In summer, Rome is wonderfully warm.
A smorgasbord of art, architecture, history and food, it is expensive and a tad dirty. If you like art and food, you will love Rome. I particularly enjoyed its frozen delights – Gelato and fresh juices – and my walks through the Piazzas and narrow streets lined by cobblestones infused with basalt.
I stayed at the Piazza Cavour area, a great location with easy access by foot, bus, taxi or metro to shopping, movies and Rome’s historic sites. The Piazza is a stone’s throw from Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) – an Emperor’s mausoleum so named because it is rumoured that an avenging angel sheathed his sword at the Castle to signify the end of a plague.
Everywhere you go, you see food trucks that are life savers. Walking around Rome makes you thirsty. You need to stay hydrated:).
Among the many places I visited in Rome, my trip to Vatican City was the most awe inspiring. The thought of being in the city where the Pope is selected was thrilling. The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are the highlights of Vatican City. They would give an artist sensory overload – there’s so much to see, from historical art works to modern impressions and avant garde paintings. I even saw woodwork from Nigeria!
I saw the famous Swiss Guards on my way out.
St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world was also intriguing. It was interesting to note that the earliest nativity scenes did not only feature Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and Wise Men but also Prophets like David! Rome’s artwork impressed so strongly on my mind the fact that excellence, perfection and enduring value can infuse a culture to the point where it is almost taken for granted. Many Roman artworks date back centuries where modern tools for measurement did not exist. Yet, the artists had such natural aptitude for spatial exactitude. It’s mind boggling.
Some of the early Popes were embalmed and preserved and their tombs are on display in Rome’s Cathedrals.
Now, the food is very good in Rome. Although I’m not really into Pizza, I made a point of trying the local fare. I also enjoyed the wine. (Rome after all is home to Chianti Wine). There’s a saying in Rome: “Wine is cheaper than gas so don’t drive, just drink”.
On shopping – I’m not sure many cities understand shopping like US cities or Dubai. I noticed the exclusive shops in Rome had locked doors and you needed to buzz to be let in. I was unsure whether this was a security measure or an attempt at exclusivity. And there was little effort to bridge the language divide from Italian to English. Hmmn…
It was interesting to note that the Colosseum was conceptualised as a grand spectacle to provide amusement for the masses in Rome (a city of 2 million at the time). It was also a strategy to forestall unrest by keeping citizens entertained. Entry was free and citizens had season tickets with seat numbers. I was sad to learn however that over the years, the Colosseum was extensively plundered for marble and iron hence its ruined state (as if damage by earthquake wasn’t enough). As it had no protection from the rain, if it poured during events, sailors were tasked with holding up a giant waterproof tarp! It is also rumoured that at some point in history, 250 Christians were burnt to provide illumination for an Emperor’s dinner. The Colosseum remains Rome’s top attraction with 8 million annual visitors last year.
Rome also features several fountains, the most famous of which is Trevi Fountain near the Spanish Steps. At the Fountain, people toss in coins and make wishes. Unfortunately it was undergoing renovation when I visited.
There are several temples in Rome dating back to pagan eras and various arches erected in honour of conquering soldiers.
I visited Palatine hill where Cicero used to live. Its famous houses and palaces were destroyed by invading armies so U had to imagine the structures. I also had the pleasure of visiting the Roman Forum, the former religious and political centre of Rome. It used to house a Town Hall, Record Hall, Treasury, the Senate and a Crematorium.
Wifi is essential in Rome and many cafes offer it when you order in. Just ask and you’ll be given the passcode with your receipt. I passed by a self-service kiosk beside a club. It offers free wifi while you use it. I noticed the condoms and chewing gum and remembered the mallams that hover around nightclubs in Lagos. I guess they perform the same function:).
I passed by the Olympic stadium and music bridge and visited the Maxxi Architectural Museum. There’s an installation about the forgotten dead. I didn’t understand it.
I loved the food installation especially the photographs of the last meals of death row inmates. There wasalso a portable farm concept on display that’s being piloted in Africa. The names of those who have died in foreign peace keeping missions are remembered on a memorial on a wall at the entrance to the museum.
I saw a Bata store while walking around the city as well as a neighbourhood petrol station with just 2 pumps at the side of the street.
At the Rome Airport, i noticed a sink that hand a hand dryer built into it.
Now, here are some specific travel trips for Rome.
The Piazza Cavour area is a good location to stay at for easy access to the Vatican City. Via del Corso is 15 minutes away by foot – a prime shopping street with an English Cinema just off it. Although there’s a fantastic cinema at Piazza Cavour, unfortunately it doesn’t show movies in English so you have to walk 15 minutes to the dodgy English cinema. The Colosseum is 30 minutes away on foot.
You can check out credible hotels on Booking.com and TripAdvisor.com. As a general rule, European hotel rooms are 3 times smaller and 3 times more expensive than Dubai or American hotel rooms. So never get a single unless you don’t mind being confined to small spaces. Spend a bit more to get a double room at least.
You can walk to most of the tourist spots in Rome. There’s also a metro & bus system and off course you can use the official metred taxis or Uber. I would recommend the metro as the roads are narrow and sometimes there’s traffic in rush hour. (I walked everywhere). You can get a travelcard for the public transport system at any tobacco shop (little shops marked with a big T). Avoid the Exactta global sim card at the airport and wait till you get to town to get a cheaper sim. From the airport, you can either choose to get to your hotel via taxi or use the Sit Bus Shuttle (at a tenth of the cost) outside the main exit of the airport on your right (sitbusshuttle.com). They stop at major areas in Rome and you can ask your hotel for the stop closest to them.
The Roma Pass allows you to skip the queues at most tourist spots if you would like to visit them on your own. You can buy the Pass at the Airport. I preferred to go with a tour group – Graylinewhich i booked from my hotel. I took the hop on hop off bus to get a general feel of the city first before zeroing in on the core tourist attractions I wanted to visit with the tour company. Each tour lasts about 3 hours and you will walk! Take very very comfortable sneakers with thick rubber soles. Remember there are cobblestones everywhere, so covered shoes are the best.
Your hotel will have a city map highlighting major attractions and there’s an assumption you know how to read maps:). Once I decided on the places I wanted to go to on my own from the physical map, I used Google Maps for a turn-by-turn guide. (This means your device must be powered at all times because it will also lead you home). Google Maps is fantastic. It doesn’t just direct you to where you need to go; it takes you to the FRONT entrance. I also used Yelp a lot to find highly rated restaurants and live music lounges near my hotel.
Look before you cross the street. Although there are Zebra crossings, few cars wait. Also remember that the narrow alleyway you think you can stroll on is actually a major road and a tiny Smart car or Vespa scooter could come barreling by.
Get a waist pouch so your hands are free when you walk, but remember to secure it tightly to your belt so it can’t be snatched or to put it sideways around your torso. In summer, dress for hot weather. The only place you need to be well covered is the Vatican.
Hope these tips help!