I did a few tours on this holiday, which is pretty unusual for me. I'm so not a tour person, but sometimes it's the easiest way to see things. I'd never pay to do a tour if I could easily visit places on my own but that's not always possible.
Love and Death: Scandals off the Beaten Track
I could've visited the places on this tour myself but I'd have never got the stories and the scandals on my own, not without a lot of reading and research.
When I turned up for the tour, I was the only one booked on it apart from one of the other guides from the company. Already, that was top notch because many tour companies cancel if they don't meet minimum numbers.
My guide was a pretty cool guy too - really passionate about history and not just giving a canned commentary about sites but telling stories and tying historical events to shit that's happening now. It's mind blowing to realise how much things don't change.
While the first part of the tour covered many of the same sites as the Colosseum tour I'd taken earlier, the tour guide gave a whole different perspective on things. Then we wandered through the city including the Jewish quarter to Castel Sant'Angelo. I got to see the house where the mother of Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia lived and that alone made it worthwhile - I am totally obsessed with the Borgias.
I'd totally recommend the tour company - Through Eternity - if ever you visit Rome.
After the tour, on my guide's recommendation, I headed to the Tiber where loads of restaurants and bars had set up for the summer and had a few drinks to chill out. I love how you get the free buffet with drinks in Italy!
I'm not sure if I'd really call this a highlight. Sure, it's a great museum but you can't really wander through the insanely opulent rooms without thinking about the amount of suffering that has resulted from that opulence.
Korean tourism ads at the Vatican. I didn't realise until later, the pope was visiting Korea at the time. Maybe he scored a free flight because of this.
I'd booked an early morning tour that got you into the Vatican before all the hordes arrived. The tour started at 7.30. What I had forgot to factor in is that I had to travel across town to get there, which meant getting up at like 6.00, only to arrive and wait around for about 30-40 minutes, then enter the Vatican and wait around at the ticket office for ages.
Pretty much all the tour got you was about 5-10 minutes in the Sistine Chapel with minimal people. We got a little tour before that but it felt like the guide was just killing time until we could get in to the chapel. After that, you are free to wander for as long as you like on your own.
Is it worth it? I'm not sure. The crowds got insane once the doors opened to the general public, which made me really narky so maybe. You can do the same thing but after hours so that might be better. My rationale was that it made more sense to have the rest of the day to explore after the tour finished.
Except that I didn't want to spend the day there because it was full of annoying people. I did enjoy the Borgia apartments though.
After the Vatican, I went to St Peter's where I tripped over and said the word, "fuck" but that's not half as bad as the Japanese man who kept filming a service in one of the little alcoves even though the guard told him three times not to. I was very tempted to jump in front of him going "dame, dame" and doing the crossed arm thing.
Okay, I have to admit this. My favourite part of the Vatican was the gift shop. I do love me some religious iconery. I did go a bit nuts buying rosary beads (hey, they were in nice tins) and charms and a Pope Francesco thumbs up fridge magnet. And I'm not even Catholic. I was shocked at how rude some of the customers were though -- I think Baby Jesus cares more about good manners than how many trinkets you buy in the gift shop, people.
Of course, food is the main highlight! It was still too hot for me to eat much but I managed a few good meals.
There was a little restaurant down the street from where I stayed and my host recommended it. I walked by a few times and it looked dead but I decided to give it a go. It only looked dead from the street - out the back was a huge courtyard and apparently I should've booked a table! Because I was alone, they squeezed me in and I had a fine meal.
I really wanted to try the carbonara. I've never liked carbonara because it's too rich but I found out that real Italian carbonara doesn't have cream added like they do here. OMG, that makes it so much more delicious (and better for my stomach - I can't handle cream much).
I used Elizabeth Minchilli's Eat Rome app constantly when looking for places to eat. It's really worth the few dollars investment because, as a tourist, it's so hard to know the good places from the mediocre. You only have limited stomach space on hols and you don't want to waste it.
Because of the app, I discovered some great places, none of which I can remember the name of, like a hotel rooftop bar with the best sunset view over the historical centre and a place near the Spanish Steps with a 4 euro pasta lunch - including water!
I really didn't take many photos in Rome, which is unlike me. Usually I post ever meal I eat on facebook. Yeah, I'm that person.