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Rome, Italy

❤️

Going to Rome

This is my only train ride that’s in second class and on a completely full train. I’m sitting on a 4-seat contraption with three other people. And they’re all really nice! The man sitting opposite me keeps trying to peddle his cookies onto us to stop himself from eating the whole box, and everyone relents with a laugh, and the cookies are good and the mood is great. I’m happy.

Finally, we get to Rome, our train 5 minutes late, which feels wonderful compared to the previous Train Ride of Hell.

In news that will surprise noone, my first notes about Rome are: « Orange city but bigger ». I’m fully equating Italy to these orange-tinted walls now.

At the hotel, I do some prep work:

I then go out for a little exploration, nothing big. With the Verona tour this morning, my feet are still sore even after these 3 hours of sitting on a train.

Openstreetmap is not up to date in this city. The ruins and streets are perfectly indicated, but the benches and shops are not reliable at all, so I take the time to cover a couple of streets – my small contribution to the city. Helping out even a little makes me feel better about being a tourist, especially in Rome, the second-most touristic place I’ve visited after Venice, although Verona was solid competition.

I go for dinner. The place I’m aiming for has closed indefinitely. I update it on Openstreetmap, and while I’m at it, also on Google Maps, and then I walk to a second place, which takes me through a bit more streets. Rome is gorgeous in the sense that there’s something to gawk at every couple of streets – arches, ruins, monuments, statues, churches, there’s always something.

A stone arch on top of a busy street, at night.

Finally, I get to pizzeria Berbero, a hip place with neat pastel aesthetics and a sanitized menu. I eat one of the best pizzas of my life (‘Nduja and burrata, of course.) and greedy old me also decides to try suppli, which are basically deep-fried risotto balls.

I roll back to the hotel.

Back in bed, I bring down the itinerary to 24 kilometers, which should be much more reasonable. The midway point is the Colosseum: on day 1, I’ll walk through non-touristic parts of the city, then enter the Vatican, and then make my way along the river to the ruins. On Friday, I’ll take the direct bus and start where I left off.

Stats

  • Train: 3h23 for 3 759km in total
  • Steps: 20 859

First full day

I wake up hoping places won’t be too crowded with the public holiday. It turns out that the neighborhood I’m in is very quiet; maybe everyone’s still blissfully asleep, or maybe my neighborhood is just nothing much to see. (Based on my map, both are likely.)

I walk for a really long time, taking the longest possible route to the Vatican. First, I stop at Villa Borghese. It’s warm and sunny, I’m able to shed the sweater for the first time in ten days, I’m delighted.

A beautiful French garden in the sun, with a white villa behind it.

I walk for another hour or so. From the moment I leave the park to then, I run into four, maybe five people. It’s peaceful and wonderful.

The river as seen from a bridge, with boats on the side and trees everywhere.

I stop to chat with a friend (no walking and texting if it stops you from looking around for cool stuff!) on a bench next to a cute fountain.

And suddenly, I think I’m close to the Vatican, because the streets get crowded at once.

I whip out my restaurants map: it’s time for lunch. There’s Trattoria Dino e Toni close to me, and it looks pretty great, so I head there. Of course, they’re completely full and I should have booked in advance. Never mind, there’s a pizzeria (Lievito) just one street further, also on the list.

I get a supplo’ which is again excellent, but the pizza is honestly awful. A bad pizza is still an okay meal, and this is a rare miss over a month-long trip, so I won’t cry over it. Also, it means more stomach space for dinner. (This trip is basically eat pray love except I don’t pray much and my partner stayed home.)

When I get out of the restaurant, the weather is significantly worse; it’s now cloudy enough that I need to put my sweater back on.

Looking around, I see that postcard stands now mostly just sell photos of the Pope. Yeah, I must be close.

And there they are, the walls of the city – and a gigantic queue several hundreds of meter long to enter the museums.

A giant grey stone wall with a queue of people that seems to go on for several hundreds of meters.

For a second, I think it’s the queue to enter the Holy City, and I’m ready to nope the hell (heh) out of this, but then I realize the gate to the city is further, so I go back to walking, following the dense flow of pilgrims and visitors.

Finally, I walk past the gates of the Vatican.

It starts raining.

Clearly, God did not get the Pope’s memo about me being allowed to exist now.

The temperature drops ten degrees.

I am wearing shorts and did not bring my raincoat because it was supposed to be warm and sunny.

I hurry out of the Vatican. I take a few photos, but the lighting is absolutely dismal and a million people have photographed the Vatican, so I’ll let you find a decent picture yourself if you want one.

I cross the bridge back to Rome.

It stops raining.

Message received.

While the Vatican was just as beautiful as expected, what I did not expect was the great Castel San’Angelo.

A gorgeous completely round castle seen from a bridge. The sky is filled with very menacing dark gray clouds.

From there, my exploration leads me to more churches, more ruins, more arches, more palaces.

I also run into a fascist bridge. (As in, the text on it, justifying why the guy it’s named after was so great, has a carefully scratched-out mention of « [l’Italia] imperiale e fascista », but the mention of the Italian East Africa just below remains. Can’t get ’em all.)

An inscription on a bridge.

Villa Farnesina sounds fun, but from outside, I can’t see anything at all. It’s unfortunate, and it keeps happening here – lots of places are protected by fences, and given how many tourists there are in these places, I suppose it makes sense, even though it’s sad.

Very orange buildings, once again, in a small street with some greenery on the side.

Speaking of tourists, I hadn’t seen one in a while, but I find a new pocket on via Dorotea. It seems like tourists travel in herds (well, most tourists – obviously I shouldn’t consider myself special). I think it might be because Rome is so much bigger than all the other cities I’ve visited (bar Berlin), people don’t necessarily walk from one place to the next, meaning that they disappear on public transportation and suddenly reappear at the next attraction.

I meet a friendly bird.

A regal-looking white and brown bird staring into the distance on the small wall. Below, you can see the river with a boat on it, as well as an island with orange buildings. It's very sunny again.

I walk a bit more, crossing yet another bridge, then decide that this is too much. I’m tired, my feet hurt, my knee isn’t doing too well, and I’m almost at the Colosseum, so I can just come back here tomorrow.

I stop under the Mermen fountain (which, as far as I’m concerned, should be called the Thicc Thigh fountain) and read a book in the sun while waiting for a bus due twenty minutes later.

A fountain with tritons that definitely have perfectly normal legs (and very thick thighs), and a brick church with a big ornate belltower. It's extremely sunny.

At 4pm, the bus comes by. On the bus, I’m sitting next to a Floridian couple of retirees. They are absolutely unhinged in that unmistakeable American way. I love them. We chat all the way, of course.

I finally get home and drop into the bed, falling asleep instantly. Guess I’ll have to use the bus or grab an ebike tomorrow, because I can’t do a third 20k-step day in a row. My knee isn’t happy, my feet aren’t happy, my brain is delighted but it’s the only one.

When I wake up from my nap, I go eat carbonara at the restaurant next door (Al Piave). The other dishes are wonderful (artichoke and octopus) and the carbonara is divine. I’m a happy Alex.

Stats

  • Steps: 19 979
  • Friendly Floridians: 2
  • Friendly Floridians with a cowboy hat: 1

Day 2

I wake up with a screaming knee. The attempt to run in Munich, the hiking in Salzburg and the 20k steps twice in a row seem to have brought it to a point where it refuses to deal with anything anymore. I can’t blame it. I can still walk fine, so there’s a 50% chance it will get better as soon as I warm it up.

I don’t want to take that chance, so I look into hop-on hop-off buses. An online forum tells me they all suck because of the city layout. Bon.

At 11am, fortunately, my knee is feeling much better and I venture outside.

I start with taking the bus 80 to Piazza Venezia. It seems that bus stops in Roma are super far apart, although maybe it’s just this line.

I stop at Piazza Venezia, which is on the other side of the Colosseum compared to where I left off yesterday. That means I’m probably not missing anything huge, and I’m shaving off 4 kilometers from the original plan, not walking around the whole area.

On the bus, I look at everything with big eyes. Rome is a hard city to visit: nothing needs to be photographed, because either it’s very banal in a city of incredible things or it’s such a classic there’s no point in taking a photo just to prove I was there. (I’m really working on not taking random shots of super-famous places and trying to give some personality to my photos, but the old « Oh I need to show Instagram that I’ve been here! » reflex is deeply ingrained in my mind, even though I don’t even use Insta anymore). So I just look around and enjoy the glory of this city.

Piazza Venezia is an example of a place that can’t really be photographed unless you have a drone, access to a high balcony at 3pm or on a day where the public is now allowed, or a VR set, so I don’t even try.

I walk up a short flight of stairs to the ruins of the Roman Forum.

Sorry for the Colosseum spoilers but… these ruins are the best thing I’ve seen in Rome. They’re incredibly cool. I love them.

There are a lot of people, but the foreground is deserted and made of brick ruins.
Fewer people going through a giant green area with lots of stone ruins, especially tall columns.

Then I follow the crowd (bleh) towards the Colosseum. The street musicians are all good. The street « statue impersonators » are all surprisingly bad. One guy is spray-painting small Colosseum stencils and that’s pretty cool. I keep my phone in my bra (that’s the one perk of having breasts) and my fanny pack under my sweater.

Of course, there are so many people, and so many bright yellow fences, that the Colosseum is very underwhelming.

I get to a higher point, where I finally get a decent photo.

Remember what I said about not wanting to take the photos everyone always takes?

Yeah nevermind.

The Colosseum on a cloudy day.

A street vendor tries to sell me a bracelet. I say « no ». He says « are you French »? He’s from the East of Senegal, some of his cousins live in Paris, we end up chatting for a while, I’m impressed that he speaks French, Italian and English, we talk a bit about the job. When I start to move he fastens a bracelet on my wrist and wishes me a nice day. I wish him the same and we part with a smile. I know these bracelets are normally a scam so I’m pretty confused by what happened here: he never asked for money and I kept a firm hand on my belongings the whole time, so maybe, just maybe, he was just happy that someone was decent to him. Anyway, that’s the version I decide to go for, because I like to believe that the universe rewards me for being nice.

I accidentally walk past the seat of the government. It doesn’t look bad. I’d have been disappointed if I had planned to go there and see the building, but this is a nice surprise (in terms of architecture, not of the people inside). I go through an indoor passage with a cute ceiling.

A covered gallery with a white and yellow ornate glass ceiling.

I walk past half a dozen restaurants and they’re all full. I’m hungry and grumpy and tired.

I see the Pantheon. It’s like the Paris Pantheon but older and less shiny and with a bigger crowd in front of it. I tell myself I’ll come back and check it with a more neutral mindset after lunch. (It’s still boring after lunch.)

I end up at Trattoria Il Lucano, where I have a basic salad (love it, haven’t had a simple salad in ages) and absolutely wonderful rigatoni alla grigia. I’m never choosing carbonara again if I’m given a choice. This is life-changing.

The street from the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain is how I imagine purgatory. Just a very loud, very slow crowd with no end in sight. On my side, I glimpse a souvenir shop that sells calendars for three very different audiences.

A postcard shop with three calendars: one is of a half-naked smiling fake gladiator, one is of the cats of Rome, and the third is a Roman priest calendar in black and white.
(Are you more of a priest calendar, smiling biceps-y gladiator calendar, or cats in the city calendar person?)

The trip from the Pantheon to the Trevi fountain is short, and soul-sucking. I keep thinking that yesterday was a much better day, and think it’s very probably simply because there are so many people in the places I’m visiting today. Today, I’m in one of these tourist pockets I was talking about yesterday: I took the bus several times so I don’t get these moments of quiet to recharge between monuments.

I get to the Trevi fountain and well… It delivers on my expectations, and more. It’s truly gorgeous. It’s too crowded to see in full but everything I do see it extraordinary. (Again, I encourage you to find a high quality photo if you want to immerse yourself in the story.)

That’s it for today. I’m done with super-touristic places. I see a small street that goes uphill. I’ve been very good at avoiding castles on hills recently, but this is one hill too many, and there I go…

At the top, there’s the gorgeous Trinità dei Monti. It’s busy, but not too much for me to feel at east.

An obelisk and a church seen from below.

From there, I also have a beautiful view over the (actually crowded) Piazza di Spagna. I’m glad I took the way uphill rather than staying in the crowd, and the view is neat!

An extremely crowded square seen from far above.

Today was a relatively quiet day, and I’m only at 9 000 steps or so. I could stop there and enjoy the end of the afternoon in peace.

I could.

I don’t.

I keep walking and end up in front of the Villa Médicis, which also seems to be the French cultural institute in Rome. I keep walking and end up… on Piazza Napoleone Primo. Dammit!

The park is nice, there are free benches in the sun, a band is covering American-Italian classics. It’s the perfect place to spend an hour reading in the sun, and that’s exactly what I do. I’ve missed this so much during the past ten days!

I finish my tour by going downstairs to the gorgeous Piazza del Popolo, where I get a bus.

The Piazza del Popolo, a square with an obelisk and, for some reason, an orange tennis court.

Half a dozen stops later, I get off the bus, cross the street and take the bus in the right direction.

Finally, I get back to the hotel.

I could have spent a full week in Rome and still not seen everything I wanted to see, and I’m not even talking about unplanned discoveries and new experiences. But these two days are enough to make me feel good about the visit and about what I did get a chance to see.

Would I visit Rome again? I’m not sure, actually. I loved my visit, but outside of Venice, this was the place that made me feel most uneasy about overtourism. I felt bad about taking a photo of the Colosseum in the same spot as thousands of people. I didn’t enjoy the slow procession from the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain. And I’d like to not keep being part of the problem, so maybe I’ll come back, but I’m not sure.

Stats

  • Steps: 13 072
  • Buses: 4
  • E-Bike: 1
  • Carbs: 💀

To Milan!

This morning is easy: I get up, pack my bag, check out of the hotel and jump on a train to Milan, to meet my very dear partner who will arrive there half an hour after me.

I’ve decided not to post about Milan – I’ll just make a mini-post recapping my favourite restaurants, probably after coming back to France.

So this is almost the end – there will be a recap post, and there’s a lot that I want to do with the blog series in the weeks to come. I want to add text to the images (alt text and captions, that is), to have one page recapping the trip and linking to all the posts, to add geotagged markers, to rank my favourite cities and to say which ones I think you should or shouldn’t visit… but that will come later.

The trip isn’t over, and I still want to make the most of my time in Milan. I’ll focus on that for now.

As for you: thanks for following me through this adventures, and see you soon for the wrap-up post!

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