For several years, I was fortunate enough to travel to different parts of the world. To many well-known cities and other less-known ones, each with its own unique characteristics, its history and the whims of its people. But until a few days ago (depending on when you might be reading this post), I had never attempted to make one of those “must” trips that most of the Greek visitors choose: an excursion in Rome!
So, I prepared my suitcases for a “dolce vita” in the eternal city, I ‘ve writtern down in paper and in electronic form the sights and points on the map I wanted to see, I turned on my “help applications” and I was ready. My flight was planned to depart on February, while among all days, one was my name day and I would be there! What a best gift to myself, indeed!
With a delay that wasn’t in the programme, I was on the plane heading to the capital of the neighboring country. And, as I expected, the plane was full of Greek travelers! In less than two hours flight and with a smooth landing at Ciampino Airport, I started looking for the bus station to the city center. I knew pretty much that you could get a Shuttle bus, but taking the line bus along with another metro looked more appealing to my pocket.
And as the wise people say “by asking, you may find your way to the city,” I managed to get on with and in 40 minutes I was in San Giovanni and in my hotel. Since the sun had fallen and the next day would be full, I wandered around Porta Maggiore for a while, I ate my first pizza and I came back to relax…
Ready for the arena
The next day, a lot of walking in a full schedule was expected. The beginning had to be done with the most famous sight of Rome and one of the most important in the world: the majestic construction of the Colosseum. An enormous creation that attracts millions of visitors each year. Luckily, I was prepared with an electronic ticket to overtake those who had chosen to wait in the queue. A few minutes on hold… and soon I was be able to admire the greatest stage of humanity … that wasn’t always the best place to star in. As a mere spectator, you had your own security from the platforms.
Outside the Colosseum, I took some pictures with the appropriate background and headed toward the Capitoline Hill and the Roman Forum. The one entrance between Constantine’s Column and the Colosseum had a huge queue, while at 300m., another entrance, with just 15 people waiting. Fortunately there was immediate information about its existence!
Very soon I realized that both places need at least 4 hours to be exlpored. The Romans close the area too early in the winter (16:00), so make sure you get in early to catch up. The high point of the visit comes with the Roman Forum, where the visitor realises the importance of this great and large archaeological park, especially if he/she is more prepared with info.
Next stop, a guided tour in the historic center of Rome, with a starting point in Piazza de Espagna, close to the Spanish steps (actually made by the French as I would be later informed , but this is another story). On my way from the Roman Forum to there, every spot seemed ideal to for photography: from the Capitologne to the Monument of Vittorio Emmanuelle II, from Piazza Venezia until I reached the Trevi Fountain. Particularly, in the last one can easily imagine how many photos could be taken per second from a camera or a smartphone, since the area is always incredibly crowded!
(Vatican and the Knights of Malta), for columns and obelisks of particular interest, beautiful churches but mostly about the most well preserved temple of antiquity: Pantheon. Thankfully, during evening hours there are less people, so we enjoyed more. Studying Archaeology for so many years, it would be a pity not to visit this marvel of symmetry!
Greetings from the Pope
For the next day, I had to explore the second state inside Rome, this of the Vatican. So I got my backpack, head to the metro and I started my journey from the Museums of Vatican. Lots of people, some with and some without ticket were waiting at the entrance. After the security check, as similar and typical as in any airport, I got inside (thankfully I had my online ticket booked), I went inside to wander around the luxurious rooms of Vatican with numerous collections and displays. Each room had something different, each corner with something unique, each area was even better than the previous ones. Two to three hours are enough to get glimpses from Egyptian statues to Greek marbles and from designs of famous painters to spectacular constructions: Chapel Sistine was waiting at the end to impress the visitors.
In the Vatican, are not only the Museums, but also the rest of the architectural activity around the area never ceases to amaze you. There is also the magnificent Basilica of St. Peter, where a ticket is needed to get inside. In short, Catholic basilicas are a small profit industry with so many tourists arriving every now and then. Me, one the other side, prefer to admire its outward view and take my photographs amid the amphitheatrical decoration and the obelisk in the center.
Of course I had to try ice cream because I had not tried it so far. So I found myself with a cone filled with cookies flavor looking at the Basilica in the background, while on the other side the so-called “Castle of the Angels” was standing there waiting for my arrival. Someone might appreciate it even more walking on the homonym bridge decorated with beautiful statues. Especially the view of Tiber is mesmerizing, especially when the sun begins to sink into the horizon.
The next step? Find a restaurant or bar to relax. So, when I headed to Campo de Fiori, a large square and open-air market with many cafes, bars and restaurants set around the corner, I didn’t take much time for my choice: an opportunity to taste handmade pasta (with cooks constantly molding on a table in front of a window in the eyes of passers-by). It was delicious! Could you say that you have tried Italian cuisine if you haven’t try tradiotional pasta? Of course not!
A little lost and enchanted at the same time, I was heading through the narrow streets to the nearest bridge that would lead me to another particular neighborhood, that of Transtevere. Those who were fortunate enough to find Rome, this area holds a special place in their box of memories. Soon I would understand why!
In the evening, Transtevere is lively as thousands of visitors, locals and non-residents, arrive and fill in the area There are also several of the most alternative and bohemian shops (from bars and restaurants to galleries and bookstores) to the city center.
Its most important element is, of course, the authenticity it has managed to preserve, that of the old Rome, way different from tourist posters. There is also one of the oldest churches in town, Santa Maria Transtevere. At that time, I realized it was time to leave the map and get lost wandering around the smallest and the biggest roads. I ended up drinking (alternating Aperol con Spritz with Peroni) in one of the most famous bars of the area in Piazza di San Calisto, with the same name.
From the bottom to the top, now we are here
Next stop for the day, Villa Borghese. A quick espresso shot with a panini on hand, and straight to the bus! The trip to the park once again offers the opportunity to get pictures starting from the south to the north side of the city until it stops at the park. This is Rome’s largest green area, where many Romans escape from the city’s dungeon and visitors choose to visit the Borghese Gallery and relax by walking in the park. Some will prefer a bicycle or an electric scooter to wander otherwise, others will insist on foot and others will seek for the lake with the little temple of Hippocrates in the middle to rent a boat for the feeling of it. There are more than one entrance and getting in is free of charge. For me, it was ideal to ride from the south of the park to see as much as possible, to the central area of the lake and to end up over Piazza del Popolo.
Walking down the stairs from the exit of the park, Piazza del Popolo or else “the square of the people” appeared in front of my eyes. It is said that the location of the square has been linked to several bright but also dark spots in the history of Rome. It was the first image of every traveler who arrived in the city, followed by the grandeur that was about to be revelaed there and in the rest of the city center! An Egyptian obelisk in the middle with fountains of marble lions, the twin basilicas in the background and the Porta del Popolo in the north are among the creations that stand out in the oval-shaped square. One of the most beautiful parts of Rome!
And because the weather was great, even though February is considered one of the worst winter months, I dived into another ice cream. Flavors of coconut and pistachio and straight to Via del Babuino. Do not laugh, that’s literally a road! It took its name from a grotesque sculpture of Shilin named “Baboon”. All the way down and you are back in Piazza di Spagna. It was an opportunity to enjoy it in the light of day but also to pass once again from Fontana di Trevi. As always, you couldn’t stay for more, due to the crowd, so I headed from Piazza de la Rotonda and the Pantheon to Piazza Navona.
For many, it is the most beloved area, as Piazza Navona spreads to a different extent from the rest, along with the three fountains. The largest is Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi, while the other two are Fontana Del Moro and Fontana Del Moro. At the place where the square is today, the Domitian Stadiumwas was once built, and today it has taken exactly the same shape! Its current name has been influenced by the word “agone” (Circus Agonalis) which has long changed to “navone”. Today it is full of cafes and restaurants, while street painters and jugglers try to magnetize the eyes of every passers-by and visitors.
Since I was amazed last night , I found myself again in Transtevere before the sun fell, but this time, for the sake of climbing on the highest hill of Rome: Giannicolo hill! That it was one of the first places I wanted to explore, but eventually I was holding the best for the end.
Through the narrow and colorful houses that adorn them, the steep steps of the ascent and the Fontana dell’acqua Paola (some can recognize it from the movie “La Grande Belleza”, those who managed to watch it until the end), I went to a park that led me to the “balcony” of Giannicolo. From there, in front of my eyes, the whole Rome could be seen. Every dome and ancient monument I had seen from the bottom, stood out for its size.
Since it was my name day and I wanted to finished as beautifully as possible, there was nothing better than a meal, once again in Transtevere: bruscetti, lasagna, pizza and Italian wine with a company. From there, then for a drink by the melodies of Italian music until the idea of an evening walk came up. Soon my steps would bring me once again in front of the Basilica of St.Peter, without tourists, without the noise of the world, just an absolute silence in the middle of the Vatican and the building illuminated. A wonderful and enchanting experience!
And since my trip had to be completed in the most appropriate way, I took the metro and found myself in another tiramisu shop in Pompi. Fun fact: The most historic point of the chain was in the San Giovanni district where I was staying. A guilty pleasure that I will definitely miss, especially for the variety of flavors it offers!
Rome could be rightly considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has managed to preserve several of its historical and architectural elements combined with simplicity and aristocracy at the same time, which charm you. Besides, there are many who compare it to Paris.
If I ever be lucky to be back in here (well, if the coin I threw in Fontana di Trevi would do its magic):
- I would like to have more time to visit other sites that interest me like Baths of Caracala, Capuchin Crypt (not ideal for everyone), Catacombs.
- to visit Café Greco, the first one that open in the city and is distinguished for the decoration of its interior space
- to wander in Monti area, where rich families used to live, as they say. I’ve loved the colors from the photographs I got to see online, but I didn’t have the time to go. Or did I?
- to be in Arco Degli Acetari, a well hidden secret of the locals, a place like from another era!
- to go for one day trip to Ostia, a site close to the sea and Fiumicino airport. I didn’t have a clue until somebody suggested it to go… but time was limited!
Oh, and some basic tips for you:
- Better take the city bus n.520 from Ciampino airport (if you arriving there) and then change for the metro. You will pay less, 1.5 euros instead for 4 or more if you decide to go with Shuttle buses.
- For the landmarks you will choose to see, better book in advance online. For instance, check the orginal site for Colosseum and Roman Forum
- Another way to see Rome from the eyes of a local, is Free Walking Tours. I chose to participate in this
- For those we love to walk: Rome is ideal to wander around. Better walk on foot each place and corner and you will discover more than enough.
- Eat and drink as much as you can! Espresso, panini, pizza, pasta, lasagne and more!