The second of our Guest Travel posts (this time written by Olivia) is on how to spend a few days in Rome. You can also check the LOOKDWN guide to Tirana (Albania) another of our guest posts.
The post-Hawaii holiday blues didn’t last too long for me fortunately as I was only back in London for a day before jetting off again, this time to Italy for a few days in Rome. I was lucky enough to attend a work conference in the beautiful and historical city of Rome and we were even able to extend our trip and stay on for the weekend to explore – it’s amazing how much you can fit into two days when you put your mind to it (and the hop-on-hop-off buses help!)
The conference itself was very interesting and even included talks from Oprah’s and JFK Junior’s Chief of Staff! To me, this was very exciting as my dream would be to be Beyoncé’s (even if it includes only one day off in 11 years!). As soon as the first day of the conference ended on the Thursday, we were straight out of the door and into the city, headed for the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and lots of pasta! Luckily we were staying in a great location and it didn’t take us that long to walk there.
The Trevi fountain is the largest in the city and one of the most famous in the world, even appearing in a few Hollywood films. It was overcrowded with tourists, even at 7 pm, but we managed to find a spot to sit, make a wish, and throw in our coins. The saying is if you throw a coin backwards over your left shoulder with your right hand, you will definitely return to Rome.
Interesting fact – the Municipality of Rome now collect all of the coins in the fountain on a daily basis to prevent theft and donate them to charities, including a fund to finance a special supermarket that serves the poor.
The Pantheon (meaning ‘honour all Gods’) is only a short walk from the Fountain so we headed there next, gelato in hand. Equally as beautiful, the Pantheon is a former Roman temple with a large opening in the roof that looks out to the sky. It is said to be the connection between the temple and the Gods above. Throughout the day, the light from the opening moves around the space in a reverse sundial effect and also serves as a cooling method. We spent the evening sipping wine and watching the many street performers that flood the area.
On Friday evening, we headed to a lovely little restaurant called Est Artigiani Del Gusto, on a road called Vicolo della Cancelleria. This was a recommendation from my colleague who swore by their double butter and double cheese spaghetti. It didn’t disappoint – I went for the mushroom ravioli topped with helpings of parmesan.
The weekend was our chance to fully explore, and as I was in Hawaii for two weeks before the trip, my colleague kindly took the reins and organised tickets and queue-jumps for many of the attractions including the Vatican City (St Stephen’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel) and the Colosseum. This helped enormously on the day and meant we weren’t standing with the hundreds of tourists queuing for on-the-day tickets in the 34°c heat.
We started Saturday with our trip to the Vatican City, which is actually classed as a country of its own, ruled by the Pope. You have to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting the area, so after an impromptu stop at a scarf stand for my colleague, we visited St Peter’s Basilica where we said a few prayers and took lots of pictures of the beautiful architecture.
We then took a short walk around to the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. The museums are full of historical art pieces, including sculptures, tapestries and paintings. The most breath-taking of all being the masterpiece that is Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling was painted between 1508 and 1512 and comprises many works of art, including the iconic ‘The Creation of Adam’. Apparently, Michelangelo painted standing up, not lying down, which made for some very uncomfortable positions.
We spent some time in the chapel sitting and reading about the various paintings and their meanings. It really is a sacred place, visitors must be covered and quiet at all times and unfortunately, you can’t take pictures in some places here.
That evening we ate at a cute little restaurant near to our hotel called Alessio Ristorante, on Via del Viminale. We had walked past the day before and thought it looked really sweet, so we decided to try it. As it was a Saturday night we didn’t think we would get a table without booking in advance, but fortunately they found one for us in the corner. I went for a pizza this time while my friend had a lasagne, and we shared a side of salad.
We were in awe at the couple sat next to us who demolished a large slab of steak with potatoes, followed by another main course each of pasta, and a lot of wine. We were full before we even had our meal! Afterwards, they gave us a shot of Limoncello which topped the meal off nicely!
We started our Sunday with an early morning trip to the Colosseum. The entire area was crawling with tourists in large tour groups, constantly in the way. After picking up our tickets, we had to wait in line for about 20 minutes to enter, and then again for another 15 minutes to pick up our audio guides. However, seeing the Colosseum for the very first time is magnificent! Built in 70-80 AD by Jewish slaves, it is the largest amphitheatre in the world and could hold between 50,000 – 80,000 spectators at one time. Gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, public spectacles and executions were held here. Even though it is now partially damaged due to earthquakes and stone-robbers, it is still an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and one of the most popular tourist spots.
After a good few hours with our audio guide, we jumped on a hop-on, hop-off bus and headed to the Spanish Steps near the Piazza di Spagna. The 135 steps were constructed in the 1700’s and were built in order to link the Trinità dei Monti church at the top with the Spanish square below.
Rome is full of beautiful piazzas and my favourites that we visited were the Piazza Navona and the Campo de’ Fiori. Piazza Navona is a gorgeous square with fountains, a giant column and was the former site of a large stadium which has now been paved over. It is one of the liveliest squares in Rome with artists, street performers and musicians on every corner. Campo de’ Fiori is just south of Piazza Navona and became known for its impressive fish and fresh produce markets. Every morning, even today bundles of fresh food are delivered to the pleasure of locals and visitors.
This was my first time in Italy and Rome definitely did not disappoint. The food, wine, local people, architecture and history fulfilled all my expectations and I would definitely visit again (albeit not in peak season!). My friend is getting married in Italy next year and we will definitely use this opportunity to explore more parts of Italy.