By: Mandy Becker, Travel Consultant
The Rome Explorer is a city stay in Rome with an optional one day excursion out to Pompeii and Naples. The city of Rome has been a center of the western world for most of the last 3000 years and the streets themselves are like a giant museum. There is so much to see and do in Rome and this tour was the perfect opportunity to hit all of the major sites!
We decided to arrive a day early and got a hotel room near the airport, which was great as it gave us half a day to rest before the tour started. On the first day of the tour, we arrived at the hotel early and were able to drop our bags off and hit the town to get in some early sightseeing. The location of the hotel was great. It was walking distance to the Vatican and a lesser known site the Castel St Angelo (pictured below).
We decided to visit the Castel, and highly recommend it to anyone going to Rome! The Castel was the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian, later turned in to a papal fortress where the Pope would go for safety whenever Rome was under attack. After the Castel we headed to Vatican City to see St. Peter’s Basilica up close. The top level offers spectacular panoramic views of the city!
We returned to the hotel, collected our bags and checked in to our room. The room was nice and large and offered a great view of the narrow winding streets Rome is famous for! Later we headed downstairs to the lobby to meet the rest of our group and our tour guide Lidia.
We were lead across the street to a charming local restaurant where we served endless courses of pizza and prosecco and were able to get better acquainted with our trip mates and our guide. After dinner we went back to the hotel, my husband and I decided to hop on the nearby train and go see the Trevi fountain and the coliseum by night. This was definitely worth it, they look beautiful all lit up, and it is a little less crowded.
The following morning we started our tour with a walk to the market in the Campo de Fiori, a great location to pick up some fresh local food or flowers, as well as souvenirs. At the campo, we met with our local guide for the day, a chef who led us on a small walking tour of some of the Piazzas on the way back to his studio where we had a cooking demonstration. We worked together as a group to make raviolis and gnocchi from scratch, which our guide finished up with sauces made from the fresh ingredients purchased in the campo. We all got to enjoy the fruits of our labor for lunch, perfectly paired with wine of course!
In the afternoon we visited the famous coliseum, one of the most famous monuments in the world! We had a local guide to show us around and told us details that I had never heard before! As part of our tour we were able to skip the lines and walk right in the special tour group entrance, which was a huge time saver and convenience!
We started out Tuesday with a trip to St Peter’s Basilica. The dome dominates the skyline and can be seen from every part of Rome. Up-close it was breath taking. We saw the Pietà by Michelangelo, the work that made him famous when he was a young artist. We decided to take the stairs up to the top of the dome of St Peters, which offered amazing views both inside and outside, but at 551 steps it is not for the faint of heart!
After St Peters we did a walking tour of Rome, from the Piazza Navonna with its beautiful fountains and grand palace, to the Pantheon, originally built in ancient times, and rebuilt twice it was a temple to all the Gods, but is now a catholic church. It is also the resting place of the renaissance artist Raphael.
After the Pantheon we went to the Trevi fountain, which was just as beautiful in the day time! Although it was a bit crowded in the mid-day, we grabbed some of Rome’s wonderful street Pizza from one of the many shops circling the piazza and found a spot by the fountain to sit and eat. This may be one of the most memorable lunches in my life!
After lunch we continued on to the Spanish steps. After the steps we boarded the bus and headed down the old Appian Way, the main road leading to Rome since its founding, to some 3rd century catacombs outside the city limits. The catacombs offered an insight in to the life of Roman Christians, when Christianity was still outlawed. After the catacombs we returned to the hotel for a much deserved rest!
We asked our wonderful tour guide Lidia for advice on what to do on Wednesday, as it was a free day. At her recommendation we decided to take the bus to the Villa Gulia Etruscan museum. The Etruscans were the people who lived in Italy prior to what we now consider Romans. It was the perfect option for us on a tour with so much focus on Ancient and renaissance history to learn more about the people who lived in the region before that. While I highly recommend this museum, I must note that Rome is full of museums to suit almost any interest. After our morning visit to the museum we hopped back on the train headed to the Forum and palatine hill. We spent about three hours exploring the Palatine hill and the ancient forum.
We spent the free morning on Thursday visiting local businesses. The local gelato and pizza shops specifically and returned to the hotel to prepare for our evening at the Vatican. It happened to be my husband’s birthday as well, so we decided to dress up. Although no one else dressed up, we did not feel out of place or uncomfortable. After all, how many times in your life will you have dinner in the Vatican? We were again able to skip the long lines as part of our tour and had a guided tour of the beautifully decorated halls filled with centuries of sculptures, art, and frescoes. After seeing the Sistine chapel we were lead through some less crowded halls with cases of beautiful relics to our private after hours dinner! We were served a meal of local delicacies and regional wine.
On Friday we took the optional excursion to Pompeii. The day started rainy, but we were lucky enough that the rain cleared by the time we arrived in Pompeii. If you are in Rome and have the chance to visit Pompeii, do not miss it! The ancient city was almost perfectly preserved when it was buried in ash when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. We were in absolute awe of all of the small details that were so well preserved for almost 2000 years! Pompeii was also very a very sobering experience, as walking through a once thriving city where thousands of people died in one afternoon. After Pompeii, we stopped in Naples on the way back to Rome to admire the breath taking views of the ocean!
On Saturday morning, the last full day of the tour, we boarded the bus and headed to Tivoli to see the D’este Villa and gardens. The Villa was the residence of the son of the infamous Lucretia Borgia. The sprawling gardens of this villa are somewhat separated by theme, each centered around a beautiful fountain. Some of the fountains stand alone, but many blend with those above them from viewed to from below to create a full scene. There is even one that plays music twice a day.
On Saturday evening we had our farewell dinner in a private apartment on the Tiberino island, an island in the middle of the Tiber river. The dinner was prepared before our eyes by the chef that led our cooking demonstration on the first day. We were served amazing local dishes that I still day dream about and wine while we talked about the wonderful week we had just experienced with the new friends.
Sunday morning we said our farewells to our new friends and our amazing tour guide, bus driver and headed to the airport.
Since returning from Rome I almost dread being asked how it was, because after spending nine days in the eternal city, I just can’t give a short answer! On our trip we traveled the Appian Way, visited all 7 hills, saw all of the major land marks and some more many have never heard of. I would recommend the Rome Explorer with Trafalgar to anyone who stands still long enough to hear everything I loved about it. I believe that travel changes you, and Rome has definitely left its mark on me. If you do choose to go on this tour, no need to thank me, just tell Rome Ciao Bella for me!
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