I love and hate writing about my trip abroad at the same time. I truly enjoy the part of sharing with y’all what I saw and learned and showcasing my virtually non-existent photography skills, both of which allow me to relive the wonderful time there all over again in a way.
However, I hate that it makes me miss everything a little bit too much–from the architecture, the arts, the streets, the food, the people, the shopping and most importantly that palpable sense of freedom that can only be felt when I’m in the West. And all of that really make it way harder for me to assimilate back into where I come from and
don’t belong. Honestly, it sucks. I’m sure travelers and anyone who has spent an extended amount of time in a culture that is starkly different from his/her own echo the same sentiment.
We started our third day by paying tribute to one of the most magnificent temples in the world, the Pantheon. When I studied arts history in college back then, I got to learn a thing or two about the background of Roman Pantheon and how it pioneered and influenced the whole Western architectural style. But since I have goldfish memory, I felt quite ill-prepared before my visit. Lonely Planet’s Italy guide didn’t help so much because the information is not exhaustive enough, which I expected. You will know what I mean once you get inside the temple.
Its majestic architecture and ornate details at every corner completely blew me away and got me thinking what the whole point of sitting in a classroom that is approximately 4,000 miles away from the physical site was. We’re not able to grasp the full magnitude, especially how the ray of sunlight penetrated and reflected itself on the walls. It’s surreal. I guess I’m just one of those who only believe what they see. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth 10 thousand words. So, here goes a short clip I made with my iPhone for you, followed by a few pictures.
My only tip for you in visiting the Pantheon is getting there early. It’s open at 8.30AM everyday and at 9AM on Sunday. We arrived at around 9-ish on Tuesday and explored it relatively undisturbed for a good 45 minutes before throngs of tourists and school groups started pouring in. We left soon afterwards.
The Pantheon is located in Piazza della Rotonda, around which there are a lot of cafes, restaurants and boutiques though you would have to proceed with caution because most of them are targeted at tourists. If you wander around, there are some not too touristy streets like this:
7 minutes of walking from the Pantheon is Giolitti, the oldest gelato shop in Rome. If I haven’t told you, Italy is the ultimate heaven for gelato. If you pick the right shop, I promise you are in for some intense foodgasm that will only make you crave for more. Gasm around the clock alert. LOL. If you pick the wrong one, well not a big problem because I don’t think there is a “wrong” gelato shop in Italy. Even when it’s not so good, it’s still a whole mile better than the mediocre one back home. At least, it’s the situation in the third world. I don’t recall what I ordered in Giolitti, but it was really, really good. Like, heavenly good. You can proceed without restraints here. J/K. I think she knew I was taking her picture. Sorry, but you looking so engrossed in your papers made for a very interesting photo-op. Thank you so very much!A small, lovely flower boutique on one side of the street. Don’t you just love it? Piazza Navona happened to be quite close by, so we paid another visit. We were here in the evening on our first day if you remember, but although the crowd was very manageable at night, we weren’t able to see enough to be impressed. I can’t speak for all other attractions in Rome, but when it comes to Piazza Navona, you should visit on a bright and sunny day to adequately appreciate it in all its glory. All the more glorious if there was cloud porn like this, right?Then, it was lunchtime. Judge me all you want when I told you about me being a control freak that I prepared a list of restaurants in every neighborhood in each city I visited. HAHA. I speak from experience that it really comes in handy especially when you are like me who is not willing to settle for less than what I have to pay for, i.e touristy restaurants. As we were strolling around Piazza Navona, my self-made guide told me that Osteria de Memmo I Santori is only 5 minutes away. (12 minutes if you are incapable of reading the map like me.)
Overall, I would give this restaurant 3.5 out of 5 stars. First and foremost, the food we had (veal with lemon sauce, prawn pasta and some type of boiled kale) was nice and came at fair and reasonable prices. The service was fine, not extraordinary or worth complaining about simply because we were not the most demanding customers in the world. I have a feeling that it is definitely more catered to local people and seasoned tourists rather than first-time tourists. It is located on a pretty hidden street in a residential neighborhood, thereby making the walk after a heavy lunch beyond pleasant.
If only every marriage would work out wonderfully like this, then I’d have a change of heart. We had reserved our whole afternoon for Villa Borghese, so soon after lunch we started making our way over there. Villa Borghese is a huge enchanting public garden in Rome where you find temples, lake, fountain, statues, an amazing museum and one of the best if not the best panoramic view of Rome.
It took us more than 30 minutes of walking from where we lunched. But then for me, it rarely felt like half an hour, an hour or even two of walking had gone by because I was always so busy absorbing every tidbit of Rome. We were actually caught in a downpour on our way, which led to a naughty quickie in Zara. HAHA. On the way, you will pass by the famous Spanish Steps and then climb up all the way. Not too shabby, don’t you agree? You can see so much when you choose to walk.
Speaking of Spanish Steps, I went there twice both during daytime and nighttime, but frankly did not like it so much for some reason. Maybe because of the crowd or maybe because it is not that terribly interesting in and of itself? Villa Borghese was finally within sight. At first, I was adamant that we were going to nail this big boy on foot, but soon realized that it would be extremely foolish. It is a very, very big park. If you have all the time in the world, then you should. But if you are pressed for time like we were, I strongly suggest you rent one of these bikes (2.5 euros for 2 hours if memory serves me right) and then ride everywhere. It ended up being one of the highlights of my time in Rome. Riding way from all the hustle and bustle of Rome under the shades of big beautiful trees with the gentle breezes kissing my face…let me sum it all up in one word: pleasurable.
Inside Villa Borghese, the first must-see is Galleria Borghese which houses sculptures and paintings from Canova, Bernini, Titian, Rubens and Raphael. All will take your breath away even if you don’t know a lot about arts. I was in it just to marvel at the otherworldly beauty it offers. Oh and if you have the Roma pass, the entry to the galleria is free if it is the second museum you visit in Rome. Remember my advice about using your Roma pass wisely? This place and the Colosseum are the two most expensive, so use yours there before anywhere else.Again, I think these two venerable seniors were pissed off that I took their pictures. I stood fairly far way and tried my best not to let my camera obstruct their view. Strangely enough, whenever I was about to press the shutter-release button, they looked straight into the lens.
In my defense, it wasn’t my original purpose because I intended to capture them people watching, in the other direction. Most of all, I simply wanted to capture their superior classic, classy and context-appropriate fashion sense. For that alone, I think I succeeded. Lads and gents, here is exactly how you will dress for your age if you want to age gracefully.
The second must-do in Villa Borghese is Pincian Gardens. The sweeping view of Piazza del Popolo and Rome from here truly is breath-taking. I timed my visit to Pincian close to sunset to avoid the harsh sunlight mid-afternoon, which worked perfectly. I spent an inordinate amount of time there snapping pictures at every possible angle, left right centre top bottom zoom in zoom out. LOL. We didn’t leave until it was almost 8PM.
From Villa Borghese to Sora Margherita in Piazza delle 5 scole in Trastevere, it’s a long walk. For the first time, we gave in and hopped on a taxi instead, which set us back for only 10 euros. It could have been worse, you know.
The dinner at Sora Margherita was hands down the most unusual dinning experience I had in Rome. Why? Because it’s 200% authentic, like for local Romans only. Even the Italian man whom we asked for direction to the restaurant said that it is a very nice restaurant. The menu is sloppily hand-written in Italian with absolutely no English translation whatsoever. The owner and the waitress could hardly string together a sentence in English. When we were there, the restaurant was completely packed with Italians savoring dinner with their family or friends. I’m telling you never have I felt more exotic and out-of-place.
The couple with whom we shared our tiny table spoke no English but kept saying “perfetto” over and over again to us. I managed to pick up several Italian words and phrases after a few days, so I understood what they were trying to convey. The man was big and coarse but one of the nicest I got to meet while in Rome. He even offered us some of his cheese, salami and wine because they were “perfetto”. I was really, really moved.
Speaking of the food, since there was no trace of English in the whole menu, we had to trust our guts and ordered something that looked remotely familiar to what we had eaten in the previous days. We ended up with beef with lemon and fried fish, both of which we had before at LUCE 44.
In all honesty, the food (at least the ones we had) wasn’t exceptional, and the service wasn’t quite praise-worthy. But for that unique experience, I think it was a bang for the buck. I highly recommend you guys to consider it when you’re in Rome purely for its authentic local vibe.The dinner finished not too late, but it had been a long day so we decided to walk home, again from Trastevere. There was no dramatic sunset like the second day, but our third and last night in Rome still ended on a high note. I couldn’t have asked for more!