I am not sure I could think of a better way to spend my 30th birthday than discovering Rome, what I can honestly say is one of the best places I have ever visited. Two days before my actual birthday, we were having a party to celebrate and my amazing husband surprised me by telling me that he was taking me to Rome for my birthday (I thought I was going to London). It is somewhere that I have always wanted to go, partly for the food of course, and I will share with you all some of the highlights in this post.
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Luckily we had a really early flight, so that meant that the majority of my birthday was actually spent in Rome, rather than sitting in an airport. As soon as we arrived, even before we checked in to our apartment, we wanted to get some pizza. Start as you mean to go on right?
One of the many things I love about the internet is that all we had to do was Google "best pizza" and the area of Rome we were in and loads of recommendations came up. So, we headed to Pizzeria Del Secolo, as we just wanted a couple of slices of pizza, rather than a sit down meal. As soon as we walked in we were wowed with the choice and the smell was incredible - pizza going in an out of the ovens every few minutes. Resisting the temptation to order one of everything, we went with a traditional mozzarella and sundried tomato and then a not so traditional prawn salad. I know, I know, but I just really love salad.
We were surprised that the pizza was served up in squares, rather than slices, but we soon came to realise that this was common across Rome.
What do you have for dessert after pizza when in Rome? Gelato of course! Dave had already planned our first gelato place to try out (my husband has his priorities right) and we headed to Gelateria La Romana. Again, not knowing what to order, we let the staff surprise us and give us what they recommended. What we ended up with was one of the most incredible things I have eaten in my life. Also, one of the messiest. We had a "scoop" (more like 4 portions worth) of traditional pistachio gelato and then a scoop of some kind of dolche leche with chocolate chunks poured all over it. Ah-May-Zing!
Happily stuffed and smug that I didn't actually get any ice cream down me (an achievement for me), we headed to our apartment to check-in and dump our bags before going and getting more food (can you see a theme here?). Dave booked us an apartment through Air BnB, which we have not used before, but it was definitely the best way for us to go. When we go abroad, we prefer to immerse ourselves in to the local culture more, so staying in a private apartment, rather than a hotel works out better for us. Plus, it always works out cheaper. We usually have a kitchen too, as I clearly can't bare to be away from a kitchen for too long, but there was no way I was cooking in Rome.
We stayed a little bit outside of the city centre in an area full of little local bars and shops and it really gave us a feel for real Roman life, but still being close to everything we wanted to see.
Dave had arranged with the owner of the apartment to have a birthday treat in the room waiting for me - it was this delicious apple tart. More dessert! I couldn't say no though, could I!
Showered, changed, kind of unpacked, and recharged, we headed back out again to see some of the sights, but generally just relax. Although we were in Rome and I wanted to see everything, it was only our first day and it was my birthday, so I didn't want to spend it rushing around. We went to the Spanish Steps first as it is one of the most iconic sights in Rome, but also a place where you can just sit down and take everything in (and apparently drink alcohol legally too, but we didn't know that until after. I did wonder why the gelato van was selling bottles of beer too). Of course it was very busy, but still incredible. Dave bought me a rose too :)
Oh the food! We ate so much, especially on the first day. We didn't even have set meals, we kind of just ate when we felt like it, or more like when we came across something that we wanted to eat. There weren't plans to eat again before we went out to for my birthday dinner, but then we came across La Prosciutteria. This place doesn't describe itself as a restaurant, as it doesn't actually have a restaurant license (so no menus and they can't "serve" you, you have to go to the counter), but rather a place where you can eat and drink with friends. Although they are actually a butchers, this tiny little place that is filled with atmosphere specialises in Tuscan wine and food that is served on wooden boards.
We went with a meat and cheese platter and some house white wine. Due to the low prices, we thought that the portions were going to be small, which was fine with us, but then we were given this huge board of deliciousness. The freshest meat, cheese and bread and really good wine to wash it down with. Usually house wine is a bit "meh", but this is Italy - even the house wine is good!
We even thought about going back again the next day, but there was just too many places to eat at.
You would think that we would be full after this, but it seems that when you enter Italy, the signal to your brain that tells you when you get full just switches off, so we headed to dinner. Dave had done some research before we left to find the perfect place for us to have dinner on the first night and chose That's Amore. Although a bit of a tacky name, the restaurant was far from it. It was really cosy and the queue out the door and the Trip Advisor rating posted on the door gave us a good impression straight away.
The walls were covered in black and white photos of people enjoying Italian food and drink and it really took you back to "old rome".
This was going to be my first pasta dish in Rome, what was I going to choose? I went with a traditional spaghetti with slow cooked ragu and Dave went with the seafood spaghetti. The ragu was EPIC! Seriously, that is the only was to describe it. Really rich and perfectly seasoned.
Something else I discovered in Rome, and was surprised to find, is that there is not much garlic in their food. I always think of Italian food as full of garlic, but it really isn't. I kind of think the rest of the world overcomplicates Italian food and that is something that I have thought about more since I have been home. The ragu really didn't need any overpowering flavours, the meat, tomatoes and some herbs were enough.
Now, brace yourselves.....we didn't have dessert. There was simply no room and I wanted to be able to move for the rest of the evening.
Dave, myself and our pasta babies spent the rest of the evening slowly, and I mean very slowly, walking around Rome and seeing how everything looked different in the dark. The streets were still bustling and all the little side streets filled with bars had come to life. We had a couple more drinks (I think I have a separate stomach for wine), but then headed back to the apartment at around 11pm. I know, so early on my 30th birthday, but we had been up since 4am and I am not as hardcore as I once was. I'm blaming the pasta.
With an early start the next day, we were ready to have a day packed full with seeing everything that Rome had to offer, which was an incredible historic sight around every corner that we turned. There were beautiful churches (which are all free to enter in Rome), towering statues, monuments, ruins and so many little plazas. I think that was one of my favourite things about Rome, the Plazas. They were all so different, but full of character.
Unsurprisingly, all the churches are beautiful and we went inside every single one that we came across. Just the detail on the ceilings of them all means you end up walking out with neck ache due to looking up for so long, but it is so worth it.
We headed to another plaza, Campo di Fiori, because we had read that there was an unmissable pizza place there - Forno Campo de' Fiori. We wanted to get the potato and rosemary pizza, but they had sold out. Not surprising, due to how popular it was. So we went with a mushroom pizza and then an olive oil, garlic and rosemary flatbread that was amazing. The mushroom pizza was okay, although the mushrooms seemed to be the ones that you get out of a tin, but the flatbread was literally dripping with flavour. I wish we had of gotten 2 pieces of that.
Campo de Fiori has a big food market each day which just reminded me exactly why I want to move to continental Europe. Just the way of life and how there are so many of these beautiful food markets. We just don't really have much of that here in the UK. It kind of made me wish that we did have a kitchen in our apartment on this trip, as all the fresh produce was incredible, and so chap as well.
We bought some herbs and spices though, so I have been experimenting with some Italian cooking since we have been home. This little plaza was lined with bars, so it seemed a good opportunity to sit down, have an afternoon glass of wine and watch the everyone go about their business.
Let's talk about the weather! It was so mixed - one minute there was blistering sunshine, then next torrential downpours and wind. I would have been surprised if it has snowed at one point. We had some of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, as in you couldn't even walk round with an umbrella at one point, because it made no difference. We got soaked! In any other situation, we would have been miserable and it could have ruined the day, but even in crazy rain, Rome was beautiful.
Once there was a gap in the rain, we made a dash for it and headed to the Colosseum. I am not really sure there is a word to do it justice, but it was....colossal and imposing. It was like nothing I have ever seen before and just being there and thinking back to when it was used for gladiator battles and executions was pretty strange. Much like the whole of Rome, just so much history. I imagine it is even more spectacular if you are lucky enough to see it empty, but with it being one of the most popular tourist attractions, that just wasn't going to happen.
Next on the list was visiting The Pantheon, which was also one of the most impressive things we saw in Rome. The Pantheon was a temple to the gods of ancient Rome, and is now a Roman Catholic church. It was rebuilt in 126AD, so it is very, very old. It is kind of hard to get your head round just how old everything in Rome is. You just can't image when looking at all these sights, how different things were like when they were first built.
I don't think I have told you enough about the food yet have I? Are you hungry reading this? Sorry about that!
We went to an area of Rome called Trastevere, which is where there are lots of bars and restaurants, so obviously that was somewhere we weren't going to miss. It was raining, again, so we didn't want to spend too much time deciding on where to eat, but settled on somewhere that smelled of bread. Sometimes you just have to forget Trip Advisor and trust your nose.
Speaking of bread, I went with the bruschetta for starters, that was over flowing with fresh tomatoes and just because I clearly hadn't had enough bread, a side of bread with some olive oil and balsamic to dip it in. Heavenly.
Another highlight of the trip, obviously, was going to The Vatican. We knew that is was going to be amazing, but due to what happened whilst we were there, it was even more amazing that we ever imagined.
The day started with a trip to The Vatican Museums (see, there was more to the trip than just food), which we really enjoyed. We are not overly museum people, as we prefer to be outside, but with Rome having so much history, and The Vatican having so much history, it is something that we couldn't couldn't miss.
Paintings, statues and tapestry, we just didn't know where to look.
After seeing the Sistine Chapel, which to be honest we were a bit underwhelmed by (I thought it would be bigger, but the story behind how it was done was certainly impressive), we were told that if we wanted to get to St Peter's Basilica, that we would have to exit the museum and go back to St Peter's Square (usually there is a door straight from the Sistine Chapel), due to the fact that there was currently an audience with The Pope being held. An audience with The Pope?!?! We practically ran out of the museum and then joined the thousands of people in St Peter's Square eagerly waiting to get a glimpse of The Pope.
We are not religious people, but this is The Pope. Of course we wanted to see him. We were lucky to arrive just in time, as he was addressing the audience. It wasn't in English, so he could have been saying anything, but we still got to hear him speak. Feeling pretty chuffed with that, we were thinking about leaving, when we noticed that the barrier that we were up against we actually the boarder of a make-shift road that had been created. Looking in to the crowd in more detail, we noticed that this "road" zig zaged all through the crowd and then on the big screens that were put up, we noticed The Pope getting in to his Pope-mobile.
He drove past us and was literally 2 meters away. Such an incredible thing to see and not something I ever thought I would see. Like I say, we are not religious people, but we can still appreciate how lucky we are to see someone that many people would love to. The atmosphere was also amazing - so many people from all over the world, some travelled there especially for this, all being respectful of each other. Definitely a bucket list item that I didn't even know I had.
Speaking of bucket list items, I have ticked one off of my before 40 list! On our last day in Rome, we segwayed. It is something I have wanted to do in a few other cities we have visited, but we never got round to it. So when we were walking around Villa Borghese and saw that you could hire segways, we knew that we had to do it.
To be honest, I was pretty nervous as they look really difficult to use, but it was so easy and I was clearly a natural as I was whizzing off on it as soon as I got on it. Plus, I only had one near miss collision - not bad I think. I was surprised at how much speed you can pick up on them.
The whole of this area was really pretty, so we spent some time walking around and enjoying the greenery, which there isn't too much of in Rome.
Soon it came time for our last meal in Rome *sad face*. Instead of doing some research, we just walked around and found somewhere that looked good and had good pizza. We had eaten a lot of squares of pizza, but hadn't sat down in a restaurant and ordered one, so for our last meal we went for a classic margherita and a side salad. We started off with some antipasti and had the best mozzarella in the world. I have never tasted anything like it, but I need to find some like it here in the UK, so I am going to try some Italian delis.
This was the best pizza we have had the whole trip too. It had the perfect amount of topping and a lovely crispy base. I love how thin the bases are in Rome.
As you can see, we had the most incredible time in Rome and thankfully our eating has gone back to normal since we have been back. We walked around 10-15km each day we were there (Dave took his Garmin), so we definitely burned off the excess food. If you want to see the rest of my photos from Rome, you can see them here.
Oh Rome, how I miss you already.
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