Saturday, July 15, 2006

When In Rome

Ahhhhh, Rome!

While Rome wasn't built in a day, we had just two days to try and see all of it.

Pretty daunting!

We decided to divide our two days up into two key chunks:
  1. Ancient Rome (The Coliseum and surrounding area); and
  2. The Vatican Museum

Getting To Rome:

We were whisked to Rome via train from Naples. It was summer and we enjoyed wonderful views of sunflower farms between the two cities.

Suggested Stay:

A minimum of 3 days or a lifetime. You choose.

Must See | Do: 

The Coliseum: There is so much more history behind The Coliseum. For that reason, I suggest paying the 15-20 Euro for a guided group tour. Our tour guide was an English-speaking Italian and we were quickly escorted past the long line of tourists right into the magnificent structure. There's a story of all the life behind The Coliseum and tourguide Larry knew it! Allow about 2-3 hours for the entire view and make sure and take pictures from inside looking down into chasms comprising The Coliseum's intricate subfloor.

Coliseum Tip Our tour outfit called RomAround Tours approached us as we stood outside The Coliseum gawking up at the uber view. So you won't need to pre-arrange anything in advance, unless that's important to you. Purchasing our ticket also got us into two additional things to see, one of which was Palantino, just a few steps from the Coliseum.

The Vatican Museum - Lines form very early in the morning. We arrived at 8AM and the line was already wrapped around the building for several blocks. So, as was the case with The Coliseum, we opted for a group tour to expedite our viewing of the Museum. I believe it was about 30-40 Euro (pricier than The Coliseum) and very much worth it and included a headset that our tour guide operated. Had we not been able to clear The Vatican before noon, we would have missed our hotel check-out, so high props to the tour option!

The Museum is vast and very ornate. At some point in the tour, I became desensitized to the gilded this and fresco'd that. Actually, I was in sensory overload. The Museum is very beautiful and a must-see when in Roma!

Other sights we were able to sandwich into our short time in Rome include The Trevvi Fountain and The Spanish Steps. When in Rome, you have to see these!

Rome Dining:

Our favorite dining experience the entire trip was in Rome at a nice neighborhood food spot called Il Matriciano. We sat outside with the locals and enjoyed an incredible meal with terrific service. Cantalope and proscuitto. Grilled mozzarella. Wonderful soup. Torteglioni and porcini fettucini. Spinnach raviolli 3" square. Your belly will be glad you stopped here.

On the go for gelato? Try Gelateria dei Gracchi (272 Via dei Gracchi) and join-in on the buzz of their ingredient obsession. Try Giolitti (40 Via Uffici del Vicario), a favorite spot since 1900. Try their Coppa Olimpica, a cone design created for the 1960 Olympics that's decked with cream on the outside and an inside of sweet ingredients that will send your tongue into outer orbit. And then there's Fatamorgana (9 Via Lago di Lesina) with eyebrow raisin', jaw dropping flavor-combos like walnut, rose and violet flowers and celery-lime. You can check out their online image galleries here. Caution: Grab a paper towel; you just entered the drool zone.

Our Rome Hotel:

In five trips to Italy, to date our stay at the Grand Hotel Olympic was by far the worst experience. Rude staff. What looked liked black mold in the slow-draining shower. Dusty wall sconces. Rust in the refrigerator. Odd wall stains. I took several pictures of the substandard experience to substantiate my list of all things wrong with the place. I later coined the hotel "The Dump-Olympic."

At one point, we found ourselves in a heated argument with the bartender over ice ("ghiaccio"). The bartender only wanted to give us a single glass of ice for the room. We were Americans and wanted a bucket. After digging in our heels, we finally won. But it wasn't pretty.

Despite the disappointing accommodations, the hotel had functioning air conditioning and was within walking distance to the Vatican, less than 5 blocks away. And we found our favorite restaurant the entire trip Il Matriciano (above) on a random walk around the hotel. So proximity helped this hotel from being a complete disaster.

Rome is a wonderful city with good shopping and historical prominence. It's truly an international city so finding English-speaking folks won't be a rarity. We found crossing the streets of Rome an easy thing to do because drivers will actually slow or stop for you, vs. Naples where you better wear your track shoes and run frantically for your life, arms in air, when crossing streets.

for the love of : italy

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