Ciao a tutti!
This weekend, Matt came to visit (as you’ll already know if you follow me on Instagram, I went a little Instacrazy). We had a really great few days, which included the perfect mix of the super touristy things that you sort of have to do if you’re in Rome (they’re super touristy for a reason) and slightly more secret, less well-known spots. Best of all, it was relatively cheap. If you’re planning on going to Rome on a budget any time soon, I hope this post will help give you some ideas of some things to do, see and eat that are fun, cheap, and that you won’t necessarily find in a guide book. For that reason, I’ll include as many links as possible!
On Friday after my Italian class we climbed the hill to see the Vatican Keyhole on the Aventine Hill, the first stop in semi-secret Rome. I say semi-secret because a coachload of tourists turned up as we arrived, but usually it’s really quiet – so quiet in fact, that you wouldn’t know it was anything special. It’s a non-descript hole in an innocent looking door in a car park, and there are no signs or clues that it is anything remarkable (unless, like us, you get unlucky and there’s a queue of people with cameras clamouring to get a look, which is a pretty clear indication that there’s something more to it). If you bend down to peek through the hole, you get a magical view if St Peter’s Basilica, perfectly aligned and framed with trees from the garden behind the door. It’s one of my favourite semi-secret parts of Rome.
Also at the top of the Aventine Hill is the beautiful Santa Sabina church and the orange gardens, from which you can see a beautiful view over the city. I learnt a lot about this place last week, when Shauna and I were accosted by a chatty (and very handsy) Italian man, who was keen to tell us the story of Romulus and Remus, the miracle orange trees and how to read Roman numerals, so I was able to give Matt a bit of a history lesson. Making you read all that is above and beyond what is expected of a blog reader, though, so if you’re interested you can just Google it.
Picture by Shauna
From there, we did a classic site-seeing walk. We saw the Colosseum (which I’m not sure I need to include a link to and which I hadn’t seen yet, despite having been in Rome for 3 weeks), the Vittorio Emanuele II monument (also known as the Wedding Cake), the Pantheon, Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk, Piazza Navona (which was beautiful as the sun was setting), walked along the Tiber and had a drink in Trastevere, all of which are free to see and look around except the Colosseum and the Wedding Cake, which of course you need to buy a ticket to enter. We didn’t go inside this time.
The Wedding Cake
The Elephant and Obelisk
Huge glass of wine in Trastevere? Well, if I must
Then we headed to my favourite pizza restaurant ever, Pizzeria Ai Marmi. I can say with confidence that it’s the best pizza restaurant in Rome, and multiple Romans have confirmed this. It’s called Pizzeria Ai Marmi because the tables are made out of marble, and for the same reason it’s also nicknamed L’Obitorio, the Morgue. Its customers are a nice mix of tourists and Romans. We arrived at 8pm and were the last to be seated before the queue began outside. We were sat right by the oven, which meant we got to watch all of the preparation in action. The chefs work so quickly, rolling the dough and dumping piles of toppings on each pizza before expertly maneuvering them into the huge pizza oven. It’s incredible that with such a high volume of orders and such a quick pace that they manage to cook every pizza to complete perfection, but they do. It’s not too expensive either – it was 25€ for both of us including drinks and a tip, and my pizza, the Napoletana, was the cheapest one on the menu at 6,50€ (that’s not why I chose it though, I just really love anchovies).
We walked back to the tube stop via La Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth, which is a creepy stone face that, in olden times, would supposedly bite your hand off if you lied with your hands in its mouth, though why you would do that I don’t know.
Then we collapsed with aching feet, having walked a total of eleven miles in an afternoon.
On Saturday we went for a quick jog in Parco della Caffarella which is about 3 minutes away from where I live (I jogged for 20 minutes, where is my summer body!?).
Then we headed to Piazza di Spagna to grab a piece of pizza and to see the damage done by the Dutch Feyenoord fans (all the beer bottles had been cleaned up, no harm done). From there, we wandered to Piazza del Popolo, which I had never seen before, and then along Via del Corso (a huge shopping street of high street shops including no less than three Zaras) and back past the Colosseum to get to Basilica di San Clemente. This is another less well-known spot; it’s a beautiful church, but the most interesting part is that it is built on top of another basilica from the fourth century, and that is built on top of a pagan church from the first century. They were all excavated fairly recently because one of the monks could hear running water down below, and now you can literally walk down through the levels, as if you’re going back in time. It’s really interesting for history geeks like me, and it’s cheap too: 5€ for adults, 3,50€ for concessions (including students) and free for kids. So you might as well, really.
Piazza del Popolo, overcast but still beautiful
Then we headed to another place, another one of the secret-ish ones but still very busy with Italians on a Saturday evening – Eataly. Eataly is a huge, four story shopping centre stuffed full of the best of everything Italian (in theory). The best Italian coffee, the best Italian meat, the best Italian pasta, the best Italian veg. Bearing in mind that it is a chain store with branches in America and that it can be quite expensive, a lot of Italians do shop and eat there (because of course there are cafés, wine bars and gelaterias there as well). There is even a bookshop full of recipe books and books about the history of Italian food – I was impressed to see a book by one of my lecturers in pride of place on the bookshelf. I would definitely recommend this place, but perhaps not on a Saturday evening, and perhaps not to do your weekly shopping. But for a special occasion or a treat, why not?
Then we headed home and Matt cooked a delicious penne alla matricana (a classic Italian dish that comes from the Lazio region) with ingredients we bought from Eataly.
On Sunday morning we had pancakes (I used my own recipe, lol). Then we headed to the Cripta dei Cappuccini. It was 8€ entry per person with no student discounts available, but totally worth it. This is something that I would definitely recommend, but it’s not for the faint of heart. First, there’s a museum that explains some of the history behind the Capuchin monks which is actually interesting, but is entirely forgotten when you get to the crypt: eight rooms entirely decorated with the remains of 3,700 Capuchin monks. And I really mean decorated. There are small chandeliers made of shoulder blades, and intricate wall and ceiling designs made of ribs, jawbones and vertebrae. There are also entire skeletons dotted around, dressed in the traditional Capuchin monk habit. Some are lying down, but most of the ones standing are drooping forwards with their hoods falling over their faces (well, their skulls…) and the whole thing is eerily beautiful. I was struck with a sort of morbid fascination and was grateful that we decided to go in the day when it was light rather than at night when I might have found it ten times more creepy. In the first room was a sign that read, “Quello che voi siete noi eravamo, quello che noi siamo voi sarete.” (All that you are we were, all that we are you will be). I couldn’t stop trying to imagine fitting 3,700 people into eight small rooms if they were still living. That’s just so many people.
You weren’t supposed to take pictures inside the crypt, but we took a couple of sneaky photos just for you. You’re welcome.
What’s the first thing on your mind after seeing interior design of corpses? Ice cream, obviously. We stopped at a small gelateria, where Matt chose Bacio and Puffo (smurf) flavours and I chose Nutella and cassata. Bacio is Italian for kiss, and there is a brand of chocolate called Baci in Italy which are small chocolates filled with hazelnut and wrapped in a multilingual love note, most of which are super cheesy but some of them are really sweet.
The Puffo flavor was odd – bright blue and vaguely minty and creamy at the same time. Nutella was, of course, delicious, but cassata was a flavour I chose on a whim as I didn’t know what it was and it was disgusting. I’m not normally one to say that about ice cream but it honestly tasted of cheesy feet. When I googled cassata later, I found out that it actually does have ricotta cheese in it, which might be a clue as to why.
To continue our theme of dead things, we headed to MAXXI which is a museum of 21st century art. We managed to get in for 8€ each as a special offer, but usually it would cost 11€ per adult. Modern art is not really my thing at all, but the building was really cool and I puzzled for ages over the ethics of skinning and beheading real tigers and polar bears in the name of art. If you’re into this sort of thing (modern art I mean, not skinning and beheading animals, though that too), I expect it’s a really good thing to visit. Pictures are of more use than words in this case; bear in mind that these are real animals (except for the basilisk skeleton, obviously).
This was one of the less provocative pieces
That evening, Matt tried his hand at fried zucchini flowers, which turned our really well except that we almost destroyed one of Martina’s pans (we saved it, though). They were really good, so hopefully I’ll be able to put a recipe up for that some time soon.
On Monday, Matt’s final day, I went to my Italian class again and went to a meeting with the Erasmus office (which was predictably a complete disaster, but more about that another time…) and we spent a lazy afternoon at La Romana gelateria. This is my favourite gelateria (so far) and is not a tourist trap. It’s a really sweet café with an air of complete calm where the ice cream is delicious and so cheap – 3€ for a large cone, and a large cone really is large. They fill the cone with melted dark or white chocolate and then you can have up to three flavours of ice cream that they must make fresh every day. I haven’t tasted one yet that wasn’t amazing. Then they have several different types of homemade fresh cream that you can add on top, if you so desire. 10/10 would recommend.
Matt left on Monday evening, both of us exhausted from so much walking. I was, as always, really pleased to see him and sad to see him go, and also delighted to have an excuse to do touristy things in Rome. I still have a huge bucket list though, and it just keeps growing – any recommendations or suggestions would be very much appreciated!
I hope this post was useful to you, and even if you’re not planning on coming to Rome I hope it satisfied some of your nosey parker curiosities. I wish more people wrote year abroad blogs. I’m so nosey, I’d be an avid reader (and by that I mean stalker) of all of them.
Until next time!