When in Rome…

…you know what they say: Do as the Romans do. I am happy to report that Emma and I had a phenomenal weekend, trying to soak up as much of the Roman culture as possible. Rome was definitely my favorite city I have visited so far. We were able to pack a ton of sights into our trip, and if I’m able to go back one day, there is also so much more to do. Plus, we got incredibly lucky with the weather. People kept telling us that it was so cold (February is apparently the coldest month in Italy), yet to a person coming from a winter in Copenhagen, 60 degrees and sunny felt glorious. I thought the weather was absolutely perfect.

We arrived at our airbnb late on Thursday night at 1 a.m. I was a little nervous about staying in an airbnb, as this was my first time doing so. However, Emma has stayed in several different ones, and she was the one who found this place. It was such a pleasant experience. Our host greeted us even though we got there late, and she explained how to use the keys. There were also chocolates and cold water bottles waiting for us, which was a nice surprise; I was pretty thirsty. Even though Emma and I were so excited to see each other after a long time and we were busy catching up, we went to sleep as soon as we could so that we could get up early on Friday.

We got free tickets to a 10 a.m. walking tour on Friday, but we decided to leave our air bnb before 9 so we could pick up coffee or something to eat on the way. We wandered into a cafe down the street, and I was expecting to eat my bar, as there were several pastries in the window. However, as Emma was perusing the menu, I noticed that there was a room labeled “Sentri Gluten,” and I asked someone about their gluten-free products. It turns out they had several types of croissants to choose from, and Emma can attest to the fact that I was JUMPING for joy. I could not wait to try a croissant. I got a chocolate one because ~why not~, and it was delicious. Emma and I ate our croissants while walking to meet our tour, and we were able to walk at a reasonable pace while still getting there on time.

Our tour guide was an energetic woman with a thick Italian accent, and she clearly knew her Roman history. My only complaint was that the city was very loud, so it was hard to hear her if you weren’t standing relatively close. Emma and I tried to follow right behind her. We started at the Spanish Steps, and then we walked through a few of the heavily-tourist-populated streets. We stopped at the Victory Column of Aurelius, the Temple of Adrian, and then we arrived at the Pantheon. The building is way bigger than I imagined it from looking at pictures. Our tour guide allowed us to have 15 minutes of exploring the inside before we had to meet her in front. We learned that “Pantheon” translates into “All the Gods” because it is one of the only Roman structures that encompasses the history of all the ancient gods. Afterward, the guide led us to Piazza Navona, which was my favorite part of the tour. The piazza is an enormous square with interesting monuments, places to sit outside, dozens of restaurants and cafes, and a lot of open space with cobblestone. Because it was a sunny day, there were so many people. The tour ended there, and we tipped the guide.

We decided to get lunch before heading to the Coliseum, which we thought was much closer to the other sights than it actually was. Unfortunately, the timing worked out so that it really did make sense to eat at that point, but I was still stuffed from my chocolate croissant. We decided this was a good time to go to a place Emma had on her suggestion list, as I had not specifically noted it was gluten-free. Emma was super considerate the whole weekend about making sure I had plenty of options before we decided places to eat. This was my first time seeing a school friend since leaving for abroad, and the familiarity of knowing I was spending time with a close friend was so comforting. Emma navigated us to Dar Poetta, where I had a fresh mozzarella cheese and olive salad. I will definitely make note in this post of all the meals I had in Rome, but I do want to say that I am proud of my willingness to try whatever looked good on a menu; I never had the same food twice, yet I feel like I had so many different classic Italian foods.

Emma and I realized we had mistakenly thought a dome-shaped building we noticed earlier was the Colosseum, and when we put the Colosseum into Google Maps, we were shocked that it was a 45-minute walk away. Of course, that was not going to stop us. We chatted for a while, as we basically made our way to the other side of the main part of Rome. (We realized this part later after looking more closely at a map.) On the way, we stopped at the Circus Maximus. When we arrived at the REAL Colosseum—as we jokingly referred to it for the rest of the weekend—I literally felt my breath go away. It was so expansive. I realized that one of the reasons I have wanted to go to Rome for so long is because of the Colosseum, as I remember learning about it back when I took Latin throughout middle school. The Colosseum was on the cover of my textbook! As all the memories of Latin washed over me, I couldn’t believe I was standing in the very place where I had learned about centuries of history. It was very cool—definitely one of my favorite moments abroad so far. We waited for 40 minutes on the line to get into the building, which was totally worth it. The Colosseum is quite something when you’re standing on the outside, but it’s something else from the inside. With the blue sky as a backdrop, I couldn’t get enough exciting pictures of it. Emma and I walked around the whole thing, as well as walking up extremely steep stairs to see it from a higher viewpoint. After an hour, we were getting hungry for a snack, and we decided it was definitely time to try some Italian gelato. Of course, there were many places to choose from. Emma said her friend taught her a trick: if the gelato is piled super high, it’s not freshly made in Italy, so you have to look for the stores that have a normal amount of gelato in each flavor’s bin. We chose a place called Gelateria de Costanza. The flavors I tried were all delicious, and after a lot of contemplation, I chose a mixture of white chocolate and dark chocolate. As we ate our gelatos, we walked towards the Trevi Fountain, the next sight on our itinerary. This was, again, a 45-minute walk. On the way there, we saw a building that is nicknamed the “Wedding Cake,” as it does look like a white layered cake.

The Trevi Fountain was super crowded with tourists, though it was very pretty. We managed to get a picture without too many people in the background. We had a 7:30 dinner reservation at Mama Eat, which was nearby. Until that time, we wandered around the streets we hadn’t yet explored, poking our heads into stores and trying to avoid all the motorcycles. (These are very common in Rome, kind of similar to bikes in Cope.) Here’s the story behind Mama Eat: before our trip, I was nervous about going to Italy and safely eating gluten-free foods, as Italy is known for foods that are typically not gluten-free. I had googled “gluten-free in Rome” and made a reservation at the top place on the list, after checking that Emma was okay with it. They have a regular menu also, but they have a separate gluten-free kitchen. I had no idea what I was in for. We sat down, exhausted, and we realized that, apart from our relatively quick lunch, we hadn’t rested since 9 a.m.! At that point, we had already walked 13 miles. I couldn’t believe how many amazing-looking things were on the menu. After watching Emma eat a pizza earlier that day, however, I couldn’t turn down a white pizza with mushrooms, potatoes, and artichoke. I imagined that the crust would be like every other gluten-free crust I’ve ever had: thin, a little too crunchy, and maybe a little burnt. However, I was still excited. When the waiter put my plate in front of me, my jaw dropped. The dough was thick, cooked perfectly, and, after touching it, I realized that pulling it apart would be like “normal pizza.” Once again, Emma can confirm that I was enjoying it as much as this blog post sounds like I was. It was certainly the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life, and it honestly could have been the best food I have ever had in my life. I am still salivating when I even think about it! I was so full by the time I had eaten 3/4 of the pizza, but there was no way I was letting any of it go to waste. I finished every bite, which felt a lot different than finishing a thin-crusted pizza. It was insane. I have already researched other places the restaurant exists, and I am REALLY hoping to make it to the Milan location when I go there in a few weeks. I wasn’t even thinking about dessert, but the waiter asked us if we wanted to try his favorite cake (also gluten-free). How could we resist? We split a piece of triple-chocolate cake, layered with mousse and fudge on the outside. It was SO good. I was truly in the best kind of food coma, and I was looking forward to the half hour walk we had ahead of us to get back to our air bnb. It’s safe to say that this dinner was a success. I’m not over it.

We collapsed on our bed around 9:30p.m. when we got home, gathering the strength to go out for a bit that evening. My legs were quite sore from all the walking and standing; it turns out it was 15 miles of walking in that one day alone. Emma had arranged for us to meet up with her friend from high school, who is studying abroad in Rome. We met him at a bar that was so cute, and we each got a delicious drink. It was really helpful to talk to him, as in addition to learning about his study abroad experience, he gave us some good recommendations for the rest of our weekend. Initially, Emma and I wanted to check out the nightlife in Rome, but after assessing our tiredness level, we decided to head back around 12:30. I fell asleep as soon as I got into bed at 1:30. I stretched my legs a bit, but they were still aching.

We woke up from a deep sleep on Saturday at 8:30, as we had to leave to make it to our 11:00 reservation at the Vatican, another classic Rome sight. We knew we’d have to start the day with an hour-long walk to get there, and while that sounded fine when we discussed it on Friday, it was a bit brutal after the day we had had. We arrived right at 11:00, and neither of us realized how big Vatican City was. There was room after room of breathtaking architecture, beautiful tapestries, and intricate interior designs. We had purchased our own audio-guides so that we could press the number of the corresponding sculpture or room into the guide and listen to its history. It was very helpful; we wouldn’t have known what we were looking at otherwise. Some of my favorite sights included the statues of Artemis and Tiberius, the Roman baths (because I remember learning all about those in Latin), and the Map Room, which was a hallway lined with different “plans” of Italy’s geography, all composed centuries ago. After almost 2 hours exploring the rooms and the beautiful Sistine Chapel (where we weren’t allowed to take any pictures!), all four of our legs were hurting. We overdid it just a little bit on the first day, and we still had more to see. Deciding this was a good time to sit for lunch, and considering that we were both starving, I used my find-me-gluten-free app to direct us to the closest option: Risotteria Melotti Roma. It was excellent food, though Emma and I were hitting a very tired point in our day, and we both admitted that we could have fallen asleep on the spot. In this restaurant, everything was made from rice, including the bread they served as the first course. After trying the bread, Emma and I each got bowls of risotto. Mine had pumpkin and red wine flavoring, which sounded very interesting. It was super good and very filling.

After lunch, we decided to go back to the Piazza from the day before, needing more time to sit before continuing on our adventure. Even sitting on a stoop in the sunlight felt amazing. Then, we had planned to explore the Jewish quarter, which, to our delight, was only a 15-minute walk away. One thing we realized throughout the weekend is that although we did a good job of creating an itinerary of all the key sights to see, we should have looked at a map a little more closely, especially as sights related in comparison to our airbnb home base. We could have saved a lot of walking time if we had seen some things in a different order. Oh, well. In the Jewish quarter, we walked around the museum, the synagogue, and the nearby streets, which we noticed had plenty of stores to buy Kosher food. It was a quiet area, and there were several guards. I think it’s really interesting that so many of these European cities have dedicated parts called Jewish Quarters, as historically, Jews have been hurt by going to these areas before. I’m glad I got to see it; the synagogue especially was really pretty. We walked around for a little while until we just couldn’t do it anymore. It was 4:30, and our “first dinner” was not until 6:00. Emma had been dying to go to a specific restaurant for a while, and she had emailed them earlier in the week to assess the gluten-free situation. She was told that a person eating gluten-free would not have many options there, so after checking with me, she made an 8:00 reservation at that place, suggesting that we go somewhere earlier for me to eat. We decided that we should spend the remainder of the afternoon sitting, but that didn’t stop us from experiencing Italian culture. There was only one more sight we had wanted to see this weekend, the Roman Forum, and that was on our itinerary for Sunday. We found a cute place to sit called Gran Cafe, where we could watch people walk by, enjoying cocktails simultaneously. It was a much-needed break. Afterward, we headed to Voglia di Pizza, which was another restaurant on my gluten-free list. It was not quite as good as the dinner on Friday night, but then again, I did have very high standards. I ended up getting a Croquette, which is a fried potato ball with cheese. I also ordered a cheese-bread, which was pretty much an open-faced sandwich. The best part was definitely the quality of the fresh mozzarella cheese. I was very full. Emma also ordered an appetizer. Then, we realized we had a lot of time before our next dinner at 8:00. At this point, our legs were feeling recharged, so we decided to walk around in all the shops. This was so much fun, and Emma and I both ended up getting these cute (and cheap) silver finger-rings. I was close to buying a leather jacket, which is one thing I do want to purchase at some point in Europe, but it was a bit too expensive. I also got more gelato, which was as good as the one from Friday. I was happy for Emma, as her dinner at Roma Sparita was her favorite food ever. It was pretty much pasta served in a bowl made of parmesan cheese. I have to say that it did look very good. Luckily, I was already happily full from having my own dinner. Once again, we decided we were too tired to check out the club scene. However, Emma’s friend had recommended a bar called Vendita Libri, where you can get drinks in shot glasses that are actually made of chocolate. We went here, and it was a fun experience. After an hour-long walk to get back to our airbnb, we were positively exhausted, and we went to sleep soon after that.

On Sunday, we only had one sight on our to-do list, and that ended up being a blessing because the line was so long to buy tickets. The Roman Forum was worth it, though. I still find all the ruins fascinating, especially given my background in Latin. Before heading over to that area, Emma and I went back to the local bakeshop (Panella) to have a quick sit-down breakfast, where, of course, I got another croissant. Luckily, we each had only brought backpacks with us this weekend, so we were able to take our bags with us for the day. We cabbed to the airport, and we parted ways. However, I’m seeing her in less than two weeks, so it wasn’t too sad to say goodbye.

I have a few general take-away points from this weekend. First of all, the location of where you stay is everything. Secondly, it is so important for future trips that I actually look at a map of all the sights before going there, so that I can plan out which activities to see on what days, and in what order it makes the most sense to see them. Third, doing research about gluten-free food beforehand is 100% worth it. And, if there’s a meal where I’m scrambling, I should use the find-me-gluten-free app to my advantage.

The fact that I was able to get on a quick plane ride and jet to Rome for the weekend with one of my best friends is an incredible concept. I feel so lucky, and I am already looking forward to my next visit to Italy. 🙂

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