Tandem Travel Tales: Rome, Take 1

ROME: THE COLLECTIVE

Brevity is impossible when describing Rome. It is a city full of life, excitement, diversity, and history. While we had an extremely testing experience right out of the gates, we quickly fell in love with Rome and made it a point to visit three separate times during our month in Italy. To top it all off, we were able to align ourselves with my grandma, Mikee, who came to visit us for her first trip to Italy.

Brittany and Steve @travelingintandem
Look, it’s us! Hanging out by the Altare Della Patria

Instead of trying to quickly summarize a little bit of everything from our time in Rome, we’re going to break it up into three telling posts: The Good, The Bad, and The Food. Collectively, these sum up our experiences in the largest European city that we visited and easily one of our favorite. Enjoy!

LET THE GOOD TIMES BEGIN

How big is Rome? Huge. With regards to population, Rome houses about 2.9 million full-time residents. However, when you take into consideration the droves of tourists, travelers, business people, and students present at any given time, that number grows quickly. Before arriving in Rome we had a number of conversations about what we might want to do, but to be honest, neither of us had many preconceptions. If you read our last post, you’ll know that we were really just excited to get out of Trieste.

@travelingintandem
Altare Della Patria

Rome has about 22 different neighborhoods, give or take a few depending on who you ask. Looking at a map, I would guess that we visited about ten of these. And let me tell you, that was a feat. Poor grandma knew that we were going to put her on the hustle, but she didn’t have any idea that we were going to walk her 10-17 km a day. Her FitBit made it a pretty interesting journey, chiming when we reached our initial 10,000 steps, and serving as a good point of reference thereafter.

Travel Tip: Wear comfortable shoes in Rome or really anywhere in Europe. Taxis or public transit are nice when needed, but you really get to see so much more of a place when you travel by foot. And, *bonus* it’s cheap!

The Pantheon @travelingintandem
The Pantheon, complete with all of our fellow tourists.

A brief overview on some of the neighborhoods:

Trastevere: Relatively central to the city as a whole, we spent a lot of time in this neighborhood. Full of narrow, winding streets, beautiful architecture, and expansive restaurants and cafes, Trastevere is easily navigable by foot and has limited car traffic throughout the days. Many of the spots are either lunch- or dinner-service only, and the vibes are literally night and day depending on when you visit. All of the hot spots always had lines out of the door at night. Also, there’s a tombed, ancient pyramid. Seriously. Pyramid of Cestius. Look it up.

The Roman Forum, Rome, Italy @travelingintandem
The Roman Forum, in Rome, Italy.

Testaccio: There’s quite the amalgamation here. Testaccio is home to our favorite place, Mercato Testaccio. That’s enough for us, but the neighborhood offers so much more. Formerly working class, it’s currently being gentrified and shows all of the signs. High-end gelato shops next to old-timey pizza joints, you can see remnants of old buildings and bright, spritely murals all in the midst of this now hipster paradise.

Brittany and Grandma @travelingintandem
Grandma and I in St. Peter’s Square

The Vatican & St. Peter’s Square: There’s so much to do and see within the Vatican. Get tickets in advance, be sure to print them, and ignore the pestering “tour guides” who tell you things are closed when they’re not. Walk along the outside of the corral with all of the people who don’t have tickets, and then towards the front, flash your ticket to a staff member. You’ll skip the “skip-the-line” line, too. Ooops.

Be ready to tell people no. Forgo personal space. Be prepared to be in awe of the beautiful artifacts, paintings, and grandeur. And maybe don’t go on a Wednesday unless you want to see The Pope speak earlier in the morning. There’s some deal with free admission to St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesdays, so it can get crowded. Clearly, I’m not Catholic. So I don’t have any answers there.

Trevi Fountain @travelingintandem
A partially shadowed look at the Trevi Fountain

Trevi & Pigna: In addition to being home to the famous Trevi Fountain, that was actually being renovated and preserved while we were visiting, there are a number of walkable attractions within these neighborhoods. After Steve and I’s version of our own “Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” we took ourselves on a walk to celebrate a small victory and I kid you not, stumbled upon the Altare Della Patria. It’s magnificent and genuinely jaw-dropping if you don’t know what’s just around the corner. You can also check out Piazza Barberini and the Quirinal Palace. Top it off with the Pantheon, which is evidence of the beauty that is engineering.

Travel Tip: Visit all of the attractions as early in the day as possible. This means smaller crowds but also less sun. Carry your reusable water bottle and fill it at public fountains because it gets hot during the day.

The Vatican Museum @travelingintandem
Beautiful marble carving in The Vatican Museum

Ostiense: Home to one of the three train stations and one of our almost-tragedies, we loved our time in Ostiense. Peripheral to Testaccio’s gentrification and turnover, you’ll find a little bit of everything here. In addition, there are accessible and cheap accommodations.

The Vatican Papal Audience @travelingintandem
St. Peter’s Square outside of St. Peter’s Basilica after The Papal Audience.

Monteverde: Maybe our favorite neighborhood, though they’re hard to compare. We spent our final three days in Italy here and we were swallowed up by the comfort in the neighborhood. Definitely local, with hardly any tourists, there are so many gems here.

From seventy cent espressos, to the best Chinese food I’ve ever taste, Monteverde treated us well in the food department. But it was also full of hospitality, warm smiles, and a smattering of daytime markets, for both food and goods. The only downer is the minimal access via public transportation. There are a few bus lines, but don’t hold your breath. Get a cab or enjoy a nice thirty-minute walk from Trastevere.

The Colosseum @travelingintandem
Hanging out with grandma outside of The Colosseum.

Celio and Campitelli: The Colosseum and The Roman Forum can be found here. It can get crowded, but you have to at least go to see these wonders. Also, don’t eat here. It’s so expensive and the quality will likely be a total bust.

TRANSPORTATION

This is an important thing to account for in Rome because everything is so far apart. You can walk for hours and be nowhere near the other side of the city. It’s expansive and full of cobbles and hills. While we didn’t use it, Uber is available. It’s a bit steep and you’ll have significantly higher rates if you hail near the attractions (which is most of Rome).

Grandma @travelingintandem
Hanging out with a cheery grandma and feeling pretty sleepy.

There’s also a light rail, metro, trains, and buses. We trust the metro, and we kind of trust the light rail, but don’t hold your breath when it comes to buses for innercity travel. Tickets for the metro can be purchased at the stations for 1.5€, while tickets for the light rail and buses must be purchased ahead of time at tobacco stores. Or you can buy a daily transportation pass for 7€. But, a summary of the good transportation? Take the metro whenever possible.

Travel Tip: Skip the day pass and buy a handful of individual tickets in advance. Be sure to validate your ticket when you start your ride no matter what. The tobacco stores close relatively early and it can make an unticketed ride a bit nerve-racking and can be a huge fine if caught.

St. Peter's Basilica @travelingintandem
Living a good hair day outside of St. Peter’s Basilica

THE ATTRACTIONS

Flying into the city in the dark was a special experience. The city glitters with lights and all of the main attractions stand out. They’re not only visible because of their sheer size, but the entire city is gridded relative to the placement of grand attractions like The Vatican, The Colosseum, Piazza del Popolo, and Roma Termini.

There’s just not enough time to talk about all of the spectacular things there are to see or the vast amounts of history nestled into Rome. Not only is the architecture exquisite, but actually taking the time to think about how people could be responsible for building something as grand as The Colosseum can be a bit overwhelming. As is the Roman Aqueduct. But so, too, is the thought of the sheer amounts of slavery required to accomplish these things. And then, tie into it the influence of religion, power, and strength- Rome is unparalleled.

with grandma in Rome @travelingintandem
Grandma and I just being ourselves in Rome.

Busking

Rome is also a spectacular place to enjoy a good bit of busking. You can find entire bands, drummers, vocalists, guitarists, and classical musicians all soaking in the atmosphere and giving back through their music.

CULTURE

Rome is full of liveliness and energy, direct results of the Roman culture. A melting pot for people from many different walks, you will find good, quality foods from around the world here. The streets are full of chatter in a number of languages. The bread looks a bit different in every shop. And you’re going to find a 3€ bottle of wine better than the $20 bottle you would find at home. Most things here are unique, and most things are refined.

The Colosseum @travelingintandem
Another look at The Colosseum

And it should also be said that Rome is a place with plenty of space if you navigate it appropriately. It’s really not that crowded once you get away from places like The Vatican, The Roman Forum, and The Pantheon. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the shoulder-to-shoulder hustle in the touristy areas, but the rest of the city really provides the opportunity for a deep breath. With so many side streets, cafes, nooks, and crannies, everyone can easily bumble about with no issue.

Parvel del Colle Oppio @travelingintandem
Beautiful Stone Pine Trees in Parcel del Colle Oppio

Lastly, something we’ve been able to appreciate retrospectively is the air quality. Maybe there are specific emissions standards or the European cars have fabulous catalytic converters, but we really appreciated how much we were able to walk in Rome because you weren’t constantly choking in exhaust fumes from the passing cars. Needless to say, that’s something we’ve been really struggling with here in the bigger cities in Southeast Asia.

Coffee Culture

Rome, and Italy, in general, will always hold a special place in my heart for their coffee and cafe cultures. It’s customary to simply approach the cafe bar, order an espresso, cappuccino, or what have you, toss it back at the bar, and move on with your day. And they take their coffee seriously. So the quality is great, the baristas we encountered were almost always charming, and folks standing on your side of the counter always had a kind word to share. Even if it was only a “hello”.

Testaccio street art @travelingintandem
Street art of abstract, beautiful faces in Testaccio

Travel Tip: When possible, have your coffee, pastry, or any other snack at the counter. Restaurants in Italy charge a cover charge, so each person is charged an extra 1-3€ for table service. Of course, it’s worth it for a meal, but it adds up if you’re tagging an extra few euro onto your coffee bill every day.

Markets

As mentioned before, Rome is full of markets. Inside, outside, down an alley—they’re everywhere. And you can find just about anything you need. Looking for a sweatshirt? Why not visit one of the rummage bin pop-up markets? Check out the weekly Borghetto Flaminio Market for designer clothes, or Trastevere’s Sunday market, Porta Portese, spanning over a mile.

If you’re in the mood for food, make time in the morning or early afternoon for the Testaccio Market. It’s recently been overhauled with a little facelift, but still holds all of the endearing charms that you’d expect from a building dedicated solely to Italian food and beverage. Read more about it in our post on Rome’s food scene.

Testaccio @travelingintandem
More street art in Testaccio

Legal Green

We also discovered that Italy has this strange, quasi-temperamental law regarding CBD marijuana. They have dispensaries with CBD-only green and it’s entirely legal, but not for human consumption? It’s for “technical use” but could also cease to exist on any given day.

We spoke with a number of people and apparently it’s a law that has generated a lot of revenue, but teeters in the hands of lawmakers who would be able to legally rescind it with the flip of a coin. This would buckle a number of people because they’ve invested their land, revenue, real estate, etc. into an industry that is making them money but might not exist tomorrow. It’s really strange.

Travel Tip: When appropriate, ask people about their lives as locals. Don’t be afraid to simply talk to other people. Engage over their businesses, or local events, laws, etc. It’s amazing how appreciated and seen people feel once you start asking them questions.

The Roman Forum @travelingintandem
Our new friend, Patricia, grandma, Steve, and I at The Roman Forum

ADVENTURES WITH GRANDMA

We had a pretty spectacular reel of experiences in Rome. First, grandma was able to meet up with us. Before leaving for the trip she was pretty nervous. It was her first time flying over The Atlantic and she was traveling alone with a layover in North Carolina just after Hurricane Florence. Guess what? She arrived perky as could be, having made friends on the plane. She didn’t sleep a wink and was ready for Italy.

Grandma and I had been talking about a trip to Italy together for ages. Since I was about 8 years old. And we were so happy to make that happen. Rome gave her a rough introduction into what comfortable footwear is in the United States versus comfortable footwear for Italian cobblestones and hills. We doctored her little feet up with days of bandages and a pair of sneakers. Throughout the week I watched her try bleu cheese and salted cod, which I never thought would happen. But most importantly, grandma got to relax a bit which was a great experience to share.

Needless to say, she and Steve are now nothing short of best friends.

Grandma and Steve in St. Peter's Basilica @travelingintandem
Steve and grandma being best friends in St. Peter’s Basilica.

EXPLORING ROME

Last, but not least, be sure to make time to explore. It’s an easy city for chasing things. Run here, or there, go see this monument or that. But in order to truly enjoy the city we spent a lot of time with our phones in our pockets and our heads up appreciating all of the things along the way.

During our time on foot we were able to see so much. One of the cuter experiences was meeting a kind Swedish girl on a solo trip in Rome. We started chatting at the Roman Forum and ended up spending the next few hours walking through the city to the Pantheon and seeing the sights along the way.

@travelingintandem
Catching a break from the sun before visiting the Pantheon.

Travel Tip: Give yourself the freedom to see places with your eyes, and not on your phone screen or through a camera lens. It’s something we need to be reminded of now and again, and it really aids in your ability to be present.

We also had really wonderful and warm interactions once we started to nuzzle into local neighborhoods. People are always happy to help.  They’re also happy to laugh at the ridiculous things you might do or ask. It’s important to laugh with them because who knows what you actually said. Steve recently asked for a slap in the face instead of a loaf of bread. Oops.

bridge @travelingintandem
 A beautiful bridge near The Vatican

WHAT’S NEXT

Keep an eye out for our other two Rome posts. One will be brief and have a few travel hiccups, while the other will be extensive with descriptions of the best eats. And let me tell you, Rome is full of spectacular food.

Talk soon!

Brittany

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