Bellissima Roma: architecturally astonishing, abundant in history, and of course home to the world’s best pizza, pasta, and gelato. Back in December, my friends Maddy, Julie, and I decided to meet up in this wonderful city. Maddy was coming from Edinburgh, Julie from Paris, and I was coming from Dublin. It seems so crazy that not too long ago we were meeting up on campus at the library to study, or the university village to grab sushi, and now here we were meeting up in the capital of Italy!
We arrived at Rome Ciampino Airport late in the afternoon and hopped on a bus into the city centre. We were immediately in awe of the city and how there were ruins scattered throughout the metropolitan area. It was like nothing we had seen before. After arriving at our hostel, we quickly checked in and dropped off our bags and headed out into the city. It was dinner time! Using an app called Happy Cow (a vegan/vegetarian restaurant guide), I easily found somewhere nearby that had vegan options. We went to Rifugio Romano, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had a separate vegan menu, full of pastas and pizzas and everything else I could ever want. So many choices! I was more pleasantly surprised still, to find that a bottle of the house wine was only 10 euro! A bottle of wine, in a restaurant!! We quickly found out this was the average price for such a thing, and we even found some places that did it cheaper! Amazing.
The next morning we signed up for the free walking tour organized by our hostel. We spent about 6 hours walking through the streets of Rome with our guide, who was a proud Roman and very much in love with the city and its history. We explored cathedrals and parks, stopped in a cafe for espresso and a pizzeria for …pizza, and saw places like Largo di Torre Argentina (where Julius Caesar was stabbed), Il Vittoriano, the Pantheon, the Forum, and course – the Colosseum. It was an incredible day. There’s only so much you can read online or in a history book, but actually being in these places we grew up learning about was an entirely different experience. I’d really recommend doing a walking tour in Rome (or any city really). They’re a great way to see the sights and get familiar with the city, and you get a sense of the true experience and feel of things when you have a local showing you around. Plus you’ll learn all sorts of things only the locals know – like in Rome: never order a cappuccino after breakfast, you’ll only see the Romans drinking espresso!
On our walking tour we only saw the Colosseum and the Forum from outside the gates, so on the next day we purchased tickets to actually enter the historical sites. The Colosseum was, well, colossal. It was full of artifacts and information on how the Colosseum was built, and about the sporting events that took place there. It was surreal to walk around the very place where the Gladiators battled in 80 AD. The Forum was an amazing experience too: it was incredible to see the remains of so many ancient government buildings, at one time so important to the city of Rome.
Next on our list for the day was the stunning Trevi Fountain. It was extremely crowded but we managed to make our way to the front. Legend has it if you toss 1 euro over your left shoulder into the fountain, you will return to Rome. Once we had each thrown our coin into the fountain we hurried off to the Spanish Steps – Pope Francis was announced to be making an appearance there! After many wrong turns we finally found ourselves at the Spanish Steps, amongst one of the largest crowds I have ever seen. We could hardly see over the people directly in front of us, let alone the hundreds in front of them. If it had not been for the echoing chants of “Francesco, Francesco!” we probably wouldn’t have known the Pope had arrived. We may not actually have had a clear view of the Pope, but it was a cool experience nonetheless!
On our last full day of the trip we made the journey out to the Vatican. It was a hot, sunny day (in December!) and the unshaded hour and a half long queue was only made bearable by a scoop or two of lemon sorbet. It was well worth the wait. St. Peter’s Basilica was absolutely breathtaking with its traditional renaissance architecture, beautiful stained glass, expertly painted murals, towering columns and archways, and intricately detailed marble statues. The other cathedrals I’ve seen, while beautiful, pale in comparison to its magnificence and grandeur. The sheer size of the building was impressive in itself – I’ve never felt as small as I did gazing up at the dome from inside St. Peter’s Basilica. And of course we decided we had to go to the top. We climbed up 551 steps, and squeezed through some very narrow stairways, and finally reached the top. We had a perfect view of the Vatican, and of Rome. It was a beautiful clear day and the sun was just beginning to set. It was pure magic.
We spent our final evening exploring Trastevere – a charming neighbourhood by the bank of the Tiber river. We all agreed that this was our favourite place in Rome. It felt authentically Roman with a vast array of cozy trattorias and pizzerias, and the sound of music and laughter spilling out into the cobbled streets. A sign on one of the restaurants caught my eye: “buy a cocktail get a free buffet”. It sounded too good to be true but we went in anyway to check it out. We were greeted by a warm and inviting atmosphere, full of people having a good time. We approached the bar and read over the very impressive cocktail menu. With an elaborate cocktail in hand, we headed onwards to the back of bar and found an enormous table full of salads, pastas, rice dishes, and was that hummus?! It turned out that this was the buffet included with the price of a cocktail. And better yet still, it was all vegetarian (and 90% vegan)! We were in heaven. We sipped on our drinks and filled up a plate of delicious food, going back for seconds, and maybe even thirds. Looking around, it was clear that everyone was happy and having fun. We popped in to a few more places including a bohemian bar and a crowded heated patio of a restaurant – and we found the same chilled out vibe everywhere we went. Trastevere is a wonderful place. It was a perfect last night in Rome.
Both Maddy and Julie had morning flights out of Rome, but my flight home to Dublin was not until the late afternoon so I was left on my own to explore the city. It was my last day of the trip so I decided to treat myself (when in Rome, am I right?). I started off the morning with a very Roman breakfast consisting of a cappuccino and a few (vegan) chocolate truffles. Delizioso! I then spent most of the day exploring the streets and neighborhoods of Rome. Around noon I was starting to get hungry, so naturally I went for gelato. Not just any gelato though, Olive Dolci is an entirely vegan gelateria that makes its gelato using olive oil! Simply amazing. Unfortunately I had to head back to the hostel and then the airport, but I did have time for one last slice of pizza. Italian pizza is the best I’ve ever had. The pizzerias all have long counters with an array of pizzas with different toppings. Pizza is simple in Italy, why complicate a good thing with too many toppings? Most pizzas had two or three toppings and there was almost always a few vegan pizzas, with no cheese and peppers, mushrooms, or onions, or a combination. You point to the pizza you’d like and they cut off a rectangular slice with scissors, fold it in half, and wrap it up for you. It’s truly the best way to eat pizza.
Our time in Rome was absolutely amazing. I have never eaten so much pizza and spaghetti in my life. It was wonderful. I can’t wait to go back to Italy one day to explore more of the beautiful country! Ciao!
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