But first, let’s talk about money.
The cost of the trip totally depends on our choices.
If we travel, shop, and eat like crazy rich Asians, of course, the budget is going to be crazy huge. That’s not the case for me and my fiancee. We're not made of money, so we’re thrifty af. (Well, I occasionally splurge on food and dresses, but nothing fancy.)
Anyway, here’s the budget breakdown of our Roman holiday last August:
(P.S. It’s the peak season, so the price might be higher.)
What we ate…
Italians know how to eat. Their version of a proper meal consists of a primo (appetizer), a secondi (main course), and a dessert.
We’re all about trying to live like the locals, but if we follow the way they feast 3 times a day, we would spend a hefty 100 Euros a day just for food.
Avoiding 3 course meals in the land of good food, one would think we’d miss out on the best of Italy.
We don’t think so.
There’s something about going to supermarkets to find what would we eat for dinners. I know, that sounds so MEH (I’m not the cooking type), but everything here is just fresh and delicious and new for me. Who knew they have so many different types of tomatoes and pastas? Plus, cooking pasta is not that hard. It is almost like cooking Indomie.
We spent 20-30 Euro per person per day. Here’s the loose breakdown:
- breakfast (eating in; Nutella toast + scrambled eggs + grapes | eating out; Roman margeritha pizza, medium sized for myself) 3-4 Euros
- lunch (eating out; one big Napoli pizza for myself or a pasta dish) 10-15 Euros
- snack (eating out; a cone of 2 flavors gelato) 3 Euros
- dinner (eating in; fresh egg pasta + pesto + poached egg + salad) 3 Euros
- drinks (FREE drinkable water fountains from all over Rome, 1.5 Euros big Coca Cola bought from non-touristy supermarket)
Napoli pizza + homemade pesto pasta.
Our eating-out recommendations:
We love two kinds of pizza: Roman and Napoli.
Roman pizza originates from Rome (LOL. Obviously), it’s thinner, crispier, and it goes crazy with the toppings. 4 kinds of cheese which names we can’t pronounce? Tempting. Salmon mayo? Delicious. Broccoli? Why not. You’d better be satisfied with eating whatever’s there. Don’t mention, or even think about the one unspeakable ingredient: pineapples. For them, the idea is truly out of this world (in a bad way), it’s almost a cultural offense. It would be as weird as saying you’d want a cockroach in your Indomie.
Napoli pizza is nothing like that. Instead of experimenting with crazy toppings, Napoli pizza sticks to the traditional art of pizza-making. Lots of chefs went to Naples, the birthplace of pizza, to study pizza-making, the classic way. Even though the most of the ingredients are quite simple (tomato, cheese, and basil), the taste is out of this world.
It tastes ten folds better than any pizza you’d find on Indonesia. Even if Italian chefs cook it here, it would taste different. Aside from the skill, the ingredients make the pizza. We can’t get the fresh authentic ingredients.
Really, you should taste authentic Italian pizza at least once before you die. That’s how good it is.
The pizza place you should not miss: L’ Antica Pizzeria da Michele (It’s from Naples, the one from Eat Pray Love. The restaurants have branches in Rome. We ate the one near Trevi Fountain).
Mostly, we ate pizzas, however, we couldn’t forget about one pasta: Pomodoro Ravioli from Osteria de Fortunata.
Some people swear by its Carbonara Pasta. Well, their carbonara tastes different than any cabonara here. Its salty bacon bits goes amazing with the pasta. It's too creamy, too heavy for me. If I could re-order, I'd definitely pick Pomodoro Ravioli. There's something about the tomato sauce and the ravioli filling. The taste exploded in my mouth. OMG.
The golden rule of eating out: steer away from the touristy area. They’re more expensive and we’re not sure about the quality and taste. Eat where plenty of locals eat. My biggest regret was buying a gelato near Trevi & Pantheon. I waited in line for 15 mins and it turned out to be not delicious. It costs twice more than a really tasty gelato near our Airbnb. (Seriously, the gelato near our Airbnb is so delicious. Before we tasted it, we were confused why so many grandmas, grandpas, and kids ate gelato there at 10 PM.)
Where we slept and cooked…
Hotels are way above our budget, so the choices were hostels and Airbnb.
The cost of hostel for 2 persons are the same in 1 Airbnb shared apartment (no air conditioner, just fan, shared bathroom). It’s around 23-30 euros per night, not counting the city tax. So, yeah, we chose Airbnb.
At first, I’m worried about how frugal it sounds. No air conditioner? Really? That doesn’t sound like a good idea. We’re coming right after the heatwave period (a couple days where it gets insanely hot that crops failed and people literally died). What if, you know, we’ll die?
In reality, Rome temperature was the same with Jakarta. It got colder during night time, so we just opened the window, put the fan near the window so it sucks the outside air into the room. Everything’s ok.
My second worry was the bathroom. Thank goodness, our Airbnb's bathroom was very comfortable.
One little tip: read pages of reviews before choosing the Airbnb just to make sure everything’s ok.
How we traveled…
It’s easy to get around (thanks to Google Maps). Mostly, we took metros, buses, and we just walked as the attractions are near each other. It costs only 1.50 euros per one metro trip (+ 1 bus trip minutes afterward). We bought the tickets at the metro stations (it’s cheaper than buying them directly from the bus driver).
If you don’t want to go to the ticket machine every time you wish to travel, you could get the Roman Pass. You’d get unlimited free access to the public transport, the Colosseum, and more. Details here.
Of course, it’s not all fairytale. It comes with dragging suitcases and getting a little lost under the scorching sun.
Aside from that, there’s only one other hiccup: our city bus didn’t come and we have to catch our bus to Florence, so we took an Uber to the station and it costs like IDR 200k for a 5 minutes ride. So not worth it.
Where we went…
COLOSSEUM, PALATINE HILL, ROMAN FORUM
Going to the Colosseum and Roman Forum (ruins of the ancient city) was supposed to be the highlight of the trip (as I’m nerdy about Roman gods and the way ancient people lived). Seeing the google pictures, the ancient roads and the structure of the buildings seemed well preserved—they’re still standing tall after centuries.
To be honest, this visit was such a let down. Colosseum was smaller than I imagined. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were bigger than I thought, however, it’s only impressive from certain angles. Nevertheless, it’s still really nice to walk along the roads, listen to the audio guide, learn which building used to be what, and imagine what it must’ve been like if I went there centuries ago.
In short, don’t expect too much.
Anyway, if you have time, download an audio guide from the internet to get the big picture. The ones I listen to are from Rick Stevens Audio Europe. It’s free! That way, you don’t have to rent the official audio guide.
Ticket: 12 Euros for those 3 attractions
Have you watched Ariana Grande’s God is a Woman music video? The original picture from the last scene (the creation scene) is only a small part of a large Michelangelo masterpiece which extends from 3 story tall wall behind the altar, long ceiling, to the back on the back wall of Sistine Chapel.
I made the stupid mistake of thinking that this is the main thing of the museum and got out. Later, I discovered that the museum also hosts a number of Roman sculptures, ancient Egyptian stuffs, important Renaissance paintings, and more in its 54 galleries. It’s one of the biggest museum in the world.
We extended our Roman trip (mostly) to go back to this museum.
I may not understand art, but I can’t get over how impressive the hallways are. I wish I could spend hours looking at the ceilings and note the little details which make the stories of the artwork.
Ticket: 17 Euros. Don’t buy the ticket outside Vatican. There are people trying to make you buy the skip-the-line tickets from them, scaring you with the waiting line. Honestly, don’t do it even if you don’t mind paying extra. Come at the morning or not at all. In the afternoon, it gets too crowded to enjoy. Buy the ticket inside the “wall” (you’ll know what I mean when you get there) at the second floor.
This sounds really extreme, but I really wish I knew this earlier: come an hour before the opening hour. The first time I went there, I came an hour before the opening time and only waited for 90 mins. The week after, I came 1 hour after the opening hour, and I waited in the sun for 4 hours before exploring the museum for like 3 hours (they were closing soon). It’s not enough time for such a HUGE museum. Plus, the afternoon crowd was too much, we couldn’t enjoy the museum like we did before.
Another tip is to watch out for the map and the exit signs. There’s too many exits. The first time we came there, we accidentally got out and couldn’t get in anymore.
This was never in our itinerary. It’s more of a curious, unplanned thing.
Gawking over ancient statues for 2 hours straight might sound like MEH, but I guess the exclusivity lured me in. Only a couple of people are allowed to be in the gallery at the same time. The first day we came, the gallery was not accepting any more visitor for the day, so we booked a time slot for the next day.
When we came in for real, we did a quick scan of all the rooms. Almost every room caught our breath. It was only when we listened to the audio guide we realized that every room is curated AF, down to the stories the artworks convey. We were staring at the works of the best sculptor ever lived, Bernini. Seriously, after seeing so many statues from Vatican (and other non-masterpiece statues on the corners of the gallery), Bernini’s statues stand out. It’s the way Bernini captured emotions and the way he thought of every little detail.
Dress: Fly Me to the Moon Dress
We love how the privacy gave us more room to enjoy everything. We even managed to took a couple pictures when the gallery’s emptying towards the end of our time slot.
Really, you should come here at least once in your life, especially if you love stories and beautiful things (and Greek/Roman mythology).
Ticket: around 15 Euros.
TREVI FOUNTAIN AND PANTHEON
“OH MY GOODNESS,” an American tourist gasped upon seeing Trevi for the first time. Approx. 3 floors tall, it is way more impressive IRL. You’d have to see the details (it took multiple architects and sculptors to finish!), touch the cold water, hear the water, and throw a few coins. The pictures do not do the justice.
Here’s the catch: we can’t take the proper obligatory tourist pic when it’s crowded (and it’s always crowded). The only solution is come in the morning, arrive at 7:30 at the latest.
To give you an illustration, let's play spot the photobombs:
In the afternoon.
In the morning.
Same goes with the Pantheon. It gets too crowded in the afternoon. Thankfully, they’re both near each other, so we can visit the Pantheon right after Trevi. On that very same block, lies many souvenirs, gelato bars, restaurants, and leather shops. Everything is basically a tourist trap, except a couple genuine leather shops. (Well, if you love leather that much, you should include Florence on your itinerary—it’s only a couple hours away from Rome!)
What to wear…
The nicer you dress, the better most Italians would treat you. Wearing flip flops or tacky sneakers is a one way ticket to bad services. That's one reason to dress up.
Another reason to dress nice: the pictures. I like to color coordinate my clothes with the overall tone of the place. In my opinions, the colors which complement Rome are white and mustard.
If I’ll come back there, I’d definitely pack these:
HACK: The holy places like the Vatican and churches won’t grant you entry permission if you wear something which reveal your knees/shoulders. Bringing this lightweight top inside your tote solves the problem:
All in all, is everything worth it?
Of course. Remembering the food, the art, the history, and the beauty of the city, Rome is the perfect city to explore. It has everything I ever want in a trip. Although it may still seemed expensive (it IS expensive), if we’re looking from European standard, Italy is amongst the cheapest countries to travel to. It’s close to nothing if compared with Switzerland.
If you’re considering to travel there, just cut your spending, save up, and do it. What are you waiting for? There will never be the right time. The way I see it, the more older I am, the more responsibilities I get, the more reasons I can’t travel. Even if I’ll get crazy rich when I’m older (and have the luxury to travel for a long time), I would be thinking about my (future) kids and my (future) husband. It would not be the same. So, yeah, if not now, then when?
Written by Helena Natasha.