Sunday, 30 August 2015

Rome (part 1) - Things to see and do

When I got my promotion back in December, I told The Boy that I would treat him to a trip away. Fast forward 8 months and we’re taking a five day break in the magnificent capital of Italy – Rome. 

I have actually been to Rome twice before, but once when I was 18 months and the second on a school trip (as part of our classical civilizations GCSE). But seeing as the first time I was barely out of nappies and the second time I was an annoying teenager, I didn’t really have that many memories of Rome and its offerings.

Being somewhere The Boy has always wanted to go and a place hyped up by friends, this trip had a lot of live up too…. And it did. It’s a beautiful city; full of history and culture, bustling side streets, glorious food and random ancient roman ruins.

The must see
There is no shortage of things to see and marvel at in Rome. 
My favourite has to be St Peter’s Basilica and the Colosseum. Thanks to some good advice, we bought an O.R.P Rome Pass prior to departure (RRP 98 euros)* which can be used for three consecutive days for the all attractions, such as the Vatican and the hop on hop  off bus tour. You can also use it on the city’s public transport (although it ain't that good to be honest). Trust me, it is worth it – it also entitles you to queue jump, meaning you don’t have to queue in the blazing sun for 4 hours to get in to the top tourist places.

Vatican, including Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica
The Vatican is the world’s smallest nation, with just 55 citizen and home to The Pope. With our Rome Pass, we also paid an extra 7 euros each for a tour, which I strongly recommend, otherwise you’ll be wandering around simply observing rather than understanding. Our guide was great, and went into detail of all sorts of interesting trivia (did you know the gold ball on top of the basilica houses a tiny chapel?) and carefully explained the scenes that Michelangelo painted in the Sistine chapel, 20m up. It lasts around two hours.

Inside the opulent Vatican

Within the walls are the Vatican gardens, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, so take your time to wander through. Embrace it and take the 320 steps up into the dome of the basilica – you’ll see the basilica from a different perspective and be treated to panoramic views of Rome (plus it’s good to burn off all the pizza you’ll probably be eating). 

Do remember it is a holy place so dress respectfully with shoulders covered etc and don’t forget to rub the feet of the St Peter statue in the basilica for luck!

St Peter's Basilica

According to our guide book, when in the Vatican, the Pope gives a mass audience on Wednesday morning which you can book on free. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see him, although I must boast that I saw him on my previous two visits! In fact, the second word in my lexicon was “pope” thanks to seeing him on that trip when I was 18 months old (not the trip when I was a teen)... “chips” was my first word in case you were wondering.

view from the top of St. Peter's Basilica
Vatican Gardens 

Only downside of the Vatican – the crowds of people and the slowness of getting through security at the entrance. But once you are in, it’s brilliantly beautiful and worth it. 

It’s a beautiful city; full of history and culture, bustling side streets, glorious food and random ancient roman ruins.

The Colosseum
This is actually a nick name, with the real name being Flavian Amphitheatre, named after the Flavian emperors who constructed the amphitheatre in 72 AD. Taking just 8 years to complete, this is a giant of a building – it is absolutely huge and incredibly impressive.  

Outside the Colosseum 
There's not even a filter on this!

I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that this was built 2000 years ago to such a size and such engineering! It's amazing! Not just a building, it was constructed in beautiful arches, the arena came equipped with trap doors and a functioning sail roof to protect spectators from the sun, as well as fresh water fountains and toilets. For just 5 euros, make sure you get a guide to see all the nooks and crannies that you would otherwise miss.

The Forum and Palatine Hill
A shamble of ruins, taking a visit to The Forum gives you a sneaky peak into what it would have looked liked 3,000 years ago. I actually like ruins - its like walking into a massive history lesson where you can actually touch and walk in ancestors foot steps. If you're the "seen one ruin, seen them all" kinda person, then this isn't for you - although still worth a view from the Palatine Hill and if you have the pass, you might as well!

The Foum 

Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain
Unfortunately this didn’t work out too well for us – after walking to the Trevi Fountain, we got there to discover restoration work being carried out, meaning a glass fence and scaffolding everywhere and no water in the fountain. Completely disappointing. We then walked on, up to the Spanish steps... to find that the church on the top of the steps was also being restored and completely covered and swamped in metal pipes. If you do go and manage to get there when the work men have finished, then I can assure you the Trevi Fountain is worth the trip.

I have spoken to a few people that had the same experience so if you are going soon, it might be worth a check on the internet to see if it is "open". 

A gorgeous summer evening in Rome

The Pantheon
This one Pagan temple now Christian church, stands mainly undamaged as it did 2000 years ago, although bits and bob have been stolen along the way, such as the roof tiles.  

When you look at the Pantheon head on, you don’t realise the size of it inside, as the rest of the building at the back doesn’t match its façade at the front. Also, back in the day, the street level was a lot lower, so you coudn't see the dome from the ground level, making the inside all the more impressive for the ancient Romans. 

The Pantheon

the choir

The dome of course includes the famous “oculus” aka a 8.3m hole (which also provides structural support). The dome is as wide was it is high by the way – 43.3m. We were lucky that day, that the Christian New English Orchestra ere providing a free recital of classical and jazz hymns – sitting listening to the choir in the pantheon certainly added to its awe and serenity.

The Oculus

We didn't get to go, but if you are looking for an opera in Italy (well why not!) then I saw quite a few leaflets for the Three Tenors which is on every Friday at Opera Elirica

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