City Break in Rome

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Last week Monica and I went off for a short break to Rome. We stayed about a week, landing Tuesday and flying home again on Saturday. I wasn’t expecting much before we flew out there — I’m not really a great fan of travelling and visiting places — but I suppose I would be doing somewhat of an injustice to say that it was as bad as I expected.

Getting from Fiumicino airport south-west of Rome was surprisingly painless (if a little expensive) thanks to the direct train, the Leonardo Express, which takes you right into the city’s main terminus, Roma Termini. We opted to use the automatic ticket machines at the airport which quite happily gave us the option to complete the transaction in English (We did however end up paying for the tickets on a debit card because the machine refused to take our notes, despite promising it would.) From there it was a short hop on the city’s B Metro line to Colloseo and a short walk to the self-catering apartment which we had rented.

We chose to buy the Roma Pass for the week. Although financially it might not be perfect — it doesn’t seem to pay its way unless you visit the most expensive of the museums on offer or take public transport a lot — we weren’t disappointed with it for the convenience. We picked ours up from the magazine kiosk outside of Colleseo Metro rather than in any venue itself – the price is the same but it saved having to queue for the ticket desk. Having the Roma Pass allowed us to skip passed the ticket line for the Colosseum and associated sites. Although we did have to queue a little, the pass holder queue was shorter than the other queue by far. The other museum we used the pass for was the Borghese Gallery. Queues at this gallery are not a problem because they operate a pre-booking system anyway, but the pass gave us free entry. It was also very convenient to use the passes on the buses and tubes. One night we went out for a walk to see some of the outdoor sights (Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, etc) and used the passes to get home, as well as taking a bus back from the Borghese Gallery (once we had worked out what buses took us where we wanted to go…) and the tube out to the Vatican.

Vatican City was well worth the journey. From Metro line A we walked the short distance to the gates. Having forgotten to bring bottles with us that day we thought it would be a good idea to buy some water before entering. While there are lots of places — shops, stalls and vans — selling refreshments on the approach to the Vatican, they all seem to have the same prices. 2EUR is a lot for a small bottle of water, but by that stage we had little choice. My advice: if it’s hot bring a bottle and fill it up at the public drinking fountains which seem to be plentiful around both Rome and Vatican City. St Peter’s Basilica is great — a beautifully lavishly decorated church with statues and artwork in every nook and cranny. The queue for security was quite long when we arrived, but it moved quickly and security wasn’t at all heavy handed. One thing to be aware of, though, is the dress code. Having done our research we weren’t affected by it but it’s worth bearing in mind that you will need to cover up your shoulders and wear trousers or skirts long enough to cover the knees if you want to get in (this is theoretically the same for all churches in Rome). We did see some variation in these rules but we also saw people being turned away from entering the church because they didn’t have anything to cover up with. It seemed they were more strict on the shoulder rule but I would suggest it’s not worth the risk.

St Peter’s Square is also a great spectacle, especially in the bright sun. All the buildings are white which gives the place a real scale and feeling of airiness even in the stifling heat of the summer and you can really imagine how the place must feel when packed out when the Pope is leading a service (assisted by the various video screens and large sound system in evidence). The Vatican Museums aren’t bad either, although I would strongly advise booking a ticket in advance — there are two lines: one to buy tickets and one for timed ticket holders and groups. As you can imagine, the timed ticket holder line moves quickly while the ticket buying line does not. We happily breezed past the queue and in through the door with no problem at all. The museum itself it vast. Far more than you could possibly see in one visit. We headed for the Sistine Chapel, which is well signed, via the long route to take in other parts of the museum. There is sculpture, painting, fabrics, even the papal stamp collection but the one thing which impressed us involved looking up. While the obvious attraction of the Sistine Chapel is the painted roof, some of the other ceilings which we passed on the way in the museum are fantastic if sadly lacking in explanation.

In fact ceilings seem to be a common theme in Rome’s museums. As well as the art on the walls in the Borghese Gallery, the ceilings in each and every room are fantastic. If you’re lucky there might also be some description of what’s going on and who painted it on a laminated sheet in the corner of the room. If you’re an art lover then this gallery is the one for you. If you’re not quite such an art aficionado you might be a little lost, as we were, but we did enjoy walking around knowing there was some impressive work on the walls. We certainly didn’t use the full two house assigned to our entry time, but I have no doubt you could if you knew what you were looking at.

Our final day was spent just wandering. We’d checked out of the apartment, left the suitcases with their office and booked a taxi for later in the day so had some unplanned hours to spend. We decided to walk up through the┬áParco Del Colle Oppio next to the Colosseum and up to Giardini Nicola Calipari, billed as the largest piazza in Rome. In all honesty neither were especially thrilling, but we did sit for a while in the park and grab an ice cream on the way back to have a bit of lunch at a restaurant near the Colosseum, but just off the beaten track. We got this restaurant from the guidebook and it was well worth finding. We had been a little bit disappointed by some of the restaurants we had eaten at in the tourist centres of Rome and it was a shame that we learned a little bit late that the advice in the guidebook was good. Next time I think we’ll pay more attention to the guide on the food front.

And with that, a half hour taxi ride and 2 hour flight, we were back in England. Where we learned that the country had been basking in a heatwave for the whole time we were away. Typical.

There are more photos in my gallery: Rome.

Posted on Monday 28th July, 2014 at 4:14 pm in Obiter dicta.
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