I don’t know why I haven’t yet written about Rome. Maybe I just needed some time to decompress, to understand how important my time there was, and to separate the experience within this eternal city from the rest of my trip. Whatever the reason, almost 2 years later, I am excited to finally share my experience!
I idealised Italy – actually I still do. It was a place that I had such a strong desire to visit and to experience that I almost couldn’t believe that I found myself there. For weeks and weeks before our trip I spent my time immersed in everything Italian trying to soak up anything that would help me better understand the country and the culture, and ultimately ensure that I got the most out of my trip.
Part of this self-education was watching the beautiful Audrey Hepburn enjoy a spectacular Roman Holiday. The romance of the city was enhanced and while Rome wasn’t the place I was most eager to visit on our trip, it began to intrigue me as I started to peel back the layers. I also picked up a few books, Rome by Robert Hughes and The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulich which sparked my interest in the ancient history that Rome was built on. I found myself wanting more and suddenly, I couldn’t wait to step foot in this place.
Rome was our final destination of our two week trip through Italy, and having already visited Venice and Florence I was feeling pretty comfortable with the Italian way of life. In an attempt to cram as much into our trip as possible, our time in Rome was broken up by an overnight tour to Naples, Sorrento and Capri. I was tired in Rome. I think if you added up all the broken slots of time, we got around 72 hours, and let me tell you – that is not enough time. But when do we ever have enough time while travelling?
Stepping off the train at Roma Termini, we were off to find our accommodation. Rome is fairly pricey so I had decided to stay somewhere less expensive near the station – turns out it was just across the road. After dropping our bags off we still had about an hour until we could check into the room so wanting to stay close we just went for a stroll around the area.
I love it when you accidentally find yourself stepping into a place that just takes your breath away. That is what happened when I came across my first Roman church. The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs is a showcase of Michelangelo’s architectural design along with stunning frescos, roman columns and a courtyard garden, remnants from the Baths of Diocletian. I thought I had seen enough amazing churches throughout Italy, but nothing compared to those in Rome.
Checking into our room, we realised one of the reasons it was so cheap. It had a VERY questionable lift – you could see the mechanisms and often it got stuck. Needless to say we just took the stairs. After a quick freshen up, with walking shoes on and a map from reception, we took off to find the bus and head to the Pantheon. The bus was an experience! I thought many times it was going to break apart as it violently rattled along the cobblestone streets. After realising I had no idea where we were going, a kind fellow Australian helped ensure we got off the bus at the right stop and we wandered down to the Pantheon. I had read so much about how amazing the dome is from an architectural sense so I was pretty humbled to be standing underneath it. I did however get a bit overwhelmed by the crowds so it wasn’t long before we were walking the streets again.
After admiring many places along the walk, we realised the street we were on was leading us to the Colosseum. It appeared at the end of the road, and I was not prepared. It was starting to get late into the afternoon but we couldn’t resist going inside. Running to make sure we would have enough time before it closed, we were greeted with a short line and less crowds than I had expected. Perfect.
The history while standing in the place is overwhelming. You can’t help but cast your mind back to try and imagine what it would have looked like filled with Gladiators fighting and killing for entertainment. How this structure still stands, preserved so well for almost 2000 years just astounds me. During our visit it was undergoing some renovations on the outside of the structure which was interesting to see and helps us to understand how much work goes into the preservation of this slice of Imperial Rome.
This was a big first day in Rome and after telling my Husband it was time I ordered something that wasn’t pasta for dinner, I quickly changed my mind on viewing the menu and ordered the porcini mushroom tagliatelle which I consumed with gusto. The Italians make the best food!
We spent a lot of time taking trains around Rome. The metro is so reliable, quick and cheap and much more comfortable than that bus ride! Jumping on the metro we headed out to Vatican City to take a look inside St Peter’s Cathedral. This is where I let us down with my lack of research. The Pope makes a public appearance in the square every Wednesday and while we had missed it, the line for entry into the Church was the longest I have ever seen in my life. We were surrounded by people trying to sell us skip the line tickets like it was some sort of amusement ride. Even though they promised us it was like this everyday we turned around and walked away. We still had one day left in Rome so we thought why not try our luck returning first thing in the morning. As we were already out there, we decided to check out The Vatican Museums. Luckily, we left the crowds in the square and begun wandering through endless corridors of history.
The building itself is just as spectacular as the pieces within its walls. Walking down the halls towards the Sistine Chapel my heart literally began to race. I have never been so excited to step foot into a building. The only word I can think of to describe the experience is surreal. Lost in a sea of people staring at the ceiling thinking about the hours and hours of work that Michelangelo put into this painting, I struggled to believe that I was finally seeing it with my own eyes. A few people tried to take sneaky photos even though it is strictly not allowed. I couldn’t understand why. The picture will never truly represent it in its actual state, so we are better to soak it up and preserve the memory in our own minds.
For a late lunch we found a quiet pizza place a few streets away from Vatican City. After enjoying a delicious roman pizza, the waiter brought out a bottle of Limoncello and 2 plastic cups, put it on the table and walked away. We hadn’t ordered it, we were not really sure what to do, so we enjoyed a glass each and waited for our bill. It was free! Can you imagine this happening in Australia where nothing is ever free? Italians, seriously, these guys are the masters of mealtimes!
After lunch we again jumped on the metro and headed out to the other side of the city to see the church that was the head of the Catholic Church before St Peter’s, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. This is another one that is well worth the time to look around. The enormity of the stone statues of the twelve apostles are so impressive. This was my favourite church and I have the story by Harry Mulich to thank for describing it in such a vivid way that it went straight to the top of my must see list.
Across the road there is another site to be seen, Scala Sancta or the Holy Stairs. From a historical perspective rather than a religious one, I just had to see the steps. The story goes that Constantine’s Mother St. Helena brought these white marble stairs to Rome from Jerusalem and that Jesus himself once walked up this exact flight of stairs. Now they sit encased in wood to protect them from the thousands of people who make the pilgrimage to Rome to ascend the steps upon their knees.
Our final full day in Rome begun with an early train out to St Peter’s Cathedral again. This time we walked straight in and then stopped. I am not a religious person but being in this place you felt a kind of connection coupled with amazement at the grandeur and the intricacies of the place.
We then spent hours wandering around the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, standing in the spot Caligula was slain by his men and at the point where Rome begun. I credit Robert Hughes for educating me about Ancient Rome as I had never been interested in it at school. However finding myself immersed I just couldn’t get enough. We walked and walked, through the rubble that is all that remains of Augustine’s grand palace until we emerged back into modern Rome.
And as luck would have it, we emerged just a few blocks away from Bocca della Verità, The Mouth of Truth. I was about to get my Audrey moment! It was very much one of those moments that does not live up to the expectation set in the movie. Much like the journey to the top of the Empire State Building it was all long lines and buses full of tourists all looking to get that one photo. I couldn’t help it though – I had to!
Unfortunately our visit coincided with the restoration of the Trevi Fountain, but it was pretty interesting to see it drained. And now I have a pretty good reason to return! There so was much more of Rome that we missed during our short stay. I could wander the cobblestone streets for days exploring all the little pockets of history.
After such an amazing trip it was time to say Arrivederci to Rome and to Italy and return home.