They Call it The Eternal City Because Rome Gets Inside You

Rome. Just the name of the city spoken or written does something all on its own. It gives us a rush, a sensory high that hits hard, leaving us in a state of wanting.

The Rome I knew was from textbooks, lectures I yawned through because I’ve never been the ancient history kind of girl. Later in life a predictable attraction with Rome happened through films, as the city’s boisterous seduction came at me through the screen.

Want to listen to this blog instead? Hear Britt butcher Italian (and some English) by pressing play…


…OR, if that idea terrifies you, carry on!

scooter in rome

I began to wonder what the real Rome would be like. Truthfully, I thought it was overrated and it was never high on my wanderlust list.

Seemed like everyone I knew had been there or wished to be there, and at the very mention of the city, a whimsical daze fell upon them as their busy minds surrendered to the alluring distraction.

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning.”
– Giotto di Bondone

rome wedding

After a layoff this year, for some crazy reason I knew Rome was the place I needed to escape to. I wanted to see the city they called “eternal,” because I’ve always liked that word. To me, it means surviving beautifully.

That’s what I wanted to do after a rough year. Survive beautifully—to scrape up a little grace and live on.

rome river

But, I wasn’t prepared for Rome’s everlasting pull.

Days later, typing up this blog post in my robe on my couch—with the Portland drizzle letting me know there’s not a chance in hell for an Indian Summer—I can still feel the golden sun soaking into my eager bones, see the woman’s bare olive arms wrapped around her man’s torso on a zippy scooter, hear the honking melodies and the jeering Italian conversations that sound like fighting when they’re only discussing the next delicious meal.

When you visit Rome, it’s not about what you do. It’s about how you savor it.

selfie sticks in europe

How to Savor Rome’s History

While I’m more in the “live like a local” camp while traveling, tourist attractions are attractive for a reason. In Rome the exploration options are endless, and you will turn a corner to catch a random site that will stop you right in your tracks.

Choose your top must-see site and a few secondary sites—but don’t choose them all. Be sure to spread out your adventures, so you can truly soak in the majesty.

If you’re cramming in too many attractions, you can’t fully digest the experience and you’re being counterproductive to the reason you’re traveling in the first place.

colosseum metro

For us, the Colosseum was our top must-see site and we splurged on a VIP tour with Walks of Italy to be able to see the underground and third tier. Included in the tour were the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill to round out a very hot summer afternoon that was chock-full of tales and tidbits over the course of 3.5 hours.

walks of italy colosseum

The tour guide, Angela, was cute as a button and she managed to keep us entertained and energized—despite the fact that we all felt like we were being slow-cooked in a fine coating of ancient dirt.

colosseum history

How do you know if you’re truly savoring Rome’s history? You will get emotional.

palatine hill rome

I teared up multiple times while we were walking across the ruins. I wasn’t prepared for it, how well everything was preserved, the painstaking details, the jaw-dropping size of it all.

These ancient sites should get under your skin a bit. Because if you stop and feel the history right beneath your feet, it’s pretty damn humbling.

roman-forum

Secondary sites for us were more of a drive-by rather than racing through the interior of each. The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, the Mouth of Truth, and the Spanish Steps all fell under this category.

pantheon rome

trevi fountain rome

mouth of truth rome

Be prepared for a letdown, because invariably there will be a site under restoration. Case in point, me pouting in my new pretty dress I wore just for the Spanish Steps, my illusions shattered before the Plexiglas.

spanish steps rome

How to Savor Rome’s Food

The main focus of our Italy trip (and pretty much any trip for that matter) is food. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in Rome’s bountiful history, you are doing yourself and the city a disservice by merely treating food as fuel.

You’ve probably heard warnings about the tourist traps, with English menus and the salesy host casting his wide net in front of the expansive patio to see how many hungry tourists he can catch. This is all true.

piazza navona fountain

And—she admits with her eyes glued to the floor—we ate at a couple of these restaurants when we were too desperate to care. As expected, we paid extra and the food was so-so, but thankfully nothing was terrible.

On a positive note, the service was decent enough and the scenery and people-watching were terrific, since most of these restaurants have commandeered Rome’s historical center.

So, my dear foodies, you know what to do.

Though your English-speaking will be far from coddled, head to the neighborhoods. Feel free to gawk at everyone’s laundry on display, which for some unexplainable reason is completely mesmerizing.

pigneto

We stayed in an amazing AirBnB in Pigneto, a Southeast neighborhood they call Rome’s Brooklyn. (Huge shout-out goes to Fabrizia and Antonio for being the best hosts…EVER!)

Though several of the restaurants were closed for the August holiday, we found great cappuccino at Bottiglieria and even greater mortadella sandwiches at Dar Ciriola, which thankfully opened on the last day of the month so we could try their yummy food before traipsing off to Florence.

dar ciriola

The Jewish Ghetto should also be a non-negotiable stop, because believe it or not, Italian food lovers—you will be totally sick of pasta and pizza after a few days.

Thanks to our hero Anthony Bourdain, we were armed with restaurant knowledge to avoid any mishaps, and enjoyed a mind-blowing lunch at Nonna Betta. The fried artichoke looked as beautiful as it tasted, and everything else we tried, from the fish of the day to the potatoes, made us smile like absolute fools.

jewish ghetto

Where’s the pasta, you ask? Well…

It took us a while to find pasta worthy of a photo after several misses in the tourista zone. But a few blocks away from the Spanish Steps, we hunted down one of Rome’s classics, Cacio e Pepe—a seemingly simple spaghetti dish with olive oil, pecorino cheese, and black pepper that will move you when it’s done right.

italian pasta

I can’t tell you which restaurant this lovely pasta came from, because we paid with cash and I was too spaghetti drunk to remember. Like we did, you’ll just have to try all the pasta in Rome until you find the right one.

rome travel

How to Savor Rome’s Gelato

Not all gelato is created equal, so I challenge you to try as many Gelateria as you can. I didn’t think there was a such a thing as lackluster gelato, until I had a forgettable fruity cup near the Colosseum.

The one tourista zone you will find excellent gelato at though is Trevi Fountain. Competition is fierce here and each quaint shop is hell-bent on wooing you with a cheerful canvas of creamy, colorful gelato piles.

You will seriously be dazzled by the window displays, because they are like art installations.

gelato

Gelato isn’t supposed to be eaten inside, as it is designed to be enjoyed while you walk around the city. Choose your weapon—cup or cone—but I vote cone, for the guaranteed sense of childish joi de vivre.

trevi fountain at night

If you struggle with doing multiple things at once, find a perch next to a fountain to slowly devour your gelato. You’ll know you’re savoring your gelato properly when your hands are sticky from the drips that overcame your flimsy napkin.

Favorite flavors for me: mint chocolate, tiramisu, and nutella. And yes…I’ve been having gelato withdrawals since coming home.

the eternal city

Rome is really too much for words, so I won’t go on anymore. For me, the hidden layers inside the city competed easily with the most popular attractions.

If you don’t know what I mean, walk into the smallest cafe and drink a proper cappuccino standing at the bar. Lick the most incredible milky foam off your lips, listen to the lyrical Italian language mingling effortlessly with the city’s energy, and then you’ll understand.

Rome just has a way. It gets inside you.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice. Because there is no way to fit all of the gorgeous photos and videos from this trip into a blog, check out my Instagram this month for more on Italy.


P.S. If any of you crazy kids decide to listen to the audio version of this blog, I’d love to hear what you think! It’s all part of my “less screen time” campaign. 🙂

42 thoughts on “They Call it The Eternal City Because Rome Gets Inside You

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Great post Britt. I’m pleased it wasn’t all a big let down for you. You did your homework beforehand which helped. I’ve often rocked up in places in the UK and Ireland arrogant enough to think I can find the ‘true’ nature of the place. All that happens is that you miss the best bits. It looked like the perfect mixture of site seeing and sampling the true city life.

    Not sure about the audio. Your words, as ever, flow off the page, not so much the dictation. I think I’d go for a more off-the-cuff commentary i.e. not verbatim, with a few notes perhaps?

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Hey, Roy! Good to see you. I’m always a big believer in researching a great apartment, then I usually wing the rest a bit. I’m glad I didn’t wing it too much, because it was tough to find a VIP tour slot for the Colosseum a week before…which is the reason we ended up going in the steamy afternoon instead of the morning!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the audio. I like the idea of an off-the-cuff commentary. Just wanted to try something new to mix it up! 🙂

      • Roy McCarthy says:

        You might play around with podcasting as an alternative to blogging? I’ve been listening to a running blog called Phedippidations for 10 years or so now. It certainly offers a personal touch that a blog just can’t. You have a friendly and clear voice which would suit this medium.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Bella Letizia! Yes, you told me you lived in Milan. Didn’t make it there, but when I do, I will be sure to reach out for some tips.

      We have a gelato place about a half mile from my apartment. I’ve been restraining myself, since I’ve been trying to focus on kombuchas, smoothies, and salads since my return. 😉

  2. Gallivanta says:

    Britt, you are looking as beautiful as Rome itself. 🙂 I have been toying with the idea of blog readings, so it is wonderful to hear how it actually works. I read your blog first and then listened. If you do this again I may try listening first. But I think I would still need to read because I wouldn’t want to miss the photos.

  3. M Worrell says:

    Wonderful thoughts on Rome. There is a magnificence and spirituality at the Colosseum that is hard to articulate. My favorite tourist site that I have visited again and again-
    Survive beautifully is a thought that will stay with me.. I always say’ get through w/ as much grace and dignity as you can’- You will go back to Rome. I have.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Totally agree with the magnificence and spirituality at the Colosseum. The Roman Forum floored us as well—that was the first site on our tour. I was, like…are we seriously allowed to just walk here? I felt like I was trespassing on something too great to understand. Very cool!

      Here’s to surviving beautifully! Yes, I have a sneaky feeling this is one place I will return to one day. xo

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    Rome is amazing. So glad you had the chance to experience it. I’ve only been there for two short stays, less than three days total. Certainly not enough time to experience all its wonders but enough to let me know I’d love to go back!

    • Carrie Rubin says:

      By the way, I love the audio idea (and you sound great). I can listen to a blog post while I’m doing other things online. Doesn’t get me off the screen per se, but it allows me some multitasking. 🙂

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Oh, my! That is a quick turnaround for Rome. When I get to the Florence post, you’ll see we didn’t spend a lot of time there as we used it as more of a base. This might horrify some art lovers, but we had to do what we had to do!

      Yeah, I think Rome is definitely a place you can visit multiple times in a lifetime. I don’t usually say that about a place, but I would go back.

      • Britt Skrabanek says:

        And, thanks for sharing your feedback on the audio, doll! When I was posting it, I felt a bit silly, but I thought…I’ve been doing this blog thing long enough, let’s try something new!

        I think I’ll try Roy’s tip for the next one, doing something more off the cuff instead of verbatim and see how that goes.

  5. danniehill says:

    What a great post, Britt. You’ve done the city the right way. Something that always amazed me was the Roman influence all over Europe. I was in Budapest and seeing the stone works in the median of a road and wondering about them. They were the ruins of a Roman Aqueducts and just there for anyone brave enough to cross the road to visit up close.
    Have a great time!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      We had an awesome time! It really is amazing how great of an impact the Roman Empire had…and heck, continues to wow us and influence us even today.

      Great to be back home! I missed my Portland. 🙂

  6. Clanmother says:

    There is something about looking back and knowing, somehow that we are a part of everything that has happened and what will be. “Eternal” city says it all. I am celebrating your amazing journey. I especially like the idea of “savouring’. So very well defined. You sound as wonderful as your write. Hugs coming your way.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Oh, you…always with the soul-stopping sentences. 😉

      Savoring is so important in life, but I think it gets lost sometimes when we travel and try to take in too much at once. Hugs back at ya! xo

  7. Les Petits Pas de Juls says:

    I knew reading about your stay in Rome would bring water back to my mouth and happy moments back to my mind! You did just that and more! You depicted vividly and beautifully why everyone just falls in love with the city and why it is so easy to do so! .so glad to see you had the best time ever there and could enjoy your vacation to the fullest!

    Cheers to more happiness back home in spite of the drizzle !

    Xoxoxo
    Jul’

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Thanks, beautiful friend! That means a lot coming from an amazing travel maven like yourself. 🙂

      There was a lot of pressure with trying to cover a city that’s been covered so many times before. So, I did my best to show a different perspective. The drizzle has given up for a while, so I’m soaking in the sunshine while I can. xo

  8. lillianccc says:

    I’ve only been to Florence, so haven’t had the chance to experience Rome. From what I hear, it can be a bit of a tourist trap but it sounds like you guys were able to get some time in that was really valuable! I’m really excited to read your post on Florence since I had a total blast there (mainly thanks to a friend who had studied abroad there and as a result, knew some more local haunts).

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Oh, total tourist trap in Rome (though Venice was WAY worse…more on that later), especially in August. My Florence post might disappoint you, my sweet friend, as we used it as more of a travel base.

      But…what we did experience was absolutely lovely. So, I will do my best to do the city justice. 🙂

  9. Kate Johnston says:

    Britt — great pics and rundown of Rome! For some reason, I can’t get the audio to play, so I can’t give you any feedback. I’m sure it’s wonderful though. 🙂

    On a trip to Europe almost 20 years ago, we visited Italy, Venice specifically, and it was amazing. I’m so glad I was able to do at least a small part of Italy at all, as there is so much in Europe to savor. Italy is on my list of places to visit again, and methinks Rome sounds poifect!

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Venice is a truly unique city, and I’m so glad we squeezed it into our travels. Definitely some of our best pictures from the trip.

      This was my third time in Europe, so I totally agree that there is so much to savor. I’m determined to visit another part of the world next year though. Need to change it up! 🙂

  10. Zen A. says:

    Oh god, Britt. Reading your post made me ache. Truly. I’m still waiting for my visa here and I think, now, if I don’t get it I will be extremely devastated.

    I’m so glad you had so much fun! Like you, food is going to be a main focus if I get to go. Can’t wait to try all the pasta and gelato goodness!

  11. Andrea Stephenson says:

    Hi Britt, glad you had a great time in Rome. Like you it was never somewhere I was that attracted to, I always thought Venice was much more up my street, but the first time I went to Rome, I fell in love with it – I’ve been a few times since and it’s my favourite city. What’s awe-inspiring is the way you’re just walking down the street and suddenly there’s an amazing building or fountain just around the corner. The Trevi Fountain is my favourite place, closely followed by the Forum.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      That’s so cool to hear you had similar thoughts about Rome, Andrea doll! I was like…am I the only one who feels this way? Well, Rome proved me (both of us) wrong.

      Trevi and the Forum, hands down. Sounds like we would be good travel buddies! 😉

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