Pretext: We Visited Rome & Venice this September for our one year wedding anniversary. Read about our time in Venice here, or check part one of this two-part Rome story here. If you’re lazy then don’t worry, we’ve got you covered too… just watch this pretty video here. Right, I think that’s all bases covered, let us continue….
And We’re Off...
Where were we? Let me briefly recap… Bad accommodation in Rome, quiet area, we kept busy, we kept drunk, awful first night, pointless breakfast, visited the Colosseum, booked a new hotel, stayed one more night. We had completed 2 of our 4 nights at B&B La Ciumachella and were calling it off. Breaking up. The “It’s not you, it’s me” kind of thing… today we were heading to the Vatican, waving goodbye to our B&B and heading for central Rome. Will Part Two end up happier than Part One (Sorry Rome, We F**ked Up (1/2)? Time will tell.
So today is Thursday and we’re up early for our 11am visit to the Vatican. Having endured a horribly dry breakfast yesterday morning consisting of one cardboard croissant coupled with a sticky black coffee, we opted to avoid the kitchen this morning. However, having not seen nor heard from our host since the previous morning we were not sure if she would be up waiting for us. Sure enough she was. We did not request breakfast, or a wake up call, but there she was banging on our door at 8.15am reminding us breakfast was ‘ready’. We politely declined, avoiding the first opportunity to break the news that we were leaving early. We were booked into a new apartment for the next two nights, much more central, much more expensive and much more sexy; and telling our host we were leaving just felt awful.
If we avoided the first chance to tell her then we soon chickened out of the second chance too. It was difficult. Despite our poor experience it can’t be all too nice hearing that people want to leave your home so desperately. Of course we would be subtle, tactful and make our excuses but finding an opening was no mean feat, especially after boycotting breakfast. We readied ourselves for the day, before pouncing on our host as we made our way towards the exit.
The Blame Game
“I’m sorry, but we need to leave today… when we return from the Vatican… perhaps 4pm?“, “Work in London called and we need to go home, we booked a flight for 8pm“, “Business first, not my choice…” the excuses came tumbling out of my mouth as I watched the confusion wash across our host’s face, coupled with a distinct twinge of sadness. Perhaps this is a story that she’s heard time and time again, perhaps she loves playing ‘host’ and having people stay over, or perhaps this time next week there will be a new piece of moody artwork inspired by our departure (in order of most likely: 3,1,2). She hand-wrote our bill before reaching out for the money. Not for the visa card that I was holding but for the cash that I clearly wasn’t. I haven’t paid cash for a hotel this side of the 2000’s. Even in the jungle or middle of the desert; I didn’t know this was a thing that still happened (only adding to our suspicions that this was a cash cow; a second business to supplement her passion for creepy paintings and her weird, artistic, creative drugs). Shocked, we made arrangements to be home for a set time when we’d pay the cash. We returned to our room to check our booking.com confirmation; our list of complaints was building up and we were ready to vent at them for listing such a shoddy property. To our surprise it was all there in print. It mentions the office block that the B&B is located in, it mentions the cat that entered our room uninvited, it mentions the cash payment and it swerves any mention of the amenities that we would normally expect such as a safe, a fridge, tv, cups etc. The reviews are so-so but they are as ancient as Rome itself. So there you have it; it was all written down in black and white; the warning signs were all there before we booked. We had truly made a f*ck up when we clicked on this B&B and we had nobody to blame but ourselves. Still, this is the first time we’ve had to leave a hotel in 7 years of travels and some 50+ hotel experiences. Not bad odds. Lesson learned and we were on to bigger and better things.#
We left the B&B to enjoy a day at the Vatican. Firstly we used our pre-booked tickets to jump the 2 hour long queue to the Vatican Museums (highly recommended). Whilst the Sistine Chapel was highly impressive, I left feeling a little disenchanted. The museums are less about artefacts, documents or historic relics and its more about the art and installations within the Vatican throughout the decades. More interesting to me was the size of the gigantic wall which separated the Vatican from the street below. There are definitely secrets within these fortified walls, but you’ve got no chance of finding them.
Next stop on the bucket list was the 20 minute queue for St Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. Again, a jaw-dropping building with lots of gold, impressive detail and fantastic artwork. Slightly underwhelmed (it is much like any other cathedral), we made our way to the door without heading up the famous spire; after 3 hours of walking like herded sheep we were knackered and although it’s a stunning view it’s something we’ve seen in a million photos. The whole experience in VC was certainly a worthy sight but we (I in particular) weren’t massively blown a way by it. I always hear stories of people being disgusted with how much wealth there is and the amount of tourist money pouring into it; but this is neither here nor there with me. The value in the artwork has increased over time and when installed it was probably fairly modestly priced (considering the budget was absolutely limitless!). Most of the palaces that you will find across the world are covered in gold; this particular palace is run by a company with billions of followers and a more than healthy income, so it’s no surprise it’s kept in such damn fine form. The whole experience to me was very much ‘meh’, which surprised me. I suppose I was wishing for conspiracy theories, stories of corruption or mythical tales from days gone by and therefore I was left unappeased. I guess I was expecting the Vatican to be something it wasn’t whereas in reality it’s just a gallery.
Onwards and Upwards
We headed home, settled our bill and called ourselves an Uber. We had yet to venture around central Rome and here, just west of the river Tiber, felt a million miles away from our brief experience visiting the Colosseum. We were delighted that our journey took us past many ancient ruins and historic sites; something completely alien to life in West Rome. It felt like, finally, on our third day of asking we had found the real Rome.
Our taxipulled up besides the impressive Boutique Hotel Campo di Fiori. Our immaculate hotel concierge couldn’t be more welcoming and friendly before leading us 50 feet across a buzzing little square to our apartment block. “Live like a Roman” the hotels description read, and it was right. Having our own apartment meant we could come and go as we pleased, load the kitchen with hot food, cold cuts and bubbly drinks plus snuggle down in the evenings without worrying about keeping our host awake. No wake up call, no office block, no awkward silences. This hotel was everything B&B Ciumachella was not.
Whatsmore we were located in central Rome. CENTRAL. Everything was on our doorstep; restaurants, bars, shops and most importantly- life. We had a few delightful restaurants just below us and cranking the (amazingly sound proofed) windows just an inch let in a beautiful chorus of sounds. The chatter of friendly tourists feasting at candlelit tables, the clinking and cluttering of glasses and cutlery in the hands of happy patrons, plus the sultry Italian music and street noise brought our apartment to life as we dined in on fresh focaccia bread, homemade pasta and sweet Italian deserts (well we paid for a kitchen so by-golly we were damn well going to use it).
We had more or less covered our itinerary during our first few days in Rome whilst keeping out of the B&B for as long as possible. The 12km of walking a day had rendered us all but useless. The following days consisted of casual pottering around and bouncing from sight to sight. The Pantheon, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountains all made their way into my photo album, whilst beers, gelatos and pizzas made their way into my ever-growing belly.
In the later part of our 5 day stay we had enjoyed a complete turn of pace and felt as if we were experiencing a completely different Rome. No more packed, tiresome tourist sights, no more frantically ticking boxes and reading guidebooks. We had found our Rome.
When looking back on our time in Rome there are two very distinct and very contrasting periods. The busy, tourist heavy, mad 2 days with regrettable accommodation in a bad location and then there is the chilled, slow paced, more ‘Italian’ 3 days of soaking up culture and pizza, located much more centrally. The latter was our clear favourite.
Does this mean that we ran out of things to do by the 4th day? Well… kinda… if you’re booking Rome and don’t mind being non-stop busy then a weekend is actually plentiful, in my opinion. As for 4+ days it can get expensive fast. Sure you can spread things out for longer but the main sights are all easily walkable if your hotel is well located, so its probably easier to go from one sight to the another than spend time yo-yo-ing to the hotel and back.
On that note, hotel choice will define your trip. There is no cheap way to enjoy a good nights sleep in Rome, it seems. You need to be central on the map. Somewhere between the river and the train station and between the Spanish Steps down to the Colosseum. This makes everything more walkable, much easier and gives you plenty of options for food, drink and entertainment.
Would I return? In two words, probably not. I can’t completely rule it out, but now I’ve seen the two sites that drew me here all that’s now left is expensive accommodation and good food; and there’s plenty of other places to experience that!
Would I recommend it? Yes, of course. Keep it short, sweet and easy. Pre-book your jump the queues tickets (from the official websites) and if you have more time to spare consider getting the train to Florence or Venice to experience another part of Italy. You can’t judge all of Italy by one city, just look at how badly our review would have ended if we had only stayed for Part One(!).
All in all, our trip worked for us. Two busy days and three relaxed days were a perfect balance and let us recover from our strenuous walks. We enjoyed good food, friendly locals and Rome offered us plenty to explore. The hospitality in Rome was much better than some horror stories I have heard and although some of Rome was underwhelming (or just whelming) in places I’m glad we can say we’ve done, seen it and got a few blisters along the way.
Check out some reviews from the places we stayed on our new and improved Review page.
Roll on Frankfurt Christmas Market in December!!
Thanks for sticking around. Have you visited Rome? Did you find yourself constantly on the go too? Are you returning anytime soon? What did we miss? Give us a shout down below.