When planning this leg, a must-do for Chad was to spend a month in Rome. We thought it would be rather pricey and budgeted accordingly, but we lucked into a really affordable Airbnb apartment for about half of what we budgeted. That allowed us to up our food and entertainment budget for the whole trip, and was one of the reasons we lived so large on this leg (in addition to the prior savings of spending so much time in our hometown this year as we were selling our house and working on the movie).
But, when travel restrictions lessoned in some key locations making it possible to meet our Turkish researcher in Turkey, Chad and I both knew we’d need to cut our Rome visit short to fit in a trip to Turkey before Thanksgiving. So instead of four weeks in Rome, we had about two-and-a-half weeks. But we did our best to make the most of them, starting with a beautiful train trip up from Naples.
Parks, Picnics, Pizza, and Pasta
One reason we chose our Airbnb, in addition to price, was its proximity right next to Villa Pamphili Park, the largest park in a metropolitan city in Europe. Our neighborhood of Monteverde also had a couple of other large parks that were easy for us to get to: Parco Belvedere and Villa Sciarra (Monteverde means green mountain, which was fitting because it’s at the top of the hill and has so many parks).
Two days after our arrival, we spent a Sunday afternoon visiting our local parks, beginning with Belvedere. In addition to pretty nature, that park offers two attractions on Sundays – a traditional puppet show very similar to Punch and Judy and the weekly firing of a canon. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people, especially families, enjoying these sights as well. Both were cool to see and a great start to our time in Rome.
Then we walked over to Parco Pamphili for a picnic. Chad had already jogged through much of it and had scouted a few spots he wanted to show me. We walked through the park and reached a stand of my favorite umbrella pine trees and located a shady spot for our picnic blanket. Soon we noticed bright green parakeets flying between the trees and chirping to each other just like in Costa Rica. It was a perfect setting and we went back several other times to this same location during our remaining two weeks in Rome to enjoy a nice picnic in the park.
A week or so later, we had the opportunity to bring a picnic to Villa Sciarra park, this time featuring breads from the neighborhood bakery. On our last weekend, we visited the very impressive Villa Borghese park, which is adjacent to the Piazza del Popolo. This park reminded us a lot of Margaret Island, with lots of places to rent conveyances and open-air cafes scattered around. As much as we enjoyed the Monteverde neighborhood, we hope to live a little closer to this park on our next trip, likely in the neighborhood of Ludovisi.
Before this visit, I didn’t really associate Rome with parks, but now they are completely linked in my mind. Of course, the other big draw for us of Rome is the amazing food. We had some fabulous meals out during our two-and-a-half weeks, as well as making some nice pasta dishes at home with the fresh pasta available at the grocery store. We discovered a great pizza joint in our neighborhood with photos on the wall of the owner winning all sorts of pizza-making awards. I have to say, we ate really well in Rome.
Our Ancient Rome Spree
We visited pretty much all of the ancient Rome attractions on our prior visit to Rome 11 years ago, but Chad suggested it would be fun to take a page from my birthday trip to Vegas and get an early start with some mimosas and visit these attractions. We weren’t able to be too spontaneous with this because between COVID and the steady flow of tourism to Rome, most places require an advanced ticket purchase. But we chose a good day, I bought the tickets and planned the route and we set off.
We walked through the Trastavere neighborhood that separates central Rome from Monteverde and crossed a bridge over to the main part of the city where we could walk along the Tiber River. We walked past the Foro Boario and then up to the Circus Maximus where we found a café to fuel up with cappuccinos and pastries. From there it was time to head over to the Colosseum, finishing our mimosas (mixed in a San Pellegrino bottle) along the way. I had downloaded a Rick Steves audio tour of the Colosseum, which provided great context. It was a lot of fun.
After the Colosseum, we visited Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. We skipped Palatine Hill the last time we were in Rome, so it was nice to see it this time. We had another Rick Steves audio guide for the Roman Forum, which provided good context about life in ancient Rome. The only attraction we missed there was the Senate building, which was closed for renovation, but luckily we had seen that on our prior trip.
After our Ancient Roman sights, we planned a long lunch to recover and then to do more of the sights in the heart of Rome. But by the time we enjoyed the long lunch and visited the Campo di Fiori, we were pretty much spent and decided to save the rest for another day. Big difference between touring at age 40 versus age 29! Eleven years ago, I think we could have done most of the central Rome attractions in a single day, especially with our early start.
Central Rome Sights
We didn’t wait too many days before finding an evening to come back to the central sights, including the Pantheon (which we chose not to go in this time due to the long lines and the fact that we’d visited it last time), Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Everywhere was quite crowded but it wasn’t unpleasant and made us appreciate the quietness of our neighborhood.
Another day we decided to visit several of the top churches and basilicas in Rome, most of which we’d skipped on our prior visit. Many churches during the middle of the afternoon, so we were able to fit in most of a workday and then took a taxi to the first church on our list, the incredibly impressive Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.
From there we walked up the street to Santa Maria Maggiore, another basilica operated by the Vatican. It was very beautiful and in exploring the chapel of the nativity, we discovered that it features a very interesting relic – the manger baby Jesus slept in. Though I’m a person of faith, I am pretty doubtful about the provenance of this relic, but it was still very interesting to see.
Then we went to Basilica di Sant’Agostino, which was modest outside but contained a Caravaggio mural inside. Finally, we visited the main church in Trastevere, Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. All of the churches were enjoyable and awe-inspiring in their own way, but didn’t quite prepare us for what we’d find at the basilica we would visit a few days later: St. Peter’s inside the Vatican.
A Visit to the Vatican
We saved our trip to the Vatican for one of our last days in Rome by necessity, because tickets to the Vatican Museums and Sistene Chapel sell out over a week in advance and I didn’t look into booking them until we first arrived in Rome. But that was still plenty of time to book our visit for our final Thursday. We decided to book for late in the day since the timed tickets don’t give you much advantage for arriving early and that would allow us to get work done first. But I worried about fitting it all in, so we headed up to the Vatican right after lunch. It was only a 30-minute walk from
First we visited St. Peter’s Basilica, which is free but requires some standing in line to get through security. I had another Rick Steves guide on my phone to tell us about the various features of St. Peter’s. This is a remarkably impressive church. It is enormous and opulent and features incredible art, including Michelangelo’s Pieta. To prepare for the visit, Chad and I watched The Agony and the Ecstasy starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, which opens with a short documentary about his sculpture, especially the Pieta, which he did in his early 20s. It is truly beautiful.
We enjoyed everything about our visit to St. Peter’s and I’m glad we had extra time to slowly make our way through it. After we exited Vatican City to get a macchiato for Chad and then headed over to the entrance to the Vatican Museums. We arrived about a half-hour before our ticket time but were still able to go right in after the usual security and green pass checking.
We were not prepared for how extensive the Vatican Museums are – room after room of art and ancient artifacts. I had pre-purchased their audio guide, which was helpful for getting details about pieces of interest we noticed here and there. We especially enjoyed the hall of cartography, which featured murals of Italian maps. The Rafael rooms were another big highlight with their incredible murals by the master. But the main draw of the Vatican Museums, of course, is the Sistene Chapel. We were a bit underwhelmed by it, despite its fame. But it was worth seeing and quite majestic. Still, we preferred the Scrovegni in Padova.
We took the train back to our neighborhood in the hope of finding a nice cocktail and then maybe bringing home some pizza for dinner and lucked into our very best aperitivi experience of the whole trip. We felt very fortunately that we started and ended the trip with two amazing and unexpected aperitive experiences.
Someday* we’ll get our full month in Rome, and get to see more of its many attractions, take a few day trips, finally go to a Serie A football match, and further enjoy the many examples of la dolce vita we already found there: neighborhood gelato stands, beautiful Pamphili and Borghese parks, award-winning pizza, tasty fresh pasta and premade sauces, gourmet balsamic vinegar, high-quality cheap wine. Until then, we have great memories to look back on.
My husband and I stayed for several weeks in this apartment and it was perfect for us. It’s in a great neighborhood very close to Villa Pamphili park with plenty of restaurants and supermarkets a short walk away. The apartment itself was very comfortable. The wifi worked great and the kitchen had all that we needed. Great communication from our host, Marta, before and during the stay. We’d definitely stay here again when in Rome.
*Note to future Jaime: possible blog titles for our next Rome trips include When in Rome, Ready to Rome, and Roman Holiday.