Rome: Beating the Crowds

Classic Fiat Rome
In June 2016, when my sister and I took a cruise onboard the Royal Clipper, we spent additional time in Italy on both sides of the sailing trip.

Ciao Roma!

My sister and I spent a week in Rome before heading to Civitavecchia to board the Royal Clipper — always a wonderful pre-cruise or post-cruise extension to a vacation. You’ll find my article on the Royal Clipper cruise here.

The Coliseum on our After Dark tour. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.
The Colosseum on our night time tour. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

Rome is a bustling city, and the summer is the height of the tourist season. It’s hot. There are long lines for many of the major sights — ungodly long for things like the Colosseum. This can be a recipe for vacation disaster, when patience runs short and tempers flare.

A little pre-planning makes everything run smoothly. Last year, my friend Joyce came with me to Italy — her first trip, so of course we had to see all of the big sights. I had heard there were evening tours of the Colosseum, and I figured it would be one of the best ways to see it. I found several options for touring at night through Viator, which was great, because we could pick one really tailored to what we wanted to do. We used Viator for a guided tour of the Colosseum after dark, breakfast at the Vatican, and a tour to Pompeii, and had a  great experiences with this company last year.

Lord Byron contemplating the Colosseum in Rome. By engraver James Tibbitts Willmore or Arthur Willmore, after the original composition by William Westall.
Lord Byron contemplating the Colosseum in Rome. By engraver James Tibbitts Willmore or Arthur Willmore, after the original composition by William Westall.

My sister was interested in doing both the Colosseum and Vatican, so we booked with Viator again. We did the Night Tour of the Colosseum with the rooftop dinner. Dinner came first, at the roof garden restaurant at the Forum Hotel that overlooks part of the forum. Gorgeous view and good food. Our night tour of the Colosseum was wonderful. No lines. No heat. So very quiet. This tour includes the underground part of the Colosseum, where you can get a sense of what it was like for the gladiators and the animals beneath the floor. It is a gift – to be able to truly feel this amazing space.

After our time in the Colosseum, we returned to the Hotel Forum. They have a lovely a roof top bar one flight up from the restaurant. After dinner drinks looking out over the Imperial Forum — wonderful.

Update: I’m heading back to Rome in the fall of 2017, and I’m starting to make plans. When I reviewed tours, I see a new option for those who want to see the Colosseum during the day, but would like the VIP experience: check out Breakfast overlooking the Forum, followed by a tour of the Colosseum.

Breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard at the Vatican.
Breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard at the Vatican.

We also did the Vatican VIP Experience: Breakfast at the Vatican tour. Having breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard inside the Vatican is a very special experience, and this for me makes this one of the best Vatican tours available. Following breakfast, you are among the first visitors entering the Musei Vaticani. You’ll have a guided tour through many of the Vatican Museum galleries before visiting the Sistine Chapel. The tour ends inside St. Peter’s, where you are free to spend as much time as you like. Be aware: if you book this tour on a day there is papal mass in St. Peter’s, you will not get to see the Basilica. Benefit: the Vatican Museum is less crowded on those days. So if you have already seen St. Peter’s, this could be perfect. If you have not, it could be heartbreaking. There is a papal mass every Wednesday the pope is in Rome. Here is the Papal Audience Schedule.

The last three years, I’ve traveled to Italy in the summer because work conflicts made it impossible for me to take a long vacation at other times of the year. No choice but to deal with the heat and the summer crowds. I was impressed with the tours through Viator. The quality of the guides on all of the tours both years was outstanding, and if I go back to Rome with another friend who wants to see the tourist sights, I will use their services again. Their tours not only allowed us to do some special things, but also they saved a lot of time and frustration.

I love the Roman Forum. I love standing and imagining what it would have been like to stand here 2,000 years ago. But in the summer, it’s HOT — and the later in the day it gets, the hotter, and more crowded it’s going to be. My advice, get here early. The Forum opens at 8:30 in the morning — get on it and be there! Secondly, avoid the most crowded entrance which is the one directly in front of the Forum — go instead to the Palatine Hill entrance.

Another day, we did a private tour in the Castelli Romani area with Laran Tours, a small husband and wife company offering a great assortment of day tours out of Rome. My only hardship was trying to pick just one day trip out of a very tempting set of options. We had a fabulous day with Emma and Alex. The Castelli Romani is a beautiful region near Rome with volcanic lakes; it was a favorite spot for Roman summer villas, and it’s easy to see why. We had wild strawberry tarts in Nemi, toured two different wineries, then went off on our own for lunch. Big thumbs up for Laran Tours — the experience that day was very personal and fun.


Restaurants

Sughero Ristorante is at the top of my list of restaurants we visited on this trip to Rome. Last year I met Lavinia De Santis who was working as a wait person at a restaurant near our hotel.  While that restaurant was good, it was really Lavinia that made the dinners there special.

My sister and I returned there this year, only to find out that Lavinia had left to start her own restaurant. I found Sughero on the internet, and we were able to make reservations with the Fork.

Lavinia de Santis in her restaurant Sughero in the Parioli neighborhood, Rome.
Lavinia de Santis in her restaurant Sughero in the Parioli neighborhood, Rome.

It was an easy 10 – 15 minute cab ride from our hotel. And wow! Absolutely superb meal! Sughero is an all-seafood restaurant, with great fresh fish and a good wine selection. One of the things that impressed me about Lavinia last year was her knowledge of wine, and that is certainly in evidence at her place. She is passionate about good food and wine, and truly charming. Her business partner, Daniele Mangiaracina is talented chef. Isn’t it wonderful to see two people doing what they love, and doing it well?

We ate at Sughero three times. It’s easily one of the best seafood restaurants I’ve eaten at in Rome. Each time we did a Chef’s Tasting menu, and only repeated one selection. Everything was great — but the thing I had to have every time was the alici fritte, the fried sardines with fennel and orange.

Go see Lavinia and Daniele! It’s worth a quick cab ride. Sughero is small, and as a great new restaurant in Rome, it has developed a following; this means you will definitely want to make a reservation – easy to do through The Fork. Check out the Sughero Facebook page, if you’d like to pop by and see what these two talented restaurateurs are up to each week. But I warn you. It’s going to make you hungry!

Fried sardines with fennel slaw and fresh orange. Sughero Ristorante, Roma. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Fried sardines with fennel slaw and fresh orange. Sughero Ristorante, Roma. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Carciofi alla giudia at Piperno in Rome. So good!
Carciofi alla giudia at Piperno in Rome. So good! Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

Another big favorite this trip was Piperno, a well-known and well-loved Roman restaurant. Piperno dates from 1860 and is located on the edge of the Jewish ghetto in Rome. They are famous for their artichokes, carciofi alla giudia.

My sister ate at Piperno in 1989, and she’s been thinking about it ever since. We had a lovely evening there, sitting outside. I figured we would share the artichokes as an appetizer, but Carolyn wasn’t willing to share :-). So yummy!

Combining dinner at Piperno with a walk in the Jewish quarter is a perfect way to spend part of a day in Rome. “Hidden in the heart of the city, Rome’s Jewish Ghetto is one of the best attractions in Rome and also one of its least-known. As the oldest Jewish community in all of Europe, this beautiful, thriving neighborhood is as central to the history of the city as it is to the Jewish faith. Follow us into the Jewish Ghetto, Rome, to see how Jews have shaped the Eternal City.” — From Walks of Italy, a great site for putting walking tours together, either on your own or with their company. Viator also offers fifteen different touring options for those interested in learning more about the historic Jewish quarter in Rome.

Our
Our “executive double” room at the Hotel Quirinale in Rome.

Hotels

I’ve had friends ask, “where should I stay in Rome — and what is the best location?” If you are staying in Rome for the first time, being centrally located so that you can walk to many of the sights is key.

When I travel, I often do a combination of luxury and tourist class hotels. On this trip, our splurge hotel was going to be the Bauer Hotel in Venice. In Rome, I wanted a centrally located hotel with decent reviews but a more reasonable price. Hotel Quirinale was a good find. We had an “executive double” room, which was lovely — it was large and overlooked the garden.

We also stayed one final night at the Hotel Quirinale at the end of our trip before flying home. That evening we were in a Superior Double room, which was significantly smaller, although still nice and quite comfortable. Based on our two stays, I recommend going with the “executive double,” particularly if you are staying in Rome for more than two nights. Also, request a garden view.

The Hotel Quirinale’s greatest strengths are the size and comfort of its rooms, its location, and its garden bar. We had cocktails in the garden many evenings before going out to dinner.

The hotel’s biggest weaknesses: service at the front desk and breakfast. These are the two places where you know that you are staying in a tourist-class hotel. They are processing lots of people, and you feel it. The breakfast, which is included in the price, is a just-adequate buffet. There is plenty of food, but it’s nothing special. Would I stay again — yes. For exactly the reason that I chose it in the first place.

Last year, Joyce and I stayed at the Sofitel near the Villa Borghese. It was a great hotel with impeccable service and a lovely breakfast buffet. The downsides to the Sofitel: small room for the price and not as centrally located for walking to major sights. Additionally, when I was looking at hotels in the spring, the Sofitel’s rates were considerably more expensive this year.

Parting Thoughts

Rome is such a wonderful city! Vibrant and stylish, the ancient, the old, and not so old mixed together. Great food and wonderful people. Can I get on a plane and head back right now?

I invite you to share your favorite Roman restaurants and hotels in the comment section below, and feel free to link to your Trip Advisor reviews or blogs. The more the merrier — it’s always great to find new places!

Etruscan she-wolf with Romulus and Remus, the Capitoline Museum. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Etruscan she-wolf with Romulus and Remus, the Capitoline Museum. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Book now on Viator

Disclaimer: While I have paid full price for all of my tours with Viator (– twice now!), I do now have an affiliate relationship with them. I will receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you book a tour with them through the links on my site. Thank you for your support!


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

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Land of Tall Trees and Fat Fish: My Cottage on Puget Sound

View of Mount Rainier from Rich Passage
View of Mount Rainer from my Home Away cottage on Rich Passage. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Ten days on the water. The mountain. The ferries. And the fish. Oh, god. The fish.

Sockeye Salmon at Seattle's Pike Place Market.
Sockeye Salmon at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Photograph by Steve Estvanik, Shutterstock.

I came to look at the water, write, cook, and spend time with friends. I visited Alaska in early August, and decided to remain in the Seattle area before returning to the heat and humidity in Houston. I’ve used Home Away (owned by VRBO) to find apartment rentals before in Florence, Italy — twice, so I took a look at their site to see what might be available in Seattle.

When I saw this waterfront cottage — it immediately reminded me of the cabin in the film On Golden Pond with Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda. This cottage dates from 1910.

Those of you who’ve read my other travel pieces will find this short. It was quiet. I ate good food, I drank good wine, I had long visits with family, friends, and my daughter. I read. I wrote. And I stared at one of my favorite mountains in the world.

Great Heron flying near the cottage. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Great Heron flying near the cottage. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I’d quit my day job at the beginning of August. This cottage, with it’s perfect view on Puget Sound, offered a tranquil time for me to consider life and plan my next steps.

A sea lion came by to visit regularly, along with a variety of water birds and herons. Often it was so quiet that I could hear ducks’ wings brushing the water as they flew near the surface. Then a ferry would chug by.

Some days, I watched clouds transform themselves into Rainier, and other times the reverse, as the mountain pulled a cloak around herself, hiding from us all.

Golden rainbow trout at the Pike Place Market
Golden rainbow trout at the Pike Place Market. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I cooked a lot of fish — my culinary goal while I was at the cottage was to figure out how to make the incredible salmon bisque I ate at the Pilot Light restaurant in Haines, Alaska. And by George, I think I’ve got it :-)!! I will of course share the recipe, but it will be in a separate post.

And look at the gorgeous golden trout I brought home from the Pike Place Market . . .

The Cottage

I found this vacation rental home to be just the ticket. It had personality and was very comfortable. Family and friends spent part of the time out there with me, and we all found the beds comfortable.

There are two bedrooms: one with two twin beds, and the other with a queen. It sleeps four comfortably. Someone could possibly sleep on the sofa — but it wouldn’t be me! You’ll find the cottage listed on Home Away.
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The house is clean and well-maintained. The kitchen had everything I needed, and it was great to have a washer and dryer. Gordon, the owner, was friendly and very helpful. His advice about grocery stores and other things was spot on.

I think it would be a great Seattle area vacation home for a family, as long as the children weren’t too young. The yard is not fenced, and there is a steep drop when the tide is out. For safety reasons, the owner doesn’t accept children under 10 years old.


Expedia.com

Location of the cottage I stayed in on Puget Sound.
Location of the cottage I stayed in on Puget Sound.

Logistics

The cottage has a Port Orchard address, but it’s out at the far end of the peninsula, and feels very rural. If you take a look at the map image (clicking on it will take you to a live Google map. You will need a car.

The best grocery store in the area is the Fred Meyer in Port Orchard. They had a great fish market, and I was very pleased with the selection and quality. The Albertson’s there was not great. Actually, I mean awful.

There are a number of local Port Orchard restaurants. I found Amy’s on the Bay to be good for steamed clams, at Cosmo’s Ristorante had very decent American-Italian fare. Mostly, I cooked.

The best restaurant meals I ate at on this trip were in Seattle proper — I was blown away by the authentic Italian cuisine at Spinasse — cannot say enough wonderful things about this restaurant. It’s some of the best Italian food I’ve eaten in the States. My daughter and I also checked out a Tom Douglas restaurant called The Carlile Room: great for creative small plates. I would definitely go again. You’ll need a reservation at both restaurants.

Fresh fish at the Pike Place Market. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Fresh fish at the Pike Place Market. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

While I was on Puget Sound, I went into Seattle three times. There are three ways to get there, and they all take about 1.5 hours. The options are the Seattle-Bremerton ferry, the Faunterloy-Southworth ferry, or driving. The Bremerton ferry will take you straight to downtown Seattle, and you can either walk or cab it to get around. It’s nice not to have to deal with a car. I took a couple of canvas totes with me, went and had brunch at the Athenian (where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner have lunch in Sleepless in Seattle) in the Pike Place market, and after wandering, bought fish and flowers and headed back to my gorgeous view.

If you are planning a trip to Seattle, and want to focus on the typical tourist sights, my advice is either to stay in the city,  or consider splitting your time. Start at the cottage for the desired number of days, then spend a couple of nights at a hotel downtown before catching your flight home. Dealing with a ferry at rush hour heading to the airport is NOT my idea of fun.

Parting Thoughts

If you know much about the Seattle area, you know it’s frequently cloudy. June, July, and August are the sunniest months of the year. When it’s grey and overcast, the mountain isn’t out. But there is something about this that makes seeing Mount Rainier all the more magical. And on this trip she was absolutely breathtaking.

The Mountain emerges from the clouds.
The Mountain emerges from the clouds.

*** Featured image at top of article: The sun sets on Mount Rainier, the view from my cottage on Rich Passage. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
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Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.


I’m happy you’re here — for other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:

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Monochrome Madness and a day on Vancouver Island

Writing here on WordPress has given me many gifts, the chief among them is some of the wonderful writers and photographers I’ve had the chance to meet. One of my favorite sites is The Runes of the Gatekeeper’s Daughter — beautiful photography, haunting imagery. I invite you to discover Cybele Moon, aka the Dune Mouse.

the runes of the gatekeeper's daughter

For Leanne’s Marvelous Madness Gallery (3-9)

A journey through a summer’s day on the island

 take a stroll in “The Alchemist’s Garden”

garden of the alchemist

on the Gorge estuary in Victoria

Nothing happens, unless first a dream! -C Sandburg

gorge infra with the alchemist’s glasses

 Rose Bowers and daisy fields

chemainus house a bygone era

Stop for tea in the charming town of Chemainus by the sea

Get lost in a field of daisies

daisy field

outside Parksville

and visit  the Rain Forest

MacMillan Forestold growth forest jpg

The woods were meant for the hunters of dreams! – S.Foss

MacMillan Forest info:

The Cathedral Grove area of the MacMillan Park rain forest on Vancouver Island is protected by designated paths only.   You walk among giant ferns and the majestic pillars of Fir trees that can grow to nine meters in circumference and 76 meters high.   Named by Botanist David Douglas in the 1800’s they range in age from  300 years to  800 years old.

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