We left a frosty, bitterly cold Budapest to arrive in a sunny, not-so-warm-either, Rome in the early hours of Friday morning, battling the urge to let our eyelids droop and fall into a deep sleep after waking up absurdly early to catch a 6am flight – my relationship with budget airlines is a love-hate kind of one.
As a travel ambassador with Choice Hotels Europe and the Travel Top 6 site, I was pretty lucky to get sent to a swanky European destination to produce some fun travel content (and bring along a plus-one too). After landing, we taxi-pooled with some fellow tourists to get to our hotel, ditching our bags, checking out our hotel decor briefly and heading straight out into the day to make the most of our short 48 hours there. First, and most importantly, on the agenda was coffee…
We headed for coffee whilst waiting for our room to be cleaned actually – a convenient 20 minutes to check out this amazing speciality coffee shop nearby: Faro. Although the coffee culture in Italy predominantly means standing at a bar and shotting tiny cups of espresso, this was definitely more of a sit-down-and-chill-with-a-flat-white kind of place.
Inside, plants framed the large windows illuminating its interior and quirky illustration prints were hung with string on the walls. Quirky locals sat, sipping espresso, scratching their pens to paper and reading the paper. As for us, there was coffee and lieviti all round – lieveiti are yeast-risen goods which are basically the Italian versions of croissants, brioches and so on. I had this wonderful brioche ball which was filled with fresh custard and topped with crunchy sugar crystals (otherwise known as the epitome of health). Adequately caffeinated and sugared-up, we were ready to explore Rome.
First on the plan to was to make a quick stop to Vatican City. Although I wanted to see more alternative sites and locations, I knew I had to visit the classic tourist hotspots, just to take one photo (or twenty).
The tourists here were ample in number, and we couldn’t manage to stay there for too long. There wasn’t a chance of getting into St Peters Basilica, even though I had wanted to climb to the cupola, but damn, I had never seen a queue so large in my life. Instead, we wandered around St Peters Square and admired the architecture, people watched, and judged those who were posing far too hard for Instagram photos.
Enough was enough, and we jumped on a bus that would take us south to Trastevere. The city’s centre is divided into 22 rioni (which are like neighbourhoods) so don’t feel obligated to stick to the most popular ones. Instead, pick a neighbourhood and go walk around there for half a day or so and see what gems you can find tucked away between the narrow alleys and tall coloured buildings – like Trastevere! Although it’s still a very popular spot with the tourists, it’s a great choice, emulating the feeling of other smaller Italian cities and towns and being far less chaotic than Rome’s centre, exhibiting quirky street art, shopfronts, bakeries and restaurants. It reminded me so much of my trip to Genoa and I let the nostalgia flood right in.
We sauntered around the shabby chic buildings, ones that, although were ever-so crusty, the colourful paint peeling from the walls and plants so overgrown that they began to consume entire facades, were very charming and alluring – you couldn’t help but want to get lost in this Italian labyrinth.
In a more secluded area of Trastevere, we hit up the restaurant ‘I Vascellari’ for the most flavoursome carbonara in the world; the sauce was like no other I had tried, rich with egg yolks, parmesan and generously speckled with ground black pepper, topped with crispy pancetta. Beforehand, we tasted the tantalising Roman dish of deep-fried courgette flowers, stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies… sounds super random but Oh. My. Gosh.
Afterwards, we hit up an Italian deli/bakery to grab some sweets. Beautifully lit up in their shop-front window, Italian pastries made fresh in the bakery tantalised the tastebuds just by looking at them. We grabbed some sfogliatelle (crisp pastry shells that look like lobster tails and filled with a creamy centre) and some ‘frappe’ – I had never heard or seen of such a delight and, what can I say, I have been missing out big time – and no it’s not a sugary iced milky beverage from McDonalds. Frappe is basically shards of crispy fried sweetened dough, sprinkled with icing sugar, so watch out – you’ll make quite a mess upon consumption.
As the expression goes, our eyes had become bigger than our stomachs, and we proceeded to try and walk off all the carbs sitting heavy in our bellies. Out of Trastevere and toward the neighbourhood of Ripa we went, strolling by the aquamarine river Tiber under the river-side row of Winter-barren trees that framed our pathway. We reached the famous ‘La Boca De Verita’ – ‘The Mouth of Truth’ – and walked further past to get to a big white-pebbled area called Circus Maximus – the remains of a stone and marble arena that could seat 250,000 Romans for chariot races.
~ END OF PART 1~