We are just back from Rome (sadly!!) and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts.
We were there a week (arrived Sat and left EARLY Sat) and that was just enough. We paced ourselves, as Rome is a hectic city that can wear on you if you let it with the constant noise, dodging scooters, etc. We would see 2-3 major things a day, then have a leisurely lunch, maybe head back to the apartment to read and have lunch, then out again for dinner.
I never did get used to eating at 8PM. I was dragging by 5pm. I just could not seem to adjust to the time change. Every morning at 3am I'd find myself wide awake!
People told me to bring comfortable shoes for all the walking, which we did. I ended up with major blisters on my feet though, and the shoes were not new, neither are we new to walking. It's just harder to walk in Rome I think due to the cobble and dodging the scooters all the time. Bring bandaids, socks, and an extra pair. I wish I had had a pair of sneakers with me.
My husband and I have always done carry-on only and we stuck to it this trip. It worked out fine. I had been worried about what to wear, but people wear anything. I just brought a few slacks, different sweaters and short and long-sleeved tops, and a raincoat.
We found the food wonderful - better than Venice - and very reasonable.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Sat - arrive, get settled, wander around our Campo
Sun - Trastevere, Fritti Baccala (the smallest church)
Mon - Pantheon, Piazza Navona, seen more of Campo de Fiori area
Tues - Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Villa Borghese and Pincio Terrace
Wed - Colosseum, Forum, Capitoline Hill and Palatine Hill
Thurs - Vatican and St. Peters
Fri - Sleep in, shopping and pack
Sat - Leave for home 6am
St. Peters and the Cat Sanctuary for me, the Forum for my husband. I actually liked the Forum better than I thought I would. At the Vatican, we saw the Egyptian Rooms, Raphael Rooms (stunning), the apartments, the Map Gallery (one of my favorites) and the Sistine Chapel.
We took a double-decker bus tour (the 100 Open - 13E) after the Colosseum. We rode around a couple of times, as it was just getting to dusk, and the lights were all coming on. Unfortunately, it didn't go by the Colosseum or the Trevi fountain, but we got to see some areas we would otherwise have missed.
We walked to all, as I have mentioned, other than the Vatican, which we easily could have it not for my feet. We picked up a cab at Largo Argentina (5 min from our apartment) and it was extremely reasonable - cheaper than Boston!)
When we arrived at Piazza Navona, there was a huge demonstration going on. We still don't know what it was - something regarding pensions - but it was a mob scene, which totally took over the Piazza, and many, many police with guns, shields. I couldn't wait to get out of there! We of course went back, but were dismayed to find a couple of the fountains in scaffolding and not operating. We found this also at the Spanish Steps (the obelisk), and at Piazza del Popolo. Most likely because it's not high season, and that's when things get fixed!
My least favorite part of Rome was Spanish Steps/Trevi - I felt claustrophobic. There were some shops I had wanted to see, and just couldn't wait to get out of there. I can't imagine it in high season!
I had wanted to see the Gallery at Villa Borghese, my husband did not, and it needs advance reservations. We did stroll through the Gardens (huge!!) and they were peaceful and beautiful. Next time, we (or I) will definitely see it. The building and grounds are spectacular and a world away from the noise.
We followed people's recommendations at the Vatican to go out the "groups" door from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peters and it worked great (door is on the right corner facing the back of the chapel). It deposits you in the line for the dome. We should have stayed here, but wanted to see the main church, and stupidly left that line to go inside. I hadn't realized that there was a massive line outside the church entrance that they were letting little by little into the line we had just been in! So by the time we got out of the church, the line was all the way outside, winding around the building, and we decided to forgo the dome. Another must see when we return.
At the Colosseum, we again used the advice to purchase our tickets at Palatine. We thought we could go right to the turnstile then, but there was a massive line, which turns out is for security that everyone has to go through. We were dismayed that we would have to wait after all, and a young Italian tour guide saw us and took pity on us. She escorted us half-way up the line and deposited us there and said "We Italians, we are friendly people". It was so cute. Had anyone have complained, I would have gone to the back, but no one said a word.
We intended to take a boat ride on the Tiber, and walked down to the docks on a Sunday but no one was operating. The walk along the Tiber was nice anyway. The boats are a great deal. I think 3E for the day. You can pick up one at any of the bridges.
Sant Andrea della Valle - a beautiful church you must see. We saw it at night. Has the second highest dome after St. Peters. Absolutely stunning.
First of all, our goal was to eat well but not in fancy restaurants. Good food in casual settings, as much outdoors as we could. We like to eat lunch out in the area we are sightseeing in that day, and do dinner close to home - within walking distance. Except on one occasion, we never spent more than 40E total, with a bottle of water, wine, primo and dessert. I don't know how Italians do it - we never had room to squeeze in a Secondo.
Our first night there, partly since we were zombies, partly because we had heard rave reviews we made reservations at Arnaldos. This restaurant was about 10 feet from our apartment, and Massimo knew the restaurant owner. Unfortunately, now Arnaldo is not there anymore, but it was a fantastic experience.
We ate a couple of nights at a restaurant on Piazza Farnese - great little spot called Osteria ar Galletto,Piazza Farnese, 102. Both nights we ate outdoors enjoying the fountain. Their pasta was excellent, and very inexpensive. We also tried the fried zucchini blossom appetizer here, and it was delicious. This restaurant is also known as Don Giovanni and is right at the corner of the Piazza facing the French Embassy.
Lastly, we ate dinner at La Carbonara on the Campo. All in all, it was not a bad deal. Save for the accordian players trying to collect from the patrons. The food was quite good, and not that expensive for a campo restaurant. Probably the only one I would eat a meal at. I had tortellini in a broth, which was excellent.
Breakfast every morning was at Bar Farnese (right next to Ar Galletto), facing the French Embassy. Great spot. Plenty of outdoor seating.
Lunches were pretty basic - mostly panini, or just some gelato. I'll dig these out and finish up tomorrow.
Lastly, some good recommendations from Massimo and a waiter who is from Rome we met while in Asheville! I cannot vouch for these, as we just didn't have time to try them all!
Vicolo del Figo
Caffé St. Eustachio (best coffee - ask for the Gran Cafe)
Sora Margherita (lunch only - get the Carciofi and/or Cacio e pepe)
Pasticceria del Ghetto (special cakes)
Villa Medici Terrace (good coffee bar)
Casina Valadier Restaurant (Villa Borghese)
Pizzeria da Ivo - Trastevere
Bibli Bookshop - Trastevere - (brunch)
Ovindo (on Via della Scala - Trastevere - good Roman food
The cafe at the top of the Capitoline Museum which has a great rooftop view - you do not have to visit the museum to eat there.
Filetti di Baccalá in the Piazza Santa Barbara - best fried fish (salt cod) in Rome
On to shops!! But before that, I have remembered the lunch spot we ate at near the Colosseum. Pasqualine - (Via dei Santissimi Quatro 66) - not bad food, decent prices, a view of the Colosseum while you eat from the outdoor tables.
There was also a Panini bar we ate at right in the Campo that had good sandwiches. It is one the corner of Via della Cancelleria and has outside seating (stools) - if they don't have what you want, they will fix it for you. The name escapes me now - sorry (starts with an "A" - bright yellow umbrellas - you'd see it if you walked toward Via Pellegrino).
Every trip I've been on, I scour my many guidebooks, and write down shops I want to visit with their address, times open, etc. Invariably, as happened in Venice, I can't find the shop - it's closed, can't find the street, etc.
This happened in Rome, and I realized by day 2 I was spending more time looking for shops than enjoying my surroundings, and missing out on potential shops right in my path!! Did I miss out on some? Yes, I really wanted a pair of Italian leather gloves, but so wanted to get away from the crowds at the Spanish Steps that I didn't even try to find the store.
That being said, these shops are some that we stumbled upon, and some that our apartment owners showed us.
We are big book readers on vacation (airport, at night, etc.) and so scout out good bookstores every time we are away - here are a few:
Bibli - bookstore in Trastevere - we found it to be only Italian books, but it is cute
The Almost Corner Bookstore - (via del Moro 43)Trastevere - we loved this bookstore. It is all English - great selections. Got a great book here called "A Traveler in Rome" by V.H. Morton. It's an account of V.H. Morton's days in Rome in the 1950s. Highly recommend. Had I known about the book, I would have read it prior to my trip.
Feltrinelli - this is like an Italian Barnes and Noble. Also has music. Good selection of English books. There are several of them around Rome. We went to the one at Largo Argentina.
Libreria Del Viaggiatore - (Via del Pellegrino 78) - It is combo English/Italian, and is 100% travel books. I was like a kid in a candy store!! This is where I found the V.H. Morton book (The Almost Corner Bookshop also carries it).
One last thought before I forget. I am the "queen" of guidebooks, and I forgot one of my favorites that we used throughout Venice - Knopf pop-up. Luckily we had the Moon Metro Rome, which is similar, and relied mostly on this guide as we walked around.
I had purchased a Citystreets Rome map, and a few others, but they were all too small for my aging eyes to read. Knopf is even better than Moon as far as size of the maps and print, and makes it manageable to carry around. We actually planned our itinerary around their breakout of the different areas.
Roscioli Bakery - (Via dei Chiavari). The sign outside says simply "Forno" in big bright yellow letters. They are the ones that carry the pizza bianca in slices. Roscioli Alimentari - (Via dei Giubbonari 21-22) - carries great selection of wine, cheese, meats, prepared foods, coffee, etc. They are sons of the Roscioli bakery.
Bernasconi - (16 Piazza B. Cairoli) - Cake and coffee shop
Bar Rossana - (Via dei Chiavari) - Coffee bar
NamesTey - (Piazza del Paradiso 69) - Very nice tea shop. Tea is imported from around the world, and you get to smell, taste, and select. They also have to-die-for chocolate balls filled with goodies - orange, etc. Cute tea accessories also - cups, canisters, all very, very nice. Daniella is the shop owner - she speaks perfect English. Was in the corporate world for a long time in Marketing and decided to open this shop since she loves tea so much. She also has a lovely, quiet tea room upstairs, where you can relax and also savor one of her homemade cakes.
Punto SMA - Supermarket - (Via del Monte della Farina) - street behind Via dei Chiavari. Basic small supermarket. Aspirin and other things we are used to buying in a supermarket, you need to get at a Pharmacy (green cross signed stores). One hint - if you buy milk, make sure to buy "Latte fresco", fresh whole milk American-style, not "latte a lunga conservazione" which is a horrible-tasting milk laced with chemicals.
I didn't buy alot of clothing in Rome. Via dei Giubbonari has some nice shops, mid-range - you just have to go in an look.
I did buy a wool jacket at one of the market stalls at Campo de Fiori on the day the temps dropped to 50 because I was freezing. The stall is around the corner from the main Campo, on Piazza della Cancellaria. It looks cute, is 100% wool, and was only 29E, kept me warm, so if it falls apart in a week who cares.
Emporium Balloon - (Via dei Chiavari) - this is an outlet store of very nice clothing - silk blouses, corduroys, sweaters, etc. It is a "remainder" shop, and prices are very, very low. Silk blouses for 15E, nice corduroy pants for 20E, etc. All new. They have dressing rooms. I only spent a little time here, as I was dressed in many layers and didn't feel like trying things on, as you must here. But if you have some time to poke around, very, very good deals. Also a small men's selection at the back - shirts, ties, etc.
Sciam/Vetro Soffiato - (Via del Pellegrino 55) - Glass shop - This was my favorite store in all of Rome. If you go here, do NOT bring a purse of backpack - it is filled to the brim in a tiny, tiny little shop (actually not so tiny, just jammed with things - all very breakable). You must go to see - I've never seen anything like it. Glass beads, vases, beautiful drinking glasses, everything in glass. Room after room after room. I had my heart set on buying a set of their glasses, but was afraid of how I would get them home. I know better now that I should have bought and had them shipped. Very special place. The shop is very tiny, easy to miss don't know if there is a sign. One the left coming from Campo de Fiori.
Visit Via Giulia (beautiful street) and also Via Pellegrino and Via Cappellari. The streets are named for the artisans - Via dei Chiavari was keymakers, Via Cappellari is hat makers, and has many wonderful artisan shops as does Via del Pellegrino.
That's all I can think of at the moment. Rome is a beautiful city which if you take in small doses and wander, you will come to love. Regardless of what is said, it is very safe if you are as cautious as you would be in any big city. We always used a money belt because we realized that as tourists alot of times we are distracted by maps, trying to find our way and could become an easy target. We also carried a Metro Bar 200 which is anti-theft - wire in the shoulder strap so it can't be cut, tamper-proof zippers, etc. We wore it across the shoulder as recommended by Massimo so that it could not be pulled off easily. Money for the day we kept out and accessible.
Anyway, that is all I can think of for now. If anyone has questions I will be happy to answer and be of help in any way I can.