Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rome, Italy

The grand capital of Italiano! 

We finally reached Rome, the capital of Italy. We’d heard great things about this city, and couldn’t wait to get out and explore it. After checking into our Hostel, the Yellow; we were ready with map in hand, the major sights circled and a route planned out.

First stop was the Colosseum, we made it there in about 20 minutes of walking, and saw the masses of tourists both hanging around the Colosseum and waiting in line to get in. There were loads of people dressed up as Roman Warriors & Gladiators, waiting for tourists to take photos with them. But I had heard the story of my brother and his girlfriend getting stung 40 euros for getting a photo taken with them when they visited Rome last year, so I was not about to make the same mistake.

We decided to join the queue before it got too late. About an hour later, we finally made it inside the Colosseum. Walking around the monument was like stepping back in time. You could really feel the size of the place, and imagining the gladiators battling it out on the arena in the middle was not a stretch of the imagination. A huge Roman construction such as the Colosseum deserves its name!

We’d waited in line for so long and didn’t have any breakfast, so by now we were starving. We walked behind the Colosseum to find some food, walking further away hoping the cost would be less but not walking too far as we wanted to come back to do some more sightseeing. There were a few streets of small cafes, but they were quite pricey. We finally opted to share a single pizza to fill a small hole in our stomachs until dinner time.

After our expensive pizza we ventured over to the Roman Forum to have a look at all the ruins. The sun was shining so it was a nice day just strolling around the park, seeing what was once the ancient city of Roma.

When we’d had enough of rubble and rocks, we headed north towards the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. My crappy navigation to the Trevi Fountain led us to the wrong place, and instead we ended up at the Piazza del Quirinale - up a large flight of stairs. At the top there was a fountain, (but not the Trevi) and a brass band playing. A small consolation prize for walking up all those additional stairs!

Gaffa took over the navigation from here, and we made our way to the Trevi Fountain. Yep, we were in the right place, there were masses of tourists taking photos of the fountain and people throwing coins in. I read somewhere that in 1 year, about 2 million euros is thrown into that fountain! Wonder who gets to keep all of that???...... Anyway, we did the usual photos of throwing coins into the fountain. And then we headed to the Pantheon.

Make a wish...
When we got there, there was an amazing opera singer singing outside. He was so good that he stopped a crowd of people and got a grand applause after he finished singing. While we watched the opera singer we didn’t even notice the time flying by, and before we knew it, it was getting late so we didn’t have time to go inside the Pantheon after all.

Back at the hostel we settled into our dorm room, and headed out for dinner across the street. We tried lasagne and spaghetti bolognaise. Two very traditional Italian meals!

The next day we decided to head to Vatican City. Learning from our mistake the day before of not eating first, we decided to stop by an American Bar to have a Big Traditional Breakfast, which sustained us for most of the day.

We made it across town to Vatican City on foot, in no time at all really. There were so many tourists and almost the same amount of tour guides trying to sell you onto tours and pay extra for express tickets so you didn’t have to wait in line – don’t be fooled by this! Us being cheap (budget-conscious), we opted to wait in line. Thankfully the line was not as long the as one at the Colesseum the day before, and actually moved quite fast. First line is for security anyway just to check your bags, being the Holy City and all, you’d expect it. If you aim to get there around 10am, it shouldn’t be too busy yet and the lines will move pretty smoothly – although it’s probably a different story in peak season.  

First we had a quick look around the inside of San Pietro Basilica (St. Peter’s), and then we found the steps to take you to the top. This is well worth the trek up the hundreds of stairs and ever narrowing corridors (the pope must be a skinny bloke to get up there without getting stuck!) The view is breathtaking, one of the best views we’ve seen in our whole Europe trip. We did manage to catch it on a beautiful day also, so that helped. As you’re coming down the stairs, there is a toilet about half way also. You can stop here for a break, to admire the view, go to the toilet, and also fill up your water bottles or get a free drink of water from the fountain (Gaffa said it was Holy Water!) All around Rome there are fresh water fountains that you can drink from, just don’t scoop it from the basin – instead take it straight out of the tap ;-)

A view of the heavens from the top of St Peter's Basilica

After admiring the view for a while and then climbing back down the stairs, we headed over to the Vatican Museum and the Sistene Chapel. Gaffa and I are not overly religious, so we did not know what to expect of the Vatican Museum. But we both found it to be an amazing place. The architecture, paintings and detail on the ceilings and the walls were just fantastic. The photos do not do justice to how amazing it is in there. You have to go see it for yourself, even if you’re not a religious person. It is a truly enlightening experience. The room/corridor of maps before you get to the Sistene Chapel is breathtaking. It’s well worth the walk through the whole museum instead of just cutting through straight to the Sistene Chapel.  The numerous artworks hanging on these walls are fabulous, but ensure you take the time to look at and enjoy the walls themselves.  It seems strange to say this, but often Gaffa found himself asking which was better – the walls or the paintings hanging on them!!!

The Resurrection
When we finally did get to the Sistene Chapel though – WOW, can only explain it. It was so surreal seeing the real painted ceiling, and those two fingertips touching… You weren’t allowed to take photos in there, but we managed to get a few sneaky shots in! By the end of the day, my neck was hurting so much from looking up at the ceilings, as I found these were the most elaborate and beautiful parts of the museum and chapel. We both agreed that the Sistene Chapel, Museum and St Pietro’s Basillica are well worth the entrance fees and should be on everyone’s to do list when visiting Rome!

The famous finger

One our last day in Rome, we only had half a day before heading to the airport for our flight to Madrid, Spain. We went to the Spanish Steps at Piazza de Spagna for a few hours and basked in the sunshine, and then took another stroll past the Trevi Fountain. 

Chilling out on the Spanish Steps

We also went to Piazza Navona with its Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana delle Quattro Fiumi), which was made famous by the movie Angels and Demons, (where one of the cardinals is nearly murdered in the fountain – water). Of course, Tom Hanks came to the rescue in the movie, but for us we just got to enjoy the amazing Piazza, the street performers and local artists. We actually purchased some art to remind us of this special place.

Street Artists @ Piazza Navona
Near Piazza Navona there is a great little gelato place called Le Gelateria Frigidarium at Via del Governo Vecchio 112, probably the best one we’ve had in Italy. We were recommended it by one of the guests staying at the hostel, who had been told that it was the best gelato in Rome - by two different independent sources. Worth the try isn’t it? So we found it in the back streets, and were told we should try their signature flavour. Their gelato is all home made, and run by an Italian family (Mama does the magic and her sons deliver it to us!) The Frigidarium flavour is vanilla and caramel gelato mixed together with Italian chocolate cookies. They also give you the option of dipping your gelato in milk or white chocolate to finish it off as well as an additional whole cookie to top it off. If only we’d discovered this place earlier! Oh well, a great end to our Italian Tour.   

Yummy Gelato with hot chocolate and a cookie!
Top: Frigidarium Flavour, Bottom: Tiramisu Flavour
Gaffa loved this Tips jar.
Swanky Stylish Gelato
Rome is a must-see on anyone's Europe Itinerary. It's become one of my favourite cities and Italy is one of the top countries I would definitely visit again. Rome has so much to offer, you could easily lose yourself exploring this beautiful place. 

Next side trip – the Amalfi Coast!

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