Caput Mundi: Rome
When in Rome… don’t blink for a second or you may miss something! The entire city is a priceless treasure; a living and breathing tribute to history. I couldn’t stop gasping as I walked around the city, each fragment of it a work of art built by the great grand masters. The art, culture, icons, people… they’re all individual masterpieces, making up one of the greatest cities in the world!
- Stay in a beautiful place. It is hard to walk out of your hotel/apartment/Airbnb in Rome without stumbling upon something of historical significance. After some research, I booked myself in at Le Quattro Dame, which was so new at the time, that it had no Tripadvisor reviews! This made me slightly sceptical, but I liked its chic rooms and proximity to the Pantheon. I took a taxi from the airport and gave the driver the address of the hotel which was on the major road of Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. My driver stopped at the exact location I provided him, but there was no sign of the hotel. After some confusion, I decided to get off and pace up and down the street amidst the heavy traffic, passing old buildings that looked like small offices (closed for the day as it was nearly 11 pm), and residences. Everything seemed dead, and there was absolutely no sign of any lodging anywhere around! In a slightly panicky state, I called the hotel manager, with the sinking feeling in my stomach suggesting I had been scammed. However, I was welcomed on the phone by a very friendly Italian man, who assured me that I was in the right place and told me he would come down to receive me. With still no clue of the whereabouts of the hotel, I decided to stand where I was – in front of a gigantic and ornate wooden door, that looked like the grand entrance to a cathedral. Sure enough, a few minutes later, the manager walked out of that very door and welcomed us to the hotel. Once inside, I walked into a building with high ceilings (resembling the Pantheon as I later deduced) and into a rickety elevator from the 19th century with iron gates and a wooden pull door. I was utterly bewildered as this was not what the pictures seemed to suggest in the slightest! However, as the elevator bounced its way up and reached the 2nd floor, I was greeted by a completely different ambience. An inviting, 5-star hotel lobby-esque lavender scent, plush pastel blue carpets and furnishings, beautiful art, and a gorgeous room with contemporary interiors, double sinks in the spacious bathroom, and a slick nespresso machine! I was impressed beyond words. To top it all, the room had a gorgeous city view, and was just a few minutes walk away from the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and some lovely pizzerias and gelaterias around the corner.
- Book ahead for the Colosseum and Vatican Museums. You will find a long line snaking around the corner of these attractions during most times the year. It is always advisable to book ahead on their websites, and avoid the touts lurking around. You might still have to queue, but it will be shorter and less tedious. The Colosseum takes your breath away; from the instant you catch a glimpse of it for the very first time, to when you enter the majestic amphitheatre, it is pure awe! You can almost feel the remnants of its bloody history etched in the stones, and it’s a moment that feels larger than life. You can also check out the Roman Forum and Palatine nearby. Being long fascinated by Catholic history, I was very excited to visit the Vatican. Whilst the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica is impressive, just walking through the endless galleries of the Vatican Museums crammed with ornate artefacts, lavish sculptures and paintings amongst a couple thousand sweaty tourists, can get very stuffy and energy-draining. The highlight was of course the Sistine Chapel and looking up at Michelangelo’s famous fresco, The Last Judgement, which is a classic Rome ‘moment’.
- Splurge on Michelin-starred Italian food with a view. If there was ever a place with a dramatic meal setting, this was it! I had lunch at Aroma Restaurant which is a Michelin-starred restaurant on the terrace of the Palazzo Manfredi Hotel. We had the best table in the house which was within arm’s reach of the Colosseum. It was so beautiful, that it was almost like a fake backdrop in a cheesy photo studio! The extraordinary view coupled with the divine food made for one of my most memorable dining experiences. The quality of the food also justified the high price tag – delicate Pappardelline pasta with exquisite plating, served with the most delicious home-made bread and olive oil.
- Save with cheap and cheery Italian food. You can get a delicious slice of pizza for around €3 in any pizzeria in any corner of the city. Freshly baked bread, laden with creamy Buffalo mozzarella, basil and drizzled with pure olive oil, the classic pizza rossa, margherita is the best kind. To satisfy your sweet tooth and cool off after a day out in the sweltering heat, indulge in a creamy and decadent scoop of gelato. I had the Stracciatella Bergamasca from Don Nino gelateria opposite the Fontana di Trevi.
- Start your day with a caffè con panna. When in Rome, kick-start your day like a true Roman with a rich espresso shot (topped with cream for some extra indulgence). Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè near Piazza Navona is an Italian coffee institution from the 1930s. Their bean blends have been coveted by coffee connoisseurs all over the world, and at any point in the day, you will find a mass of people gathered around the bar, stopping for a quick gran caffè and cannoli.
- End the day in an osteria. I booked a table at La Carbonara as soon as I booked my flight to Rome, after reading the raving reviews. A hole-in-the-wall place with menus exclusively in Italian, ordering here is a fun guessing game. The staff do little to help, but that adds to the charm of this rustic Italian trattoria. After a few glasses of wine though, you stop trying to Google translate the primi and secondi options and go with your gut. In my case it totally paid off and the food was delicious! Authentic and bold home-style Italian cooking in a cosy tavern – the best way to wrap up a day in this amazing city!