Roman holiday - Part 1


Okay, so this is going to have to be in parts.  I took A LOT of pictures.

When we booked Rome earlier this year, I became incredibly over excited.  I became can't sleep at night, occasionally start dancing excited.  I soaked up everything I could about the City.  Documentaries, books, food guides,  blogs, TV programmes, and films galore...   I even watched the Lizzie Maguire movie.  Research baby.

And whilst I may not have been mistaken for an international superstar, or had Gregory peck help me sleep off a hangover, I have to say that it was by far, my favourite trip of the year.  Even with the crowds, dirt and the selfie sticks...

I loved every weird, overcrowded, sweaty moment of it.

Two weeks before we jetted off to the eternal city, England experienced a 'heatwave'. We were optimistic, sweating in our summer clothes, laughing smugly that this was preparing us for the lovely Roman heat.


In case you weren't aware, that is ironic laughter.  For we arrived in Rome during it's very own heatwave.  An Italian heatwave.  It beat the crap out of our English heatwave.

Please keep this in mind as you scroll through this post, that at points it reached 40-45°c heat, which was more than a bit fecking warm for us feeble English. Only two weeks prior, we counted 28°c as hot enough to pack in early from work and complain that we don't have air conditioners.

Okay, brilliant, let's get started.

Check out all that dome porn right there.  Rome loves a dome.  Anyway.

We arrived in Rome early morning and immediately got into a car with our ride.  He introduced himself as a Roman native and we set off!  What proceeded was a strange journey, where I felt the wonder of seeing such amazing things such as the Caracalla baths, pass my eyes, coupled with that inescapable feeling that I was about to die.  My first Roman road experience.  Bliss.  Soon I was hardened to it, walking into roads and shouting at cars that cut me up.

But to start with, I was a shaking feeble mess at the mere sight of the crossings.  For anyone that hasn't been to Rome, you just have to walk out, like this scene from Mulan...

...and the cars all magically don't hit you.  You can't dawdle, you can't stop in the middle of the road, you just have to power on through.  IT'S FECKING TERRIFYING.

We arrived at our apartment, pictured above, and met with our host Stefano.  He was a lovely guy, a Roman native, who dispelled all myths that Italians were rude.  He mapped out what to avoid, gave us a better map than we had, and put up with my awful attempts at Italian.  He then gave us some of the best food recommendations of my life.  Trust the natives. They know things.  Awesome things.  Ice cream things.

Just a little heads up, there is a lot of gelato in this post.

There is so much to see in Rome, and I bet a thousand actual travel blogs have covered it ten times better than I could.  I read them myself, but still wasn't prepared for this trip... because no words can prepare you for walking round one corner and seeing a man belly dancing, before turning another and seeing several monks with Ipods.

Rome was weird, and I was diggin' it.

Okay let's add 'diggin it' to the list of phrases I'm not cool enough to pull off.

Our favourite place in the area was the Pantheon, mostly because our apartment was on the back of it, our favourite gelato place was close to it and also because it was free.  Well, you could of knocked me over with a stick (which actually happened FYI.  Damn fecking selfie sticks) when we first saw it,  as soon as it climbed out from behind a building and into my view it literally took my breath away.  Not to mention the excitement of discovering Raphael's tomb,  and making ourselves dizzy with the magnitude of it all.

I've heard people say the Pantheon didn't really blow them away, and I get it, it doesn't seem much... until you realise that it was built 80AD with massive pillars coming from overseas and engineering that wouldn't be rivaled for nearly 2 thousand years, and they did it without any modern machinery.  It is actually insane, and incredibly beautiful.

We watched an amazing documentary on it before we left, so if you ever head there, I really recommend watching one before you go, so you can really take in how impressive it is.  Or read up on it a little.

What I loved most about it, was that in the evening it took on a completely different vibe.  Musicians, dancers and choirs would come to perform outside.  Horses would be casually chilling.  People ate their dinners, and kids danced through the pillars.  We'd grab gelato from one of the places nearby, sit on a column and just people watch.  It is the strangest feeling to lean against something that is thousands of years old, and listen to someone sing Christmas Carols in July.

That right there, is the most epic gelato eating experience ever.

In the same area, we also explored the underground ruins under Piazza Navona.  Known as the Stadio di Domiziano, the ruins are a few excavated foundations from a stadium that used to lie where the Piazza Navona now sits.  The museum was small, and it did involve a little bit of imagination, but we felt it was a good start to the many excavations, and archaeological explorations we had planned.

Stadio di Domiziano

Foundations of Stadio Di Domiziano
Most of the Romans we met were lovely.  Though my favourite was a large burly man, who rushed out of a bar, tiny espresso cup in hand and started gesticulating wildly towards Kris' face, whilst babbling excitedly away in Italian.  We ended up having a chat in broken Italian about Kris' beard.

This would be the first time of many that Kris' beard made us friends on our trip.  It was like it grew a fecking fan club.  We got stopped in the street, people tried to stroke it, people came over to us to have a chat, we had someone try to coax us into a restaurant by complimenting it, the damn thing was treated like a celebrity.

After more gelato, we took a walk around.  Once more the intensity of the history around us was memorising.   After crossing hell, and walking past the wedding cake, we came across the oldest apartment building in the world, The Insula dell'ara coeli.  Built in the second century, it used to span 5 floors.  They knocked down a whole bunch of them to build the Victor Emmanuel II Monument.

Looking down you can see the old roman street level, where the shops would've been.  I took a picture of that but it's rubbish so I refuse to post it.

I love the contrast between Rome's old history and it's new.

We heard someone call it "a pile of history" and I loved that.

Our first day ended with a walk down to the Colosseum, which due to the setting sun was a fetching shade of orange.  We sat in it's shadow, recuperating from crossing several massive roads, watching a man dressed as a gladiator dance to Michael Jackson.

Later on in the week, we took an evening tour around the different levels of the Colosseum whilst it was closed to general public.  It was empty, eerie, breathtaking and amazing... but more on that at a later post.

The heat was pretty intense on the second day, we ended up having lunch at a place purely because the waiter offered to sit us right where a fantastic breeze comes through the seating area.  I've never wanted a man so much in my life at that moment, and he was about 80 years old in green dungarees.  That's how bloody hot it was.  The heat does strange strange things to your priorities.

So anyway, we unleashed our inner Ezio and walked to Castel Sant'Angleo (after another gelato stop)  Despite severe urges, I did not jump any cardinals, assassinate any Templars or climb the walls.  It was bloody hot though, and I was sweating up a storm.  That's not the reason I didn't murder people, I just thought I'd comment once again that it was bloody hot.

The walk over the Ponte Sant'Angelo was pretty good though.  Once you've dodged the sellers, and people taking pictures, you have a pretty intense view.  It translates to Saint Angel Bridge or as it's known in the guidebooks - 'The bridge of angels."  I love that.  The sculptures were all made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  There is literally things out in the open that deserve museums!

We managed to get into the place pretty easily, considering the rest of the time we passed it there were queues out to the bridge.  We waited maybe 5 minutes in a nice air conditioned ticket office.

After a couple of hours of exploring and pretty much showering in the freezing cold free water fountains, we came across a little vine covered cafe overlooking the Vatican at the top of the castle.  So we paid an extortionate amount of money for some beers and olives, and the pleasure of some actual bloody wind.

We made friends with a pretty hard looking pigeon too.  I say made friends.  I mean he kept walking into our pictures, flying up above and making us worry that he was about to poo on us.

It was just like being back in England.    -national pride tear-

We ate dinner back at the apartment because we were trying to save a bit of cash.  So we visited some local delis and bakeries.  I used my sparse Italian to get some recommendations and we ended up buying the most amazing pasta and tomatoes I've ever had.

After dinner on our boiling hot balcony, we went back out, watching the street performers from the canopy of the pantheon whilst eating... more gelato, yes.

I'm not saying Rome is perfect, of course there is the harassment on the streets from those guys with the light up things, and by day two I wanted all selfie sticks to BURN IN HELL, my feet were filthy, and at some points the crowds were a little much...

But I was falling in love, warts and all, with the Eternal city, and the next few days really cemented that for us....

So quick interlude to share some knowledge.  Food and drink knowledge.  Mostly Gelato based knowledge.

I was so immersed in the history and spectacle I forgot to note down all the places we ate.  I took pictures, yes, but I couldn't be assed with much more than just enjoying it!  One thing I did do, was pick up a little bit of knowledge.  I read this book before I left to help.  It explained all the dining charges, etiquette, useful phrases and how to spot a good place to eat.

Don't believe all the rubbish about Rome food being crap and expensive.  It can be, but if you take a little time, you will eat like royalty for the price of a student.  Even the touristy areas, you just have to take a 5 minute walk down a little alley and you'll have found a small family run place that kicks butt.  You don't have to travel to a different area to just eat well, no matter where we were, we followed advice and always ate really well (and fairly cheap) with really good company.

These blogs helped too:

Parla Food
Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome
Gillian's Lists
Heart Rome

Believe it when they say the touristy restaurants aren't as good.  About 90% of them are rubbish.  Even if it says they are alright on trip advisor.  Don't trust tripadvisor all the time.  If you're happy to pay a little more for the ease of an English speaker and be right on the sights, then do!  But know your meal probably won't be fresh, authentic or even homemade and you're paying more to not have those luxuries.

And not all gelato is made equal!  This is serious stuff.  Some are whipped up and full of fake flavours.  You don't want that rubbish, and you don't want to waste you money on it either.  Do your research and avoid the expensive crappy places full of bright gelato that hasn't been made properly.   Apprently I am really inspired about this topic.   Here's some of the nicer places we had some:

My favourite was Fiocco Di Neve.  It was 20 seconds from our apartment, so we obviously went in.  It was the best I had on my entire trip.  And I ate a lot of gelato.  They actually started to recognise me and expect me.

Here are some other pretty tasty places...

Gelateria del Teatro - Definitely one of the cutest locations.
Giolotti - Not my favourite, but it's pretty famous.  Worth at least one try!
Gelato Fatamorgana
Gelateria Dei Gracchi - Personally one of my top five.

Coffee is a big thing in Italy, there's a protocol, a ritual to it.  Il Caffé is an espresso, and you drink it, standing up at the bar, you will be charged more to sit down.  They really do look at you funny in traditional places if you ask for milky drinks after 12, and trust the advice of local blogs!  They know the best places.

I recommend reading this book.  You won't regret it and you'll have some of the best coffee of your life!  Here is the authors blog and it is equally and informative.

My personal favourite bar was Sant'Eustachio.  It's very Roman, early every morning, just as they opened, we went there and stood amongst elderly old Italians.  It can get quite busy, and no one will stop to help you if you're looking a little lost.  But if you've done your research, you're in for a treat.  The coffee is one of the nicest I've ever tasted.  I tried their traditional caffé freddo e al caldo.  It's like being punched in the face by energy.  Very strong!

So yes, Rome can be rude, crowded and all those things people say, but learn their etiquette and a bit of the language and you'll find yourself being bombarded with amazing recommendations, a few secrets and enjoying every second.

And yes,  all the links and recommendations in this post are my own.  I really did buy and read the books I recommended, read the blogs and visit the places.

Next post: Visiting the working archaeological site of Nero's underground palace,  more gelato, and brilliant language mistakes.


  1. 40-45C!!! How did you two survive that heatwave??? But from all those photos you took, it's definitely worth it. Thanks for sharing, Emma, and look forward to the 2nd part!
    Have a great weekend!

    1. Thanks Angie!

      Our survival was mainly fueled by gelato ;)

  2. Lovely pics! We had exactly the same heatwave experience when we went last Sept - every day at about 3pm, we'd get overwhelmed by heat and have to get another gelato. I wasn't complaining! Look forward to your next one :) x

  3. OMG toooo much gooood stuff, I wanna go soooooooo bad! So happy for you that you got to do this! Though Italy is much cheaper to fly to for you, you will get to do it again!! So jealous!

    1. Indeed, we're heading off to Italy next year hopefully! :P

  4. Simple wonderful Emma, beautiful writing which brings Rome to live. Bravo (well worth the wait!) x

  5. I remember when I visited Rome it was also having a heatwave it was certainly intense. I adored the city you are right it is dirty and grimy far too busy and full of those bloody selfie sticks...... I mean come on! But what an amazing place its just like no other on earth it really is amazing. Thanks for the trip down memory lane :D

    1. Exactly, I knew all that stuff was going to be there so it's almost like I didn't see it. I loved it! x

  6. Gorgeous photos! I want to go to Rome now!

  7. Wow - it looks like you had an amazing adventure!! The city looks so gorgeous too.


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