For our winter holiday this past year we decided (somewhat last minute- have to get a bit better about that) to start knocking some of our Italy spots off our bucket list. We started with the big one, Rome.
We did things a little bit differently with this holiday, deciding to devote our entire week to only Rome, to an overnight train as our form of travel, staying in a Bed & Breakfast style hotel, and doing a couple guided tours during our holiday. Honestly, our holiday couldn’t have been more perfect in any other way.
This morning starts the full holiday blog posts except rather than breaking them down by location (as I did for our Summer Holiday), I’ll be breaking them down in chunks of time. Today’s post will cover our first few days, then we will talk about our day at The Vatican in another post, then conclude things with our last few days. As always, I will also have a separate post detailing out my recommendations and tips at the end of the “series”.
***I want to make a note that I am not going to be detailing every single place we ate/drank/food related. You may think that that is crazy- oh but it’s Italy how can you not talk about the food?. I’ll be talking about the food, but honestly we ate at so many spots that I don’t remember every single one, AND there are very few spots that you can really go wrong food wise in Italy. It’s delicious just about anywhere. I’ll name the spots that stuck out to me that I remember and were above delicious, but overall you can’t go wrong with food in Italy.***
So, as I’ve already mentioned we decided to train over to Rome for this trip. There were several reasons behind this decision, BUT ultimately it came down to price and ease.Let’s be honest, as much as we like driving, it’s not always the easiest or fastest option. Driving would have allowed us to maybe make a stop or two on the way there/the way back, BUT driving IN Italy is a bit tricky (and there are tolls) and we definitely didn’t want to drive in the city. This meant that we would have to find parking for the car, and figure out what tolls we would hit on the way down. It also just meant a long drive (13 or so hrs.) and when the train option presented itself, we figured we might as well give it a shot.
We picked an overnight train which was about 13-14 hours long, leaving around dinner time/late evening and arriving the next morning. Overnight meant that most of our travel the boys were sleeping (and we could try and catch some z’s too), so less of an issue of keeping them occupied. We booked a standard (nonsleeping) compartment that came with six seats, so two additional passengers could be in our compartment, but a sliding door to shut and the seats themselves folded down for comfort during the trip. It was a super easy trip (once the boys calmed down from the train excitement) and definitely an option that we will keep in mind for future travels.
Rome Day 1:
When we arrived in Rome we basically hit the ground running. After a stop to drop our luggage off at our Bed & Breakfast (I’ll touch on this in a bit), we headed straight out for food, coffee, and a wander. We started our tourist exploring at Castel Sant’Angelo (actually called Mausoleum of Hadrian) right on the Tiber River. There was a small line to get in, but it moved quickly and the castle itself wasn’t crowded once you got in. This particular castle is actually a mausoleum (now) and has previously been used as a fortress for both Emperors and Popes alike.
Construction on the castle started in 135, finished 4 years later, became a military fortress in the 5th century, and then around the 13th century, a corridor was added connecting it to Vatican City in case of danger to the Pope (this corridor did end up getting used in the 16th century!). While walking through the castle you are able to see exactly how and what the castle was used for. Both the military fortress aspects and mausoleum parts have been very well preserved AND you get an excellent view of this side of the city from above (including a clear shot towards Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica).
It was probably one of the best clearest viewpoints we got, aside from Alter of the Fatherland. We spent a good hour or so here wandering the corridors, ramparts, and park.
Once done there, we were able to go back to our Bed & Breakfast and properly check in. We stayed at Tibullo Guesthouse Rome and it was a great spot for us. We chose a larger room that contained one double bed and two singles as well as a separate, but private, bathroom. It was reasonably priced and is not 10 minutes away from the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo. The hosts were incredible, so incredibly warm and welcoming, and made sure that we had everything that we needed (and then some!). The actual guesthouse is quite small, and breakfast is offered and is served in the comfort of your own room should you choose to do that.
After settling into our rooms and freshening up, we decided to head out again. This time heading into the heart of Rome and the most touristy/heavily populated spots. We hopped the metro and headed into the heart of the city. We started at the Piazza di Spagna, home of the Spanish Steps.
Dating back to the 18th century, The Spanish Steps are one of the most famous spots (although could be arguable). They’ve been home to poets, authors, painters, a very special tearoom and, most importantly, connect the church at the top of the hill to the square at the bottom. These famous steps are quite incredible to look at and we definitely had a lovely time climbing them, stopping for a little Audrey Hepburn moment, and then watching a Roman Sunset to end our first day. I think this might have been one of the most surreal moments (up until going to Ancient Rome and the Vatican).
After the sun set we got to see the city come alive (all over again) and headed over to Trevi Fountain.
Trevi Fountain. Where are the words? The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque Fountain within Rome and easily one of the most talked about in the world. Built in the 18th Century and centered at the cross of three roads, which also marks three points of aqueducts. It is absolutely incredible, a true feat of architecture, and at night it is completely lit up. Absolutely gorgeous. A fun thing to do (if you want to fight the crowds), is to actually toss a coin in the fountain. You are allowed to do this, and by tossing it behind your back it is said that you will return to Rome. The city actually collects the coins and donates them to a charity so your money will not be wasted if you choose to do this. We had a quick stop at the fountain as it was packed to the brim and we had a sleepy toddler (napping on my hip), but it was truly incredible to see.
We did quickly stop in Oratorio di Santa Maria in Trivio, a church across from the fountain before heading away to dinner and then the Bed & Breakfast for sleep.
Rome Day 2:
For our second day in Rome we had a bit of a sleep in. After being exhausted from all our travels the day before and hitting the ground running, we took it easy first thing in the morning. When we finally emerged from our room, it was to head out for brunch and then exploring. We stopped at The Loft for brunch and this was a great stop (we liked it so much we actually came back a second time and probably would have more if we had the time). After a breakfast of waffles and cappuccino’s and fresh squeezed orange juice, we hit the metro to head to our first stop.
We started our day at Piazza Navona.
This is a public square that was originally intended as a stadium which dates back to the 1st century. This was changed around the 15th century when it was turned in the city marketplace, Piazza Navona is now a square that holds markets, fountains, and a slew of restaurants and stores. There is also a very small Gladiator Museum on one entrance side to the square, which we did visit. If you are interested in Gladiators and replica’s then it is a neat visit. If it isn’t something that you are interested in, or you want something much more in depth, then give it a miss. There are a couple other stores of note, a toy store in one of the main entryways provides a bit of delight for adults and children and there are two “Made in Italy” shops that have some of my favorite leather-bound journals that I’ve ever seen. When we visited the Piazza, they had a little Christmas Market going on. Christmas is a bit different in Italy, celebrated on January 6 (Three Kings Day/Epiphany- long story which I can talk about on a different post), so they still had this little market going. It’s geared mostly towards children with games and such, only a couple booths have items to purchase or food.
From there we headed over to the Pantheon.
The Pantheon was originally used as a temple dating back to around the 2nd century (it might even be a little older than that as the current Pantheon was built on the remains of another temple). It’s most striking feature (because 12 columns and sheer size isn’t enough) is the opening in the ceiling that looks out to the sky above. There is what we would call a hole in the ceiling, not only that but the dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. This is also known for being one of the best preserved Ancient Roman Buildings. After being used as a temple, it was transformed into a church and is still in use today. It was absolutely incredible to walk through and in this building.
From the Pantheon we just headed out to walk the streets. Honestly, that was a lot of our following days, just walking the streets of Rome.
No matter when or where, you can always find anything just by walking the streets. We wandered the streets finding hidden columns, little squares, and paths upwards. Our general goal was to make it over to Villa de Medici, but when we arrived our boys were in no mood to join in on a guided tour. We cut our losses on that, rather walking the gardens right next to the villa (somewhat near Borghese) and seeing the start of the sunset at the top of Piazza del Popolo.
This was one of the coolest squares that we saw, at one end was the Porto del Popolo, a massive arched entryway to the square. At the opposite end are two churches. Right in the center of the square is the Fontana dell’Obelisco; a massive fountain with lions on each corner and an obelisk rising from the center.
We ended up having dinner at a restaurant called Don Chisciotte and feasted on delicious homemade pasta & sauce, wines, tiramisu and cheesecake.
The perfect end to our day!
Rome Day 3:
We started our 3rd day with breakfast at a little café, Café MeMe. After a delicious heaping of eggs, bagels, pancakes, cappuccino’s, and smoothies (I promise you- this was spread across the 4 of us), we decided to hit one of the biggest monuments that we were seeing from every vantage point of the city…The Alter of the Fatherland. Before actually going to the monument we stopped at the church right behind it, Santa Maria in Aracoeli.
I don’t have any pictures to post from the inside, but I promise you- you MUST go to this church. It is absolutely incredible, just achingly beautiful. This may have been one of our favorite churches EVER and we’ve been to a lot so far. It is literally right next to the monument and so easy to just stop in to. And now, The Alter of the Fatherland.
That name is actually not the correct name, although it is referred by that name regularly. This monument is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument and it is a masterpiece. Before we get into the history, let me just say that this structure with all its steps, individual monuments and sections, the museum within, and the view from the top is absolutely incredible. It sits in between Ancient Rome (right next to the Forum and atop Capitoline Hill- the center of Ancient Rome) and the more modern city of Rome via the Piazza Venezia. Work started in the late 19th century being completed in the very early 20th century and since then, this building more than anything else is seen as the “symbol of Italy”.
Not only do you have the steps leading up to the first landing, at that first landing is their Italian Unknown Soldier tomb (which is guarded), then there is a second landing which is the Portico, and then a third landing which you can walk around towards the back for the elevator to the top. Honestly, this is a most stop spot. Climb the steps, pay homage, and see the view of the city from above. I think this might have been my favorite “view from above” of Rome as you can see EVERYTHING.
It’s a great overlook of Ancient Rome, a great look of the modern city, and you see the domes of the churches and basilicas stacked up.
From there we stopped for a late lunch at Ristorante Il Miraggio which was a restaurant that we found randomly, looking for bathrooms, but it was one of the best random finds we had. It was down a side street and we had the best waiter I think we’ve ever had. It was so much fun to just watch him work, greet and entertain everyone from the paying diners to the random people walking down the street.
The food was delicious (as I said earlier- you can’t really go wrong wherever you go), and I had one of the best cups of standard black tea that I’ve had in a long time. It was the perfect stop and felt like such a good little spot.
After feeling refreshed from lunch, we started walking down the road once again. We headed up to Quirinale Palace.
This was a last minute, half hazard decision, and one of the few that worked out for us, but also didn’t work out. We headed up to the palace to go see it, but it was starting to get a bit later in the day and on the way up I ended up pinching a nerve in my back. So, we pretty much got to the actual palace (which wasn’t too bad) and then turned around to head back to the Tiber River. This was kind of a bummer as I would have liked to actually go in and experience it, but it wasn’t in the cards. This is the reality of traveling sometimes.
After a little rest, and some medication for my back, we just wandered along the Tiber River, crossing over at the pedestrian bridge and just wandering the neighborhoods. Which is such a nice perfect way to end this first post about our Winter Holiday. It was a long one and if you made it to the end…thank you. What was your favorite spot that we went to in these first couple days?