A while back I traveled to Rome with friends. The food, ancient wonders, vivacious people, and pulsing energy that flows from every corner of the city made Rome a magical place.

The trip marked my second visit to the Eternal City, and my two experiences couldn’t be more different. When I rolled into Rome 25 years ago, I was haggard and exhausted from an overnight train ride…

My confidence was soaring after a month backpacking around Europe (a Eurail pass in-hand), my friend and I hopped trains on a whim, often picking our destination at the train station. Returning from Greece, and hoping to save money by traveling overnight, we boarded our train in Brindisi, chose a cabin in second class, and settled in for a moderately comfortable seven-hour journey.

The cabin was empty and, amazed at our luck, we threw our backpacks in the upper racks and settled in for the trip. The train chugged along as our conversation ended and I started to doze. It was a restless sleep, and I startled awake as the train lurched to a stop at each station.

After one stop, a great commotion erupted in the hallway with (what sounded like) dozens of voices shouting in Italian. My one thought, please don’t come in here. The door to our cabin flew open, and with a loud “Buonasera!” a family of six fell through the door.

On that particular train, second class cars had individual cabins with two rows of four seats on each side that flattened to make a small narrow bed. The family quickly dispatched its luggage, opened the seats to make beds (pushed against the window, we did the same), and settled in for the night.

With no other choice, I slid my feet up the side of the small, cramped bench and rested my dirty socks a few inches from my friend’s head (and she did the same). Every inch of space in the cabin was covered with human, and during the night the young girl lying next to me flung her limbs over my body and into my dwindling personal space. Crushed against the wall, I did the only sensible thing possible.

I started to laugh.

And laugh some more.

My attempts to stay quiet exacerbated the problem, and the more I tried to hold it in, the harder my body shook as tears streamed down my face.

The night passed with skinny elbows in my side and a stranger’s slobber on my shirtsleeve. The train rolled into Rome just as the sun rose over the horizon. The family awoke, wiped the drool from their chins, gathered their belongs, called out a cheerful “Arrivederci!” and were gone.

We strapped on our backpacks and laughed our way down the train platform into a glorious Italian morning…

Rome is breathtaking and a place I would visit again and again. If you go, here are a few suggestions and tips to thoroughly enjoy this fantastic city.

Visit the Trastevere Neighborhood

A walk across the Tiber River brings you to this medieval neighborhood of crumbling buildings and cobbled stoned streets. Find the Piazza di Santa Maria and settle into a cafe to watch the area come alive with buskers, tourists, and street merchants.

The Piazza gets its name from one of the oldest churches in Rome, the12th century Basilica di Santa Maria, which sits on the edge of the square. Walk inside and feel overwhelmed with beauty as you take in the glittery, gold-covered walls and mosaics.

As day to turns to night and the sun sinks behind the buildings, enjoy a sumptuous meal at a Trattoria, while sipping red wine, and laughing with friends into the night.

Colosseum Night Tour

Built-in 70-80 AD by Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum rises above a neighborhood of flats, restaurants, and busy, car-clogged streets. One of the most popular sights in Rome, crowds flock to this ancient wonder like Romans to a Gladiator contest.

To avoid this chaos, consider taking a night tour.  A nighttime visit is less crowded and rushed, plus night tours visit the Colosseum’s subterranean network of tunnels and cages, where gladiators and animals waited for the contests to began. It’s an eerie and unsettling place (and supposedly haunted). The number of night visitors is limited, so plan ahead and purchase a tour before leaving home.

Vatican and Sistine Chapel

Many people travel to Rome just to visit the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is magnificent and humbling. It’s well worth a visit. As for the Vatican….when we visited, the place was packed to the point of unpleasant. Luckily, I purchased “skip the line” tour tickets before we arrived. Without those tickets the wait to enter lasts hours (literally!) If the Vatican is a must-see, pay extra to skip the line and/or find a small group tour with a knowledgeable tour guide.

Contact me to plan your visit to Rome and experience La Dolce Vita! (The good life) for yourself!