My (Second) Trip to ROMA
5 years ago, I experienced Rome for the first time. It looked incredibly fake. Not fake in the way you might imagine, but fake in the way that it blew any expectations I had for it out of the water. I had seen well crafted look-alikes in places like Vegas and Disney World, but to really be there, and for it to really look exactly as I’d imagined it, but even better, was unforgettable. The colors were so vivid. As I walked down those narrow streets with flower lined balconies and blue skies, it felt fake; too good to be true. The delicious smells, the al fresco diners, the immense history around every corner, there’s truly nothing else like it. It immediately catapulted to one of my favorite cities in the world.
I returned to Rome with those great expectations and I was (mostly) not disappointed. Some of the sheen may have worn off as a second timer, but the same places that took my breath away before still did the trick. Let’s start at the beginning.
We arrived after our 7.5 (quick!) hour direct Alitalia flight from Toronto. I have to find direct flights if at all possible to minimize the mental trauma I experience while flying, and I’m proud to say, my husband told me I “did well,” with only 3 glasses of wine and a Xanax. Go me. One thing I did not do well was take the time to move around the cabin. Alitalia, (one star, not impressed) did a bang up job of messing up our previously chosen seating arrangements, and shoving us in the middle section of the plane, so my feet were completely wedged between my 6’3 husband’s size 13s, my carry-on, and the elderly Italian lady with 3(?!) small carry-ons next to me, who was asleep the entire time. Getting up seemed like more of a chore than a necessity. After all, I’d survived the 14-hour trip to Australia with one begrudging pee break, no big deal. That was an unwise assumption on my part. As we walked to get our luggage after the flight, I noticed some major discomfort coming from down below, and was shocked to see both of my feet and ankles, especially the left side, had ballooned up to certifiable “cankles.” It was the perfect mix of terrifying and embarrassing. Really? A blood clot? Sweet.
We grabbed our bags and headed for the train. My second first impression of Italy was asking for help at the train help desk, and the “helpful man” laughing at us and throwing out some hand gestures. I’ve got about 3-4 stress-strikes that I can acquire before losing it in a tense or overtired situation and at that point, I was already at 2. So, we wait a while for the train and about 50 minutes later, we arrive at Rome’s Termini Station (AKA, a cattle call from hell), to seek a cab. Hotel Galatea is located on the 4th floor (only) of an old building off of Via Nazionale. Your choices are: you may climb the 4 flights of stairs with your luggage, or you may walk up one flight to the “lift.” I’m calling it a lift because this person-wide box was not cool enough to be called an elevator. It was the kind you have to back into, and close a multitude of doors behind you in order for it to work. Stress-strike 3.
Upon arriving at the front desk, the Hotel Galatea clerk tells us that our reservations have specifically requested for 2 single beds in our room. My husband shakes his head and says, no, in fact, we requested the double bed. The clerk throws his hands up, mutters some Italian exasperations and yells at us, for the room with 2 single beds has already been prepared. Strike 4. Remember, I don’t sleep on planes. Fine, he says, now you’ll have to wait for a different room to be prepared. Though I am at my limit with stress and sleeplessness, I am ecstatic to find I can connect to the weak WiFi signal on my phone. It’s the little things.
Our room at Galatea was and included the following:
- Inhabitable, yet moderately uncomfortable
- A flat surface to sleep on accompanied by 2 less flat surfaces to rest our heads on
- Exceptionally cold air conditioning
- A small flat screen mounted TV with 8-10 Italian channels
- A very spacious (by Italian standards) and beautifully remodeled bathroom
- One continental style breakfast each morning, run by the breakfast Nazi. Don’t you dare try to take a croissant back to your room.
And that’s all you need to know about our time at Hotel Galatea. I would keep looking.
The rest of Rome was just as we’d left it, (with the exception of a few price increases, including the once free Roman Forum. J.Caesar wouldn’t appreciate that shit. We chose not to pay to enter most of the typical tourist spots simply because my husband had done it about 25 times, and I’d already done it all once before. I was totally fine with that. Honestly, I was just happy to be in Italy, surrounded by beauty and glory, and fabulous food. Here are some places I’d recommend, and my deepest apologies that some of them are merely hints, because so many just seemed to be called, “Trattoria.”
- Our first Roman meal was at one of those places labeled, “Trattoria, Pizzeria, Gelateria”, but was actually called Angelino ai Fori, right around the corner from The Coliseum. It had a sprawling, gorgeous vine-covered outdoor dining area that was as beautiful as it was a welcome break from the hot sun. It was there I had my first bruschetta and pizza of the trip. The simplest of dishes, and they were Perfectly. Seasoned. Masterpieces. I’ve already mentioned how divine the Italian tomato is, and this was the first moment I realized it. Also, the fact that we were able to share one large piece of bruschetta and one pizza with proscuitto crudo tells you the following things: Italian food is that much more satisfying, and it’s already better for you, because you don’t feel the need to eat as much in the endless search for satisfaction. Anyways, if you can find this place, at the corner of Via dei Fori Imperiali, take a walking break!
- The only place we ever waited for table is the same place we actually waited in line for a seat. I saw a line, and I decided, “I want to wait in that line.” It really took only 15-20 minutes to be seated at Trattoria da Augusto, and it was worth it. We had a taste of true Italian, no frills dining, being squished in between 2 tables and I’m happy to report, across from a picture of the owner with Charlize Theron. If Charlize ate there, it’s good enough for me, too. This restaurant was the type that had a handful of offerings per night, and that’s what you had to choose from. At the advice of the owner, I started with the beans and pasta soup, which may not sound like an exciting choice, but that easily could have been my entire satisfying meal. I followed that up by a plate of roasted lamb and later, (much later, this is Italy,) a homemade tiramisu. If you ever come upon this spot and there is a line, get into it!
- One of my husband’s favorite pizzerias is again, located in Trastevere (which we believe has some of the best restaurants in Rome.) Pizzeria San Callisto is a delicious and affordable way to spend your evening. 5 years ago, when my family was also in Rome, my husband brought us here and my dad still talks about the pizza he had! Plate-overflowing pizzas with all of your favorite fresh ingredients are hard to beat.
Also in Rome, a few other highly recommended tips:
- If you can muster the energy, use jet lag to your advantage and see Rome at night. After midnight, the crowds thin (though you’ll really get your value after 1AM,) and all of the best tourist areas are yours for the taking. You’ll get the best photo opportunities, and have the rare chance to really absorb the beauty without being harassed by fake purse guys and other confused tourists. Best spots after hours: the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. You may only be here once. You don’t have to share with thousands!
- Take a walk down along the Tiber River, again, at night is preferable. It is poshly lined with the cutest lounges, bars, and restaurants. It also features shops, but these are places owned by “real” people, not of the pop-up variety you’ll find in other high-volume tourist areas. A surprise find: several foosball tables. Apparently that’s a hot thing now? (My dad rejoices.)
- You’ll find many bars, vinotecas (wine bars), and gelaterias along your way. We found the cutest spot, which, you’re going to hate me for this one… I can’t find the name of! I will be updating this, because I’m determined to find it. It was about the size of a small storage shed, decked out with tropical décor and a vibe that felt very 1950’s to me. Showing Blue Hawaii on the big screen, featuring music by the King and his cohorts, it made for a very interesting experience. Really any bar you can find that feels like it’s geared towards the locals is a place you want to sample. Sorry I was too drunk to write anything down.
- Take your drink to go! There are no open container laws in Rome. 🙂