A Roam Around Rome

The Hall of Geographical Maps at the Vatican

Before last May, I’d never been to Rome.

Please don’t look at me like that — I know. I’m a travel writer who had never been to Rome. There should be some sort of law.

The important thing here is that I’ve now visited Italy’s capital city for a whole three days, filling my eyes (and my belly) with the glory of a great empire. Oh, and walking in and out of a lot of amazing stuff that’s free of charge.

I rolled into Rome with my friend Alyssa, with whom I’d just spent five gorgeous days spread between the Ligurian Coast and Tuscany. Also a travel writer, Alyssa had also never been to Rome. (Let this be a lesson to you, dear readers: if you’re slightly ashamed of something, be sure to travel with someone who’s slightly ashamed of the same damn thing.)

Thanks to Alyssa’s fearless spirit, we miraculously made it through Rome’s seemingly insane traffic to our hotel, the Villa Spalletti Travelli. All but late already, we had just enough time to drop our bags, hug an incongruously relaxed Adam — who’d arrived earlier from the Cannes Film Festival, and had ever since been sipping prosecco and chatting with other hotel guests in the villa’s jasmine-rimmed garden — and race off again to return the car at Rome’s Termini train station.

One of the sitting rooms at the Villa Spalletti Travelli, my truly delightful lodgings in Rome

The rental company’s car-return directions led us to a pedestrian-only entrance…and so I was off. Normally, I’m only inclined to run if something is chasing me, but I managed to hightail it through that station like Chariots of Fire. With the rental car agreement clutched in my paw, I tore across the length of the building, scaled a steep flight of steps, and screeched to a halt — a great big slack-jawed guy with unfocused eyes and his pants falling down was co-opting the one guy on desk duty at the Auto Europe counter. Alyssa and I had seven precious minutes to return the car, and so I did the one thing I could think of: with a truly breathless “mi scusi,” I interrupted the proceedings.

Miraculously, this worked. But seriously? No first-time Auto Europe renter could have possibly figured out how to return their car in Rome without wandering into the bowels of the train station, finding the counter, and waiting for the clerk to xerox a copy of the directions to the return garage, which is a short but convoluted series of turns from the station.

This is a complicated undertaking with two people, to be sure, but if you were traveling alone and had to figure out where to put the car in the meantime? Fuhgeddaboutit.

In the Campo di Fiore, you’ll find profusions of flowers, crayon-bright vespas, and naturalmente…Hello Kitty

By now, I had to pee like the dickens, but you don’t do that in a train station in Rome. Trust me on this.

Alyssa and I found the garage, the correct space for our car, and for on the first floor of the private garage, a bathroom a couple steps above Trainspotting. But by now? Knackered. It will possibly seem as foolish to you know as it sort of seemed then, but rather than walk the 20 minutes back to the hotel, we paid $20 euros for a 5-minute cab ride.

Upon walking in the door of the Villa Spalletti Travelli, this time for real, prosecco magically appeared to save the day and our trip turned into that rare vacation hybrid, the Travels With Three.

The Trevi Fountain, where the lovelorn still toss coins for luck

We would spend the next several days wandering the city together, bouncing from the astonishing Vatican Museums to the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument, a metric ton of gilded churches and a blur of high-end designer shops, from the tumbling floral profusions at the Campo de’ Fiori to the smooth-criminal marble gods of the Trevi and Bernini fountains. We scaled the Spanish Steps, we said hello to millions of cats (okay, I said hello to millions of cats), we rode the subway, wafted across the Piazza Navona, and strolled beside the blue-green-brown Tiber River.

We learned things about pasta and pizza and wine and cheese that I hope to re-learn again some day.

 (Clockwise from top left): try the fried artichokes at Da Giggetto; the gorgeous pizzas at Pizzarium; check out the wall of wine and the page-long cheese menu at Osteria Gusto; and be sure to try wines from the hills outside of Rome

Late springtime in and around the Campo di Fiore

A gloriously non-crowded moment on the Spanish Steps

Steps away from the top of the Spanish Steps

At the top of the Spanish Steps, on the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, the 16th-century Palazzo Zuccari was built by a sculptor as his home and studio; today it houses an art collection and  library 

Churches? Why, yes — Rome has almost 1000 of them

Sphere Within Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro in the Vatican’s Cortile della Pigna

Looking for a great place to kiss in Rome? Try perching beside the Bernini Fountain in the Piazza Navona

Often disparagingly called “The Wedding Cake” by locals, the Vittorio Emmanuele II Monument is indeed grand and white; be sure to head to the rooftop for some amazing views of Rome through the ages

The distant past is everywhere you look in Rome, tucked into corners and right under your feet

For instance, the Colosseum — which is blissfully free of tourists at night

Rome is full of gardens and parks and meandering paths, as well as vines and flowers and sunny little glassed-in cafes where you can have a coffee and gaze at the trees

After three days, Adam and I took our leave to go explore Croatia, leaving Alyssa to indulge in more of Rome on her own. We knew our time had been too short, and had that slightly restless feeling that there was much more exploring to do. Heck, I hadn’t even bought any shoes.

Rome is certainly not an inexpensive city, but you can choose your own adventure in a slew of places that are free to enter, or at least free to see. Bring your favorite walking shoes and a good street map, and allow yourselves to get a little lost. Rome will take care of you along the way.

The worst that can happen is you stop for a cannoli and watch the city drift by for a while.

Rome is also home to the Tiber River, where you can go for a wander or simply watch the ripples and flows as you contemplate the word…”romantic” 


Villa Spalletti Travelli
Hotel Raphael
Da Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia
Viator’s Vatican Museum Tour
Max Planck Institute for Art History (inside the Palazzo Zuccari)

Things To Do


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