Saturday, 15 December 2012

Roman Holiday

Move over Paris, I think I have a new favourite city...

I was lucky (spoilt) enough to receive a trip to Rome for my birthday from my boyfriend and we got back last week.  I'd never been to Rome, or even Italy, before but it's safe to say I will be returning!  I was completely blown away by the city, the history, the friendliness of the people and, of course, all that pizza, wine and gelato.

I was really ill with flu for several days before we were due to go and I'd resigned myself to the fact I wouldn't be able to make it.  However, fortified  with Lemsips, balsam tissues, Sudafed and anti-histamines, I managed to get up at 3am to make our 6.55am flight from Manchester Airport.  Hurrah!

We stayed in a lovely little apartment/B&B right next to The Vatican, San Pietro House.  We were on the 8th floor and had stunning views from our little balcony.  The owner, Vincenzo, brought fresh croissants up to the apartment every morning which was a really nice touch.  I have to say, I could get used to breakfast in bed.

We also made friends with a few felines who lived in our complex, including this little tabby who looks grumpy but was a lovely little fella :

If you're lucky enough to go to Rome, my must-sees are:

The Colosseum

I tend to get bored fairly quickly visiting historical sights.  I start off full of good intentions but my enthusiasm soon wanes and I rapidly lose interest.  Not at The Colosseum.  It's quite simply the most spectacular place I've ever been.  I had no idea how much of the original structure is preserved as you just can't tell from photos.  The sense of history you get is just amazing and if you only manage to see one thing when you're in Rome, make it this.  If you don't get goosebumps walking into the arena, I'm afraid you probably have no soul.
One of the most famous sights in the world
Its grisly history is sobering, with estimates putting the number of people who died inside over the years as high as 500,000, but it's amazing to see how much of it still stands after being plundered for building materials for centuries.

Inside The Colosseum (look how big it is!)
Resting on some Roman rubble

I recommend you take either a guided tour or at least the audio or video guide. Apart from anything else, either of these options will allow you to skip the main queue and get inside much faster.  We chose the audio guide which was fine and really informative but the map wasn't very clear so it took a while to work out where we were supposed to start.

Glyn with his retro 1970s style audio guide

The Vatican

We didn't see the Sistine Chapel as the queues were just too big on the day we went but St Peter's Basilica is just awesome.  It takes your breath away.  Entry is free but we paid €10 to go on the one-hour guided tour and it was well worth the money.  I would have missed so much if we hadn't had a guide.

Inside St Peter's Basilica

See how teeny the people look in the distance?

I hadn't read too much about St Peter's before we went in and didn't realise Pope John Paul II's tomb was now inside. Despite being fundamentally opposed to most of the things he stood for, I did have a soft spot for him, partly I think because of how tragically sad his early years in Poland were, and partly because he reminded me a bit of my late grandad.  I totally didn't buy a kitsch Pope keyring in the giftshop for €1 though, most definitely not.*  

People praying at John Paul II's tomb

*I did, and I love it.  I got one for my Mum too even though I was mortified to be seen buying one, never mind two.

Festival of music taking place at The Vatican City

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is so well preserved that I can't quite get my head round how old it actually is.   Almost two thousand years after it was built, the dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.  The only source of light during the day is a huge whole in the centre of the 43 metre high dome so it's quite an experience to visit when it's raining as it's wide open to the elements!  

The 9 metre hole in the roof of The Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain

Lovely by day, even more lovely by dusk, this is another must-see. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will guarantee your return to Rome.  The area around the fountain is chock-full of places to eat, drink, shop and to buy delicious gelato.

The beautiful Trevi Fountain at dusk
It sure does attract the crowds...

Piazza Navona

Another spectacular piazza, this one was hosting a huge Christmas market when we were there.  It wasn't as pretty or as festive as ones I've visited in Germany or Switzerland, but we did manage to track down some mulled wine.  The vibrant streets around the square are full of inviting places to eat and drink and it's a great place to head if you're new to the city and want to soak in the atmosphere.

Piazza Navona's fountain, complete with phallic bollards

Torres Argentina Cat Sanctuary

This no-kill cat sanctuary is amazing!  Every time we went through Torre Argentina on the bus, I noticed there seemed to be dozens of cats climbing, sleeping and playing all over the Roman ruins there.  I had no idea there was an actual cat sanctuary in the ruins until our last day when we passed through the square on foot.  You can go down the steps next to the ruins into the sanctuary's offices and donate, buy cat-related souvenirs and learn about the work the centre does.  Sadly, they are threatened with closure at the moment, but I really hope they get to stay as they do amazing work and have supporters from all over the world. 

If you want to learn more about Torres Argentina, check out their website here.

Piazza dei Fiore

This was our favourite place for dinner and drinks.  It's perfect for aperitifs and people-watching and, although some of the restaurants are a little touristy, it's a great, lively area for dinner.  

The Spanish Steps

*whispers* I found it hard to get excited over the Spanish Steps; they are just steps, after all.  I know they feature in Roman Holiday and that they were actually built with French money but pretty much everything else I read about them has left my head now.  You still have to see them, though.  Just because they're so famous.  And also because you can go and look in the nearby windows of Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana et al.

I was quite taken with LV's silver wishbone display

Some more pictures of our Roman Holiday...


Have you been to Rome?  What were your highlights?  I'm hoping to go back next year so if you have any recommendations, I'd love to hear them!


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