My trip to Rome with my Dad turned out to be a jam-packed, surreal trip into the past, giving me the chance to share some of my favorite sites, restaurants, and gelaterias from the semester I spent there during my junior year of college, while also discovering some new places as well!
On our first morning in Rome we had a great continental breakfast at our cute (and affordable) hotel near the Vatican, which also had this great rooftop terrace:
Then we were off for our tour of the Aventine Hill (one of Rome’s seven hills), where I used to live and take classes! It was so surreal to get off the bus and see the Forum Boarium on one side and the church that hosts the Mouth of Truth on the other – places that I had walked past so many times before but had not seen for four years! From here we hiked up the Aventine Hill, with the Circus Maximus to our left, and reached the convent where I used to eat breakfast and lunch and take classes on ancient Roman art, Italian history, the economics of art,”Urban and Global Rome”, and introductory Italian (the only class I got a “B” in I’m sad to say…)
Walking up that hill in the bright sunshine brought back so many memories of returning to the convent for lunch after an epic morning visit to some ancient site or museum, as well as late nights when we had to practically drag ourselves up after a 3 hour-long dinner of wine, pasta, and (inevitably) gelato. It is truly incredible that I didn’t gain any weight that semester (it was probably all that walking!)
After taking a few photos of the outside (it’s a working convent and we didn’t want to disturb the nuns) and checking out the nearby municipal rose garden (which was actually closed to the public for some reason, but whatever, we went in anyway!), we continued along the route I had planned to the Basilica de Santa Sabina, where I once saw the then-Pope in his Popemobile on Ash Wednesday!
Santa Sabina is the oldest basilica in Rome – it was built between 422 and 432 AD – and it’s one of my favorites; I love its enormous ancient Roman columns and its serene – almost spooky -atmosphere.
Outside the church we stopped at the water fountain to get a drink, Roman style (as well as, ummm, Marissa-style? This involves bottling free city water to feed my water addiction haha).
Finally it was time to see the place I was most excited to show my Dad on the Aventine Hill: the Parco Savello, more commonly known as the orange garden. It is really hard to capture on camera, but this park has one of the most beautiful views of the Roman skyline in the city. You can see the neighborhood of Trastevere, the Il Vittoriano (a giant white monument to Italy’s first king), St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Great Synagogue of Rome, all from the comfort of your very own orange garden! (Although clearly the tourists have found out about this place, it wasn’t nearly as crowded back in my day. But that could be because I was here during the winter…)
While we were there I really wanted to recreate my Facebook profile picture from January 30th, 2012 (below) but the ledge was too wet. So this attempt at a dramatic, staring-off-into-the-distance shot will have to do. 😉
There were even more magical sites to come on the Aventine Hill! It was time to see the mysterious Knights of Malta keyhole. The keyhole is found in the headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which also serves as the Malta embassy, and is considered part of the sovereign territory of Malta. Therefore, when you look through the keyhole, you are actually looking at three countries at once: you see the garden of the Villa del Priorato di Malta (Malta), you see Rome in the distance (Italy), and, most of all, you see a perfect view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica (the Holy See). Pretty darn cool! Unfortunately this is another beautiful thing in Rome that is difficult to photograph (although you can see my attempt below), but you can see a picture of the view from the keyhole here. Or even better, you can wait until you visit Rome for yourself!
As we were walking around the Aventine Hill, my Dad kept remarking that this was an amazing place to have spent a semester, and he was right! Even while I was here I was very conscious of the fact that I was incredibly lucky to be living in one of the city’s chicest neighborhoods, spending my days learning about Ancient Rome (tied with the Egyptians for my favorite ancient civilization!) and eating copious amounts of cheese. What a life it was!
Next, it was just a short, 5 minute walk to the the Hotel Major Aventinus, where I used to live (yup, I lived in a hotel!) I was a little unsure of whether the owner would remember me or not, or how I was going to communicate with her – from what I remember she didn’t speak much English. But when she came to the door and I blurted out, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I used to live here four years ago,” she smiled and said “I remember you!” in pretty flawless English.
This was something I noticed again and again on this trip: everyone in Rome speaks English! I don’t know if things have changed dramatically in the last four years or if back then everyone was humoring me as I tried to speak Italian (they probably were), but wow!
Vera (I think that’s her name, it’s a family run hotel and I remember everyone had names that started with “V”) was just as kind and welcoming as I remembered. She let us check out one of the rooms and tried several times to get us to book a room there for the rest of our trip. She also asked what I was doing with my life, and I had to admit it was nice to be able to say that I was working in Paris at UNESCO. She seemed impressed, saying that although”Rome is more beautiful than Paris” Paris is “not bad.” 😀
All this beautiful scenery and reminiscing had given us quite the appetite, so I took my Dad down the other side of the Aventine Hill to Volpetti Piu, a restaurant next door to what I think is the best deli in Rome, Volpetti. However, I had to walk by Volpetti Piu twice before I realized it was in fact the same restaurant, this place has had a major remodel since I was last there! Before it was a simple, cafeteria-style restaurant that served delicious, cheap food. Now it was a super snazzy and had friendly waiters! Boy how things change!
After our super tasty lunch, we walked along the Tiber and crossed the Ponte Palatino to reach my favorite neighborhood in Rome – Trastevere!
Trastevere is known as one of the the liveliest, most beautiful parts of Rome thanks to its small windy streets, bohemian atmosphere and multiple foreign universities. My friends and I spent most of our free time (eating) here, and on this trip I couldn’t wait to take my Dad to two places in particular: Fior di Luna for gelato and Dar Poeta for pizza.
I was so excited when we came upon Fior di Luna; they make amazing organic gelato with incredibly rich flavors for reasonable prices. I got my favorite flavor -it’s some sort of cinnamon custard concoction – and it was just as good as I remembered! The only thing that was missing was the chalkboard where they used to write incoherent, yet poetic phrases (my favorite was “Picture of someone walking away and it doesn’t matter”), but I can overlook that.
We decided to eat our gelatos a few yards away at the fountain facing the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere. This church was rebuilt between 1140-1143 AD using the floor plan of the original 2nd century church constructed by Pope Callixtus. On the outside you can see a beautiful 12th century mural showing Mary flanked by ten women holding lamps, while on the inside another 13th century mosaic depicts Mary’s life. I love all the gold leaf and the deep woodcarvings on the ceiling, it’s another one of my favorite churches in Rome (I have a lot of those!)
I would like to stop for a moment here and say that by this time it was only the early afternoon and my Dad and I had already done any incredible amount of sightseeing! I just looked at my phone to see how many steps we walked that day. It was 27,334. I’m not sure I have ever walked that much in one day in my entire life! But every single step was so worth it. My Dad was so enthusiastic and appreciative of every moment we spent in Rome, he really was the best travel companion. 🙂
Anyway, as I was saying, our day was far from over! It was clearly time too see some art, so I decided that we should check out the National Gallery of Ancient Art, located in the Palazzo Corsini. I had never been there before, and, despite its name, much of the artwork was from the early Renaissance to the late 18th century. But we got to see a Caravaggio, which is always cool!
After looking around the galleries, we decided to continue our pattern of super-sightseeing by hiking up the Gianicolo Hill behind Trastevere for yet another stunning view of Rome! I was so excited because this was one of those things that I never got around to doing in the four months that I was here, which just goes to show what an amazingly rich city Rome is!
On our way back down the hill we decided to go to the Church of Santa Cecilia – another place I never had the chance to see – followed by a pizza dinner at Dar Poeta. However, along the way we passed by another inviting-looking church, so we decided to step inside. Once we did, the memories came flooding back. This was the chandelier church! More formally known as Santa Maria della Scala, this tiny church has 43 chandeliers (I counted) hanging from the ceiling, making it look like a little box of jewels. We decided that we would have to come for mass the next day to see if they if they would light them all up!
Equally cool, right next door is the Farmacia Santa Maria della Scala, a pharmacy which dates back to the 17th century and has kept its originally furnishings and equipment! I bought some very modern conditioner because there wasn’t any in the hotel shower, but I wonder if conditioner was around in the 17th century?
Finally we made it to the Church of Santa Cecilia, which I wanted to see not so much for the church itself, which is dedicated to the patron saint of music, but for a hauntingly beautiful sculpture of Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno. The sculpture, completed in 1600, is meant to be a perfect depiction of how Saint Cecilia’s body looked after her tomb was opened in 1599 – more than 1,300 years after her death. Whether that is true or not, the carving of the fabric is incredible to see in person. Maderno was one talented sculptor!
Now, after seeing innumerable churches and stunningly gorgeous views of Rome, it was time for pizza! Dar Poeta was my favorite pizza place while I was here. The pizzas are all beautifully baked to perfection – I loved the quattro formaggi one especially! – and they have a massive nutella and ricotta calzone that you can order for dessert! While I got a sausage and mushroom pizza, Dad customized his to include anchovies and a host of other great things. He told me it was the best pizza he’s ever tasted! 😀 And I have to agree, in a city full of great pizza options, Dar Poeta is the best.
Eventually we managed to roll ourselves out of Dar Poeta, and to cap off our perfect day I figured we might as well see the Trevi Fountain at night! To get there we walked along the Tiber once more and passed the Largo di Torre Argentina, an archaeological site which contains four Republican-era temples and a giant cat sanctuary. All this reminded me how much I loved wandering the passageways of Rome at night, you never know what you’re going to stumble across!
When we reached the fountain it was absolutely PACKED with people. I do not know what I was thinking, I somehow thought it would be less crowded at night (again, clearly I have never been in Rome during the tourist season!) But the Trevi Fountain is never disappointing, and my Dad and I managed to find a spot to take it all in, and reflect on what an absolutely amazing day we had just spent together.
When I first came to Trevi Fountain, I threw a coin over my shoulder to ensure that I would one day return. However, this time I didn’t feel the need to toss a coin. Rome is such a breathtaking city that I know it will be impossible for me to stay away for too long. I’ll be back (to introduce Vera to my future boyfriend, obviously!) 😉