Rome, the Eternal City

posted at 10:30 am on May 8, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

After a week in Rome, the one definitive statement I can make is this: it wasn’t enough time.

Like most people, I don’t get much opportunity to travel abroad.  The last vacation I took outside the US was ten years ago, when I took the family to Ireland and had other extended family members along as well.  That trip was a long-time dream vacation for me, and I’d still like to go back.  For Marcia, though, Rome was her dream, especially the Vatican — and Rome was on my bucket list, too.  As the date for the beatification of Pope John Paul II approached, and as I realized we wouldn’t be getting any younger by waiting, the timing was perfect to make the dream a reality.

Today I’ll write three posts about the trip, with the last a special treat as I had a chance to conduct an interview at the Vatican while I was in Rome with the head of the Patrons program for the museum.  In the posts, I’ll offer slideshows from the 400 or so pictures I took during the week and give a few explanations and talk through some of the highlights.  In this slideshow and post, I’ll give a general overview for those who have never been to Rome, and discuss some of the highlights of the trip.  This slideshow focuses mainly on the street scenes and architecture:

The first scenes are of the Trevi Fountain, of course, which has been made famous in films like Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita.  We did toss a coin in the fountain, so we hope to be returning soon.

Obviously, we had a wonderful time, and we learned a few things as well about traveling abroad in general, and to Rome specifically.  First, make sure you get a good hotel.  We were very fortunate indeed to stay at the Hotel Quirinale, which turned out to be centrally located for anyone who wants to see the sights of the old city.  It’s right off of the Piazza della Repubblica, which means that the subway station is just steps away from the hotel, and the tour buses start their routes just around the corner.  At 3.2 kilometers, the Vatican is a long but doable walk from the hotel, although beware that it’s an uphill return stroll.  The Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, and most other must-sees in Rome are shorter walking distances.

The Quirinale was worth the stay even without its strategic location.  The staff was helpful and friendly, and most of them spoke excellent English, so language was never an issue — at least not when I wasn’t using my weak Italian.  The rooms were quite spacious, all with full baths, flat-screen TVs with several English-language news channels (which only became an issue when news broke of Osama bin Laden’s demise).  Its restaurant made the best tiramisù I’ve ever had; in fact, we made a point of ending three of our days in the restaurant to get it.  Breakfast is included, as it is in most hotels in Rome, but at the Quirinale it consists of a full buffet rather than the continental breakfast that Americans expect in USA hotels, and it’s delicious.

We had plenty of food elsewhere, too, and none of it bad.  The bread in Rome is uniformly outstanding, but that’s just the beginning.  The most pleasant aspect of dining in Rome was the time allowed to — and practically demanded of — those dining.  Thanks to a leisurely pace of serving one course at a time, dinner routinely lasted 90 minutes to two hours.  No one rushed us out of the restaurants, not for lunch, dinner, or piazza-side cappucini and gelati.  Every time, I had to ask, Posso avere il conto, per favore? so we could pay the bill and move along.

For those used to Italian food in the US, dining in Rome will hold some surprises.  The food is less salty, for one, and Roman chefs use less garlic, which makes the dishes more subtle and nuanced.  The menus are typically more diverse than in the US as well, and I’m happy to report that veal is a lot less politically incorrect in Italy than in America.  Pizza has a surprising diversity in Rome, too.  The traditional pizzas use a very thin and delicious crust, with less sauce and cheese than in the US, with a lot of unusual toppings — like zucchini, eggplant, hardboiled eggs, and even potatoes.  When ordering pizza at a ristorante or trattoria (which is a less formal and expensive restaurant), be prepared to cut or tear pieces off yourself; the chef won’t cut it at all.  At a pizzeria, you can get it by the (very large) slice, and they usually have more diversity in the crust types as well.

We found all of these places by walking through Rome.  Almost all of them have their menus on display for passers-by, and their waiters are not shy in trying to convince people to stop for a bite to eat, in Italian and in English.  After I told one, “Maybe later,” he replied immediately, with a big smile and booming voice, “Okay.  I’ll be waiting for you.”

As I mentioned before, it’s an easy city to walk through, and it felt surprisingly safe.  We took some key precautions, though, and we didn’t avoid all the mistakes.  I got harangued into buying four roses for 15€ on my first day at the Spanish Steps, but learned quickly from that experience not to be polite in telling street vendors no.  They understand immediately that you’re a waste of their time and move along quickly. I used a money belt recommended to me by HA reader Simkeith and we carried no bags or purses to grab, a very important precaution in a city plagued by borsaioli (pickpockets and thieves).  We didn’t walk alone at night in poorly-lit areas, but that’s a precaution I take at home, too.  We felt like we ate everything in the city, but I lost five pounds on this trip.  (And I’m sore this weekend, too.  I’m 48, not 28.)

We used the hop-on/hop-off bus from Green Line Tours to get around on two of the days, and that worked out very well as it put us in the neighborhoods of points of interest.  It also provided us a way to have a “sag wagon” to fall back on when we got too tired to do much walking.  We also arranged two tours through Appian Line, one of the Vatican and one called Rome at Night, both of which were excellent; if you do the Vatican tour with them, ask for Stefano, who was brilliant, and who we unexpectedly ran into at lunch and chatted with for quite a while.  But be aware that organization isn’t their strong suit, especially at the end of tours when they’re supposed to get you back to your hotel or to their office.  Both times, I wished I’d just grabbed a taxi and paid the extra money, and we passed on a third tour through Appian because of it.

Speaking of walking, I have to make one recommendation: bring a hand-held GPS device.  I killed my first such device, so I brought my Droid cell phone instead.  However, data roaming costs a fortune, so I didn’t want to use the native Google Maps GPS app while in Rome.  Instead, I bought the Sygic Aura map of Italy that allows the user to download all of the data onto the phone itself, and then just use the GPS signal to pinpoint locations.  It has its operational quirks and isn’t easy to master, but once I got used to it, the Aura map became indispensable to find the points of interest I wanted while on foot.  At $45, it saved me at least twice that in cabs, and it also comes with a large list of restaurants and other points of interest that are easy to find through its search function.  No matter what country I visit, I plan on using the Aura product in the future, at least until data roaming becomes free.

Finally, a word about the Italian people.  When Americans travel abroad, we wonder how we will be received, and not just because of contemporary politics.  The  phrase “ugly American” was a well-earned sobriquet a few decades ago.  To our pleasant surprise, Romans received us very warmly.  In fact, as we walked down the street in one area away from the splashy tourist attractions, an older woman stopped us on the street to tell us in her limited English that “America is beautiful” and “I love Americans!”  We detected no cold shoulders, but instead felt remarkable hospitality and found many small kindnesses.

That’s one of the many reasons we will someday return to Rome — and we’ll throw another coin in the fountain when we do.

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Uh oh, home movies… gee, look at the time, it’s getting late, gotta go… seriously though… Ed, a well deserved vacation for you and your wife. You’ve done more than most to further the conservative cause. I’m envious, my wife, a Catholic, and I also want to go to Rome some day.

WordsMatter on May 8, 2011 at 10:37 AM

excellent Ed, please tell me that you had some gellato EVERYDAY while walking the streets…

cmsinaz on May 8, 2011 at 10:38 AM

Uh oh, home movies… gee, look at the time, it’s getting late, gotta go…

LOL!! Hey, it’s not that late. Have another cup of coffee — and did we tell you about the time that …

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:39 AM

it’s been a few years since we went to Roma, thanks for the pics Ed…you need to head out to the smaller towns the next time you go, we enjoyed those much more than the big city

cmsinaz on May 8, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Heh. I was wondering around Rome one evening and just entered the Piazza Quirinale, when a military band literally ran across the piazza while playing their instruments and into a palace. lol!

Blake on May 8, 2011 at 10:44 AM

The weather certainly looked great. Not too hot? Not too cold?

Blake on May 8, 2011 at 10:46 AM

Interesting post, Ed.

flyfisher on May 8, 2011 at 10:47 AM

So very beautiful. And I love the flowers, we need to do more of that here.

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 10:51 AM

The weather certainly looked great. Not too hot? Not too cold?

Blake on May 8, 2011 at 10:46 AM

We had a range of weather, from mid-70s and sunny to rainy and cool, and a couple of mainly overcast days. No matter — the city is beautiful in all, regardless.

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:51 AM

From what I’ve heard as well, the pizza in Rome is swimming in olive oil as well…not that there’s anything wrong with that. It might be a regional thing.

I am a bit surprised still that you were treated well as Americans. Like I said, I have a few friends who visited Rome over the past few years and told me if I ever go to Italy, to avoid Rome like the plague. Good to hear that’s not necessarily true.

One day…and since I’m selling my home to move to Florida soon, I’ll have extra cash to perhaps take a nice trip when the move is done. Ireland is my first stop (relatives there…and they own a pub!) Second stop, the Vatican.

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:51 AM

Very nice.

DarkCurrent on May 8, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Meant to add: It’s one thing to travel the US and see a couple hundred years or so of historical places…must be quite another experience to see places with a couple thousand years of historical importance.

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Did Mrs. Morrissey have a great time?

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Yes, the bread in Rome was the best ever!

And the average Italian or even Parisian loves Americans. The people of Paris couldn’t have been warmer.

Buon viaggio!

PattyJ on May 8, 2011 at 10:54 AM

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:51 AM

I wish you luck in selling your place in Florida! And you never visited while you were down here!!!!

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Did Mrs. Morrissey have a great time?

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 10:53 AM

She adored Rome. Can’t wait to go back.

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:55 AM

Meant to add: It’s one thing to travel the US and see a couple hundred years or so of historical places…must be quite another experience to see places with a couple thousand years of historical importance.

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:52 AM

Indeed — and I grew up in Southern California, where that’s even more the case. In LA Story, Steve Martin riffs on that by telling his British guest that “some of the houses in this area are fifty years old!”

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:57 AM

I wish you luck in selling your place in Florida! And you never visited while you were down here!!!!

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 10:54 AM

No, no Cindy…lol why do people think I live in Florida? Must be a Crist thing heh…I live in Connecticut, gonna be moving to Fla tho. Glen Beck just sold his house in my town for about $3.6 million…I’m hoping to get about $800k, it’s a small house.

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:57 AM

watch out for the vespas :)

road signs are considered suggestions there

cmsinaz on May 8, 2011 at 10:59 AM

i meant road rules…

cmsinaz on May 8, 2011 at 11:01 AM

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:52 AM Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:57 AM

I was thinking about that also. It seems funny to think of the plantations along the James River in Virginia or the city of St. Augustine as old in comparison. And it all has survived so much. Amazing!

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 11:02 AM

Ed you are soooo lucky. I have always wanted to see Italy. Oh, by the way your wife is sure cute!

sandee on May 8, 2011 at 11:04 AM

JetBoy on May 8, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Sorry, I knew you didn’t live in Florida but wasn’t reading for comprehension. I know you are job hunting, sorry to hear it. If you ever do move down this way you will get a ton for your money.

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 11:04 AM

Thanks for sharing your vacation with us, Ed. The photos are beautiful. Rome is a magnificent city and your photos and story illustrate that wonderfully. And thanks for the shout-out. I’m glad that the hidden wallets worked out for you. Those things are a bit clumsy, but as you mentioned, they keep your money and personal effects safe.

Finally, welcome back. After a week reading Jazz Shaw’s blogs, I had to double up on the blood pressure medication. LOL

simkeith on May 8, 2011 at 11:09 AM

I have read reports that Europe is becoming increasingly secular and church attendance is very low…..is that the case in Rome? It would seem odd considering how much of their architecture is based on Christianity. Or is that an incorrect perception and there is a broader representation?

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 11:10 AM

Schätze des Vatikans (Treasures of the Vatican), video in parts, 1: http://gloria.tv/?media=19759 2: http://gloria.tv/?media=19788 3: http://gloria.tv/?media=20065 4: http://gloria.tv/?media=21308 5: http://gloria.tv/?media=22504

RBMN on May 8, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Hey Ed, you catch the beatification?

abobo on May 8, 2011 at 11:12 AM

I went to Rome a few years ago and it was the best holiday I’ve been on.

I’m reminded of a joke from the Onion Atlas: “Italians have only one daily meal-time–which lasts 24 hours.”

aengus on May 8, 2011 at 11:14 AM

Ed, so happy that you and Marcia had such a great trip. You both deserved it! Welcome home.

behiker on May 8, 2011 at 11:15 AM

I’m happy to hear that that you and the wife had a great time.I’m sure your even happier me :).

xplodeit on May 8, 2011 at 11:17 AM

These photos do make me want to delve into world history more. The stuff I don’t know is almost painful.

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 11:24 AM

aengus on May 8, 2011 at 11:14 AM

But Mr. Morrissey manages to lose five pounds. How is that fair?!

Cindy Munford on May 8, 2011 at 11:25 AM

I’m glad you all had a great time Cap’n Ed.

On my many trips abroad, I’ve had the good fortune to visit Rome more than a dozen times, some of those extended stays of two weeks or more, and I have to say that I’ve never failed to find something new in the “eternal city”.

I personally prefer to stay more downtown than you all did, somewhere along via Nazionale or via Cavour, but Quirinale is convenient; mostly I chose to walk around the city.

Vatican city is a definite, especially for us Catholics, and if art is your thing the museaum, and indeed the apartments and other spaces are a real treat to see.

And I concur completely on the Italian people. While I’ve watched the city, and indeed all of Italy, “evolve” in the sense of infrastructure modernization over time, one constant is the warmth and friendliness of the folks.

I’m looking forward to seeing your pictures and hearing more about your vacation.

My Regards

RocketmanBob on May 8, 2011 at 11:36 AM

Indeed — and I grew up in Southern California, where that’s even more the case. In LA Story, Steve Martin riffs on that by telling his British guest that “some of the houses in this area are fifty years old!”

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Ha! I was in Prague in 93 and someone said: “But you have old buildings, too, don’t you?” Yep, LA has a 37 year old carwash in the valley that they are trying to declare a historic monument to prevent from being torn down. (no joke)

Blake on May 8, 2011 at 11:45 AM

Being married to an Architect by profession, and an artist by God given talent, Italy is high on our bucket list. Thanks for sharing…

Keemo on May 8, 2011 at 11:47 AM

My wife and I have been to Italy, and Rome among other places, three times now and it’s still not enough. I wouldn’t want to live there for various reasons, but I love to visit.

Glad you enjoyed it too!

Dash on May 8, 2011 at 11:50 AM

Thanks for the superb slide show and commentary, Ed. It brought back wonderful memories. You and Marcia had a trip to savor.

The weather certainly looked great. Not too hot? Not too cold?

Blake on May 8, 2011 at 10:46 AM
We had a range of weather, from mid-70s and sunny to rainy and cool, and a couple of mainly overcast days. No matter — the city is beautiful in all, regardless.

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2011 at 10:51 AM

You picked a splendid time to visit Roma in re to the weather. It can be unbearably hot and sere (much less green) in the summer. Frying on St. Peter’s Square is guaranteed to bring on sunstroke.

onlineanalyst on May 8, 2011 at 12:53 PM

If you’re going to show home movies, then you should provide martinis to go with. Please fax us some of that Tiramasu…. Yum.

Glad you had a great time on your well deserved vacation.

Happy Mothers Day to your lovely First Mate!

kringeesmom on May 8, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Great photos Ed.

gh on May 8, 2011 at 12:56 PM

The pickpockets work very well in broad daylight. They have many schemes to distract you.

faraway on May 8, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Ed, did you ever get on the subway there in Rome? My husband and I took it to all the main stops including the Colliseum and that worked out well . We’d take it and then work our way walking back to the hotel. We saw so much of Rome that way. If you loved Rome yure going to love Paris!

CCRWM on May 8, 2011 at 1:04 PM

Tiramisu? That was our “specialty of the house” dessert nearly every evening on our tour. Even a pricy one is predictable. Surprisingly, all of the tiramisus were a little different…and all delicious.

I think that the difference you noted about American-style Italian restaurants and what you experienced in Roma is that the former have been influenced by southern Italian cuisine, especially that of Naples and Sicily, where many of our population hailed from.

The produce in Italy is so fresh, and the veal is so tender.

Even eating like a king on rich foods in Europe can lead to weight loss since walking is more of the norm.

Did you get a chance to visit the catacombs?

onlineanalyst on May 8, 2011 at 1:14 PM

I don’t want to dampen the positive take on Rome, but I must share a quick story: 1952 as a young Catholic (Navy) I found myself in awe standing in St Peter’s near the fountain when a man in a dark knee-lengthed overcoat approached me:

“Hey Joe…you buy rosary beads? Opening the right side of his overcoat -were rosarys, holy pictures. and bottles of what he said was “holy water.”
“No thanks, I have some already.” I responded.
He then opened the other side of his overcoat and asked:
“Joe, you buy dirty pictures – whisky? He came armed with it all.
I grew up right on the spot!

Don L on May 8, 2011 at 1:36 PM

You’re making me nostalgic, Ed. I loved my years in Italy (Naples), and got to Rome whenever I could. Walking is the way to go. I would have loved to have a GPS way back when, but really, if you get lost in the tourist area of Rome, there’s only one correct response (unless you have to make an appointment time at the Vatican): declare it time to eat, and find a restaurant. I don’t think it’s even possible to find a bad one. A back-street trattoria is even better than one of the showy restaurants a good 90% of the time.

Roma eterna. Thanks for the great write-ups and the memories. Glad you had a good time.

J.E. Dyer on May 8, 2011 at 1:39 PM

First, make sure you get a good hotel.

Actually Ed if a group is large enough a better option would be to rent an Apt, not a hotel for a week.

When I was in Rome with 8 other people, It was cheaper and more comfortable to rent a 3 bedroom apt (by Rome standards)for the week rather then stay in a couple of hotel rooms.

Just an FYI.

F15Mech on May 8, 2011 at 9:24 PM

We also felt warmly welcomed in Rome or wherever we traveled in Italy. Having “done” France as well, we compare the two:

If France is a lovely dinner party, Italy is a family picnic (with better food!)

If and when you return to Rome, put the Basillica of San Clemente on your must-do list. Hire a guide to take you through the church’s 3 archeological levels: the current church-11th century; beneath that an earlier church-4th century; and below that a 1st century pagan temple. There is even an ancient “apartment complex” in lower level, a fascinating peek at life in pre-Christian Rome.

Oh, and when you go back….eat more pizza. You can never eat too much Roman pizza!

jeanneb on May 9, 2011 at 8:03 AM

F15mech:

We rented an apartment on our last visit. On the positive side, with the $ we saved we hired a private guide for several days, an excellent investment.

On the other hand, once we’d settled in we noticed the apartment wasn’t clean. (You usually pay upon arrival) Unlike Paris, I felt like apartment renting in Rome was kind of a roll of the dice, few reliable sources for refereneces. I’m amazed at what some renters hail as “great”. Since then we’ve discovered this agency which consistently gets very high marks—http://www.italyperfect.com/rome/vacation-rentals.html. I think I’d try it again if they had availability. We loved the extra room and being able to “eat in” when we were really tired.

jeanneb on May 9, 2011 at 8:19 AM

My wife and I visited Rome in 2009. We stayed at Hotel Giublio, was under renovation at the time. It is 4 blocks from the train station and about 7 blocks southish of where you stayed. It’s an old place that’s not all that luxurious, but the staff were pleasant and helpful, the room was comfortable and clean. It also gave me a good laugh when the man at the desk told us our room was on the first floor, only to discover the first floor was about 20 steps up from the lobby!

We were in Rome less than 48 hours so really only got to see the Coliseum and the Vatican in any detail. I’m not Catholic, but I loved the architecture and the opportunity to see La Pieta in person. Stupid me, so close to the Sistine and couldn’t find it! I asked for directions, but had a brain freeze and couldn’t think of the word “Sistine” so used Michelangelo painting as a reference – got sent to the Vatican museum.

For the most part the Italian people we dealt with were very polite. There was an actor dressed as a centurion at the Coliseum we had a misunderstanding with, but those things happen. I’d definitely like to go back sometime and spend some real time in Italy (not just Rome)

Thanks for the pictures. They make me want to go see what I missed.

Know It All on May 9, 2011 at 9:42 AM

Rome isn’t “the eternal city.” Jerusalem is.

“And I, John, saw the holy city , new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her bridegroom…” (Revelation 21:2)

Rome has celebrated its 2,764th anniversary. Jerusalem has celebrated its 3,015th anniversary. Give or take a year.

KyMouse on May 9, 2011 at 10:36 AM

Eternally Evil… The Woman Riding the Beast Ed. The False Religion riding the False Political System. EVIL EVIL EVIL stuff….

And Here we are, the end of it all!

jonnyshocko on May 9, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Thanks for the tip on Aura! I’ll be in Rome in 8 days, and most of the time I’ll be with a tour group, but it never hurts to have a good independent source of information.

Crawford on May 9, 2011 at 1:04 PM

jonnyshocko — GFY.

Crawford on May 9, 2011 at 1:04 PM

One of the first places I’d go first in Rome is Via Margutta, 51, where Gregory Peck lived in “Roman Holiday.” And then the Cafe Rocca across from the Pantheon where he, Eddie Albert and Audrey Hepburn met for drinks.

rivlax on May 9, 2011 at 3:33 PM