Ciao Bella! This week I returned home from my first ever European experience. I spent 14 days in the cities of Rome, Florence, and London. I was so nervous and spent the night before packing, wondering if I should just call the thing off because I couldn’t manage going to Europe alone. But, now that I’m back, I can honestly say I didn’t have enough time there!
This was the experience of a lifetime, and I completely fell in love with Europe. I don’t know when I will be back, but all I’ve done since landing is read travel blogs and make lists full of ideas for my next transatlantic experience.
Today’s post will be breaking down the six days I spent in Rome. This trip was apart of a two-week study abroad program for the Advertising department at my school. There were twelve girls along with two professors who had traveled to Europe countless times.
I arrived at the Rome Fiumicino Airport Wednesday afternoon after a long nine-hour flight, sitting in the middle seat of the middle section. If you have a long flight coming up, check out my recommended playlist full of songs I listened to here. The first thing we all commented on was the smell of smoke! We were surprised since there are such strict smoking laws in America, but smoking is essentially allowed everywhere in Italy, as are dogs!
Our program had a private bus arrange transportation from the airport to the hotel. Compared to major cities in America, Rome was very green! We all gawked out of our windows despite being insanely jet lagged. After the bus ride, we had a short orientation session where we were given maps of the city and public transportation passes. After a long day of travel, we were all in agreement that we have never felt so disgusting and headed to shower before meeting up again to explore the city.
Our hotel was near Vatican City, so we headed out that way. We made a few stops on the way: ATM, gelato (I passed, all I could think about was coffee), a quick snack stop, and finally coffee. We were warned that Italian coffee would be nothing like it is in America, but luckily because of this my taste for coffee has expanded. I tried a cappuccino — not really a fan, but it was tolerable and anything would do to fight off jet lag.
Vatican City was beautiful! We only walked around the square, since we were going into the Basilica, museum, and Sistine Chapel later on our last day in Rome. It’s important to note that to enter those places there is a very strict dress code: no shoulders, no knees, no open toed shoes. So since we were just checking out St. Peter’s Square, my dress and sandals were all right (even though I was stopped by a man who told me to “cover up”). The square was absolutely packed since it was a Wednesday and the Pope had blessed the crowd earlier that morning.
We then met back up and walked to La Locanda di Pietro for our welcome dinner. It was a 4-course meal of appetizers, pasta, a meat course, and dessert. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel (which was without wi-fi, might I add) and I honestly do not think I have ever fallen asleep so quickly.
On day two, the plan was to head to a cooking class in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. This was so much fun. We made three courses and were all assigned different tasks to make the meal. I was originally assigned to cheese duty where I grated the Pecorino Romano for our pasta. Once I finished I moved to cutting the strawberries for the dessert, and then I was stuck on tomato duty. Tomatoes are on the top of the list of foods I cannot stand, so it was only fitting that I mixed the bruschetta and was asked to taste it in front of everybody (I declined). To all my tomato haters out there — not liking tomatoes isn’t easy in Italy. Bruschetta and Caprese is everywhere. Once finished, we got to enjoy the fruit of our labor. The appetizer was Bruschetta with tomato and basil topping and arugula and cheese. The main pasta course was cavatelli pasta with fresh tomato sauce. Then for dessert, we had lemon custard topped with fresh strawberries. The food was delicious and the class was so informative. I left knowing so much more about Italian cuisine that I can share with my Italian family at home.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around Rome. We headed towards the city center and ended up at Capitoline Hill where you could over look the Roman Forum and see Palatine Hill and the Colosseum in the distance. We spent a lot of time here just taking in the scenery (and attempting to take the perfect Instagram shot).
We ended the night with apertivo at the bistro Mercat where we enjoyed wine and various appetizers (cheese, bread, and prosciutto galore). Afterwards I enjoyed my first gelato of many on this trip. We went to Giolitti, and as our professor put it: “Any place with a line out the door at 10 PM is good.” I got Nutella (which is huge in Europe) and chocolate. In hindsight, that wasn’t the best pick, as it was very rich and doubling up on chocolate flavors was just too much.
Day three in Rome was my favorite. We began with a walking tour with stops at the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. Unfortunately, the Spanish Steps were under construction, but considering the Trevi Fountain had been under renovation the previous year and is now open to tourists again, it seemed like a pretty fair tradeoff. At the Trevi Fountain, our guide told us to throw one coin in if you wish to return to Rome, throw two in if you want to get married within a year, and three if you wish to get divorced. I threw in one, so hopefully it comes true and I’ll be back again.
The Pantheon was a place that wasn’t even on my list of must-sees when I left for Rome, and it ended up being my favorite place there. It was incredibly beautiful both inside and out. Thinking back to when this structure was built, and how the Romans were able to build it is mind-blowing!
We ended the walking tour at the Testaccio Food Market. We were given tickets from our guide to get food at certain stands, so the choices were limited, which really made us venture outside our comfort zone. At the meat station, we could choose between veal, chicken, and the cheek of the pig, which is apparently very popular in Rome. I played it safe and ordered the chicken. Next we were given a chickpea flatbread and a sort of pork roll coming from the neck of the pig — I really ventured out with that one, and it honestly wasn’t bad! Then we were given tiramisu and some cannolis for dessert. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much dessert as I did on this trip! You’ll see what I mean as you continue reading
We ended the day at the Galleria Borghese, an art gallery sitting in the Villa Borghese Gardens. I’ve read a lot about Villa Borghese and how it was a must see that is comparable to Central Park in New York, but unfortunately we were running late and had a time slot to make for our tour of the Galleria Borghese and didn’t get to see much of it. I suppose I will just have to return to Rome later and check it out.
Day four in Rome for us was a free Saturday. We originally had lofty plans to catch a train to Pisa or somewhere in Tuscany for wine tasting, but were so exhausted, we instead opted to sleep in and do some shopping near the Spanish Steps. We didn’t get going until around noon, so lunch was first on our to do list. I unfortunately didn’t make note of the name of the restaurant we ate at, but it was across from the 7FORALLMANKIND store down the street from the Spanish Steps. I ordered the house white wine and tonnarelli cacio e pepe. It was fantastic, and it was probably good that I ate so much because the bloated pasta feeling in my stomach prevented me from buying so much later in the day.
To unwind and let our food digest, we took a seat at the bottom on the Spanish Steps around the Fontana della Barcaccia. A great thing about Rome is that you can buy a water bottle once, and continue to refill it at any fountain you see on the streets. So after refilling our waters, we were on our way to shop, stopping at Zara, Brandy Melville, and multiple leather and shoe shops. I scored a pair of Birkenstocks for 70 Euro, or about 80 USD, cheaper than you’ll find them in the States!
At the end of the night, I was still full from my pasta, so I decided to have gelato for dinner. This time I got coffee, cream, and chocolate with a wafer cookie that was devoured before I remembered to snap a photo. I didn’t get the name of the Gelateria down, but when you hear that there is a Gelateria and a pizzeria on every street, it’s not an exaggeration, there truly is, plus more.
On Sunday morning we weren’t scheduled to meet as a group until nearly 1 o’clock, so I researched cute cafes to grab breakfast. I found good reviews of La Fiorentina, and after a quick Google search discovered it was close to our hotel. I ordered a cream filled croissant that may have been my favorite meal in Rome. It was delicious. Everyone agreed this place was a hit, I highly recommend it if you are planning a trip to Rome.
The next part of our day included a walk through the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. This was A LOT of walking, but showcased some pretty spectacular views. It was a really hot day, so water, sunscreen, and comfortable shoes were essential. Luckily there were many fountains to refill your water as you walked through the ancient ruins, and I had my SPF 70 packed and ready to go. #RedheadProblems. I wore my new Birkenstocks, which were great and caused no pain while breaking them in! According to the iPhone health app, I walked 10 miles this day!
Next up was the Colosseum! The massive structure can only accommodate 3,000 guests at once for safety reasons, so we had to wait awhile for our time ticket. In the meantime, I enjoyed yet another gelato. (It was hot, okay?!) This time I ventured into fruity flavors, strawberry and cream. It was nothing special, as it came from the train station across the street from the Colosseum, but it was fine while we waited.
Inside the Colosseum is insane. There really isn’t any way to describe it. It exceeds all expectations you may have from photos. Thinking about what went on there for so long though, is really what is insane.
After the Colosseum, we wanted to eat good and authentic pasta for our last night in Rome, so we asked our coordinator for his recommendation. He steered us in the direction of La Montecarlo, saying we will be able to eat cheaply as real Romans do. It was cheap, and it was delicious. Gnocchi is my favorite pasta dish, and I had looked forward to eating some in Rome since the day I booked my plane ticket. This didn’t disappoint.
After, we webbed in and out of streets surrounding Piazza Navona, bouncing in and out of shops. We picked up last-minute souvenirs for our families, and surprise, we grabbed gelato, again. We had been looking for Frigidarium after hearing how fantastic it was, but with no cell phone data and the limited wi-fi, we were unable to get directions. We amazingly stumbled upon it while walking through the streets. Still feeling in the mood for fruity flavors, I ordered mango and strawberry. Mango is my favorite fruit, so I may be a tad bias, but this gelato was out of this world. If you’re headed to Rome anytime soon, check this place out.
Our last day in Rome was a full trip to Vatican City. You aren’t allowed to take photos in many of the places, but take my word for it when I say the Sistine Chapel is amazing. It makes you dizzy to look out but luckily we found a seat long the wall and just sat and stared at the ceiling for nearly fifteen minutes. After entering through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, which is only opened every twenty-five years, we marveled at the incredible architecture inside.
After, we headed to the train station and caught a train to Florence, ending my Roman Holiday.
Look out for my Florence travel diary this Thursday!
xoxo Redhead Rendezvous