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’ll love Rome. I particularly enjoyed its frozen delights – Gelato and fresh juice smoothies. I appreciated my walks through the Piazzas and narrow streets lined by basalt infused cobblestones.
During my trip, I stayed at the Piazza Cavour area, with easy access by foot, bus, taxi or metro to shopping, movies and Rome’s historical 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 there to signify the end of a plague.
Everywhere you go, you will see food and drinks trucks. Walking around Rome makes you thirsty. You need to stay hydrated:).
Among the many places I visited in Rome, my trip to the 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 the City. They would give an artist sensory overload as there’s so much to see. From historical art works to modern impressions and avant garde paintings. I even saw woodwork from Nigeria! I spied 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 the Wise Men. They also featured Prophets like David! Rome’s artwork impressed strongly on my mind that excellence, perfection and enduring value, can define a culture to the point where it is almost taken for granted. Many Roman artworks date back centuries, when 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 in Rome and their tombs are on display in the city’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). There’s a saying in Rome: “Wine is cheaper than gas so don’t drive, just drink”.
With regard to shopping – I’m not sure many cities understand shopping like the US 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. Probably the latter. And, there was little effort to bridge the language divide from Italian to English. Hmm….
It was interesting to note that the Colosseum was conceptualised as a grand spectacle, to provide amusement for the masses. Rome was a city of 2 million at the time. It was created as 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 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, as well as 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 the structures have to be imagined. 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. 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 condoms and chewing gum on display, and remembered the mallams that hover around nightclubs in Lagos. I guess they perform the same function:).
I passed by the Olympic stadium & 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 was also a portable farm concept on display, that’s being piloted in Africa. The names of those who 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, in a residential area.
At the Rome Airport, i noticed a sink that had 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 better 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.
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 room, 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 during rush hour. (I simply walked everywhere). You can get a Travel Card 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 get to your hotel via taxi or use the Sit Bus Shuttle (at a tenth of the cost) outside the main exit (sitbusshuttle.com). The bus stops 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. You can buy the Pass at the Airport. I preferred to go with a tour group – Grayline, which 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 attractions I wanted to visit later. 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, I used Google Maps for a turn-by-turn guide. Google Maps is fantastic in Rome. 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, you can wear it around your shoulder. In summer, dress for hot weather. The only place you need to be well covered is at the Vatican.
Hope these tips help!
PS: You may visit my Facebook account to view my Rome Photo Album.