For my next European city, I knew there were still so many places to see and as always, so little time. I wanted to go somewhere less traveled by the general populace like a Romania or one of the Baltic States. However, the flight time to Romania was too long to do in a weekend and the weather in the Baltic states and Poland was too damn cold. Rome of course was always one of those places I had to go at some point but knowing what I did, I wanted to allocate more time to Rome as I felt like it was one of those cities with too much to see in a weekend. I originally wanted to hit up Rome over the 4 day Easter weekend but flights were 900$ and I ended up going to Budapest instead which was great. Nevertheless, Tuesday afternoon came along with still no plans in sight for the weekend. One visit to skyscanner and I saw flights to Rome came down by 100$ on Ryanair, with flight times very favorable to my work schedule. 5 minutes later, tickets purchased and along I went.
City Facts – Rome
|My Trip Dates||April 12-14, 2013|
|Airport Transport||9 (10 being easiest)|
|Time Zone||GMT + 1|
Upon Arrival and Getting Around
My flight on Ryanair took me to Rome Ciampino Airport, which is not the main Fiumicino hub. This airport is like Laguardia to JFK but about 10x smaller than LGA. This airport is probably the smallest and saddest airport I’ve seen in my entire life. Even the airport in Sioux Falls, South Dakota had more going on than this place. With about 10 gates total, this airport houses only Ryanair and another European discount airline that I cannot remember. However, there are many perks to flying here. It is a much smaller airport so you will breeze through customs as there are barely any flights, and it is closer to the city than Fiumicino. The flight from London was about 2.5 hours and 300$. Not the cheapest flight around Europe but with the new Pope, flights to Rome have been more expensive than normal.
Being as small of an airport as Ciampino is, the transportation options to the city are limited but the ones available are simple.
- Cabs – About 40 Euros to get to the city center
- Bus Shuttle service to Termini station – Terravision
I arrived at the airport pretty late (around 9:30pm) and when you get to the arrival area, you will see almost nothing. However, make your way to the Terravision ticket counter and there I purchased a round trip ticket for 8 Euros. Keep in mind that the later it is, the less frequent these coaches run and I had to wait almost 40 minutes for the bus to finally drive out. Total time to Termini train station (where all the Euro rails go) is about 30 minutes without traffic. There IS another bus service that takes you to Termini station called National Express and they have wifi so if I could do it over again, I’d have booked with them instead. They also appeared to have more frequent bus service. While waiting for the bus, I met an Argentine guy studying in Barcelona who also realized that he’d have to wait almost 1 hour for the bus to leave and we bonded over our mutual dissatisfaction. Having been to Argentina, we could immediately bond over our love of Steak and how much we miss it. We ended up getting dinner that night after getting to the city and hung out for most of the weekend.
The City, Cabs, and Mass Transit
Rome is huge. It’s definitely not like Amsterdam or Budapest and you certainly will need way more than 1 hour to walk the length of the city. Nevertheless, Rome is still very much a walking city with a sufficient subway system to get you to most places. I walked all over the city and only caught the subway back to my hostel from the Coliseum as I was late for my flight. The subways are nicer here than what I’ve seen in Budapest or Barcelona, but nothing to write home about. The Subways are 1.50 Euros a ride and the machines do not accept credit cards or any bills greater than 5 Euros so make sure to have some change. Cabs are also readily available in this city and are standardized. Prices are moderately close to that of NYC. I just didn’t have the opportunity or the need to use the transportation system as I don’t think I’ve walked as much in a weekend as when I first visited New York City. I’d guess I probably walked close to the distance of a marathon!
Having booked my flight so last minute, the hostel would have be last minute as well. Almost all the top hostels in Rome are located around Termini station which can get a little grungy at night. I read online that this area can get dangerous at night and would be better to stay elsewhere. However, I saw the reviews on Hostelworld and many of the hostels in this area got very high ratings on the location category which was contradictory. I ended up booking the highest rated hostel on Hostelworld, La Controra. It is located about 5 minutes from Barberini Piazza and about a 15 minute walk from Termini station. This area is great in terms of going sightseeing as it is a quick walk to the Spanish Steps. At night, this area is completely dead so it was difficult to find late at night. Once you get acquainted with the area, you realize that this area is actually a very nice part of town.
The hostel ran me about 40$ a night which is nothing. It slept 4 to a room and each room had its own bathroom. I have to say that this hostel had by and far the nicest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hostel. It was even nicer than many hotels I’ve stayed in. During my stay, everyone here was nice but you could definitely tell it was a more chill setting and the people weren’t getting cray. After staying at 3 different hostels in the last month, my recommendation to anyone staying at a hostel is to get ear plugs! These will save your life trust me. Nothing’s worse than coming into bed sober and the guy next to you is sawing logs. If you don’t have ear plugs, the next best option is to just get as drunk as you can so when you get back, you pass out immediately, snore loudly on your own, and become king of the room for a night.
After visiting my new Argentine friends in their hostel which was near Termini, it was clear the hostels around there are meant for partying. Their hostel had its own bar and plenty of people were drinking it up getting ready for the night. If this is what you’re looking for, I’d recommend staying around Termini (the location really is not bad at all), and just reading the reviews on hostelworld to see which hostels cater most towards partying. My stay at La Controra was very good however, and I’d recommend this place for anyone that wants to chill out so they can wake up early the next morning to sight see.
Taking in the Sights
Again, Rome is a huge city and there is so much to see. It reminds me of NYC in the sense that you can turn the corner and you’d see some huge building, park, or street performers. In Rome, you turn the corner and all of a sudden you’re staring at the Pantheon which is one of the most famous buildings in the world, or Piazza Novona, or the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, etc. etc. The streets and the layout of the city is real disorganized and confusing so I’d highly recommend taking one of the very good tourist maps wherever you go and even then, you’ll probably still get lost because only the larger streets will appear on the map. Aside from the terrible layout of the city, the architecture is absolutely incredible. The Roman’s did rule the entire western hemisphere for 400 years and their influence has spread to almost every inch of the world. Most people forget the Italy was also responsible for bringing Europe into the Renaissance and with that came new architectural styles and achievements. One guy in particular, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, is probably the most famous Roman architect of his time, creating almost half of the historic monuments that you see in Rome. You will hear of the guy if you decide to go on any sort of Tour around the city.
I’d highly recommend people spend at least a long weekend here, if not a 4 day weekend because there’s just so much to see and you will not be doing it justice with 2 days. Nevertheless, if you are pressed for time like me, it’s understandable and it’s still better to see this city than not at all. I would highly recommend you take a walking tour. The one I did was called Free Rome Walking Tour and they meet at 10am and 4pm every day except Sundays near the Spanish Steps (10am goes to the Vatican, 4pm goes to the Coliseum). The advantage to doing a walking is not only do you get a person who knows how to navigate the city, taking you to all the necessary sights saving as much time as possible, but you also get someone who knows the history and can give you a better experience than just marveling while taking pictures at the sights along with history lessons. My experience with this was great and I’d highly recommend you do one even if you have the time to spare. Be sure to tip them, 10 Euros is enough per person as for many of them is their full time job.
The Coliseum and Roman Forum
Probably the most famous attraction in all of Rome. If it wasn’t famous enough already, the movie Gladiator I’m sure set it over the edge. The Coliseum and the Roman forum are next to each other and this area is the spot to be if you are into ancient Roman architecture. I’d recommend coming here early in the morning to get it out of the way as seeing these two sights require you to be in broad daylight which can get very hot in the summer months. Also, make sure to remember that the Coliseum closes at 6pm so you need to tickets before! The Coliseum itself is absolutely incredible from the outside. and offers some great photo opportunities so make sure to get a few. Once you get inside, it gets a little less impressive because the Coliseum as you see it now is just a shell of its former glory. The main infrastructure is still in tact but it’s missing about half of what it had back in the old days. Throughout the centuries, natural wear and tear, fires, and general negligence has led this monument to look like the decayed brick building it is now, as opposed to the marble beauty it was back in the days. The inside of the coliseum is also flights of seats, walls, stairs, and most importantly the ground that the gladiators used to fight on. Nevertheless, when it comes to visiting the Coliseum while in Rome, it’s not a question of if, but rather when because it is still a must must must do.
I’d also highly recommend doing one of the guided tours for the Coliseum/Roman Forum. It’s 25 Euros for the tour (the 12 Euro entrance fee is included in this price) and you really learn a lot about the history which is interesting, otherwise you just walk around an old piece of rock for maybe 10 minutes before getting bored. Like did you know, the Coliseum was originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre but because there was a huge statue of Nero shaped after the Colossus of Rhodes that eventually over time, people just started calling it the Coliseum. Or that the word Arena is actually latin for sand, as this was the material of choice for the Coliseum’s ground as it was good for masking trap doors where Tigers and Lions could jump out of. You can find people giving tours right outside the entrance (they approached me), and they have tours going every 15 minutes. Took a little over 2 hours to tour the Coliseum and the Roman Forum, which is a huge and beautiful area with plenty of history. I wish I had more time as I’d like to have explored this area more but oh well, maybe next time.
For those who don’t already know, the Vatican is actually considered it’s own country separate from Italy but is surrounded entirely by Rome. Also the smallest city-state in the world, the city is just half a square kilometer but has its own country code for phones. You’ll inevitably find your way here at some point if you’re in Rome for long enough. If you are, I’d highly recommend NOT doing what I did which included visiting St. Peters Basilica on a Saturday, and then deciding it would be a good idea to return Sunday to see the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum is closed on Sunday. I found this out Saturday night to my despair and alas, I was not able to visit the Sistine Chapel. Everyone I talked to said this is a must which is something I didn’t need to hear because who doesn’t know about Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel?
Nevertheless, if and when you do come here, DO visit St Peter’s Basilica which is the building right behind me in the picture. Of all the cathedral’s I’ve seen in the world, the Basilica is without a doubt the most incredible of them all. It’s huge and there’s so much history, art, and architecture it is overwhelming. If possible, try and sneak into a tour group that’s going on. As much fun as it was to marvel at the huge sculptures, I had no idea what anything was. When you’re done, make your way up to the top of the Basilica for the panoramic views of the city (You can also do this first and then see the cathedral). The cost is just 5 Euros but be prepared to walk up A LOT of ridiculous stairs and steps. Takes about half hour to actually get to the top but it is worth it without a doubt. Rome is such a stunning city on the ground, that it is even more stunning when viewed from above.
Given how much time I had, which wasn’t much (just 48 hours), I knew there were too many sights to see on my own and too little time so for this purpose, I looked up some walking tours. I’ve done them in the past Buenos Aires, and when I had a one day layover in Santiago, Chile and all worked out well. The reviews were all great on Tripadvisor and the itinerary included pretty much all the must see sights in Rome. Couple that with the fact that you’re guided by a Roman that knows how to get from one sight to the next fast so to optimize your time, and can provide nice locals commentary. For example, the city prides itself on its public drinking fountains and they are all very safe to drink (and delicious). I used Rome Free Walking Tours and went on both their morning and afternoon tours. The morning tour starts at 10am and meets at the Spanish Steps and goes to the Column of Marcus Aurelius, Pantheon (must must see), Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, ending at the Vatican. Tour takes about 2 hours and is free, but of course it is their job so a tip of 10 Euros will suffice. The afternoon tour starts at 4pm, meeting at the Spanish steps again but going to Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, and the Coliseum. Note that the Coliseum closes at 6pm which is when this tour arrives at the coliseum so if you actually want to go into the coliseum, you’re gonna have to do it another day.
The best thing about staying in hostels is just having the option of going out with strangers and not having to worry about befriending them. Saturday night came around and my Argentine friends told me to come with them to a bar crawl around Rome that their hostel was putting on. I don’t remember the name of the bar crawl but it was only 15 Euros and this got you an open bar at the hostel, and entry to the club. I’m sure if you decide to stay in any of the hostels around Termini station, they will have fliers for these events. We had people from all around the world. There were a group of Brazilian guys in our group that I started talking to and word of advice for any future male travelers that want to befriend a group of Brazilian’s, when they tell you they are Brazilian, tell them you know some Portuguese to which they will respond, let us hear it, just say the following words, “Eu quero bunda grande” (Grande pronuced like granjie) and all the guys will immediately be your new best friends. When they asked me what I knew, I told them this phrase and they asked me to repeat it a few times because they were that shocked and when I finally convinced them that I meant it, they howled with laughter and bought me drinks. Awesome.
One thing I’ve noticed about all my travels around Europe is the influence of American pop culture really knows no bounds. The club played 90% songs that would be played at clubs in America and even more shocking, the people I was traveling with knew the words to all the songs that were being played, some new school music, but others throwback 90s songs that I only know the chorus to but somehow all the people in the club knew every word.
Well there doesn’t need to be much of an intro when it comes to Italian food. In fact, I’d throw it out there that Italian cuisine is the single most popular cuisine in the world. Everywhere I’ve been around the world, there is some sort of Italian food, whether it be pizza or pasta, but it is there. However, it is at its finest when in Rome. If you’re in Rome for long, I’d consider doing some calisthenics of something to get your heart rate up because with all the delicious but heavy Italian foods you’ll be eating, you’ll be feeling heavy very quickly. I don’t think I need to describe Italian food to anyone out there as everyone’s had it before, but I gorged myself on cured meats, pizza, pasta, and gelato all day every day while I was here. The Italians really do know their shit when it comes to Ice cream and I must have had it 6 times while I was here. Had pizza multiple times, and antipasta/pasta for every meal (sometimes with a steak). How did I fit all this food in me you ask? I sure as hell ate when I wasn’t hungry, just to experience as much of the cuisine as I could. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the food was all amazing so over-eating felt enjoyable rather than painful. There are thousands of restaurants in Rome and it’s impossible to know what the good ones are but I just used tripadvisor to the best of my abilities and found things close to me. Anyone visiting Rome, I’d HIGHLY recommend downloading the Rome city guide by tripadvisor and downloading all the offline content so you can search for restaurants without any internet connections. I went to the following restaurants (all delicious)
– Alessio Ristorante
– Osteria Quarantequattro
– Porta Castello
– Pizza Alice
– Forno Campo de Fiori (pizza)
– L’Arena Del Gelato
– Gelateria Il Dolce Sorriso
– San Crispino
Unfortunately, most of the restaurants in Rome are not cheap. I’m sure there are plenty of cheap local spots where you can get pasta for under 10 Euros but at least the places I came across, were all more expensive. The main reason I dislike eating at Italian restaurants back home in the states is I realize I’m paying 20$ for a plate of pasta with little meat that would cost maybe 2-3$ at the grocery store as pasta is so readily available. The only cheap options I found in Rome were at Pizza places so if you want to dine at quality Italian establishments, expect to pay up.
Summing It Up
Another city, another weekend, another amazing 48 hours. I wish I had 72 hours however, or 96 but alas, time is hard to come by when you’re working. I’d certainly recommend everyone to spend a few more days here but then again, if 48 hours is all you have, then that is all you have and there’s no reason to not come here just because you don’t have enough time. Coming here for 2 days is forever better than not coming here at all. I’ll be back for sure some day but it may be a few years so I am glad I got to see it now