…eat lots of gelato and pasta!!
Ciao! Last week, I had the opportunity of a lifetime; I visited Italy (Italia), specifically the grand, historic, cultural hub of Rome (Roma). We’re going to take a short break from all of the Spanish places and culture for this week while I let you know what I did there. In a nutshell, the Coliseum, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, St. Paul’s Basilica, the Pantheon, some pizzerias, MANY gelaterías, and topped it all off with some authentic Italian pasta! So buckle up as I give you the low-down (pros and cons!) of my experience!
Our group took a flight from Madrid to Rome on Wednesday night, and we arrived at our hostel pretty late and rested for the next day. The hostel we stayed at was called Alessandro’s Downtown hostel, located on a side street (a kinda sketchy one at that). It was a pretty good hostel, actually. Sheets were provided (which is a huge plus!) and the staff was very helpful and knowledgeable. However, the breakfast wasn’t free which stunk. It cost €4 and I ended up paying for it most of the time because I was desperate. Their “ham” tasted like bologna and they only had white bread, but on the plus side, they offered coffee and espresso (I opted for the espresso because the coffee was gross.), tea, fruit, cereal, water, juice, cheese, and a good selection of jellies. So if anyone is thinking of staying in Rome, I’d give this place 4/5 stars.
On Thursday morning, we headed out toward the Coliseum—THE Coliseum. I couldn’t believe I was actually going! We walked through a lovely little park and the Coliseum took us by surprise, peeking out over the trees in the distance.
Luckily, we had bought tickets online before we went, which I would HIGHLY recommend! We saved a lot of money and were able to skip the long line. We got inside and there were a few levels, so there was plenty to explore. I got some great panoramic views too!
And of course…some selfies and group photos! (Fun fact: “selfie” was just added to the dictionary. Yep, that’s a thing.)
So anyway, the weather was absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for better! I was able to walk around soaking in the sun’s rays while taking in the sites of such a historic structure. Some of the rock has been corroded away and apparently they need extra guards for those pesky stone robbers, but overall I think it was in pretty darn good shape for being so old.
Mini history lesson! The Coliseum is actually the largest amphitheater in the world, and was completed under Titus in 80 A.D, which makes this sucker 1,934 years old. It could hold 50,000-80,000 spectators and was used for a variety of entertainment purposes. This includes mock sea battles (yes, they filled it with water!), animal hunts, executions (because that’s what people watched before How I Met Your Mother came out.), gladiator contests, and dramas. Later on in the medieval era, when everything was pretty much Catholic, dry and boring, it was used for housing, workshops, as a fortress, a shrine, etc. Remember when I mentioned Shakespeare’s Globe theater in my London post? (Keep Calm and Travel On) I talked about how during the medieval era, entertainment was considered a sinful indulgence and people stopped going to plays. Well…same goes for in Rome too! (The Roman Catholic Empire was full of fun-stealers!)
The maze at the bottom, where they kept prisoners of war and those that were being hunted during the shows. Lovely, right?
Last fact: the Coliseum is one of the 7 new wonders of the world!
After touring the Coliseum, we made our way to our first authentic Italian restaurant, L’Insalada. I found it a little ironic that our first restaurant choice was one that specialized in salads…but whatever. The food was great, so no complaints! I ordered a caprese salad to start, which is sliced tomato and mozzarella with basil and some olives on the side. Now if you know me, you would know that I LOVE tomatoes…Almost as much as I love cats and chocolate. So this was a perfect choice for me!
I also got wheat pasta with pesto. All I can say is…wowwwww…..So good!
After our meal, we indulged in our very first Italian gelato! I had been craving one in Italy ever since I read Eat, Pray, Love.It was time to see what the hype was all about. For my first sample, I opted for chocolate (big surprise, huh?). This pretty much sums up my feelings about gelato:
So what’s the big deal about gelato? Well, gelato is a bit different from ice cream in how it’s made and the texture. Here is a link to an article that sums it up quite nicely!
But if you are too lazy to open the link (it’s okay, don’t deny it!), I can sum it up for you. Gelato is softer and more melt-in-your-mouth than ice cream. In the process to make gelato, there is less air and fat pumped into it, and less preservatives! When gelato is being churned, it is much slower (for less air), and therefore more dense and flavorful. I noticed that when I eat ice cream back in the states, it often is very icy, milky, I taste a lot of cream and I don’t get much flavor. Not with gelato! It was warmer than ice cream (still cold), and wasn’t icy at all. Every spoonful had a distinct, delightful flavor, and the melty texture was to die for!
So there you have it, your mini lesson in gelato!
SO MANY FLAVORS TO CHOOSE FROM! I’ll have one of each!
After our midday gelato, we visited the Mouth of Truth, which is located at the church where St. Valentine in buried. I thought that was pretty interesting! It was free to enter and according to legend, if a liar put their hand in the stone mouth, it would close on them.
One of my friends at the Mouth of Truth.
We then retreated back to the hostel and relaxed a bit before going out once again. A little later, around 7:30, we went to a little pizzeria nearby and of course we got pizza! I ordered a vegetarian pizza, and little did I know that it would be full-sized!
The size of this pizza was equal to a small pizza in the U.S., and it was thin-crust—my favorite! I love thin-crust because I can taste the flavors of the toppings more, rather than just the bread/crust. So authentic Italian pizza is my thing!
I am both proud and perhaps a little ashamed that I ate the whole thing…but believe me, you would have been able to too!
The next day, we went to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. As part of the whole package, we visited the Sistine Chapel as well! Luckily, we bought our tickets early so we skipped the long line. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting tickets early!!
Our first stop was the St. Peter’s Basilica although we didn’t go inside due to the 2 hour wait in la cola. However the outside was cool enough! I got to be where the Pope gives mass!!
We went inside the Vatican Museum, which is basically all the rooms that lead to the Sistine Chapel. And there were TONS! There were sooo many similar looking rooms before we got to the Sistine Chapel and my legs were screaming with fatigue from the 1.5 hour shuffling from room to room. We saw a bunch of paintings, statues, tapestries and antiques in each room before arriving at the Chapel.
Modest is hottest!
Yeah….EVERY ceiling was this breathtaking.
Hello there, Zeus.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in the actual Sistine Chapel, which really sucked (That way I would have to buy their overpriced postcards—but I didn’t, so joke’s on them!) The patrol officers were super vigilant in making sure we didn’t take any pictures or sneak out our cameras. But I had such an awe-inspiring moment. I looked up and there it was—The Creation of Adam. I’m sure you’ve seen it before—it looks like this:
It was amazing to see the ACTUAL painting, by Michelangelo himself! I just stood there and gaped at it for a good 5 minutes, really soaking in the history and the painting’s meaning. It was truly incredible.
We left the Sistine Chapel and got another good look around the main plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica before grabbing a bite to eat. We went to a little restaurant that had an outdoor terrace, and unlike in Spain, it didn’t cost more to eat outside so we aprovechar’ed that! Yes, I used Spanglish and I don’t care. Also in Italy, they eat at normal times, like in the U.S. Not the 2:00pm lunch and 9:00pm dinner that I’m used to! Actually, I’ve adjusted so well to the Spanish eating schedule, at noon I wasn’t even hungry! I got hungry at about 2:00pm…oh Spain, what are you doing to me?
I ordered a calzone and some bruschetta, which were splendid of course.
I think I’m going to go into a food coma now…
We then wandered around some side streets and got some more gelato (of course!) and visited Trevi Fountain. Legend has it that if you throw a coin in and make a wish, you’ll return to Rome. So guess what I did!
Trevi Fountain was very grand and beautiful, with many, MANY tourists like us. A lot of people told me I may be disappointed with the fountain, because they pictured it to be much larger than it was. But I had no prior expectations, so I found it to be quite nice.
Trevi Fountain was close to the Pantheon (not to be confused with the Parthenon in Greece!), which is a domed chapel with a Roman-style architecture on the outside. It is located in a cute piazza (plaza) with a fountain, cafes, and horses.
By the time I got back to the hostel, I was beat, so I stayed in that night and got some much needed rest!
The following day we went to the Spanish Steps, located at the Piazza D’Spagna (Plaza de España). They are apparently the largest set of steps in Europe, and besides the large crowd of tourists, they were all right. The steps lead down to a street with all of the high end names in fashion like Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Fendi, Prada, you name it! I wish I would have brought more money so I could get a nice Italian leather bag! Oh well…more money for gelato I guess!
High end designer stores everywhere!
For lunch, we chose this little place that was ironically an English Pub, but the alluring factor was the buffet of veggies (which I LOVE), your own dish of pasta (there, we got our Italian in there!), free cup of coffee for dessert, and free wi-fi! Our whole meal cost 9 euro each, which was a great price for what we got!
Pasta carbonara al dente
Dessert: Italian coffee with a tea cookie.
We then went out to subir a big hill which offered a nice overlook of Rome. It was nice to get away from the city and be around some trees, birds and flowers.
As we made our way back down, a deliciously sweet, rich smell caught our attention. We followed our noses to this cute little hole-in-the-wall, non-touristy pizzeria nearby. How did we know it wasn’t touristy? NO ONE spoke English, there were only locals there, and it was situated far from the main locations in Rome. Apparently, this place is known for its excellence because it had won many awards for being the best pizzeria in Rome. I’m so glad we stopped here!
Isn’t this simply perfect?!
Another thing we stumbled upon was a demonstration in the streets that was pro-communism. That was interesting…
At the end of the day, I was exhausted, so I got some quick souvenirs and spent the night relaxing at the hostel with our free bottle of champagne. Our group made a toast to travel, friendship and Rome and enjoyed the moment together.
The following day was our last day, so some of us visited the flea market before catching our flight. The market was very similar to the Rastro in Madrid, another open-air market that opens every Sunday. However, it was much more low-key and there were less people present. I got some souvenirs to bring home, and again I wished I had brought more money. Honestly, most of my money in Rome was spent on food, a decision I do not regret.
After the market, our group reunited to get lunch before our flight. We ate outside at a little restaurant and I finally got my tortellini in pesto!!
Our last meal in Rome!
Finally got my tortellini!! ❤ The easiest way to my heart…and my thighs….
We bid farewell to Rome and headed back to Madrid and reflected upon our moments there. If I could do it again, I would have brought more money for some shopping, learned a little more Italian, and done a little research on the sites I would be seeing. I feel like I didn’t get as much out of it as I wanted to because of those little reasons. However all in all, it was a fantastic experience!
And now…some more of my favorite pictures from the excursion!