After 4 nights of feeling like royalty, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to Palazzo Avino. But our last night in Ravello, we met a lovely couple from Dallas who were at the hotel for their 10-year wedding anniversary. They assured us that, we too, would return one day (and stay in a much larger and more expensive room). I agreed… and then asked Peter if he would sign a “honeymoon-nup” agreeing to these terms too. Haven’t gotten it in writing yet, but I’m fairly certain that after that experience, legal action won’t be necessary…
So off to Rome we went… We arranged to have a driver take us from Ravello to the central train station in Naples. Like most metropolitan train stations, Naples was very busy and not necessarily pristine. We had pre-purchased our rail tickets online prior to leaving so it was really easy to find our track, train and seats… Finding the toilet at the train station, however, (and having the correct amount of euros to use said toilet), was not as simple. Luckily, we figured it out and didn’t have our “we are dumb tourists!” flag waving too high.
We were seated in business class with seats across from one another. Peter was lucky to sit next to the Italian version of Andre the Giant who helped us move our 900lbs of luggage up and down from the bins. We played a good 5 or 6 rounds of Scrabble on the iPad (folks, there’s no need to wonder who the reigning champ is here. Hello.) and within an hour, we arrived at Rome Termini Station at about 3pm, where we hopped in a taxi and went to our hotel!
Using our Starwood Points (SPG) from our Amex, we booked 3 nights at the Westin Rome Excelsior located on beautiful and posh Via Veneto. Oh, how I love the SPG program. Peter likes to remind me that I tend to forget what he had to actually spend to get said three free nights… But I prefer to pretend these rooms are just perks to having such fabulous taste (and a high credit limit).
In all seriousness, as SPG members, we were given an incredible upgrade when we checked in. The caveat: This suite, which was tremendous by even American standards with a living room and huge terrace overlooking the city, had two double beds. “Oh, it’s our honeymoon,” we told them. “I see,” said the reservation clerk. “But may I show you the suite anyway? We think you’ll be pleased.”
Three minutes later, we entered the room, saw our new palace for three nights and said: “We’ll take it!” Honeymoon, shmoneymoon. Time to spread out baby! That night we discovered the beds actually rolled, so we pushed them together. The next day, housekeeping kept them together and made the bed up with one sheet accordingly. Perfection!
After getting settled and changed, we decided to head out and explore a bit on our way to dinner. The best part about exploring Rome: not only is it completely walkable, but you stumble upon history at every step!
We made our way through the historic center towards Piazza Navona. There we took in the amazing fountains and statues of Bernini and sat a cafe for a some wine and little appetizer…. Okay, a whole pizza. I’m pretty sure that this is what “When in Rome,” is supposed to mean.
As mentioned in pre-honeymoon posts, I spent a lot of time researching the food factor of this trip, especially for Rome. I dutifully followed the guidance of Roman food and historian Katie Parla and chose a couple of different restaurants based on her recommendations and the subsequent research that backed up her recs (this is how important food is to me). Roscioli was a restaurant that came up time and time again. Katie was very candid about the fact that there are times when the food can be downright inedible at Roscioli, but we took our chances anyway and made reservations for our first evening in Rome for the 7:30 seating.
Sadly, we were on the “rude service” and “inedible” side of the reviews that night. While the wine we ordered was wonderful and reasonable, and the burrata starter was THE BEST I’VE EVER HAD, the pastas were so insanely salty we could barely make it past a few bites. Definite disappointment.
Thanks to the amazing Walks of Italy, we started our first full day off in Rome with a 3 1/2 tour of The Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The last time I was in Rome was 1998 as a college, backpacking graduate. With my Lets Go Europe! guide and cigarettes in hand, we zipped our way through historical sites, pubs, and boys. So this experience was a liiiiiitle different. Our guide was so incredibly knowledgeable and I think Peter and I were blown away by just how much we were blown away by the history, art, and importance of the buildings we were standing in. It’s a shame you can’t take any pictures in the Sistine Chapel, as the work of Michaelangelo is so incredibly awe-inspiring. But I’m still so grateful we could see it and enjoy the fact that there is actually one place in the world you just have to “take it in” without a selfie or even a whisper. The quiet in the chapel was amazing.
After the tour, we made our way towards Pizzarium, another highly recommended and popular food destination. Located about 15 minutes by foot, basically behind the Vatican in the Balduina/Montemario, Prati district, Pizzarium is one of Rome’s acclaimed chef’s, Gabriele Bonci, pizza by the slice storefront. You order at the counter; there is no seating inside or out. With the exception of a little bench on the street, the curb, and two high top tables in the front, it’s standing room only at this joint. I think that makes it more fun. While we did get a little lost on the way there, and it would have been nice to sit down after our morning tour, we LOVED the pizza. Everything was delicious and was a great experience. The only thing is that there are long lines, especially at lunch. So with the specials and food changing daily, you can get up to the front, and the pizza you want may be gone. This is stressful for the inner fat f*ck in me, but I stayed calm. I didn’t find the guys behind the counter to be particularly friendly, but I suppose because of people like me who don’t speak Italian and want. to. know. what. each. and. every. flavor. is., it could get pretty annoying. I especially enjoyed the exchange in which, on my second time in line, (yes, we went for two rounds. Stop judging), I asked if I could have the pizza with the shaved onions. (It looked like the onions you get with Albacore with Crispy Onions at sushi).
“Noooo, madam. Eeets a not a on-eee-onn. Eees a horse meat.”
Oh. No thank you.
After lunch, we hopped in a cab and got dropped off at the beginning of the famous Via Condotti, where we made to the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, the Fontana della Barcaccia, the fountain at the base of Piazza di Spagna was under construction (as was the facade of the church at the top of the steps). But it was still lovely to take it all in and take a rest…. before we ate again. Um, it was a summer day in Rome.
One word: GELATO.
By mid afternoon, we were spent. So we made our way back through some beautiful streets to the hotel. So we could relax and prepare our second stomachs for… Dinner.
Evenings in Rome during the summer are lovely. Before dinner, we headed to the Trastevere neighborhood where we strolled along the cobblestone streets. That night, Italy was playing in the World Cup, so we stopped into a little cafe, had some wine and beer before dinner and took in the game. After that, we crossed back over the Tiber towards the Jewish Ghetto for dinner.
It could have been from all the doorways I made Peter stop to take pictures of me in front of, but we got extremely lost trying to find Piperno. We must have done about 450 circles and turns in the Jewish quarter trying to find what would turn out to be the teeniest, tiniest piazza in all of Rome.
It was probably the only time, and the closest we came to wanting to kill each other on the trip, but once we found the restaurant all was good. (Well, minus the fact that they didn’t have our reservations AND the alarm company called to say our alarm at the house had gone off). Other than that, it was a lovely evening. I didn’t take any pictures of our meal because frankly, the staff was a little serious (read: “judgy”) and Peter and I were obviously a little rattled. But the food was very good. And thank god for good wine. We started with the famous Carciofi Alla Giudia (Fried Whole Artichokes)– A bit out of season but still awesome! Peter had a Gnocchi di Patate Alla Fontina (which was basically gnocchi in an alfredo type sauce) and I had Fettucini a Ragu (Fettucini in a meat sauce).
This time, I wasn’t skipping dessert. We ended the meal with their famous ‘Le Palle Di Nonno Fritte’ aka: Fried Grandpa’s Balls. I wish I not only had a picture of these fluffy, fried, donut like delights (lightly fried, filled with ricotta and chocolate), but also of Peter’s face and joy just to see “Balls” on a menu.
We had an early wake up for our final day in Rome. We joined Walks of Italy again for another guided tour. With just 12 people in our group, we started in front of the Colosseum where were led on an amazing and incredibly detailed and insightful tour of the Colosseum, then over to Palatine Hill, the Arch of Constantine and the Sacred Way, ending up at the Roman Forum. I wish I could remember the name of our tour guide as he was wonderful and had so many rich stories and anecdotes along the way. Peter and I were simply fascinated. All I could think about was how much Jonah would have loved this portion of the trips. What boy doesn’t love Gladiators?!!
After our tour we made our way back towards the historic center to a Roman landmark in and of itself, Armando Al Pantheon. If there was one meal of our entire 2 weeks in Europe that I was looking forward to, it was this one. Opened in 1961, Armando Al Pantheon is a Roman staple. (You must make a reservation in advance!) It’s a traditional Roman trattoria literally in the shadows of the Pantheon. It was a Saturday and if they were open for dinners (on Saturdays), we would have 100% gone back for dinner. Hands down, our best meal of the ENTIRE trip. I’m still dreaming about it.
I desperately wanted to get tiramisu but we really were quite stuffed and with the afternoon still ahead of us, I thought it would be best to save some room for the requisite gelato.
I will regret this decision for the rest of my life.
After lunch, we took in the wonders of the Pantheon.
Unfortunately, Trevi Fountain was under construction with a ton of scaffolding.. and well, no fountain. The water had been drained. This did not stop us from having a gelato (because that’s an important part of wish making) or throwing three coins in the fountain. Clink.
Like the day before, we were completely spent by 3pm or so. So we made our way back to the Westin for a little R&R before heading out for an early evening visit to the Galleria Borghese. There are set times to visit the Borghese museum and we opted for the 5-7pm entrance time. It was perfect and quiet and with the help of a guided earpiece in English, we were able to check out the amazing sculptures of Bernini and pieces of art from Caravaggio and Raphael.
We didn’t have dinner reservations for our final night, which, I can’t lie, was a little anxiety producing for a planner like me. But luckily, it meant we could stumble and stroll anywhere with no time restraints. After leaving the museum we strolled through the Villa Borghese Gardens until we hit a main street. We hopped in a taxi and headed to the top of the Spanish Steps. When we got there, there was some sort of Circe du Soleil type show that closed down access up and down the steps, so we opted to have some wine and take in the gorgeous sunset and sites from the terrace cocktail bar of famous Il Palazzetto. After that we found a very small and quaint restaurant somewhere nearby and had a simple but satisfying meal.
Rome was such a fun way to spend the middle part of our trip. While our days were completely packed and busy, it was so exciting and romantic. Plus, with Santorini as our next and final stop, running around was the perfect way to prepare our minds for a destination that requires pure relaxation and literally NOTHING but gazing out over the water… and of course, sitting up to eat and drink…