So let's break Rome down (at least the small part we saw) and you can be the judge.
Anson and I rented an apartment in what was called the "Trastevere" area, which I read was the more artsy area, with lots of interesting restaurants and bars. Perfect, right? Well, it was no where near the bars and restaurants and charming piazzas as I had imagined. We figured out how to get there on the train, but regretted that we weren't closer. Lesson 1: Make sure your hotel or apartment is right in the area you want to explore, because Rome is confusing and the public transportation is not exceptionally easy to figure out.
First day out we had to visit the Colosseum. They have a partially built floor (at the far end) to illustrate how it would have been during it's heyday. The underground (hypogeum) is where the gladiators and animals were held before the bloody spectacles.
The history of this place was really incredible. I highly recommend reading up on it before visiting. Even though we got the audio tour, we learned the most when we returned from vacation and watched a show about the Colosseum on television. Lesson Three: Roman tourist attractions have very little explanation. Do your reading beforehand in order to appreciate what you're looking at.
The short history: the Colosseum was built in the first century A.D. as an apology of sorts to the Roman people for the excesses of Nero.
Much of the original structure is gone, due to neglect, earthquakes, and pillaging by subsequent emperors and popes.
These columns would have supported stadium seating above.
Man it was hot. There are pictures of me all over this place trying to escape the sun. Lesson Four: If you go to Rome during the summer, plan to stay inside during the afternoon, unless you have an incredible tolerance for oppressive heat.
We tried to see Palatine Hill (the historic center of Rome), which is adjacent to the Colosseum, but the heat was too much, so we ended up at Osteria Pucci, which was recommended by a lady at the pharmacy. I was excited to try the two quintessential Roman dishes--Carbonara and Amatriciana--and it was the best pasta I had in all of Rome. This place was classy and charming, which, surprisingly, they pulled off with an American super-hero theme. Lesson Five: Ask a local where to eat (advice for any place you visit).
After an afternoon at our apartment to get through the heat of the day, we set out for Italian craft beer at Bir & Fud, which was on our short list of places we had to visit.
A busy, friendly place with lots of Italian and international craft beers, we passed the evening and watched the waiters intermittently sprint out of the restaurant to the bar next door to check the soccer score. Italy was playing Germany in the World Cup and the tension was high.
We strolled to the Tiber River bank, passed the parade of honking cars and scooters (Italy won), and found this amazing bar scene stretching along the river bank.
We made it to the Pantheon the next day and weren't able to go inside due to a holy day for St. Peter and St. Paul (who knew?).
It was a very impressive and beautiful building, definitely worth seeing, and worth the stroll through the piazzas and charming ancient streets surrounding it.
Anson and I loved the perpetually flowing public fountains (nasoni) that were sprinkled all over the city. The crisp, cool water was just what we needed to refill our bottles and spirits as we made our way around town. They were a lifesaver, not just to us, but to the residents for whom they were originally installed to provide clean water. Lesson Eight: Bring a water bottle to fill up while you see the city.
But before we got back to the Campo di Fiore, we headed out to Open Baladin. At the tram stop we found partially excavated ruins (you know, right there in the middle of the city, next to the tram station, no big deal), that had become a cat sanctuary. It turned out to be the Largo di Torre Argentina square, where Caesar was said to have been murdered 2000 years ago. How often do you see stray cats grooming themselves on ancient ruins? Not too often here in Huntington Beach.
And finally we got to Open Baladin, an innovator in craft brewing (a relatively new concept in Italy), which we had read about in La Cucina Italiana magazine.
We felt as if we had stepped through a wormhole and landed in a craft brewery in the U.S., right down to the handlebar-mustachioed, AC/DC t-shirt-wearing hipster bartenders, and the homemade potato chips with gourmet dipping sauces.
After dinner we started wandering again, and wound up back at the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Unlike our noon-time visit the day before, we agreed this was the way to see this dramatic, Baroque sculpture--in the slightly less hot evening air, under the full moon.
We had our last meal in Rome and took our wine back home with us to finish as we packed. We were ready to say goodbye to Rome and get back to our cool beach home.
I don't know if we'll ever get back to Rome, but I would love to see so many things that we missed. If I do go back, one thing is for sure--it will be sometime in the spring or fall.