“One of the great joys of traveling through Italy is discovering first hand that it is, indeed, a dream destination.” ~ Debra Levinson
Arriving in Italy
The flight from Chicago to Germany was good with little turbulence. I was not able to sleep much, maybe 20 minutes now and then. The food was not good at all, but at least we ate. Our next flight boarded and left on time. It was a short flight – about a couple of hours. We decided not to upgrade our seats for this flight. We arrived early in Italy. Our shuttle was waiting for us at the airport. The driver, Chaffi, was very polite and took us sight-seeing before reaching the hotel, which was good since check-in was at 2:00 p.m.
We arrived at the hotel around 11:00 a.m. The Donatello Hotel is a small old, family owned and operated hotel. The room was small but cozy and clean. The staff was friendly, helpful and accommodated our every need. They were polite to check us in early. It is conveniently located near the Porta Maggiore, Termini Station, and the San Lorenzo area nightlife, bars, and restaurants. The area was not the prettiest but never did we feel unsafe or threatened in any way. If you’re looking for budget-friendly without luxury, then I would recommend this hotel.
Cruising around Rome
Our itinerary included walking to the Colosseum and its surroundings. However, we did not plan on my left foot relapsing into excruciating pain. I felt as if I was holding back my family. We decided to rent a vehicle since walking was difficult for me. After several miles walking, my daughter and I headed towards the hotel while my husband, son, and son-in-law headed towards the closest car rental in the area. Good thing we carried around with a mobile hotspot. They arrived at the hotel in a 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Leave it to men to pick out a car, and they choose an uncomfortable, too advanced to figure out with such little time, sports car, for five people and they claimed it was the only one available. Yeah, sure!
It was difficult getting around Rome in a vehicle. The streets are very narrow, unidentified lanes, tons of motorcycles, Vespas, and bikers on the road and pedestrians just cross through with little or no regard of automobiles driving around. It was a scary moment. I thought driving was crazy in Puerto Rico. Well, I was wrong – Italian’s beat Puerto Rican’s in insane driving.
We arrived at the Colosseum and headed towards the online ticket purchases to pick up our pre-purchased tickets. The best part of pre-purchasing your tickets is that we got to skip the lines and believe me, there was a very long line. We entered the Colosseum and were mesmerized by the remarkable sight. It is so impressive – enormous and so much history! I have an active imagination and still could not imagine how the Romans were able to build this gigantic structure with so many details. I had been to Italy before but did not have time to visit the inside of the Colosseum. So this time, it was imperative that we visited it. We spent about 2-3 hours in the Colosseum, and I’m sure we didn’t tour it thoroughly.
Standing tall at the Piazza Della Rotonda and a favorite gathering place for locals and tourists is the Pantheon, known to be the best preserved ancient monument in Europe. It still holds the title of being the most massive unsupported dome in the world. It is indeed a fantastic work of art where we spent some time outside at the piazza just admiring its beauty.
The vibe was great and it being off-season the crowd was not too much. We strolled around the beautiful cobblestone streets of Rome and discovered our plaza – Piazza San Ignazio! Well, we didn’t ACTUALLY discover it, but baring our last name, we felt the connection. The plaza is a small quaint area lined with the church Sant Ignazio di Loyola which is a baroque style church; Ristorante Da Sabatino and a few residential buildings.
The Sistine Chapel is such a lovely sight, all painted by Michelangelo himself. It is jaw-dropping and just so beautiful. There’s no photography allowed and shushing people is all you hear. Well, we didn’t discover the photography disclosure until my daughter was told by an employee she could not take photos. Too late!
The Spanish Steps are quite steep and are the connection between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza Trinitá dei Monte. It’s like a gathering place for artists, painters, tourists, and locals. Couples use it as a backdrop for wedding photos. One can see why. They are not just any steps. They are 135 -138 elegant steps with landings and a beautiful view of the Trinitá de Monti church at the very top and the baroque fountain, “Fontana della Barcaccia” at the very bottom. Also, very difficult to walk up if you’re suffering from two torn tendons like I was.
Oh, how packed was the Trevi Fountain. Visitors from all over gathered around the fountain taking snapshots, tossing their coins or just sitting around and admiring this beautiful massive structure. It is enormous standing 85 ft tall and 65 ft wide. This fountain collects about $3,500 per day from coins tossed by visitors. All coins are collected every night, and the money is used to help the needy with their groceries. The Trevi Fountain legend says if you throw a coin into the fountain you will return to Rome, so make sure to stop by the fountain and toss your coin in if you want to return.
We also pre-purchased entry tickets for The Vatican Museum so on our way we were to explore. I’ll be honest with you, the Vatican is beautiful, but it bothers me a bit to see so much gold and opulence on a structure, and so much poverty in this world. I don’t think God cares about lavish things but how we take care of each other. I’m getting off track here. Anyway, the frescos are amazing – so much talent went into those paintings. It’s hall after hall of art and gold. I love the Bramante staircase just spiraling down – kind of looks like a snail’s shell.
In the surroundings of the Colosseum, one will see the Arch of Constantine, Piazza di Santa Francesca Romana, Portico Medievale, Domus Aurea, basilicas, restaurants, and cafés. One can spend an entire day in this area and not see it all. A lot of historical places to trace – so much to learn.
Hunger kicked in, so we stopped at La Biga Restaurant right across from the Colosseum for lunch. It was delicious food – pizza with prosciutto, fettuccine à la Bolognese, lasagna, bruschetta – delicious! The service was exceptional. The server was polite and patient with us. I highly recommend this restaurant and would return to eat here.
Another place we had lunch at was Tradizione & Fantasia Restaurant at Piazza del Risorgimento 53, just outside the Vatican. The food was edible, and it was pricey. The service was okay as well.
One of our dinners was at Ristorante Italia Protagonista which is nestled in a small cobblestone street, Via Delle Paste, between old Roman architectural buildings. We dined “al fresco” even though it was chilly. They had heaters, so it was okay. The food was excellent, as well as the wine and beer. The server was polite and treated as very well. Therefore, I’d have to say that the service was excellent. I would definitely return to this restaurant and highly recommend it.
We stopped at Café Roma Gelateria, near the Trevi Fountain, for some gelato, coffee, and pastries. The cappuccino was good, the dessert – which was some house rum cake – was not that great, and the gelatos were okay. It was a bit pricey for what it was.
In search of an original wood Pinocchio for my nephew, I visited Bartolucci store. Bartolucci is a family-owned and operated store which opened in 1936. Everything is hand-made in Italy, including the wooden Pinocchio, which was first carved by the owner, Francesco Bartolucci in 1981. Bartolucci store is a charming little shop with many wood creations to choose from. I found my Pinocchio, a wooden nameplate, and some other fun trinkets. If you have a chance, I encourage you to visit this little niche in Via dei Pastini, close to the Trevi Fountain.
Guess what we found? We found an Italian chocolate store! Venchi is a fine Italian Chocolate store, in Via Della Pietra, packed with an assortment of chocolates for every palate. It was impossible not to stop and buy chocolates. We were in Chocolate heaven!
Quirky Italian Ways
A few differences which I found in Rome unlike the U.S. was a gasoline station right spat in the middle of a neighborhood on the sidewalk. I had not seen that in years. Heck, I don’t remember ever seeing a gasoline station like that.
If you’re purchasing food to go, in Rome they say “Take Away.” In the U.S., we say “Take Out.”
I love the way the Italian’s park their vehicles. “If it fits, park it!”
Rome is such a lovely city. There’s so much history, museums, statues and monuments to explore. Beautiful cobblestone streets and such a laid-back way of life. I love Rome and expect to return. I wouldn’t even mind living in Rome. I like it that much!