Rome

Rome was the city that started our love affair with Italy and I could return to this country again and again. Arriving late on a Thursday evening, we ordered a transfer straight to our hotel, Star of Rome. The airport transfer service is just another example of the quality and helpfulness of the staff at Star of Rome. Everything we needed was provided for, from breakfast in our room if we so wished to a staff member walking us out of the hotel early the next morning to get our bus tickets at a local café and point us in the right direction.

The location was good and within easy access to all the major sites via public transport, the room was modern and clean with and lovely outside area and the breakfast was continental style, the perfect start to a busy day. Before leaving for the day, they kindly booked our tickets to the Vatican and even though our time was mistakenly booked, they offered to refund our tickets in full and gave us a voucher.

I’d recommend the public transport in Rome as the traffic rivals that of Paris or any major city and driving in the heart of it can be very daunting not to mention the tiny parking spaces and the fact that most cars consist of scratches and evidence of fender benders.

We started our first day exploring the sights. There are walking tours around Rome which come highly recommended and although we missed the start (keep traffic in mind for peak hours), we followed the route of the walking tour ourselves. Starting at the iconic Spanish steps, we headed to Piazza del Popolo and walked up a few flights of stairs to Villa Borghese gardens offering fantastic views over the city. After a quick water break as the heat was rising, we went in search of the Trevi fountain. The Trevi fountain is a wonderful landmark and we did the obligatory coin toss as movie scenes ran across my mind –  I would recommend going as early as possible for less of a crowd. We found a great pizzeria for lunch and got our first taste of an authentic Italian pizza and a spritzer. After a bit more exploring we walked in the direction of the Colloseum.

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Spanish steps

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Piazza del Popolo
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Trevi Fountain

At the entrance to the Colleseum we were luckily approached by some ticket sellers and although I’m usually wary of buying tickets without researching them, in Rome it appears the norm and thank goodness we went ahead with the sale as the ticket skipped the queue and included a walking guided tour of both the Colleseum and Roman Forum. I would recommend trying to find something similar or booking online in advance as the queues were very long and the guided tour was informative and interesting. The iconic colleseum is an amazing feat of architecture and standing within the walls, I felt a great sense of history as the guide explained the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.

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After a full day of sightseeing, we headed home to quickly shower and change and then visited Trastavere neighbourhood for dinner, described by Lonely Planet as Rome’s favourite neighbourhood. This area is highly recommended for dinner with a variety of wonderful, trendy restaurants serving delicious Italian food at very reasonable prices. We dined at Via Delle Fratte di Trastevere but any of the options in this area will I’m sure match this experience so you can stroll around until you find one that catches your eye.

On Saturday we were due to visit the Vatican however, our ticket time was incorrect so we were only due back later. Instead we made our way back towards the town centre and found Via del Governo Vecchio another recommendation. This is a unique and popular street for a bit of shopping, vintage stores and antiques, Italian leather and plenty of café’s. It’s a relatively quiet street away from the touristy throngs and shaded so you can escape the heat of the day. We sat down at Fattoincasa for another delicious Italian lunch. The food in Italy is truly heavenly. From here, we visited the Pantheon – another landmark and must see in Rome.

For the Vatican, again I would recommend booking this in advance either online or with your hotel, the queues were the longest queues I have ever seen and easily over 2 or 3 hours long. Once inside we explored the inner rooms and artifices making our way to the painted by Michelangelo. You will need about 2/3 hours here as you don’t want to rush yourself through. You can buy tickets online here.

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On leaving the Vatican there were hordes of people milling around and when we asked a police officer how we cross the road to catch our bus, he replied, “You can’t, the Pope is coming”. Literally within 5 minutes, the Pope came past on his little buggy. Apparently it was a Catholic holiday which may have been the reason for the queues and he was publicly greeting the public and groups of children. We were about 15 metres from the front of the parade and got a wonderful view of Pope Francis as he waved and smiled at the crowd, the atmosphere was filled with joy and adoration – a wonderful and unexpected surprise addition to our trip to Rome.

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A glimpse of the Pope

That evening we headed to the neighbourhood of Monti. This is a trendy neighbourhood situated in the heart of historic Rome, an old residential neighbourhood with a Bohemian edge. We started the evening as the locals do, sipping on Peroni and sparkling wine Piazza della Madonna dei Monti. You can buy drinks at a little corner shop and sip them sitting on the fountain as you watch locals going about their evening socialising. The area is full of local bars and restaurants with great wine and dinner options. We found Ai Tre Scallini, a  cozy bar which you can’t miss because of the overhanging ivy and locals sprawling out of the door into the streets. We ate at Trattoria il Tettarello, a wonderful and cozy Italian eatery – a meal was yet to disappoint but there are many choices in the area and even if there is a waiting list, you can have a drink somewhere nearby while you wait. Wandering the streets of Monti was definitely a highlight of the trip.

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Piazza della Madonna dei Monti
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When in Rome

I would put Rome as one of my favourite cities in Europe, if not my favourite re-establishing Italy as my most loved European country so far. Known as the eternal city, I loved the local scenes, the food, the architecture that doesn’t consist of any modern buildings and the visible history that you find around every corner – a city full of style and romance and the echoes of civilizations gone by. Although hotels can be pricier than other European cities, the food and daily costs were very reasonable. This was a very memorable trip with a good balance of sightseeing and local finds that always add a special touch to a trip.

For more inspiration look at New York Times, 36 hours in Rome or this article from the Telegraph

Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, the city of yearning – Giotto di Bondone

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