There are no doubt good times and bad times to be in Rome. If your weekend in Rome, Italy, coincides with the Rome Marathon and an Italy vs Wales rugby match, for example, it may not be the best time. You will end up being two of 40 000 visitors to the city and sightseeing will be an unexpected team sport. You live and learn.
Leaving the Vatican we walked across the Tiber River, crossing at the Ponte Saint Angelo and headed toward the Pantheon. Along the way we stood and had coffee and white chocolate croissants at an Illy Coffee Bar, where €6 buys you a piece of heaven. Arriving at the Pantheon we were treated to the music of a tango played by an accordion band giving an unexpected free public concert beneath its majestic pillars.
Once we had had our fill of the music, we made our way up to the Spanish Steps, but we did not linger there. We found the Spanish steps overcrowded and defaced by an extremely large BMW Billboard so we continued our Rome meander down towards the Trevi Fountain. We stopped along the way for a Nutella gelato.
I had read that artisanal gelato is not always that, and we were at pains to be sure that we tried only true Italian Gelato. But, there are so many, many gelato shops that it became really confusing as to which was which. Suffice is to say that I am not 100 % sure that the Nutella Gelato which I ate was artisanal, but it was smooth and wonderful regardless.
It was early afternoon when we finally arrived at the Trevi which henceforth shall be known as the Fountain of Disappointment. Poor Dear Husband finally got to see the Trevi Fountain for the very first time and it was dry and under construction. Throwing coins into a waterless fountain quite frankly saps all of the romance right out of it.
Undeterred we continued on towards the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. We walked the ruins surrounding the Arco di Tito and approached the Colosseum from Via del Fori Imperiali which had been closed off in preparation for the marathon.
We had a good chuckle at the overweight, over ego-ed gladiators and Dear Husband stood for ages just staring up at the Colosseum. I could literally watch scenes from the Gladiator playing out in his head. We took a time out to just sit and soak up the Roman late afternoon sun which had finally peaked through on what was otherwise a very cloudy day.
We headed back to the old city joining Via Del Corso near Piazza Venezia. Via Del Corso is one of the main ultra-fancy shopping drags in Rome and our conversations went a little like this;
Me: My love!!! Jimmy Choo!!
Him: Are those the ones with the red?
Me: My love!!! Burberry!!
Him: Like the perfume?
Me: My love!!! Guccii!! If Kate was here we would totally go in.
Him: I’m hungry.
I am a little furious with myself for not taking down the name of the wine bar we ate at that night, because our meal was everything I had expected in Italy. We sat on the sidewalk of a cobbled street under tall heaters which did an excellent job of warding off the early evening chill. Our waitress was fluent in many languages and made us feel welcome, understood and unrushed. I ordered the Veal Saltimbocca and I am forever indebted to the chef who served a delicately prepared plate of authentic Italian Heritage. Dear Husband ordered a seafood risotto which included fresh clams and mussels; the risotto, built on layer upon layer of flavours, was faultless.
We decided to walk all the way back to our hotel that last night in Rome; its innate madness clearly contagious.
Right, are you ready? Hope so because I have a lot to say about visiting Rome and The Vatican in particular:
- Schedule your arrival or departure from Roma Termini during the day. I am told that at night the levels of safety are low. Given that we felt rattled arriving mid-morning, and immediately felt to touch our luggage at all times, this is sage advice.
- There are many self-services booths to buy your own tickets and because they have an English option they are simple enough to use. We had to queue at the counter anyway as we needed directions to our platform as the tickets are printed in Italian.
- Buy your tickets (Vatican, Museum with Audio) to see the Vatican on-line before you arrive in Rome.
- When you arrive at the Vatican, do not join the queue to enter the Basilica. You must walk around the central Vatican square, up the side street and enter on the Museums side. (To the right of the Basilica). There are many many tour guides around the Vatican who will try despite seeing your tickets to sell you some kind of “ALL ACCESS TOUR” add on for €20. The Vatican is perfectly navigable on your own.
- Once you start up towards the museums you will see the queue already about a kilometer long against the museum wall. This is not your queue if you have tickets. Stay to the right and join the ticket holders queue. Voila – you have already saved an hour or two.
- Once you enter the Vatican Museums and pass through security exchange your ticket print out for a museum ticket, then head up to the first floor to collect you audio handsets and away you go.
- Your last stop on the tour is the Sistine Chapel. If you can, exit the Sistine Chapel by the door on the right. This will take you directly into the Basilica and you avoid the long walk back along the museums where you need to rejoin another queue for the Basilica.
- We did not find the Romans particularly friendly and despite understanding English they will not speak it. Tabacchi and stall owners will help if you at least attempt to pronounce the Italian word.
- The gladiators are not there to add ambiance to the Colosseum but rather to earn money. Photos WITH them and in some cases OF them require a couple of Euros. I pretended to take pictures of the arch and when they were not looking snapped a few.
- Again the bus service in Rome is regular and prolific and reaches where the metro doesn’t. We only took the bus twice preferring to walk and take in all the side streets, but if you do use the bus make sure you have a bus map and know the numbers of the bus/es you need. Buying tickets on the bus from the driver is more expensive than buying at the tabacchi or newspaper stands.
- Give yourself plenty of time to travel the metro. The train we needed back to Roma Termini from St. Pietro for instance only ran every 15/20 minutes; we were happy to have left early to give more than enough time to catch our next train to Florence.
I could not wait for the final leg of our destination; Florence and day trip out to a Tuscan Vineyard.