Rome Vlog! My First Solo Trip

Last week, I was stuck in quite the funk in London. Getting rejected from job applications and drowning in depths of schoolwork, I needed to get away ASAP. I booked a quick trip to Rome, and decided to take a bit of a risk – I would travel alone. While I’ve traveled alone in the States before, this trip was my first voyage abroad sans companions, and I’m so glad I finally bit the bullet and went for it.

The weekend in Rome was restorative, immersive, and even a bit meditative. Plus, it was filled with sunshine and plenty of pasta and stunning ancient ruins. Since I didn’t have any real-life friend with me, I thought I’d bring YOU, my internet friends, with. Being the obnoxious millenial I am, I vlogged the whole trip. Check out all my food porn and painful attempts at Italian! Can’t wait for my next solo trip; I may be newly addicted.

Rome Sightseeing: See it or Skip It?

Rome is the third most visited city in Europe, just behind London and Paris, and receives 7-10 million visitors a year to take in its cultural and archaeological wonders. The city has become quite a tourist hub, and was way more overrun with tourists than London when I visited at a similar time. Since Rome welcomes so many sightseers, it also has unfortunately been invaded by people trying to take advantage of these visitors. It is also filled with so many attractions that it can be difficult to sift through all there is to do and see in the Eternal City. It’s a great city for tourists, yes, but it is also easy for a tourist to get taken advantage of or unnecessarily waste money on some random ruins or tour.

During my recent visit, I certainly didn’t experience EVERY last famous site, but I did pack in some major highlights to varying degrees of success. Not all of these attractions were worth the hassle or money – so I wanted to be sure to share what you should see, or skip, on your next trip to Rome.

 



The Vatican – See it! (But only the right way!)
Your enjoyment of your visit to the Vatican will be largely dependent on what tour you choose. Make sure to book a tour in advance and one that gives you early entrance to the Sistine Chapel. We went through Walks of Italy, and we were able to take in the beauty of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel a full hour before opening – beating the crowds and heat – allowing us to relax and fully enjoy the masterpiece. Then we continued to explore the Vatican museums, gardens and St. Peter’s. The place is a world wonder with an overwhelming collection of art and history. Definitely a must-see, as long as you can avoid the sweltering throngs of tourists with the right tour.



Open Air Double Decker Bus Tour – Skip it!
While I loved the open air bus tour in London, its Roman counterpart was very disappointing (we used the City Sightseeing brand in both cities). Multiple of the tour companies are run by disorganized street hawkers, making it very difficult to tell who is legit and who is trying to run away with your euros. Once we finally figured out how to buy non counterfeit tickets, they were still 20 euro each and we had to wait in a very long line for a seat on a bus. The tour itself was lackluster with overcrowded seating, broken audio guides (there was no in-person guide like in London), and long wait times at each stop. Definitely skip it and instead wander Rome by foot while listening to one of Rick Steve’s free podcasts.

Entering the reconstructed arena floor.

 

The top of Ancient Rome.

The Colosseum – See it! (But only the right way!)
Like the Vatican, the Colosseum is a must-see, but you should try to book the “right” tour beforehand. Salesmen will try to rope you into booking a tour as soon as you set a foot near the site, but spend time before your trip researching an option that will give you special access. Again, we booked a Walks of Italy Tour (it’s extremely well reviewed and reputable) that gave a “VIP’ feeling to all of it. Traipsing about the colossal ruins, we were led pas the velvet ropes and below the Colosseum where the gladiators would train, walked around the actual restricted arena floor, and slipped up a locked, secret staircase to the “roof” of the auditorium. Taking in views of Ancient Rome from the very top of the Colosseum is something I’ll never forget, and I highly recommend you book this tour. If you don’t want to spend the extra euros, still visit the Colosseum, but book through the official museum instead of through a sketchy street vendor.

Throngs of tourists at the Spanish steps.

 

Trevi Fountain. Under construction, so even more forgettable.

Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps – Skip it!
I’ve paired these two stops together as they’re usually included in the same guided tour. By all means, check them out, but don’t waste money on a guided tour. You can quickly take a cab or the metro to both spots, meander around the neighborhoods, snaps some instagrams, then be merrily on your way. They are both pretty jammed with tourists and street vendors, so you will want to get away from the men shoving selfie sticks in your face anyway.

Trying the #3 slice of pizza in Rome at Volpetti Piu.

 

Overwhelmed with beautiful meats and cheeses at Volpetti.

Eating Italy Food Tour – See it!
I mentioned this tour on my previous post, but I cannot recommend the Eating Italy Food Tour enough. We did the “Taste of Testaccio” trek, and munched on 12 tastings at 9 of the city’s best food vendors from restaurants to a street market. The day was an onslaught to the taste buds – tiramisu, salami, pasta, bruschetta, suppli – the feast went on and on. Our tour guide Dom was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining (he has mutton chops and is in a Rolling Stones cover band!), and we had a beautiful day making new friends and relishing the neighborhood’s bites.

What are your “must sees” in Rome? Anything I forgot or should give a second chance?

(Almost) Everything I Ate in Rome

While Italy is full of art, history and culture, I definitely was most looking forward to its gastronomic tourism. Translation – the food was DAMN good. I kept a little photo diary of (almost) everything I savored in the beautiful culinary country, so I wouldn’t forget my favorite restaurants and dishes. There are definitely a few I hope to return to and enjoy again some day.  I broke the food up by Rome and the Amalfi Coast – there are too many dishes to fit into one post and the cuisines are pretty different. So, let’s first enjoy a tasty tour of Rome – my mouth is already watering.

 

DAY ONE
 

Our first meal was at La Bruschetta near our hotel, the Marriott Grand Flora on Via Veneto. We were jet lagged and just wanted food and wanted it yesterday. I had lasagna, and it was soggy and mediocre. Not the best culinary note to start the trip on.

 

Our dinner that evening, however, more than made up for the poor first impression. At the recommendation of our concierge, we tried Ristorante 34 near the Spanish Steps. It’s definitely in a touristy part of town, but the food was UNBELIEVABLE. We dined al fresco in the twilight, and dish after miraculous dish was paraded out by the welcoming (rare in Rome) and hustling waiter. I feasted on red pepper and gorgonzola pasta, veal saltimbocca with truffle mash (ohmagahhhh), and a chocolate souffle. My parents split an outrageous veal shank, and I had to partake in those festivities as well. Honestly, this was our best meal by far in Rome, and I highly recommend you try it.
Picturesque Roman al fresco dining, straight out of Lady and the Tramp.

 

 

*Drools*

 

All finished off with a shot of espresso.

 

DAY TWO
Day two, we ventured to the neighborhood of Testaccio for the Eating Italy “Taste of Testaccio Food Tour.” My parents had completed the tour their last trip to Rome, and highly recommended it. We spent half the day wandering Testaccio, sampling its foodie delights at local vendors, restaurants, and markets. Unfortunately, I was so entranced by the food that I didn’t take pictures of everything. I did remember to snap some, however, and have included them below. Definitely add this tour to your “must-do” list in Rome.

 

 

 

Suppli, a street food made out of breaded, fried risotto.

 

Our tour began as most days should, with tiramisu.

 

DAY 3
 
The morning of our third day, my mom and I explored the Vatican and Sistine Chapel and had worked up quite an appetite by lunch time. We met my brother and dad to fuel up at Ristochicco, just a short walk from St. Peter’s Square. The whole surrounding area by the Vatican is a swarm of beggars, scammers, and tourists traps. I definitely relied on Trip Advisor to find a legit restaurant that wouldn’t serve awful food and take us for every euro. Ristochicco was fabulous, and we gobbled up our pasta (I had gnocchi with toms), served fresh out of the cast iron pan.
That evening, after an afternoon filled with rain showers, we took a perilous cab ride (every cab ride in Rome will bring you close to death) to the Trastevere neighborhood. Trastevere was the least “touristy” feeling place we visited, and it was lovely to spend an evening with “real” Romans. Most restaurants are partially outdoor, lining the pedestrian walkways that are filled with street vendors. We had dinner in the center of the action at Grazie e Graziella, another TripAdvisor find. To start, we shared an antipasti of beautiful meats and cheeses, then I had amatriciana for my main. It’s a traditional Roman meat sauce (you definitely don’t order bolognese – this isn’t Bologna!) made with guanciale, pecorino cheese, and tomato. For dessert, we were stuffed but just had split a tiramisu. This was probably my second favorite restaurant in Rome, after 34, plus the waiters were really hot ;).

After dinner, we attempted to walk off the pounds by wandering the piazza in the dusky glow. If I lived in Rome, I would without a doubt live in Trastevere.

DAY FOUR

On our final fourth day in Rome, we had a full day of touring planned at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. To make planning a bit easier and to avoid the crowds at restaurants near these tourist hot spots, we filled up on brunch at our hotel, the Marriott Grand Flora, restaurant. Luckily, the buffet provided this view:

You could do worse than a hotel breakfast with sweeping vistas of Rome. I nibbled on an assortment of pastries, meats, and fruit. The breakfast was included with our room, so not a bad way to save a few euros.

 

After lots of walking and putting on our best Russell Crowe and gladiating about, we decided to forgo a normal lunch and do as the Romans do – eat gelato. I can’t remember the name of this random gelateria a few steps from the Colosseum, but their nutella flavor was on point.

We had a day of travel to Naples then on to the Amalfi Coast looming ahead of us, so we decided to stick close to our hotel for dinner. Unfortunately, we struck out in this neighborhood, yet again at Andrea. It was fine, serviceable, but entirely forgettable. Not representative of Roman cuisine at all. Plus, their saltimbocca was never going to live up to the heaven I experienced at 34. Lesson learned, Via Veneto is not a neighborhood for impressing foodies.  I should have known when the restaurant focal point is the Hard Rock Cafe.

meh.

 

We really outdid ourselves with sampling the tiramisus of Rome. This one was okay.
The cookies weren’t too shabby, but I’m easy to please when it comes to sweets.

Luckily, the Amalfi Coast cuisine finished our trip on a high note. I’ll be sure to put together another post recapping that tastiness!