Travel report: Rome

It took a while for me to do this blog post, but I seriously had no time to go through my pictures to make a selection on what to use for this blog post. But even though it’s been almost three weeks since I went to Rome, all those memories are still fresh in my brain to be sharing them with you. You may have already seen my beauty haul with all the bits I picked up while I was in Italy. Today I will be telling you all about what I actually did. It’s a long one, so grab a cuppa and enjoy!

River Tiber with St. Peter in the background

Day 1: Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain & browsing the city

My first day would be a long one. My flight left at 7.20 AM which meant I had to be at the airport at 5 AM. All for a good cause of course! I arrived early and sat in the airport lounge reading the travel guide a friend lent me. After a short 2 hour flight my plane touched down in Roma. It only took 50 minutes to get from the airport to the closest railway station to my hotel. I was staying just outside of the city center, in a pension/ apartment called Valle Aurelia.

The place was a touch difficult to find, but I ended up asking a delivery guy and he knew exactly where it was. The room was modern with all things electric and a lovely shower. I had some swanky ceiling lights that changed color and a mini fridge which came in handy as the place didn’t come with an included breakfast. After a bit of a refresher I set about town immediately. First stop: The Spanish Steps.

I instantly found out how easy Rome is to navigate on foot. The streets can be a bit confusion with all the little alleyways and piazzas sprinkled around in the old center, but once you hit the town everything is pretty much within walking distance.

I wasn’t actually aiming for the Spanish Steps when I already got there. My first destination was the Trevi fountain, but I just followed the crowds from the metro station and they took me to the top of the Spanish Steps. I descended the famous stairs and didn’t realize what it was I had just walked on until I got to the bottom. Typical me!

I started walking around aimlessly and without purpose: the best way to get to know a city if you’d ask me. And Rome is one of the most perfect cities around for a bit of an aimless wander. It’s how you find pretty doors like this one for instance.

And then before you know it, you’re at the Trevi fountain. One thing that does happen in Rome, but that goes for any city: the major attractions are bustling with people. So you do have to be aware of pickpockets, but even though I was all by myself (as for most of my trips) I never once felt unsafe in the city.

After the Trevi fountain, I walked to the next item on my list: The Pantheon. This former Roman temple, turned Christian church, holds a bunch of monuments and can be entered for free. One major figure honored in the Pantheon is Vittorio Emanuele II who was a monarch in the late 19th century and apparently revered till this day.

Random store that looked cute.

When walking around Rome this is pretty much what you will find: narrow, cobble stoned streets that spread out into piazzas which all have at least three features: a church, a palace and some sort of column, statue or obelisk. And flags, lots and lots of flags and military people standing guard.

And what then happens, and something that happens a lot even without trying is that you bump into some Roman ruins. This is an archeological site in the middle of the city that has exposed the remains of 5 Roman temples. Who knows what else is hidden underneath this city!

But the best part about this place? Humans aren’t allowed to trespass onto the temples themselves, but the stray cats can! Just off the side of the temple sight is a cat sanctuary which takes care of street and stray cats. You can cuddle with them at appointed times apparently and also adopt one. In short, the temple place was filled with a bunch of cats just basking in the sunlight and they come incredibly close too.

After zigzagging my way through some more streets and piazzas, I ended up at the River Tiber which I decided to follow into a northern direction. I passed a few bridges and then spotted the castle with St. Angelo’s Bridge in front of it. I decided to visit the castle the next day.

I walked around some more and after a while I naturally felt hungry. And that is something you really don’t have to do when you’re in Rome because the number of restaurants is ginormous and the food is overall pretty good. On the first night I went with a calzone pizza stuffed with ricotta and a glass of Italian red wine.

Day 2: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums & St. Angelo’s Castle

St. Peter’s Square

After a tiring first day, I went to bed early because I wanted to get to St. Peter’s Basilica on time. It already opens at 7 AM and I wanted to beat the crowds. I had a very Italian breakfast with some breakfast snacks I found in the breakfast isle of a random super market. I was surprised to see that the main breakfast foods appeared to be cereal and pastries.

Interior St. Peter’s Basilica

The Basilica wasn’t busy when I got there around 8.15 AM. I didn’t go into the crypt or up to the top as I wasn’t sure how much time it would take and I had a ticket for the Vatican Museum prebooked at 10 AM. So I just had a mooch about and took in the grandeur of the place. It isn’t the prettiest church out there, but it is certainly the biggest one I’ve ever set foot in.

The room with maps.

The Vatican Museum is one that is on the list of each and every person visiting Rome so booking in advance is a good idea. The website works but looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1998 and parts of it are in Italian, but I worked it out nonetheless and bought my tickets in August. I booked a fairly early entrance as I wanted to ensure plenty of time as I heard it is such a grand place that you can easily spend the entire day there.

I ended up spending time at the museum from 9.30 – 15.00. The place is huge, but many less popular exhibitions were closed entirely or in part due to maintenance. I could have spent the rest of the afternoon at the museum as well if it hadn’t. It was busy and at times you felt like just one of the herd, especially when closing in on the Sistine Chapel. However, after having lunch and a snack in the garden to give my feet some much needed rest, I returned to the busy part after 14.00 and I found it to be decidedly less crowded.

Highlights are of course the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael apartments, but to me the most impressive room was one long room where all the walls were painted with maps of different regions of Italy both old and new. I just like maps and the room was long, bright and airy. In fact a bird flew into the room as well and just circled about before leaving again. One thing you do have to be prepared to do a lot in the Vatican Museums is stare up to ceilings because that’s where the magic happens.

After visiting the museums, I still had some time left, so I walked over to the church again and then decided rather last minute to visit St. Angelo’s Castle. I mainly went there for the views over the city and it was quite an interesting museum as well. It wasn’t super busy but still it gave you a good view of the city and its landmarks.

Day 3: Colosseum, Forum Romanum, or the day I spent entirely in ancient Rome.

Where I spent day 2 submerging myself into all the lavishness of the Roman Catholic church, I went with another themed day for Day 3. One of my earliest obsessions in life were ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. I was obsessed with mythology for most of my teens and spent quite a few highschool assignments writing about Roman and Greek culture. So it would only be apt for me to spend an entire day among the ruins of an empire that simply ceased to exist.

My first stop was the Colosseum. Again, for this attraction I bought my ticket online. This website worked a lot better but the payment pages were all 100% in Italian. But I managed to book myself a general entry ticket as well as a ticket for a guided tour in the catacombs and the third ring. It is advisable even in the low season to buy tickets in advance. This way you can simply skip the very long lines.

Pictures simply don’t do it justice and the fact that it was a dreary day doesn’t help. However, the Colosseum is still as impressive as it must once have been. With the Northern facade still standing after over 2000 years, this building is a great showcase of craftsmanship. The building is huge and with the tour you get to stand on what used to be the arena floor, which gives you the perspective of what it must have been like to stand in the ring ready to fight for your life.

I enjoyed the tour very much, but not because of what you got to see. What you see is pretty much a bunch more rocks than anyone else in the building. But the lady of the tour was really nice and she had some interesting facts to tell. I already knew most of the story, having been such a big ‘fan’ all those years ago, but there were definitely tidbits here and there that I didn’t know yet. What did strike me while overhearing other tours during my stay in Rome is how little some people know of the world. I was astounded by some of the questions I overheard.

I spent the morning at the Colosseum, then had lunch just across from it in a very conveniently located eatery and then went to the Forum Romanum. The rain had mostly let up so I decided to take my chance. The Forum Romanum used to be the heart and soul of ancient Rome and the parts of the temples, arcs and monuments that remain definitely showcase that. Entry to the Forum is included in a ticket for the Colosseum, which is valid for two days with one entry for the Colosseum and one of the Forum.

What I found most impressive about the Forum though weren’t the ruins of forelorn temples of the stunning gardens that were around. No, on the other side of the hill you will find the remains of the emperor’s palace, which give you a good idea of how grand and impressive that must have been. I also met some Roman wild life along the way. I saw a hare hopping away just in front of me and there was a flock of parrots in one of the trees nearby as well.

After the Forum Romanum, I wanted to go to the Mamertine Prison, but that had already closed by that time. I did find myself however, close to the Trajan and Augustus Forums which are just a stone’s throw away from the grander Forum Romanum. Like I said, Rome is like an open air museum and you can simply stumble across some ancient Roman ruins while taking a stroll in the park.

Day 3: Churches & shopping

This probably sounds like a strange combination, but the church element of this day was not planned. I simply took a metro to Termini, the main train station, as that would house the largest and best equipped Sephora in town and then again, just walked. I found myself at the Piazza della Reppublica where I entered the church of St Mary of the Angels and the holy Martyrs.

Then I walked a little further and found one of the other major churches of Rome, besides the St. Peter. This was the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, which was much more lavishly decorated than the St. Peter and far far prettier. I spent a good while browsing around and perusing the gift shop to try and find a good present for my mom.

You cannot be in Rome without some gelato! I stopped at this place called Wonderful ice cream and OMG, this is some of the best ice cream I had ever tasted!

While I was eating my ice cream I found out I was very close to the Mamertine Prison again, so I decided to visit it this time. It’s very small and not very impressive. It is literally a hole in the ground, but then again Roman times didn’t see prison sentences for punishment. People in those days were only held captive to hear their verdict or to be executed. What makes this place special though is that allegedly St. Peter and St. Paul were thrown into this hell hole before they were martyred.

Vittoria Emanuele II memorial

After the prison I walked to the Piazza Venezia, which is where the Via del Corso pretty much starts. Via del Corso is the main shopping street and so I had a browse around. I ended up at the Piazza del Popolo where I stopped for a drink at Canova which a friend of mine had recommended. I then walked towards the Spanish Steps for a bite to eat and that was the end of my Italy trip. I spent one more night in my lovely hotel room and had to catch a flight at 10.30 AM the next day.

To sum up, my trip was amazing. It was not only amazing to be away from home for a bit (I really enjoy traveling, it recharges my batteries like nothing else) but also because Rome is an amazing city. The food isn’t too expensive, but drinks can be. The metro is only €1.50 for one way and a bottle of water will cost you around €1 in most places as well.

In my opinion the best way to see the city is by foot. I walked a whooping 80 km in 4 days while I was there. The people are lovely, but not all of them speak English very well, though in very touristy areas they will certainly always try. Service in restaurants can be a little bit slow, however I decided it was my vacation and that I had plenty of time so I just took each day as it comes.

Have you ever been to Rome?

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