After 10 days of total relaxation in France we were excited at the prospect of some vibrant city life in Italy, but we were certainly not prepared for the intensity of Rome. It slapped us in the face like an enthusiastically spun pizza dough; the noise, the heat, the chaos, and the frustration of Termini station, through which we wandered for what felt like an hour on arrival, looking for someone or something which could give us some information.
With the help of a couple of friendly Italians we eventually rolled up at our Airbnb apartment in Pigneto utterly exhausted. Spaced out and half deaf from the flight, we tried to absorb the huge amount of information our hosts immediately bestowed upon us about their fine city.
That evening we ate delicious porcini pasta and pizza bianca at a great little cheap place on the newly hipster-cool Via Del Pigneto and settled in.
The next two days were a whirlwind of tourist sites, it being our first time in the city we wanted to see the Colosseum, Roman Forum, St Peter’s, The Vatican, The Pantheon etc. and we dutifully queued for hours (no way we could afford to pay to skip the queue!) and bustled around Rome with the legions of selfie stick wielding gawpers.
It was hardcore but the sights were worth it, St Peter’s Basillica was a dazzling highlight for me, along with its ornate crypt full of dead popes, and our imaginations were fuelled by the ancient Colosseum and vast Roman Forum, my favourite bit was the garden of headless female statues. Getting to the Sistine Chapel felt like a long pilgrimage and while it was literally awesome to see Michealangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the flesh, it was an ordeal which almost finished us off as far as ‘touristy’ places go. One thing we were so grateful for was the abundance of gargoyle-faced water fountains all over Rome, we filled my trusty water bottle time and again, staying hydrated, saving plastic and money in the process.
Our favourite place, however, was the crypt of the Capuchin monks underneath the Convento Dei Frati, not far from the Spanish Steps (on which I burst into tears after dealing with a breathtakingly cold-hearted Italian bank clerk – more on that in another blog!), where we were overwhelmed, enchanted and unnerved by the eerily designed series of rooms crafted from the bones of seemingly thousands of dead monks. I wanted to take a sneaky photo here despite the ban, but when I witnessed a female staff member reprimand a man who had done just that by saying, “delete it or you’ll not sleep tonight!!” My heebiejeebies got the better of me!
Of course Italian gastronomy was at the forefront of my mind for the duration of our trip, sticking to a budget wouldn’t have been impossible, but we found we couldn’t resist spending a bit more, we’d make up for it in India and Asia, we decided. So we ate a lot. Rome being such a touristy place we found it a challenge to seek out the more authentic and less overpriced establishments, not least because every time mealtime came around we were exhausted and ravenous. We ate some unremarkable pizza and pasta and some poor gelato, bad decisions made in desperation.
However we found a lovely place not far from the chaos of Piazza Navona where I devoured deep-fried stuffed courgette flowers amongst other things and discovered the ubiquitous and addictive Aperol spritz which became my Italian tipple of choice. We also ate really well despite grumpy service in the Travestere area, as recommended by an Italian student of mine. My pasta with artichokes was perfect.
While we opted for cheap and filling apericena deals occasionally, and usually only ordered a primi plato pasta, we treated ourselves occasionally too. Indulging heartily as a special treat at the wonderfully creative Primo in Pigneto, where my highlight was an incredible salad with raw squid, melon and passionfruit mayo, the balance of salty seafood with juicy melon and creamy but zingy dressing was really something.
We loved the colourful, arty and eclectic Pigneto, reminiscent of parts of Manchester, and we’d definitely stay in that area again. On our host’s recommendation we had a delicious and cheap breakfast at a popular cafe in the area called Necci which deserves a special mention, followed by a haircut at the cool Contesta Rock Hair. Ohhh how I’m sure we’ll look back in horror at the money we splashed out too keenly in Italy. But in month one of a long trip, we weren’t too worried just yet!
We would return to Rome briefly at the end of our Italy trip to fly on to Athens. After a 4 hour train ride from Pisa which seemed like a clever cheap deal until we arrived at our nemesis Termini station, we discovered that the trains to Ciampino airport don’t run after about 9pm (we’d seen listings online for trains to Ciampino later but it turned out that was nowhere near Ciampino airport, duh!). We had earlier in our planning decided to save money by sleeping in the airport overnight before our 6am flight, but even at 10pm Termini felt unsettling and unfriendly and full of unsavoury characters. After much tearful running around with our backpacks trying to find a solution we cracked and jumped in a cab, making our savings null and void. When we arrived at Ciampino to find we weren’t the only ones opting to sleep there, we slumped down in a corner on the hard floor with the red-eyed masses. Deflated but then overjoyed to discover we had free wifi, we watched a Sons of Anarchy marathon with numb arses for most of the night, each getting about 1 hour of tortured sleep.
currently reading: A fork in the road – tales of food, pleasure and discovery on the road (various authors)
Title lyric from ‘Bigmouth strikes again’ by The Smiths