After several days in Berlin, the next stop on our fabulous European adventure was Rome.
Rome's Spanish Steps
Neither of us had ever been to Rome before, so we were quite excited to see some of the Eternal City's famed sites. While it was hot and crowded during our stay, that's to be expected during the summer, and the city was still quite impressive.
We again stayed in a flat from Airbnb.com, north of the Vatican. If you've ever been to Rome, you know that this is far from the tourist center, which is just the way we like it. By staying away from the tourist center we could dine at local restaurants and cafes without eating mediocre overpriced food that is usually marketed towards tourists.
Also, our flat was near a wonderfully traditional Italian market, where we made friends with local vendors while tromping through the aromatic building. If you are looking for some delicious cheese and olive oil, visit the Re Porsenna stall at Trionfale market.
We picked up some fixings for the perfect Italian picnic, and with full hands we trotted over to the Villa Borghese park for a little afternoon picnic. Villa Borghese is a nice refuge away from Rome’s busy streets and is filled with fountains, topiaries and dozens of statues.
With full bellies, we headed over to the Trevi Fountain. This was the one major site I was ecstatic to see, mostly because of its massive size. I've never seen a fountain built into a building like this that was so large. It did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the area was teeming with tourists, but that's what you get when you come to Rome during the summer. Also, if someone walks up to you and offers you a rose, they're not doing this because you are the most beautiful goddess they have ever laid their eyes on. Beware, the rose vendors can be extremely aggressive.
We then walked our tired feet another mile or so to the famous Colosseum. We heard it was best to see at sunset, so we planned our day around that. Upon arrival we were simply awestruck by the beauty of this massive structure and its ability to withstand hundreds of years of weathering. The light that the sun cast on it at this time of day was unbelievable, and I wouldn't have wanted to see it any other way. The ancient stones glowed a reddish-orange hue while we made our way around this famous circular vestige of ancient Rome.
Afterwards, we sat outside the Colosseum, where, instead of people-watching, we bride-watched: there were at least 10 different sets of brides and grooms who graced the area in front of the sunset-colored Colosseum, posing for their photographers.
In order to save money, we opted to skip on the audio guides offered in most museums in Europe. However, not wanting to miss out on any interesting details, we took to our iPods and downloaded several free walking tours. Best of all, Rick Steves has a free Europe audio guide app that offers several detailed audio guides and maps for Europe’s most famous museums and tourist spots. They're informative without being overwhelmingly fact-heavy.
Neck-craning-worthy art adorns ceilings throughout the Vatican Museum.
Another day we made the obligatory trip to the Vatican Museum. While the museum had its fair share of breathtaking art, statues and marble busts, nothing could compare to walking through the small door into the magnificent Sistine Chapel. Seeing Michaelangelo's art up close and personal was incredible and set the stage for the rest of our trip through Italy. There's a special feeling you get when your neck is aching from looking skyward for long periods of time, trying to soak in all the painted beauty around you. As you can expect, we experienced the same sweet pain as we arched our necks up to see the ornate ceilings of St. Peter’s Basilica, an equally magnificent building on a much larger scale.
Afterwards we went to pick up some gelato – which you'll see is a common occurrence on this trip. In fact, we planned in order to accommodate our gelato addiction, and while mapping out our budget for this trip set a separate budget aside just for this delicious frozen treat. After dipping into our gelato budget, we spent the rest of the night wandering the city.
My favorite part of any trip in a new city is getting lost. While many people try their hardest to keep from straying off the tourist path, I find this to be the most enjoyable part. In every city we searched out the secret little alleyways lined with dirty cobblestones and surrounded by old crumbling buildings. These are the gems seen less frequently by tourists who spend all of their time at the major sites.
Not to bash on the big sites – we did spend an evening sitting beneath the stars in the warm stone piazzas, visiting the Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps and Saint Peter's Square again to see how they fared at night.
On our last day in Rome, we packed our bags and headed to the train station. Despite the bittersweet goodbye to Rome, we were ready to head north for our next adventure, Florence!