As discussed in my previous post, I spent the weekend before last Rome. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to go as it happens. My flight was early on Friday morning and on Wednesday evening and through Thursday I had some kind of stomach bug. Fortunately I was feeling better by Friday, only to develop a bad chest cough and a cold while I was away!
The travelling went smoothly and I even found my hostel without too much of a problem. It was called ‘Coliseum Lodge’ [sic] and I was quite impressed by it. Really, it was more of an apartment where one of the rooms had 6 beds in it. Even more happily, the beds were mostly single beds rather than bunk beds, which I far prefer. They were comfortable and the facilities were fine.
After arrival I walked to the Colosseum, which was only about a ten minute walk away. Having done my research, I bought my entry ticket (which gets you in to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill) at the Palatine Hill ticket office, which is much quieter. The Colosseum is larger than I expected and is very interesting to walk around. Before I left the UK I’d downloaded some free audio guides onto my MP3 player by a guy named Rick Steves. They were American so had the odd reference I wasn’t familiar with, and some terrible jokes, but they were quiet useful. I had those for the Colosseum, the Forum, The Pantheon, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica and they gave some useful information.
After the Colosseum I walked round the Forum in astonishment at the sheer quantity of Roman ruins in such a small area. There are remnants of many temples and two impressive triumphal arches as well as part of the house of the Vestal Virgins. I was amazed by the large fragments of columns and inscriptions which just litter the ground – in an area of such historic riches they aren’t a priority.
Following that I walked up the the Victor Emmanuel II monument, also known as the Vittoriano. It’s absolutely enormous, a huge stone structure to commemorate King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy. I had a wander round the museum inside before heading back out to explore the Centro Storico.
My evening wanderings took me several miles and I made sure to visit all the main sights – the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. I had a thoroughly disappointing canneloni in Piazza Del Popolo and headed back to the hostel for an early night because I’d been up since 4.20 am! It didn’t end up being very early though as I got chatting to my roommates – one of the advantages of hostels for the solo traveller!
The next day I had a booking at the Vatican museums at 9.30 so I was up and out early. I went slightly wrong on my walk there but didn’t end up being very late at all. This area is one of the worst for street vendors trying to sell you tat and it’s added to by all the salesmen trying to get you to pay for a tour. Having successfully avoided all of them, I got into the museum and quickly ignored the crowds by heading to the right to get a shot of the famous exit staircase.
I ended up spending 4 hours in the museums, because they are simply huge and very wide-ranging. There are museums of portraits, a museum dedicated to the coinage and stamps of the Vatican City, another for early Christian scarcophagi as well as those for sculpture and the like. The most famous part of the Vatican museums is the Sistine Chapel. At first sight I wasn’t as impressed as I had been expecting to be but it really is fantastic work and it’s no surprise it took Michaelangelo four years to complete it!
After the museums I had a pizza nearby before joining the queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world. The queue was huge but it moved quickly and I was inside in about twenty minutes. The light was fading so I went straight for the stairs to climb the cupola, the dome of the church, as I’d read that the views were incredible. Five Euros later (it’s seven if you take the lift halfway) and I was climbing 700 stairs and negotiating the very narrow corridors at the top where the wall curves in on you. The view was well worth the effort – judge for yourself! Downstairs, I looked around the church while listening to the Rick Steves’ audio tour. I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer scale of it and the incredible decorations, though I do think that overall I preferred St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Afterwards I had a wander down the bank of the Tiber (the picture shows Castel St’Angelo, near the Vatican) and through Trastavere. It’s supposed to be very authentic, but it wasn’t anything special from what I could see (though it was dark!) After a spaghetti carbonara in an empty restaurant, I headed back to the hostel for bed. I was tired from a long day and a lot of walking, but I think my visit to the world’s smallest country was my favourite part of my trip.
Day 3 dawned and I walked out to see a few places I hadn’t yet seen and to see some which I’d only seen in the dark the day before. After some navigational difficulties caused by the Italian dislike of road signs, I eventually found my first destination, the Campo D’Fiori. It was a nice enough space but I wasn’t quite sure why it was a recommended visit. From there I headed to nearby Piazza de Navona, which was very busy even in the morning, and the Pantheon. When I arrived the service was still taking place (it’s been a church for 1400 years and was a Roman temple before that – the name means ‘All Gods’ as it was not dedicated to a specific deity) so I waited for a few minutes and was able to enter. You can’t really see it from outside but the Pantheon has an enormous concrete dome, which was built with the temple in Roman times. It’s an architectural marvel and was unmatched until the Renaissance. There’s a circular opening in the roof which lets in light – and also rainwater.
From the Pantheon I walked north-east to the Trevi Fountain. To my surprise, it wasn’t much busier than it had been at night two days before. It’s a stunning construction and I sat and enjoyed it for a few minutes.
Next I went to the Piazza de Spagna, the square which hosts the Spanish Steps (both so-names because the Spanish embassy is also in the square). I knew that there was due to be a ceremony there that day, as they do it every December 8th. The ceremony involves the fire brigade placing a wreath over the outstretched arm of a statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of a tall column. When I arrived, the wreath was already in place but there were people waiting around behind barricades so something else was obviously due to happen. I’d read that Pope John Paul II had taken part in the ceremony years ago and there were men handing out flags which said “Benvenuto Papa Francesco” so it was fairly obvious a papal visit was in order. I waited around but there was no sign of it beginning so I had to give up and head back to my hostel to be able to check out. On my way from the hostel to the train station to return to the airport, I stopped for some real Italian gelato at Merulana Ice. I ordered a larger size than I would have done ordinarily as it was only 3 Euros and the distance the dishes were away from the counter meant I didn’t quite realise how large it was! Oh well, I got a very large helping of dark chocolate ice cream for a very reasonable price!
Overall, I enjoyed Rome but I didn’t fall in love with it as many people seem to. I’d go back, although I’ve now done everything I was particularly bothered about doing, but I’m in no hurry.
Travelling solo was an interesting experience. I haven’t done it before, and while it had its advantages (I only had to go where I wanted to go and never had to wait for anyone, which meant I fit much more into my limited time, and I wasn’t annoying companions by making them wait for me while I took pictures) I much prefer travelling with friends or family. I don’t really mind being on my own during the day when I’m doing things (as long as I know where I’m going and what I’m doing) but I don’t like eating alone. Still, in other circumstances I may well have been able to find someone to come with me, it was just short notice!