Where did we stay?
We stayed in the Monti district, on the Via Merulana. Honestly, I didn’t know much about the place ahead of booking our Airbnb and chose it mostly because it was close to Termini – the major railway station, where we would be arriving from Venice and so I wanted to get there by foot. It’s also about a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum. Once we got there, we discovered Monti is known for its vibrancy (read: loud and touristy). Rome is that kind of city in general, though, so I spent the first couple of days easing into its energy. It’s quite like New York in that respect. We often needed to go back to the apartment to unwind and decompress a bit and if you have very little children that kind of rest might be a necessity!
I will recommend two places with all my heart: Panella, widely regarded as one of Rome’s best cafe/bakeries. We were literally a couple of doors down from it and sampled a lot of their fare! The variety of food was great and it appeared to be on a bit of a rotation, so there was something different each day. And espressos were a Euro each, and that’s hard to beat. The website is in Italian, but that link shows you where it is on the map.
About a hundred metres away, our Airbnb host recommended the restaurant Vecchia Roma and it didn’t disappoint. One thing though, bookings are an absolute must – without one, you may not even get inside! People wait on the street in the hope of getting a table, it’s that popular. They were super friendly and the food was delicious.
If I thought my knowledge of French was bad, my Italian was even worse. Weirdly though, I seemed to pick it up better. I had to – people aren’t afraid to talk to you like you understand them! My pronunciation wasn’t ideal – being able to roll your tongue over the ‘r’s especially – but we got by. It helps that a lot of the commonplace nouns (wine = vino, water = acqua, zucchero = sugar) were recognisable. Remember Parla inglese (speak English?), Mi Scusi (excuse me), Quanto? (How much?), buongiorno/ buona sera (good morning/good evening) and the ever handy ciao (hello/goodbye).
I was walking down the street – alone – to get dinner one night when a man sitting at a cafe called out “Bella donna!” to me. I got a bit of a head swell – not for what he said (Lovely lady! or something similar), but for the fact I understood. That’s the thing about Italian men and women – if they like something, they’re not shy about declaring it.
Health, Fashion and Everyday Chores
Like Paris and Venice, the green pharmacist crosses are quite a common site in the city. Even better, around the corner from us, one was open for 24 hours. Luckily we didn’t need it, but it was nice to know it was there!
Like England, we resorted to using a Laundromat service. One happened to be on the next block along the Via Merulana, so that was fortunate. We also borrowed the washing machine of our friends, who we’d met up with in Rome and had a better decked-out place, and I then took the clothes back to our apartment to dry. We got by, due to the mildness of the weather, but it wasn’t ideal. Why is this a big deal? Well, depending on the time of year, Rome can get you dusty &/or sweaty. Clothes aren’t all that cheap either. Lovely, yes. Men, in particular, dress very sharp. Adam tried to go shopping but he was too tall for European sizings to fit very well.
Rome’s historical district is quite large, roughly denoted by that yellow circle I’ve added to the Metro map above. It’s where a lot of the main tourist attractions are (Spanish Steps, The Pantheon etc.) and while the Metro lines A & B service the periphery, to explore it fully usually means doing so by foot or by bike. As the area is also hilly in parts and has a lot of cobblestones, be prepared! Also, check that the railway networks will be working when you want them to. The night we walked home from going to Pompeii, it took an hour to get from Flaminio to (basically) the equivalent of Vittorio E. So as you can see, even that circle is big!
When taking the Metro train, it’s important to note that tickets are sold as a single-ride, but last for 75 minutes on buses. Children under 10 years old travel for free. As we walked a fair bit, we bought tickets on an ‘as needed’ basis (€ 1.50), but there are travel tickets available, like daily (€ 6.00) or 3-day ones (€16.50), and perhaps in hindsight we could’ve gotten one of those.
Metro stations are quite dark and I know some people really dislike using it, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable.
We didn’t take a taxi, but we were told to look out for genuine ones:
This is the line we experienced at the Mouth of Truth. As a snapshot, it looks like a pain, but in fact it was only about 20 minutes. We learned that so long as a line moved consistently, even if slow, the kids could tolerate them better. The bigger attractions, such as the Colosseum and The Vatican, we bought tickets for in advance to ensure we got in and to try and do so at the same time as our friends. This came in very handy at the Vatican, with the lines stretching around the block, they were unbelievable. Yet we walked up with our pre-bought tickets, and went in the ‘small tour group’ line. Technically this might’ve been a bit naughty, but no-one said anything!
With both places, we opted for upgrades. There are all sorts of tours you can book through different places to get into the Colosseum – we used tickitaly and paid a bit more to see the lower and upper levels and I would definitely recommend doing so if possible. It also provides you admission to the Roman Forum.
My advice for the Vatican is slightly different – we paid for lunch to be included. For 18 Euro, what we got – mass cafeteria-style fare – was disappointing. So maybe wait to eat until you get back outside.
Scammers and Pickpockets
Hawkers are very aggressive. In particular, they like to target families by selling little nick-nacks or shiny bouncy balls – the kind of thing that kids like and are very easily placed in the hand. Riley came up to me holding a ball and said, “That man over there gave this to me” with a wondrous voice, as if he couldn’t believe his luck, but I knew from the look on the man’s face he had the expectation that I would now then buy it. Nuh uh.
The only time I was even slightly tempted was with the long stem red roses. They did look pretty. Overpriced, but pretty.
Again, I relied on my DK Eyewitness Travel pocket books. Our Airbnb host provided an excellent map – about the size of a placemat, we ended up referring to that a lot. I saw it at a few tourist centres and some cafes, so I think it’s a mass produced one, maybe printed by a local tourism bureau.
Rome is full of narrow, twisty streets. I usually have an excellent sense of direction, but this city befuddled me. Adam, on the other hand, ‘got it’ immediately. That said, we referred to Google maps more here than in all other cities combined. If you don’t need to worry about your data consumption, you’ll be fine. If you’re limited to wi-fi zones, then definitely take a map or guide with you, just in case.
‘Relax’, not ‘Attack’
There are some cities that you can plan to ‘hit’: do all the main attractions in a day or two, sample the nightlife and good living, and then you can leave again having gleaned the basics. Rome isn’t like that. It shouldn’t be rushed. The people certainly aren’t – I remember leaving Pompeii and happened to look in the window of one of the archaeological offices. Inside, with both legs up on the table, chair pushed back, a newspaper opened and fallen to his sleeping chest, was a man without any care as to whether he’d be seen or caught.
It’s the kind of place where you should walk around, in and out of piazzas, looking at street art, licking on a gelato. Or stroll through the Villa Borghese. My two liked the unstructuredness – they played with their friends in the park, where other families had gathered late on a Saturday afternoon, in the dying sunlight hours. It was marvellous.
The other day, someone asked Keira what he absolute favourite part of Europe was, and without a thought she said, “Rome”. That surprised me.
And pleased me.
Here’s a video: