Weekend Travel Guides

When it Rains, It Pours: Your Weekend Guide to Nice, France

Alright everyone, I'm back. And I'm better than ever.

Now, I'm not gonna start every new post with a "sorry I haven't written in a while" apology. John Lennon famously said, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." Unfortunately for you all, my loyal readers, he was right.

I would like to edit his quote a little bit though and change it to: "Life is what happens to you when Netflix decides to release the third season of House of Cards on Netflix and you're holed-up in your apartment watching the whole thing."

I love television almost as much as I love food and traveling. I watch more television shows than just about everyone I know. I even amaze myself sometimes with the amount of shows I'm able to crank out.

So, it will probably disgust you to know that I finished the new third season of House of Cards in just two days. Yes, I know there are 13 episodes. Yes, I know that equals 13 hours of staring at my computer screen. Yes, I know that staring at a computer screen for that long can cause damage to your eyesight. And, yes, I'm an appalling human being. But, I really hope your reaction is something more like this: 

Don't worry though, I'm not giving away any spoilers here. The only thing I will say is that I think this was my least favorite season of House of Cards so far. It's still one of my favorite shows, but I saw this season as much different than the two before it and not as exciting in my opinion.

But anyway, on to the main event. I traveled to Nice, France on Valentine's Day weekend and I loved my time there. I do want to point out though that you all should be profusely thanking me. When the city is called "Nice," pronounced like "niece" but spelled like "nice," you can only imagine how many puns came to my mind. I spared all of you and decided to put the puns away for this one and title this post something a bit more relevant.

You see, for every single weekend trip I have been on so far this semester, it has rained. I'm not sure if it's just my luck or the combination of the luck of all the goons I hang out with combined with mine, but it has been horrible. Luckily, it hasn't ruined our time in any of the cities we've seen, but it has played a major factor.

We monitored the weather in Nice almost every day after we booked our trip, and the forecast just got worse and worse. It went from being beautiful, sunny and in the 60s, to raining one day of our weekend, to eventually pouring the entire weekend. It just got gloomier and gloomier.

My advice: If you want to visit the south of France, with it's beautiful beaches and lavish lifestyle, save it for the summer and don't go in February. Really, don't do it. My friends and I were practical though, we weren't just going to Nice to party and go to the beach, we knew better than that.

No, we wanted to party, go the Montecarlo Casino in Monaco and check out Nice's Carnival (kind of like Mardi Gras in the States). However, as the weather deteriorated, so did our chances of going to the Carnival. One by one, things got canceled, including the main night parade that we wanted to go to.

They still had the whole area set up, though so we swung by. There was a dope ferris wheel, and some drum lines playing music, we made the most of it and still ended up having an awesome time. 

But, as always, here's everything you need to know if you want to hit up Nice, France any time in the near future.

what to see

 

Monaco/montecarlo

 The Casino Monte-Carlo from the outside. Dope, right? At least the weather cooperated long enough for me to snap this.  Photo by Max Siskind.

The Casino Monte-Carlo from the outside. Dope, right? At least the weather cooperated long enough for me to snap this. Photo by Max Siskind.

I'm just getting this out of the way first. Yes, I know that neither of these are actually located in Nice. But, I promise Nice is a great place to headquarter yourself and serves as an awesome jumping off point to the rest of the French Riviera. 

I'm no billionaire, I don't have a fancy car and I'm terrible at gambling. I used to play poker with my friends in high school, and let's just say that I had to prematurely retire when I never won a single game or dollar. Ok, maybe they stopped inviting me because I sucked, but I digress. 

However, I do like pretending that I'm a billionaire, have a fancy car and that I'm the best gambler Montecarlo has ever seen. Fake it till you make it right? So, I bought a blazer. Then I had to buy some pants at the airport because I forgot mine. Then I had to buy a shirt because I forgot that also. Oh, and a new belt too. All of those purchases really cut into my gambling money by the way.

Anyway, it's really easy to get to Monaco from Nice if you take a bus from the port area/yacht central station in Nice. The downside is that the bus takes about 45 minutes to an hour, but if I remember correctly it only costs about 1.50 euros each way.

This day trip is definitely worth doing in my opinion because you get to dress up nice and act like you're James Bond for the day, you get to check out one of the nicest casinos in the world (which only costs 10 euros to enter by the way, worth it in my book) and you get to pretend like you own some of the nicest cars I've ever seen. Check out my new Facebook profile picture with my new rolls:

 Who's that handsome guy? Oh right, it's me.  Photo by Alec Sard  (one of my apartment-mates, thanks Alec!)

Who's that handsome guy? Oh right, it's me. Photo by Alec Sard (one of my apartment-mates, thanks Alec!)

Just remember, that when the rain starts pouring down immediately when you leave the casino, book it back to the bus stop before all of your new, nice clothes get ruined.

Also, you're technically not allowed to take any photos inside the casino. However, that didn't really stop me.

 I took a few others, but this was the best photo I was able to snap of the interior of the casino.  Photo by Max Siskind.

I took a few others, but this was the best photo I was able to snap of the interior of the casino. Photo by Max Siskind.

All in all, my day in Monaco ended up turning out really well. I can forever say that I won 1 euro at the Casino Monte-Carlo. One bet you can make is that I will never gamble there for the rest of my life just so that last sentence can remain a fact. That is, of course, if I end up having a ridiculous disposable income in the future where I can afford to be a regular there. Everyone can dream, right?

My advice:

  • Use the bus and don't leave too late because you want to be able to walk around and really make a whole day of Monaco, especially if its nice out. We only really had time to see the casino because of when we left and because of the rain.
  • Walk around and see parts of the track for the Monaco Grand Prix, that's also pretty cool.
  • If you're the gambling-type (and have better luck than me), budget around 50 euros to spend (remember there's a 10 euro entry fee). If you can't afford 50, not a problem, try your luck at some of the slots or other smaller games that don't cost as much. You won't spend/lose as much and you still get to say you gambled in the casino. And, by all means, if you want to spend more at the casino I'm not going to judge you.
  • DO NOT SPEND MONEY ON ANYTHING ELSE IN MONACO. No food, no drinks, no clothes, no souvenirs. Sorry boys and girls, but I'm telling you, you can't swing it. Eat before you leave and when you get back.

 

The chateu (Lou casteu)

 The view from the top. Here you can see everything from the coastline to the ferris wheel of the Carnival.  Photo by Max Siskind.

The view from the top. Here you can see everything from the coastline to the ferris wheel of the Carnival. Photo by Max Siskind.

They're aren't too many huge, historic sites in Nice, but when I visit a city, I really enjoy getting the full view of it from one of the highest points. I just think it really puts things in perspective. 

In Nice, the best spot to do this is at the Chateu. Once the spot of the main castle in Nice, it's basically just a park with a small waterfall now, but it still gives you a great view of the city and the coastline. Just take the ramp all the way up to the top and you're good.

My advice:

  • Again, keep an eye on the weather. If it's pouring, be careful on the ramp up (and down), it can get a little slippery. The rain can also partially ruin your view. Also, don't get to close to the waterfall if it's already pouring outside.
  • The waterfall is a little underwhelming, but it can still be cool. Definitely worth checking out, especially because it's on the way up to the top anyway.
  • The views from the top are still incredible, even if the weather isn't cooperating. Plus, if the weather is crappy, there's a little stand with gifts and postcards that can help you imagine what the view looks like during the summer time.

 

Downtown/Old Town/port area

 The view of some of Old Town Nice on the walk up to the Chateau.  Photo by Max Siskind.

The view of some of Old Town Nice on the walk up to the Chateau. Photo by Max Siskind.

Like I said before, not too much else to see in Nice in my opinion, unless you're there for Carnival or to check out the beach. But, the small downtown area, especially the Old Town area, is really cool.

Also, the port is cool because you get to check out all the dope yachts that are parked there. Then you can imagine yourself as the next Wolf of Wall Street. Minus all the drugs, alcohol and eaten pet goldfish. Or, you know, not. Your call.

 Just shopping around. I'll take the big one please.  Photo by Max Siskind.

Just shopping around. I'll take the big one please. Photo by Max Siskind.

Old Town is, obviously, the older part of Nice with some old school architecture and smaller streets and pathways. This area is where you'll find the best restaurants, bars and shops.

My advice:

  • Walk around, take it all in. Maybe stop off at a small stand and get a crepe. 
  • Old Town at night is where all the restaurants and bars are, so definitely check it out.
  • The port is cool if you want to take pictures in front of (or on) yachts.

 

carnival

 The area where the parade was supposed to be... Photo by Max Siskind.

The area where the parade was supposed to be...Photo by Max Siskind.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, we were in town for the Nice Carnival. Like Mardi Gras, there's a big parade, people in crazy costumes, beads and all that good stuff. But not for us. While some Carnival events were able to take place during the day, the main night carnival with a big light show was canceled while we were in Nice.

This was a big blow to our trip, but as I briefly went into earlier, we still checked out the carnival area, went on the ferris wheel and danced around and did conga lines to a drum team that was playing. Still a blast if you ask me.

Unfortunately, my computer is telling me that the videos I have of the drummers and stuff are too long/the files are too big. So, I'll just have to leave them out. Use your imagination. It was fun.

My advice:

  • Check the weather before you go. Really, I mean it.
  • If you're going for the Carnival, make sure you see all of the parades. There's the day ("Flower") parade and the night ("Light") parade. Catch them both if you can.
  • I wouldn't say costumes are completely necessary. Up to you though, depends how festive you want to get.
  • I thought the ferris wheel was a bit overpriced, but it was the only thing open, so it was worth doing in that case and you still get some nice views of the city.

 

Getting around

 The Nice tram in all of its glory.  Photo by Max Siskind.

The Nice tram in all of its glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

Nice is a pretty small city (would we call it a city? Or is it more of a large town? Probably a debate for another post), but they actually have a pretty cool tram system. I again lucked out and ended up scheming to not pay, but be aware that they do have security guards that will hop on at random stops and check tickets. Just make sure you hop off before them, or you could not be delinquent and actually buy a ride for like 1.50 euros.

Anyway, the tram in Nice was only really handy in our case because of the location of our Airbnb and because of the weather. The tram basically goes straight down the main road in Nice, making it really easy to hop on and hop off where you need to. 

My advice:

  • If your hostel, Airbnb, hotel or wherever you're staying (in a ditch perhaps?) is located more centrally, you probably won't need the tram. But good to know about anyway.

 

what to eat

Ah, my favorite part of any trip. The food. I didn't get too adventurous in Nice, but that's only because I'll be returning to France in a few weeks with my family and I'm saving my adventurous eating for then when I (my parents) can afford to fund my eating escapades. However, I do have a few recommendations and tips.

Also, one advantage to having an Airbnb with a full kitchen is that you can go to the grocery store and actually cook some meals for yourself. My friends and I took this opportunity to make a big "family-style" dinner and a big pre-game breakfast for Monaco.

Also beware, restaurants close relatively early in Nice. Especially during the week. If you want to go out to eat dinner, go at around 6 or 7, not 8 or 9.

 

pastries and coffee

 Ok, so the pastry place we went to was mostly dessert-based. But what's wrong with that? Also, those colorful things? Those are macarons. try one, you won't go wrong.  Photo by Max Siskind.

Ok, so the pastry place we went to was mostly dessert-based. But what's wrong with that? Also, those colorful things? Those are macarons. try one, you won't go wrong. Photo by Max Siskind.

I've often discussed the European pastry game, which I think is top notch. France however, has a leg up on the competition in my book though because of one simple item. The croissant. It simply can't be beat guys. It's my favorite pastry of all time. 

 Come on, just look at that croissant! What could be better. Also, that's hot chocolate, not coffee. Sorry coffee-lovers.  Photo by Max Siskind.

Come on, just look at that croissant! What could be better. Also, that's hot chocolate, not coffee. Sorry coffee-lovers. Photo by Max Siskind.

France also has crepes on every corner. Not to mention some of the best coffee in the world because of the French Press technique. Honestly, I don't hate many things, especially in the food and drink department. But, I can tell you that I am definitely not a coffee drinker. I've just never liked the taste.

I've been trying though. I continue to give coffee a chance because I'm in Europe and they drink the stuff like water over here. It's also a much healthier alternative to guzzling red bull or other energy drinks when you need that morning pick-me-up after a night out.

So, if you like coffee and pastries, Nice is no exception to the France Rule (eat and drink as much of both as you like). I look forward to expanding my pastry knowledge and appetite in a few weeks when I'm back.

My advice:

  • When it comes to pastries, you really can't go wrong. I say if you see something in a bakery window that looks good, don't hesitate to give it a try. If you don't like it, chances are you didn't end up spending too much money on it, so it isn't the end of the world.
  • You're asking the wrong guy if you want coffee advice. I don't think you can go wrong at most decent-looking restaurants or cafés in France if you ask for a coffee, but I could be completely dead wrong.

 

brunch

 Good brunch spot in Nice with an even better location. Sit outside if you can.  Photo by Max Siskind.

Good brunch spot in Nice with an even better location. Sit outside if you can. Photo by Max Siskind.

Remember, your weekend in Nice is about living it up and balling out. Never lose sight of that. Going to brunch fits right in with that lifestyle. It's also the best meal ever because two meals are better than one.

Nice also has a bunch of great brunch spots in some of the best areas of town. I used this site to find the best brunch spots and we settled on the very first one on that list, Le Coin Quotidien. The restaurant was located in a great part of town, near the main market. It's great for people watching and, if the weather was nicer, sitting outside.

You also can't beat the prices here. For 19.50 euros (a price that hasn't changed at this restaurant since 2002, they claim), you get: a croissant, scrambled eggs, ham, salmon, cheese, a salad and two drinks. Plenty of food for one person I thought.

 A brunch fit for a king.  Photo by Max Siskind.

A brunch fit for a king. Photo by Max Siskind.

My advice:

  • Choose any of the brunch spots on that link that I used, and I don't think you'll go wrong because they all looked really good.
  • Beware that these places do get crowded, so be time conscious when you go. You might have to be open to waiting a little while to get a table.

 

going out

As I said before, Nice isn't exactly a huge metropolitan capital. There is a nice little bar scene though, and we were lucky enough to run into some other Maryland kids studying in Nice who gave us the low-down.

Like I pointed out in the "What to See" section, Old Town is where your bars and restaurants are all located. So when night falls, it's time to hit up that area. Beware that this is not party until all hours of the night like Barcelona though, most places close at around 2, so plan accordingly. 

We went to Wayne's Bar, which is essentially Nice's version of RJ Bentley's (shout out to my CP peeps). Classic college-type atmosphere and when you head to the back of the bar you can even see a bunch of young French people dancing on picnic tables to Cotton-Eyed Joe. 

 Sorry for the poor quality of this photo, but I was inside a dark, crowded bar. What more do you want from me?  Photo by Max Siskind.

Sorry for the poor quality of this photo, but I was inside a dark, crowded bar. What more do you want from me? Photo by Max Siskind.

The only downside to Wayne's is that the drinks are kind of on the expensive side. Other than that, we did venture to an Irish pub that had some cheap drinks and live music, to a salsa bar with cheap margaritas near the Carnival and to some other smaller bars around Old Town. 

My advice:

  • If you walk around Old Town long enough, you'll find a few bars worth going into.
  • Beware of the drink prices at some places, they may be charging you too much. Don't buy drinks just to buy drinks.

 

conclusion

I had a great time in Nice and even though the weather was crappy, my friends and I banded together to make the best of it. And even though we can't all be Abe Froman, the sausage king of Chicago, we can sure as hell try.

Also, unlike other guides, I actually got all of my best photos into this, so no need for an extra slideshow. If you do want to see more photos or want anymore info on Nice, make sure to check out the Contact tab at the top of the site and send me a shout! 

 

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day (But it Can be Walked in One): Your Weekend Guide to Rome

Don't worry everyone, I'm back. Due to copious amounts of photos and a Wi-Fi network on par with the Spanish laundry system, this post and some others I'm working on have taken a little longer than expected to finish. Basically, just treat this post as if I had written it around February 9th after my weekend in Rome. Because that actually is when I wrote it. Enjoy.

What did you do this past weekend? Oh, you sat on your ass and watched Netflix? That sounds nice. What did I do? I was in Rome this weekend (Feb. 6th-8th). Yeah, it was pretty dope.

Just messing with you guys. Trust me, I don't want to take anything away from your Netflix-filled weekend, I've been there myself many a time. Part of me longs for a weekend like that after the marathon I put my body through in Rome.

But, marathon aside, it was completely worth it to see the incredible, awe-inspiring city of Rome, Italy. Even though the weather didn't always cooperate, it was cold and rainy pretty much all weekend except when we were inside visiting the Vatican (of course) or when we were leaving on Sunday (double of course).

Either way though, I still found the city incredibly beautiful. My love for history was definitely fulfilled walking through the ruins of the ancient empire's capital city and my love for food was also fulfilled with the awesome dining experiences I had, but more on that later.

I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling this semester outside of Barcelona on the weekends, and I want to take all of you with me. That's why, after I get back, I'm going to put these guide posts together.

This isn't just to show you what I was doing, even though I know you're all super interested. This is so that if you're anyone from a study abroad student who's also traveling to someone looking to take a trip to a specific city, I can give you a definitive guide to take with you and impress all of your friends.

So let's get down to the nitty gritty. I'm going to show you all what to see, what to eat, clue you in on the nightlife scene and much more, even if you only have a weekend to do it all. If I can do it, you sure as hell can too.

Note: This guide pretty much just covers everything I did and recommend you do. There's obviously a ton more that Rome and other cities I'm going to do guides for have to offer. Pick and choose what you want to see and add other things if you can squeeze them in. Don't let me hold you back, this is just a starting point.

Warning: This guide is long and contains a lot of information. It is not for the faint of heart. But, if you're going to visit Rome, I promise you'll find it extremely helpful, so give it a shot. Also, no matter how far you make it, at the very least check out the slideshow with more photos of my awesome weekend at the bottom of the post.

 

What to see 

 

The coliseum and the forum

  The Coliseum (duh). Photo by Max Siskind.

The Coliseum (duh). Photo by Max Siskind.

This one's a no brainer guys. I mean, come on. Who goes to Rome and doesn't see the Coliseum? If you're not gonna take my first advice on this guide, you might as well skip the rest of it. If you really can't make time in your trip to make it over there, at least lie to all of your friends and tell them you saw it or else face endless humiliation. But the choice is yours.

Anyway, the Coliseum is sick. End of story. Even though it was raining when I was there, seeing the ruins of the incredible amphitheater where it's said that 50,000 people and over one million animals were killed in the inhuman games was simply unbelievable. 

My only issue was that, even though I knew a lot of the history already just because I'm a nerd and I took time to read a lot of the plaques around and stroll through the small museum portion with exhibits and explanations, it was still hard to grasp everything that I was seeing. I wanted more specific details and things pointed out for me.

I was supposed to receive the audio guide for the Coliseum. Unfortunately, it was raining, so they weren't giving them out anymore. It's a real shame because I definitely think I could have gotten more out of my visit there.

In addition to the Coliseum, no one ever talks about the Roman Forum. Which doesn't really make sense to me. I thought the Forum was one of my favorite things about Rome. Walking through the ruins of the ancient city center and seeing some of the views you can get from its higher points was amazing.

This is also right next to the Coliseum and you can get a ticket that covers both the Coliseum and the Forum at a reduced price of about 8 euros with your student ID (if you're an international study abroad student).

My advice: 

  • Book the Coliseum in advance with an actual tour guide. It might cost a bit more, but I think the information they can give you about the structure would be invaluable. 
  • DO NOT stand in line at the Coliseum to get your ticket. The line to get a ticket there is filled with dumb people who don't realize there are three other places to purchase tickets. Don't be one of those dummies. Get your ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance or the Forum entrance. The line at these entrances is much shorter and your ticket covers all three areas.
  • Make sure you get plenty of photos of the Coliseum for your Instagram.

 

Piazza venezia

  The Il Vittoriano. Pretty cool, right? Photo by Max Siskind

The Il Vittoriano. Pretty cool, right? Photo by Max Siskind

This one is more of just a walkthrough on your way from the forum to other sights, but you're not going to be able to miss the Il Vittoriano with its huge chariots on top. According to my friend Ricky, of Ricky Roams Rome fame, who I was staying with this weekend, a lot of Italians hate the structure because it blocks views of the Coliseum.

It also required a lot of restructuring in the center of Rome and I think it was also built on top of some of the ruins of the Forum. While I appreciate and understand the hate, I found the structure interesting and cool to look at. Plus, you're in the exact center of Rome and that's pretty cool.

My advice: 

  • You're going to end up walking through here eventually 
  • Stop for a few a minutes and appreciate the world around you. Even if your friends tell you to open your damn eyes and get out of the middle of the plaza before you get hit by a crazy Italian driver or tram car. (Just a joke, that didn't actually happen to me.)

 

the pantheon

  Not sure why I expected a helicopter tour or something, but you were free Pantheon, so I can't really complain. Photo by Max Siskind.

Not sure why I expected a helicopter tour or something, but you were free Pantheon, so I can't really complain. Photo by Max Siskind.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed with the Pantheon. Only because I think I would rather see it from the top than from the inside, I just wanted a better look at the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Even so though, it's free, so it's absolutely worth going to. Staring up at the dome and wandering around what is now used as a church is still pretty cool. It's also relatively close to other sites and is in an area with lots of restaurants and interesting shops. It also doesn't take too long, so I still think it is worth your time.

My advice: 

  • Explore the plaza area around the Pantheon too. There's a lot of nice restaurants around there and it's a nice place to chill out and give yourself a foot massage before you hit the cobblestones again.
  • Spend a little while and walk around the inside. Like I said, it's free. You're a poor study abroad student. Do the math. Look up at the dome but stay away from the middle if it's raining. Remember, that middle part is open, ya idiot.

 

Church of San Luigi dei Francesi and other churches

  Outside of Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Photo by Max Siskind.

Outside of Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Photo by Max Siskind.

Right near the Pantheon, you'll find the Church of San Luigi Dei Francesi. This is a neat church that didn't take too long to explore and was on our way. All around Rome, you're going to find a ton of really cool churches, all with their own unique designs and flavors.

My advice: 

  • If you have the time, stop in and check out a few churches. They're almost always free to the public and they'll almost always blow you away with their ornate details.

END DAY ONE

(Yes, this was all one day on my trip)

 

the vatican and st. peter's basilica/square

  St. Peter's Basilica/Square. One of my favorite parts and what I originally thought was the main event at the Vatican. Photo by Max Siskind.

St. Peter's Basilica/Square. One of my favorite parts and what I originally thought was the main event at the Vatican. Photo by Max Siskind.

The church of all churches. I'm not gonna lie on this one though. Going into the Vatican museum, I had no idea what I was getting into. My impression of going to the Vatican was that you go into Vatican City and there's St. Peter's Basilica/Square and then there's a museum about the Vatican and I don't know maybe they have busts of all the pope's or something? Like Pro Football Hall of Fame style? Boy was I wrong. The Vatican is nothing like Canton, Ohio. And I'm happy about that. 

Then I thought the Sistine Chapel was it's whole own thing right next to the museum maybe? Basically I was completely wrong. If you're line of thinking is anywhere close to mine, I can set you straight. I'm probably the dumb one here, but you already knew that.

Anyway, the Vatican is basically like walking through about 10 museums that lead you into the Sistine Chapel. Then, you have to leave the museum and walk all the way around to the other side to get to St. Peter's Basilica and the square. You see, what I didn't realize is that popes like to collect shit. And I mean a ton of shit.

There's the Egyptian collection, the ancient sculpture collection, the tapestry collection, the contemporary art collection, the ceramic collection and a bunch more. There's even an entire section devoted to the evolution of the popemobile for crying out loud. It was insane. Check out all of the sections of the Vatican before you go here.

Like I said though, these aren't really "collections" or "sections," they're pretty much small museums all under one roof. Since they're all they're own (pretty extensive) museums, it takes a while to go through. While I thought all of the artifacts and collections were incredible, it can get pretty tiring and overwhelming. At a certain point, all you really want to do is see the Sistine Chapel, walk around St. Peter's Basilica/Square and be on your way to eating more pizza, pasta and gelato.

When you do get to the Sistine Chapel though, give yourself ample time to appreciate it. The audio guide is key for this part alone just so you know what everything you're looking at is and so that you can understand the relevance of each character in the amazing artistic masterpiece. 

After the museum and the Sistine Chapel, take some time to relax and grab a bite to eat before you see the basilica and the square. You need your energy to take in the plaza and snap all the photos you can over there.

My advice: 

  • Book the Vatican in advance here because time slots do fill up.
  • The audio guide isn't extremely helpful in my opinion because there's so much to see and a lot of intricate details, so it can be hard to pay attention. But it's worth the extra couple euros only for the Sistine Chapel, so pony up.
  • Try to grab an earlier time slot because this one is going to take up a pretty big chunk of your day.
  • Don't be afraid or feel bad if you don't make it to every single section of the museums. See what you want to see, it's your trip. But 100% get to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica/Square. 
  • The pope comes out and does a blessing every Sunday morning, so if that's your thing, check that out also.

 

the spanish steps

  The Spanish Steps (and its accompanying construction and Fiat ad) in all of their glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

The Spanish Steps (and its accompanying construction and Fiat ad) in all of their glory. Photo by Max Siskind.

I agree with a lot of people I've talked to and reviews on travel sites that these actually leave a lot to be desired. Movies and the Internet definitely romanticize them for sure. There's also the fact that the two towers at the top were being restored/worked on like everything else in the city when I visited and were covered with a Fiat ad. 

However, I'm including them on this guide for a couple reasons. First of all, if you're unlike me in every way and love shopping, the streets right around the Spanish Steps have all the high-end Italian retailers that you're looking for. It's actually pretty cool seeing them all right next to each other on one street in my opinion.

Remember, even if you're a poor study abroad student, window shopping is always free. Except in Giorgio Armani. You have to pay to breathe the air in there, or so I'm told.

Additionally, going to the Spanish steps is, in my opinion, essential because it offered me the best view of Rome I saw all weekend. That view came at Villa Borghese. Villa Borghese is basically a park that is situated next to the top of the Spanish Steps. When you climb the Spanish steps, that's right I said when you lazy shit, head to the left up the hill. Keep going until you reach the top and look out at all of Rome sprawled out before your very eyes. It's incredible.

  My favorite photo of the view from Villa Borghese. Photo by Max Siskind.

My favorite photo of the view from Villa Borghese. Photo by Max Siskind.

My advice: 

  • Walk around the shopping areas and look but don't touch.
  • Admire the fountain, climb up the stairs and beat off sellers of roses, knockoff sunglasses and selfie sticks.
  • Stop at the top of the stairs and look down at the fountain and shopping streets.
  • Head up to Villa Borghese for the view and stay there for a little while just taking it all in.

END DAY TWO


The jewish synagogue, museum and quarter

  The synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Photo by Max Siskind.

The synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Photo by Max Siskind.

I'm so glad we were able to squeeze this in on Sunday before our flight home. After all the churches and the Vatican, it's nice to get a little diversity. Plus there's a bangin' bakery over here (shouts to my sister Gabby for the recommendation). It doesn't have a name but walk down the main street of the Jewish quarter away from the synagogue/museum and look for the line of people. Try to get there early because they only make and sell about 4 things and you're going to want to (attempt to) eat them all.

  The chocolate slice of heaven I received from the no-name Jewish bakery. Photo by Max Siskind.

The chocolate slice of heaven I received from the no-name Jewish bakery. Photo by Max Siskind.

The synagogue and the museum are still the main stars here though. Be forewarned though, the area has dealt with attacks in the past, so security can be kind of tight. Especially if you're a study abroad student who has a flight in a few hours so he brought his carry-on with him. No, I do not have a pocket knife on me and my duffel bag does not contain any explosive devices, thank you good sir.

While the main synagogue was immaculate, I didn't think the tour that came with our ticket was anything to write home about. Basically, our tour guide took us to the smaller Spanish synagogue in the basement of the building first, then to the main synagogue upstairs. She basically led us around, said "here's synagogue one, take some photos" and then "here's synagogue two, take some photos. Any questions? None? Ok, cool."

I wish we could have stayed longer because that area had some really neat-looking authentic Roman-Jewish restaurants that I would have loved to try. I also just wanted to explore the museum more because I didn't really get to walk around the whole thing. Ok, maybe I just wanted to go back to the bakery and eat everything they had. 

My advice: 

  • Bakery > everything.
  • Do the museum tour with the audio guide followed by the tour of the two synagogues.
  • If you have time, grab something to eat at one of those restaurants I talked about.

END DAY 3

(Pretty jam-packed, right?)*

*You'll notice that the Trevi Fountain and some other major sites aren't on this guide. Specifically for the fountain, it was under construction this past weekend. I was told I wouldn't even be able to see it and that instead they had a screen up showing what the fountain would look like if it wasn't being worked on. I can see that online. So as much as I wanted to live out my Lizzie McGuire Movie moment, it just didn't happen on this trip.

Getting around

  Couldn't even get a photo of the ever-elusive Roman trams, so a photo of the tracks will have to do. Photo by Max Siskind.

Couldn't even get a photo of the ever-elusive Roman trams, so a photo of the tracks will have to do. Photo by Max Siskind.

Unfortunately for everyone, the public transportation system in Rome sucks. At least in my opinion. As always, I'm sure I'm exaggerating a bit and I was coming from the incredible metro system that exists in Barcelona, so it was definitely an adjustment.

On the plus side, the term "payment" on the Rome tram and bus system doesn't really exist. Sure, there are places to swipe a card or ticket, but if you get on a back entrance, no one is going to hassle you. I didn't pay for a single ride my entire weekend in Rome.

However, I found the system to be pretty unreliable. You essentially have no idea when the next bus or tram is coming and could wait for as long as 20-30 minutes for the next one. Furthermore, late on weekend nights, the trips become more infrequent and the tram stops at 3am (early if you're running on Barcelona time).

Luckily, I didn't have to deal with the system too much because I was only there for a few days and we did so much walking, I didn't really need it. I also never ventured into the actual underground metro system (with all two of its lines). But, my friends tried it and from what I gathered, it's sketch central station. 

My advice: 

  • Avoid it if you can, but you'll probably end up using it at some point. 
  • If you've got time to wait, it won't be too much of a hassle. 
  • In general, trams and buses are supposed to come about every 12-15 minutes.
  • Don't use the actual metro if you don't have to.
  • In general, be extremely careful and watch your stuff. Seriously, I feel more safe in Barcelona's metro system than I did all weekend in Rome.

 

What to eat

 

pizza

  Pizza from La Gatta Mangiona. Za in Italy definitely doesn't mess around. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pizza from La Gatta Mangiona. Za in Italy definitely doesn't mess around. Photo by Max Siskind.

Just like the Coliseum, you aren't going to Rome without eating pizza. I'm not gonna let that fly and neither should you. However, finding good pizza in Rome isn't the easiest thing because everyone and their Italian grandmother is selling it over there.

Luckily, I was staying with my friend Ricky who is studying abroad in Rome this semester. Ricky took a cooking class and his instructor gave him a list of places to eat, including some of the best pizza places. One of them happened to be within walking distance of his apartment and, because I hadn't done enough walking on my first day already (scroll back up to see what my day one consisted of for a refresher), I agreed to join him for a pizza feasta. 

The place was La Gatta Mangiona (The Fat Cat) and it definitely lived up to its namesake. We ordered two pizzas, both margherita, but one was classic/traditional margherita and one was a different take with buffalo mozzarella instead of traditional mozzarella. Both were heavenly. The restaurant also offered a wide variety of wines and beers and we also had some limoncello shots afterwards. (Note: limoncello is meant to be sipped, unless you specifically order a shot at a bar. I'll try to remember that next time.)

I had a couple other slices over the weekend, but none lived up to that first pizza. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it to any other highly recommended pizza places, but I know they're out there and I'll find them one day.

If you have a favorite pizza place in Rome, feel free to leave a shout in the comments or at me on social media.

 

pasta

  Pasta from Ristorante da Massi. Danktown, USA. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pasta from Ristorante da Massi. Danktown, USA. Photo by Max Siskind.

Same deal as pizza here, but a little bit different. In Rome, I got the feeling that every pizza place wasn't doing it incredibly authentic, but I think that is not as likely with pasta.

If you're selling pasta in Rome, that shit better be homemade or no one is going to eat at your restaurant. Much like the U.S., no one really cares if you're another crappy pizza joint, even if you are in Italy. But they do care about their pasta.

My first day in Rome, for lunch, we went to Ristorante da Massi and I got fettuccine with pork cheek in a tomato sauce with pepper flakes. While I'll admit it wasn't the best pasta I've ever had in my life, it was still good and I could tell it was made in house, and that's good enough for me.

 

gelato

  Pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip) gelato. From a small place near Ristorante di Massi. Sorry for all the #foodintheair. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip) gelato. From a small place near Ristorante di Massi. Sorry for all the #foodintheair. Photo by Max Siskind.

I think you're all starting to understand the recurring theme here. Again, tons of gelato all over the place. Don't get too caught up in it. Or do, and have it twice each day you're there. Your call.

Just beware of the numerous places with a thousand flavors that they leave sitting out all day. Go for a smaller joint off the beaten path that looks like it sells gelato with fresh ingredients and you won't go wrong.

My advice on flavors:

  • If you're only in Rome for a weekend, I say get gelato at least twice. That way you try more than one place.
  • Try different flavor combos. My first time I went for pistachio and stracciatella (chocolate chip). My next time, I went peach and pineapple.
  • It's really important to try different gelato places and get one sweet/dessert flavor combo and one fruity combo.

 

sandwiches/bread/pastries

I really wish I had ventured more into this category when I wish in Rome because each time I did, I was never disappointed. Like the rest of Europe, the bread game in Italy is extremely on point. Everyone is making it fresh. Every. Single. Day. Like clockwork.

This baking prowess makes its way into your sandwiches, which Italy also has a lock on because of what I like to call "the mozzarella complex." And you all know I love sandwiches, so I know what I'm talking about here. Get your hands on a capri, caprese or anything with prosciutto and you can't go wrong.

Sorry for the lack of photos of the baked goods and sandwiches. All of them were so good the only thing I could capture them with was my stomach. My camera and phone never stood a chance.

 

restaurants

  Pianostrada. One of my favorite meals of all time. Period. Look how small this place is. LOOK AT IT. Photo by Max Siskind.

Pianostrada. One of my favorite meals of all time. Period. Look how small this place is. LOOK AT IT. Photo by Max Siskind.

You're in a foreign country here people. It's a little different than your abroad HQ destination if you're only there for a weekend. It makes it more special. So eat out as much as you can. More likely than not, you're not going to have a kitchen anyway so it shouldn't matter. Besides the restaurants I already named above, there are two here that deserve honorable mentions:

  1. Hostaria del Moro da Tony: Probably my biggest regret of my trip was not going to this place. But that's only because we couldn't find it. Pro tip: don't go around asking locals where "Tony's" is. They'll have no idea what you're talking about. Use the full restaurant name and you should be good to go. While I've been told this place is extremely Americanized, it's still a great deal. Word on the street is that it's 15 euros for a HUGE portion of chicken parm (which is something you can't really find in Italy by the way) and bottomless, I repeat BOTTOMLESS, wine. Apparently this is some special deal though, so make sure you inquire about it if you go there. I also heard Tony is an excellent host. 
  2. Pianostrada Laboritorio di Cucina: This place has its own post here. It's that good. Seriously one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Great experience, great atmosphere, great staff/owners and great food to back it up. I would legitimately go back to Rome just to eat at this place. I seriously can't recommend it enough.

 

late night

Like any big city, Rome has a plethora of my biggest kryptonite, late-night munchies. My best recommendations follow.

Fries

  There are a few different chains of these places in Rome. This place was just called "FRIES."   Works for me. Photo by Max Siskind.

There are a few different chains of these places in Rome. This place was just called "FRIES." Works for me. Photo by Max Siskind.

I haven't ventured to a similar place in Barcelona quite yet, but these places are popping up all over Europe and even in the U.S. and I am extremely grateful. I have an unhealthy obsession/addiction with french fries and these places unfortunately fuel that addiction by making them the only thing on their menu.

To add more fuel to the fire, they have a trillion sauces and you can put on as many as you want. The place I went to even had avocado. AVOCADO PEOPLE. I didn't get that though. I stuck with some old standbys, and got cheddar and my first love, ketchup.

Donuts/other assorted pastries

  I've really got to stop with the food in the air. It's just embarrassing at this point. It's you all I feel sorry for. Photo by Max Siskind.

I've really got to stop with the food in the air. It's just embarrassing at this point. It's you all I feel sorry for. Photo by Max Siskind.

There are a ton of guys in Rome who I'm sure make a very nice living selling donuts and pastries to unsuspecting drunk study abroad students. And the donuts are good! I had a chocolate-filled one and I think it cost me 1 euro. It was delicious and I would do it again proudly. The donut guys also sell other stuff that you may be interested in, just ask. I'll leave it at that.

Gelato

Also unfortunately, a lot of gelato places are open late night in Rome. Luckily, I avoided temptation, but it certainly was not easy. Again though, as I said in the gelato section earlier, don't go to the places with a thousand flavors sitting out, looking at you "Blue Ice." Do not go there.

Sandwiches

"When is he going to stop with the sandwiches?" The answer is never. Get over it. You know what you signed up for if you've made it this far into the guide. Yes, some sandwich places are open late too. I once again resisted temptation, kind of. I had a bite of one of my friend's late-night sandwiches, and it was everything I could have hoped for.

 

going out

 

trastevere

  Chocolate shots from Rivendita Libri in this district. These little guys may be small, but they pack a punch, trust me. And no, not all six are for me, I have friends I swear. Photo by Max Siskind.

Chocolate shots from Rivendita Libri in this district. These little guys may be small, but they pack a punch, trust me. And no, not all six are for me, I have friends I swear. Photo by Max Siskind.

This district in Rome is filled with restaurants, including most of the ones on this guide and a ton of others. In addition to restaurants, it also has a bunch of small, mostly Italian local bars. Which is awesome if you don't want to get stuck going to all the places American study abroad students are.

Plus, you can take chocolate shots at Rivendita Libri. What more could you ask for?


campo de' fiori

  The Campo area used to be used for sacrifices, executions and public shaming. Now American study abroad students go there to get drunk. Neat-o! Photo by Max Siskind.

The Campo area used to be used for sacrifices, executions and public shaming. Now American study abroad students go there to get drunk. Neat-o! Photo by Max Siskind.

This is where most of the Americanized bars are. Right across the bridge from Trastevere, it's only a short walk. We actually ended up going to some of the same places over here both of my nights out in Rome. A lot of the bars in Campo and other districts in Rome also double as some of the best restaurants in the city during the day, or so I'm told. This area is great because you can jump around from bar to bar with ease.

 

clubs

Ok, so I didn't actually make it to any of the clubs in Rome. Which actually ended up being fine. While the club scene is huge in Barcelona, I actually enjoyed a break from it. I'm more of a bar guy anyway and Rome's bar scene was excellent in my opinion. If clubs are more your scene though, there are some options:

  1. Gilda: Some of my friends went to this club the first night. Despite multiple recommendations that it was one of the best clubs to go to in Rome, they said it was somewhat disappointing. This could have been for a number of reasons though. It could have been the wrong night to go or a bad one, or the club scene just isn't as big as it is in Barcelona where they're used to going out.
  2. Art Café: Another club that we were recommended to go to. I can't say anything else about it other than I heard it's fun, because I've never been there and none of us went this weekend. Sorry, but I guess you'll just have to check it out for yourself.
  3. Promoter Bar Crawls: We didn't do these either, but they definitely piqued my interest. For 20 euros, they start you out at an open bar for an hour and a half, then they take you to a bunch of other bars where you receive one free shot at each. After that, they take you to a club with free entry. Not a bad deal in my opinion. You'll find promoters handing out flyers and passes for these at major sights in Rome, like outside of the Coliseum. If you stay in a hostel, they might also have an arrangement with a promoter for a similar deal.

 

conclusion

Rome is an incredible city. Simple as that. The way the ancient city's presence is still felt in every cobblestone and the way that world is seamlessly integrated with the modern one is a sight to behold. The city's ancient charm is what makes it one of the most beautiful city's I've had the pleasure of staying in.

I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, but make sure you use this guide to do it right. And, for the love of all things good in this world, do not come back from Rome (or any other European city) with a selfie stick. Please, I'm serious.

Check out the slideshow below of some more photos that didn't make it into the guide.