A little over a year ago, I extended a work trip so that I could finally experience real cacio e pepe and see famous Roman architecture for myself. While still in work mode on that last day, I helped to escort a group through the Vatican and dropped them off at the InterContinental de la Ville at the top of the Spanish Steps. (For those of you dreaming of this ideal hotel location, you should know the hotel has closed and I’m not sure what may open next). Afterwards I had a bit of time to check-in at my hotel and then view the ever crowded Trevi Fountain. It was in the midst of the Fendi-funded restoration so plexi-glass boards were up and the fountain was drained of water. It was disappointing to finally get to Rome and not see this fountain in all its glory, but I can appreciate Fendi for taking care of one of the gems of Rome.
The next day I set out on my own walking tour.
(Warning this is a fairly long walk. You can check it out on Google Maps. This route will definitely give you some exercise; you’ll reach your 10,000 steps and then some! Those looking for a slightly easier option may want to break this up or insert taxis as needed.)
- Roma Boutique Hotel – You will not see a large sign outside this hotel. It’s hidden on the 5th floor of a traditional looking building, but if you look at the buzzers you’ll see the name of the hotel and they’ll buzz you in. As a single woman traveling on my own, it made me feel more comfortable to be buzzed in and the police station was also just down the street, as well as a small grocery store. However, if you prefer something more standard see my list below.
- Piazza di Spagna – I walked down the famous Spanish steps into the piazza below and scanned it all measuring it against my expectations. It was like an ancient theater built into the side of the hill, filled with people lounging, kissing, taking pictures, talking and gesturing emphatically. Most not knowing that the building along the right side of the steps was where English poet, John Keats, spent the last months of his life.
- Piazza del Popolo – This piazza is so spacious that I sat down for some time just to take it all in. Both streets that lead to this area, Via del Balbuino and Via di Ripetta, had a multitude of high end designer shops. The piazza itself was recently made into a pedestrian zone so roam at your leisure. A hundred or more years ago, before trains and cars, this gate – the Porta del Popolo – would have likely been your entryway into the city.
- Castel Sant’Angelo – I walked along the river until I was just in front of the bridge that leads to the castle. This is a great stretch to take pictures. The name of the fortress comes from legends that people have seen angels on the roof of the castle at various times in history. I wanted to see the building because of Angels and Demons, the movie based on the Dan Brown book, kinda lame, I know….
- Piazza Navona – Another piazza, another fountain, maybe you’re groaning but enjoy it! The U.S. doesn’t have grand spaces like this dotting our cities. Though I must admit that since this was my third fountain and because it was so crowded my visit here was fairly brief, but there were great souvenir shops just off of this square where I found some little things for my friends and co-workers.
- Pantheon – Again a busy area filled with tourists, but a must-see!
- Osteria di Agrippa – As an avid watcher of Anthony Bourdain, I was determined to eat some cacio e pepe while in Rome, plus I just love the stuff. It might seem plain with just noodles, pecorino romano and black pepper but it is very tasty. I stumbled upon this restaurant with its outdoor tables and café-vibe and saw the dish on their menu. I wasn’t ready to eat just yet so I made a mental note and came back after the rest of my self-created tour. Down Via del Cestari, you can find a great shop with a plethora of packaged pasta, including some red, white-ish, and green pasta rectangles like the Italian flag. I stocked up on several different kinds and my husband was more than happy to eat them with me when I came home.
- Largo di Torre – a small square with ancient temples, a perfect appetizer to all of Palatine Hill which I was about to see. This small “park” goes largely unnoticed. This is great place to see Roman ruins in a relaxed, unrushed and unbothered way.
- Tempio Maggiore – This is one of the reasons I love to walk around cities. I accidently found this Jewish synagogue, but loved it as soon as I saw it. Obviously, it’s not something that comes to mind when you think of what you want to see in Rome but I was glad I did.
- Isola Tiberina/Trastavere – I walked across the river and listened to a wonderful street performer and realized that if I wanted to go back to the osteria that I had found earlier for lunch and I still wanted to see Palatine Hill that I had to skip Trastevere. Now I’m not sure that I made the right decision so this neighborhood is my first priority if I ever return.
- Tempio di Ercole Vincitore – Another happy accident! This building looked so familiar that I’m sure I must have seen a slide of this back in high school during my Latin class. As I’ve done more reading on Rome, I found that this is the oldest marble temple preserved in the city.
- Circus Maximus – This is a giant field now but was a chariot racetrack in ancient times. By this time, it was midday in early September and it was hot. I sat on the wall along the side and gladly took cover under some trees for a bit to cool down. I may have been in the preliminary stages of heat stroke because I found myself surveying the field, imagining what could have happened here centuries ago and staring off into a row of characteristic Rome pine trees.
- Palatine Hill – At last, I stood outside the Colosseum. This to me was like seeing the Holy Grail in person. I must have had such a stupid happy look on my face because I noticed a group of twenty-somethings staring at me while I snapped who knows how many photos. I walked up the Via dei Fori Imperiali in a procession of tourists.
- Ending at the Altare della Patria, the Altar of the Fatherland, a monstrosity of a monument built for Victor Emmanuel II. Even after just seeing all the ruins, the size of this knocked me off my feet.
PLANNING TO GO…
- Westin Excelsior, two blocks away from the boutique hotel I reserved, but on the famous Via Veneto
- Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora, also on Via Veneto but closer to the Borghese Gardens
- Hotel Locanda Cairoli, about a five minute walk to the Ponte Garibaldi and Trastavere, modest and comfortable