After a stressy couple of weeks with exams and moving Carina and I could finally relax on flight SK4713 to Rome! All was set for five hot days with plenty of sights and enjoyment in Italy, but there were almost too many sights to behold. Despite all the splendour it simply got boring to walk through room after room of artworks impressive beyond description, so we squeezed in a day at the beach as well :-)
And if anyone wonders why it is called the Eternal City, I think it must be because you need an eternal amount of patience to see all the sights and if you want to go anywhere using public transportation. Get the full story below.
Pictures and relevant links will be added later, so check back if you are interested!
Day 1: Colusseum, Foro Romano and the Spanish Steps
We landed at Fiumicino airport at ca 11:45, and had to stay there for a while as for some reason all the baggage from our plane took more than an hour to arrive at the delivery band. As we later gathered this is just how things are done in Italy, so if you lack patience for such delays you should consider travelling somewhere else.
At least we eventually got our baggage and got on the Airport Express train for Termini Station, from where we walked to Guy's Paradise, the hostel in which we were staying. We were staying in a hostel to save money and expected the standard to be similar to what we were used to from our travels in AustralAsia, but found the worst place we have ever seen. The rooms were tiny, the only common room was the 12m² reception which also doubled as party-area, breakfast and dinner-hall, internet-room and hallway for some of the rooms. In addition there were no locks on doors or closets and all of the staff consisted of backpacking Americans staying in Rome for a while, and because they did some maintenance in the kitchen ours was the only working bathroom/toilet, so everybody used it despite us having paid extra for having a 8-person dorm with private bathroom! Not exactly much of a paradise there...
Well we didn't want the dissapointment to ruin our vacation, so we just freshened up and hit the streets. First of all we wanted to see the Colusseum! A short walk down from the hostel, and one of the most impressive antique buildings I have seen towered up ahead of us. A stadium of gladiatorial games seating 50.000 spectators on tribunes that could be emptied in less than 20 minutes, all built with bricks and mortar. The view by itself is quite stunning, and walking up the ancient stairs were several inches of stone is worn off by the use of millions of feet throughout the ages, invokes an astounding feeling of awe for the depths of history and what remains of it.
After walking around the Colusseum a couple of times we headed past the Tito's Arch of Triumph on our way to Fora Romano and the Palatino Hill. These are the ruins of the original city centre of ancient Rome, where the ruling class of Rome lived and worked. This is also the site of the Circo Massimo racetrack and the Camidoglio square by Michelangelo. Nearby are todays government bulildings towering over the amazing Piazza Venezia.
After hours of walking around the ruins we then went up Via del Corso, part of the main shopping area in Rome, ending up at Piazza del Popolo, an old stadium and executioner ground now prided with one of the obelisks from Circo Massimo and the St. Maria Church. We were looking for a simple sweater for Carina as it was getting chilly which was near impossible to find as Roman shops only sell t-shirts and tops, but just before closing time we managed to find one anyway. From there we went to see the Spanish Steps and find somewhere to eat, and ended up in a wonderful resturant just up from Piazza Mignanelli (It's the innermost one, be advised that the resturant just before it is really bad.. so pick wisely!). Dinner marked the end of our first night as we after more than 6 hours of walking were dead tired, so we returned once again to our very dissapointing hostel, got even more dissapointed and decided to find somewhere else in the morning.
Day 2: Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Trastevere
Getting up early to find a new place to stay we first checked out the local Radisson, which unlike the ones in Scandiavia was more of a luxury resort way above our budget. With some help from the friendly Hotel-booking assistance at Termini Station we located a cozy B&B called Rodan just next to Trevi Fountain. Quite cheap, well located and with our own spacious room with an ensuite bathroom and airconditioning! We even got the money back despite paying in advance for the hostel, and was relocated before 11 a.m, which despite the dissapointment of our first night left us with almost a full day to enjoy!
Starting out we walked to the nearby Trevi Fountain, an amazingly sculptured building by Bernini featured in the movie "La Dolce Vita", and widely known as the most romantic place in Rome. Legend has it that if you throw a single coin into the fountain over your right shoulder with your left hand, you are destined to return to Rome again.
From there we continued down the narrow streets to the Pantheon. A temple turned church that is the largest masonry dome ever constructed. From the outside it is an immense structure, while inside is is simply amazing! Words and pictures cannot describe it, so I won't even try. Go and have a look for yourselves!
Onward we walked to the Piazza Navona for lunch, were we just got seated before a rainstorm as bad as those in Brisbane was thundering down upon us. It was so bad we even got wet under the shades and had to move inside, and then it even started to hail! Even after an hour we had to buy an umbrella to be able to leave without getting soaked, as the beautiful weather earlier in the morning had us leave ours at home. The great weather and soaring temperatures during the day also spurred us to get lots of Gelato from the Gelaterias you find everywhere in Italy. Their famous and delicous ice-cream in countless variants are the perfect snack for hot days!
After lunch we passed by Campo De' Fiori on our way over the river Tiber to Trastevere, Romes artistic suburb and the first settled area on the east bank of the river. We didn't find it as exciting as the guidebook-writers, so after walking around a bit we returned to our room and went out for dinner at the Chanti, an excellent resturant in Via in Arcioni just by the Trevi Fountain, famous for the Chanti range of wines.
Day 3: San Pietro Cathedral and Piazza del Popolo
First in the morning we tried to find out how to get to Terracina for some beachlife, but as the italians employed to help people at various information-desks were completely unwilling to provide even the simplest of facts, and everybody else was clueless noon passed before we got anywhere, so we decided to visit the Vatican instead. A short taxi-ride later we were walking across the Piazza San Pietro and into the famous Basilika by the same name. After a security check at the "border" to the only country in the world owned by a religion, we entered the most amazing bulding I have ever seen. Despite the amazement of viewing the Pantheon this was a thousand times more stunning! Hall after hall of grand domes and amazing statues, with every inch of the walls, floors and ceilings covered by intricate patterns, paintings and carvings. The main dome also by Michelangelo towers more than 120 meters above the floor and is indescribeable. After walking through the cathedral itself we climed 360 steps of steep and narrow staircases to a lookout point at the top of the dome itself for an amazing view of Rome, which was plain boring compared to the internal view of the dome itself, looking down upon the ant-sized people at the floor some one-hundred meters below us. Again words are simply not sufficient to describe the magnificence and scale of everything, so if you ever have a chance, GO THERE!
After a few hours of wonder and amazement we returned to our hostel to freshen up for dinner. First we planned to see a 4D movie of Rome's History called the "Time Elevator" advertised on the official city-maps, but it appeared to have gone out of business as it was closed when we found the entrance, so we just went straight on to get dinner instead. The old fashioned pizzeria called La Bafetto (Via del Governo Vecchio 14), supposed to be one of the few places italians will actually queue up to get a table, was recommended to us. As expected there was quite a queue even with us arriving early, but beeing only 2 people helped get us a table after just 30 minutes. It seems that the warning about queuing wasn't just talk as even then we skipped most of the line. To eat we started with a simple but good Caprese salad, an italian specialty with tomatoes and mozzarella chesse in oil. Afterwards we had a perfect italian pizza that was absolutely delicious, so if you are ever in Rome I highly reccommend that you eat there (just go early)!
Walking home we stopped by the Supperclub Rome. Sister to the quite famous Amsterdam Supperclub, and quite hard to find, we had to stop by since we were in the area. It is quite a special place that typically caters to an artistic and somewhat excentric audience, but still an experience to visit. I belive that to spend an evening there would be something quite out of the ordinary.
Day 4: The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel
Again we planned to spend today at the beach, but as we discovered that the Sistine Chapel was located in the Vatican Museum that were to be closed on sundays, we had to change our plans and make this visit instead. We had not been able to do this yesterday as the museum closes quite early at 15:00, and we did not know of its existence or whereabouts until after this time.
So we headed back to the Vatican, and was greeted by a line of people going halfway around the city walls. Luckily we had time to buy some food and water for under the baking sun half a dozen people collapsed while waiting in line just during the hour and a half we waited to get inside. Once inside everything again was simply amazing. Room after room after room, all covered in paintings, carvings, statues and relics. It is along with the San Pietro Basilica supposed to be the most pompous display of wealth in the world, and I have no trouble believing that. There is actually so much of it that it gets boring! Even as we took the shortest route through the museum it took us a good 3 hours to walk through, and it was probably a dozen times we were convinced that this room was the Sistine Chapel, only to find a sign saying it was further along, so when we finally got there it was actually dissapointing. It was more or less just a large square room with Michelangelos paintings covering the walls and ceiling, with none of the other works of art seen elsewhere. Also we were getting tired and couldn't really care less about another room to marvelous to describe, as we had probably seen several acres of wonderous wealth already. It is hard to imagine that such a display could ever exist, and even harder to believe that it was created during the dark ages.
With aching feet from all the waiting and the long walks, we skipped the Castel San Angelo where the popes used to hide away during invasions, and returned to our room early. For dinner we went to the resturant next to the one visited on Day 1 close to the Spanish Steps, which was absolute crap in comparison. The waiters were slow and unwelcoming, and the food appeared to have been microwaved, so you really should avoid this place.
Day 5: Beachlife at Terracina
Trying again, we finally got out of Rome and was headed for Terracina. There of course was some more troubles as noone was interested in telling us anything of how, where and when you could get to a beach, but eventually we found ourselfs on a train headed for one of the better beaches to be found near Rome. The last bit had to be traveled by bus, but we finally got some hours in the sun, and thanks to the heatwave going over Europe this summer there was more than enough of it. With more than 30 degrees centigrade it was great to cool off in the ocean from time to time, but as usual with us Norwegians we couldn't avoid the usual sunburn.
I guess we are both spoiled from our years in Australia, because the beach was OK, but nothing special at all. Also there were quite too many people there, mostly Italians beeing their rude self kicking sand everywhere, but it was nice to calm down a day anyhow. Returning to Rome there again was problems with the transportation, this time not because nobody were interested in helping, but because not a single soul neither spoke much english nor knew anything about the buses. From a waiter we gathered that the town was so small that they did not know where or when the bus to Rome left, which honestly doesn't make any sense, but after a good hour of asking around and dechiphering sign-language we found the right spot and was eventually picked up by a delayed bus. We probably rode illegaly as well since they don't sell tickets on public transports in Italy, and nobody could explain where else they could be bought, except from a closed kiosk. But the bus-driver didn't seem to care if we had tickets or not so we got a ride to the trainstation anyway, and we had been smart enough to buy return-trip tickets for the train. A good advice from all of this is that you should really not be in a hurry if you want to go anywhere in Italy, and your expectations should not be much higher than if you were travelling in rural South-America, even at Termini Station in Rome. Not fitting for a major European country in my opinion, but I guess that just the Italian way.
To celebrate our last night in Rome we decided to go to a really good resturant and enjoy ourselves royally. However more dissapointment ensued when we found out that one after another of the resturants we tried were closed on sundays. In the end we located the Bierreria Viennese, a beer-house from Wien, where we had a genuine Transilvanian wooden platter, with plenty of meat, rice, vegetables and fries. After all the pizza and pasta the last couple of days it was great to have a good solid meal again, but we probably left a quarter of the food as there were *lots* of it. Naturally we had no room for dessert and had a cozy stroll home through the italian night, before packing our bags to leave in the morning.
The trip home:
Getting up and getting dressed, taking a taxi to Termini and the Airport Express back to Fiumicino. It was all quite eventless except the fact that nobody wanted us to pay with creditcard. Before leaving we stopped by a small grocery store to get some last minute souverniers and lunch, and both there and in the taxi they kept bugging us about cash and why we didn't have any before finally accepting our cards. Again I was puzzled of how backwards and old fashioned Italy appears, especially in matters taken for granted in most of the western world. More souverniers were bought at the airport taxfree-stores, where we found a 3-pack of Chanti-wine for just 15. Also we had to get a bottle of the Lemon Liquor specialty of Italy, and I really wanted to get some Prosciutto di Parma, a luxury ham, but the price was a bit too stiff for a student budget beeing 20 for a 200g box. It's just meat after all...
Back in Norway we enjoyed the more liveable temperatures of around 23°C, which was good as we had to start packing Carina's furniture to bring to our new apartment in Trondheim. Plenty of work but we're finally back and is finally getting settled, ready for working a full summer together in Trondheim for the first time. I don't think things could be any better now!
Rome has so much to offer so it is almost impossible to cover everything in just a few days. Also much of it is very similar so it would get boring trying to run around and see everything, and it all would then just becomes a blur.
- However, of the things I would have liked a chance to see are the following:
- Villa Borghese and the Borghese Museum
- The papal toombs of the Vatican (Sacro Grotte Vaticane)
- Castel Sant' Angelo
- Isola Tibernia and the Ponte Cestio
- Via Appia Antica with the Catacombs and the San Sebastino Museum.