2016 has been a good year so far…
Three trips so far… Bologna in January, Thailand in February and Rome in April!
Rome is by far one of my all time favourite cities. It is extremely beautiful, with a historical gem at every turn. I had already been in 2008, but decided to visit again with my boyfriend, just to show off my history nerd skillzzzz and get some good nomnoming on!! After all, Italy is the foodie place to be! Pizza, pasta and wine!!! I’m a coeliac… That does complicate matters a little bit, but I was very VERY pleasantly surprised to find ample delicious food in the Eternal city!
We visited for four days; Thursday to Sunday to be precise, and even though you could spend weeks or even months travelling around Bella Italia, these four days were just perfect to slot in enough sight-seeing and food and wine tasting!
A few tips for those interested in travelling to Rome:
- Buy the “Roma Pass”(€28.00 online). This is great if you’re planning on visiting all the regular tourist spots such as the Colosseum, Palatino, Foro Romano, Castel Sant’Angelo, Capitoline Museum etc. Not only does it provide you free transport around Rome using the buses, trams and metro, it also provides you with two free entries to listed museums and attractions, and further discounts on other admissions etc. The Roma Pass is only valid for 48 hours, so use it wisely. I bought mine directly from the airport (Fiumicino), but you can easily buy the pass from a tourist information point, as well as online: http://www.romapass.it
- Get ready to walk, walk, WALK! Although public transport via buses, trams and metro is relatively an easy job, with amazing sights at every corner, walking around this amazing city is definitely the way to go! Be sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes! We were walking over 20km a day during our visit.
- Make sure to get a taste of the “gelato”! Italian ice cream is OF COURSE the BEST ICE CREAM. You also HAVE to try the pizza and pasta… duh! One little note – be careful of hidden charges when eating out – some restaurants charge for the bread they serve. It is also common for restaurants to have a service charge – usually around €3.00, but varies according to restaurant (and sometimes to how foreign you look :/).
- Visit the Trevi Fountain – you have to throw a coin in – it will ensure another, future visit… Worked for me!!
- If planning to visit the Vatican Museums THINK AHEAD! Queues could get up to 3 hours long to get into the museums as well as the Vatican! Pre booking a ticket online is the easiest way to go, plus you could skip queues this way: https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/index.html
- Grab a SIT shuttle bus from the airport to central Rome when you arrive! All you need to do is walk to the bus terminal area near the departures at Fiumicino and ask for the SIT shuttle bus! Tickets cost €6.00 per person for hassle free transfers right to the centre of Rome.
Now, for some details! We stayed in an amazing ‘guest house’ – Le Chiavi di Roma -right between the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo. It was literally a five minute walk away from both attractions, in Via Crescenzio, a nice, fairly quiet street, two minutes away from the drop off point for the aiport shuttle! I have attached a link to the guest house’s direct website – if booking, please contact the owners directly as they would be able to offer better rates on rooms than third-party websites.
The room was spacious, extremely clean and very stylish! The hostess, Alessia, was very friendly, spoke very good English (an uncommon luxury in Italy) and was extremely helpful! She was kind enough to leave us croissants, little cakes, and biscuits as breakfast treats, as well as jams, honey and of course, a Nutella like chocolate paste… All of which had not been included in the booking, all complimentary. There was also a coffee machine in the common area, coffee pods were replenished every day when the room was being cleaned. Paid around €330 for three nights (including city tax), which is a reasonable price for a nice place in central Rome. Would definitely stay again should I re-visit the city.
So basically this is how I divided my sight-seeing days:
Day One – Touring the Piazzas
Arrived at around 10:30AM s0 we took the shuttle bus to Via Crescenzio and dropped off our luggage at the guesthouse. Alessia, our lovely hostess had spoken to us before our arrival and knew we were going to be there prior to check in time. She made it a point to clear up our room early so we could be comfortable 🙂 :). We then proceeded to visiting Castel Sant’Angelo – entering the castle fortress is free when using the Roma Pass, otherwise costing €8.00 per person. The castle fortress has an extremely interesting history. It was used as the Papal residence in times of turmoil and war and was also used as a prison at one point! The views from the upper terraces are very pretty, with a clear view of the Vatican, which is very close by.
Views from Castel Sant’Angelo
After visiting Castel Sant’Angelo, we decided to walk around the main piazzas and city attractions, the first being Piazza Navona. This beautiful piazza is one of the most popular in Rome, with good reason! It houses three amazing fountains – the most impressive being the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers – the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plata) by famous artist Bernini. A legend, common with tour-guides, is that Bernini positioned the cowering Rio de la Plata River as if the sculpture was fearing the facade of the church of Sant’Agnese by his rival Borromini could crumble against him; in fact, the fountain was completed several years before Borromini began work on the church.
From the piazza, it was very easy to get to two other main attractions – the Pantheon and the famous Trevi fountain! Just follow the signs and throngs of tourists! The Pantheon – aka, the Temple of the Gods, is an impressive, now Christian church, with a massive dome and a huge oculus at the dome’s apex. The interior of the dome was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. The oculus at the dome’s apex and the entry door are the only natural sources of light in the interior. Throughout the day, the light from the oculus moves around this space in a reverse sundial effect. The oculus also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. During storms, a drainage system below the floor handles the rain that falls through the oculus.
The beautiful Pantheon
The Trevi Fountain (aka. Fontana di Trevi) is a fountain in the Trevi district and was designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Legend has it that in 19 BC thirsty Roman soldiers were guided by a young girl to a source of pure water thirteen kilometres (8.1 miles) from the city of Rome. The discovery of the source led Augustus to commission the construction of a twenty-two-kilometre (14-mile) aqueduct leading into the city, which was named Aqua Virgo, or Virgin Waters, in honour of the young girl. The aqueduct served the hot Baths of Agrippa, and Rome, for over four hundred years. Be sure to throw a coin over your left shoulder (with your right hand) into the fountain! This will ensure another visit to the city in the future (this has been tried and testing by myself of course!!).
We continued our long walk to Piazza di Spagna, were we walked up the 135 Spanish steps to the Church of Trinità dei Monti to enjoy some lovely city views. After this we proceeded down the road to the large Piazza del Popolo – a massive urban square with a central obelisk and fountain. Walked an extra ten minutes uo to the Pincian Hill and gardens, right above the square is well worth the time, with beautiful and romantic views of Rome and of the Piazza itself. This made for a wonderful ending to our first day in the magical city.
Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo
Day Two – The Vatican City
On our second day in the Eternal City, we visited the impressive Vatican City – that is, the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. As I already mentioned. ALWAYS PLAN AHEAD! Queues to get into this complex are massive, lasting up to 3 to 4 hours! It’s important to note that the Vatican Museums are NOT near the Basilica – they are in fact a five minute walk away along the Vatican City walls – just look for the street signs, and queues, leading the way! The Vatican Museums contain one of the largest art collections in the world, with over 9 miles of pieces, which could wrap four and half times around the Vatican walls. Its 1400 rooms, chapels, and galleries constitute former wings of the Vatican Palace. One could easily spend a couple of days perusing the gorgeous works of art in this beautiful place, but a leisurely day tour should suffice for the more easy going visitor.
The most impressive and noteworthy part of the museums is of course the Sistine Chapel. Originally known as the Capella Magna, this amazingly beautiful chapel is he site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Whilst photography is permitted within the Vatican Museums, as well as within the Basilica – it is completely prohibited in the Sistine Chapel. So the only way you’re going to remember this place is by truly looking at the artwork. Meditation and silence are encouraged there – so just sit on the benches at the side of the Chapel and soak all the beauty in!!
After the museums, we decided to continue on our way to St. Peter’s Basilica – one of the world’s largest churches – and definitely one of the most impressive. Nearly all the artwork within the basilica in made of mosaic, so taking photos is completely fine, even using flash! The most famous work of art within the Basilica is of course, Michelangelo’s masterpiece – Pieta. This sculpture was carved out of a single slab of marble and it the ONLY piece of artwork Michelangelo ever signed. If you look closely the sculptor’s signature can be found across Mary’s chest. Spending an hour or so within this marvel of a building of immens proportions is the least one can do. The entire interior of St. Peter’s is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. The central feature is a baldachin, or canopy over the Papal Altar, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
I would highly recommend climbing up into the basilica’s ‘duomo’. From the top of this amazing structure one can see panoramic views of all of Rome, as well as look into the Vatican city’s interior and gorgeous gardens, as well as the Papal Residence! You can either pay €6.00 to climb all 551 steps to the top, or else add an extra €2.00 to the fee and treat yourself to an elevator ride half way up – leaving only 320 steps to go!! It’s an interesting climb, and not for the faint of heart, or the claustrophobic (as it can get really tight at times) – but the views from the top are worth every step.
It’s quite easy to find the entrance to the dome: Once you enter the Basilica, walk forward a little and then look right: you will see the sign “Cupola”. Follow the sign until you reach the ticket office, together with a lift which goes up to the dome.
Amazing views from the top!
Our visit to the Vatican and the museums took the better part of a day, so we decided to take it easy and just have a stroll after this. Heading along the Tiber river, we walked towards Trastevere – a former working class district which has become a vibrant, artsy neighbourhood full of great eateries and fun bars. We were there quite late in the afternoon, so after strolling through the labyrinthe of alleys, and visiting the oh so pretty Piazza di Santa Maria, it had become the perfect time for dinner and a nice bottle of wine. It was a lovely, warm spring evening – a perfect night for a leisurely walk back to our comfy guest house. 🙂
Our afternoon/evening in Trastevere
Day Three – Walking through Ancient Rome
No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the spectacular Colosseum and the nearby Palatine Hill and Roman Forum and this is exactly how we spent our third day! Queueing is once again evident around the massive stadium, although it has a much faster pace than the queues at the Vatican. One can make use of the Roma Pass here to gain free or a discounted entry to the sights. The Colosseum is truly a marvel to see – able to hold approximately 50,000 spectators, this gigantic amphitheatre was the heart of entertainment of ancient Rome. Games, mock battles & hunts and gladiator fights were held often, and were usually free for viewing by the public. It is said that the Colosseum was also occasionally flooded in order to stage sea battles!!! This would have been a sight to see for sure!
After the Colosseum, we headed up to the Palatine Hill, one of the most ancient parts of Rome – rumoured to be the hill on which Romulus and Remus, fathers of the city were found and raised by the she-wolf, Lupa. It is the centermost of the seven hills of rome, and stands 40 meters above the Forum Romanum, looking down upon it on one side, and upon the Circus Maximus on the other. Rome has its origins on the Palatine, with some of the oldest settlements remains being found on the hill.
The Palatine Hill as seen from the Colosseum (center of image)
Many affluent Romans had their residences there. During the Empire (27 BC – 476 AD) several emperors resided there; in fact, the ruins of the palaces of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), Tiberius (14 – 37 AD) and Domitian (81 – 96 AD) can still be seen. Augustus also built a temple to Apollo here, beside his own palace. The Palatine Stadium is an interesting sight to visit. Immediately adjacent to the Flavian palace of Severus, this is structure has the appearance of a Roman Circus but is too small to accommodate chariots. Hippodromes were originally areas for exercising horses, but later in Rome, Hippodrome was used to describe elongated rectangular gardens. Its exact purpose is questionable. While it is thought that during the Severan period it was used for sporting events, it was most likely originally built as a stadium-shaped garden.
The Palatine Hill
Now, on to the Foro Romano, my favorite part of Rome – a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum. For centuries, this forum was the center of Roman public life. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history. Many of the oldest and most important structures of ancient Rome were located on or near the Forum. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and excavations. It is a truly awe inspiring place where you can actually feel what life in ancient Rome was like and truly get a sense of the grandeur of this magnificent city.
View facing North East from above the Portico Dii Consentes.
Walking through the forum from the Palatine Hill, one finally finds oneself in the Capitoline Hill’s Piazza del Campidoglio, a masterpiece designed by Michelangelo himself. This is a great place to see the Foro from above and take some great photos.
The Piazza del Campidoglio – walk towards the right side of the piazza to see views of the Foro!
Being from Malta, I decided I could not leave Rome without visiting the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta (Piazza of the Knights of Malta). So, after our touring of ancient Rome, we took a 20 minute walk to the Aventine Hill to see this quiet little square. Here one can get a ‘secret’ glimpse of St. Peter’s Basilica through the keyhole on the gate to the headquarters of the Knights of Malta. Surprisingly, we found quite a large queue of visitors, waiting to get a sneak peak through this little keyhole! I couldn’t get a good shot of the view as I was only carrying my iPhone, but it was worth the visit. 🙂 On the way to the Aventine Hill, make sure to have a look at the famous Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth!). This is an image of an old man’s face carved in marble, with an open mouth. It is located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and legend has it that if you put your arm in the carving’s mouth while saying a lie, the mouth would close in on your arm, snapping it off!!! One effective lie detector if I say so myself!
The Piazza of the Kinghts of Malta
Day 4 – Villa d’Este in Tivoli
On of fourth and final day in Italy we opted to move out of the city to the town of Tivoli, about 30km north-east of Rome. This is quite an easy affair as all you need to do is catch a train from the Tiburtina station in Rome for only €2.60 (one way) per person. The journey lasts about 40 minutes, then you have a 15 minute walk to central Tivoli from the train station. As we were limited in time we decided to visit the Villa d’Este. This UNESCO world heritage site is a huge villa, turned museum, with a spectacular garden having over 500 jets in fountains, pools and water troughs. The water is supplied by the Aniene river, which is partly diverted through the town, which supplied a cistern under the villa’s courtyard (now supplied by the Aniene too). Admission to this villa costs €9.30. If you do have more time to spare when travelling to Tivoli, I would highly suggest a visit to Villa Adriana (Hadrian’s Villa), in Tivoli’s outskirts. This is also a UNESCO world heritage site and important cultural and archaeological site. I would also explore Tivoli more thouroughly as it truly is a beautiful town.
So that’s it!!! Those were our four days in Bella Roma!!! It truly is a beautiful and magical city, full of history, art, and good food!!! Can’t wait to visit again! Threw a coin the in the Trevi fountain, so I’m sure I’m going back soon!! 😉
NOTE: All photos shown in this blog were taken by myself. Please feel free to leave comments below! 😀