What to see in Rome: day one

Rome wasn't visited in a day...Part one

Rome is a place we learn about at school, hear people talk about excitedly once they have visited, a place of ancient wonder, but yet it seems to be a place people don't always get around to visiting, or at least until a bit later in life.
It gets spurned for cities perhaps perceived to be younger, more dynamic, less stuffy(?) but this is a place with hidden facets. A place where the ancient meets the new, the old meet the young and a positive melting pot between the very religious, conservative and a newer, possibly more liberal culture that lies underneath. 

There is no great surprise that Rome is chock full, positively brimming, absolutely teeming with interesting artefacts, architecture, art and ancient monuments. You can't take two steps without bumping into another fascinating element of ancient Rome's past. In normal cities, such treasures are jealously guarded, locked inside impressive buildings and will cost you a handsome penny to see. Here, they are on the street in full view for all to see. That's not to say there aren't still many attractions that require you parting with some hard earned cash but I think I can safely say that even if you went to Rome and just meandered the streets, you'd still come away with your cultural tank well and truly topped up. That being said, when in Rome, it would be a shame not experience all of the wonders available. 

When I started planning the epic Italian adventure for my partner's birthday, taken by plane, train, automobile and boat, it was obvious to me that the trip would need to end in Rome, the capital city. I left three days on the itinerary for us to explore and can honestly say, anything less than this would have been pushing it. If you want to spend a day in Vatican City - which you could - then perhaps even allow longer.

I booked us into Maison de Julie which was a comfortable 10 minute walk from the train station and 10-15 minutes from most of the major attractions surrounding it. The accommodation was self serviced apartments which allowed us flexibility to come and go as we pleased but still with the personal, family touch of the Italian pensiones we had stayed in previously in Venice and Florence. The accommodation was well catered for but despite the promise of wifi, we just couldn't get onto it. Given we weren't planning on staying in the room for long it wasn't such a big deal. Breakfast was served at the family cafe a few doors down and consisted of coffee and pastries, which was sufficient for our needs. 

One of the first sights on our to do list was, of course, the Trevi Fountain. We tossed a coin and made a wish alongside the many other tourists vying for position to have their photograph taken. We returned to the fountain one day around 6pm and found we had it all to ourselves. If you pick your time wisely you can get some lovely uninterrupted photos.

We then headed over to the Pantheon to see the famous oculus that looks up to the sky and reinforces the purpose of the building which is as a place 'common to all the gods'. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest un-reinforced concrete dome.
We stopped for a delicious lunch at a pavement cafe in a busy part of town and watched people in suits hurry by on their way back to the office and young families stroll idly along to the shops. The pizza bianca, aka pizza without tomato, was some of the best we had in Italy.

We spent an afternoon strolling down beautiful cobbled streets with wafting white curtains billowing out over Juliet balconies above our heads. We ducked into boutiques and stopped for coffee to rest our weary legs until it became acceptable to order wine instead.

By the evening we visited the Spanish Steps, which was teeming with the cities young people who had stopped to enjoy a beer and a chatter. Whilst it did slightly have a feel of a school disco with teenagers copping off on every corner, it was a pleasant space to soak in the atmosphere for a while before we headed onto to dinner and drinks in the new town. 

The next day we woke bright but not too early to continue our adventure with Vatican City high on our agenda. Whether you're into that kind of thing or not, it's hard to deny the irresistible pull to visit one of the oldest 'institutions' known to man and a country in its own right, no less. We decided to join a tour, as it worked out about the same price as going it alone, seeing as we had waited until quite late to book our tickets. This gave us a knowledgeable, bubbly tour guide and who thought my being there, having blonde hair, was lucky for her. I found this to be quite common among the more religious people of Rome.

Most people are going to Vatican City for one thing and that is Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, which is certainly a sight to behold, but the Vatican also contains many other treasures, tapestries and artworks that could rival the best galleries in Europe.

Unfortunately no pictures are allowed in the Sistine Chapel but the scale and intricacies of the work are pretty awe inspiring. Beware, if you are traveling with children particularly, that the guards take the silence rule quite seriously so prepared to be sshhhh'd continually.

Across the square people were arriving in the thousands to watch the cannonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, where they were declared saints. This is a HUGE deal and not just in the Catholic faith so people really were coming from all over the world and camping out to see it. This halted our plans to get inside St Peter's Basillica but it was lovely to soak in the almost festival like atmosphere of the crowd gathering in the square with their makeshift tents and picnics.

By night we fancied a change of pace so headed over the river to Trastevere, which used to be the Jewish quarter of the city and is home to quaint winding streets and ancient houses. It also has a number of restaurants that have a distinctly old fashioned feel. The night we arrived we found a small restaurant and took a seat outside. A very stoic waiter came to take our order and at that the heavens opened! The rain lashed down all around us and comedy erupted as the staff and guests mingled together to save diners from losing their food to the floods! The stoic waiter grabbed a chair to use as an umbrella and promptly burst into hysterical laughter, as did we all. The rest of the night, once the weather had calmed, was spent in joviality chatting to the waiters and enjoying some nice food, although it was fairly simple fayre. 

It was a lovely evening that will stand out in my mind because quite often, out of very imperfect situations, a perfectly lovely thing can happen and nothing bonds people together more than the unpredictable, slightly bonkers, inclement weather!

Part two to follow....

No comments

I love to hear from people so please don't be a stranger and say hello!