Monday, 16 June 2014

Rome: A walking tour of the city

(Travel Day 39/71)
Day 1 (June 7)
We slept for the first night in a tent and it was so incredibly hot and stuffy, which is their typical climate in June. Luckily it was only for one night as they had cabins available for the rest of our stay.

Day 2
We started our time in Rome the right way, by seeing as much of it as possible on a walking tour. Our guide was great and had a lot of advice for the rest of our time in Rome.
He encouraged us to drink from the water fountains (the one with taps made for drinking, not the tourist attractions) as it was amazingly cold and fresh.
He also told us the best places to use bathrooms in Rome. As there are hardly any public toilets in the city, the hotels are obliged to let anyone use their toilets. He encouraged us to pick the 5 star luxury hotels, as they obviously have the best bathrooms.

We visited so many awesome locations that I'm afraid I will need to be brief with my descriptions otherwise we will be here all day.

Our first stop was the Circus Maximus site with the Palatine Hill in background.

A short walk away was La Bocca della Verità or the Mouth of Truth in English. It is said, that if you place your hand in this statues mouth, while you tell a lie, it will bite your hand of. The line to try it for yourself was out the door and around the corner, so we took a pass on this ancient "lie detector"
I was pleasantly surprised with how compact the historical centre of Rome is, with many of the main attractions being situated an easy walk from each other. This is one reason why I would encourage anyone to do a walking tour of Rome.

The Temple of Hercules Victor and the Fountain of the Tritons were next. Situated next to each other.
Our next destination was an amphitheatre, no not the Colosseum (yet), but a smaller structure and its adjoining training ground. The amphitheatre has now been partially rebuilt to house some of the most expensive apartments in Rome on the top level.
The training ground has also had a change in tenants, with it now being referred to as an unofficial cat sanctuary, due to the ever increasing numbers of its feline occupants.
My highlight of the walking tour was visiting the Pantheon (not to be confused with the Parthenon in Greece) Yes, it was busy and crowded but it was still a spectacular sight well worth braving the masses for. The exterior is impressive and details but when you step inside...
The light cascading down from the opening in the centre of the domed ceiling has a ethereal quality to it.
(also too big for our camera to capture in one photo apparently)
By this point in the day it was starting to get increasingly hot, so any reprieve from the sun was welcomed.
So sweaty...
The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Campus Martius is another site well worth a visit.
As with all of the churches in Rome, you are not required to pay a fee to enter, although some crafty locals will try and make you believe so, by standing at the entrance with an expectant bowl of coins.
The painted frescoes on its ceiling and walls are very impressive and detailed, but my favourite is the dome, or lack their of. When the church was being built it was popular to incorporate a dome into the structure. However, funds to build a dome were lacking, and so the painter created an illusion of a dome, using a forced perspective technique. So from the view point of most visitors it appears to be a typical part of the buildings structure, but from an opposing angle and when looking closely it starts to look a little unusual.

One of our final destinations was a quick visit to the Altare della Patria "Altar of the Fatherland", this monument can be seen from many places around Rome. There was a lot of controversy around its construction and for its shape and conspicuous nature, the Romans have given it a number of humorous and somewhat uncomplimentary nicknames, including la torta nuziale ("the wedding cake")
Although time didn't allow us to do it, there was a panoramic lift added to the structure, allowing visitors to ride up to the roof for 360-degree views of Rome

We concluded the walking tour by passing by the Roman Forum, it was incredibly hot by this point in the day so we didn't hang around for too long. I did manage to barter down the price of my hat from one of the local travelling salesmen, with the help of the tour guide making sure I wasn't ripped off (50% off the original asking price seemed fair). 
We headed back to our camping ground for a refreshing swim in the pool and a well deserved rest.

Day 3
We woke up early and made our way into central Rome. We bought tickets to enter the Roman forum which came with a 2 for 1 ticket to Colosseum too. Which saved us waiting in line, we only waited for 2 minutes.
It was another super hot day and we were spending it in a forum with hardly any shade. So the challenge of running between shady spots ensued. I'm not even exaggerating, it felt like 40 degrees walking between these ancient ruins.
So we purchased an audio guide and showed ourselves around the forum at a pace which suited us, trying to avoid the slow moving noisy tour groups as best as we could.
We came across a group of archaeologist working on the forum, it was interesting to see the work in progress and wonder what they might unearth while we were there.

By this point in the day, I had busted out my pocket umbrella to do whatever I could to shade us from the intense over head sun.

With a sight of our destination for the following day, exhausted from all the sun and walking, we returned back to our camping ground for the evening.

Day 4 (June 10) - Another super hot day
One of the most well known attractions of Rome is the Colosseum. We were able to by-pass hundreds of people waiting in line for tickets by using our two-for-one deal we purchased at the Forum the day before. So it took us less than 5 minutes to get into Colosseum, it took longer than that to walk past everyone waiting.

It was very surreal to be seeing this iconic structure with my own eyes after seeing so many documentaries about it over the years and digital reconstructions of it in movies.

Obviously there were tonnes of people in there during the day but if you go prepared for the crowds it seems more manageable. Plus it's big enough to still allow you to pretend you have the place to yourself in photos.

To escape the heat we took a walk around the indoor museum.
That evening we took a "Rome by Night" walking tour. Our group met at Triton fountain.
The sights of Rome take on a whole new feel when they are beautifully lite and are somewhat less busy.

The most "over-rated" attraction in Rome, according to our tour guide is the Spanish steps, but we still stopped to take a couple of photo pics.
Unfortunately the Trevi fountain was closed for maintenance and so had barriers around it, but we still flicked a coin over our shoulder to ensure we would someday return to re-visit Rome again. We have found that a lot of significant monuments around Europe have scaffolding and on-going maintenance. It's a wonderful thing that these important pieces of history are being well looked after for future generations, but it definitely distracts from the photos and can sometimes be a bit disappointing when you need to Google their images to see what they would look like in their full glory.
Our Tour guide gesturing enthusiastically
Standing on the oldest bridge in Rome

June 11 (Day 5)
On our last full day in Rome we visited the Vatican City. Click here to see my blog post about it.

June 12
We hit the road to travel to Florence

Quick Summary (TL;DR)

Duration of stay: 5 nights
Was it enough time?: I would suggest 5 nights as a minimum for Rome, we did so much in our time here but there was still a lot of sights we ran out of time to visit.
Where we stayed: Camping Village Roma
Time of Year: June
Best memories: Seeing such monumental and iconic pieces of history with my own eyes, and by-passing the long line to enter the Colosseum. 
Worst memories: Sitting on hot buses with no air-conditioning on our way back to our accommodation.
Top tip: Pre-book your entry tickets online before you get to attractions or research the best deals.
Next time: I would love to see the Roman Catacombs.
Rome in a few words: Ancient, Surreal, Immense
Recommended?: Definitely, Rome is one of my favourite cities I have ever visited.
Overall experience:10/10
Next destination: Florence, Italy

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