There’s still so much of Europe to see (again) before we’re told to repatriate, so we took advantage of a long weekend in January to show our teenage daughter Rome. Surprisingly warm, bright and sunny, the Eternal City welcomed us northern expats with statuesque open arms. For my husband and I, this was our third pilgrimage here and this magical city proved worthy of more attention.
Staying in the eclectic neighborhood of Monti near the Colosseum this time brought us different views and surprising sights on our daily treks down into the main heart of the city. It seemed to us that Rome is still in ruins, ancient and protected, amid playgrounds, apartment buildings, metro stops and walkways. Everywhere you turn there’s a landmark begging for your eye and a quick snapshot. In just one afternoon you can easily see ten awe-inspiring sites. Aside from one of the biggest in this hood, the Colosseum, and the adjacent Roman Forum, there is an astounding amount of sites to explore.
You can map your way precisely or go off the beaten path through winding skinny streets, up and down (Rome is very hilly). Either way there is much to see walking through this beautiful welcoming ancient place. Look up and through and don’t forget to turn around as you might miss the view from behind. There are literally hundreds of ruins throughout Monti hidden behind homes and fences.
Climbing down stairs on our way towards Trevi, we stumbled on to the Altar of the Fatherland, built to honor the first King of Italy, Emmanuel. He is forever honored, caste in bronze on his horse with two winged chariots above him on either side affixed to this magnificent white marble monument, the largest in Rome. An eternal flame at the top highlights the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Walk straight past the slew of hagglers hawking selfie sticks and the Italian men dressed as gladiators (do not engage) to take some photos.
Continue wandering and remember, when in Rome, you should do as the Romans do. Take time to chill. Italians love to sit, eat, have a cappuccino, relax and enjoy the piazzas, even more special on a sunny day. And food in Rome, or anywhere in Italy, for that matter, is more than half the reason to go. It’s easy to find a reasonable and delicious place to eat lunch or dinner without reservations in the low season. Using Google, Yelp or Tripadvisor, there are plenty of good eats to be found.
If you’re there on a Saturday, stroll through the Market at Campo Dei Fiori to see the most beautiful vegetables stands and Italian delicacies to take home. All around this square are delicious restaurants and cafes where locals wait in long cues for a slice of pizza or a small table in the sun.
If you’re in the mood to be surrounded by loads of tourists, even in the low season, pen in the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, both very near each other. Warning! It’s crowded, so mind the uncomfortable bombardment of men coming straight for you to sell all kinds of wares or just trying to engage a conversation as you walk by to ask for money.
Piazza Navona, in central Rome is easy to wander through, or sit with some gelato among the many who come to enjoy the large square with two impressive fountains. At one end you can walk into the Pantheon, also the Basilica of Santa Mary and the Martyrs, for free (until May). Once inside this comparatively small church, look up to see what looks like the moon door from Game of Thrones in the center ceiling.
Take the metro to Piazza del Popolo, a beautiful square set inside the giant walls of Rome, or northern gate. Cast your eyes on the roads ahead to the Tridente with the twin churches of Santa Maria de Montesanto and Santa Maria Debi Miracoli. This view begs the question, to which one should a Roman attend mass? Head up one street or another to find a fancier part of Rome – and the shops that go with them. At the end of one of these long streets sits the Altar of the Fatherland.
No visit to Rome is complete without going to Vatican City, an easy metro, Uber ride or walk away. You can tour inside this very impressive and enormous church as well, or try and be in the square when Pope Francis is scheduled to say mass from a perch off the papal apartments (although Pope Francis lives in a more modest apartment nearby). The Vatican Museums and can take up a half-day walking through the enormous rooms of gold decorated with incredible works of art and ancient artifacts. At the end of the Museum lies Michaelangelo’s masterpieces inside the Sistine Chapel.
Expats, pack your most comfortable walking shoes and go to Rome. Take advantage of the low season for less crowds, decent weather, cheap direct flights and hotel offerings. If your family is paid in US dollars (still struggling against the Euro) book your hotel through a US travel site and save even more. Also consider purchasing Skip the Line tickets for St. Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum, both available online. Even in the low season, these sites are crowded.