It’s weird to think 3000 years ago the city of Rome was full of well… Romans. Julius Caesar. I guess you can say the same about London and King Henry 8th (if we are on the subject of tyrants) but walking around this city full of plush boutiques, luxurious restaurants and ultra trend bars, one forgets the enrichment of history and culture embedded in the architecture and cobble stone streets. Expect to find on every street in Rome a fountain you desperately want to dip your toes in and a lost tourist with a map looking as equally confused as you are.
I’m a big fan of Italy. This trip of: Rome, Naples and Bari further deepened my love for Italy. In the past I have been to Pisa to ski, Milan to shop, Sardinia to sunbathe and Florence to fantasize and so I was not new to mountains of pizza, crazy driving and cocky Italian men.
Head off to the infamous Piazza Del Popolo, a popular grand square that landmarks the Northern entrance to the city. The area is filled with the most elegant shopping and numerous tasty ice cream shops, all in walking distance to some of the most important cultural and historical sites such as the Trevi Fountains. It works as a great starting point to follow the path and lead yourself into the main hub of Rome’s busy and lively centre filled the main tourist attractions.
Here you can see the famous Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain (although under construction when we went, it seemed everything was under construction but that didn’t stop me throwing a coin over the fence to make a wish) and the Pantheon. The Pantheon was my favourite attraction out of the three as it has a lovely piazza by it filled with quaint restaurants, and another one near it called: Piazza Navona, which can be described as an open air arts and cultural exchange. The centre piece of this artisans haven is a remarkable marble fountain, that puts many of Rome’s other magnificent fountains to shame. Ending at the Palace Vittoriano, a majestic palace filled with fountains and statues opposite a popular roundabout where the traffic marshal moves so ferociously- one thinks he’s acting out a dance routine, we grabbed some dinner at a small restaurant down one of the side streets near the Trevi Fountain which surprisingly was cheap and where I had the best lasagne I have ever tasted. *Please note, every meal in Rome was accompanied by a glass of wine. It felt rude not to.
To be honest, Rome is small. Much smaller than you think. The metro can get you around so easily, it is convenient to whiz from one area to another underground. Although efficient, it is not particularly aesthetically pleasing to the eye, as Rome is all about adapting the Mediterranean lifestyle and taking everything much slower, wandering aimlessly along narrow street corners and around hidden piazzas, its about stopping for your 20th cappuccino of the day at a quiet sleepy cafe, and its definitely about gorging on exquisite slices of pizza, fresh insalata tricolore, and flavoursome pasta. But, for those who want to sip a 5 hour queue of the Vatican for 5 minutes, book a ticket online beforehand. The website is: va.com Exploring this maze of archetypal art and architecture with each piece telling a story, it is easy to lose track of time whilst meandering through the walls, and patience with the mass groups of tourists you find yourself marching behind. Take your time exploring the art galleries and finally building your expectations up to the marvellous masterpiece of the world: The Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is a complex design of figurines painted epicly by a number of artists, providing such attention to detail, one thinks the clouds in the pictures are three dimensional, and the figures are humans in the same very room as you. Each painting takes your breathe away, and the overall picture is outstanding. I am afraid it would have to take more than a loud security guard for me not to take a picture of this place.
Head over to St Paul’s Basilica, the largest church in the world and the centre point of Christianity, which brings pilgrimages from all over the world to its imposing structure. Inside is as beautiful as outside where marble statues and paintings don the walls, smothering all with the magical spell of religion and beauty. Walk up the 550 steps in St Paul’s Basilica (which I really recommend as the views are fantastic), and then after cooling down (there are some tight spaces going up to the top that reminded me of Ho Chi Minh Tunnels in Vietnam) explore the interior and exterior of the church, even St Paul’s square where the pope delivers his sermons.
Another sight to explore is the Castle of Michel Angelo with his angel on the rooftop looking out dreamily. Our entrance fees which we would have spent venturing in the castle, were spent on some photos that some Spartan men managed to persuade us to take (they were much more good looking with the helmets on) meaning we didn’t actually have a chance to go into the castle itself.
Another unmissable sight to see is the Colosseum, otherwise known as the Flavian Ampitheatre or stadium for gladiators. Although having suffered from much damage over the years, it still is seen as an iconic symbol as imperial Rome, historical Rome, traditional Rome. It is incredible to walk under the arches of history and to feel yourself be transported into the past, imagining the scenes of carnage and violence before you.
From here we walked to the Colosseum where funnily enough, it was also under construction (I’ve been told this is a normal thing). The queue didn’t take too long, but I’m sure it being late afternoon that would have helped. Just to warn all of you that are planning to go in peak time (July/August) I would definitely pre book things and wake up early as 8/9am as still everywhere was packed when we were there. Finding out that the roman forum was shut because of a strike we stopped off to buy a 2 euro box of wine and went back to our hostel to rest our sore feet. So if you are under a tight schedule, seeing Rome quickly is achievable.
The next day dealing with cheap hangovers and an early check out we headed to Park Borghese where Galleria Borghese is for those art enthusiasts. We spent the day wondering around the park and listening to the jazz that was being played there before our train to Naples.
N.B: I was repeatedly told about how bad Italy is for pickpocketing but travelling around Asia, Amsterdam and in Madrid where it is equally bad I always had my wits about me. Make sure you leave passports, cards and large amount of cash at your lodging and hold tight onto your handbag. I do think common sense applies here; it is not as bad as Hanoi in Vietnam!
We arrived in Rome whilst it was raining, which is what I was told, unusual for June. Myself and my friend coming from Manchester and Aberdeen Uni’s we had no problem with the weather. We stayed in a hostel called Legends which is near the Termini station which is easy to get to by train and metro as well as being a good focus point for getting around. Our hostel was decent for Rome, it has bunk beds as per usual in a hostel, a bathroom to a room (which I was happy to find out about) and free breakfast and internet. That is what really swayed us. The free breakfast. It also has free pizza and a free glass of wine every night at 7pm. Yes. Now you want to stay here don’t you. I had zucchini and even anchovy pizza!