08/29/2011 09:54 am ET | Updated Oct 25, 2011

A Student's Guide To Backpacking: Rome

Travel guides and writers try to steer travelers away from the typical and towards a more authentic experience, but sometimes sights are "touristy" for a reason: They're simply amazing. Rome is a perfect example of this principle. The fact of the matter is that Rome, in late summer, is inundated with tourists and the most resourceful traveler would be hard-pressed to escape the hoards of tour groups roaming the city. Don't let this ruin any of the spectacular sites of the city, though, because Rome is worth it.


The Colosseum: The site of the deaths of thousands of animals, and where men were forced to become animals, The Colosseum stands both as a tribute to the feat of ancient human engineering capabilities and testament to the darker capacity of man to inflict atrocities upon one another. Don't let Hollywood glamorization and a trip's worth of old buildings desensitize you to a structure which once had its floor covered in sand in order to soak up the fluid of countless exsanguinated animals and human beings, martyr and gladiator alike.

The Pantheon: For anyone who has seen the Pantheon in Paris, the Roman variety may initially be somewhat underwhelming. One step inside the massive structure -- the world's largest dome - will clear up any said misconceptions. It's nearly impossible to snap a good photograph of the interior with a standard lens simply due to the Pantheon's sheer size. Perhaps it's better, though, because the presence and breadth of Rome's Pantheon is not something that can be properly captured in the frame of a photo. In short, you've just gotta see it.

Vatican City: The Vatican is a sovereign state apart from Italy and a must-see for travelers to Rome. One of mankind's greatest legacies rests within its depths in the form of the Sistine Chapel and, which is -- excuse the sacrilege -- Michelangelo's chapel. In addition, Raphael made such a significant contribution to other areas of the Vatican's premises that -- upon his death -- the Pope had Raphael placed in a marble sarcophagus which read, "Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself would die."


Pizza: A travel guide telling you to eat pizza? In Italy? Revolutionary, I know, but -- as a self-proclaimed enthusiast and connoisseur -- I believe the pizza in Rome trumps that of its southern companion, Naples. Beyond the typical margheritta pizzas of the region, especially if you're looking for a cheap bite on the go, stop into just about any sandwich shop or cafe and ask for "pizza rosa", an Italian folded flatbread pizza.

Gelatto: Once again, I know I'm asking a lot of you - the traveler - but you should really force yourself to try some Italian gelatto. If you can muster the strength, branch out and try some interesting flavors and combinations. My favorites are banana-watermelon, peach-pineapple and - of course - cherry-lemon. Someone try the Nutella flavor and let me know how that goes.

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