through out Europe is really a breeze. If you want to get off the beaten track, it isn't quite the way to see the country side. It does make the city break a great option. After we left Torino about midnight and seemed to be left in a cabin all our own we snoozed off and on till reaching Rome in the early am and ready to discover all over again, what makes this city so worth a neck stiffening jaunt on down the coast. The weather was warm, the flowers and trees were just starting to break out of their winter dormancy. We felt the same way. After a stop at the terminal information office, we walked all of 2 blocks to a 2 star hotel that was adequate and a perfect location for us for the night, but if we had been staying longer, I would have upgraded slightly. Last minute budget accommodation was a little slim.  Sufficiently comfortable and helpful friendly staff made it a reasonable choice. On our return home, I discovered The Beehive hotel and cafe, through an ex-pat group, and I think that would be an excellent starting point for checking out affordable Rome accommodation.
Cafe culture 
I must say that we were more than a little surprised to find Rome to be quite welcoming and friendly. It was a far cry from the fast paced, in your face kind of city that I remember from my childhood. Perhaps time has softened the edges. Fabrizio agreed that he thought Rome and Romans had changed too. We found them very helpful with a much more open, "can do" attitude. Perhaps too it was spring before the toll of the heat and the massive amounts of tourists have maybe worn their welcome a little thin. The city seemed fresh and easy going for a grande old dame.
St Peters Square at the Vatican
I haven't been to Rome since I was a kid and it had been a few years since Fabrizio had been there as well, we were perfectly happy to just see and do all the usual tourist sights of Rome.  I hadn't even picked up a guide or made any attempt to do any research, so it was kind of liberating actually. Two full days in Rome and you can skim the surface of the basic sights. If, however, you want to see any museums, dig deeper than the main core of Rome, or get a bit further away from the center,  do add on more time.  I feel like if we went to Rome again, I will enjoy finding the more obscure nooks and crannies that are "off the beaten path".  I am perfectly happy with our jaunt around the town. Course we didn't see or do it all, but it was a couple of fabulous days made even better by decent weather. Not too hot, and yet sunny with a bit of wind, and manageable crowds. Early spring in Rome is a good time to visit.
View of Rome's National Monument form our Roma Cristiana Tour bus

Ideally, it would be nice to do a mixture of obvious tourist "must sees" and not so well known ones. If you've never been to Rome before, I would suggest to stay at least 4 days. Another nice option for accommodation is to rent a flat, especially if you stay for more than a couple of days. You may not feel like going out to eat every single evening and it's nice to have breakfast more casually sometimes especially if this stop is part of a longer journey. It's fun to shop in the mercato or small shops and put together your finds, even if perhaps you are just snacking or putting a picnic together. It's a fun way to go and you can feel like "when in Rome"...
Trevi Fountain
My other top tip for a whirlwind tour of the city is to take one of the hop on and off sightseeing buses. They really are great for getting yourself oriented to the city and the lay of the land and landmarks.
The Pantheon
There are quite a number of options to choose from and if you make good use of them, they can be economical. We found that we needed one for one full day with the hop on and off option which worked well for us. 
Pick your flavor
If we had been going to make the time to got to at least one maybe two museums or such type pay sights, then a longer 2 day pass would have made sense for us, but we were only able to use it one day and we were quite happy with our choice, especially after the first day and our legs were so sore from all the walking we did. It was quite delightful to be able to ride around for awhile, with the wind in our face and all the sights and sounds of the city there for you to just relax and take it all in. As far as eating, you will be spoiled for choice I think. 
Pizza by the slice. No this isn't one slice
Plenty of "grap and go" options. I've always found the fast food options in Italy so much more to my taste, real food prepared simply fresh. 
There are many wonderful restaurants to choose from and I must say, that we chose at random by just looking at the menu, interior, gut reaction, that sort of thing. I found that we broke several of my normal rules for selecting places to eat, like steering clear of the places in the heart of the tourist centers, menus that look to be oriented to the tourist and that sort of thing.  To our great relief and delight, we ate one block from the colosseum and the other night closer to the train station with a set tourist menu which we noticed on our way home the previous night, that had been busy with an interesting tourist menu and we enjoyed delicious fresh food. It stands to reason that Fabrizio being Italian and having worked in the food business his whole life, has excellent instincts about restaurants. He does. Gotta love that in a guy.
Grilled calamari that was part of a €18- 3 course meal. Delicious!
If you're feeling like you could use a bit of hand holding with the choosing, I think you would find the "Eat Rome" application for your smart phone a godsend. Elizabeth Minchilli knows her Rome and is happy to share her secrets. Her blog,  is wonderful as well and will whet your appetite for eating your way around Rome and beyond.  I wish we had a smartphone to have taken this along. There are a number of websites and blogs dedicated to helping you make the most out of your time there.  Katy Parla's Food is another great tantalizing blog about Roman food and beyond.  Some you might not be so familiar with, aside from Rick Steves, whose guides are deservedly helpful, if not now, quite mainstream.
Some other wonderful  and extremely helpful resources for information for Rome and Italy are  Go Italy and  Why Go Italy? It's a shame that Why Go Italy doesn't feature any Bed and Breakfasts, but fortunately Go Italy does and you'll find our Bella Baita B&B listed in their picks.  The Eye on Italy podcasts are quite  informative about a wide range of topics all relating to all things Italian. They have had quite a few guests lately on concerning various diverse elements of Italy and Rome specifically. You can find them on itunes. You will need to scroll back a ways. It seems I am a bit behind on the podcasts. 
Always good to research where you are going, but an adventuresome spirit,  open mind and embracing of the moment will take you far on your travels anywhere you go. 
Marla in from of fountain in Piazza Navonna
Seize the day, you never know, you just might find yourself in Rome one of these days. 
I recommend it!
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