So, today was the day I finally realised what my one word to sum up my few days in Rome is. After making the trip in September, it has taken me over 6 months to take a back seat and realise what I learnt in this impressive city and then to sum up what it all meant to me. I have toyed with so many words – from extravagant and passionate, to grandeur, secrets and history (again!), but none of them ever quite fit…. until now.
From the Vatican to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, power exudes from every corner of this beautiful city. Now, again, it may seem obvious that the Italian capital that housed one of the most famous empires of all time and still houses the head of the Catholic church that power is everywhere in Rome. But I don’t think you can quite comprehend the scale of their power and influence until you are standing and walking in their footsteps.
We had an absolutely fantastic tour guide called Alex as we spent our first day taking a step back in time in Ancient Rome – and I think without him I don’t think I would have appreciated the Romans as much as I do now. Did you know the Romans had central heating and the January sales? No? Neither did I until this trip. It was amazing how advanced they were at their point in time. But yeah, it’s the Romans you have to thank for that post-Christmas splurge you have buying all the things you wanted for Christmas but didn’t get.
So, imagine you had been around for over 2000 years and people from every corner of the globe still flocked to see you in all your glory and capture your beauty for eternity in a single photograph. This is what it must be like for the Colosseum. This iconic tourist spot is obviously a must-see when in Rome – it would probably be harder to avoid! We joined a tour group and got taken around the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. Now if you want to go on a tour, there are hundreds of people around the surrounding areas of the Colosseum asking if you want to go on their tour – but I must stress that the price range is huge so don’t just go for the first one. Shop around a little! Alternatively, you can just join the queue and make your own way around and take your time around Ancient Rome. I’m not sure if there were audio guides if you wanted to go solo – but I wanted to learn the facts so a tour guide for me was the right option! Also, if you’re a student bring your student card!! There were some discounts for students, some discounts for under-25s and some discounts for European citizens, so make sure to ask!! But trying to describe to you how I felt in these places I don’t think is possible in words! The words amazing, mesmerising and incredible just don’t do Ancient Rome justice. All I say to you is GO! You need to experience this for yourself – then you will understand me!
‘The Wedding Cake’ Italian Vespa
So most of day 1 was taken up in Ancient Rome, but in the late afternoon we returned to the present day amongst the hustle and bustle of modern Romans heading home from work and going about their normal day to day activities. We stumbled across the Vittorio Emmanuelle monument, otherwise known as ‘The Wedding Cake’ to the locals – who apparently hate this building! But we spent the early evening just sat on some steps to the side of this monument and people-watched. I got a real feel for Rome in this time – seeing nuns walking around, the passionate hand gestures Italians use when chatting to each other and the hundreds of Vespas. They were everywhere – which led to me trying to test out my photography skills and trying to capture that edgy, artsy shot – which I think I managed in the end 🙂
St. Peter’s Square Vatican post box
Day 2 was spent exploring the Vatican Museums and St.Peter’s Square. Guided through the endless corridors and rooms of some of the world’s most beautiful and culturally significant art – I’m not quite sure if I could have navigated my way round by myself! But perhaps the most famous room in the Vatican museums is the Capella Sistina, or the Sistine Chapel. This room was truly breathtakingly beautiful! We sat in this room for a good twenty minutes just staring at THAT ceiling laced with astonishingly detailed paintings that took Michelangelo over four years to complete!
Our tour finished at the foot of St.Peter’s basilica. It was these sights I think I had been waiting for. That view down the Via della Conciliazione back towards the centre of Rome and towards the masses, that view of St.Peter’s Square and that view back towards the basilica and the roof of the Sistine Chapel! Made me feel like I was part of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons – expecting Tom Hanks to suddenly appear! But being at the foot of St.Peter’s basilica kept throwing little reminders at you that Vatican City is a country in its own right. The distinct yellow post boxes and the Swiss guard in their distinct and unforgettable orange, purple and red striped uniforms stood motionless at the gates to Vatican City, to name a few.
We visited the Vatican on a Wednesday. Why am I telling you this? Well, that is the day of the Papal audience. Every Wednesday at 10.30am, the Pope rides through the square and then perform a 60-90 minute service. So if you fancy bumping into the Pope on your visit to Rome – that is the time and the place! This is probably the one thing I regret opting out of doing in our little trip, but with the huge crowds that flock to St.Peter’s square on Wednesday mornings we were advised to be in line by 7am at the latest to ensure we got in!! And after all I was on holiday, so I wasn’t getting up that early!
Trevi fountain Pantheon
Fountain of the Four Rivers Castel Sant Angelo
So, our third and final day in Rome, before catching the train to Florence, was spent wandering around the back streets visiting the other iconic landmarks throughout this modern metropolis and trying to get a feel for the real Rome. Again, the sheer magnificence of these structures was astounding – from the intricate detail on the Trevi fountain, the magnitude of the Castel Sant Angelo to the miracle of ancient architecture that is the Pantheon, you can’t help yourself but just stand motionless, look around and utter the word ‘WOW!’ over and over again in your mind (or audibly in my case!) as you try to comprehend your surroundings.
The final place we visited before returning to our room that evening was the Circus Maximus. Now, it wasn’t much to look at! To the average person it was probably just a simple dirt track! But for me it was the significance of this place that makes it an underrated landmark! This ‘dirt track’ was the largest stadium of Ancient Rome – in fact of the entire Roman empire – that was host to chariot racing. Forget Wembley or Twickenham, those modern day stadiums would be dwarfed by the Circo Maximo which could hold over 150,000 spectators! 150,000!! Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, this gem is (literally!) just down the road from the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, so you have NO excuse for not taking a small detour!
So, we had done a full loop – starting in Ancient Rome where it all began, to the Vatican and the modern Rome, back to the beginning in Ancient Rome again. Rome has been full of secrets which I will never forget! A consequence of the power that the Roman Empire had and the Vatican still has!
So I left feeling a little bit Roman. Not just because I’ve fallen in love with this city a little but because I’ve learnt some of the facts and secrets that ancient and modern Rome holds that only a small handful of people know.
Top tip: Do you really need to visit the Vatican Museums?? Now we signed up to a tour of the Vatican Museums with the same tour group that took as round the Colosseum and Roman Forum, and although we managed to negotiate some sort of discount, it was still expensive. About 45 euros per person if I remember rightly. And although it was interesting to see all the décor and artefacts, as well as the magnificent Sistine Chapel, I do question whether it was worth it. Especially as when we got to the end of the tour, we were at the foot of the basilica and could go into the church too. So, if you’re not interested in the Sistine Chapel (you can’t take photos in their anyway!) and all the art, then maybe it would be better to just go straight to St.Peter’s Square and walk up to the basilica that way. From that direction you can enter the church and you can climb to the top of the basilica (there may be a cost for this!) without the expense of the tour.
Also, Rome is full of these quirky little no entry signs, so see how many you can spot! Finally, Italy is famous for its gelato – but I bet you never thought there would be Viagra flavour! Yes – you read that right! Viagra flavoured ice-cream! We found it in the gelateria on Piazza Navona so hunt that one out if you fancy it! They also do an absolutely amazing cherry flavoured gelato that I cannot recommend enough!
So, it’s Arrivederci to the Eternal City for now, as I will be returning at some point in the future as three days was nowhere near long enough!!! And now again, I leave it to you. I would love to hear from anyone that has been to Rome, hear about their experiences and impressions, so…
How do you define Rome in one word? 🇮🇹