A few weeks after we’d booked our tickets to Greece, it occurred to me that we could maybe take advantage of cheap flights to other parts of Europe. I was idly checking out the prices on Easyjet, and suddenly I’d booked us 2 tickets to Rome in May for a mere 60 euros each. I can’t fly anywhere from Montreal for that price, let alone to Rome. I started looking at hotels, and freaked out by the prices (note: Rome is expensive), opted for the apartment route. It always surprises me that renting apartments is cheaper than hotels. In general you get something nicer, with a kitchen, and in our case, with a terrace too. I found a tiny studio near Trastevere, the old part of Rome, at the base of the Gianicolo Hill for the cost of an even tinier hotel room without a terrace in a similar area. And then I forgot about Rome for awhile.
The trip snuck up on us. We were just starting to feel settled in Athens and it seemed strange to leave it so soon. The night before our flight I did a little bit of Internet research, mostly of the food variety. I managed to snag a few recommendations, but when you search “Best pizza/gelato in Rome”, you’ll exhaust yourself going through the thousands of hits that appear. We also had Lonely Planet’s Iphone app for Rome. Armed with this little information and a print out with directions to our apartment, we flew to Italy.
And can I tell you how much I loved Rome? I loved Rome in an unexpectedly visceral way. I mean, obviously it’s Rome, but when I told people we were going, their first reaction was usually more along the lines of “be careful not to get pickpocketed”. I was bracing myself for hordes of tourists and overpriced pizza and hoped that because our apartment was in a less touristy part of town, we would be lucky. And we were. On our first day, we stayed on our side of the Tiber river and walked around Trastevere’s cobblestoned streets, and we bought prosciutto and cheese from the sweetest little shop, and a bottle of wine from another, and found a bakery that sold amazing looking bread and some nice looking pizza too. We ate the pizza sitting on the steps of a nearby square that looked onto the water. This was the Rome I was wary of?
The next day we crossed the bridge and walked to the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona and other notable points in between. We were occasionally annoyed by the masses and the fact that a bottle of water cost 2 euro, but there are ways around this. First you come to terms with the fact that as much as “tourists” are annoying, you’re also one so suck it up and stop being judgemental. Next, simply admire the thing you’re looking at. The lineups to get into the Coliseum or the Vatican museums are long and exhausting, and we didn’t want to wait in them, but you see so much of the Coliseum and its ruins anyway outside, and just being in St. Peters with the Vatican in the background is inspiring (the vendors hawking rosaries, postcards of the pope and wilted looking pizza slices are awesome too). Then you take the back streets, which are usually nicer anyway. You buy a 60 cent bottle of water from the grocery store that you then refill at the dozens of fountains around the city (The Romans did water well; these fountains are constantly running cool, clear water.) Ta da. It’s not so hard.
So, mostly we walked a lot and ate good food. (If this is the epitaph on my eventual tombstone, I wouldn’t have lived a bad life, I think.) In the morning we’d wake up, and get an espresso and a pastry from a nearby cafe. You drink your little cup of coffee standing at the bar and feel very chic and Italian doing so. And then we’d set off in whatever direction we’d chosen for the day. The best food we got was the kind gathered from the market at the square near our apartment or little shops. Most of the places we liked best didn’t come from recommendations online or the guidebook – they just happened to look good. I have a feeling that as long as you avoid the places obviously targeted towards tourists, you won’t have a problem finding good food. But in case you do go, here are places I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend:
- Forno la Renella (Via del Moro, 15 in Trastevere): We ended up buying all our bread from here. You can tell them how much of the loaf you want and they’ll cut it for you – you pay according to weight. They also have pizza al taglio, the rectangular kind with the thicker crust, which was amazing (also paid for by weight).
- Gelateria Giolitti (near Colonna): It’s funny the way you match up your experience at a place with reviews online. When we went to Giolitti, we didn’t go because it was a gelato institution. We had no idea. We went because we saw so many different types of people holding cones from the place: business men in suits, construction workers splattered in paint, tourists. And when we ate our gelato we didn’t realize that the place had apparently seen “better days”. Instead we got excellent gelato in a very touristy hub, which we ate on the steps of a quiet church, before jumping back into the crowd.
- Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè: I’d read about this cafe many times before leaving and hoped to have coffee here, but the map on the Iphone app was lacking. It was fine for getting to general areas, but unreliable for exact addresses. I was happy, then, when we turned a corner and found the cafe. I’m not a coffee expert, but Andrew said it was perfect.
- Almost Corner Bookstore (Via del Moro, 45 in Trastevere): Not food related, but there’s something comforting about finding a good bookstore when you’re abroad, especially a small cozy one with friendly owners and an incredible selection of English books for decent prices.
So, in one of my less original statements: Rome is amazing. But being back in Athens isn’t so bad either.