Like the former two cities we visited, Rome was easily manageable on foot – well, at least most of the ‘must-see’ spots aren’t that far away from each other. Which was very good, because I actually found the public transportation system to be rather confusing – there was no call for stops on the buses so we basically had to guess-timate where we were based on our little map, as we passed things we could spot on it – terribly frustrating. Also, buying tickets was a bit of a pain because the machines wouldn’t accept notes if the change to be given was more than 6 Euros – WTF?!
Despite the annoyance of the buses, we had a marvelous stay in Rome. Speaking of stays, I should mention here that the place where we hung our hats for the night – Funny Palace (ok I know that’s not the most confidence inspiring name) – was pretty great. It was just a few minutes from the main Bus/Train Terminal (Termini), which was fantastic, and the proprietor – Mabri – was a really nice guy who really set us up with a great itinerary for hitting up the town in a way best suited to our length of stay – he even marked out the best routes and areas for us and gave us some good tips on avoiding queues and long waits for tickets and threw in a bottle of wine as a welcome gift : ) The room itself was super comfortable and all-in-all I was happy with the pick.
The first great stop on our sight-seeing tour was the Palatino (Palatine Hill) and the Forum Romana (the Forum). It was amazing to walk through the various ruins and imagine what these great structures must have once been like. To look at now, for the average person they might be underwhelming, but if you just sit there and look with your mind’s eye, their once proud majesty and beauty is inspiring – you just need to envision it as it once stood (sort of the loading screen in Assassin’s Creed where you see the city scale to fruition before your eyes). If you’re a history or architecture buff you’ll still get more of a kick out of visiting, as I did, but for a lot of people… Well, let’s just say I saw a lot of disappointed faces. It will definitely be more worth it if you get an audio guide and really get to learn a little (having said that, the two us made do with eavesdropping over other groups ; p – at least that we got a lot of different stories and did bits).
Right next to the ruins of the forum is the Colosseum – the great amphitheater in Rome where so many of exciting stories and movies are set. It is a monumental sight, though it is quite a shame just how much of it has given way to the ages – you see much evidence of the various measures being taken just to hold it together. Still, one advantage of this is that you get to see an x-ray like view of the intricacies of the building – the complex tunnel work in the subterranean levels below the arena floor and the numerous facades and stairways. Though it may not look the part it did in Spartacus or Gladiator, it is still an amazing sight to behold, especially at night – the lights within and without the building serve to bathe it in a beautiful golden and red glow which makes it look just a septic as you would have imagined it should be.
No visit to Rome in complete without a visit to the Vatican. Technically it is the smallest sovereign state in the world (but don’t worry you don’t need a passport to cross over) so for a few hours, you’ll be leaving Italy. The compound is surrounded by massive fortified walls which give it a rather medieval visage as you approach it, but inside, as modernized as any other city. We were advised to book online to avoid queues (which entails a 4 Euro surcharge) and did so to find that everyone had the same idea, meaning there were actually only a handful of people in line. Fail! Still, the extra coin was soon forgotten after we began to walk the halls of the Musee Vaticani (the Vatican Museums). What struck me first of was how beautifully well-preserved the exhibits were. Take for example, the Egyptian exhibits in the Museu Gregario Egizion – the statues were completely undamaged, still had their unblemished marble sheen and there were statues of deities I was familiar with but had never seen, even in the likes of the British Museum in London. And while in the Museu pio Constantine, in looking around at the wonderful statues don’t forget to look down – the intricate mosaics that cover the floors themselves are a work of art. But of course the thing that everyone wants to head towards is the famous Sistine Chapel. The fame of the chapel lies in its frescos, particularly the ceiling of the chapel which was painted by Michelangelo. I would have liked to share a picture with you, but they are super strict about people taking photographs in that room (though it was hilarious to see so many people try – and get caught). Personally, I didn’t think it was that far apart from the many (MANY) frescos we had seen on this trip, but I did marvel at the idea that one man took on the project of such a vast scale – it would have been no small task – and that it impressive.
An area that I would definitely recommend you try out, though it is less ‘tourist top 10’ is what we were told is the old part of town – the area across the Ponte Sisto or Ponte Garibaldi bridges, around the Santa Maria in Trastevere. While the architecture in the area is fairly similar to the rest of the city, the vibe is definitely a little bit more rustic and the crowd is generally younger. There were dozens of places to get a cheap cocktail or grab a nice bite or just lounge about. But try and plan your route back if you’re staying not too close because it would be hard walk after a full meal (or a good few drinks) and as I said, public transportation can be confusing.
I really would love to go on forever about the various other sights in Rome, and there are so many more you should see – the Pantheon (which looks so majestic and powerful at night), the Trevi Fountain (where you can join in the tradition of tossing in a coin and making a wish), the Spanish Steps (a great place to just sit and enjoy the sun or watch the crowds) or the Piazza Navona (a really pretty square full of life and colors, both day and night) – but, for the sake of time and brevity, I’ll leave you to discover those on your own (though I have thrown in some pictures).
I can’t however leave you without talking about the food. Oh the food! Personally, Italian is one of my favorite cuisines of all-time (though after a full straight week of it I may not partake for a while). Eating out can be a bit of a hit-and-miss, though for the most part my taste buds were really in heaven. If I had to give you a rule of thumb, it would be to eat at places where the wait staff/hosts are locals – where they weren’t, the food tended to be a bit sub-par. Having said that, the pizzas were just amazing! In India you are hard pressed to find a place that does a good classic thin crust pizza, and if they do they charge a ridiculous amount or it’s so lean it barely feeds one. In Rome we adopted the habit of usually ordering two kinds of pizza and then feasting to our heart’s content. But not just Pizza, the pasta of course is just as brilliant. From day one I was scarfing down amazing Carbonara and Pesto. I’m fairly certain by the end of day three, we had put on twice the weight we had lost walking around Europe thus far. But you know what, WORTH IT! Two places I will go ahead and recommend are Primo Cafe in the Piazza Campo de’ Fiori (where I had an amazing pizza and house white for my birthday dinner) and a little roadside cafe called Cafe Moca, next to the river, where you can get a refreshing Granita made of freshly crushed ice and your choice of fresh fruit and delicious syrups.
Well I leave you there dear reader (mostly because I am now famished after reliving my gastronomical adventure in Italy). Till next time!