Italy was the one destination across the board that everyone I know LOVED. It wasn't a mixed, half-hearted "liked" either- it was an enthusiastic, passionate LOVE for Italy, bursting with excitement just at the mention of it. With a dash of jealously thrown in the mix when they realised we would soon be there.
So when when Jase and I set off for our first European vacation, the bar was raised pretty high for Rome. We had built it up in our heads- like a mystical destination where everything was going to be no less than perfect, where pizza strangely wouldn't put on any weight and everyone looked like they had come straight from the runway of a Dolce & Gabbana fashion show. Very realistic things to think. So after 5 nights in Paris, we jumped on a short flight to Rome, wondering- hoping - that it hadn't been too built up for us. Would we be the odd ones out, the ones who liked it but didn't LOVE it?
Well, I am happy to report we are firmly in the majority here. We are part of the 99.9% of the world that loves Italy club. We were absolutely blown away, amazed, loved every minute, wish it would never end, full of excitement and every other good thing you can think of. The history, the people, the lifestyle, the monuments, THE FOOD, the weather. Everything was perfecto. Or "perfetto" as the Italians would say (--that actually doesn't sound right does it? I wonder if google is pulling my leg on that one). Side note: unfortunately the pizza did put on weight-- who would have thought?---approximately 4 kilos worth of cheese and dough were sitting quite firmly on my thighs for several weeks after returning.
We rented a large 2 bedroom apartment a short walk from Piazza Navona and Piazza della Rotonda (review to follow). This was an unbeatable location and I would thoroughly recommend first time visitors to stay in this area. It's full of buskers, restaurants, great hotels, shops, amazing buildings and generally close to most things. Our days were spent walking the cobblestone streets in the sunshine, marvelling at the food & produce markets, sipping Italian wines, eating gelato, indulging in authentic Italian pizza, even more indulging in pasta, tours, more gelato on another corner- yes you get the drift. Basically we were revelling in our surroundings, whilst scoffing our faces. Quite often, we would catch ourselves in a moment of "we can't believe how unbelievably fabulous this place is"- and no words needed to be spoken, just a mutual look at one another and a quick smile acknowledging how lucky we were to be there.
So obviously I'm no expert on Rome- but if I had any advice for people travelling there it would be:
// Invest in good shoes. Seriously. Don't think walking around in cheap/thin soles ballet flats will do the job (.....not that I did that.....) - OK, OK- I DID THAT. Massive rookie error on my behalf - thinking more about what I looked like over comfort. Those cobblestones streets are BRUTAL on your feet after a full day of walking- I couldn't believe my eyes every night when we got home. My feet looked like puffer fish stuffed into ballet flats. Very attractive. Jase even started googling images of "DVT in feet" - thinking maybe my blue and purple puffy monstrosities were going to be the end of me. But no- I live to tell the tale. I can't say the same about my $10 ballet flats. Suckers.
// On that note: Keep walking- don't stop- it doesn't matter if your feet are aching and looking like puffer fish - I mean, how often are you in Rome?! (Romans don't answer that one). Soak up the atmosphere and see as many sights as you possibly can. We literally crashed at our apartment at night- feeling so incredibly fulfilled after our long days out, as we ticked everything off our to do lists (and then some). We were going to bed as very happy yet exhausted tourists. To be honest, I don't think I have ever felt that tired in my life. Not just my feet either- my mind and eyes- so much to see and do!
// Book a Colosseum underground tour. Hands down our favourite thing we did in Rome. You skip the long lines and get to go underground where the gladiators actually stood before making their entrance. Amazing experience and worth every dollar. Truly, just trust me on this one- you wont regret it. All details in this link: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g187791-i22-k7204987-Colosseum_Underground_Tour-Rome_Lazio.html
// Spend a couple of hours around the Pantheon area- soak it all in- this is the oldest intact/ functioning building in Rome. Truly amazing. If you can, have a drink on top of Albergo Del Senato- a hotel that overlooks the Pantheon and Piazza della Rotonda. This hotel has a peaceful rooftop terrace if you like to escape the crowds. The restaurants downstairs are also great for a pre-dinner drink, but be warned they get jam-packed.
// Go to a food & produce market- the colours, sights and sounds are amazing to see at these open air markets. We chose Campo di fiori- located at Piazza di Campo de' Fiori, 00186 Rome, but I'm sure there are lots of others. It's open Monday through Saturday mornings- well worth a look.
// If you enjoy shopping for clothing and homewares- (who doesn't right? Oh that's right- MY HUSBAND) - there is a MASSIVE flea market in the Trastevere region. PORTA PORTESE market is held in Piazza porta portese (what a surprise!) - Via Portuense & Ippolito Nievo, 00153 Rome. It is open every Sunday Morning from 7am until 1pm. Don't miss the vintage items towards the back of the market- this was my favourite area but unfortunately we needed more time there- we didn't realise how big it was.
// Avoid eating too many meals in the main squares- they are a lot more expensive and the food (in our experience) was not half as good. We always started our night by having a drink in the squares and soaking up the atmosphere, but then wandered down little alleyways for more authentic food.
// ENJOY EVERY SECOND- this city is AMAZING!
All photos by Belinda- www.outoftheoffice.com.au