Rome took me by surprise, in a good way. I expected it to be busy – and it was, but not excessively so (travelling in shoulder season certainly helped). I expected it to be rainy, because the weather forecast looked dire for the few days we’d be there – but it was balmy. I expected it to expensive – and while I’m sure it can be, I found it wasn’t all that difficult to visit on the cheap.
Top of my list: the Colosseum. Blockbuster sights don’t always live up to the hype, but I can safely say the Colosseum does. (Plus, if you’re an EU citizen aged 12-25, entry is a snip at just €2.) I was blown away; words simply don’t do this architectural wonder justice.
We did a slow circuit of the upper level, pausing at every information plaque to soak up the details like little sponges. We learnt that the best seats were reserved for the senators, those just behind for the knights and those up in the gods for the plebs. We discovered that a day’s (free) entertainment began with animal hunts, was followed by executions (whereby the condemned were torn to shreds by wild animals) and performances by jugglers and acrobats, and rounded off with gladiatorial combats. And my favourite fact from our little history lesson? Well, that would be this little gem: gladiators’ blood was mopped up with a sponge, as drinking a generous glug of human blood was considered to be an effective cure for epilepsy.
Round the corner: the Roman Forum. We decided to admire it from above, rather than pay to explore at ground level. Beyond it, the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument: a mass of marble, set off with columns, sculptures, fountains and a sweeping staircase. We explored the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento (home to memorabilia, artwork, military garb) before heading up to the terraces.
If you’re so inclined – and we were, since there was a reduced rate for youthful EU citizens on the table here too – you can take the lift to the rooftop for panoramic views over the city. I love an aerial view, and this one was a good ‘un.
We alternated between sight-seeing and filling our bellies with gelato, pizza and tiramisu. Laurence had compiled a list of spots to try, and we duly scouted them all out. Of note:
- Tiramisu Pompi – located a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, though neither of us clocked that at the time. We shared a strawberry tiramisu, and the layers of mascarpone and strawberry coulis were scrumptious.
- Il Supplì for deep-fried risotto balls. Not my thing, but Laurence made at least three trips there in as many days so that says something about the place!
- Otaleg and Old Bridge Gelato, both of which had so many flavours available I didn’t know where to begin. I highly recommend the mango, kiwi and passionfruit from Otaleg and the coconut and chocolate from Old Bridge Gelato.
- Il Trapizzino for utterly delicious pockets of pizza heaven.
- Antica Forno Roscioli, for the Napoletani which is akin to a brownie wrapped in pastry and topped with crushed nuts. (I’ve not yet figured out how to recreate this sugary delight.)
- Tiramisù Zum (which was absolutely yum). Like Tiramisu Pompi, there are half a dozen flavours to choose from. We opted for a classic coffee, nabbed a table and watched one of the staff whip up a tray of tiramisu pots before our eyes.
If you’re after free views and green spaces, venture up to Colle del Gianicolo (below) or Villa Borghese – both of which are positively made for lazy afternoons and (in the summer months, at least) picnics.
When I think of Rome, I think of the ceilings: almost every single church or basilica we entered had incredibly detailed frescoes embellished with gold leaf. Two in particular stick in my mind. First up, the Basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere. Here, the ‘WOW’ moment comes when someone pays a nominal twenty cents to illuminate the altar, which is surrounded by exquisite mosaics.
Second, but not so very far behind, is the Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano. We baulked a bit at the length of the queue, but it moved surprisingly quickly. I was awestruck by its cavernous proportions – several ordinary-sized churches would easily fit inside – and the elaborate domes and arched ceilings which were positively caked in gold leaf. Clearly, no expense was spared! (We gave the Sistine Chapel a miss, as Laurence had been before and I didn’t think it was worth forking out €16 for.)
I loved Rome – and while we barely scratched the surface in our three days there, it’s up there with Lyon and Marseille as one of my favourite cities in Europe. Stay tuned for an armchair tour of Ostia Antica!
- Whether your arrival into Rome Fiumicino is heralded by the sound of trumpets (Ryanair outdid itself on this occasion, landing forty-five minutes early) or children bawling their heads off at having been cooped up on a plane, only one thing matters: how quickly you can get to the city centre. Several coach services shuttle visitors between Rome Fiumicino and Rome Termini (the central station); we joined the queue at bus stand two, paid €6 and arrived in the centre an hour later. Not too shabby.
- We stayed at B&B Serafino, a reasonably-priced spot (c. £60/night) that was a stone’s throw from the Vatican City.