Italia: Roma (e Tivoli e Toscana)

A very slow train (by Italian standards) pulled us into Rome, the capital and tourist heart of Italy.  Again, we entered the city in the dark, with Tom’s first glimpses being bright lights and night owls. But, we at least had time for our first Roman meal at Ciao Bella where we met a friendly Albanian waiter who was moving to San Diego.  Funny how the grass is always greener ….

But my favorite part was finally meeting up with our friends Danielle and Chris. We had intended to be travel buddies much longer on our trip, but our busy schedules led to us crossing paths for only one wonderful night.  Sipping wine at the foot of a fountain in front of the Pantheon, grabbing a drink in Piazza Navona, double date in Travestere, and quick stop at a club …. this was the taste of Roma that pulled us out of our honeymoon and back into our 20’s for an awesome night with friends.

Friends in Piazza Navona!
Friends in Piazza Navona!

The Accommodations

  • Hotel Modigliani – a small boutique hotel tucked down a small street near the Spanish Steps.  It’s hard to be close to everything in Rome since the city is so big, but I wished the location was a little more central.  The room was small, but good for the price, however I think it could have been a little more updated and cleaner.  I definitely wasn’t disappointed and would recommend it for a boutique hotel, but I would probably stay in a Best Western next time.
Top of the Spanish Steps at Sunset
Top of the Spanish Steps at Sunset

The Food

Ah, the best part.

  • Ciao Bella: on our first night, we ate at the “right” side of the restaurant, which is apparently cheaper.  Not “gourmet” Italian, but still pretty darn good, and lots of freebies throughout the meal.  
  • Bafetto: a favorite lunch spot of Danielle’s when she studied there, it was unfortunately closed when we tried to get a bite to eat.  I’ve heard rave reviews, so if you’re in the area check it out!
  • Da Otello: in the less-tourists-more-locals neighborhood of Travestere, this place was recommended to me for not only good food, but lots of freebies.  Unfortunately, we went during rush hour on a Friday so our experience wasn’t as good.  However, the food was amazing and absolutely worth going back.
  • Cacio e Pepe: Also in Travestere, another great authentic Italian restaurant featuring the specialty dish for which it’s named, Cacio e Pepe, or “cheese and pepper.”  Sounds like such a simple dish, but it’s truly amazing.
  • Il Giardino: We made it here on our last night and we were pleasantly surprised.  One of the first places that had truly friendly waiters and the food was, again, amazing.  The best antipasto I’ve ever had in my life (below, bottom left) was heaping with all types of meats, grilled veggies, and cheese – including ricotta which I ate plain, like the locals.
The amazing foods of Rome
The amazing foods of Rome

The Sites

I did my own “Rome in a Day” walking tour with the help of a map and a (pretty crappy) travel guide (it was dated 2001). But, we pretty much saw it all the first full day after we arrived, and still made it to meet Danielle and Chris at the Trevi Fountain at 4:30. Such a casual meeting place ….

  • The Spanish Steps
  • The Vatican Museum & St. Peter’s: I cannot stress enough – BOOK ONLINE! The line is always super long, and for a few extra bucks you can pre-purchase tickets and skip it.  A great alternative if you don’t want to purchase a tour through a company (which tend to be about 3 hours in the museum).
  • Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Piazza Navonna
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Pantheon
  • Piazza Venezia
  • Colloseum and Roman Forum

A few we missed out on this time…

  • Palatine Hill
  • Borghese Gallery
The Pantheon
The Pantheon

We also saw some great sites that I had not seen before through some really great day tours that I recommend for anyone…


Since Danielle studied in Rome in college, she recommended a day trip to Tivoli outside of Rome to see Villa d’Este.  We found a really affordable tour through Viator that included a trip to Villa d’Este, a gorgeous Renaissance “home” with amazing fountains and gardens, and Hadrian’s Villa, ruins of the Emperor Hadrian’s holiday “home” which is more of a village.  For a short trip from Rome, this was a gorgeous half-day tour.

Villa d'Este, Tivoli
Villa d’Este, Tivoli
Olives growing in Hadrian's Villa
Olives growing in Hadrian’s Villa


Typically, one would go on a Tuscany day trip from Florence, as Florence is in Tuscany.  However, we just couldn’t fit it in so we took a little longer drive from Rome.  Again, Viator hooked us up with an awesome “Taste of Italy” day tour to Cortona, an adorable little village where Under the Tuscan Sun was filmed, and Montepulciano, famous for both wine (we tasted some at Contucci) and also where Twilight: New Moon was filmed.  Since we chose the tour based around food, in between the two cities was a stop for lunch at a rural restaurant, an awesome place to buy some olive oils and Italian goodies.

The from from Cortona, Tuscany
The view from Cortona, Tuscany

And then we were on a high-speed train to Napoli…where love is king.

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