Rome again, Rome again, jiggady jig.
My train trip from Florence to Rome began with me trying to convince a man that he was in my seat… The seat by the window. The one colour coded (seat five orange, is the orange seat next to the window; seat six red – his ticketed seat, was the red aisle seat). But he wouldn’t have it. I think my ‘pissed off’ face may have surfaced, but I can’t be sure. Across the aisle and up one seats eleven and twelve were both vacant, so I sat there…. And glared. When the conductor came and got my ticket reference code and asked where I was supposed to be sitting I glared at him again while I explained that he was sitting in my seat.
I arrived in Rome’s central train station and my accommodation, Domus Nova Bethlum, (a convent) was only about 600 metres away on Via Cavour. I went in the wrong entrance to start with. I think that was where they do all the serious God things. But a lovely nun took me to the adjoining building and the reception of the bed and breakfast part.
My single room was lovely, simple, tasteful and very clean, as you can imagine with a discrete crucifix above the door. As far as locations, it was excellent. The hop on hop off buses all had a stop within 100m and it was between the station and the Coliseum. I got my bags sorted and went off for an adventure.
I went to the bus stop and got a 48 hour pass for €31, only an additional three over the 24 hour pass. That worked well as it took me to Thursday afternoon and I was flying out Thursday night. First stop of the bus was the Colosseum, I stayed on the bus. I visited the Colosseum there last year, I hadn’t booked and I could see the lines waiting to buy tickets, (oblivious to the time saving of pre-booking online). The next stop was the Circus Maximus, followed by the Camigdoglio, which is around the corner from the Vittorio Emmanuele monument, then across the river from the Vatican, then the main shopping area. I got off there for one of my wanders. Off the main street were many smaller streets and laneways going off in all angles. By the time I stopped for lunch it was past 3.30pm. I found a pizzeria (let’s face it, you don’t have to go far in Rome before you find one) and had almost an early dinner. Feeling refreshed, I walked around the corner to find a crowd and then I realised I had stumbled upon the Pantheon. Silly me, I thought these ‘sights’ were going to be on larger roads. I discovered the Trevi Fountain in much the same way, but I did go seeking the Spanish Steps. By that stage it was getting later and I was a bit worn out and made my way back to the convent. I caught up with the Princess online and pretty much just chilled.
I started the next morning with online voice calls with two of my three kids back in Australia. I had breakfast and went off again on the hop on hop off bus. This time I got off at the Vatican stop. I was about to cross the bridge when a guy told me about a hop on hop off boat going up and down the Tiber. Seemed like a good idea. The ticket was €18 and valid for 24 hours. Having said that, the ticket only said the date of the following day, no time, so if you bought your ticket early morning, you could conceivably end up with a pass for almost two entire days.
So I took the hop on hop off Barcajolly boat up the Tiber to Piazza del Popolo where it turned around and headed south and I got off at Trastevere which is on the other side of the river from Rome. The name Trastevere translated literally means beyond the Tiber It is less touristy and a little more funky than Rome itself. I noticed a sign for a 24 hour ‘sexy shop’, it is only now that I think maybe I should’ve found it and had a look. But there were sights to see, gelato to be had and things to explore. It didn’t even cross my mind.
I loved the fact that there were traffic police just near the bridge to Rome. One car tried to pull a swifty on them and sneak into a road, but they made it reverse into the stopped traffic like a naughty child being put in their place. (Would love traffic police like that here during Summer).
Up the main street I went, past a sidewalk market (they just seem to keep popping up) selling mainly clothes, leather goods, bags, shoes, etc. There was a sign on one stall the said ‘POLO SEX’. I walked past this clothing stand and it still didn’t make sense, and no, I didn’t see any polo shirts.
After stopping for the almost compulsory gelato (yum), I continued up the street, seeing in the distance something that looked like a town hall that seemed to have a few people near it. As I got closer, a random man approached me and sort of gestured that it was a good idea to avoid the people. Apparently it was a protest, but I have no idea what it was about. As I turned around and walked back toward the Tiber, some police cars shot up the street with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Random man seems to have given me some good advice.
Consulting my (mostly) friend, Google Maps, I wanted directions to the Vatican. I knew I could walk back to where I got off the boat and just walk along the riverside, but where is the fun in that? I found myself walking through narrow lanes with tiny restaurants that I sensed were set up for locals, rather than the millions of tourists visiting the area every year.
One of those narrow roads opened out to the Piazza di Santa Maria, dominated by an octagonal fountain (Fontana di Santa Maria),the large fountain has steps on it’s eight sides that seem it entice you to at least spend a short time sitting and watching. When I did, I noticed the Basilica di Santa Maria taking up one side of the piazza.
In front of the cathedral was a hearse. That’s when you remember that these are places of worship, particularly important to those milestones in life, birth, death, marriage. This is what they do. Yes, they are amazing buildings and yes, a lot of them make money out of tourism. There are magnets and all sorts of souvenirs, there are bell tower climbs, tours of basilicas, etc, etc. But at the end of the day, they aren’t theme parks, they are important places for the congregation who share and celebrate the most important times of their life.
After a short ponderance on the steps of the fountain, I continued through the maze of lanes, eventually getting back to the riverside with Vatican not far away. Strictly speaking, I did not go to the Vatican, I stayed in Italy. I did, however stand in front of St Peter’s Basilica. Where the Basilica faces Rome, there are no high walls or visual barriers between the Vatican’s land and Italy’s. I have to say, it is an entirely different experience walking to St Peter’s Square than last year’s arrival by bus in some side street and entering via the ticketing area for the museums etc. In front of the square (actually, most of the ‘the square’ is, in fact oval) there is a wide area leading towards the river with car lanes on each side. Near where this road area comes out at the river is a bridge crossing the Tiber into Rome.
Got back on the hop on hop off bus at the Vatican stop and got off at the Via del Tritone. I saw a sign for McDonalds… it was getting on to 3pm and a toilet stop was needed. I couldn’t find it, but found a restaurant with a sign that said they were offering a burger, chips, cheese and salad plus dessert for €10, sounded good, salad was really sounding good (and they must have a toilet). What I got was a very sad hamburger made up of a dry crumbly bun, very ordinary meat patty, a lettuce leaf (I believe that was the salad) and a small portion of cheese accompanied by some very unappealing french fries. The dessert arrived looking like a meatball drenched in chocolate sauce. Curiosity got the better of me and I dug in. It was actually a profiterole filled with some sort of custard that was drowned in chocolate. Fair to say, the toilet visit was the high point of that lunch.
Off I go again only to find the Trevi fountain. I reckon if I was looking for it I would’ve not been able to find it, but I wasn’t, and it just kept finding me. It is unbelievable how many people are there seemingly all the time. I wandered for a bit longer before getting the hop on hop off bus to the Basilica across the road from the convent. I saw a supermarket nearby and went to see if they sold anything I could eat later for dinner. To my surprise, their deli sold cold pizza by weight. They huge slabs and random sizes cut and bagged ready for purchase. A fairly decent size piece with tomato and cheese cost something like €1.12. I also found a kid’s pack of cheese, breadsticks and a juice (oh and bonus viking eraser) for €1 and dinner was sorted!
Back to the convent for my last night’s sleep of 2017’s European adventure.
After a good breakfast, I packed my bags and checked out of the convent, leaving my case and backpack in the basement until later in the day. Reception man was kind enough to tell me where the staff toilet was and that I was most welcome to use it during the day. He must’ve heard of my McDonalds toilet theory (how you can always find a toilet at McDonalds) has at times let me down a couple of times.
Off on the hop on hop off bus again, this time I got off around the corner from the Vittorio Emmanuele monument, at the Campigdoglio, which is a Michaelangelo designed square set on a hilltop, flanked by museums. It was my day for steps, first the Campigdoglio, then the steep stairs next door at the Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli (so grateful my case was waiting for me elsewhere). The Church of Santa Maria d’Aracoeli was built in 1348 as an expression of thanks from the population of Rome at the end of the plague. Apparently, during the eighteenth century, a prince got sick of peasants that came to Rome to sell their goods sleeping on the steps. He ordered barrels filled stones be flung down the steps. This cause injuries and even deaths, but it achieved what he wanted, the peasants found somewhere else to sleep.
Then, around the corner at the Vittorio Emmanuele monument (or Altare della Patria- the altar of the fatherland), steps…… everywhere. But I have to say, the view is more than worth it. Vittorio Emmanuele’s statue where he is on his horse, front and centre of the monument is huge. I believe the moustache is 1.5 metres across. It is a big statue.
From there I walked through the Piazza Venezia, but where the bus route was to turn left, I headed right. Imagine my interest spike when I discovered Museo Delle Cere, Rome’s wax museum. I should’ve predicted my experience when I considered the entrance price of only €8 and the way Albert Einstein’s wax (almost) likeness looking somewhat startled at something in the far, far distance. My meeting with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who were in the entrance, sort of warned me, but really it was topped off with the fact that the only statue in the whole place taller than me (around 5ft 6 or 7) seemed to the statue labelled Donald Trump (very glad it was labelled). If you know your great Italians (other than Pavarotti) and your Popes, I am sure you will at least have something to compare with. I am not really sure what the room with a figure sitting behind a desk with a wall of heads belonging (I think) famous people. (Hitler was there, so I am guessing the rest were famous/infamous as well).
From the waxworks, it was off on a classic PortseaRose wander, not having any idea where I was heading. Hey! I have seen the waxworks, what could top it? I got to the end of the street, turned right, followed the road around the corner, turned here, turned there and blow me down, I found the Quattro Fontane, four renaissance fountains found at the intersection of Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale.
I swear I have found more of Rome’s sights accidentally than I have intentionally.
After I found the Trevi fountain (again! three times in three days) I somehow found myself at the Piazza della Repubblica where two buildings curve to create a semi circle around half of a magnificent fountain. (again the idea that piazza means square goes out the window here). I had been watching the time, because my 48 hour ticket on the hop on hop off bus expired at 2.30pm, and that was the ‘idiot abroad’s’ way of finding my way back to my overweight case and backpack.
I went to have lunch at a restaurant around the corner from the convent and while enjoying lunch and watching the world go past, I noticed there was a taxi rank across the road. Face slap moment.
I went back to the convent. Went upstairs to the staff toilet (thank you, convent), downstairs to my luggage and off to the taxi rank and off to the airport.