After working 10 days straight, Andrew and I took a 4 day holiday to the Eternal City. I’ll also call this our Valentine’s Day/6-months anniversary/Just Cause gift to each other. I hope you can enjoy my little travel post to the beautiful city of Roma, Italy.
We had the pleasure of staying at Hotel de Russie, another amazing Rocco Forte hotel. Yes, the name is super confusing, but it got its name from the Russian Romantic painters who often chose this hotel for their visits to Rome. The hotel was designed in the early 19th century and was considered the place to stay at in Rome on the “Grand Tour.” Many celebrities including Pablo Picasso have stayed at this hotel. During World War II, the hotel was used by the Germany army. After the war, it was used as the head office for an Italian television channel. The hotel was absolutely beautiful. I’ve never seen so many flowers in a hotel and they have this terraced “Secret Garden” to walk through and enjoy. The hotel was elegant, classy, and a nice escape from the busyness of Rome. They also have a Wellness Zone, complete with a sauna, steam room, and jacuzzi that I just had to use. It was amazing. I’m already ready to go back.
The hotel is right next to Piazza del Popolo, a large urban square with a fountain in the middle with two churches (Andrew is front of Santa Maria dei Miracoli). I love that you can just walk into all these historical and beautiful churches.
While in Edinburgh, I met one of the concierges from Hotel de Russie who told me that I should eat at Osteria St. Ana since they serve traditional Roman foods with very good pastas. It was this little cute medieval-looking restaurant in the basement of a historic building less than a 5 minute walk from the hotel. The ambiance was romantic and homey, a great place for our first meal in Rome. Andrew and I started with the carpaccio di pesce (raw fish appetizer) that included amberjack, tuna, and seabass served over a bed of arugula. Andrew was not impressed. I thought it was standard raw fish (aka, not bad, but nothing to rave about). For our entrees, Andrew ordered the lasagna di carne con funghi e crema di tartufo (beef lasagna with mushrooms and truffle sauce. I don’t really like mushrooms, but it was excellent. Andrew also agreed it was probably one of the best things he ate during the trip (although Andrew never says no to truffle). I got the gnocchi fatti in casa con pomodori dattterini e basilico (gnocchi with tomatoes and basil). The gnocchi was soft and chewy and the sauce was excellent as it was sweetened with wine. Our meal came out to €36 for the both of us for a good meal and nice atmosphere.
We ended the night with gelato at Gelato dei Gracchi. We got pistachio & hazelnut. Price for a small scoop (2 flavors) was €2.50. On another note, I loved seeing people just walking on the street eating ice cream on a cone. It was also very nice to see grown men eating an ice cream on a cone by themselves or with other men. I mean, I see men eat with their wives, girlfriends, or kids, but I loved seeing groups of men just eating ice cream. It just makes everybody seem kinder.
Our second day in Rome was spent seeing “Ancient Rome” and the sites as seen in The Lizzie McGuire Movie.
For a quick breakfast, we followed the hotel concierge’s advice to get an cappuccino and cornetto (as that can be considered to be an “Italian Breakfast”) at Rosati, one of the oldest cafes in Rome. Rosati was right next to the hotel on the edge of Piazza del Popolo. While it’s very elegant and classy, it was way overpriced for such simple items. I don’t recommend going. Go somewhere else for a cappuccino and cornetto. A cornetto is like the Italian version of a croissant, but sweeter and richer. We got a cornetto filled with jam. It was too sweet for me, but if you have a coffee with it, I can see why it’d be a nice breakfast snack.
Our first stop on our long day of walking was the Piazza Navona. It’s a large public square with beautiful fountains built on the site of a stadium where ancient Romans went to watch games.
Then, we went to see the Pantheon. The Pantheon was originally a temple to the gods of ancient Rome, but it is now a Roman Catholic church building. It’s pretty amazing to walk inside and imagine people in the first century designing and building it. Just like many other sites in Rome, you just need to be there to admire it. Also, it’s free!
One of my favorite things to visit on vacation are farmers market. We were able to go to Campo de’ Fiori, another historical piazza. In the mornings, it is an outdoor market. The vendors there sold clothes, accessories, souvenirs, espresso makers, fresh produce, spices, dried fruits, pastas, and many other items. An interesting fact is that Campo de’ Fiori is the only piazza in Rome without a single church.
We continued wondering through the streets of Rome and ended up at Pizzeria da Baffetto for lunch (as recommended by my Italian colleague). It’s a small one-room restaurant with white ceramic tiles and a wood-fired brick oven. They serve the traditional Roman thin-crust pizza. We got there a little before 12pm (when they open) and there were already people waiting to get in. They’re not known for their service, but our pizzas came out quick and the pizza was delicious. Andrew got the Pizza Baffetto (mushrooms, onions, sausage, and an egg!) while I got the Margherita. Since were one of the first customers, we got to see the staff roll the crust and make our pizzas. We spent €18 for two pizzas. I definitely recommend having lunch here. Just keep in mind that you might have to wait for it.
After lunch, we went to visit the Ancient Roman ruins. The main areas include the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. If you were visiting Rome on a budget and don’t care about seeing the inside of the Colosseum, I’d recommend just walking around the area. You can see a lot of the ruins from the surround areas without buying an entrance ticket. You can get nice views of the Roman Forum from the Altare della Patria (”Altar of the Fatherland”), a monument for the first king of a unified Italy that we found by accident because it’s this huge massive white building on a hill. The tickets, however, allow entrance for all three monuments (Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum) and the price isn’t that bad. It’s €12 per person for a ticket. The Roman Forum is where you find the ruins of Ancient Rome. It was originally a marketplace and the center of Roman public life. It’s so crazy to imagine that some of those ruins could have been there during the time of Jesus and Paul. Palatine Hill offers some of the best views of Rome and the ruins. Lastly, we were able to see and enter the iconic masterpiece of Rome, the Colosseum. Of course they were doing some construction so my picture isn’t the best, but it’s still an amazing site to see. It’s so crazy that the largest amphitheater ever built was built in the 1st Century and it’s even more surreal to stand in the same places where people watched gladiators, executions, dramas, animal hunts, and even mock sea battles.
After seeing “Ancient Rome,” we went to the most famous fountain in the world, the Trevi Fountain. We didn’t throw a coin in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves back in Rome again.
We got hungry, so went to Bar Pompi for tiramisu. I don’t even like tiramisu that much, but it was really good. All the Asian tourist foodies were there too. We got the strawberry tiramisu. Andrew really wanted to come back to try the other flavors, but we ran out of time. A piece of tiramisu is €4.50. Bar Pompi is right next the Spanish Steps. I really wanted to eat my cake there and people watch, but it was blocked off for renovation so it was very unimpressive. It’s just stairs…
For dinner, we picked up some cheese, salami, and found a cheap fresh pasta takeaway place (€4/portion). We brought it back to the hotel so we could relax from the miles we walked and I got to enjoy the spa at the hotel. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of the pasta.
The following day, we went to the home of the Pope. As the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, you go through security. They also have a pretty strict dress code, but that’s not a problem when it’s winter. St. Peter’s Square was huge. They were setting up chairs for something. I can’t imagine setting up and tearing down all those chairs every single week. We followed the crowds to St. Peter’s Basilica, where Apostle Peter is supposedly buried. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be inside St. Peter’s. It’s so grand and so detailed.
After St. Peter’s, we walked to the Vatican Museums. It’s huge! They display work from the Pope’s (throughout the centuries) art collection. Entrance tickets cost €16 per person. It’s most famous for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is amazing. You really need to see it. There are benches around the Chapel where you can sit (if it’s not too crowded) and just stare and admire it. That’s what we did. You’re not supposed to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel, but I did. Shhhh….
We grabbed pasta (in a box!) after the museum. We went to E.G.G., a little fast pasta spot. They have fresh pastas and you can choose the type of noodle and sauce. We tried the Carbonara (egg, cheese, bacon, and pepper) since it originated from Rome and the Cacio & Pepe (cheese and pepper) type of sauces. Pasta was good, but we thought it was a little salty.
We continued our walk to the neighborhood of Trastevere. The neighborhood is full of narrow cobblestoned streets, cute shutter-windowed buildings, and lots of shops and cafes.
On our way, we walked on the Ponte Sisto bridge across the Tiber river to reach Trastevere.
We found Piazza di Santa Maria and rested our tired feet in the 12th century church on the square (Basilica di Santa Maria).
Andrew found a snack called an arancino. It’s basically fried stuffed rice balls with tomato sauce coated with breadcrumbs. Of course Andrew liked it.
After walking pass many restaurants in the area, we settled on restaurant called Ombre Rosse Caffe where we ordered a Caprese salad, an eggplant lasagna, and a marinara noodle dish. The caprese salad was very disappointing (very little basil and cheese was just okay), but the noodles were great. They were fat and chewy. Even though it’s Italian, it totally reminded me of Chinese hand-pulled noodles like at QQ! It was good. I love carbs. We also ate outside. I can’t remember the last time we ate outside. They gave us a shot of limoncello after dinner as a digestivo. I thought I’d like it, but it tasted like medicine to me. Yeah, now I know… I’m not sure if this is true, but I felt that the restaurants in Trastevere were a little less expensive than in the city center.
On the way back to the hotel, we got gelato at Giolitti. Apparently, it’s the oldest ice cream parlor in Rome and was founded in 1890 and is still owned by the same family. We got the dark chocolate and it was very good and very smooth. Smitten’s liquid nitrogen ice cream is still my favorite, but this one is up there, especially for €2.50! If we’re in Rome again, we’ll be back.
Before we left for the airport, we picked up our breakfast at Grano Frutta e Farina. I guess you can call this Roman street food. This little spot sells its pizzas by weight. We got the pizza bianca (”white pizza”), which is basically plain pizza or puffy focaccia bread sprinkled with some salt. Even though it sounds really boring and plain, I actually really liked it. I wish I bought more to bring home and snack on. It probably helps that it was super fresh as well. We also got what I know as a “tomato pie.” I’m not sure what it is called in Italian. It’s basically pizza without the cheese or bread and tomato. It was good as well. I liked it better than the Philadelphia tomato pies.
Rome was amazing. I mean pizza and ice cream is always amazing. February is not a bad time to visit Rome. It’s so much less crowded than in the summer so you might be able to get some nice deals and be able to see more places in less time. When Andrew visited Rome in 2007 (summer), he spent a lot of time in lines. We spent about 15 minutes in line to get tickets for the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum from the Roman Forum Entrance and only 1 minute to get tickets for the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. Also, the weather was really nice (11-15ºC or 50-60ºF) and sunny. It was so nice to walk in the sun. I’d also recommend getting tickets for the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill/Colosseum at the Roman Forum or Palatine Hill entrance. It’s way shorter than the queue at the Colosseum. Until next time!
“Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.” -Roman Holiday