Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
We did not plan our stay in Italy well at all! The Holy Week of Easter is one of the busiest times in Rome, with Catholics from all over the world descending on the city in pilgrimage. 2016 was a particularly busy year as a Holy Year/Jubilee of Mercy, and we couldn’t walk down a single street in Rome without seeing a habit or a clerical collar.
This meant that no matter where we went in Rome and what attractions we visited, we were always shoulder-to-shoulder in a large crowd. The Vatican Museums? Massive crowd. The Colosseum? Massive crowd. The Roman Forum? Massive crowd. St Peter’s Cathedral? Massive crowd. At the end of each day, I was happy to take the metro back to our suburban Airbnb apartment and relax in silence to give my senses a break.
For this reason in particular, I found it difficult to fall in love with Rome as a city. You can’t begin to appreciate what it has to offer, when you don’t have the opportunity to truly live a Roman life. You can’t appreciate the art in the Vatican Museum for example, when you’re being shunted from room to room, squished in-between packs of tour groups. There’s no one single quiet corner in the museum to be found. That’s no way to appreciate art.
The closest we came to living a more relaxed Roman lifestyle was when we visited places like the Testaccio Markets to do our grocery shopping or dined in a local high-end gourmet food store Eataly. Other restaurants we visited (relatively highly rated on TripAdvisor) were undoubtedly tourism-oriented: Ristochicco and Osteria Della Suburra. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can escape those tourist trap restaurants when you’re in the centre of Rome and its attractions!
On the bright side, it’s hard to go wrong with Italian desserts – gelato in particular! Gelaterias can be found everywhere, and they obviously range in quality. My general rule of thumb is that if you can see the gelato they serve on display, it’s not gelato you want to have! The best gelato is kept in metal canisters in the cooler rather than out in the open in refrigerated display cabinets as this will prevent ice crystals from forming, keeping the gelato at peak creaminess.
Gelaterias we visited include Don Nino (a little bit pricier than other gelaterias, but conveniently located near the Pantheon), Ti Amo (I recommend the mascarpone with caramelised fig, but don’t go out of your way), Gelateria Dell’Angeletto (fantastic if you have dietary requirements – they do a great range of dairy-free and vegan sorbets) and Gelateria Frigidarium (their house-special flavour tastes just like a Golden Gaytime!). Honestly though? There are so many fantastic gelato places around that you shouldn’t just limit yourself to these four. Plus, don’t forget the sfogliatella and the cannoli while you’re having dessert!
We also took advantage of one of the benefits of being in Rome during Holy Week – holy foods! Easter breads were bought and consumed at a great rate, from savoury ham and boiled egg hard loaves to soft and sweet brioche-like Colombas. If you can be patient, you can always buy the Colombas from the supermarket after Easter and pay only about 3 Euro instead of 10-15 Euros! Who doesn’t love cheap post-Easter sweet sales?
Despite all the earlier complaining about the tourist crowds, we would obviously visit Rome again. There’s so much on offer that we barely scratched the surface. Next time however, I think we’ll check the calendar beforehand to make sure it doesn’t fall on any religious holidays.