September 12, 2017 – We let ourselves sleep in a bit this morning and didn’t get up until around 8:00 am. I think we were both starting to feel the effects of walking 10+ miles per day and lack of sleep. Traveling with those packs every 2 – 3 days wasn’t a cake walk either.
Our goal for this day was to have lunch in the Trastevere neighborhood before heading to our Colosseum tour at 1:30 pm.
We had breakfast at our Airbnb (yogurt we bought at the grocery when we got there) and then left around 9:30 am heading towards Trastevere. It’s an artsy bohemian neighborhood in Rome with lots of fantastic restaurants. It’s a great place to go to get away from the hoards of tourists (until they all find out about it).
The whole time we were in Europe, Eric used Google Maps to get us around. It never failed us… until Rome. We were walking in the direction of Trastevere which brought us through the Vatican and on a side of the city we hadn’t seen yet (to the left if you’re facing the Basilica). We were going in the right direction, but things were starting to look really residential with hardly anyone around. I kept asking Eric if we were going the right way because it didn’t look very populated. He said yes and that the map showed there would be a cut through coming up.
Well, we got to the “cut through” and were met with a locked gate. It was either a park that was closed or someone’s private property. Eric tried to reroute us and it looked like we could still walk around whatever this park thing was. We continued walking then suddenly the sidewalk stopped and there was just a busy highway next to us with zero people around. I told Eric I did not feel comfortable one bit and just wanted to head back towards the Vatican. He agreed, so we turned around and walked the mile back to the Vatican. About 10 min later we saw 2 priests walking the same direction as us and walked behind them the rest of the way. They calmed me a bit… no one would rob 2 tourists walking with Priests, right? Don’t answer that.
We made it back safe and found where we went wrong. We should have gone slightly left to another street right after we walked out of the Vatican area. We got back on track and were in Trastevere within 15 minutes.
It was 10:30 am when we got to Trastevere, so we wandered a bit just to check out the area.
We came upon the most beautiful church, Santa Maria. It’s the oldest church in Rome dating back to 337 AD. The actual structure that is there today was built in 1140 AD, although you can still see many parts of the original church throughout.
After walking through the church, we sat on the stairs of a fountain and tried to figure out where to eat for lunch. It was 11:15 am, so we needed to hurry in order to have time to eat and make it to our Colosseum tour. Our friends from the wine tour suggested a place called Dar Poeta. We looked it up and it said it didn’t open until 12:00 pm. We couldn’t wait that long, so we settled on a little place with pretty windows facing the street. It probably wasn’t the best option, but they were very nice, quick, and the food was pretty good.
It was around 12:30 pm when we finished lunch so we started making our way over to the Colosseum.
We got there early (duh) and just hung out by the meeting point. They asked us to be early so you know we got there extra early. There were some people next to us talking about the underground tour. We were doing that too so I asked if they were with What a Life Tours. They said yes so we all just hung out together until we saw someone walk up with a big umbrella sporting the tour company logo. It was Joseph again (the owner) and our very tall tour guide, Giuliano.
Giuliano told us how lucky we all were that we didn’t plan our tour on the day it rained so horribly. He told us every tour on that day got canceled and most couldn’t re-book because all the tours for the following days were full.
We walked to the entrance as a group and went through security. We weaved through the massive crowds until we finally reached a point where general admission could no longer walk through. This was where our special tour began! Giuliano explained that while we were in the Colosseum, we would have another group of 10 with us along with another guide. This was because they only allow a certain number of people through the underground areas per day. In order to get both small groups in, we all had to go together. The great part was, we would be the only group in these areas at one time so we’d have these areas all to ourselves.
A Colosseum staff member joined our group in order to let us into the restricted areas. Our first stop would be the arena floor.
Next, we descended below the arena floor to the hypogeum where the gladiators and wild animals would wait their turn to battle in the arena.
We wandered through the stone tunnels learning all the fascinating things about the Colosseum and how the fights would work. Did you know they used to flood the Colosseum for boat battles? The Romans would reenact famous battles at sea for entertainment. Now you know!
Next, we went up to the second and third floors. The third floor isn’t open to the public, so if you want to see it you have to book a tour. The last time I was there, the third floor wasn’t open to anyone yet. So I was so excited to be able to experience it this time!
Again, we were the only group up there so we didn’t have to deal with all the chaos like in the general admission areas.
The views from the 3rd floor were incredible!
The Colosseum only gives each group a limited amount of time in each restricted area so that other groups can experience them as well. Limiting the number of people at one time helps with security to make sure people aren’t defacing the ancient ruins (yes, this happens everywhere, it’s so sad) and it’s nice for the visitors to be able to have the experience without having to fight crowds.
Our next stop was the Roman Forum and finally Palatine Hill. We said goodbye to the other group and made our way out of the Colosseum.
The first monument we came to, right outside the Colosseum, was the Arch of Constantine (pictured above, from above). This was built in 315 AD to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
Next, We entered the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum was packed with people, but having our small group helped. We saw the Arch of Titus first.
The Arch of Titus was the inspiration for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It was so cool to see the connection between many of the historic monuments and places we were seeing on our trip.
Next, we walked through the forum making our way to Palatine Hill as Guiliano pointed out many other significant ruins along the way.
The view from Palatine Hill was amazing! Giuliano was such an awesome guide. He made sure to let everyone know at the Colosseum and at Palatine Hill that he was an excellent photographer and would love to take our pictures. We all took him up on that. I think he took about 20 pictures of us in both places!
We said goodbye to Giuliano and made our way out of the Forum.
I forgot to mention that we messaged our British friends that we met on the wine tour, Grace and Natalie, when they arrived in Rome to see if they wanted to have dinner with us. They said of course and made a reservation for us all at a little restaurant called Sora Lucia recommended by the other American couple on our wine tour. So that’s what we would be doing later in the evening.
It was about 6:15 pm when we left the Roman Forum. We thought about going back to the Airbnb to take showers before dinner, but we didn’t have time. So we messaged our friends to see if they wanted to meet early for drinks instead! They said absolutely so we planned to meet at a random outdoor cafe about 45 minutes before dinner.
In the meantime, we decided to seek out a few spots Giuliano recommended to us at the end of our tour. One of those was the Spanish Steps at sunset which we were planning on doing anyway, but the other was visiting Tiber Island and seeing the oldest Bridge in Rome, Pons Fabricius.
Once we crossed the bridge back to the main part of Rome, we headed towards the Spanish Steps. Our wandering brought us through the beautiful Jewish Ghetto. I wish we had just one more day in Rome to do a walking tour of the city because we would have loved to have seen more of this area.
I researched it a little when we got home and it just broke my heart. The Jewish Ghetto of Rome was established in 1555. During World War II, on October 16, 1943, Nazi soldiers entered the neighborhood and deported between 1,000 and 2,000 people. Only 16 survived. The people of Rome had been told if they paid a certain amount to the Nazis in gold, the Roman Jews wouldn’t be taken to concentration camps. The people, including the Vatican, paid, but of course, the promise wasn’t kept. Today, the Jewish neighborhood is lively and filled with amazing restaurants, shops, and beautiful synagogues mixed in with the iconic Roman architecture. Be sure to check out this area if you’re in Rome!
We found this random area en route to the Steps with a cool view of St Peter’s Basilica. I have absolutely no idea where we were. There were a bunch of guards and military so I think it was some kind of consulate, but I really have no clue!
We finally made it to the Steps only to be met with an insane amount of people; more than we experienced at the Trevi Fountain. I guess the sunset at the Steps isn’t a secret. We didn’t even try to go up. Side note: Eric won a lifetime of good karma when he saw a dad with a kid on his shoulders drop €10 on the ground and chased him down to return it.
It was 7:00 pm, so we started walking towards the restaurant which was near the Trevi Fountain. We still had 30 minutes before drinks with our British friends, so we basically had to stop for gelato because what else does one do with downtime in Rome?!
It was time for drinks, so we started walking and just happened to stumble upon Grace and Natalie sitting outside a cafe. The place was beyond touristy, but for drinks it was fine.
Finally, it was time for dinner. I was so excited because I was finally going to get some pasta!
We got a liter of house wine to share and ordered some bruschetta. For my main dish, I got Pasta alla Gricia (pasta with pecorino and bacon) and Eric got Cacio e Pepe (pasta with pecorino and black pepper). Both of these dishes are not to be missed in Rome.
We had a long, wonderful dinner in Rome with our British friends that we met in Florence. I think the highlight of the dinner was the tiny Italian grandmother that took our orders and brought us our food. She was so precious and didn’t speak a word of English! We had ordered a bottle of water to go with dinner and when she brought it out she couldn’t open it. She motioned to Eric for some help and he opened it with one twist. She was so delighted and gave Eric a little pat on the shoulders in appreciation. It was sweet.
We finished up dinner around 10:00 pm. We paid in cash and had a couple euros in change. We had such a lovely dinner so Eric just left our change as a tip. The little Italian grandma noticed the change on the table as we we walking out the door and ran after us to give it to us thinking we had accidentally left it. Eric motioned ‘no’ and pointed to her so she understood we left it for her.
She put her hands over her mouth completely surprised and was just so touched that we left her a tip. We saw her go back and show her son because she was so excited. It was the cutest thing! If you’re planning a trip to Rome, make sure to put Sora Lucia on your list. It’s the perfect place to get super authentic Italian food in the heart of the city.
We left Sora Lucia and started walking back towards our Airbnb. We made a pit stop at the Trevi Fountain just to see it at night. You don’t even want to know how crowded it was.
We weren’t quite ready to call it a night, so we looked up a wine bar. There was a really well-known wine bar near our Airbnb called Cul de Sac. I wasn’t impressed. Maybe it was just because I was really tired. The people weren’t very nice to us.
After a couple of glasses of wine, we were all starting to fade and decided it was time to say goodbye. We said farewell to Grace and Natalie, returned to our Airbnb, and crashed. We would be heading to Sorrento the next day. Luckily our train wasn’t until later in the afternoon, so we would be able to sleep in a little bit in the morning.
Continue reading the Travel Diary here: Day 15: Traveling from Rome to Sorrento