Just to inform any would be readers, who might hope this post will be a ‘classic’ city ‘review’, the type which usually grace the pages of WordPress, it won’t be and therefore you might be disappointed.
I feel disinclined to be filling this post about every single detail of every single sightseeing tourist destination in Rome. I mean, we all know them right? We have seen them in films, in magazines, books and on television. So, what can I say about the sights of Rome that will add any further art, beauty or inspiration to their crumbling stonework? Nothing, is the answer!
So the journey to Rome began like any other might, we had to get to Madrid airport. In doing so we were already late leaving the house, so the day begun by rushing around like mad fools!
At the Madrid Metro tickets machines on the T1 Airport station we found a Hong Kong cent in the machine, along with our newly purchased tickets. Then the fateful words; ‘That might bring us luck, keep it’. I wondered from that moment how true that statement would prove to be.
Anyway, we were flying with the fabulous Easyjet (jest intended). They were 45 minutes late taking off, so after the 2 hour and 5 minute flight time to Rome we were a little eager to be on out way out into the city.
Now Fiumicino airport In Rome is somewhat smaller in scale than Barajas in Madrid, so we were surprised to see how disorganised and badly signposted everything was! We came off our flight to immediately notice there were no signs for luggage collection. We, along with others from various flights had flock to an info desk to enquire where we could retrieve our suitcases from. Luckily the assistant spoke English. We were then informed luggage collection was situated on the floor below, ummmm.
We went where we were told, but again were faced with confusion. There was no immediate indication as to which carousel the luggage from out flight was being unloaded onto. There were about 14 to choose from. There were screens above each carousel, which funnily enough didn’t display our flight number. So we wandered about and eventually found a main board displaying all flights and corresponding luggage carousels, but still our flight was not displayed. What to do? Luckily, I then caught sight of some people I recognised from our flight, they were standing around one of the carousels waiting. Great, at last some indications of something! So we too waited although our flight number was still not being displayed on the screen above the carousel, what did they know that we didn’t? After 45 minutes waiting, and still uncertain, eventually the luggage appeared. Hooray!!!!!
Once we retrieved out cases we decided to use the Leonard Express train into Rome, 14 Euros for one, one way ticket. This train takes roughly 30 minutes to get into Rome Termini Station. Yet, we would still have to use the Metro service to get from there to our hotel. We chose the train instead of any tourist bus options, which are available via Easyjet and at the airport, as we thought the train would be quicker option and less messing about.
Note: Don’t forget to stamp, or validate your ticket when using the trains. We didn’t realise this fact as although there are machines on the platform, on our way into Rome a ticket inspector did this for us. Upon leaving Rome and using this express train again we missed the machines and the signs for them, as they don’t explain what the are really for and how to use them! Luckily the conductor told us to validate them once we got on the train.
Sitting on the train trying to relax a little I over heard passengers discussing how they had already had their wallets stolen. Great, I thought, nice start to the holiday. I tried to relax and just ignore the chatter around me, but the view from the train was far from appealing. Rome wasn’t looking beautiful from that perspective; graffiti, rubbish and masses of apartment complexes in dire need of major overhaul. Could this be the real Rome? Maybe the train wasn’t the right option after all.
Once we finally arrived in Termini Station we quickly noticed the obvious presence of thieves, or pick pockets to be more precise. Now, someone has already asked me how did I spot them, well, here is my answer; they were too interested in our belongings, and pockets, they didn’t look at our faces but their eyes were shifting about our persons taking everything in. They were summing up which ‘mark’ was the most vulnerable and ‘fruitful’, they were watching to see if we would be off guard at any point. Also, it was a damn strong gut feeling that they were out of place. They were unaccompanied, and basically hanging about without purpose, and had old eyes. I say this last part because they were actually children. Yes, and obviously street children too. I think mentioning this is important, and people may well not want to discuss this for fear of bursting the bubble of Rome’s appeal, but I have no such qualms. I didn’t feel safe at Termini Station from that moment, nor to be honest using the transport in general in Rome. However, the thieves are obvious if you have the good fortune to notice them before they notice your purse! As they are kids you might not realise that they are thieves, so be warned.
Termini station is a fair size, but we had little trouble locating the exit, but whilst checking our directions again, we were being watched by unsavoury characters on the make. I was therefore happy to be out of station, and heading towards our hotel. Yet, we still needed the Metro and initially we could only see the bus terminals before us. I know Rome is a city and a busy one too, but at that moment it felt as though every single inhabitant had descended in front of Termini to purposefully obstruct our path! Busy, very busy, with more people who lack common sense than any I have ever seen before! Stalls selling things and of course what city would be complete without horrendous and impatient traffic. Consequently it can be difficult to get your bearings without the aid if good signs pointing you in the right direction from the Metro, which of course there weren’t!
Eventually, with a back track, we did see the Metro sign. A plain red M that was not illuminated in the evening light; with all the lights, hustle and bustle it was easily missed, so to was the entrance as it was concealed by stalls, people and buses.
As for the actual Metro, well, what can I say? Being used to Madrid’s Metro I couldn’t quite believe Rome’s version. Again, not well designed, sign posted, or organised; not really tourist friendly. I realised Rome is a city famous for its ancient landmarks but I didn’t know its Metro also constituted as one of them! It was dank, dark, cold and not very clean. All I can say is I think we have been spoiled living here in Madrid, the Metro is great here, every London Underground fades into insignificance!
Once we purchased a ticket we saw signs indicating the train lines located passed the ticket booths, but no actual map to show the stops included on those lines. I want to note I did have a Metro Map with me, but felt disinclined to rummage in my belongings for it feeling a little paranoid that thieves could be watching me. I looked tourist enough, without looking lost too!
We took our pick out of what I think was 4 train lines, descended the stairs and then had to search for confirmation of which line to take. On the first platform we located, eventually, a faded and torn Metro map. This indicated we were on the correct platform, yippee!!!
I couldn’t believe that the appearance of the Metro didn’t improve. What looked like old tram lines, still hung from the ceiling; either than or in need of replacing electric lines! We had no way of knowing when the train would actually arrive as no information was on display, and it was again as over crowded as the street above! It was commuter time, and the trains were not running as frequently as they do here in Madrid, which made for bedlam on the platform! When the train did arrive we struggled to embark onto the already filled to capacity tin can, which was covered in graffiti. Nice touch. Most trains I discovered were the same in Rome, so not only do the buildings suffer in silence, but the trains too.
Reaching our stop thankfully!!! We walked on to our hotel and upon arrival I felt relief; I was so tired and a little grumpy from the laborious and tedious journey, I need to just relax. The hotel was OK; although not glamorous it was a 4 star, breakfast included in the price and it had a great location, so what more did we require. The room was clean and the staff; polite, friendly, helpful and they all spoke English.
After a brief repose we wandered up to the Coliseum, which was about 200 yards or so from our hotel. I wanted to see it lit up in the dark. Of course I hadn’t bargained on being freezing cold, as considering it is December Madrid has been slightly warmer than most other EU countries.
Regardless of the cold the Coliseum was very pretty in the darkness, and there were little Christmas touches such as a decorated pine tree. It felt really nice to be there, and quite atmospheric. The lighting romantic, well, if the cold had not been so biting!
We decided to grab a quick coffee to warm up at the Coliseum Metro Station (it was a nice little stall situated just inside the Metro entrance), the coffee was lovely. Yet, once outside again we noticed the pick pockets were about their usual business. Tourist areas are their hunting grounds, so beware if you do visit Rome as the presence of these thieves were more blatant and prevalent than in any other city I have visited. For me, it was strange to be faced with that, as it was such an obvious manner; yet, no-one else seemed interested enough to care that they were there!
We headed back out onto the freezing cold streets in need of some dinner. We soon stumbled upon a nice little restaurant, the name of which escapes me. The staff were friendly, welcoming and the service was excellent; also the waiters spoke English too. We had pizza; Margarita and a vegetable mix version which were very nice and tasty, and Tiramisu as a desert. The food was quite reasonable in price, but the alcohol was expensive. This is something else to note.
Food even in tourist areas seems to be reasonable, and won’t break the bank. Yet the alcohol is not so cheap; 5 to 6 Euros for a small beer and the same for a shot of any spirit. When on holiday I tend to indulge a little more in alcohol as at night that seems to be the best option after a long day walking! Yet, in Rome it can be more expensive. Comparisons; in Madrid you can purchase a small beer for a Euro, which is cheap beer!
So, we decided to search for a shop to buy some alcohol from, as the weather was so icy cold, we needed to be warmed up. Yet, even the wine on sale was expensive for what it was. Small bottles of vodka were 11 Euros and Martini was nearly 20 Euros for something that should have been merely 8; I felt we were in fact being stolen from, but by legitimate not street thieves!!
Also, I didn’t want to attempt to drink the water in Rome, just in-case, so we sought out the bottled version. Yet, throughout our time walking about in Rome we didn’t see any supermarkets that we could by water from, we relied on tourist souvenir shops, which thankfully weren’t so expensive to buy big bottles from. On the last day we did find a couple of ‘Spar’ shops or ‘Despar’, but they were not near our hotel. It seemed to me that in general shops for food and drinks were modelled on delicatessen markets, and again this reflected in the expensive prices of the goods being sold, including the water and anything else. Not very good for anyone wanting to conserve their holiday budget!
Anyway, we did settle on some cheap wine, well, in quality not price! 11 Euros for the bottle, the cheapest there! We walked on a little further and stumbled upon an Irish bar, as we always seem to do. The beer being sold here was actually cheaper; 5 Euros for a pint of beer compared to 5 to 6 Euros in the restaurants and bars for only a small beer. We stayed only a short while though as we felt exhausted, not drunk may I add! It was an Irish bar and not an Italian bar, but I was quite satisfied and happy; the people were friendly and the atmosphere was good.
Our First Real Day Of Being A Tourist.
We were up and out early and again heading off to the Coliseum. We purchased the Roma Pass from a near by souvenir shop, 30 Euros each. This is a good deal, but only if you plan to actually use it!! You have 2 free passes into attractions and discounts on the others. Also it gets you around for free on the Metro lines. We had planned to walk and use the Metro, and not rely on the tourist buses available to use as ‘sight-seeing’ guides. I wanted to get to know the city, and the only way to do that is to walk and see it as the people who live there do. Plus Rome is a fairly small and walk-able city too! Just get a map and get walking, also iPhone mapping helps.
The Coliseum by day, well what can I say?
This is an interesting place; architecture which has inspired the designs of modern buildings, the sun shining through the different angles of the building was stunning and picturesque, the views from there were lovely, the fact it still stands is unreal and the many deaths it has paid witness to quite crazy; I think it has to be haunted! The Coliseum however is just that though, the Coliseum. I don’t know why, but I didn’t fall ‘in love’ with it, I can’t really understand it myself, as usually when I visit any new city I do love the place immediately, but Rome, I just didn’t take to immediately. I enjoy history, culture, art and architecture, but something about Rome just didn’t work for me.
I had no expectations about Rome either, so I hadn’t built it up into something fantastic only to be disappointed (the journey to Rome not being so great could have perhaps impacted upon my enthusiasm). I had read other people’s opinions on Rome though, and of course the places to be seen and I had the impression that most people seem to be in love with the city and enthralled by it. Yet we weren’t. Maybe because the sights in Rome are so well known and documented, they can be seen everywhere from films to books. It wasn’t as though Rome was completely new for us to discover, see or hear of it for the first time. I don’t know, but I didn’t feel ‘wow’ at it all, not even in the Coliseum.
I did however want to stand in the centre of the structure, but I couldn’t as the floor has been exposed in the centre to show the underground structure and rooms. It was a shame as I think being there I could have got a real feel for the place. As it was I just felt it had no soul there, though it has paid witness to so many events and people have frequented it innards in their thousands; I couldn’t feel one ounce of soul. Though, there weren’t any nasty or bad vibes place either; it was weird really. Maybe, it was me just not feeling the Rome thing!
Anyway, one piece of interesting info from the Coliseum that I recall; the blood of the fallen victims or gladiators would be mopped up, as drinking blood in Rome was common place. It was believed that drinking blood could cure aliments such as epilepsy.
This stuck in my mind above anything else, morbid, but fascinating!
Roman Forum and Ancient City
In AD 64 the city of Rome burnt for six days, during this time Rome was destroyed, at least the ‘old’ Rome. This is what you can see from the Coliseum; the Roman Forum and surrounding ruins.
It was good to ramble about, though hard to make head or tail of it as of course the city no longer stands as once it did. It is now a mixture of intact and standing edifices, rubble and unmarked ruins; though there are some great picture opportunities though. If you want to know more you can have tours of this area, but we went solo just to see it our way (also we didn’t have hours and hours to spare). The area by Temple of Castor is the most interesting.
It was a cold day too, and in the open areas the wind was cutting; ice on the floor, muddy and the ground was uneven too (as to be expected). If you have trouble walking on cobbles and rubble then take heed it can play havoc with your feet and ankles. I did see women wearing heeled boots walking about there, and wondered how the Hell they were staying upright as I struggled in flat ankle boots!
The Trevi Fountain
After here, we then made a mad dash over to the Trevi fountain, trying to out run the packs of tourists who were now hot on our heels!
The Piazza the fountain is situated in is tiny, well, it looked tiny with hoards of people squashed tightly together all fighting to see and take photos of the fountain itself! If anyone expects it to be romantic or like that movie with Audrey Hepburn in (the title of this post), it isn’t! It was so manic it was difficult to even breathe let alone take a good photograph. I lost my boyfriend in the rugby scrum and stood looking lost for about 10 minutes. I literally couldn’t see him in the madding crowd!
They say to throw money over your left shoulder into the fountain, and then you shall return to Rome one day. Needless to state the obvious, but I didn’t, well, it was hard enough to get a photo at the edge of the fountain let alone stand and throw a coin!
Away From One Crowd And Into Another
We then went to Pantheon, which was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD. It stands in the Piazza della Rotonda, which is hive of tourists and men dressed as Roman Centurions. I love to see men in skirts, but they weren’t how I envisage a Roman Centurion to look like, hehe!
In the Piazza there was a silent protest taking place too, by an animal charity. The group of about 30 people were standing in front of the Pantheon each holding a dead animal. It was timely as I was eating a pork and salad sandwich at the time! I felt very sick, the smell of dead things wafted nicely upon the cold breeze.
The Pantheon is again fabulous architecture and beautiful interior. It is very dark once inside as the only light really coming in is through the hole in the domed roof. It wasn’t so busy though as not to be able to see all the details of our surroundings.
Again I felt ambivalent about it. I appreciated it history, art and structure, but couldn’t identify with it, couldn’t connect to it!
The Piazza Navona
Again we moved on to the Piazza Navona. This is a city square built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. It was packed
full of market stalls and fair rides. It was busy and crazy.
We wandered about, but truly seeing the buildings flanking the square, the famous statues and the fountains was difficult with all the activity inside the piazza. It kind of ruined it for me, as I just wanted to get a view of it without all that going on in the background. It was impossible to really feel the surroundings, to really connect to what was before us as it was just full of the tourist trappings. Also, we had to be mindful of watching our belongings too, as the crowds were so dense I wondered how many pick pockets would emerge from it!
Looking about we settled on browsing the stalls, there was little other option. We bought a small cake from one vendor; a Christmas cake, Italian style, made with figs and dried fruits and nuts. It cost 18 Euros, I choked on every mouthful.
We walked onto the Piazza della Quercia and there were plenty of restaurants to choose from, and the prices were good too. We had already eaten something small so we only wanted a coffee in a warm place.
Yet, the restaurants weren’t keen on only serving us coffee, although they had plenty of empty seats available! We were then relegated from the heated area to outside near the street. We left there immediately as being cold enough already, plus being then ignored by the waiter signalled we weren’t good enough customers.
The Piazza Farnese just a short walk from Piazza della Quercia is really nice, quiet too with restaurants also running off the square. We hoped to visit the Palazzo Farnese, but I then remembered it only accepted internet bookings in advance. So, we headed back to the hotel via the Tevere or Tiber and enjoyed quiet peacefulness of the view and the streets.
The Tevere or Tiber
Walking near the river was quiet lovely in the late afternoon sun; the leaves on the trees were bright golden yellow and just so vivid set against the contrast of the sun, sky, water and the buildings. Just really a lovely part of the city.
We left the river behind and took a short cut through the city streets. We made a stop at the Ducati Caffè Restaurant, Via delle Botteghe Oscure. I loved it there! Interesting and modern interior with a Ducati bike actually mounted on the wall and another sitting proudly by the doorway! The coffee was lovely, yummy! The service was good and the staff spoke English.
I would have been quite content to sit in this cafe and drink coffee for what remained of the day. The waiter also presented us with a little ‘present’ of cakes (free of charge)! The coffee wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would have been either, so all in all the atmosphere, the service and the setting it was worth the unexpected visit.
In the evening we had dinner at a nice restaurant (Argentinean) called Baires on Via Cavour. I had a nice beef stew (thick chunks of beef which melted as I ate them); with tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes and corn on the cob. It was lovely and warming which was what I needed, and strangely reminiscent in taste anyway to a stew my own Grandmother used to make, which was a Welsh stew based dish. It brought back good memories of childhood!
The staff were again very friendly, nice and welcoming, and spoke English (Spanish too).
We then retired back to the hotel even though it was only about 8:30, as we were tired and had another early start ahead of us.
Still So Much To See And Do.
We made our way to Vatican City; I wanted to walk even though it was raining fairly heavily. To be honest it was nice to see the city early morning without so many people and tourists filling every nook and cranny, and spoiling the view! At last we were actually getting to see the city, and I felt more in tune with it. I was actually beginning to feel more comfortable and felt warmer towards it; but that could have been the increase in actual temperature, as the day was warmer too!
We stopped and had a nice coffee in a small café, again the name escapes me as it was just a stop to have a drink and escape the rain for a while.
The only let down during the walk to Vatican City was the fact that every few yards someone was trying to sell us umbrellas. They would come right up to us and wave these things about quite demanding we bought one from them. In the end I sort of became annoyed, and told one vendor to ‘do one’ in not so kindly terms!
We walked over to Castel Sant Angelo or the Mausoleum of Hadrian; it is a towering cylindrical building in Parco Adriano. It was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. The bridge before it, Ponte Sant Angelo is stunning; flanked by Angelic statues. It makes quite an impressive and grand statement, a great walkway and theatrical entrance to take us over to the Vatican! Again that area was stunning; the bridges and the river just seemed to resonate with me. I have to say the river and the bridges are some of my favourite areas in Rome.
Once at the Vatican area, a flood of people imposed on our personal space; again trying to sell us things and tours. Bombarded by their intrusion from all angles, it was like being chased! None of them were put off either by the simple word no!
Now I am not overly religious, and again no doubt you will read this and think, what the Hell; the queue for St Peters was winding around the surrounding colonnades of St Peter’s Square. I didn’t want to queue to see anything Vatican City had to offer, including the Sistine Chapel. I just didn’t want to. I knew we didn’t have all day, our time was too short. I knew I wouldn’t enjoy standing in a never ending queue in the rain, to then be faced with another queue with hoards of people obscuring my view from anything to be seen once inside there! Miserable maybe, but true.
So, photos taken of the area and a few little tourist souvenirs purchased; one shop actually sells Vatican City stamps and you can post to whomever from there with their post mark. Nice idea, so I purchased a stamp as it is something different and states that we were at Vatican City. I thought this was the best souvenir and the cheapest at 80 Euro cents.
Now I haven’t mentioned it, but am certain you will all know that Rome is famous for its Espresso shots, if you want a larger coffee it is an Americano. It is difficult to find restaurants where you can just sit and have coffee though, and also have good sized take out coffee. Starbucks is commercial, but at least it is good for this. The coffee however in Rome is extremely tasty and far nicer than Starbucks, and even better than in Madrid. Rome’s coffee was just as I like it; strong and flavoursome, the only complaint is the quantity; you just don’t get!!!
The place we chose to have coffee was near St Peter’s Square, and again staff spoke English, were friendly and helpful; great! We wondered why they were eager for us to sit inside and just have a coffee though, as other restaurants hadn’t been. Anyway the bill arrived and I saw why, 11 Euros for 2 small coffees.
Taking the Metro we headed to our next destination Piazza Popolo. Once off the Metro we decided to walk about the area first, and were amused by the dreadful and what would be illegal (in UK) parking of cars on the neighbouring streets! The smaller cars seemed to have a parking style of their own; their front bumpers touching the sidewalks!
At the piazza vendors were again present selling flowers; again in our faces with annoying selling techniques. They try to get you to buy the flowers by pushing them onto you, the word no again means nothing, and when you are trying to see the sights it can be the most singularly soul destroying intrusion!
After photos and interruptions we went on to have a nice lunch in a restaurant nearby, which didn’t look much from the outside but the food was lovely. I am forgetting the name of the place, but it was either on Via del Corso or Via di Ripetta. Anyway, they sold lovely pasta dishes and pizzas were also on the menu. We had mushroom Fettuccine with tomatoes and garlic olive oil, and spinach and goats cheese ravioli in thick tomato ragout; simply divine with nice thick and warm crusted bread!
Refuelled And Ready To Go
Borghese ‘gardens’ has one of the best views of the city, they are situated just above and overlooking Piazza Popolo. Don’t pay to see any views as these are free!
It was cold though, really cold, so we didn’t opt to hire a bike or a Segway. We didn’t see all the gardens either, but in the Summer I should imagine it would be a great place to go and relax in. It was a nice place for us to just momentarily escape the bustling city though, even if it was cold and had been raining, we needed five minutes peace and quiet!
We then took a walk down to the Spanish Steps. Now in Rome the walkways are cobbled and also consist of slate like stone. In the rain, these can be treacherous. On the way up to the Borghese gardens another umbrella vendor swooped upon us, we said no and off he went, but on his way down to Piazza Popolo he slipped on the wet cobbles.
Needless to say I was cautious as I could feel my boots losing their grip too!
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps climb the steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. The Scalinata is the widest staircase in Europe.
The steps are situated in a nice area of Rome, especially so if you wish to do a spot of shopping; Prada and so on are on the street at the base of the steps. For me, clothes shops aren’t why I visit any city. Yet, it was a nice change to be in the area where the people of Rome also wandered and worked on a daily basis. It was nice to be in a more urban setting rather than merely a tourist based one.
There were tourists at the base steps, again it is a photo opportunity and rightly so. I enjoyed seeing
the Christmas tree perched near the church at the very top of the stairway; however it did obscure the view of the church somewhat from ground level.
Day two’s final detour was through Piazza della Repubblica, and at this point we had covered some ‘Roman’ ground. We had walked across the little map we had as our guide, and seen so many sights and everything in-between too. I think maybe we had taken too much on as it was hectic schedule, but I wanted to be certain we had at least seen what we wanted to.
Our last Supper
So our last supper was at the Hard Rock café and it was situated in a very quiet and nice area. Eating nachos and veggie burgers under their very own ‘Sistine Chapel’ ceiling was welcomed after a long day walking!
We could return to the hotel feeling satisfied and ready to depart Rome that next afternoon.
One Thing We Missed
Oh, the only thing we didn’t sample was Italian ice cream; however it was just too cold to feel any joy from eating it!
In The End
I was happy to return to Madrid. I was feeling tired and walked out! I think I begun by disliking Rome, to actually feeling the city was OK. There were moments where it felt like a comfortable, historical, mysterious and interesting place to be, and then other occasions when I was fed up with it all and ready to go home. I suppose being there so close to Christmas might have affected the volume of people too, and the atmosphere, plus we were only there a short while, as the travelling two and from Rome had taken up two whole days really.
Would I want to return again? No, I think I have seen Rome now and want to move on to another new city and more sights! Yet, the experience was worth while.