Rome (American English)/Roma (Italian)
October 19 – 23 and 27-78
Kyra: Even though we didn’t end up staying there, hostel/B&B named “The Beehive” shared with us their guide to Rome and it’s pretty incredible.
Ben: A good anecdote to have in your back pocket is that Rome had sewage systems nearly 2500 years ago.
How we got there
Kyra: We were in Rome twice, although our second time around was basically a layover for a night between Sicily and Madrid.
Ben: We got there by plane. It was our first flight in about a month and a half, which was a nice change of pace. Ryan Air actually treated us well and put Kyra and me in an exit row seat, something which sounds unheard of to those familiar with the budget airline. There were no delays and we arrived in Rome around 11pm our first time and on-time again our second flight.
Where we stayed
Ben: Max’s Sixbeds was our Airbnb residence in Rome. Our stay started with ringing him at 12:30am to let us in (he knew about this, but I still felt bad waking him up). His apartment was another Airbnb/hostel, like the one in Prague, that consisted of a larger apartment with 3 bedrooms (and six beds) plus a bathroom. It’s never fun to share a bathroom with a lot of other people especially when the shower doesn’t have a great curtain (read: water everywhere), but they made up for it by delivering pastries each morning.
Kyra: Our second stay was in the Pigneto neighborhood at a similar style Airbnb which had a large, comfy bed and balcony.
Ben: Although you may be expecting a pizza entry here, I’m going down a different path and reviewing the Indian place we tried. This place was very close to where we were staying and had just opened for dinner when we arrived. Kyra and I were starving so we devoured the styrofoam-like bread they brought out as an appetizer (I’m not saying it was bad, it just really was like styrofoam). We split a Tikka Masala and Chana Saag, which turned out to be quite good. The latter was very spicy which left us gulping down water and more styrofoam. My only complaint is that the owner told us like 5 times to leave a review for him on TripAdvisor. He even gave us his business card so that we could find the place easier. It left me feeling a bit strange, like this guy paid for reviews or something. In the end, we didn’t leave a review, but maybe someday he’ll find this and see that we thought his food was at least decent.
Kyra: I thought it was better than decent and a much welcomed break from pizza and pasta.
Kyra: Gelato in Rome is phenomenal. We ate our fair share all over the city, but our favorite place was Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, which served their gelato with a scoop of “Panna” (cream) on the top.
Ben: Kyra downloaded a guide to Rome’s neighborhoods from one of the hostels we researched and it turned out to be an awesome source for dining. We found this gelato place, which is actually quite well known, and stopped by for an after dinner snack. I was expecting big prices, small gelato, and medium taste. What we got was small prices, medium gelato, and big taste! They load your cone or cup with two scoops of gelato (my go-to combo was chocolate and pistachio) then they place a huge dollop of whipped cream on top of it. The whipped cream was the game changer and brought this place to 5 stars in my book.
Local View and Lessons Learned
Kyra: It felt like we just kept getting shat on by Rome – in fact, one day a bird did in fact poop on my head as I walked under a tree (coincidentally, the day of the 20th anniversary of Now and Then, as my friend Emily informed me). In spite of the great number of setbacks, financial and otherwise, Rome really is a pretty amazing city if you find the good parts. Upside, we made all the mistakes and documented them, so perhaps you won’t make them if you visit.
Kyra: Book in advance. We actually did that but then I got cold feet about the price of the place we were staying and we cancelled it before finding another place, sure that we could find a private space for $50 a night. Our cancellation fee for Airbnb was $30. That coupled with the last minute booking and the simple reality of what housing in Rome costs, meant that we ended up in a hostel type Airbnb and just breaking even. Our place was near Termini Station and pretty easy to get around from, however after visiting the Monti and Trieste neighborhoods, I would recommend them instead. Our second time around in Rome, we stayed in the Pigneto neighborhood, which is akin to Northeast Minneapolis. It’s a tiny hike into the older part of the city where most of the tourist attractions are, but lucky for us, we had already visited the sites so instead spent our 20 hours back in Rome enjoying a new neighborhood.
Kyra: I have to consciously tell myself to breath when I think about our ordeals with the Roma Pass. The pass costs $36 and offers free entrance to the first two museums of your choice, plus discounts on other admission and included public transit for three days. In theory, it could be a very good deal if: 1) You stack the two most expensive museums (don’t forget reservations!) at the front 2) Are going to a lot of museums that cost money 3) Don’t want to walk. Unfortunately, those things were not true for us. The pass worked like a charm at our first stop, the Colosseum, where we skipped and incredibly long line and swiped the card to get in.
Ben: Don’t buy passes. Because we’re on a budget, passes are interesting to us, but usually we don’t want to do all the touristy things or the passes don’t make sense. In Rome, this was different. We read in a few places that the pass was worth it because you could ride all metro transit for free and enter the Colosseum/Forum + Villa Borghese for free which made sense when you looked at the ticket prices. So we bought the pass and went to the Colosseum and Forum on our first day. The problem arose when we realized that only your first 2 places are free which meant we had to wait until the third day (when we had scheduled our Villa Borghese tour) to use the pass again. Which also meant that we couldn’t use it to get a discount anywhere else. That turned out to be fine because we did things that weren’t on the pass, but the real pain came when we arrived at the Villa Borghese 15 minutes before our tour and they wouldn’t let us in. Supposedly we had to be there 30 minutes before because we hadn’t purchased a ticket, but instead just made a reservation. We pleaded with them for 10 minutes, but they didn’t budge. Our flight left the next morning and we hadn’t used the metro transit, which meant we paid full price for the pass simply to go to the Colosseum (ouch). We were able to rebook at Villa Borghese for the next week when we had a stopover in Rome, but it still hurt. When you’re traveling, I’d stick with paying at the door, it allows you to be flexible, which is worth a few dollars and heartaches in the end.
A’lora – Okay, hmm, um, filler word
Buona Sera – Good Evening
Grazia – Thank You
Prego – You’re Welcome or What’s Up, tell me
Kyra: While at The Forum, there was a young French boy parkouring on every railing, wall, and rock he could find. The Forum is this grandiose, sprawling ancient series of ruins. As you pass the buildings, fountains, or outlines of a buildings-that used-to-be, a small placard stands in front detailing the historical significance of each. We had spotted the boy earlier perched on a railing, waiving his arms wildly, swaying backwards and forwards trying to stay balanced. We continued on and arrived at the Archaic Burial Ground, where a small group had gathered to read the site’s history. A few moments in, the boy sprinted over from his previous perch to try his hand at balancing on the gravestones. At the exact moment that this picture was taken, imagine the completely horrified face of the woman standing next to us, which quickly turned into disgust.
Ben: Having been to Rome in high school, it was cool to see how the main attractions had changed (or how what I remembered had changed) and The Forum was still very exciting to see. Reading the arcs and plaques using my so-so Latin skills was again like having access to the private tour, understanding why these places and monuments were built, and finding them ever more impressive. It amazes me that Rome’s history is exposed and quite easy to see – in MN our history is short and most older buildings have decayed or been replaced, so it’s fun to step back into a different time and imagine life thousands of years ago.
Kyra: After visiting the Colosseum and Forum our first day, Ben and I were too pooped to poop, so we read and rested in a nearby park before that evening’s activities. What makes Rome so special, is that everywhere you turn, there are really old artifacts.
Kyra: As my friend Natalie put it, “The Vatican is totally 100% worth it.”
Ben: The Vatican was different than I remembered. The first time I was there, it was my maiden trip abroad – Rome was the first international city I’d seen. That compounded with the fact that the Vatican was magical and everything in it a subject for my camera. The frescoes on the ceilings (notably in the Sistine Chapel) were awe-inspiring and every piece of art so different than any I’d seen before. This time around, I had a different perspective on some of the pieces and found it nice to examine one artifact for a few minutes, instead of being high school Ben looking for the top pieces. This allowed me to really reflect on the art, the artist’s intention, and just how incredibly long most of these pieces must have taken. It reminded me of the time they were created in, a time full of great artists that dedicated their lives to their craft.
Kyra: Natalie recommended visiting the Capuchin Crypt in Rome and I cannot thank her enough. The site is a number of chapels, arranged side by side, decorated with human bones. Some bones can be easily discerned as…bones…while others are used in such a creative way that without background, one might not realize what they were. If you go to Rome, please visit this crypt.
Cooking with Nonna
Kyra: As a special treat, we did a cooking class with an Italian grandmother in Rome. Our menu included: two types of bruschetta, prosecco, ricotta and spinach ravioli, a charcuterie board, veal, and tiramisu. We made everything but the alcohol by hand that evening!
Kyra: As mentioned above, Galleria Villa Borghese was a bit of a pain for us to get in to but absolutely worth it. A bit of background from our Belgrade Airbnb host – an Art History grad student, now living in Rome:
In Villa Borghese, which is more central, there is also the Galleria Borghese – my favorite museum in the world! It is a 16th century villa of an important Cardinal, with the most beautiful art collection (Renaisance and Baroque). So, if you like art, you should go online and book it asap, because they are often full.
Kyra: Italians are into style and they don’t stop at couture and high fashion, vintage is also pretty in. One day, while wandering the city, we found this awesome gem of a shop with letter jackets and vintage Italian leather purses.
Kyra: Animated is almost an understatement when describing how Italians converse. You can’t tell from this picture, but as we walked by these two men – one of them a priest – in the park, Ben and I had a debate about whether or not they were speaking sign language, until we got close enough to hear them talk.
Ben: Scooters and tiny cars are seen in almost any reference to Rome and it makes sense because they’re everywhere. I don’t think there are any rules on when or where to park them either.
Kyra: Museum guards on cellphones. To be fair, sitting in a room watching people take pictures for hours on end, probably isn’t all that interesting, which is probably why all museum guards pass the time staring at their phones.
A Special Note
Kyra: My dear friend Charlotte arranged with Ben to send a letter to Rome for my birthday, unbeknownst to me. Of course, we cancelled the apartment she was sending it to, then Ben realized we wouldn’t get Charlotte’s gift unless we set up a time to meet with the host we had cancelled on. In her letter, Charlotte wrote about Trevi Fountain, and although it was closed during our visit, I wanted to take a picture with it to show my appreciation for Charlotte’s sweet gesture.