I never had a desire to go to Rome. Like not ever.
Venice? Bucket list! Florence? Absolutely. Rome? Mehhh…
My impression was just another huge, HOT, crowded city with tons of Italians hustling you. Sure it’s ancient and full of history, but I don’t know… I guess I always thought of it like a mix between NYC and an Italian Disneyland.
But when I started to think of where in Europe I could see myself getting lost in, one city came to mind.
“Rome. By all means, Rome.”
I had visions of myself as Audrey Hepburn wandering its streets – walking the Spanish Steps, buying some sandals, chopping my hair off and riding around on a Vespa.
None of these things happened. Not one.
The Spanish Steps? They were closed. Thought about getting a new do, but what if I hated it? All my pics would be ruined! And a Vespa? Death wish? I kind of wanted to live to experience the rest of my trip. So yeah, no.
Still, Rome. There’s nothing quite like it in all the world. It’s got a flavor all its own. Aged, smoky, but with veins of vivacity, authenticity, and so much hip artistic expression. The key is to wander. Get lost! Down all the alleyways and side streets. You’ll find hidden gems in the form of restaurants, shops, boutiques, and gelaterias that serve real gelato.
Don’t get me wrong, the Pantheon was astoundingly beautiful. The Vatican, overwhelming. The Colosseum and Roman Forum, just really freaking old and hot! But I think what I enjoyed most wasn’t so much Rome’s history but its present. Its future. Knowing that I was walking on some of the same uneven cobblestones (like literally tripped 20 times in one day) that the apostles walked and other famous figures in history was kind of trippy. But it was the life, real Roman life that drew me in and stole a piece of my heart.
So how did I discover this real Roman life? A few ways…
Firstly I did a bit of research. Afar Magazine (one of the best travel magazines in my opinion) has an app. One of the things it recommended was taking an Eating Rome walking tour. I looked it up and it was exactly what I was looking for.
In a small group of max 12 people a guide takes you through either Testaccio or Trastevere (the hip trendy foodie neighborhoods in Rome) and you get to sample different foods from about 10 different establishments, meeting the owners and artisans who are so passionate about what they do. Essentially you get to know Rome through your tastebuds, and you get to explore neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
Aaand… if you do this at the beginning of your trip you get a nifty pamphlet full of the best restaurants in Rome. No worrying where to eat. No wasting meals on sh•tty food.
So that’s one way. The other way is to just get up early, strap on some good shoes and expect to clock some serious kilometers. The best way to see any place is to just walk. Plan a route if you want or just wander. But by all means, GO!
When you get too hot, slip into a cafe for a cafe freddo (iced coffee, sometimes called a cafe shakerato) or a Spritz. Or when that’s not an option, bust out that scarf you brought and duck into a church. They literally are everywhere, and happen to be some of the coolest (both in interest and temperature) places in the city.
Okay… this post is getting really long. I’ll end it here, but I promise to write a follow-up with Sika’s Guide to Roma – my favorite cafes, restaurants, churches, places to stay and things to do.
Needless to say Audrey was right. There’s nothing quite like a Roman Holiday!
*** P.S. Eating Rome is just one walking tour of many under the umbrella of an incredible company Eating Europe. They have walking foodie tours not just in Italy (Florence and soon-to-be Venice) but also in Amsterdam, Prague and London. I liked the Rome tour so much I went on one later when I was in Prague (they hook you up with a sweet discount if you’re a multiple offender). And they also offer cooking classes too if that’s more your jam.
At any rate I can’t recommend this company more highly! If you’re traveling to any of these European destinations, you like food, you like some history and you want to get the local feel just do it. I promise it’s money well spent!