We arrived in Rome tired from buzzing around Sicily and a delayed flight. Like most destinations, Rome was new to Thane. Arriving in a city with so much history and so much to do seemed almost a daunting task to a weary traveller. But just like the saying goes that Rome wasn’t built in a day, we happily resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to see it all in a day either. We arrived late at night to our little hotel in the Roma Termini ( the central station ). It was conveniently located so we could easily start the next day on foot.
We woke up exhausted but we had to get a head start on the day. Being such an iconic city it is a tourist attraction year round. We immediately decided to skip Vatican city because it was furthest away from us and also to save something for next visit. Thane was happy as long as he could see the Colosseum ( so he thought ).
On our way to the Colosseum we passed through Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, known for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. It was one of few churches we visited that day as the city is so steeped in history. There are over 900 churches within Rome making it an epicentre of the Roman Catholic community.
We stopped for a breakfast at a nearby cafe. We felt we were ripped off slightly for a simple and too sweet breakfast and got to know Rome’s touristy prices. We noticed in a few places that day that waiters are waiting to make a quick buck and they make up prices as they go, charging a bit more (beware that you check your receipt and total it yourself). This can be said for almost any place.
As we walked on, around the corner there she was. The ease and casualness in which the Colosseum almost sneaks up on your takes you by surprise. Without warning it’s standing in front of you, big as a mountain. It’s almost astonishing that it is simply just there, an emotion that must be experienced to understand ( this was written by Thane, I could almost see tears in his eyes ).
When we got in front of it, Thane’s enthusiasm suddenly died. Colosseum is a very a busy place so any fantasy you might have of taking a moment to admire it is overshadowed by tour guides approaching you, people shouting, somebody bumping into you and many other distractions. Finally sense prevailed – I promised Thane he’d get an ice cream later – and we got to grips with the crowds. We got a tour and it was worth it. There are many tour options and we opted for the best priced one. Tour worked better for us that day because we got an in-depth explanation of the history of not just the Colosseum but Rome in general.
It would take a whole day to describe the whole history of the Colosseum and the events in Rome while this building was at its peak. Colosseum was built in only 10 years and could hold about 75 000 people, and all those people could exit all at once in only 15 minutes. Today, fixing a facade on a building can take up a few years. It makes one wonder how good people used to be several thousand years ago in architecture, construction and craftsmanship. The whole inside of the Colosseum had marble floors and walls painted in yellow and red with designed seating plan and a enormous arena floors where the action happened. Underneath it we could see all the labyrinth of the rooms and passages where the animals and gladiators were kept before the games. The crowds in those times loved the shows, it was a way the politicians kept people in check, giving them small entertainment for their obedience. After the glory years of Colosseum were over, the place was ransacked and stripped off its beautiful and valuable building materials. Some were used to build churches when the Christianity swept the city and Roman empire in general. Now, there are parts of the Colosseum that have been restored and other still waiting to get a new layer of bricks.
We kept our Colosseum ticket because it allowed us to visit the Roman Forum for free. The Forum is a short walk up from the Colosseum and a must-see. It gives you a glimpse of what Rome looked like during its historic peak. Buildings, arches, pillars, all in different stages of ruin across a huge space. Not much imagination is required to picture what this must of looked like, with grand parades, politicians in white robes and the hustle going on. This was the centre of the most powerful city back in the history and perhaps of all time. Nowadays, over 4.5 million people visit the Forum every year.
From here Rome is your oyster. In any direction you head you will find history and culture. We headed off for lunch. We were slightly disappointed by our choice of restaurant, food and service ( another attempt to rip us off ) but we learned the lesson and didn’t let it get to us. That’s how any extremely touristy place operates.
After lunch we went to the Fontana de Trevi. This beautiful monument, built in 1762, can be appreciated despite the ever present crowds. Taking a picture of just the two of us is impossible, as everyone is on the same mission. From the fountain we walked towards the Pantheon, a church but in early 2nd century. We queued shorty to enter and see it from the inside – the dome is truly extraordinary. It’s size and design is truly astonishing and we got a sore neck from looking up so long. Right in front of Pantheon there is an Egyptian obelisk, one of 13 of them in Rome. It si a good example of the great Roman Empire that stretched over Europe, near East and Northern Africa once upon a time.
We found another obelisk on Piazza Navona at the fountain of Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Piazza Navona is a popular place for artists, with a much less crowds than Fontana di Trevi or the Colosseum. I finally got Thane that ice cream I promised in the morning, the real Italian gelato.By now we were well settled into our day in Rome, walking through the city with a calm ease. One could spend weeks here trying to uncover its hidden gems of architecture and history. We ended our day in town with aperitivo in Trastevere, the medieval area across the tiber river famous for its atmosphere and nightlife. And if you you don’t know what aperitivo is, we’ll leave that surprise for you to discover yourself as well.
Finally after cleaning the day off with a much needed shower we relaxed in an authentic Italian restaurant for a generous glass of wine, some soul warming food and as always a game of cards.
We would highly recommend Rome as a destination. Even if , like us, you don’t have a lot of time to spend there. The atmosphere can be soaked up quickly and important sights seen with relative ease. Rome as an empire reached and influenced so much of Europe and who’s presence you will feel throughout what was once its empire.
Italy: 59.83 million (2013)
Rome: 2.627 million (2012)
Best time to visit: Year round is busy in Rome, but a local told us the quietest month is November