Rick Steves’ Heart of Rome Walking Tour

Sunday morning was a big walking day for us; we began early after breakfast with Rick Steves’ guided walk through Rome. It started near our hotel (near the Trevi Fountain) and circled down through the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campo di Fiori and then we went to the Jewish ghetto.

The self-guided tour was probably my favorite outing of the our time in the city because it was more authentic than going to major tourist sites (though be weary that many markets and shops along this walk are touristy as well, just not obviously so).

The key is going early enough — we passed down a market street we’d been the day before but this time, it was empty! Garbage man strolled over the cobblestone  to scoop up bags of  trash.

We rounded the corner and BAM we saw the tall Pantheon. It looks square from the outside (Made of grey rock). The Latin scripture on the outside is so recognizable of course. But it’s hard to know the shape of the inside just from looking at the outside. It sits in an adorable plaza with shuttered windows, a fountain and outdoor dining areas. Very picture perfect.

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The columns on the Pantheon are each made of a single slab of stone, which is rare since usually they’re multiple pieces.

We walked inside (we were there right when it opened at 9 a.m.) and could not believe that we could see the shiny floor and huge dome roof — for free! They built it 2,000 years ago and it was a mathematical feat since it’s as wide as it is tall. Many studied it afterwards, and I was completely in awe that this building was made during biblical times. It’s so definite and permanent and lasted so long. The tiered rectangular cut-outs in the dome roof allow it to have less weight. The top is actually open with no roof! I loved gaping at the Pantheon and absolutely recommend it — not an overrated tourist activity so long as you go in the morning. We walked by again in the afternoon and a sea of people was corralled inside.

We walked on to Piazza Navona, which is my fav in Rome. There is a BEAUTIFUL church (that’s free and has air conditioning and seating) and gorgeous fountains to look at. I loved that we went in the morning when there were fewer tourists and a huge expanse of plaza in front of us.

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From there it was on to Campo de Fiori, which is a smaller piazza that acts as a local market. A lot of the vendors sold the same goods as tourist shops – clothing, pasta, fruits, oils and spices. We were hesitant to buy anything (in case it was touristy) but did try some cherry tomatoes.

It was good that each of these stops were all in a line down the west side of Rome so it was very easy to walk through and easy to find.

We took a break in a cute little park. Steve dropped his sunglasses down a cement hole in a public fountain – which was honestly hilarious.

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The Jewish Museum was next, in the old ghetto. We walked along the Tiber River, which isn’t as beautiful as the Seine or Thames but more overgrown. It had weeds sprouted up and no tourist shops near it — very out of the way, which is a shame. The ghetto seemed similar to the streets of New York (mainly because it was hot) but we walked along hot pavement shaded under trees and passed flower shops and occasional Roman ruin (#casual).

The museum itself was very interesting with artifacts, a dinner set, religious items and a guided tour of the synagogue where the Pope has visited. We even saw an Italian Jewish wedding wrap up as we entered, complete with bride and groom taking photos at the entrance. We learned that in Italy, people don’t have to pay to attend a religious building or become a member, but just show up to any building after paying a general price to the city.

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On our way back from the walk, I was desperate to find some pizza bianca (since the famous Forno near Piazza Navona was closed on the Sunday). I had looked online beforehand for a decent one and found Pizzeria da Buffetto down Via del Governo Vecchio. We were seated upstairs in a tight yet air conditioned room. I knew it was going to be pretty good because there were no huge menus posted outside, no waiters begging you to come inside like the other ristorantes on the street.

We had a pizza bianca and a pizza buffeto (with egg, mushrooms, sausage… ) and a caprese salad to share. It was more than enough. While I’m accustomed to American fluffy pizza, our pizzas were still quite good. The pizza bianca was buttery with mozzarella on top (cooked to the point that it was hardened). Good flavor and crispy, but not as amazing as I was expecting in Rome.

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Later in the evening (after our trip to the Colosseum), we returned to Piazza Navola and loved the night experience there. I’m all about sitting and watching the atmosphere and scenery at a place, especially abroad. So for me sitting on the floor near the lit-up fountain and watching the people (albeit tourists) was very pleasant and self-satisfying.

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The city of Rome is much emptier at night, though many tourists can still be seen dining outdoors near famous sites like the Pantheon, or lounging in such a piazza. But it’s quieter and more authentic like a city, with about half the number of daytime tourists roaming the streets. Buonasera!

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