Rome – Charcuterie, Holy ground, and we can’t find a good plate of pasta

Day 1

You cannot visit Italy without a stop in Rome. On day 14, with luggage in tow, we boarded a train heading north to the famous city. Once in Rome we took a taxi to our hotel sitting just off of the Spanish Steps. A great location for restaurants, shops, and gelato.

We took a power nap then headed to the Spanish steps. Surprisingly I was not offered any bracelets, I guess my cast made me a less appealing target.

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View from the top of the steps
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Looking up

After walking down the steps and taking some photos we walked to the Trevi fountain, not far off.

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We tossed our coins in the fountain, I did my best.

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For reference when you toss your coins, you toss from your right hand over your left shoulder. One coin means you will return to Rome. Two coins mean you will find love. We only needed one. Awwww

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Not far from the Trevi fountain is an awesome Gelateria called Della Palma. There you will find 150 flavors of gelato. Yes. 150 flavors. We took our time carefully selecting our flavors.

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I forgot what exact flavors I got, but I think one was raspberry cheesecake. Yum!

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The Pantheon was close as well, we tried to see if we could go in. But it was closed and getting late so we settled for just sitting and enjoying our gelato a bit.

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We figured we should start looking for dinner so M and I wondered up and down the streets looking for a restaurant that did not look like a tourist trap. A bit more difficult then you would hope.

We wondered so far we ended up pretty close to the Vatican. We decided to stop by and have a look around St. Peter’s Square, hung around for a bit, and cooled off in the fountain.

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We continued to look for a reasonably priced  / non-tourist place for dinner. We eventually found a restaurant called Gusto Cafe & Rotisserie that had zucchini flowers and Arancini! I got very excited, until I actually had to eat the zucchini flowers and arancini. Unfortunately the food was terrible and the pasta was even worse. Not the greatest first meal in Rome.

Day 2

Our first stop was the Pantheon. The line was long but it went pretty quick. Unfortunately I could not go in. My shirt was showing my shoulders and I was told to cover up. So I stood outside while M went in. All it did was give me the opportunity to watch all the other women with shoulders and knees showing walking out of the Pantheon. There were a bunch of girls that were also told they were dressed inappropriately, and we found camaraderie in the clearly hypocritical rule. Super strange.

After the Pantheon we continued to the Altare della Patria. It was starting to get pretty hot so we took tons of photos and sat in the shade for a while.

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For lunch we enjoyed a pretty cool place called La Locanda del Prosciutto. It was small, crowded, and the wait took a while but it was worth it. I got a board of charcuterie and M got Cantelloni. They were both delizioso! My board of meats, cheeses, and bread was pretty filling, I ended up needing some help.

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Later that evening we had a walking tour of the Colosseum and forum booked. We headed in that direction and got some gelato while we waited for the tour to begin.

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This tour was a bit chaotic. We were first guided to the colosseum with a guide, who seemed very confused on how the lines worked. He then left us at a meeting point where we were to wait for another guide. This made us nervous when that guide was late. Where we being scammed?

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Eventually our guide showed up and shows us the colosseum. Our tickets even allowed us to enter the underground level where they held the animals, slaves, and pipes for water to enter the colosseum. Very advanced.

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View from inside
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View from inside

 

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View from inside

 

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Underground
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Underground
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Underground pipe for bringing in water

We also had the opportunity to enter the “third” or highest level of the colosseum. It provided beautiful views over the city, forum, and inside of the colosseum.

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After a tour of the colosseum we were supposed to then be guided to a tour of the forum, but our colosseum guide just told us the tour was over. Tired and confused we went back to the hotel to check our receipt. Turns out the tour was supposed to continue to the forum. We called and they rescheduled us for the next day.

We wanted to avoid another night of endless restaurant searching so we yelped a few places. One was closed, another too busy, so we settled on a touristy average restaurant. Finding a great inexpensive restaurant in Rome was proving to be a bit of a challenge.

Day 3

Our day started with a coffee and pastry from a small cafe near the Vatican. We were fortunate enough to book an underground tour of the Vatican, featuring St. Peter’s tomb.

There are two necropolis tours at the Vatican. The one with St. Peter’s tomb is not offered on their main website. Instead you have to contact their Uffico Scavi directly. M read online that it sometimes takes three months in advance to book due to its low admittance and high importance. With nothing to lose, M figured to shoot off an email only three weeks before our arrival in Rome. We don’t know if it truly helped or not, but M likes to think that by adding A.M.D.G. (latin acronym meaning “for the greater glory of God”) on the email, it got us last minute access to the tour.

The tour starts at the Uffico Scavi. From there we entered directly into the Basilica, one floor below ground level. Pictures were not allowed. Our guide stopped us here to explain what the Vatican hill once looked like. It was here that St. Peter was crucified and buried in a ditch, a contrasting grave compared to the rich tombs of the pagans which surrounds his final resting place. Under Emperor Constantine, christianity became legal and he ordered the construction of the first church on the Vatican hill. St. Peter’s tomb had been a secret pilgrimage sight for the early christians, but now Constantine ordered the hill to be chopped in half in order to level the area and build a large church with his tomb directly at the main alter.

After descending another level, we entered what was the ground level 2000 years ago. Since St. Peter’s tomb was about half way up the hill, the top of the Vatican hill was demolished and used to bury the lower half. The area in which we now stood was part of the lower hill. We were walking among the small corridors between large pagan tombs that were buried and forgotten. Continuing down the corridors, we find ourselves standing before the ancient burial site. If we didn’t have a guide, we would have just continued walking and missed it completely. St. Peter’s body was not placed in a lavish tomb, but a small tomb/marker was placed above his burial spot years after his death. There is only one column left of this small tomb that we can see.

On the other side, there is a brick wall. This wall became a major pilgrimage sight, as early christians would come to the tomb of St. Peter and leave scratched chi rhos into the brick. Archeologist found something unexpected in the wall, a small box. Inside was small bone fragments wrapped in a purple cloth. The fragments were tested and came from a man in his 60 or 70s who lived in the first century. It is believed that these are the bone fragments of St. Peter, and that Emperor Constantine ordered the excavation and then wrapped the bones in a purple cloth, the color of royalty.

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After the tour we walked around the Basilica a bit. M took photos of  the Pieta. We rubbed the foot of St. Peter and I showed M my favorite statue of St. Veronica.

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Hot and exhausted in our church clothes we went back to our hotel room and changed into “Italy in August” clothes.

For lunch we stopped at a small cafe called Pepy’s down the street. M and I ordered some pasta, Gatorade, beer, and topped it off with a few double espresso’s.

After lunch we returned to the tour company from yesterday for our Forum and Palestine Hill Tour.

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This tour was a bit more organized but our tour guide was full of himself. He kept mentioning he served in the military and he has a hot girlfriend that is half Italian / half African. Um Ok?

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M also noticed he would say things that were factually incorrect. For example, he said that Napoleon crowned himself head of the church in Rome. Which is incorrect. It was at Notre Dame in Paris. So we took everything with a grain of salt.

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One useful piece of information he did give us was a great neighborhood called Trastevere to get local non-tourist food in Rome.

We hoped on the bus and found a great restaurant called La Piazzetta de Trastevere. We filled up on pizza, seafood rice, wine, and tiramisu all reasonably priced.

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Day 4

With another tour booked at the Vatican we woke up early and stopped at a McDonalds for what we thought was a coffee frappe. Turned out to be ice cream. So we started off the day with ice cream and made our way to the Vatican museum.

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There we began our garden tour. The majority of the Vatican is actually garden. It is filled with beautiful statues, history, and scenery overlooking the city.

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It was nearly 95 F outside and we expected quit a bit of walking but apparently not everyone did. There was an older woman who 5 minutes into the tour decided she could not do the tour. Unable to just leave someone our tour got a bit delayed.

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Replica of our Lady of Lourdes
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Pope’s helicopter pad

Like the underground tour, our tour guide was highly educated. He was from Syria, actually met the Pope and shook his hand. He lit up when telling the story.

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After the garden tour we went to the cafe in the museum for some lunch. We enjoyed our burgers and met a lovely Irish couple who we chatted with for a bit.

It was towards the end of our time in Italy which meant we had spent a LOT of time in museums. There were a couple pieces of art we really wanted to see, The School of Athens and the Sistine Chapel, other then that we continued on our way.

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After you exit the Vatican museum and before you enter the Basilica there is a line to your left that will allow you to walk to the top of the Basilica Dome. We hoped in line and hiked our way to the top.

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We took some photos, rested for a bit, and even saw some stupid kid vandalizing the Vatican. Tight security they run…

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M and I went back down to the Basilica, walked around for a bit and even checked out the gift shop.

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View from the top of the dome
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View from the top of the dome
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Outside the Sistine Chapel

On our way out we saw them getting ready for 5:00 mass. But after 6 hours hanging around the Vatican we decided it was time to go home.

After a couple hours of rest we went out to a restaurant called Thats Amore that always looked busy hoping to get a table. We made a reservation for later and hung out at a nearby cafe enjoying a drink.

Our dinner was pretty overpriced. Good Italian food for a busy tourist area, but pretty average. They did have amazing mozzarella. Potentially the best mozzarella I have ever had.

We ended our last night in Rome as you should. With a gelateria called Giolitti,  recommended by my dad. I got Oreo and Baileys 🙂

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Hotel: Relais Sistina

Review: We booked our hotel last minute but were pleasantly surprised at the price and location for such a nice place. Overall it was clean, modern and perfect for our stay but there were a lot of issues. The owner kept texting us up to our arrival, despite us asking her not too (we got charged per text, so every message cost us money). The power went out every night. The building and electricity was probably to old to handle the system needed to support a hotel. And the mattress was very well used. All things we could not have known until we booked.

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