If we’re going to talk about why I love Rome, I need to admit something to you first.
I am a total history nerd. I love history, especially the classical stuff: Greeks, Romans, Egyptians. This is how much of a nerd I am: I took Latin in grade school. For eight years. Yes, for the first five it was mandatory and I can give someone else the blame/credit for that. (Side note, I’ll be the first to admit that studying Latin helped me so much in English classes. But that’s not the point here, focus Emma.) The funny thing about studying a dead language is that you have no choice but to absorb a lot of the culture. Because the textbooks can’t talk about cars or technology or TV shows, it talked about chariot races and Roman baths and gladiators. We read mostly original texts: Cicero, Augustus, Ovid. So you pick it up even when you didn’t mean to. That, combined with the fact that I went to a middle school that really emphasized classical education means that I knew a surprising amount about Rome before I set foot in the country.
Therefore it shouldn’t surprise you that I lost my mind just about every time we turned a corner. The richness of what has happened here, decisions that impacted the world centuries ago, buildings where people lived and ate and cheered and worshipped and debated, are still around for me to see and even touch! Mind-blowing.
So for our first day in Rome, we headed straight to the Colosseum.
We decided to to not be supertourists and let ourselves sleep a bit, so when we arrived around 10am crowds already filled the courtyard area outside. But we’d bought Roma passes which can be used here, and you get a shorter line! Definitely get the audioguides – this is the type of place that you want some commentary. And be ready for crowds, it’ll be packed.
Experiencing the Colosseum is hard to put into words. It’s enormous, which shouldn’t have surprised when I heard how many thousands of spectators could cram in for the fights. There’s something staggering about the fact that these walls, this column, that stone is 2000 years old. When you think about it that way, it’s surprising that this much of it is still around!
We spent a few happy hours wandering the space, with me exclaiming over something every 10 minutes.
The Arch of Constantine is right outside the Colosseum, as a key part of any triumphal entry back into Rome after a campaign.
Now that I’ve done it once, touring the Colosseum may be one of those things you splurge on to get the guided tour – skipping the line saves a ton of time, and the Roma pass ticket doesn’t let you tour the underground portion (which we didn’t realize until we’d already entered).
Regardless of how you buy your ticket, entrance to the Colosseum also gets you entrance to the Palatine Hill & Roman Forum ruins! Compared to the Colosseum, this was practically deserted. Also, it’s much bigger than you’d think – there’s three different entrances, and you could easily spend half a day in there.
These ruins of everyday buildings mixed in with significant ones like the Curia (where the Senate met) made walking among them all the more impactful. This is where people met friends and conducted business. There were temples and palaces and gardens and streets, still recognizable standing all these years later.
All of this, in the shadow of the colosseum.
My only strike against the Palatine Hill was a modern art exhibit set up in the midst of the ruins. I like some modern art, but this stuff felt jarring against such a classic backdrop. In one area, the artist had made 4 foot tall letters spelling out “Loser” as a commentary about a whistleblower’s childhood of social struggles. That’s valid, and there’s a time and place to talk about that. But while I’m trying to soak in some Roman history, not so much. But happily, I believe this is a temporary exhibit and with a little luck it’ll be relocated to a more appropriate venue soon.
But onto a happier subject: food! We ate so well in Rome. Even the meals at more touristy spots were top notch! I think I ate pasta twice a day here – it’s that good, and I never got tired of it.
One meal in particular reigned supreme. On my parents’ recommendation (and Rick Steves, let’s give credit where credit is due), we tried Trattoria der Pallaro. It’s a bit off the beaten path but not far from the Altare della Patria or the Pantheon. There are no menus, so be prepared for whatever Nonna wants to cook that night! Don’t worry, you can’t go wrong. The first course was prosciutto, bread, lentils, and the freshest tomatoes and mozzarella I’ve ever tasted. I could’ve been happy with that as the whole meal, but we were just getting started. Next comes the pasta course – one or two types of pasta and sauces. Both were unbelievably good and leave you wanting more. If the waiters like you, they may bring you the whole mixing bowl!
The main course changes every night but it involves a meat, a vegetable, and the thinnest cut fried potato slices. Not quite as crispy as chips, they’re equally addictive. Finally, a slice of what someone called Italian cheesecake – again, not like any cheesecake I’d ever had, so leave your expectations behind. But good, especially with a shot of limoncello to wash it down. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to say hi to Nonna as she makes the rounds in the restaurant.
All of this, plus wine and water, for about 25 euros each. A good deal for a four course meal. But it’s cash only, so be prepared.
Confession: we liked this meal so much, we went twice! Everything was identical except for the main course, but no regrets here.
The history and food are my top two favorite things about Rome, but we did lots more. Check back next week to see more of our time in the city!
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