After leaving Barcelona yesterday morning and arriving in Rome yesterday with what ranked high on the most horrendous hangovers of my life, we spent the entire day (a complete waste – I know) in bed before meeting my friend from home and her boyfriend who conveniently were still in the city on their own trip when we arrived. From the airport we chose to travel by bus to the city, costing us only €5 each and dropping us in front of the main train station, Termini, only a five minute walk from our hotel. We had to wait around fifteen minutes for the next bus, but it seemed the most economic choice when compared with the €14 per person train or a €48 taxi, plus we had our own seats, air conditioning, free wifi and knew our bags were safely stowed. Both we and my friends had hotels near to Termini, so we decided on a restaurant nearby called Ristorante Imperium. Pints cost €6 each, so we will definitely be steering clear of beer for the rest of our two weeks in Italy, but other than that I found the food incredibly reasonably priced and the pizza was SO good. We asked as many questions about their trip as we could, figuring out the best times of day to visit each of the incredibly popular sights and the pros and cons of booking tickets in advance.
Our first morning in Rome consisted of a very early start to the day. We jumped on the Metro after buying a 48 hour unlimited pass for all of the city’s public transport systems and cost €12.50 each. We are pretty used to using metro lines and Rome’s only has three, making it far less confusing than some of the others we have encountered. The Metro station beside us is conveniently only a few metres from our hotel, B&B Drago d’Oro (£96 for three nights) to the Colloseum at around 8.45.
After talking to friends about the prices of excursions they had already been on during their stay in Rome, then going home and weighing up the pros and cons of queue lengths and prices, we decided to just wait in the queue and guide ourselves around the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. When we arrived the queue looked pretty (really) daunting, but it moved just as quickly as those for pre-booked tickets so we were pretty happy. Online, each ticket requires a €5 booking fee per ticket, so we avoided that and at the ticket desk we showed our British Passports and so only paid concession ticket prices (€7.50 instead of the typical €11) because, for the time being, we are members of an EU state between 18 and 24 – the same discounts on and in some cases free entrance fees apply in most large European Union cities, including Paris.
Inside the Colloseum, we spent around 45 minutes wandering around, admiring the vast stone walls and reading the extremely informative signs posted all around, telling tourists about the history of the building itself and the Cesars who built it. I actually found myself walking around a little open mouthed, in complete awe of how a building of such magnitude was still standing two millennia after being built. The floor of the auditorium has been eroded, revealing a network of what were underground tunnels where prisoners, slaves and animals were kept. Vast stone archways line the entire building, offering stunning views of the ruins surrounding the Colloseum as well as more modern architecture. Around the hallways are artefacts such as pilasters, column heads and sculptures that have been recovered from the site over the years; for me to see an authentic, vast composite pilaster at eye level made for one of the most iconic Roman buildings of all time was an absolute delight. Although the majority of the building is now brown stone, some old and some new to ensure it stays standing, slivers of its previous white marble interior can be seen still clinging to parts of the walls and some on the ground. Although the thousands of tourists may put some people off, for me it was truly like stepping into a time warp and I felt it really showed the sheer scale and capacity of the building and what it would have been like inside so many years ago.
From the Colloseum we walked across to the Roman Forum – the ancient governmental heart of the city which boasts an extensive collection of existing buildings and ruins from clerical buildings, Basilicas and more. Even the buildings that have crumbled lay scattered around, marble heads or sections of pillars baking in the sun. The size of the remaining buildings was pretty unbelievable, and the whole time I was walking through this millennial old city I was dumbfounded by how any of it was built. Higher up the Forum, on Palatine Hill, the balance began to move less in the favour of stone and more towards trees, flowers and shrubs. From the top of the hill we had incredible views of the city, both old and new.
The energy in Rome is tangible, it’s warm and exciting and so vibrant in all ways; from its weather to its shopping to the way the Romans carry themselves around the city. The streets of Rome emulate the highlights of Italian culture: art, fashion and food. They are lined with bars, restaurants and gelaterias decorated romantically and in such an inviting way; checked cloth tables, candles and ivy with lights on their exteriors. Between them, shops contrast with their coolness; a haven of white air conditioning from the sweltering heat outside made all the more appealing by the clothes they have to offer. The women’s clothing is so incredibly modest in terms of cut; shorts and skirts more often than not fall below the knee and I have very rarely seen exposed chests, but the colours and prints of the clothes worn and being sold around the city are flamboyant, bright and attention grabbing whilst the men’s clothes and stores are sharp, tailored and smart. Above this ground level of commerce are homes in buildings of light yellow, oranges and pinks. The colours of the more modern buildings here are harmonious with one another and with the historical buildings scattered around the city which are a blend of off-whites and browns. They are engraved, dated by their year of construction and ornately decorated in a typical Classical and Romanesque style.
One thing I will say about Rome is that it never seems to slow down. All night long we heard sirens and the hustle and bustle of people passing past our window – which is two floors up. As a result, sleep on the first night was near enough impossible, and so after our morning exploring the historical centre of Rome we headed back for a nap (which never happened because of the noise outside) and to escape the sun for the hottest hours of the day.
After eating some of our beloved spicy noodles for dinner we headed back out on the metro to Piazza Barberini, close to the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was closed last night due to the Fendi show taking place on the fountain – yes, on it, as they were the ones who paid for its recent renovations in return for building a Perspex runway over the water to end Couture Fashion week. As a result we had to take the scenic route to the Pantheon, which in itself was sightseeing. Once we reached it, nestled amongst winding cobble streets and facing onto a bustling piazza, I was utterly transfixed. In what will probably tank as the most Italian moment of our trip, a man sang opera while people scurried around the square, others sat on the steps of a fountain with a direct view of the building and others ate dinner on the outskirts. When we walked underneath the vast stone pillars in front of te building, Paul have me a history lesson on the weight and origins of them while we bothrepeatedly asked ourselves and one another how they built such a building two thousand years ago. Inside lay a building of unimaginable proportional perfection. The Pantheon really is the epitome of Classical architecture; the vast dome constructed of unbelievably symmetric, seamless and identical square blocks of stone, gradually decreasing in size to be centred by a vast (and now covered) oculus. Frescos can still be faintly seen on the walls below along with sculptures and other canvas paintings. Even the floor is glorious. I could remember studying this building in an architecture lecture almost two years ago, and had to pinch myself a little that I was here and able to experience and enjoy it in a critical artistic way.
After the Pantheon, we walked to the Spanish steps, which were under restoration thanks to the jewellery house Bulgari, then we jumped on the metro to the Colloseum to see it at night. We visited the nearby Capotiline Hill, which had been reconfigured in the mid sixteenth century by Michaelangelo, then down to see the glorious Altare della Patria or Altar of the Father, a vast white marble memorial flanked by pristine fountains and lavishly decorated with chariots and lions alike.
Morning two began after perhaps even a worse sleep than the night before and an early rise to see the Vatican City. As full time students, we both only had to pay €8 per entry ticket opposed to the typical €16 after a delightful hour and a half wait in the lengthy morning queue. In all honesty I was actually really disappointed in the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel because it was just far too busy. I found the countless phones in my face to take photographs quite sad because I felt like very few people were actually taking it in, and tour groups of up to thirty people were moving around in swarms, sometimes taking up entire rooms and leaving it pretty difficult to go and read about the works in rooms or actually see them up close. The building itself was glorious, each room was detailed and thought out and the building had a good flow with regard to chronology and the subject matter of works. Heading towards the Sistine Chapel I felt incredibly claustrophobic, actually unable to stop and observe any of the works on the ceilings or walls for being pushed forward by the sheer mass of people behind me, and as Paul quite rightly said, if you can’t even get a visual experience of the building how are you supposed to have a spiritual one? This was then brought to a climax inside the chapel where loud tannoy played over the crowd reminding us not to take photographs and to be quiet. I just felt sort of disgusted with the entire experience, and I sort of felt it was hypocritical to ask for respect within this part of the building meanwhile within it and in the rest of the building the same respect wasn’t being extended to the visitors – I genuinely felt like a cow being led to the slaughter the entire time I was in the building. I usually have an immense amount of time for religious buildings because I think they are the most culturally rich places on earth. History, religion and art all come together under one roof and usually it’s an absolute wonder to observe, so I was really disappointed by how I felt after our visit. Maybe in a lower season or at a quieter time of day it would be different, but from what I’ve read since our visit not very. All of that being said I’m so happy we got to check it off of our list sand that I got to see Michelangelo’s glorious frescos in the flesh as well as the incredible St Peter’s Square.
We spent our evening at La Galleria Borghese after booking a two hour slot along with 358 others. Compared with our excursion earlier in the day, the peacefulness of the ex residence was sublime. I was beyond impressed at the range of works displayed there; and although there are works by non-Italian artists, it was the first time I had ever visited a gallery and thought it was a wonderful representation of its country’s art history. The layout was also faultless, again the flow of the building was seamless. The palatial rooms with decedent decor were such a welcome change from the stern white walls of modern museums, and the Carravaggios and Berninis seemed at home below cherubs and Roman figures observing from the ceiling abovr. My favourite rooms had to be the entrance, purely for its ostentatious nature and then the room directly to its right, for surprising me with a graceful Canova and reminding me how much I adored his work.
I found Rome a beautiful and vivacious city with its only flaw being the tremendous amount of tourists in it, which of course I was one, so really who am I to criticise? The historic centre is so beyond any other place on earth I’ve visited and the Vatican was incredibly beautiful. I think Rome gets a bad name for being expensive but if you look things up before you go you’ll save yourself an absolute packet, on everything from airport transfers to admission fees to dinners. We packed so much into a few days, and the things we missed give us the perfect excuse to return soon.