Here’s an account of my 3.5 days in Rome:
Arrived in the morning, quickly got a 14 EUR train ticket to go to Termini, although the significantly cheaper bus would have done as well. But I wanted to get all the daylight I could, so I took the quicker option. Italy was unlike any other part of Europe I had seen before, it looked very Mediterranean, with palm trees, terraced houses, it was also quite warm and sunny. Reached the train station, I quickly located my hotel and settled in.
Began exploring Rome with the Santa Maggiore, which was definitely very impressive, very different from the Renaissance art I would see in the rest of my trip. The streets of Rome were busy, with vespas, a little honking and plenty of people, tourists as well as non-tourists making it a very lively place. The area around Termini wasn’t really a very likeable one, but as you walk away from it, walks become nicer.
Had lunch at an outdoor place outside the Maggiore church, really good Gnocchi in Pomodoro sauce, the weather was great, sunny and warm(yes, even in December, global warming or just a heat wave or just temperature difference, I don’t know). Had a nice stroll towards the Roman Forum area. The Trajan Market building was absolutely beautiful! And vibe on the streets reminded me of Istanbul. Climbed up the Capitoline Hill to get brilliant views of the Forum. While it looked beautiful, I just wish more had survived. Then I got a ticket to enter the Forum, went in, looked around, trying to remember and recreate mental images from the book “History of Rome”, It was definitely fascinating, but again, very little remains. Palatine Hill tuned out to be the star attraction for the day. Everything up there was impressive. Walked and saw as much as I could, enjoyed views of the Forum, the place was very “Roman” indeed. And there were trees loaded with oranges as well. Got down as it tuned dark, it was barely 4.30 PM. Now I had several hours to spend before I had dinner. I got a gelato from a shop, was pretty good and cheap.
Walked all the way upto the Spanish steps stopping by the Trevi Fountain and Piazzas on the way. Christmas decorations were at their best, and crowds were high. Repairs are on at the Spanish steps, which was a disappointment. Had an early 4 EUR pasta dinner at Pastifico, making up my mind never to have pasta at pasta on the go places. Had a good tiramisu at Pompi, right infront of Pastifico. Walked back to the hotel, again, walking through empty streets in Rome is a pleasure, especially at night. Slept off, tired from the walking and jetlag.
More Ancient Rome
Had breakfast at a Pasticceria, not the healthiest, but pretty tasty, quick and cheap. Went straight to the Colosseum. And wow! It was phenomenal. Crowds were less, since it was a winter morning and a little fog was still around. As the sun went up, crowds went up, but the colosseum looked even better. The area around the Colosseum looked pretty neat from up there. Spent a couple of hours exploring the building, then walked to the San Clemente church. The church was really pretty, the underground portions too were really interesting, you go several levels below the ground. Later, had a big lunch at a restaurant just outside the church, their vegetable fritters and Ravioli in pomodoro were fabulous.
Next on the list was the Pantheon. The sheer size of the temple amazed me, from the outside it looked very beautiful with all it’s Greek columns and Latin and it’s cylindrical rear portion. Around the Pantheon were several interesting buildings which included basilicas, restored buildings with greek columns and so on.
Now the plan was to go to Gianicolo Hill, but then GoogleMaps guided me to a deadend lane just below Gianicolo, and the only way to get to the hill was a long walk, so I decided to skip it and go to the Castel Angelo. Turned out to be a great decision, sunset was fabulous, and views over the Vatican and Rome were great from the terrace. Had dinner at a pizzeria near Santa Maggiore, Zaza Pizza, which was pretty good.
A little More Ancient Rome and some Baroque Rome and Rome at Night
Took a bus to the Carcalla Baths, was quite awestruck by the huge surviving ruins, walked around what would have been grand baths. Walked further to the Pyramid of Cestius which was a short pleasant walk through residential neighborhoods. The pyramid was certainly quite a sight. Got a metro ride to the Spanish steps, had to take the mandatory walk up the steps, although a lot of it was closed.
Took a long walk across all piazzas, stopping at each for a fairly long time. Bought fruits from Piazza Campo Di Fiori’s farmers market, gelato from Piazza Navona, wish I could get a good aerial view of the Piazzas. Had lunch at one of the touristy restaurants with fixed menus, turned out to be pretty good. Arrived near the Colosseum to get pictures of the Colosseum after dark, which was superbly lit, but the restoration work had hit the most photographic features of the building.
Next on the plan was looking at the Pantheon all lit up. The Pantheon ofcourse looked great, the square was much busier than what it was during the day. Had a good Ravioli with Porcini mushrooms and an artichoke dish at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately, it was pretty close to the Pantheon though. So ended my 3rd day in Rome.
Vatican, A different world altogether.
I had booked for the 9 AM slot, I reached there at about 8.30 and I could get in easily. Entrance and security was quick, and I quickly reached the museum. The grounds and gardens were interesting, the Gallery of Maps blew me away(and there were hardly any people!), the Raphael Rooms were stunning, I spent more than an hour looking around. Sistine Chapel was obviously the best of all, I didn’t particularly know a lot about the paintings, but the audio guide helped to a good extent. Again, I spent a large amount of time just looking up and walking around. You just can’t have enough of it. Tour groups came and went, and crowds went up and down accordingly. I would definitely call a visit to the Sistine Chapel as something close to a life changing event. I just wished they allowed photography, and it’s impossible to “cheat” and click pictures in off season, the chapel isn’t packed, which is a great thing since you can really take in the place.
Stepped out of the chapel, walked through endless corridors with good murals, passed through the iconic spiral staircase and stepped out of the museum. Had lunch at a Pasta place near the St.Peter’s square, one of the cafes ripped me off with a 14 EUR cake(that was the sit-down price, the take away price was 5 EUR, so always check the menu when you sit down). St.Peter’s square was quite busy,so I got into the cathedral, and wow! I wasn’t prepared at all for the grandeur and the scale of the building. Spent a super long time in side the cathedral(make sure you go in when it’s atleast fairly bright outside, everything glows). Then took the stairs upto the dome, was quite a climb, but worth it. The views of the Square, of the Vatican, of the countryside around, of Rome all were fabulous. Came down when it started getting a little dark, roamed around St.Peter’s square for a pretty long time, watching the lights come up, the skies were beautiful as well.
Came back to “main Rome”, the streets to the main piazzas were beautifully decorated, had one of my best dinners in Rome, at Alfredo E Ado, had an artichoke lasagna and an Eggplant parmigiana, all made to perfection. Spent some more time hanging around at the Pantheon, returned back home to get up early the next day.