Roaming around Roma
Each week we profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By Los Angeles Flight Attendant Kimberly Atkins
As a flight attendant, I have mastered the art of visiting a city in 24 hours. However, there are some cities where it would take a lifetime of exploration to truly see it all. Rome, the Eternal City, is definitely one of those. Here are my Rome essentials, 24-hour tips, and the best way to conquer the Roman Empire in the shortest amount of time.
My husband Marco was born and raised in Rome, and we met on the Roma-Firenze Eurostar train when I was living in Italy right after college. I then became a flight attendant and worked as an onboard Italian language speaker from 2008-2014. In that time, I commuted to Rome from my base in Washington, D.C. I've spent countless hours wandering the streets of this magical city, exploring hidden alleyways and major tourist attractions and hunting down special works of art tucked in the corners of old churches. Rome, to me, is enchanting. And, while we will probably never get to see it all, here is my favorite game plan to explore La Cittá Eterna.
First things first, leave the expensive jewelry at home, and watch your pockets. Violent crime isn't prevalent in Rome, but pickpocketing is huge, so watch your purse, backpack and pockets, especially in crowded areas and on public transit. That being said, I feel very safe walking around the historic center of the city at most times of day and night, but when I'm alone I try to stick to well-lit, populated areas. Avoid walking around the Termini train station area at night, and, if you have to, watch yourself, and maybe opt for a cab.
How to get there
When we go to Rome, we fly directly into Rome from Chicago, Newark or Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport. If you aren't familiar with driving in the madness of Bella Roma, and you don't absolutely need a car, then avoid renting one and go with public transit. The public transit is incredible in Italy, and everything is fairly well connected. Also, taxis and Uber are reasonably priced and available at all hours of the day and night.
Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa
On this trip we had the pleasure of staying at the Hotel Romanico Palace and Spa. The hotel is in the city center, about a 40 to 60-minute drive from the airport. If you have a car, the staff at Hotel Romanico were extremely helpful and informative with parking options. The lobby and lobby bar are beautiful with a great selection of fairly priced drinks and a glass window in the floor that showcases some ancient Roman ruins. Just below the lobby level, the hotel is equipped with a small gym with all the essentials (free to use during your stay) and a beautiful spa — a little oasis in the center of a bustling city. They've recreated the atmosphere of ancient Roman thermal baths, and you can't help but relax and feel like royalty in this spa. After a few days running around the city seeing all the sites, this spa is the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon.
The rooms at the Hotel Romanico Palace are the stuff of dreams — decorated in palatial Italian decor, some more classic, some more modern. Ours was an end room with classic Roman Palace decor and a huge bathroom equipped with a jacuzzi tub, WC and bidet, and a three-way shower that felt like a luxurious, ancient Roman bath. Not only did the shower have a traditional shower head and rain shower but a travertine waterfall that cascaded out of the ceiling and onto a marble throne (bonus waterfall shoulder massage). It was pure magic. If you're interested, they also have themed rooms and suites.
Recommended walking tour
There are an infinite number of ways to explore this city… so, by all means, plan the route that works best for you. This route just happens to be my favorite, and Hotel Romanico is the perfect starting point.
For our first stop, set your sights on the Spanish Steps. Piazza di Spagna is a 15-min stroll from the Hotel Romanico. Turn right out of the hotel to start your walk and hang a left on Via Vittorio Veneto. You'll pass by the American Embassy and Piazza Barberini on your way. If you're ready for a snack, my favorite forno is along your route. A forno or oven in Italian, is basically just an old-school bakery that sells simple but incredibly delicious breads, pizzas, focaccia, baked goods and occasionally other snacks like arancini (a breaded and stuffed risotto ball of yumminess). A traditional forno is affordable, quick and very popular with the locals.
Piazza di Spagna, The Spanish Steps
When you get to the Spanish Steps (named for the Embassy of Spain located in the Piazza), be sure to check out the church at the top of the steps, the famed Trinità dei Monti. Walk down the iconic steps to the boat-shaped Fountain of the Barcaccia, and snap some epic pictures of the fountain built by the famous Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his father Pietro Bernini. The water in the fountain is supplied by an ancient Roman aqueduct from 19 BC. Legend has it that the Tiber river had an epic overflow in 1598 and carried an adrift boat to the center of this Piazza. That boat inspired Bernini's design. The Shelly/Keats house is also in the Piazza on the east side of the steps.
Head down Via Dei Condotti where you can window shop the best of high fashion and luxury stores like Dior, Bulgari and Ferragamo. If you need an espresso, check out Antica Cafe Greco, a favorite of expat poets and writers like Keats and Byron. Start heading to the east (your left), and follow the signs for your next stop, the Fontana di Trevi.
Fontana di Trevi, The Trevi Fountain
This breathtaking and world-famous fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. Built in 1762 and designed by Roman sculptor Nicola Salvi, it has been featured in numerous films, including Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" where Silvia and Marcello go for a jaunt in the fountain. WARNING: Don't follow Silvia's lead…it is strictly forbidden to dangle your feet or hands in the sparkling, crystal-clear water.
The travertine used to construct the fountain comes from nearby Tivoli, an incredible place to go for a day trip if time allows. Be sure to throw coins into the fountain. The proper way is to hold the coin in your right hand and throw it over the left shoulder. Legend says you should always throw three coins… the first to return to Rome, the second to bring you love, and the third to ensure marriage. An estimated €1.4 million is thrown into the fountain every year. The money from the fountain is donated to subsidize a supermarket for the city's needy. Good job, Roma.
Once you've thrown your coins, follow the signs toward your next stop: Il Pantheon.
Enjoy the winding cobblestone streets lined with charming shops, gelaterias and street performers. When you come into the Piazza della Rotonda, you can't miss the impressive church built in circa 113 AD. It was built on the site of an earlier pagan temple originally commissioned by Emperor Augustus in 27 BC. The Pantheon is most famous for its large hole at the center of the dome, and it is still to this day the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. This building is even more special, because it is one of the only ancient buildings in Rome that has been in continuous use throughout history, so it is perfectly preserved. It is absolutely breathtaking and free to enter, so go in and enjoy. When you're done, head on over to Piazza Navona.
Just 5 minutes from the Pantheon, you'll find one of the most famous piazzas in Rome. Used by the ancient Romans as a stadium, and flooded to recreate "show" naval battles, Piazza Navona is now home to street artists and musicians.
During the Christmas season, it's a must see for its specialty Christmas Market. The focal point of this long, oval piazza is the central Fountain of the Four rivers, representing four of the largest rivers of the four major continents; the Nile (Africa), the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia) and the Plata (America). It was built in 1651 by none other than the famous Roman sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who won the commission of the fountain in a design competition. Enjoy the live music and art as you walk around the piazza. Don't miss the smaller fountains on either end of the piazza, the Museo di Roma, and the church of Saint Agnes.
Campo de Fiori
Campo de Fiori, literally meaning "field of flowers," is exactly what this piazza was in the Middle Ages. Today it is a bustling piazza with a daily farmers market that has everything you could need from fresh fruits and veggies to specialty pastas and spice mixes, fresh pressed juices, souvenirs and even gourmet Italian truffle products. At night this is one of the more popular and rowdy piazzas for aperitivi (happy hour) and nightcaps.
If you head out the back end of the piazza down Via dei Giubbonari, you can enjoy the numerous Italian shoe shops and clothing stores on this quaint street. And don't forget to hang a right on Via dell'Arco del Monte to head toward Ponte Sisto and Trastevere.
Trastevere literally means "across the Tiber," and while crossing the Tiber River, or Il Tevere, you'll be walking across Ponte Sisto. This famous walking bridge was built in the 1470s and is a favorite spot for more alternative musicians. The views from the bridge are gorgeous, and you can even catch a glimpse of the glowing Vatican dome to your right as you cross the bridge.
You'll be entering Trastevere through Piazza Trilussa, a popular evening hangout. You'll find young Italians and international students meeting up here and occasionally enjoying a drink on the steps of the popular piazza. Head into Trastevere, and just get lost. This Bohemian wonderland has maintained so much of the character and soul of Rome. Ancient homes and apartments line the tiny, winding cobblestones streets that are packed with amazing cafes, bars, restaurants and pizzerias at every turn. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere holds the namesake church that dates back to the year 340. This is definitely the part of town to put away your map and wander, and just enjoy the dolce vita.
We've come to the end of today's roaming. Trastevere is where I leave you. If I'm in town, you can probably find me sipping on a Campari Spritz at Caffè della Scala or having a traditional Roman Tonarelli al Cacio e Pepe (handmade egg pasta with a simple but decadent dressing of Pecorino Romano and black pepper) at Osteria da Otello. From here, you're a 20-minute cab ride or a 25-minute bus ride back to the Hotel Romanico. If you're up for an after-dinner stroll, head up the river and check out the Vatican illuminated at night.
When you're ready to keep exploring the city, I've got a few more tips, recommended restaurants and day trips on my blog, Kimmie Flies.
Thanks for joining me on this adventure, and have a great time roaming around Roma.
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Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.
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