Rome, a city with a rich history that spans more than two thousand five hundred years clearly wasn’t built in a day. It once served as the capital of the Roman Kingdom, followed by the Roman Republic and then the Roman Empire. Today, it continues to function as the capital of Italy. No wonder, Rome is known as the Caput Mundi or “Capital of the World”, thus the adage ‘all roads lead to Rome’.
Dan Brown’s bestseller, Angels & Demons was what first piqued my curiosity about Rome when I read it some years ago. Until recently, exploring Rome was all but a dream. However, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic than to find out from hubby that my dream was finally going to materialise in August. He was selected to attend the week-long European Society of Cardiology (ESC) annual congress that took place in Fiera di Roma (1-hour train ride from the city centre) and as usual, I just tagged along.
We booked our flight with Qatar Airways via Kayak for RM3728.90 per person inclusive of taxes. I’m not sure how many of you realise it, but trust me that Kayak is actually where you get the best deals ever. Expedia used to be our favourite site but after days of research and comparison, we’ve since come to the conclusion that nothing beats Kayak. Best of all, its prices fluctuate everyday and if you have the patience, just keep monitoring your preferred flight everyday until its price falls within your budget.
Up until now, Qatar Airways is probably the best airline we’ve ever taken. The transit time at Hamad International Airport, Doha was less than 3 hours. This airport is arguably the most modern and posh airport we’ve been to so far.
We arrived at the Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) Airport in Rome at 6:10am in the morning. The morning breeze was cooling at about 18°C, just comfortable for the summer. We booked 5 nights accommodation at Residenza Leonina via Expedia for RM1701.53 (10% discount code: MAYBMYHOLIDAY) inclusive all taxes except for Rome’s city tax (€3,50 per person per night), which was remitted directly to the hotel. Our room was of a reasonable size with almost all the necessary amenities befitting an apartment. Interestingly, the apartment also had a rooftop terrace, a feature which is not uncommon in Rome. On top of that, we were granted room service every other day.
The reason for selecting this apartment was because it was just a 2-minute walk from the Cavour metro station(mode of transportation to hubby’s congress – Fiera di Roma) and central enough for us to explore all the places of interest on foot. It costed us €35 (RM165) for a cab from the airport to Residenza Leonina on our day of arrival.
The easiest way to get around Rome would be through its metro and train systems. An individual ticket within the municipality of Rome costs €1,50 (RM7.10). Fortunate for us, hubby’s congress registration came with 10 complimentary tickets, thus saving us some traveling expenses. Be sure to download its map onto your mobile device if you’d like a hassle-free travel. Oh, don’t be overly concerned about your safety as I can assure you that Rome’s metro and train systems are one of the safest in Europe (definitely safer than Paris’). At least 2 soldiers were seen patrolling every metro and train station at all times. This is why even I dared travel around on my own on the few occasions when hubby was at the congress.
If you decide to stay within Old Rome like we did, most places of interest would be within your reach by just walking. It would also be good exercise for you, all the more when you are definitely going to indulge in Rome’s fabulous gastronomic experience. Besides, you will be able to experience how walking on cobblestone roads is like. Oh, cycling is another great option to get around too and summer is just the perfect season to be doing so.
Despite being busy with the congress, hubby allocated some time for us to explore this magnificent city together. Basically, Rome is a sprawling museum by itself with so many archaeological sites, monuments, basilicas, cathedrals, churches, temples, etc scattered throughout the entire city. All these are sure to satisfy a history or architecture buff’s curiosity.
In the past, hubby and I would try to hop to as many cities as possible when we were in a particular country, but nowadays we prefer to just stay put in just one city and explore it thoroughly. This in a way is less stressful, we get to spend more time experiencing the culture of that city and we have reasons to come back to that country (to visit other cities).
As with the train stations, almost all the popular places of interest are guarded by soldiers at various points. Once again, safety should be the least of your concern. Here’s our personalised itinerary:
Day 1 (26th August)
Day 2 (27th August)
Day 3 (28th August)
Day 4 (29th August)
Day 5 (30th August)
Day 6 (31st August)
If you are going to experience Rome to the fullest, the one thing that you cannot afford to miss out on is its cuisine. Pasta, pizza, gelato, tiramisu, caffè and many others, you name it, they are all aplenty in Rome. Besides that, a variety of other Mediterranean cuisines are also widely available for your indulgence. Having said that, since we had the entire apartment to ourselves, there were occasions that we bought some pasta noodles (available in so many different types and colours) and sauces to cook.
As far as pasta and pizza are concerned, we tried out so many restaurants throughout the city (those within our budget, though – €7 – €10 per plate). I must admit that the ambience was perfect but the food was pretty ordinary to us. Perhaps, you’d be able to savour better specialities in some upscale restaurants. Nonetheless, among the many restaurants that we frequented, Gli Angeletti that was within walking distance from our apartment seemed to be the most excellent and constantly packed with customers till almost midnight.
One of our best experiences was dining at Mediterranea Caffetteria, a Lebanese restaurant on the bank of River Tiber just across Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island). There were in fact many other eateries along this river bank but we chose this restaurant because of its perfect atmosphere. Words simply cannot describe the awesome feeling of dining here. Trust me, you just gotta experience it yourself!
What about gelato? Gelaterias were everywhere and there was one just opposite our apartment. The heat of the summer surely encouraged us to hop from one to another gelateria, but the one that really captivated us was Come il Latte. Its gelati were extremely creamy, rich in taste and above all, reasonably priced (€2,20 – €3,50 per cone/cup), nothing like the others. This is definitely a must-try in Rome!
Last but not least, we had the opportunity to try out one tiramisu joint – ZUM Roma. Though I’m not too much of a dessert person, I still think that the tiramisu here was quite good. Oh, by the way, you might also wanna try its wide variety of distinctive coffee blends.
As in any non-anglophone countries, communicating with the locals is always an expected problem. However, to our surprise, most Romans could speak reasonably intelligible English, thus giving us some peace of mind. Actually, reading the menus or signages in Italian wasn’t that difficult as we could still make out a fair bit of what the words meant. In any case, Google Translate will really come in handy should you get lost in translation.
When we first ventured out in the sweltering summer heat, we realised drinking water was the one thing we needed the most. Peddlers were selling a small bottle of water for about €2, which we thought was pricey. Then, we noticed locals drinking directly from the ubiquitous public fountains (nasoni). After researching online, we were more convinced that the water coming from the nasoni was not only free, but also clean and drinkable. That pretty much solved our water issue and saved us some money too.
Anyone who has been to Rome will tell you that the piazzas are locations you definitely need to immerse yourself in. These are public squares that are tucked in various pockets within the city and remain the rendezvous for most people to hang out. As such, street performances, hotels, shops and restaurants tend to gravitate to the more popular piazzas. A typical feature of most piazzas is the presence of a fountain at the centre.
Another peculiar thing about Rome, a city so steeped in Catholicism, is that the chimes of church bells can be heard in almost every corner at certain times. It felt like the entire city was a monastery, an experience we’ve never had in other cities we’ve explored. Now, I can understand why Rome is so appealing since time immemorial – truly the Eternal City!
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