We went to Rome at half term. Without the kids.
Now before you go judging me, we did take them all to Legoland for the day before we went AND they got to spend two days with their grandparents, which is frankly a little like visiting Disneyworld from their point of view. So we’re not bad parents, honest. We just wanted to spend some time together doing boring adult things like looking at ancient ruins, paintings and the like.
So off we jolly well went. We started our trip in a culinary saintly fashion, chowing down on some poached salmon and a Thai chicken brown rice potsu from Itsu. They were worthy but delicious. You’ll notice that my husband snuck in a beer. I remained saintly with a decaffeinated coffee.
We chose a decadent taxi to transfer from the airport to the Althea Inn in the Palantine Hill area of Rome. They charge a flat rate of €30 which we thought wasn’t so bad. We enjoyed the journey, spotting ruins nonchalantly dotted around. It always tickles me in Italy that ruins are so unremarkable they’re scattered around and ignored somewhat. Not the big important ones obviously. It’s the same way the French approach castles; abundance breeds kindly complacency.
The Inn was fabulous. Alessandro is the owner and has the kind of warmth that you either have or you don’t. Not fakeable in any way. He showed us our room with private terrace. Look!
And he asked us what time we wanted breakfast. Now, being an eager little beaver I had booked us onto an early Vatican tour meaning we would miss breakfast. In response our host suggested we might need a glass of wine and some pastries in our room right that moment. I’m easily led when it comes to wine and baked goods so we agreed and were presented with this.
The student in me was just head over heels for the fact he delivered a whole bottle. The tired mother in me enjoyed the very boozy cream filled pastries and then promptly fell asleep for 2 hours.
After my late afternoon siesta we changed and walked a whole street to La Fata Ignorante which apparently means the ignorant fairy, but is not meant for literal translation – if refers to a wife being ignorant of letters sent to her husband. Extra curricular affairs of the heart and all that.
La Fata is well reviewed, it’s slick in decor and service. There’s something a little New York about the interior. Our waiter explained every single dish on the menu in detail and so we ordered. I was jealous of my husband’s twice baked egg, in fact I was annoyed he ordered it. I had wanted to order it but have some strange self imposed rule of not ordering anything he does.
I chose a Roman dish of mint and vinegar fried courgettes. They were cold, which I hasn’t expected, not knowing much about Roman cuisine. They were delicious but I felt food envy.
Then out pasta course arrived, I chose gnocchi with almonds. My mood was restored. I had chosen well. Perfect tiny little gnocchi.
Husband chose a wild boar ragu that I liked but not as much as my gnocchi.
For mains I attacked this 24 hour cooked cockerel. I chose it because I didn’t believe the waiter when he proudly asserted that is wasn’t dry. He was both right and wrong; the breast was just on the very edge of dry, only just teetering though. The rest was fatty and juicy and (this will make me sound very old) tasted how chicken used to taste when I was a kid. All chickeny. The salad was pointless and undressed.
My husband chose the manly main of oxtail; unctuous, fatty, meaty hulks of protein in a thick thyme gravy. It was good.
For pudding we shared a tiramisu which was tiny and too faint for me. I am a philistine who wants a tiramisu to smack me in the face in its glory, alas, this was refined and tiny. I ate a spoonful and left the rest to my husband.
I liked La Fata, the food was good, the service slick. But I couldn’t help but feel marginalised for having a pair of boobs. Everything was directed at my husband. It annoyed me. I like to be spoken to too. I felt ignored. Maybe the clue was in the name.
Out alarm woke us at 6.30am. Obviously this is not what one should do on a mini break, but if you want to avoid the papal crowds then early is a must.
Our host had suggested we get the number 23 bus to the Vatican. We, being fools, ignored him (mainly because we are both scared of buses and where they may or may not lead to, more on this later) and got the Metro. Now a word on the Metro in Rome – if you are used to London or Paris or New York then brace yourself and manage your expectations. It’s small and doesn’t cover much of the city. It’s pretty cheap though to make up for this. Just €1.50 for a single journey.
A nice Roman man showed us where to go and we managed to arrive for our Dark Rome tour just in the nick of time; it took a whopping 40 minutes to get to the Vatican and it really wasn’t that far. Note to self – take advice from locals.
We paid £140 to tour the Vatican before the hoards arrived. Now this is a HUGE amount of money, given it’s just €15 each to do a DIY tour. Having reflected on the tour and why we did it and all that jazz, here are my thoughts:
Money is a great divider. That much is obvious. But where money really shows the ugly difference between having it and not having it, is how it affords you space. If you think of every moment in life where you can upgrade it is almost always to get away from your fellow human beings. Planes – more leg room. Trains – more room, many less folk. Theme parks – queue jumping. Private schools – smaller classes. A car or taxi rather than a bus – solo travel. Even living in a detached house and not a flat is simply a way of getting further from each other. For such social animals we crave solo space.
So we paid a lot of money to experience The Vatican without the crowds. That extra £100+ got us in about 2 hours before the regular ticket holders. We stood in the Vatican gardens, just the 11 of us, with our guide. Stefanie was great, amusingly a clear atheist who gave us the flip side to every Vatican tale.
The irony of paying to get away from other humans within a religious site when the bible states you should look after and embrace others is not lost on me. What can I say? I am a grumpy woman who hates crowds; far from Godly.
Was it worth the money? Yes and no. I visited Rome 15 years ago at the age of 20 and had £6 a day to live on. I barely saw a thing. I felt like I was on the other side of the window, peering in. This time I felt overloaded with information. We visited on a Wednesday when there’s a papal audience; this means entry to St Peter’s Basilica (this is the dome and the actual churchy bit of the Vatican – frankly the reason most of us go – apologies to all the Catholics who will be disgusted at this glib description) opens at about 1pm instead of early. What this means is, you do the tour that starts at 8am of the museums, end up in the Sistine chapel and then from 11 need to entertain yourself if you want to use the direct access to the Basilica from the chapel. You can go the long way and queue but that defeats the point really. Here’s what we saw on the way round, including some amazing restoration work.
We had a coffee, whizzed around the tour again without our guide and then stood at the back of the Sistine Chapel waiting for the magical door to St Peter’s to open (along with a lot of other tourists).
(And this is the Vatican cafe, I just thought you’d like to see it):
It was only when people-watching the vast crowds in the Sistine Chapel we realised just what a treat our early, quiet tour had been. People were shoulder to shoulder. I would have taken a photo but you’re not allowed. Apparently this is nothing to do with the Chapel being a holy place but because a Japanese TV station paid for the restoration of it and therefore hold exclusive rights to any photos or videos. The Vatican it seems, though a holy place, is also a machine of a business. No judgement from me.
The Sistine Chapel felt (whisper it) a little bit less exciting than I expected. Maybe it was the crowds and the constant shushing from the guards. It’s supposed to be a silent place, one for covered shoulders and legs. It was anything but. A low hubbub of noise, shoulders with dirty grey bra straps on display. Have some respect fellow tourists! At least bust out your best bra if you’re going to flaunt the rules.
Onwards to St Peter’s Basilica, which is an extra €6 – 8 extra (depending on whether you take the lift or not). Amazing. I will let the photos do the talking.
And yes, the obligatory selfie:
Husband climbed the extra 320 steps to the top of the dome. There is no lift option. I am lightly scared of heights and also claustrophobic, so waited on the steps for him enjoying a ‘super cappuccino’ from the St. Peter’s cafe. The barista told me this was because I am so beautiful. To say this made my day is an understatement. Gotta take the compliments where you can get them. Thank you flirtatious Italian man for ignoring my eye bags and lying to me, thank you.
This is me perching and yes, checking my phone. And a few pics I took whilst waiting.
We took the lift back down and found it spits you out into the Vatican – the actual churchy bit. I felt quite overwhelmed and I’m not even a Catholic.
My top tip for visiting the Vatican? If you can afford it, do a guided tour. If you can’t then book online and avoid this version of hell:
Yep, that snake of people is the queue to get in for those who didn’t book ahead.
My memories of the Vatican? The new Pope Francis lives in a hotel rather than the papal apartments, he says they are too grand and costly to run for the benefit of one man. The Romans used to be slightly obsessed with all things Egyptian. Oh and Michelangelo was black mailed into painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel and didn’t even get paid for it. And lastly, I recall a lot of people selling selfie sticks aggressively.
We celebrated our smug forward planning by lunching at Dal Toscano.
Now Dal Toscana is a guidebook recommendation, which usually means it’s immediately off my list, but it was good. Yes, we felt a little processed, but the pasta was fresh and the ribs juicy. We paid about £30 for lunch with water and wine. Not cheap but not so bad given the proximity to the Vatican.
My spinach and ricotta ravioli with tomato sauce.
And cabbage – which tasted barbecued. In a pleasant way.
Not content with a 3 hour whistle stop tour of the Vatican, we hot footed it to the Colloseum in the afternoon. We didn’t pre book and queued for all of 10 minutes. We paid for the audio tour which I may have enjoyed more than my husband. (I do love a bit of a history lesson). It was busy but not so much that you felt over whelmed.
The Colloseum ticket allows you entry to the Forum too. So, my husband being a value for money kind of a guy suggested we look at it. I will be honest that I was exhausted by this point. And a little bit quiet and moody. I wanted an ice cream. It was stunning:
We overheard a couple of tours going on and remarked that if in Rome for longer we would invest in one. Then we got lost waking home which did wonders for my moodiness.
Luckily, we found a cute cafe just doors from our bed and breakfast called the Meating Bike Cafe. Their hospitality and refreshments were most welcome. And salty too. (Probably aimed at cyclists and not tired tourists, but hey).
Home for a sit about on the bed and then we scooted round the corner to this place:
I had grand plans for visiting the Trastevere area for dinner. It’s very cool there and apparently where Romans go out. But there was no direct metro, we were still scared of the buses and my legs ached. Instead we went here.
This little place is not a romantic venue. The lighting is intense. I would suggest only visiting with those who already know you, warts and all. The light is unforgiving. The food is the reason to go. The loud chatter of Italian voices kind of reinforced that.
A fried courgette flower to start.
Or a big plate of meats and fried veggies.
Seafood with big thick strands of homemade pasta.
And no room for pudding. Unless presented with a free thimble of pudding wine each and a plate of caraway biscuits.
Then there is room for pudding.
And that breakfast we missed the day before? This was what we gave up.
Now, if you have enjoyed a little break in Rome and are looking for a way to end it do not take the Metro to Termini station. Do not buy tickets for this thing.
Do not then sit in a cafe waiting for your bus to arrive.
Do not arrive in good time to utter chaos and find the previous bus is 35 minutes behind schedule. This will be stressful.
Our bus arrived late and left late. We had a whopping 9 minutes after security to get to our gate. Luckily it took about 30 seconds to find it.
Terravision? Terror vision more like.
And the only way to round off a mini break? Ryanair pretzels of course!
(And on the Ryanair note, last time I seem to recall I said how impressed I had been and how much they had upped their game. Well, sorry Ryanair but your outbound flight sucked. Rude staff, dirty plane, late take off. But you get what you pay for, no? See above).
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Thanks for the Rough Guide Holly! The GF and I are off to Rome for a few days next month and are first-timers so this post is very useful :-)
I went to San Sebastian without my son too! Didn’t feel guilty for a second, just felt fat from all the food!
Thank you for sharing so much of your trip with us blog following peeps- awesome photos, fab post :)
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