For most, summer travel to Rome means a gelato-stained tick sheet of “must sees” a mile long. My glossy travel guide claims you can see all the major highlights in four days, an ambitious proclamation for a city with ancient remains everywhere you step, over 900 churches and only two metro lines.
A long weekend and third trip to the Eternal City, sans children, means you can put the tick sheet down and (mostly) wing it. Except if you are like me and you can’t help yourself from doing restaurant research. If you’re going to commit to a pasta carbonara, you want to enjoy every calorie. [I have recommendations on this front of course.]
Regardless of your chosen pace, the truth is that you will get caught up in the whirl of a big city like Rome. You will never see it all or find the best place to have a pair of shoes made. You will be completely overwhelmed – not just by the size of the city – but the history it holds.
So, my travel tip for whatever new place you travel to this summer. Find an hour on your busy itinerary where you can escape to a quiet corner of the city and just sit. I found my spot at the SS Apostoli Church, a second tier tourist attraction not heavily circled on any map. First time we passed there was a mass going on. Second time there was a long line of people waiting to take a picture of the apostle James and Phillips tombs, a ridiculous photo really given that you are in a dark crypt. Third time, it was early Monday morning and there were only two of us in the church. Complete silence for 30 minutes.
The travel writer Pico Iyer says, “The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or the mountaintop, but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world. [In stillness], a huge heaviness fell away from me, and the lens cap came off my eyes.”
I recommend you add that to your “must see” list.
Three dinners, three winners. Armondo’s Al Pantheon, a well-known, family run at moderately priced traditional Roman trattoria, adjacent but not on the square near the Pantheon with excellent food and a kitchen staff all over the age of 50. Recommend view of the kitchen for anyone with an Italian grandfather. Giulio Passami l’olio, a moderately priced, casual but hip (late arriving bridal shower party confirmed) Mediterranean kitchen with a long wine list and helpful sommelier 600 meters from Piazza Navona recommended to us by a Roman friend of a friend. Antico Arco, an upscale modern Italian restaurant in Monteverde (taxi required) with a twist on Roman classic dishes and attentive service. For a glass of wine, research told us to check out Mime e Coco on busy Via del Governo Vecchio but we preferred the lively local vibe of Il Bar del Fico near Piazza Navona and the more quiet but comfortable, Kindle-friendly Etabli.
No need to put the Pantheon on your tick sheet. You will pass by it multiple times during your stay and at first you will wonder, “How on earth did they build that 2000 years ago?” then you will start to wander the streets around it for shopping. Rome is all about leather, cashmere, shoes and other things to drain your travel budget. There is good shopping for all these things around the Pantheon including Cosimo Colonna where you can dress your man in Euro duds without gasping at price tags or committing to a summer scarf if you don’t want to. You should however make him get a pair of colorful Gallo socks. When in Rome … black socks will not do.
The most enjoyable shopping however was in the Monti neighborhood which is behind Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum. Via del Boschetto and Via Urbana are lined with designer shops of Italian made goods and vintage shops in a range of price points. The most fun was being there on the weekend for the MercadoMonti, an indoor urban market we read about in the NY Times March 2015 “36 Hours in Rome.” With about two dozen young designers selling their handcrafts, my Euro dude was able to pick up a snazzy jacket for under 100 euros.