Our ten day summer break to Italy was amazing and I will cover off our trip over the next few posts. First stop being Rome…
We had less than 2 days to devour this ancient city and we made a pretty good dent, despite the searing (34 degree) heat and a multitude of blisters! We arrived at our Airbnb in the afternoon where we promptly dumped our bags and set off to explore. I had booked us onto a free walking tour at 5pm so we had a couple of hours up our sleeves to try to get our bearings. The first thing we noted was that many shops were closed and the streets were particularly quiet – funnily enough we overheard another tourist mention that it was a public holiday. Well, that explained it – no tooting horns! We were pretty much free to actually wander on the streets and it was a nice, relaxed atmosphere to ease us into the Rome vibe.
There’s something to see almost around every corner in Rome. Even on the bus ride from the airport into the city we nudged each other excitedly whenever we saw old ruins outside the window. On our walk we quickly stumbled across the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Marcello Theatre, the Cordonata steps to Capitoline Hill… to name a few. We walked along the River Tiber in search of the Jewish Ghetto which somehow I think we bypassed. In the heat of the afternoon and a bit lost we sought some shelter and devoured our first Italian pasta of the trip – a delicious carbonara with bacon and pistachios.
We met our tour group at the Spanish Steps, which unfortunately are currently closed for renovations and were fenced off. So sadly we didn’t get to see the usual tourist hustle and bustle and didn’t get to sit and eat gelato on the steps – oh well, there is always next time! We did our walking tour with New Rome Free Tour which has excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. The knowledgeable guide takes you to lesser known landmarks around the city explaining the diverse history, culture and events.
Another one of Rome’s famous landmarks- the Pantheon – was also closed due to the public holiday. Our guide explained how it’s the most well-preserved of all the Ancient Roman buildings and went into detail about the structure and the oculus. We returned the next day to check it out.
Our tour ended at the grand Trevi Fountain where hundreds of other people were getting their selfies and throwing coins into the fountain – when in Rome right! Now that I’m researching I actually think we tossed our coins incorrectly, apparently you have to toss it with your right hand over your left shoulder – whoops.
After a pretty full on day of walking we settled into a nice restaurant for dinner in the back alleys behind the Pantheon. This gem was a recommendation from our brother in law and we indulged in cheap (but amazing) wine, caprese salad, pastas, breads and meatballs – no room for dessert this time! A ‘must-do’ recommendation from a fellow Kiwi friend was to see Rome at night and on our journey home we saw this ancient city in a new light.
On Day two we had ambitious plans to hit the major attractions – Vatican City which includes the Museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica and also the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. The official Vatican website had actually sold out for our particular date so I paid a bit extra and got skip-the-line tickets through Dark Rome. This was such a painless process and I can’t comprehend people that don’t book ahead. When we left the Museums at about 1pm there was a massive line wrapped around the corner in the direct heat – I’ve heard you can wait several hours – fark that!
There is so much more to the Vatican Museum than just the Sistine Chapel – many people will just rush here first rather than spending time appreciating some of the thousands of pieces of artwork. Fun fact that we overheard from a tour guide ‘If you spent just one minute standing in front of every piece of artwork you would be in there for four years!!!’ You may know that Andrew and I are not huge art museum types but we did spend a good couple of hours navigating the crowds. But that was our issue – we don’t do well in crowds. We got very aggravated being stuck behind large tour groups or just general dilly daddlers – see examples below!
My favourite thing to do in places like this is to look up – the ceilings are sometimes more ornate and interesting than what’s in front of you. None more so than the ceiling of the infamous Sistine Chapel painted by the one and only Michelangelo. When you enter the Chapel security encourage you to keep moving and a loud, ominous voice over the speaker booms “SHHHHhhh, Silence” which made us giggle. They forbid photos in here but nonetheless snap happy tourists try to get in there prized shots only to be told off. It is a truly a grand piece of art and understandably the most famous painted interior space in the world.
We swung by the St Peter’s Basilica – no Pope sighting unfortunately. Entry to the main part of the Basilica is free – we couldn’t skip the lines here, but they moved relatively quickly. This is one the largest churches in the world and the holiest sites in Christendom – apparently. We didn’t fork out the extra to see the Dome as we still had plenty to see that day.
For lunch we missioned it across the River to Trastevere. This area has retained its narrow lanes and is well known as being the last surviving pocket of earthy medieval Rome. It’s a great place for a wander and restaurants are plentiful.
By mid-afternoon my feet were already killing me – due to a bad shoe/sock combination but we still had so much to see. On entry into the Colosseum we felt slightly underwhelmed but once we got to the second level it became more apparent that this iconic landmark was indeed an impressive sight and a window into ancient Rome.
Our Colosseum tickets also give us entry into the neighbouring Palatine Hill. According to Roman mythology, the Palatine was the birth-place of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers suckled and raised by the she-wolf who were to become the founders of Rome. Whatever its story it is a great place for a relaxing wander as there were barely any other tourists here and it offers great views of the city, in particular the Roman Forum. We only managed to see the Roman Forum from above as by the end of the day we were knackered and it looked a bit too overwhelming to tackle.
Our brief visit to Rome was jam packed. We endured the crowds and heat of the high season (just!). We were definitely eager for the next chapter of our holiday and headed to the more relaxed Amalfi Coast.