THIS trip still has me in awe! Although I spent just 3 days in Rome, it was nothing short of amazing. Since this was one leg of a big European trip, I didn't have much time. However, I can honestly say I felt like I did it all in—saw the sights, ate some of the most delicious pasta, AND got to meet Pope Francis! Okay, I didn’t ACTUALLY meet the Pope, but sis got a close-up at the Vatican (more on that later)!
I stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the heart of Italy, the Prati district, which is located just outside of Vatican City and is home to several high-end boutiques and lovely cafes. Despite the chic location, it was affordable, not to mention clean, safe, and spacious. My hosts were amazing and gracious enough to have a list of local restaurant recommendations and a map waiting for me on the front table in the living room. That type of hospitality makes all the difference in my opinion.
With limited time, I wanted to check all of the major spots off my list, and I needed to do it efficiently. I focused on the non-negotiables first (i.e., Colosseum, the Vatican and Sistine Chapel), by pre-booking tours. As for other well-known sights like the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and the Pantheon (all of which are free to visit!), I decided to tackle those along the way.
Tours to Save Time
I booked a small group, skip-the-line, guided tour of the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel via City Wonders. I’m SO glad I did! Not only was this tour super clutch, but I loved that it was narrated via radio headset. The museums were beautiful and intricately adorned with gold trim. I even saw the famed “The Creation of Adam” fresco painting by Italian artist Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Group tours aren’t for everyone, but it’s certainly worth it if you are short on time and want to get right to seeing the best sights!
I also joined the Colosseum/Roman Forum Tour via City Wonders which was equally as awesome. The Colosseum is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and believe me when I say that it is utterly breathtaking. It’s architecturally sophisticated and oozing with ancient glory. The 3-hour tour was an incredible adventure! Being able to learn something new along the way really enriched my overall experience. The guide moved at a great pace and allowed enough time to take pictures in front of the major spots.
Where the Pasta At?
Warning: If a restaurant sells chicken alfredo, it’s likely a tourist trap! I’m so happy that I learned this early on from the locals, because it saved me A LOT of heartache in the food department. I mean, who wants to go to the pasta promised land and be disappointed?!
My first meal was at a small, cute restaurant near my Airbnb called La Locanda di Eugenio. It was a spontaneous yet solid first choice and a good introduction to Roman cuisine. It’s been said that depending on the area, some Italians may eat dinner pretty late; so when I arrived around 7:00 PM, I was basically their first customer that night. The restaurant had a homey and warm atmosphere. The waitress was super sweet, conversational (in a good way), and even had family ties back to Chicago. To start, I enjoyed some fresh bread and their house red wine. For the main event, I ordered the spaghetti alla carbonara and had the homemade tiramisu for dessert. *insert iconic Italian chef’s kiss*
Meats & Cheeses & Wine, Oh My!!
Near the end of my trip, I checked out one of the classic Italian prosciutterias—Prosciutteria Cantina Dei Papi located in the Navona area. A prosciutteria is a butcher shop where you can get a delicious, freshly-made charcuterie board...ON STEROIDS. It was a small “hole-in-the-wall” type of vibe where you order at the counter, grab a drink and seat yourself. The selection of meats, cheeses, olives, breads, and seasonal fruits was plenty and very reasonably priced. Man, I can taste that board now as I write this. I’d say this is definitely a “must” while in Rome.
Will Work for Gelato
Tasting real, authentic gelato while in Italy is absolutely essential. I repeat: do not leave Italy without trying gelato! Thankfully, it can basically be found everywhere; but I’m not going to suggest that you just go anywhere. Hit up Giolitti, located in the Pantheon area. This place is topnotch! It’s also pretty crowded most times, so get there early. They have several different flavors to choose from, including classics like strawberry to wildcards like Viagra (yes, like the little blue pill). I went with a mix of raspberry and mango.
Blessings on Blessings on Blessings
Remember I said I met the Pope? Okay, let me explain. Visiting the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica was truly awe-inspiring! No exaggeration, I immediately felt a divine and holy presence as soon as I stepped through the door. St. Peter’s Basilica hosts a public mass 3 days a week, so during my trip, I had just 1 chance to catch a glimpse of the Pope.
The mass typically attracts about 15,000+ people from all over the world (pre-COVID of course), so it’s generally recommended you arrive at least 1-3 hours before the service. The day of, I slept in (I know, I know). But, about an hour before service (I knooooow), I caught a second wind and sprung into action. I just knew that I would regret it if I didn’t a least try to attend the mass, so I quickly got dressed and got myself to the Vatican. See actual footage of me rushing.
I was able to snag a super-close spot along the Pope’s riding path. Talk about being blessed and highly-favored! You know was pre-COVID, because I would not DARE to be shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowd like that probably ever again (thanks, 2020 *eye roll*).
The caravan rode right past me! How many people can say they went to Rome AND received a blessing from the Pope himself?! #ingodiflex
Check out the proof!!
Honestly, this felt like the perfect ending to my trip and I wouldn't have chosen any other way to close it. Now, I have my eyes on Milan, Venice, and Florence.
Until next time...