Ciao Italy: Rome

When you go to a new country, is it considered a faux pas if you don’t visit the capital? I don’t live in one and frankly neither do most of my friends so sometimes I’m inclined to think that they are overrated. Yet I couldn’t resist the allure of Rome. Rome, the eternal city. Never mind the fact that Rome was a convenient place to fly out of and back into Australia!

I’m very grateful to one of my friends who joined me for half of my Rome adventures and provided excellent company. Especially when waiting in lines and helping choose places to eat! She was also an excellent sport who indulged me in my wish to visit the Capuchin crypts. These crypts are really just a series of small chapels, decorated lovingly? with the bones of deceased Capuchin monks. If you’re curious I highly suggest looking the crypts up. It is because of these crypts that Victor Emmanuel II the first King of Italy was sufficiently disturbed to make decorating with human remains illegal.

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In the re-occuring theme of my Italian travel the Spanish steps were sealed off and under repair. When standing at the Trinità dei Monti church, we had no idea that we were in fact atop the iconic steps until we made our descent!

We had much more luck at the Trevi Fountain. It had been recently refurbished and every inch was stunning. No wonder it is often called the most beautiful fountain in the world. We weren’t the only ones happy that the iconic fountain was unobstructed again, as the surrounding area was packed like spectators at a sports match.

Less ornate but equally impressive is the Pantheon. As we walked in evening mass was starting. We chose to sit down and take part for a while as a kindly priest from Germany or was it France, helped us figure out what was going on.

I’m not sure how accurate this is, but to me, piazza novana is the heart of Rome. We often found ourselves returning here to orientate ourselves. It’s worth taking some time just to walk past all the museums and just admire the fountains.

Ponte Sant’Angelo is touted as one of the most beautiful bridges in Rome. Numerous statues grace the walk way leading across the Tiber river to Castel Sant’Angelo. I never went into the castle myself but from a distance it is still very striking. I’m told that from the top of the castle, there are very good views of the Vatican city and St Peter’s square. 

Getting into the Colosseum was a bit of a fluke. Our arrival in Rome also happened to fall on the first Sunday of the month so entry into the Colosseum was free! The line to get in was almost was impressive as the Colosseum itself, but it moved surprisingly quickly. Once the site of many bloody battles and hours upon hours of entertainment for the Ancient Romans, it was interesting just how still the building itself felt.

The Roman Forums is perhaps the most impressive part of Rome. Although not as famous as the Colosseum the forums dominate the landscape. It’s difficult to accurately convey just how massive these Ancient structures are. Walking through the Palentine hills is not only a rather pleasant walk, but also a walk through the annuls of Roman history. It’s awe inspiring to think of people 2000 years ago building structures to such scale and extravagance without the aid of modern machinery.

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Altare della Patria is a much newer addition to the Roman scene. Built to honour the first king of a unified Italy this structure can be climbed to get an amazing look at all of Rome. The white colour and size of the building also help it stand out from everything else in the piazza! 

Not entirely related to Rome, but while I was there I managed to catch the Alphonse Mucha exhibition in the Complesso del Vittoriano wing of Altare della Patria. As a big fan of Mucha I really enjoyed being able to see his art noveau work on so many products and on such large prints.

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Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the very first church that we visited in Rome. Not too far from the station, but away from the other major tourist attractions this church was surprisingly grandoise. 

After this we visited church after church. I must confess that I haven’t the faintest idea where half of these photos are from, but without fail, at every church there was always something charming or novel that made walking in worth the while.

When I was keen for somewhere a little bit more shady and quite to visit, the gardens of Villa Borghese were perfect. The gardens are rather expansive, including both a zoo, cinema and gallery. I wasn’t organised enough to get inside the gallery as tickets must be booked in advance, but inside is a collection of arts and sculptures that hits you at every twist and turn.

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There are many ways to cross the Tiber River, but one of the most charming is probably via the man made island in the middle of it. This island is tiny! The only things on it appeared to be a church and a cafe. As we were crossing we chanced upon a wedding ceremony that was taking place in the church.

Trastevre is the hip other side of the Tiber river. This part of town is known more for the hipster bars and relaxed vibes. It’s also where we found this eclectic second hand English book store and stopped for some early evening drinks.

It’s not a post about Italy without some food photos to round things off. Where better to start than with my area of expertise: gelato. Although there was plenty of exorbitantly priced places, I’m glad to say that some of the best gelato places I tried were also found in Rome.

Frigidarium offers to dip your ice cream in white or dark chocolate free of charge. It doesn’t really get better than a premium gelato choc top! The chunky cookie flavour was also a big hit.

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In a similar vein, La Romana offers free whipped cream on top of your gelato! The gelato is inexpensive but very luxe feeling, with dedicated seating and a whole array of delicious looking cakes as well.

Come Il Latte is the very definition of artisanal gelato. They offer a range of interesting flavours like chai latte and also fresh waffle cones!

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Sapori e Delizie hit the spot when it came to my first taste of Roman style pizza. Unlike further south the pizza was almost uniformly crispy and had a whole assortment of topping options. Surprisingly the salad also went down a treat.

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Out of all the places that I had visited Rome was the only one where I could name all the main attractions without further research. In a way, because of this I thought that I would know what to expect. What I found changed and exceeded these perceptions in so many ways. I was surprised at just how chilled Rome was. Outside of the big tourist hot spots, roads opened up wide and plentiful. It would be a real injustice to just rush from place to place without being able to get a feel for a more relaxed Rome.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and you certainly should take more than a day to truly get to explore this city properly.

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Tips
Rome is well serviced by both buses and the metro. I mainly took buses as it was more convenient in regards to where we were staying. Taking the metro often seems to come with the warning that there may be heavy delays and plenty of pick pockets.

Rome train station is one of the few stations where almost everything is open until late. If you’re not in a rush to get home, but don’t know what else to do, wandering around the shops and cafes there can be a way to kill some time.

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After 15 posts and almost a year, I’ve finished chronicling my time in Italy! I hope that I’ve managed to give you a glimpse into my travels and Italy as a whole. Before too long I’ll be getting back to you with my journeys in Japan.

 

Ciao Italy: The Vatican

Before I get to my last post on my travels in Italy, I thought that I would take a little detour to the Vatican. Although situated in Rome, the Holy See it is unto itself its own city state. It is the smallest state in the world, both in terms of population and size. In order to honour just how small the Vatican city is, this post is going to be likewise concise!

As a normal tourist you won’t have free reign in the Vatican City. Instead, you’re confined to some well-trod hot spots, mainly the Vatican museum and St Peter’s Basilica. There are some tours that will take you around the gardens and the catacombs as well but they can be rather expensive or difficult to organise so I just stuck to this iconic duo.

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St Peter’s Basilica actually opens at 7 am. If you’re keen to avoid the queuing the earlier you get there the better. I only managed to make my way there at 8:30 am expecting a crowd, but I found getting through security to St Peter’s square an absolute breeze. It felt oddly appropriate to be looking up at the balcony where the Pope is usually sighted with rays of Italian sun hitting me straight in the face.

Entry into the Basilica is free. Leisurely walking in and out of the dimmed church was a bit of a joy in and of itself. It seems that at any time, various parts of the Basilica are sealed off from tourist foot traffic. In spite of this, the sheer size of the church and spacious open area doesn’t make it seem like you are missing out on much. Even after seeing all the other churches all over the country St Peter’s Basilica was still mesmerising. Every surface that could be adorned was full of beauty and detail.

Gorgeous artworks and architecture aside, St Peter’s Basilica is clearly an important site of religious pilgrimage. Although I’m not so inclined, watching other people make this important journey was worth reflection.

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To get this iconic shot of the Vatican and Rome a climb to duomo is a must. (Fun fact! Apparently, Michalengelo was inspired by the duomo of Florence when creating this structure!) I figured that taking the steps would give me a greater sense of accomplishment so off I went. This was actually one of the easier climbs that I had encountered on my trip. Although I had already seen many photos of this view I was still wowed. What people usually don’t tell you about when you get up to duomo is that there’s also a great view of the beautifully manicured lawns and houses in the Vatican city that normal visitors don’t have access too. From here I could also see the crowds at the Vatican museum!

The museum itself is something else altogether. Walking along I was gradually stupefied by the crowds and amazing artwork after artwork. Furthermore, it was difficult to stop and admire some of the rooms due to the throngs of people pushing us through the narrow rooms with only a cursory glance at everything. This was a real shame because I wanted to linger everywhere a little. Especially in the maps room and closely admire all the wonderful hand-drawn maps of Italy and pinpoint all the places I had been on my travels.

Without a doubt, the Sistine Chapel is the most visited area of the museum. There is a no photos policy, but that didn’t seem to stop tourists from taking many sneaky photos. Suffice to say, even with the people all around, the Chapel is an incredible example of High Renaissance artwork. I craned my neck and spun around so many times, but even that wasn’t enough to take it all in.

When things got too much to handle, I spent some time sitting in the more modern wing of the museum enjoying the aircon and lack of people. The garden within the museum didn’t have many chairs, but it was also pleasant to wander in and get a breath of fresh air, before doubling back to have a proper look at some of the things which we had walked past a little too quickly.

What really stunned me was just how different the frescos and statues were. All of them beautiful in their own right, but clearly from different painters and art periods. Personally, I was very taken with Raphael’s frescos and Melozzo da Forli’s radiant angels.

Current day Rome owes much of its wealth and status to the power of the Roman Catholic church. Nowhere is the grandeur and power of what was once the Holy Roman Empire more evident. Sometimes it does get to be a bit too much, with the gift shops everywhere and tourists in every other corner but there’s also beauty everywhere. From the ceiling right down into the ground.


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Tips
Pre-booking a ticket to the Vatican museum is fairly straight forward and an absolute must (https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking). The line to get in can be hours long, especially on Mondays as the museum is closed on Sundays. With a pre-booked ticket you can by-pass the long line you see outside the Vatican walls and instead make a bee-line for the advanced sales line. From this much shorter line, you then go through security before exchanging the online voucher for a proper ticket.

There are two options when it comes to climbing the duomo of St Peter’s Basilica. A trip on the lift will save you some 300 steps straight up to the cafe and gift store. Walking up will save you a few euro and test your fitness. That said, the steps are well maintained and fairly wide up to a certain point, so if you’re of good health walking all the way up should be fairly doable. Getting here early also saved me from a long wait and left me with a lot of time to get good photos and take in the views without people in my way.

As always with churches, it is important to make sure that you are properly attired. That is, knees and shoulders covered. In my case, a pair of opaque stockings under a relatively short skirt never received any warnings.

Although I did not have the stamina for it, it’s possible to see both the chapel and museum in one day so long as you start as early as possible on one of them!

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