Rome on Two Gelatos a Day

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Julia Boulay of Olney is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and to become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Five days in Rome, with a stopover in Monte Cassino.

WHEN: June 13-17.

WHY: Our 10th wedding anniversary.

WHO WENT: My husband, Tim, and I -- without our three children.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: We stayed in Trastevere, which is centrally located and close to public transportation. The streets are cobblestone and narrow, the apartments have flower boxes, the parish church is centuries old and there were restaurants everywhere we turned.

BIGGEST THRILL: The Sistine Chapel. Seeing it made me cry.

MY RETINAS! THEY'RE BURNING! Before entering the Sistine Chapel, we were forced to walk through a modern art exhibit at the Vatican. If the pope feels cold this winter, he should burn some of that modern "art" for heat. It was hideous.

FRIENDS AND ROMANS: The people of Rome were friendly and helpful. When we got lost driving into the city, a woman got in her car and led us back to where we needed to be. This was typical of the Romans.

FAVORITE MEAL: My favorite meal did not come from the restaurant with the sign that read, "We do not have a tourist menu! We do not support the war! And we do not serve tourists!" But every other restaurant -- from pizzerias serving cheap lunches to trattorias in Trastevere -- was great. The gelato tasted fantastic, fabulous and fattening. I ate gelato at least twice a day.

MOST HAUNTING SIGHT: I understand the importance of relics in the Catholic churches, but in Rome, every time we turned around there were mummified bodies and body parts out in the open. It got to be a bit much. (Look, St. Valentine's head!)

THE AMERICANS WILL BE MEETING AT . . . the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Bring coins to the fountain. Make a wish. Have some gelato.

BEST ADVICE: Whenever a private tour is offered by an official organization, take it. For a few extra euros, you will see things no one else will on the standard tours. On the Scavi tour, for example, we visited the Vatican necropolis, the ancient Roman burial city that lies under St. Peter's Basilica. Only 200 visitors a day are allowed inside. We also saw St. Benedict's private quarters at Monte Cassino, which was not part of the official tour.

(Note: The Scavi tour is usually sold out several months beforehand, but if you go to the Scavi office, outside on the left side of St. Peter's, they may have cancellations.)

SECOND-BEST ADVICE: Do not rent a car; take public transportation. It's impossible to drive in this city and the road maps lie. (Think of D.C. maps not bothering to show that I-395 exists.)

WARNING: Do not wear shorts or tank tops to any churches. They will not let you in. Also, do not forget to slather on sunblock. You will get a nasty burn; I speak from experience. Carry a portable umbrella. You'll need the shade.

BY THE WAY: If you aren't careful, you will fall in love with Rome. Five days is not enough. A lifetime is not enough.

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