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Roma

Eleven years since I first visited, I was relieved to see that Rome has remained a hectic, uniquely appealing city. We stayed near the Piazza del Popolo, an area I'd barely spent any time in before (an oversight I distinctly remember regretting, especially because the piazza is next to Villa Borghese, Rome's version of Central Park). On our two full days in Rome, we wandered through the gardens and piazza, not exactly itinerary-less, but certainly less than focused on seeing every single tourist attraction.

We ended up walking nearly all of the city and inadvertently or not, saw most of Rome's famous attractions: the Colosseum, the Vittorino, the scaffolding covered Trevi fountain and Spanish Steps (odd to have them both covered in scaffolding), the impossibly crowded Pantheon (despite the crowds, focusing on the light above still felt transformative and reflective). We even made time for the Etruscan museum, our 'b' choice, as the Galleria Borghese was sold out.

Rome is full of visually stunning angles, sculptures, reflections, and people watching. Each church we explored featured stunning interiors that you wouldn't necessarily predict from the outside. The Cathedral of Saint Ignazio has a ceiling that rivals the Sistine Chapel (and for free!); Santa Maria Maggiore's side chapels are exquisite.

Because we stayed right along the Tiber, we walked over the bridge into a very non-touristy section of the city – Prati – to eat pizza at La Pratolina and get dessert at Vice Cafe. We also walked to a viewpoint of the Vatican (honestly as close as I wanted to get; on my only other visit, a time when I had a higher tolerance for crowds, I still found it too crowded to reflect or ponder). We ended our trip full of Roman pizza, with tired feet and full suitcases of dirty clothes. Alas, the Rome airport is quite possibly the worst international airport I've visited – so be forewarned if you must fly out. Our trip to Italy was varied and delicious, and because we spent such an extended time in only a few regions, it provided me with a better understanding of Italian culture. Now: when can I go back?