Just want to see the pictures – scroll to the bottom
Arrived in Fiumencino without incident and spent and then waited half an hour for the the bags to arrive on the carousel. Could be worse. Caught the shuttle into Rome Termini, on time, clean, pleasant staff – cheers Mussolini!
Hotel (Best Western) Ambra Palace about 10 minute walk away, would have been less if we had known the side streets. Really pleasant front desk staff. They actually still have a light meal menu available at 9.30. Previous experience of Italy told me we’d be lucky if they had a bar open.
Threw cases into room, chucked passports etc into safe and went down for a snack and a drink. Bar full of German ladies! Got complimentary drinks and ordered pizza, only thing available, 12” margherita arrives and is to die for. Have a couple of glasses of the house red and decide to call it a night. Set up free wifi with reception.
Get back to room to find case opened and cameras and lenses stolen. Report same to reception who are obviously used to this sort of complaint and tell us to report it to police. Reception ring local station about a km away and assure me that the English section is open. Walk to station to be told by wpc (or pretty Italian equivalent) to come back tomorrow.
Despite all the hassles we slept well and were down for breakfast around 7.45. Restaurant crowded with Germans and a spattering of Asian and Italian faces.
Could not complain about the food, plenty of fruit, scrambled eggs, bacon and a continental table with cheese, ham and salamis. Being Italy there was also buns or various types.
Following this we made another foray to the Carabinieri, only to be told that there was no officer available and to come back in the afternoon.
We walked round to the Termini to change our internet voucher for the Rome 110 Trambus.
Italians and other European tourists are not good at queues! The first bus took on about a dozen and was full, twenty minutes later the second bus took 5. The third bus, which was right behind, took us; having side stepped a couple of heavyweight ladies of indiscriminate origin and elbowed an attempt to muscle past. Unfortunately it was full on top so we watched the traffic from downstairs.
A crowd left at the Colosseum so we made it up the stairs for the journey to St Peter’s Basilica. The commentary seemed to be offset from where we actually were which made identifying sights a little difficult.
We finally arrived at the square, were suitably impressed and went off to find the queues for the Vatican museums where we were informed that the Sistine Chapel is not open on Sundays excepting the last in the month when it is free (but the queues go on for ever). We decided to give it a miss and to came back on the morrow. So we filled our water bottles at the fountain at the end of the square and set off to walk to the Colosseum by way of the Tiber footpath.
It is a pleasant walk along the river down to the Isola. There is a two way cycle path and an expanse of cobbles running alongside the river and well away from the city traffic up above. There was a charity run taking place so lots of “fit” people were jogging or walking in the opposite direction. Never did discover exactly what they were running in aid of.
We departed the river without finding the bridge so nobly held by Horatius against the Etruscan hordes and headed for the Circus Maximus, the ancient athletics field; the Palatine which, according to Livy, was the home of the original Romans, and the Colosseum.
By this time we were starving and passing by a rather dodgy looking Taverna on one corner and a pizza takeaway on the other we discovered what proposed to be a Agora Touristica but without any tourists. It was a small market with stalls selling all kinds of produce, with trestle tables in a corner dispensing hot food and wine out of a 5 litre demijohn. In the courtyard to the rear there was a covered seating area and a fountain. We indulged in a huge cold roast pork bap, Italian sausages, cauliflower and 2 plastic beakers of wine, the lot coming to around €10.
Thus refreshed and having replenished our water from the fountain we headed for the Palatine box office to get tickets for the Colosseum. I produced our Belfast Senior Citizens bus passes and was given free entry to all the sites, happy days.
The Amphitheatrum Flavian as the Colosseum was originally designated is definitely not to be missed. I will not go into the details but it was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire and could hold around fifty thousand; every seat being numbered. The engineering expertise to raise and lower animals and people from the lower levels directly into the arena is staggering. It says something that this was built to stage gladiatorial combats, mass executions and the slaughter of animals for the delectation of the masses, and the aristocracy of course. Click here for in depth info. We spent nearly two hours inside with the aid of audio/visual handsets rented for €6 and well worth the money.
From here we decided to wend our way back towards the hotel and lo and behold around a corner we came across San Pietro in Vincoli, Literally St Peter in Chains, a church that not only displays the chains which bound St Peter in Jerusalem but also a massive Michaelangelo statue of Moses, complete with two small horns (these being the subject of a piece by Freud apparently) and a couple of throwaway pieces by students of the master.
Josephine buys a hat outside and when we tell the girl selling that we are from Belfast not Dublin she says we must be good protestants???
From here past Santa Maria Maggiore and thence back to the Carabinieri and; success at last – there is actually an officer there. Fill in form get it signed and stamped and am summarily dismissed as Lazio are in the process of beating Bologna!
Walk back to hotel and collapse into chair in bar with a cold beer.
Retire to room to recuperate in shower – nothing missing!
Out for another walk around the Giardini Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II with it’s florists stalls. Meander back down to the Piazza Maria Maggiore and get no further than the Antico Caffe’ Santamaria. Good move; bruschetta to die for and they do a spicy pasta and bacon beyond compare. Josephine not so taken with the Lasagne. The wine was good and we followed it up with an ice cream and coffee.
And so endeth the first day. For the interactive map of our days walk click here
Day two – Assignment: Visit Vatican museums and the Trevi fountain.
According to the concierge there is public transport strike so we elect to walk. It is about an hour and 20 minutes across the city and far better than the bus anyway. There are bits of ancient Rome around almost every corner. Also quite a lot of buses and trams!
We finally arrived at Basilica and are told that there is, approximately, a two hour queue to get in. We were accosted by various guides offering immediate access and a guided tour for anything from €70 – €35 each. We finally gave in to a nice girl called Antoinette from Sligo! She settled for €35 each as we are pensioners. The set up was run by two Serbs – enough said!
It turned out to be money well spent. We were an eclectic group of eight, a Danish couple, a Dutchman with his Columbian partner and a pair of Israeli lads. Our guide was a diminutive Roman girl named Ava whose enthusiasm and vivacity were infectious. It is a pretty slick operation, the guide and party have short range radio so that you do not have to strain to hear or worry about getting lost.
It is not possible to describe the wonders on show – starting in the square dominated by the golden “Sfera con Sfera” by Arnaldo Pomadora. An enigma of a piece as its meaning is open to interpretation.
It is a two and a half hour walk through galleries of Greek and Roman statues with amazing ceilings,, tapestries, frescos and paintings by the masters. Like the Taj Mahal no photographs can do it justice – you have be there. I liked the touch that the major artists painted each other into these huge masterpieces so that each one has Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello and daVinci appearing in windows or watching from the periphery. The culmination of the tour is the Sistine Chapel (link is a interactive 3D panorama). I did not know that the ceiling is not painted it is a fresco made up of coloured plaster. The chapel is smaller than one would expect or maybe it is just that it is so crowded it feels claustrophobic.
From the Sistine through the back door into the Basilica San Pietro, the largest Christian Church in the world. A huge cavern of a building with innumerable side chapels and monster sculptures and paintings. Really impressive. One ends up with a sore neck from looking upwards.
Next stop, or rather saunter past, is the Castel Sant’ Angelo a papal fortress, originally built as a tomb for Hadrian (of the wall fame) about 15 minutes from the square. We take in an ice cream on the way. Across the Tiber again and head down the side streets in the general direction of the Trevi. We stop on the way to take some sustenance in a taverna. Main, salad, bread and a bottle of water for €12. This looks good after some of the prices we have seen in passing. Once again we are pretty lucky and the pasta with chorizo is 1st class. Josephine reckons her pizza is 2nd class, but she is not a pizza fanatic anyway. The water is OK but we wash it down with a glass of house white at €3 a glass.
Suitably refreshed we walk on down the calle to discover a veritable plethora of trattoria with single course from €5, we have arrived at the the artists centre on the Piazza Navona. This is a huge oblong square, originally Domitian’s circus, hence the shape. It is considered one of the most beautiful piazza in Rome and is enhanced by the Church of Sant’ Agnese in Agone.
From here on to the Pantheon, originally a temple to all the pagan gods, it was converted to a Christian church in 609. The huge portico is made up of 3 rows of 8 columns, each 60 tons of Egyptian granite (as if there wasn’t enough in Italy). The interior is 40.3metres diameter and the same height with a single hole in the ceiling for light. The floor is concave to let the water flow out through a central drain. More impressive statues and altars and not as crowded as I expected.
From here on towards our last must see destination – the Trevi fountain. It takes one by surprise as you meander up the narrow streeets, suddenly there it is in all its glory, hemmed in by shops and alleys! Another sight that photos really do not do justice.
And so we made our way somewhat wearily back to the hotel. Passing the Quirinale Palace, the official residence of the President of Italy, which is situated on the highest hill in Rome – we know we climbed it! Also en route was the 4 fountains crossroads. We stopped for a cold beer at a small taverna and were serenaded by a couple of troubadours with fiddle and a xylophone – well worth a couple of euros.
So endeth our whistle stop two day tour of the sights of Rome
We had our last meal out in a little restaurant recommended by the hotel and about 5 minutes walk away, the Trattoria Cecio. It says something about it’s popularity that there were turning away casual diners – no booking no table. Josephine had the sea bass and I the squid – not a hint of rubber. We shared a massive Ice and Chocolate confection for dessert. Josephine asked for an Irish coffee which brought howls of derision from the waiter and, beleive it of not, it arrived in an espresso cup – I had a coffee and a grappa. On his way back I explained to the waiter about Tesco’s “BOGOF” and was rewarded with a free grappa – a fine way to end the evening.