The real reason to go to Rome: The pasta!

After all my lukewarm posts about Rome, I’m sure you’re starting to wonder how I can possibly claim to love it so much. The answer is simple. Italian food is the best in the world.

I know this is a strong statement. I really do. And I’m not saying this because I don’t love other cuisines. Lebanese, Pakistani, and Thai food all come to mind, not to mention Indian, Greek, Korean, French cheeses…I could go on. But I’d get too hungry.

But at the end of the day, I can always eat pasta. Because, honestly, you can do anything you want with it. And Rome has some of the best of it.

Armando al Pantheon had incredible bruschetta with buffalo mozzarella and spaghetti with pecorino romano cheese and black pepper.

Colline Emiliane had absurdly good homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach in tomato sauce. They are also famous for their homemade ravioli stuffed with pumpkin in a butter sauce.

I’m not a big fan of regular spaghetti – I find it quite boring – but Eataly added buffalo mozzarella to theirs and it had us swooning.

All of our other photos are of food we ate in Pigneto. We had white pizza sandwiches at Opulentia (they don’t joke about their dough – which is left to rise for up to 72 hours to sheer perfection). Kalapa Roma had vegan & veggie pita’s literally oozing goodness (ok, not Italian, but still worth mentioning!). Vitaminas 24 had delicious fruit shakes – it took me 10 minutes just to read through their selection! Infernotto gave us unique combinations like gnocchi with guava and some delicious homemade tagliatelle noodles. And Necci dal 1924 had some of the best deconstructed tiramisu I’ve ever tasted.

There was more, of course. Random restaurants along Via del Pigneto and our pizzeria in Sperlonga. I can honestly say we didn’t have a bad meal our week in Italy.

And all that would be enough, it would make me fall in love with Rome again and again. But Rome also has the best dessert in the world: Gelato.

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Getting out of Rome and getting to the beach

When you realize that your favorite moment in Rome took place in a cemetery (ok, and all the time you spent eating gelato), it’s time to get out of the city.

As someone who understands that Rome gets hot and it’s handy to have a favorite beach, I spent my college days at Ostia (and more often, the beachfront one train stop earlier). Neither beach had much in the way of food, refreshments (unless they came from a cooler), or bathrooms, but they were close. And while Ostia is pretty crowded on a Saturday, the beach one stop prior is nearly empty…or at least is was in 2010/2013.

Another factor in their favor: the ease with which we could get to them. Take the metro to Piramide and hop on a train to Roma-Lido. Plus, I love stopping in Ostia Antica. I couldn’t tell you why, but I find those ruins much more captivating than the ones in Pompeii.

That said, the beach is…so-so. Ok, it’s not winning any awards, but there is sand and there is water.

This time around, our Airbnb host recommended Sperlonga. The catch: It’s a whole-day affair.

We woke up early and made our way from Pigneto to Roma Termini and caught the hourly train to Fondi-Sperlonga. From there, we had to wait for the local bus (also hourly – but luckily coordinated) to take us into the town itself. Two-and-a-half hours from the time we left Pigneto, we were greeted by the white-washed town of Sperlonga.

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A beautiful town in its own right, we enjoyed the stroll through the “town square” as we made our way to the beach.

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Pigneto: Discovering New Neighborhoods in Rome

My last post was filled with all our Roman woes, but I’m happy to say they didn’t take up the majority of our trip. Knowing Rome wasn’t going to be Chandler’s favorite city this summer, we were determined to spend some time off the tourist track exploring places we hadn’t heard of before.

We started in Pigneto. We were on Airbnb, searching for somewhere to stay and I came across this Vanity Fair article, describing Pigneto as Rome’s Brooklyn. A place with great nightlife, a cool cafe culture, and more Italian than English spoken seemed right up our alley. We found a nice one-bedroom apartment for rent right on Via del Pigneto.

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While there may not have been a lot to do in Pigneto during the day, it was an amazing place to escape to at night. Most evenings you could find us sampling some new wines at any of the various bars along Via del Pigneto and then roaming the neighborhood for a new restaurant to try.

During the day, we did more roaming – which actually happens to be my favorite pastime in Rome.

Before arriving, we had researched little known places in the city and Piramide Cestia kept coming up. Having been to Rome twice, I was surprised to find the city had its own pyramid. I was even more surprised to find out that it was located next to the Piramide Metro stop. A name I had never even stopped to consider before and a stop that I had taken on my way to the beach many times.

Piramide Cestia was one of our longer walks in Rome. There didn’t seem to be a convenient way to get to it from Pigneto. We took the bus into the city, got off at the Colosseum, and waited over 30 minutes for a bus that just decided not to come. At one point, we thought about just skipping the sight all-together, but in the end, we decided it was worth the effort to walk to something new.

So we hiked past the tour buses and tourists walking around with their selfie sticks and found ourselves in residential Rome. We walked past uncrowded cafes, secluded parks, and men breaking for lunch under the shade of oversized statues:

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We made it to the pyramid, no pomp & circumstance required, and walked around the entire structure to find a small gate opening into a cemetery. What we had failed to notice in our research is that the pyramid isn’t a stand-alone structure. The pyramid, a tomb for Caius Cestius, a Roman magistrate and member of a college of priests, was built between 18 and 12 BCE. The area around it houses other graves and mausoleums.

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Not usually one to be found around the morbid or macabre, I was struck, not only by the calmness of the cemetery, but also by its beauty and light.

We were soon to find that the cemetery housed people more famous to us than Caius Cestius.

First on the list was Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English Romantic poet, and husband to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein:

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We also happened upon what might be one of my new favorite statues. A weeping angel, built for a woman whose name I’ve already forgotten:

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Around the bend and in view of the pyramid stands the cemetery’s most famous inhabitant, listed only as a “Young English Poet” on his gravestone. His friend, painter Joseph Severn, listed his name on his own gravestone: John Keats.

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The Rome I love is almost gone

You know that feeling you get, when you know you’re about to do the wrong thing, but you do it anyway…that’s my relationship with Rome. I know I shouldn’t go, but I just can’t seem to keep myself away.

The first time I went to Rome I was 20 and I lived there for the summer. It was my first time away from North America and I felt so independent and free. I went with a group from my university, so while I didn’t know anyone per se, I had network of people with me.

I got to see all the different sides of Rome – touristy, homey, foodie. I fell in love with the architecture, learned when to avoid the tourists, and ate inordinate amounts of my host mom’s cooking. I also ate gelato for lunch nearly every day.

Needless to say, I fell in love with the city. And to be honest, it’s probably impossible not to fall in love with your first international city.

And because of that, I keep going back. First, in 2013 I met my mom and sister there on holiday during my time in Ethiopia with Peace Corps. It was still the city I loved and remembered, but it was busier. Dirtier. I honestly didn’t really notice it because I was so happy to be back, showing it to my family.

I went again this summer with Chandler. He’d been once before and wasn’t a big fan…”Aren’t there too many tourists?” “Haven’t you seen all the sights?” “It’s going to be really hot.”

And like any good wife, I ignored him.

I was determined to prove him wrong. And I’m happy to say, sometimes I did. But honestly, sometimes I didn’t. This post is about the times that I didn’t, though I have plenty of wonderful things to share from our trip later on.

I came across this article a couple of weeks ago: These Hilarious Photos Show What Iconic Tourist Attractions Actually Look Like. And while the Sistine Chapel made the list, there were plenty of other places in Rome that also could have made the cut.

While living in Rome, I walked through Piazza Navona every day. Usually twice. My bus dropped me off nearby and the quickest way to my school was to cut through the piazza.  At 7:30 am, I usually had the piazza to myself. Occasionally, I shared it with a street sweeper.

I took Chandler there at 10:30 am. Knowing that yes, the place gets pretty crazy at lunch and in the evening when the artists set up shop, but mistakenly thought we’d still be fine.

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And Piazza Navona is hardly the worst offender when it comes to overcrowded places! Nonetheless, I’m never disappointed by the architecture in the square and the gelato shop around the corner.

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Other mistakes(ish) we made: Passing through the Pantheon on the way to an absolutely incredible (and Michelin rated!) restaurant. The food was tasty (OMG the appetizer!), but the piazza was, of course, nonsense.

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But, like usual, the architecture more than made up for the crowds. The worst was yet to come!

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I was a tourist

I just spent the last two weeks in Italy with my mom and sister. Despite the fact that I once called that country home, this time, I went as a tourist. It was the first time my mom or Brittany had ever left North America, so it seemed imperative that we spend at least part of our time as tourists. Not to mention that I have spent the last year in a foreign country, trying my hardest to appear as far from a tourist as possible. So it was nice to relax and not care so much for once.

Our first stop in Italy was Rome. It had been three years since I had been in Rome, but it still smelled the same…the subtle scent of water coming from fountains around every corner, the pizzerias just as numerous as the fountains, the salty sweat from tourists unprepared for the heat, the good, the bad. My first thought – God, I missed this place.

Our first day was fairly lazy. We wandered around the city until we could check into our hotel. Our first stop? Piazza Navona – my favourite spot in the city. Granted, I prefer it before 8 am when the tourists are still in their beds, but I love that piazza any time of the day.

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Day two we had a mini trip out of the city. We headed to Tivoli so I could show them my favourite villa – Villa d’Este. The house is beautiful, though similar to many other villas you could find in Italy, but it’s the gardens that set this place apart. The gatto del bagno that I met the last time I was there had disappeared, but I did find my favourite statue.

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Day three was our super tourist day. We did it all – and I mean it all. Campo di Fioria/Piazza Navona/the spot where Julius Caesar was killed aka the Cat Sanctuary/the Pantheon/the Trevi Fountain/Piazza Venezia/the Roman Forum/the Colosseum/Bocca del Varita (if you don’t know what this is, watch Roman Holiday). Sheesh. Quite the day. Quite a bit of walking.

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Day four was shopping, the Spanish Steps, and a picnic in the park. Followed by an adventure to find my favourite restaurant – Gusto. We were successful, and had a great view of Castel Saint Angelo in the process.

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