We live in a smaller town in Southern Oregon, so we always have to fly to a major city first. We flew to Portland, then Frankfurt then Rome on United/Lufthansa. Flights took off on time and were uneventful. In Frankfurt airport we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Terminal 1 down near the train station. It was okay, not great, but we love Asian food and knew it would be our last chance for awhile.
Day 1, Sat. March 12
Arrived at Rome airport about 4pm. Apparently we didn’t have to go through customs, as we had done it in Frankfurt, which basically was a swipe of our passports.
Since this was our first international trip I had decided to hire a driver to pick us up from the airport. Our driver was there to pick us up and we immediately see why people say not to drive in Rome. There really are no definitive lanes and while pedestrians technically have the right of way – you wouldn’t know it. Sometimes it looked like the cars were trying to herd sheep.
We checked into our hotel, Albergo Cesari; it is not lavishly decorated, but is nice and our quad room is quite large as is the bathroom. As others have mentioned the breakfast room is a bit small, but we only had to wait for a table one morning and then only for a short period of time. Many of the people staying there are British, French and German, so the breakfast room feels like an international café. We always found the concierges to be very helpful.
Our first stop was to find Café St. Eustachio which Stephen’s brother had been raving about for years as having the best espresso. We were following the map, then we walked down a small street thinking we were probably going the wrong way and walked out into the Piazza della Rotunda and there is the Pantheon – WOW!! We practically ran right into it. We finally find Café St. Eustachio in the Piazza Eustachio and Stephen gets his first of many Italian espressos. There are no “to go” cups here, and no laid back 20-somethings serving you either. Here, as in almost all cafes, you are served with china cups and saucers, and the baristas are dressed in black or white jackets with ties. Everyone just stands at the bar and drinks down their espresso. The kids enjoyed their first sips of Italian espresso.
Next, our first stop for gelato. We go to Gelateria Della Palma (Via della Maddalena 20) near the Pantheon. The kids loved how they just pile it in the cup.
For dinner we headed to Da Baffetto (Via del Governo Vecchio, 114) near Piazza Navona which has very good pizza. On our way back to the hotel, one last stop at Café St. Eustachio and della Palma for gelato.
Day 2, Sun. March 13
Our first full day in Rome. We met in the morning for our Orientation Chat with Petulia from Context Rome. She took us to the Gran Caffe just around the corner from our hotel in the Piazza Di Pietra. This becomes Stephens favorite hang out!! The kids and I ordered the hot chocolate. It is too thick and rich for Lauren and me, but Michael loved it. Petulia gave us a lot of good tips for eating as well as just answering our many questions. We decided to have her book our train tickets, as we did not want to have to go to the train station to do it. It was a very helpful hour with her.
The Rome Marathon is going on. There are no cars on the streets, but many streets are blocked off which makes it hard for us Newbies to navigate. We do the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Via Condotti. Lauren starts off the shopping and buys a skirt, top and capris at Onyx on the corner of Via Corso and Via Condotti. Nice teen stuff, and reasonably priced. She also bought a “Luis Vuitton” purse and “Chanel” sunglasses from a street vendor.
Ate lunch at the Gran Caffe then headed to our first church listed in Grinisa’s “Chills and Thrills in the Eternal City”, San Silvestro in Capite where John the Baptists’ head rests. This is a written guide I found on SlowTrav.com. It was great to have for the kids because there was always some bones or body part in these churches, so made it more interesting to be in a church.
Michael lit candles for his Nonna & Poppa, which became a ritual for him at all the churches. Petulia had mentioned that morning that Santa Maria Concenzione – the Cappucchin Monk Crypt that had been closed for renovations was now open. It was absolutely incredible. It is an amazing amount of bones. Located at Via Veneto 27 in the Piazza Barberini.
Michael enjoyed the “living statues” around the city, and we decided he will collect pictures of him with all the statues.
Kids and I went shopping at Diesel and Puma. Bought Italia sweatshirt for Lauren, and Roma sweatshirt and soccer jersey for Michael.
We headed to San Crispino (Via Paneterria 42 near the Trevi Fountain) for gelato. Hazelnut is better at Della Palma but other flavors are better here.
Walked around Piazza Navona, but it seems so large to us. We go to dinner at De Pallero (del Largo Pellaro 15). Excellent meal. This is a fixed meal, fixed price dinner. It is 20 euro per person for a wonderful five course meal. Antipasto – fennel, lentils, proscuitto and olives and veal croquettes. Pasta course – large tube pasta with tomato sauce, salad w/ mozzarella cheese, veal and homemade potato chips . For dessert there is an almond torte and a small glass of mandarin juice (yummy!) The poppa (owner) seemed to enjoy having us, especially the kids. He gave Michael a bottle of wine to give to us as we leave.
Back to Della Palma for gelato, then off to bed.
Day 3, Monday, March 14
Met our Context Rome guide, Richard, at 9:00am in the hotel lobby. With him we toured The Colosseum, Domus Aurea (Golden House of Nero), Church of St. Peters in Chains (Michaelangelos’s Moses is also there), The Forum, The Mammertime Prison where Peter & Paul were supposedly imprisoned and the Pantheon.
We enjoyed the tour very much, although at times Richard may have moved a little slow for the kids. However, Lauren loved the Domus Aurea. When asked by the customs official on our return to the US “What was the favorite thing you saw?” Michael said “The Colosseum”. Stephen and I really appreciated all Richard had to tell us. It was nice to be on a private tour with the kids, as we were able to stop and have lunch when we needed to and also were able to be flexible with our itinerary.
Headed to Giolitti’s ( Via Uffici DeVicaro near the Pantheon) for gelato. It was okay, we got stuck between two big groups of French highs schoolers. Back to the hotel to rest. Then I took the kids out for more shopping at Replay and Bennetton. Replay is very expensive. Bought a jean skirt for Lauren and multi-colored scarf for me at Benetton.
We got lost trying to find Orso 80 for dinner, but walked down this neat street with many small stores selling antiques. When we finally got there, we discovered it was closed on Monday nights. Decided to go to Obika – The Mozarrella Bar recommended by Petulia (in Piazza Firenze near Piazza Navona). We had a wonderful evening there. Great cheese and salami tasting plate. We also had wonderful gnocchi and delicious vegetarian lasagna. When we went here in 2005 this was the only location of Obika. Now they are all over the world! We have been to Obika’s in Milan, NYC and LA.
Day 4, Tuesday, March 15
Our plan was to go to Campo de Fiori and then to the Church of San Clemente. We got lost trying to find Campo de Fiori so got a taxi to the Church of San Clemente. Saw the different layers of churches. It was very interesting, but we were all wishing Richard was with us to really explain what we were seeing. Walked back by the Colosseum and through the Forum, through the Piazza designed by Michaelangelo. Passed by a store that sells vestments, etc. for priests.
Stopped in a Mercado for laundry detergent. Interesting to look at the brands and type of food being sold there.
For lunch we headed to Lozozzone (Via del teatro Pace) a panini place recommended by Petulia. The sandwiches looked great. I, however, was tired, and did not feel like ordering at the counter, but wanted real table service, so we walked back down Governo Vecchio, a small street behind Piazza Novana. We just stopped in a place that looked good. We ate at Mimi & Coco (Governo Vecchio 72) and hadone of our favorite lunches of our trip. Michael had penne a pomodoro, Stephen, lasagna a Bolognese, me, risotto a raddichio et noli and Lauren a sampling of cheese and meats. It was an excellent meal. The bread was definitely the best we had so far. The salads were great – very big, we should have shared. Retrospectively, Stephen deemed it the best salad in Italy.
A quick stop at Café St. Eustachio and then our first stop at La Cremeria, a gelato place recommended by Petulia. (Via della Rotunda 22) right across from the Pantheon. Everyone thinks it may be the best gelato so far. Definitely, the Nocciola (hazelnut is the best). And it is located in our favorite piazza.
Came back to hotel to rest for a few moments before we went off to the Catacombs. We wanted to go to San Sebastiano Catacombs based on recommendations from the Fodors forums, but our taxi driver seemed to want us to go to San Callisto, so there we went. It was incredible. We all found it very fascinating and enjoyed the Irish priest who took us down, although he was a little hard to understand sometimes. We all loved the catacombs. Despite the fact that these were supposed to be the least interesting, we were fascinated and consider them a must see for those going to Rome. We walked down to the Appian Way, but the cars were whizzing by with no shoulder so we walked back to get a taxi. Would definitely try to go on a Sunday next time when the streets are closed to traffic.
We were about to try calling for a taxi when one came. Two men got in and then out. We asked them why they do not want to take it. They do not want to take it because there is no meter. The taxi driver spoke very little English. He wanted to charge us 20 euros. We said we paid 13 euros to get here, how about 15. In very broken English and lots of hand signals he explained if we called a taxi, they would charge us 15 to come pick us up and 15 to take us to our hotel. We agree on 15 euros to have him take us back to our hotel. Definitely the most lively cab driver we had, and our most enjoyable cab ride. He sang Frank Sinatra and Pavarotti, pointed out sites of interest and even talked politics (“Bush, Blair, Berlusconi my friends!” he said.) He didn’t seem too interested in where our hotel was, just wanted to drop us of at the Pantheon. Oh well, we are very close. Enjoyed it so much we gave him the 20 euros
Stopped in at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and came back to rest before dinner. Dinner at Le Bacaro on Via degli Spanoli. We had a wonderful dinner. Fagioli soup and a delicious salad. I had the beef filet with cheese and onion sauce, Stephen had meat with chestnut sauce, and Michael had strips of steak and balsamic vinegar. Lauren’s meal was voted the best by everyone – a wonderful pasta with shrimp – we all licked her bowl clean. (120 euros including sparkling water, and wine; probably one of our more expensive meals but delicious). This is a small restaurant and a reservation is a must.
Off to La Cremeria for our gelato nightcap.
Day 5, Wed. March 16
Up at early A.M. to meet our Context Rome guide at the Vatican at 8:15 am. We have booked another private tour with Context Rome. We meet Sara, a young American who is from La Canada, CA (where my college roommate was from) and went to UC San Diego, did graduate work in London and France. We all really enjoyed her and our tour of the Vatican Museum. She is very interesting but moves along to keep the kids motivated. A tour guide is really the way to go. So much interesting information is given. Michael found the trompe l’oeil through the Hall of Tapestry very interesting. It looks 3-D but is actually completely flat. He loved the Swiss Guards as well.
As we were leaving the Sistine Chapel and heading to St. Peter’s Square, we looked up and there is the Pope looking and waving from his bedroom window!! We can’t believe it – perfect timing. He died just three weeks later and we now realize how truly amazing it was to be able to see him. This was the last time he came out in public.
We walked down to Castle St. Angelo and go up to the terrace and have some panini for lunch. Had a very nice visit with Sara, talked to her about traveling in other parts of Europe. Sara then gave us a tour of the Castle. Lauren’s favorite part was the Papal bathroom. We walked to the top of the castle – what incredible views of Rome.
Said goodbye to Sara and walked back to St. Peter’s Basilica. We saw the church, the Pieta and went down to the crypt of the Popes. Amazing to think they are all down there and how close we can get.
Back to the Pantheon area for espresso and gelato. Stephen took a nap. I took the kids to do some shopping – Jam it, Miss Sixty.
Dinner at Orso 80 on the Via dei Orso. Ordered their house antipasto which was an incredible amount of food. All very good. 72 euros including tip and a bottle of wine. We definitely do not find the food too expensive here especially compared to Maui. Stopped at La Cremeria on our way back to the hotel.
Day 6, Thurs. March 17
This morning we went to Campo de Fiori and the Crimonologico Museum at Via Galfone 27. It was very interesting. Showed instruments of torture in the middle ages. There was also a section about well known Italian criminals, someone’s brain in formaldehyde, skeletons of people. In addition, there was also a section on contraband, forgery, and the mafia. While some signs were in English, many were not, but still very interesting. There was also a trunk in which a man(spy) was smuggled in on a plane, trying to fly from London to Cairo but discovered at Rome airport.
Went to the Jewish ghetto, not a very large area. Ate in a kosher restaurant Il Taverna de Ghetto. Had Jewish style fried artichokes, salami plate and two plates of pasta. The food was good but the service was slow and it was expensive.
Went to the synagogue, which is now guarded by Italian police due to a PLO shooting several years ago. A short but interesting talk on the synagogue and history of the community. Also a small museum. Walked to Bocca de la Veritas (the mouth of truth). Stuck our hand in for fun!
Walked back to Le Cremeria and Café St. Eustachio, then over to Piazza Navona. We decide that we definitely prefer the Plaza near the Pantheon – Piazza della Rotunda as it is smaller and interesting to have the Pantheon right there.
Back to the room to rest. Left early for our dinner reservation so we could walk along the Via Del Corso and Via Condotti. Ah, Rome! Have dinner at Gusto (Piazza Augusto Imperatore – corner of Via della Frezza & Via de Corea NW of the Spanish Steps) which is wonderful. This was a big, loud, hip restaurant. We had two wonderful plates of cheese and proscuitto. We enjoyed a pasta carbonara and pasta a gamberi a pomodoro. Our last trip to Le Cremeria before we must leave Rome.
We are sad to leave Rome, but we are all looking forward to Venice.
Day 7, Friday, March 18
Our last stop at Gran Caffe. We take a taxi to the train station. It is easy to find the track and get on our train. I was worried about carrying the luggage, etc., but it was really a breeze. The way everyone talked about how difficult it can be to get your luggage on the train, I assumed there were no porters. Although we did not use them, there are porters available to help you, for a tip of course.
Read about the rest of the trip here:4 Nights in Venice 4 Nights in Florence