There’s no place like ROME!
I have always been a lover of Italian cuisine. Throughout the years, I have constantly tried to combine different seasonings to create flavors that are similar to those of my favorite Italian entrees. But for some reason, they never quite tasted the same.
I looked forward to the day I would make it to Italy and eat my heart out! I had a feeling the flavors there would taste significantly better than anything I had ever tried before.
My first day in Rome, I galloped into the first pizza place I laid my eyes on. I was eager to try one of everything! LITERALLY.
I told the waiter to surprise me with the best types of pizza. I was soon given a platter of 8 slices. Excitedly, I took a HUGE bite of the first slice. I couldn’t help myself; I started to gag!
It did NOT taste like pizza. NO, there was no way this could be Italian pizza. The flavors were almost appalling. How could this be? I asked the waiter, “what is this pizza made of?”
It looked like a regular cheese slice, but I soon found out that the base was mixed with anchovies. Just for your information, this is a traditional pizza from Naples, Italy.
I would not let this unpleasant taste in my mouth deter me. I went onwards. Unfortunately, I found that the pizza was just mediocre. I was disappointed and still hungry for some truly tasty Italian food.
Some people told me it’s because I am used to a non-authentic, “Americanized” version of Italian food. But I did NOT believe it.
I soon found out that you must complete a Rome restaurant research prior to eating out, because Rome is a tourism-based city and sadly many places there take advantage of that, some by “serving terrible microwaved food, along with a gut-wrenching bill.”
Finally, a local Italian highly recommended a restaurant down a small alleyway in Rome. It was difficult to find with some windy, cobble stone roads, but it was supposedly one of the best spots. Tripping over an uneven cobble stone on the way there, and uncomfortably limping upon arrival, I must say it was all worthwhile.
It ended up being the BEST Italian restaurant experience I have ever had.
Firstly, the menu was only in Italian. This scared me at first, because I now knew that anchovies were a popular Italian add-on. However, this confirmed that I was at a genuine Italian restaurant. The waiters (and mostly everyone) communicated only in Italian. I am not one who expects English to be spoken everywhere, because I do believe that we can communicate without speaking the same language, but I still like to feel welcomed.
I was the only American in this place, but everyone made me feel at home.
From that moment on, I was no longer sidetracked by one distasteful pizza experience. I fell in love with Rome. The architecture was unbelievable. The Gelato was the best I had ever had in my life. The wine was always flowing.
It is a great city to go to for a quick 2-3 day getaway, and I found it to be one of the easiest cities to navigate by foot.
Here are my 5 MUSTS when in Rome:
I. Eat at an authentic Italian restaurant.
It is very easy to stumble across tourist spots when traveling. You will know you are at one when the menus are available in several languages. Yes, it is comforting to be able to read what you are ordering, BUT if you are interested in eating outside the box and having a true Italian experience, you must try Pizzeria La Montecarlo in Rome.
It is known for it’s deliciously thin and crispy, classic Roman pizza. The atmosphere here is fun and energetic, the local Romans highly recommend it, and your glass will always stay full with great tasting wine! Just a side note, most of the pizzas were served with a cooked egg in the middle!
If you choose to forgo this, keep in mind, you should take some time to think about where you are going to eat. It will be extremely worthwhile!
II. Take a tour of the Colosseum.
I am not always found of taking tours, as I much prefer exploring a city independently. However, I highly recommend you to take a tour of the Colosseum when in Rome. When you are walking towards the main entrance there will be a bunch of people trying to sell you “cheaper” tickets. It may sound appealing as the line at the Colosseum may look quite long, however there is no guarantee that this will be a good ticket or a knowledgeable tour.
Sometimes I feed into this, but know not to in Rome. Just say no thank you and walk right by. The tour in the Colosseum itself is only a few euros more and has additional perks. Having an expert guide that will lead you through “the largest amphitheatre ever built” will give you a whole new idea of this spectacular structure.
Considering this amphitheatre was built only out of concrete and sand, and could hold an estimated audience of 65,000 people is mind-blowing. This tour will take you back in time about 2,000 years. It is undoubtedly a MUST DO when in Rome!
An extra tip: If you are an EU national, bring your I.D. card and you will get a discount here as well as at many other famous attractions.
III. Spend quality time at the Trevi Fountain.
Rick Steves, a famous travel guide author and an advocate for independent travel, convinced me to spend a little extra time at the Trevi Fountain. It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and is known for being one of the best fountains in the world. In addition to that, it has appeared in several films.
Originally, it was thought that “a thirst quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a fast return to the Eternal City.” Nowadays, tossing a coin over your shoulder is done by people all over the world in hope that it will guarantee a quick return to Rome.
Take some time to be here, without feeling rushed, and enjoy the beauty of this architectural masterpiece.
IV. Give yourself enough time to explore Vatican City.
Vatican City, a city-state enclosed by Rome’s walls, also described as the smallest country in the world is a MUST see prerequisite for any first time visit to Rome. Most visitors will wait as long as it takes to step foot inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and after spend some moments absorbing its richness in St. Peter’s Square.
About 5 minutes walking distance are the Vatican museums. This is where you will find the famous Sistine Chapel (the official chapel of the Pope) ceiling painted by Michelangelo from 1508-1512, which includes the Creation of Adam, the “most well-known of the Sistine Chapel fresco panels..and the most replicated religious paintings of all time.”
For your information, you are not allowed to take photos inside here. I first had mixed feelings about this, but looking back I am glad I wasn’t allowed. I remember sitting on a rich brown bench and taking it all in. It is much better enjoying the moment and seeing it without a lens.
An extra tip: If you are a student, bring your student I.D. card and you will get a discount here!
V. Watch the sunset at the Piazza di Spagna.
This was the last thing I did before catching a flight out of Rome and it became my most memorable traveling experience. Located at the bottom of the Spanish Steps (a 135 step staircase seen in films), the Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous squares in Rome. It is full of gorgeous Italian shops, outdoor markets, and where I found the BEST gelato I have ever tried.
Allow yourself time to sit down on the Spanish Steps with a gelato in hand. Straight ahead is an alleyway that provides you with the perfect view of a unique Italian sunset, found between two buildings.
Divertiti (have fun)!
*This article has now been published on Elite Daily with an extra secret tip! You can check it out here: 6 Ways to Avoid Tourist Traps When You Go To Rome For The First Time