Penny Pincher Rome

posted by Anne & Kirk Woodyard
Music and Markets Tours

No excuse for spending big bucks in Rome!

La dolce vita? Yes, Romans still live it, and if you join them in their haunts, it doesn’t have to break the bank. From pizza to piazzas, fountains to frescoes, markets to monuments, Rome overflows with affordable pleasures, made even more enjoyable since Romans went all out to polish their city for the Year 2000 Jubilee proclaimed by the pope.

After decades of grungy grayness, Vittorio Emmanuele II’s massive tumble of white marble looks more than ever like its nickname – “Wedding Cake”; and the refreshing fountains throughout the city are sparkling oases of crystal-clear water. And the best and thriftiest way to enjoy this easily walkable city is as the Romans do –a piede.

We planned a “fountain tour” to keep us out in the sunshine and on our feet on our first jet-lagged day, and began it by joining the locals in their social center: always-bustling Piazza Navona. With its impressive Baroque architecture and glorious Bernini fountains, it’s been a hub of activity since beginning life as a stadium in the first century. Today we have trouble finding sitting room on a fountain ledge as we enjoy the first gelato of the trip – a mouthwatering chocolate tartufo con panna (truffle gelato with whipped cream) from Tre Scalini.

Trampled lettuce leaves and stray pieces of cardboard are being swept up by city custodians as we copycat a signorina and swish our arms in the tureen-shaped fountains of Campo de Fiore, quieting down in the aprés-market afternoon. We’ll return early one morning to participate in the gratis open-air theater of the popular market, its stalls bursting with colorful blooms and pyramided produce, but today we sip a cooling coconut and pineapple frullati (a Roman specialty of blended fruits and ice) from nearby Jungle Juice and relax by the fountain.

A few blocks away we pass through another free alfresco museum. Graced by twin fountains topped with fleur de lis, the emblem of the Farnese family, elegant Piazza Farnese is anchored by its namesake palazzo. Covered with fleur-de-lis, and with a roof-long cornice designed by Michelangelo, impressive Palazzo Farnese is now quite appropriately the home of the French embassy.

Via del Mascherone, heading towards the Tevere River (Tiber to us) on the left of the palazzo, leads us to a playful wall-mounted ancient stone mask spouting water into a stone tub – we take our turn for a cooling splash so welcome in Rome’s blistering summer heat.

We’re amazed but happy to walk freely into one of the wonders of the ancient world-the Pantheon. Built by Hadrian in AD 128, the immense cupola, open in the center to the heavens, was the largest freestanding dome in the world until as late as 1960. At nearby Casa del Caffé-Taza d’Oro we splurge a bit for a coffee-lovers wonder – granita di caffé, a cold coffee “slushy” topped with whipped cream.

Ready to give our feet a break, we settle in among the commuters on bus 64 for a 50 – cent city tour. The orange bus takes us all the way from St. Peter’s to Termini Station, passing many of the city’s key sights along the way.

The surfeit of wonders, free-for-the-looking, such as the welcoming embrace of St. Peter’s columned piazza and the baroque fantasy of the Trevi Fountain, lets us save our euros for a look at the unforgettable frescoes of the Vatican Museum’s Sistine Chapel, and our favorite – the brilliant jewel-toned works of the Raphael rooms.

Although the majority of our meanders around the city were on our own, it was definitely worth every penny to participate in a very reasonably priced walking tour (with a 10% discount for signing up online) with Through Eternity. Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable young guide led us on an early evening tour of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona, ending on Michelangelo’s exquisitely patterned Piazza Campidoglio atop Capitoline Hill. Even without a tour, all these sites are admission-free.

Any ill-prepared tourist can spend a lot of money in Rome – millions have. However, a traveler who’s learned a few lessons in cheapology can enjoy the city’s charms like the Romans do on an unbelievably low budget. And how sweet it is to have a little money left over to begin saving for that next trip.


The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we’re interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We’ve visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpfu
l people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe.

Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and the Languedoc in the south of France. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with our Music and Markets guests.

While both of us have experience in organizing travel and music groups Kirk’s background is in project management and competitive writing, and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over thirty years of teaching experience, and a travel and food writer specializing in France and Italy.

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One Response to Penny Pincher Rome

  1. Cheryl says:

    So glad to read this entry, Anne and Kirk. I am always telling travelers that it doesn’t have to be an expensive vacation to enjoy these wonderful big cities. You have some great suggestions for this……..

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