Ah yes. Now I remember why I hate flying. It may sound short, but however long you’re in the air seems to be doubled by getting to the airport…which is always a long way from town…waiting to check in, more waiting, waiting for your bags, and getting into the next town.
*ahem* anyway, yes, Rome.
Ah Rome. We spent just 6 days there, but it was by far the best 6 days of our whole trip, and perhaps even all of our travels. Moscow had prepared us somewhat for Europe, but not to this extent. Rome is simply beautiful with such a rich sense of history that is just intoxicating!
Where do I start? Day 1 I guess.
We decided to take a bus tour of the city on the first day to get our bearings. Will in particular had a long list of sights he wanted to see in order to fuel his ancient Rome addiction. So the thought was that a bus trip would orientate us. And, while it did, it was a complete waste of time. Not only did we have to wait an hour for the bus, but everything was so close that transport was not necessary. But oh well. One of the highlights of the day was lunch. We went to a little cafe on the side of a typical cobblestone lane with majestic cathedrals, buildings and statues in every direction. Now, we had decided that for Rome, we would have a bit of a splurge and enjoy food and go to every sight we wanted to. What we did not expect was how cheap it was compared to what we were expecting! For lunch that day we had a (giant) margarita pizza, bowl of pasta, a plate of bread, a couple of cokes and water. All for €22. And that was the most expensive meal we had…and it was the best food ever. Whoever created the word “foodgasim” must have eaten in Italy! The other highlight: the Circus Maximus, the old stadium situated at the foot of the Palatine hill that 2,000 years ago held chariot races for an audience of 200-250,000.
On the second day we did what we should have done on the first: walk. As we were staying in the suburbs, we got the subway to the train station and planned to just walk through the city. It was simply incredible. The baths of Diocletian, Trevi fountain (with several thousand tourists), and Trajan’s column (a particular favourite of Will) were all visited by lunch time. Trajan’s column was built around 114AD to commemorate emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian wars. Intricate carvings running the whole circumference and height of the column tell the story of the war.
We had a quick wander by the nearby Roman Forum – quick as we would be returning to look at in detail – before stopping for lunch. Today’s menu: bruschetta, 2 Margarita pizzas and 2 glasses of wine for €7.50 each. *foodgasim*
After lunch we walked to the Pantheon. Rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126AD after Agrippa’s original burned down, it is acknowledged as the best preserved of ancient Rome’s structures. The unreinforced concrete dome is still the largest in the world today, and the giant pillars, ornate designs and interior decoration make it simply a stunning place. And it’s freeeeeeeee!
Next on (Will’s) list was the Palazzo Navona, a large square (well, oval) ringed with buildings. It was the site of the Stadium of Domitian which, in 86AD, held athletic events for a crowd of 15-20,000. The road around the outside and the internal square, complete with statues, sculptures and fountains still gives the feel of an athletic stadium.
Nearing the end of the day we made our way past Hadrian’s Mausoleum (burial place of Roman Emperors until the pope started using the building some time after Rome was sacked in the 500s) and into the Vatican City to have a look around the square.
(As I’m writing this on an iPod, I will be much briefer in my descriptions from now on as my fingers are getting sore, and a bottle of wine is calling me from our balcony in Florence!)
The next day we visited the Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and the Colosseum. We got to the ticket entrance for the Palatine Hill at around 9:30am. The queue: 1 person. If you’re ever going to just the Colosseum, get your ticket here as one €12 ticket covers all 3 sites. We made the mistake of attempting to book online to cut the (non existent) queue. This was a mistake as we never even received our ticket. If you’re going to these sites, don’t book!!!
We explored the hill where legend has it Romulus founded the city in the 600s BC, and where the ruins of the mansions of emperors remain. The house of Augustus Ceasar, built around 27BC and only discovered in the 1960s, was a particularly magnificent place as the frescoes on the walls have been very well preserved. The view over Rome from the top of the hill was also magnificent.
We walked around the hill and through the ruins and the museum, which displayed sculptures found throughout the site, and then into the Roman Forum. This is where the Romans met and where trade and commerce as well as political dealings and worship occurred. It is a vast complex with original streets, temples and shops.
The exit of the forum leads straight to the Colosseum. As we had tickets, we walked straight past the massive line, which appeared to circle around half of the stadium, and walked straight in. It is truly huge and must have been quite the place to watch the entertainment. If it was rebuilt in the same manner today it would be a damn sight better than most modern stadiums!
The next day we had planned to visit Ostia Antica, which is billed as the best example of a well preserved ancient Roman town – far more so than Pompeii. However it was closed, and it rained for much of the morning, so we changed our plans slightly and instead spent the day wandering around the cobblestone streets of Trastevere and resting. Sam had managed to pick up tendinitis in her foot, so much ice and rest was just what the doctor ordered. Or at least we assume so if we had gone to one. We were nearly on our way to see one, but ended up buying pizza instead. When in Rome…(haha, get it?! ). But I digress…
On our last day we went back to Ostia with the plan to spend the morning in Ostia and the afternoon in the Vatican City’s museums and the Sistene Chapel. Well, that didn’t happen. We never thought that we would ever find somewhere as magical and breathtaking as Angkor in Cambodia. But Ostia Antica is that place. It is simply stunning, and we really needed 2 days to do it justice. It was a small port town established in around 400BC and over the years evolved from a military stronghold to protect Rome from attack via the river into a major import hub. All of the grain from Africa that went to Rome passed through Ostia.
The town is excellently preserved in it’s entirety and is huge. It was abandoned in the 9th century and was engulfed by sand dunes, and not discovered until the 1930s. We spent nearly 8 hours exploring the site walking down ancient roads, marvelling at 2000 year old frescoes and ornate tiled baths with pictures of Zeus and other Gods, ordered imaginary drinks in the local tavern, and ventured through numerous old apartments.
We will definitely be back in Rome. We fell head over heels in love with the city. One of the best things about it was where we were staying. We were in Eco B&B Marela in the suburb of Portuense, about a 30-40 minute walk from the city centre (or a 10 minute bus ride if you’re so inclined). Being in the suburbs meant that we could be in the middle of local life, shop in local shops, and eat in local eateries without another tourist in sight. It was perfect. It also had the greatest breakfasts ever: cereal, juice, fruit, toast, muffins, cookies…delicious! And the host Marela was absolutely lovely. We would recommend it to anyone and we will be going back!
But before then, it’s off to see the rest of Italy. Next up: Florence.