Italian Iter | Rome

Altare della Patria

Roma. A delightfully complex and dense city where a lifetime would never be enough to experience every stratum of this unbelievably rich place. We must go back.

In five days we visited 13 churches, petted at least 6 cats, toured 4 Roman sites, saw many more ruins, took the metro once, went to 3 markets, were impeded by 2 of Donald’s motorcades, and saw 1 Pink Floyd cover band in the Campo de’ Fiori.

Food and Drink
Mashed potato cheese balls at Open Baladin
Mashed potato cheese balls at Open Baladin

We may have been too exhausted to investigate Rome’s after midnight cocktail scene, but we did find plenty of other delights:

Open Baladin – A brewery with amazing food near Campo de’ Fiori. We loved our burgers (mine was eggplant) and the little potato ball appetizers (pictured above).

Ai Tre Scalini – A bar/restaurant in Monti with highly addictive bar snacks and a great selection of wine.

Vinaietto, Enoteca di Goccetto, Il Piccolo – Three fun little wine bars not too far from Campo de’ Fiori.

Pianostrada – Make reservations and prepare for delicious, creative cooking at this hip spot.

Alice – Yummy Roman pizza joint with crispy crusts and fresh toppings.

Roscioli – A foodie empire! We loved the bakery (forno), but next time we should eat at the restaurant too.

Mercato Testaccio – Great place for lunch and trying new foods. Beware the aggressive pan-handlers.

De Bellis – A tiny, exquisite pasticceria.

Giolitti – The grand dame of gelato shops. My black cherry and chocolate gelati were divine.

Punto Gelato – They have at least five kinds of chocolate! Get una pallina and then eat it while walking by the Tiber.

Shopping
Frankie with bag
Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary bag

Instead of a recipe, I offer notes on our favorite shopping experiences in the Eternal City.

Comics and illustration– In the shadow of St. Peter’s, one may find excellent fumetti shops filled with classics from Dylan Dog to Milo Manara. Pocket 2000 Libreria on Via Famagosta has everything! For prints, books, and silly gifts featuting modern illustrators and designers, visit Fox Gallery near Torre Argentina.

Books – Italians read! How refreshing to find a robust offering of bookstores, including specialized shops — one dedicated to travel, another to cinema and pop culture, for example. Off Via del Governo Vecchi is where I think we found some unique shops, but even the big, bright Feltrinelli overlooking Torre Argentina didn’t disappoint! So many things we wish had been in English.

Pope clothes – Just south of the Pantheon…for all your religious bling! Giant chalices, swinging crosses, flouncy gowns. We should have taken a picture of the perfectly dressed windows.

Cat sanctuary souvenir – Cat lovers the world over will marvel if you have a bag from Largo di Torre Argentina (pictured above).

Top Five Sites

Impossible to pick just five, but if pressed:

Caravaggio at San Luigi dei Francesi
Marveling at Caravaggio in situ at San Luigi dei Francesi, Sant’Agostino, and Santa Maria del Popolo
Non-Catholic Cemetery
Paying homage to the dead at the verdant Non-Catholic Cemetery, home to Keats (whose stone was easy to find) and to Shelley (whom we missed). We also visited the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars, where the bones of 3,700 people — primarily monks — were arranged into ornate designs in the early 18th century. As a piece of art, the work is strange, beautiful, and moving.
View from St. Peter's Dome
Climbing for views in high places. We dug deep in our pockets to scrounge enough coins to cover the cash-only entry fee to St. Peter’s Dome. Besides majestic St. Peter’s, we also enjoyed surveying Rome from the southern edge of the Villa Borghese and from the Gianicolo Hill.
Baths of Caracalla
Wandering through the massive Baths of Caracalla. We also visited the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Ara Pacis, which had an excellent exhibit on slavery in the Roman world. I liked the Baths of Caracalla best because there weren’t many people and from the well-preserved remains we could get a good sense of the scale of Roman architecture — BIG.
Bernini's elephant
Hunting for Bernini:  his fountains — Four Rivers, Tritons, Turtles — and his sculptures in piazzas and in churches. They brought such delight to our wanderings.
Toilet Troubles

Sometimes when one travels, one’s “system” does not work normally and finding a bathroom, preferably comfortable and private, becomes a serious priority. So it happened on our super intense All-Things-Ancient-Rome-Day. The Capitoline Museums may have an excellent collection of sculpture, including Constantine’s Monty Python-esque feet in the courtyard, but the bathroom — at least the one we found in the labyrinthine bowels of the building — left much to be desired. However, our search for the bathroom did lead us to the other half of the museum, which we would have otherwise missed due to the horrendous signage. Anyway, relief I found at the Ara Pacis Museum, which we visited after the Capitoline (hurrah for buses!). Clean, quiet, spacious — with seats! — one of the best restrooms we found in Rome.

Social Encounters
Around Trastevere
Around Trastevere

I’m so very lucky that my job connects me to wonderful people all over the world. In Rome, we met up with two friends – Sara and Angela – on separate nights. Sara, a native Roman, took us for a long walk through Trastevere, dinner back near Torre Argentina, and drinks at Open Baladin. At last John could ask someone about Italian curse words! Angela invited us to dinner at her apartment in San Giovanni. We took a crowded bus — nose to armpit — but no matter, it felt good to be in a residential part of the city with shops geared towards the average person. Angela and her husband prepared a lavish Italian meal — appetizers, risotto, eggplant parmesan, tiramisu! We’re so grateful to Sara and Angela for all their hospitality, generosity, and good advice!

Notes for Next Time

The Roma Pass guide opened our eyes to so many other sites of interest that don’t make the cut for a basic guidebook. Plus, there’s a whole contemporary art scene. On a future visit, we’d like to see:

  • Borghese Gallery
  • GNAM – Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea – 19th and 20th century art
  • MACRO – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma – contemporary art
  • Palazzo Massimo – Museo Nazionale Romano – ancient sculpture
  • Botanical Gardens at the foot of the Gianicolo

I also wanted to catch jazz at Alexanderplatz or Casa del Jazz, but that didn’t happen. Next time!

We stayed near the bustling Campo de’ Fiori, but on a future visit we’d prefer an area that feels more like a neighborhood and is accessible by metro — Monti (metro: Cavour) or Prati (metro: Ottaviano, not far from the handy Mercato Trionfale).

So we have to go back, if only to watch the sunset over St. Peter’s again.

St. Peter's at sunset

Want more photos? See the rest on Flickr.

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