With a very busy second half of last year, I can’t believe I am only now getting around to posting a backlog of content that I’ve built up to share with you. Being a bit of a workaholic, I’m very bad at taking a break, however last year once I’d caught the travel bug I just couldn’t stop! With the excitement and motivations that come with the new year I’ve already begun planning my trips for 2019. I’m also going to write about last year’s trips and hopefully give you all a little travel inspo. First stop… Rome!
Rome is a city on everyone’s bucket list, but to be honest not a place I’d put much thought into visiting until I stumbled across a deal on Living Social that was so ridiculous it would have been rude not to. The bargain dates also happened to fall on my sister’s birthday so I took this as a sign and off we went! Being a cheap deal, we did stay a little outside the city centre and the hotel was quite basic but it was clean, they had a decent breakfast and the taxi journey into the city centre was only a quick 10-15 minutes. Let’s face it, who wants to spend much time in their room when they’ve got the three days to explore the beautiful city of Rome.
The Churches, The Trevi Fountain and Gelato!
We spent our first day wandering, getting our bearings and trying to find as many of the famous sights as possible, managing to find: The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, the Il Vittoriano Monument, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and The Spanish Steps all on Day One. Rome is a really easy city to walk around and to be honest this was one of my favourite things about it, not only is it easy to find and visit the sights but you also stumble upon more that you didnt even realise existed around virtually every corner. We even stumbled across an actual real life archeological dig. Can there be more to find in this city already bursting at the seams with history?? I arrived with a list of things I wanted to see and departed with a list that was ten times longer.
One of the most apparent things about Rome is the heavy influence of religion. As the centre of Catholicism, there are literally hundreds of churches and each one is a monument in itself. We wandered into several just to see the elaborate decorations, spectacular paintings and statues and extravagant ceilings. It really is quite overwhelming. The churches are obviously free to enter and are well worth a visit, I’m really not a religious person but I’ve never experienced anything like them, you can literally feel the history seeping from the walls.
My favourite stop on this day of exploration was The Trevi Fountain. We’ve all seen pictures but they really don’t do it justice. Designed by architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pannini in 1764 the great monument is a terrific figure on the junction of what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary collection of streets. It really is beautiful and depsite the bustle of tourists all trying to get a snap I found it very peaceful, the iconic figure of Oceanus imposing a sense of calm not just on the waters of the tableau as designed, but also on the space around him. This is the kind of thing I could spend hours taking in and really evoked in me a sense of priviledge at being able to witness such a spectacular and iconic piece of art. However, we only had three days and approximately a million more sites to see!
Of course, on planning my trip to Rome the thing I really wanted to know was where to eat! We had one really good restaurant recommendation, which I’ll share a little further down, but the overwhelming piece of advice was avoid the restaurants right next to tourist sites as they’ll charge a premium but otherwise all of the food is good and you can’t go wrong. Being a huge lover of all things pasta, merely being in Italy obviously excited me greatly but even I was surprised at just how incredible it really is out there. Italians are big on simple cooking and the menus are not elaborate but filled with familiar classic dishes such as carbonara and caccio e pepe and we sampled as many of them as our three days would allow!
Another great recommendation was Giolitti for gelato. There are so many gelato shops in Rome but this one stands out for it’s quaint turn of the century charm and obviously the gelato itself is delicious. Just around the corner from the Pantheon this is a great stop on your sightseeing trails, we went there every day!
Vatican City: The Galleries, The Sistine Chapel & St Peter’s Basilica
On Day Two we decided to go and see the big one: Vatican City. We had done a bit of reading up about how best to approach it and decided the best option for us was to book a tour. I’d recommend planning ahead if you want to visit the Vatican, it is by far the busiest attraction in Rome and there is so much to see and take in I think you’d be a bit lost and you would miss things if you chose to just turn up and wing it. Another of the great advantages of opting for a guided tour is that you get to skip the mental queue outside. Still, be prepared to get your march on though as there’s a lot of people to get past and there’s airport style security before you enter so this isn’t much of a chilled out stroll around as a military operation to get you in as efficiently as possible whilst navigating through a barrage of people and trying not to lose anyone.
Our tour included The Vatican Museum, The Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica but oh my goodness was there so much to see! There is so much art in The Vatican Archives that it’s verging on obscene. Ancient statues are practically toppling over each other, there are so many and only a fraction of the collection is actually on display to the public. On top of this the artwork adorning the place itself is phenomenal, Raphael and Michelangelo being the most recognisable names among the legendary artists who have been commissioned by Popes to contribute to this monumental shrine of Catholicism.
The Sistine Chapel is the big thing everyone wants to see in Vatican City. As an art fan, Michelangelo’s infamous ceiling is obviously a big thing for the bucket list. There are very strict rules about entering the chapel and it is quite a small room so our incredibly knowledgeable and lovely guide Cicilia gave us a great talk before we went in explaining all of the art works and the points of interest to look out for. Unfortunately the chapel itself turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments of the trip for me and this is no comment on the artwork and majesty of the place but on the disrespect of those visiting it. The rules demand silence, it is after all a place of worship, and there is strictly no photography allowed. Despite there is a constant hum of chatter which gets louder and louder until one of the dozen or so guards on duty shouts a reminder, then there’s a slight lull before the noise escalates again and so on. Amongst the chatters are many people with a blatant disregard for the ‘no photography’ rule waving their iPhones in the air trying to get a snap of the ceiling, also prompting regular shouts from guards. I did my best to ignore this and tried to appreciate and take in the paintings but I can’t say the experience wasn’t marred.
Thankfully the last point of the tour rounded it off on a high as we visited St Peter’s Basilica. I can’t even describe the enormity of the place and yet again, every inch of the place is covered in spectaular art and statues. I would love to visit again to allow a little more time to explore and take in all the different things to see in here. Again our tour guide, Cicilia, was so helpful at pointing out things to look at and full of interesting history and facts but it was very much the edited highlights as it’s impossible to cover everything in a four and a half hour tour.
Of course this wouldn’t be an entry on Diary of a Saucepot without a foodie highlight! The trip’s standout foodie experience was an incredibly delicious meal at Osteria Barberini, recommended to me by my good friends and newlyweds, Ben and Sophie. Nestled halfway up a hill on a narrow side street we would never have found this restaurant if it hadn’t been suggested to us. It is small and it is popular so I’d highly recommend phoning ahead and making a reservation.
The restaurant specialises in truffles, as is apparent in many of the dishes on the menu, but if truffles aren’t your thing there are still plenty of other things to try, all traditionally Italian and all mouth watering. We shared some burrata and a grilled octopus dish to start and I couldn’t resist ordering some focaccia so that I could tick another traditional Italian food I wanted to try off my list. The burrata was absolutely to die for and creamier, richer and smoother than any I’ve tasted before and even thinking about the foccacia now makes me want to cook up a loaf at home this weekend.
I ordered the black truffle risotto for my main course as I thought I ought to try the restaurant’s speciality and I wasn’t disappointed. Like much of the food I had eaten in Rome the key element to this dish was simplicity. There is no fanfare in Italian cuisine, it’s all about quality ingredients cooked and presented to showcase their incredible flavours. This risotto really epitomised this ethos and it’s a dish that has stamped it’s mark on my memory as a highlight of my trip.
Having now waxed lyrical about the risotto I don’t think there are enough words left in the thesaurus to allow me to describe the pannacotta I had for dessert! Suffice to say the food here was divine, as was the wine. Put it on your must-do list when you’re visiting Rome and make sure you book ahead!
Our last pitstop on our tour of Ancient Rome was The Colosseum. This was a refreshing change to be immersed into another side of Rome’s epic history after the Christianity overload of The Vatican. Again we opted for a guided tour as there are such a wide range on offer so it’s easy to shop around and the interesting things that you learn along the way really go a long way to completing the experience. This is particularly so in a place like the Colosseum where the vast majority of it is in complete ruins and therefore a lot of structural elements require a bit of explanation to allow you to understand what it is you’re looking at. We managed to get a tour that went through the Gladiator’s entrance and into the arena floor which is totally worth doing as you get a whole different perspective on the building and other tours and general admission don’t allow access to this space. Standing where the Gladiator’s stood and imagining the bloody battles that took place is a really immersive experience and one of my highlights of the trip. We also learned a lot about various Emperor’s of Ancient Rome, particularly Nero which was so fascinating it only whet my appetite to want to learn more.
Many of the Colosseum tours included a tour of The Roman Forum but unfortunately as this was our last stop before having to head to the airport we didn’t manage to squeeze it in. This is the first thing on my list of ‘sights to see next time’ as well as the Circus Maximus, Villa Borghese and the Villa Medici.
If there was one word to sum up my trip to Rome it would have to be ‘historical’. I’m no history buff but the city has been the epicentre of so many significant historical periods and events that you’d struggle to not be absolutely fascinated by it all. All of these things really shape the city and the whole place has a very different feel to the much more modern cities I am used to.
Food wise, it’s very difficult to go wrong in Rome. I would absolutely put Osteria Barberini and Giolitti on a must-visit list but there are trattorias on every corner offering up so much delicious food. Try the pasta and eat as much of it as you can and stick to the more simplistic dishes as they won’t disappoint.