Summer Holidays - All roads lead to Rome

by - Friday, September 05, 2014

Roma, the city named after love (amor read backwards). 
The crown jewel of the Roman Empire.
The last stop on my summer holidays.

I can tell you straight away that there's no chance you'll be able to visit and enjoy Rome's many archaeological sites and splendor if you don't spend a week there at least. Heck, make that ten days. We unfortunately only had four, so we crammed as many things in there as possible. 


We arrived at Ciampino airport late afternoon, picked up our Roma Passes and headed straight to the hotel. First piece of advice here, buy a Roma Pass, especially if you're staying for only a few days. There are two you can choose from, one for two days and one for three. They give you free entry on the first two visited museums/archaeological sites and concessionary tickets to all the museums thereafter (many museums you can choose from), plus free use of the city's public transport network. And of course a map. We bought the three day ones online and arranged to receive them at their information stand at the airport, but you can choose another location if you wish to.
After dropping everything in the room, we went out for our first meal on Italian soil. Craving for some pizza the way it's supposed to be made, we ended up in a quaint little ristorante with a Parmigiana and a Toscana. They were delicious! 

Day One

Starting early that morning, we activated our passes, took the Metro and six stops later we were only about 200 meters away from the entrance to the Vatican. Allow me to impart some of my personal experience and advise you again here. If you ever decide to visit the Vatican:
1) Pre-book your tickets to the museums/gardens/cathedral, they're much cheaper online and will get you in without having to wait at the longest queue humanity has ever seen (I should have taken a photo just to show you I'm not exaggerating),
2) Book the earliest ones available (you will need all the extra time in there, believe me!),
3) Don't get a guide (there are many tour guides all over the place, refuse them, they will only rush your visit through the museums, just purchase the audio guide offered for a few more pounds extra on the ticket price),
4) Wear the most comfortable shoes you have (expect to walk and climb lots and lots of steps, especially if you want to see the panorama from the top of St. Peter's Dome) and lastly,
5) Carry with you a bottle of water (you will so need it).

I'm telling you all this because we actually got a tour guide and I felt a lot of the times that I wanted a few more minutes on some of the exhibits in order to fully appreciate them rather than trying to keep close to her all the time. Plus I barely remember what she was blabbering about besides a fraction of information which claims that if you spent one minute in front of each masterpiece there is in the Museums without eating, drinking, sleeping at all then it will take a little bit over fifteen years to have seen everything. Fifteen years!

We had our tickets booked for 10 am (wish now I had booked the 8am ones), took about 30 minutes to go through security and get our admission tickets and then it was one really long, rushed walk through the museums that lasted around two hours. In retrospect, I would go back and spend my whole day there, just looking at the statues and taking photos. Anyway. 

There are many exhibits that are stunningly beautiful (many of them copies mind you) but there was only one thing I wanted to see. The Sistine Chapel. Michaelangelo's masterpiece. I stood right underneath the Creation of Adam and, although I'm not religious at all, I felt chills down my spine. Appreciating Art is a form of religion to me. Unfortunately photos are not allowed in the premises. Next on the list for that day, the Basilica of St. Peter

I'll say it many times, you don't have to believe in a religion to visit a church, but you have to be stupid not to go to St.Peters if you visit Rome. From my point of view, there were a few things I wanted to see. First of all the architecture. Second, the size of the building (seriously, you feel like an ant in there, everything is huge!). Third, Michaelangelo's sculpture Pieta. And not to mention that if you are fit to climb many, many steps and go all the way to the top of the church's Cupola, then you'll be compensated with one of the most amazing views of Rome, a panorama you will definitely remember for years to come. 

If after all this you have plenty of energy left, then I suggest you pay a visit to Castel Sant' Angelo (it's a ten minutes walk in a straight line from the cathedral's main entrance) and take some photos of the bridge of the Angels before you cross the Tiber to reach the touristic heart of the city. We were starving by that time, so food was of the essence. We headed for Piazza Navona, known for the three beautiful fountains and the many restaurants. I'll admit now that was a rookie mistake. Piazza Navona is also a tourist trap as it comes to dining. Do yourself a favour and don't stop there to eat, save your money by getting a ciabatta bread roll or choose another location to have a meal (one more thing I regretted during our stay in Rome). The quality on most of those restaurants is mediocre but compared to their prices it's a rip-off. And they will charge you even for tap water. Ridiculous.

(image of Fontana di Trevi taken from Wikipedia) 

We managed to regain some of our lost strength  after our meal, which was just about enough to allow us to visit two more places on our way to the closest metro station. The Pantheon was the first of the two. It's one of the few buildings that are admission free and is currently used as a church. Although it's not considered of major touristic importance, I would suggest you go in just to take a look at the "oculus" (hole) on the ceiling. It felt like that scene from Fifth Element to me, when the Mondoshawans arrived at the temple in Egypt, but with the soundtrack from X-Files playing in the background. Bring on the aliens I say, we're ready for them! (Yeah right).

Didn't I say at the beginning of this post that we crammed everything we could within those four days? Well, first day's last sightseeing stop was the world renown Fontana di Trevi, the largest and definitely most fascinating fountain of them all. And guess what? When we went the fountain wasn't operational as the facade was undergoing some restorative work, but the city's authorities had appointed a spot for people to throw their coins in. The urban legend says if you throw your coin in the fountain it means that no matter what, you will be returning to Rome one day. I definitely wish that is more than just a legend, because I threw a coin in myself. 

Day Two

We may have visited at the end of July but we still managed to get one rainy day while there (felt like we brought UK's weather with us). Plans changed accordingly, museums were chosen and we set off. First stop, the Capuchin Crypt. Oh yeah! Perfect place to visit on a rainy, dark day.

Seriously, if you're the kind of person that gets freaked out by bones and dead people, then simply DON'T go visiting this place. If on the other hand you're more like me and death fascinates you rather than scares you, then you can't miss this.

Because the crypt is part of the Capuchin monastery, certain rules apply as it comes to attire. Shoulders and knees have to be covered (both genders). And since I forgot to mention it, the same rules apply in every religious place, i.e. the Vatican. 

The two things I enjoyed the most were:
1) definitely the twisted creativity as it comes to the usage of bones for decoration (3700 skeletons were used) and 
2) Capuchins believe Death  is of female gender, based on the fact that a woman brings us to life, so a woman should be the one taking us from it. They have even decorated the ceiling of the first room with the skeleton of a female child holding a scythe and scales. The more I think about it the more I love it as a concept.

It was still raining when we left the friary. That day couldn't be more fitting for our visit. 

There are several museums you can visit on days when outdoors activities are out of the question because of the weather. We picked the National Museum of Rome. It was one we could use our Roma Passes and it had a significant amount of exhibits to see, so it ranked higher in our preferences.

And we got more than we expected. Way more. 

There is a vast number of statues on the first and second floor of the building, with some of the most beautiful ones I've seen. Just to mention a few: Tyche of Antioch , Discobolus, a Sleeping Hermaphroditus and the Boxer of Quirinal, among some amazing sarcophagi and bath tubs. Third floor is where you can find mosaics and murals that were unearthed during excavations all over Rome (some survived almost intact) and on the last floor, which is two levels underground inside a massive vault, is the monetary exhibition, starting from the very first coins ever used in Rome to the Italian Euros used right now. 

By the time we finished we were starving and in need of early rest. We opted for a small restaurant right next to our hotel, had pasta for dinner and returned back to our room. Day Three, the one I was getting giddy over, was only a few hours away! 

But, because this post is getting extremely long, you will have to wait for an upcoming post about Day Three and Four. Let me know if you have any questions about any of the sites I've mentioned so far, I'm more than glad to answer you. And if you've been lucky and have visited them in the past, then why don't you share your experiences with me?

I hope you're all well.

Until next time, 

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  1. So you've been to Rome, haven't you?! Have you visited Milan too? Because well, I think it would really deserve a visit. Since I live in this city, I can tell you that in my opinion, it's more beautiful than Rome. Yeah, Rome is a very important historic place, but Milan is Milan. The fashion city!

  2. Given the opportunity I will visit Milan as well, but being a bit of a history junkie I couldn't pass the chance to go to Rome.