Rome is my favorite city in the world (out of the 17 countries that I’ve traveled). Two years ago we stayed in the heart of historic Rome for an entire week prior to a 10-day Mediterranean cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line, and I fell in LOVE with the city. Our home base for the week was Hotel Albergo Abruzzi at Piazza della Rotonda, which faces the Pantheon and Fontana del Pantheon (Pantheon fountain). It was the perfect location for enjoying the city on foot. We were completely immersed.
Opening the window and shutters for the first time in our room that overlooked the Pantheon brought tears to my eyes. Those of you that know me well know that I can be emotionally cold. Well this moved me. I was overwhelmed by being in Italy for the first time; the old buildings, the sound of foot traffic and a cello in the piazza, the smell of food and wet pavement…it was all very overwhelming. After I pulled on my big girl pants, we had our first meal at an outside table facing the Pantheon and fountain in one of the ristorantes in the piazza. I think it was a late breakfast, so yeah, we had wine for breakfast. We were warned that restaurants in tourist areas would be more expensive, but we didn’t care. We were paying for the food and the atmosphere, gladly.
In that same piazza was a convenient salumeria. It’s sort of like a deli, small grocery, and wine store all in one. The inside looked like a cave with “bats” of cured meat hanging from the ceiling. They stocked an assortment of deli items, wine, limoncello, chocolates, coffee, and other snacks. We visited the salumeria almost daily. I mean let’s face it, I could live on their cured meat, wine, and limoncello alone.
Also within a short walk from the hotel are attractions such as Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), where we made a wish as we tossed a coin in the fountain backwards, Piazza della Minerva, which the is the location of Minerveo, one of Rome’s many ancient Egyptian obelisks, Piazza Navona, and the Colosseum (Colosseo) and Foro Romano (Roman Forum). We literally walked Rome for days. I had found my happy place! We had reservations for a few tours while we were in Rome. Visiting the Vatican was a must, and because we heard the lines would be long, we opted for a tour to bypass the lines. Vatican City was a short cab ride from our hotel, and we were able to find the meet point fairly easy. Our 3 hour small group tour led by Dark Rome with English speaking guides was fantastic, and it was wonderful not wasting time in a line. I don’t like crowds and I don’t like to wait, so this was perfect. We saw key attractions such as the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms, and St. Peter’s Basilica.
We also took another 3 hour small group tour led by Dark Rome to the Colosseum, where we would bypass lines and have access to parts of the Colosseum not open to the public, such as the rarely seen Colosseum underground with it’s 2000 year old original floor. We were led by English speaking guides through key attractions such as the tunnels of the underground, upper tier level, arena floor, as well as Roman Forum and Palatine Hill near the Colosseum. We were very pleased with the Dark Rome tours and had also enjoyed a Crypts and Catacombs tour led by Dark Rome during our stay in Rome. Since the tours were short and sweet, we had plenty of time to explore on our own. Again…no lines!
We had vino rosso (red wine) every day, and sometimes supplemented red wine with prosecco (sparkling wine), vin santo (dessert wine), or limoncello (lemon liqueur/digestivo), depending on time of day. We also had the opportunity to try grappa, a clear distilled spirit made from grapes that tastes like licorice. It’s horrible, if you don’t like licorice. We frequented a small ristorante near our hotel, Er Faciolaro, because the wait staff were so friendly and the food was incredible. My husband fell in love with wild boar, which is somewhat different than our wild boar here in the states. I loved all the bread and pasta, of course. I also learned that sea bass is a general term for “fish with teeth” and nothing like Chilean sea bass that we have here. At a restaurant near our hotel, I was served a whole fish that stared up at me just daring me to eat it…which I did not.
I think this is the trip where my alter ego, Vacation Sheila, surfaced. When at home, I’m usually rigid, structured, shy, and obsessive compulsive. But when in Rome, I’m laid back, talk to strangers (even in an attempted broken elementary school level Italian), and go with the flow. Who is this person? Could it be all the wine we consumed? Ok, maybe.