Full disclosure: I was biased against Rome from the start because of their attempts to colonize my homeland of Ethiopia. That said, the city pleasantly surprised me. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to return to Rome, perhaps in addition to other Italian cities.
Though I only spent five days in the city, it felt satisfactory without being tiring. A family friend also did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to planning activities. Plus, I’m definitely a “one activity per day” type of person, with the rest of the time being for relaxation/wandering. So getting into the highlights…
Early morning trevi fountain pictures
With the Trevi fountain being notorious for crowds, I decided to start my first full day with a quick walk to the fountain. I arrived around 8am and clearly was not alone in my quest, but I think we were all able to catch our desired shots sans other people. The fountain in the morning sunlight looked perhaps even more majestic.
Fun fact: the Trevi fountain takes in around 3000-4000€ a day, and the proceeds supposedly go towards preservation. Since the money was literally being laundered as it was sucked out of the fountain, I have doubts. No one ever said what exactly was being preserved.
My travel recommendation will always be to scope out picturesque locations for the gram and then return in the morning. Golden hour is the best time, but since most sane people like to sleep a little later than that, any time before 9AM will probably do.
Regardless of your desire to see ancient graves, I highly recommend catacomb tours to escape the hellish heat of a Roman summer day. With our chatty and upbeat tour guide though, I’d honestly recommend it at any time of the year.
Typically there are no dead bodies on the tour, but it still fulfills macabre desires with its emphasis and proximity to death. From a city planning perspective, I found it fascinating because of the addition of floors beneath the old floors. So the lower you are, the newer the grave. Plus all of the superstition and tradition that naturally surrounds them is entertaining.
We booked our Catacombs tour here.
Early morning bike tour
Waking up for an 8AM tour was annoying, but it saved us from biking in the sweltering sun at high noon. Guided bike tours are one of my favorite ways to see a city for multiple reasons:
- Biking is so much fun! Biking in a foreign city can be intimidating, but with a guide you get the fun without as much worry
- You cover more ground than walking with less traffic than buses or cars
- Light group exercise is a great bonding activity, especially with the guide.
This bike tour was extra special because of the VR views of ancient Roman society. Whenever we’d arrive at a sight, the guide would tell us about its evolution and then pass around VR goggles with a recreation of the view in its prime. Seeing the gladiators from the Emperor’s throne is probably the closest I will get to the seat of royalty.
We booked the e-bike tour here.
Night tour of Vatican City
After this trip, I vowed to not travel in summer as long as I can avoid it. Apparently day tours of the Vatican can take up to FOUR TIMES as long due to the required navigation of standstill crowds. The night tour I took is only offered during weekends in the summer season. Unlike the day tours, this tour was populated but mostly avoided huge or unnavigable crowds.
Even being agnostic, I could not help but be in awe of the art in the Vatican. Ceilings look painted with more detail than 4K TVs. The ceilings, walls, and floor create an immersive irreproducible experience, especially with the context provided by the guide. I also felt like I had a better understanding of why artists went mad. Not only did this art require immeasurable concentration, it also required the artists inhale lead from the paints. I also imagine the artists working on the ceilings may have accidentally eaten their fair share of paint as well.
We booked the night Vatican tour here.
Casual country clubbing and local life
My good fortune held access to a country club reserved for employees of the Bank of Italy and their guests. While I don’t personally know anyone that works there, my family friend did! Being one of two black people in the vicinity meant that I got some stares, but I had no issues. The bugs were also very glad to see me, based on my numerous bites.
Food from the heart
Rather than sprinkle all of my food commentary throughout the post, I wanted to dedicate a full section to it. I’ve never cared much for Italian food, but Rome taught me that was because I hadn’t had good Italian food. The first dish I had after arrival was Amatriciana, and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a pasta dish more in my life.
From there, I couldn’t wait to try every other pasta under the sun. Different raviolis, white sauces, pestos, I wanted to try it all. None ever delivered the rush of endorphins/joy of my first Amatriciana, but they were all good! Even with all of the carbs, I was pleasantly surprised by the lightness of the food. I never felt heavy or bloated.
The lightness continued with the desserts as well! I tried multiple different Tiramisus, but Bocconcinos had the clear winner. It was rich but not overly sweet, with a coffee liqueur and cocoa that created the perfect blend of natural sweetness with a depth of flavor that I crave in my desserts. I found a similar sweet spot with my first meringue, which I got from La Romana Gelateria. They also had fantastic gelato, with a long queue to back it up.
Reeling it all in
There’s truly no place like Rome. I think I could visit it multiple times and still not see everything it has to offer. The city also gave me enough material to make my first reel, which (save for a few text glitches) I’m really proud of! Perhaps one day I’ll break into the world of travel influencer, but until then I’ll just sporadically post reels, blogs, and pictures to my heart’s content. In the meantime, please forgive the glitches.