There’s a lot to be said about the “Eternal City,” and why not? It’s the capital of Italy and the country’s most visited city.
My first solo trip abroad was to Italy. I chose it as my starter country for its food, architecture, breathtaking sites (think the hills of Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast), but most importantly, for its safety. According to Safe Around, Italy is considered a very safe country, with a low risk level for solo women travelers. I decided to begin my journey in Rome and gave myself three days there. It is a must-see as a destination on its own, is safe, and easy to navigate.
First, a few facts about Rome—I love little nuggets of information for perspective.
4.9 Million (2019 estimate)
The Euro €. Paper notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500; each are a different color. Similar to the USD, 1€ is made up of 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50. There are also 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins.
Italian, and English is widely spoken in the cities and the hospitality industry.
I visited Rome during the month of September. The temperature was always around 70˚ F and it wasn’t crowded. My days there were remarkable. I indulged myself with two gelatos a day (true story), visited the most famous sites for the quintessential Roman experience, but best of all…
I allowed my wanderlust to lead the way
I learned a great deal about myself during these days. Using my intuition and a bit of confidence, I can:
- Master a train system in a foreign country
- Make change with foreign currency
- Communicate with enough Italian to buy a cappuccino in a cafe
- Understand military time
- Navigate using a paper map
I felt empowered in Rome. Come along on the adventure as I share snippets of my travel journal from Rome.
I live in New York City where a new, shiny building rises in competition to the next every few months. A city defined by its bright lights and hustle and bustle. There’s always movement, renovations, and new construction; most everything is new. I thought of this as I looked out the bus window on the ride to my hotel. Relatively speaking, New York is VERY new (b. 1624) in comparison to Rome (b. 753 BC). I couldn’t wait to explore the city and soak up its ancient architecture.
I arrived at Hotel Quirinale in the heart of the city; my Roman home for the next three days. Elegance graced my room from the chandelier on its high ceiling to the luxurious curtains. I drew one back to find the most charming balcony overlooking a beautiful garden below and I could hear soft music playing.
I was here, in Italy!
Wasting time was not on the agenda so I hurried to the lobby and asked for a map of the city. I wanted to roam around Rome! I strolled along Via Nazionale and had my first gelato. I stumbled upon their “White House” and found Quirinal Palace in Piazza del Quirinale, the official residence of the President of Italy. I took my first picture in this piazza—although a seemingly insignificant detail, it stands out in my mind—because it didn’t feel real. I was thinking, “Seriously, I’m in Italy right now?! I feel like I’m photoshopped into this piazza.”
In just in a few hours, it was all I thought it would be. I was sitting by a fountain in Piazza Barberini, eating a mozzarella and prosciutto grilled panini, cannoli up next, listening to the sounds of Rome. I was so happy I wanted to cry.
I followed the map (not once looking at my phone’s GPS). Rome wasn’t a grid like NYC, but it was fairly easy to follow with clear signage. I walked the streets of Rome, not rushing anywhere, admiring the well-preserved buildings. Exploring the north end of the city, I came across Villa Borghese, an inviting landscape garden that caught my eye. My last stop was the impressive Piazza della Repubblica and its beautiful fountain. Every minute was a memory and every blink of an eye was like snapping a picture. After a long day of exploring, I decided to take a nap and have dinner.
Dinner reservations for one, please.
Table for one in Hotel Quirinale’s courtyard was the plan for the evening. I feasted on bread dipped in olive oil, buffalo mozzarella over prosciutto del parma, a salad, and carbonara to round things out. Today I’m grateful for elastic!
Here I am sitting on my balcony feeling happy, relaxed, and well fed.
It was a wonderful 1st day in Rome!
The Vatican is the main attraction today, and one of the only “tours” I booked ahead of time (standing in line for hours is an opportunity cost to me). It’s 8am in Rome, I’ve already navigated the train system, ordered coffee in Italian, and checked in for my tour!
“Un Caffe per favore”
When I got off the train, I thought I was at the wrong stop. The Catholic Church is one of the richest—if not the richest—institution in the world and yet I stepped onto poverty-ridden streets. Some people were sleeping on the sidewalk while others had blankets out selling mostly unusable items, like one slipper or an old battery. And most of these people had children alongside them; my heart broke. I continued to walk through the streets and eventually The Vatican appeared. [Note: if traveling to the Vatican from the city of Rome, take the A Line of the Rome Metro and get off at the Ottaviano-S. Pietro station. The trains run every few minutes. It’s a five-minute walk from there.]
Our group was guided us through the Vatican Museums – Musei Vaticani. The artwork is breathtaking and the history is fascinating! There is certainly no shortage of gold adornment. Then with an awed silence we entered the Sistine Chapel – THE Sistine Chapel. Although crowded, I was alone and in the presence of God. Pictures are not allowed inside, but trust me when I tell you it is magnificent. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling, and mind you, he was a sculptor, not a painter. He learned how to paint in a few months and went to work.
It was going to be hard to top that, but the grounds are divine. [Vatican fun facts: Vatican City is its own country, approx. 100 acres with a population of 1,000 making it the smallest country in the world. It’s an eighth the size of NYC’s Central Park. Its leader is the Pope, Bishop of Rome, and St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world.]
When I travel, I like to do it all, so when I saw a sign that said you could climb to the top St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome, I was in. After the first level, you climb 320-340 steps to the very top. Admission: If someone would’ve told me it was a narrow, steep, spiral, claustrophobic staircase I might’ve said, “no grazie”!! Although, even after my near respiratory failure, I’m glad I chose to do it; the view was priceless. [My suggestion: go for it, just know what to expect.]
It’s a gorgeous day in Vatican City and I decided on a gelato followed by a light lunch of margherita pizza in a small café outside of St. Peter’s Square. Did you really visit Vatican City if you didn’t spend time in St. Peter’s Square and have a gelato?
On my afternoon stroll along the Fiume Tevere, I discovered a castle…because that happens everyday! I made a hard left to explore Castel Sant’Angelo. Inside was very cool: hidden passages and secret lookout points throughout. But, most importantly, modern day provided a café near the top to have a cappuccino with a picture-postcard view.
I crossed Fiume Tevere to Piazza Navona—so many fountains, so much gelato, so little time. This was another moment when I realized holy #!?%—I’m REALLY in Italy, walking along a cobblestone street in Piazza Navona, with a man playing an accordion in the background.
That evening I met a woman my age, traveling solo, also from NY and she works close to me in the city—what are the odds?! We had dinner together at a nondescript place on Via Nazionale where I had the best buffalo mozzarella and lasagna ever. Long day, but incredible.
Day 2 did not disappoint.
The Colosseum: unbelievable. Built between 70 A.D. – 80 A.D. as an entertainment arena, it was constructed with limestone, cement, and various other materials. All manual labor. It is an engineering and architectural wonder.
I decided to go on a guided tour so I could learn about its history. It was fascinating—from the purpose of the arches (water could run through in a flood) to the secret underground passageways (for gladiators and caged animals). I could write about it for days but I’ll let the pictures tell the story.
The Roman Forum and Palantine Hill are the must-see ancient ruins next door. The buildings here are incredible and so well preserved for their age. I love soaking up culture and learning about the places I visit. I was so impressed with the knowledge of the tour guide, that I booked a walking tour for that afternoon.
I took two trains and made my way across the city for my afternoon tour. I stopped for a breather at The Spanish steps and had a panini and a gelato while I waited. Life is good. I went on to see the Steps in detail, Trevi Fountain (which was under construction at the time), Piazza Navona, and Campo di Fiore.
8 hours walking in Rome…
I deserve a nap and a good meal.
I walked down a cobblestone street and found a gem: La Locanda Di Bacco. As a man serenaded me with his accordion and gentle voice, I dined on toasted garlic bread with mozzarella and wild mushrooms, and the gnocchi with a classic tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. So simple but so good!! (P.S. Did I mention that I had three gelatos today?)
Day 3 was outstanding!