Rome was exactly as overwhelming and dizzying as I had imagined. Everything was big and beautiful and every so slightly over the top. Seriously those ancient Romans sure loved their larger than life statues and monuments. After taking the train from Milan we arrived in Rome around lunchtime and quickly found our apartment, perfectly situated just a stone throw away from the Vatican. We decided to venture out without any form of map and attempted to find the Trevi fountain simply by following our gut instinct and whatever street signs we could find. Clearly it should come as no surprise that we weren’t able to find it. We hopelessly wandered for ages, with our eyes open and hands constantly pointing around at all the beautiful buildings. While we didn’t find the fountain, we did happen upon the Pantheon, which we admired from the outside for as long as we could before our stomachs began to growl. We hunted down some spaghetti, mozzarella and proscuitto and then found a wonderful little bodega on the walk back to our place, which provided us with juice, yoghurt and pastries for breakfast everyday while we were there.
The next morning the sun was shining and a warmth we hadn’t experienced in a very long time filled the city. Determined to enjoy as much vitamin D as possible, we walked to Villa Borghese Gardens. The expansive gardens sit a top a large hill, perfectly situating them for some stunning panoramic views of Rome below. The gardens are beautiful and huge and provided us with a lovely morning of rambling along the walkways listening to the various musicians busking along the paths. After a somewhat mediocre lunch at one of the cafes within the gardens, we made our way back down the hill and continued off in a new direction. Having far better wandering luck than the previous day, we ended up pottering our way right to the Trevi fountain. The fountain itself is a perfect example of Roman exuberance and all the marble statues are so large and extravagant that it’s almost intimidating. The crowds were pretty ridiculous too. We pushed our way through the sea of selfie sticks and fanny packs and sat at the front ledge of the fountain to throw our coins in and dangle our fingers into the monetarily rich waters. Once we’d had our fill of people yelling at each other, we continued to wander without direction and found ourselves in front of the Spanish steps. Unfortunately for us they were under construction and were completely blocked off and covered in scaffolding. Nevertheless, the novelty of walking the same streets as Hepburn and Peck was there, and we enjoyed spending some time watching the busy piazza. Now feeling rather confident in our way finding luck we made our way back in the general direction of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is truly a sight to behold and the architecture and ingenuity in its structure was staggering up close. For dinner we went to a small place, literally they had three tables, offering a variety of fresh pasta and sauces. We savoured some pesto and bolognese and concluded the day as we did everyday on our Italian adventure…with gelato.
The next day we woke up as early as possible, ready like Romans to tackle the Colosseum. We had pre-booked our tickets but due to increased security measures there was still a line that even our eager organizational selves couldn’t avoid. Thankfully it moved fast and we were in the grounds very quickly. The Colosseum was monumental but the early hour combined with the mammoth size meant that there were times when it felt like we had the place to ourselves. We spent a few hours wandering the relic while Chris explained the plot of Gladiator to me and I tried to picture the elephantine spectacles that occurred here. Once we’d had our fill of the ruins we went across the road to visit the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, which were both included in our tickets to the Colosseum. Both the Palatine hill and the Roman forum were incredible and provided some amazing insight into what life in ancient Rome was like. Interestingly enough, Palatine Hill is the etymological origin of the word “palace”, a term well deserved given the monumental size and grandeur of the place. Both also offered breathtaking views looking back on the Colosseum that truly highlighted the gargantuan size of the structure. We spent a good amount of time wandering the area and basking in the shade of the lilac trees. Fueled by some nutella snacks that we’d foraged from a vending machine, we soaked in as much history as we could before leaving the area just as the throngs of tourists were beginning to be too much to handle. We ambled away from the area and weaved our way through the city streets. While stopping to rest and ease our tired feet I happened to notice that we were sitting in Piazza Ignazio. Sant’Ignazio church was very high up on our to do list and as luck would have it we had stumbled, or rather hobbled at this point, right up to it without even realizing it. I’m thrilled to say that it was absolutely phenomenal. The trompe l’oeil effect on the ceiling is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and the art history nerds inside both Chris and I were seriously geeking out. We sat to the side and reveled in the frescoed masterpiece. Every second seemed to bring something else to discover and admire and as we wandered around the cathedral we couldn’t help but feel as though the eyes from the ceilings were following us around. After a much-needed siesta we ventured back out into the streets and went for dinner at what can only be described as a true family run Roman restaurant. Wine, fried zucchini flowers, arancini, spaghetti, pizza, and limoncello were served up on red-checkered tablecloths, as Chris and I gesticulated our delight to the lovely and clearly related staff. It was delightful and delicious.
The next morning we checked out the oldest farmers market in Rome and bought some strawberries and dates that were too delicious looking to ignore. Wanting to make our own picnic lunch that day we also stopped by a deli to pick up some meats, cheeses and bread. We couldn’t help but grab some potato and rosemary pizza as it came fresh and bubbling out of the oven because you know…when in Rome. That afternoon we had pre-booked tickets for the Vatican museum so off we went. I’m afraid that the Vatican was definitely our least favourite event out of our trip, but it was still definitely worth a visit. The museum was absolutely packed full of people, and unfortunately Chris and I were a bit distracted by all the shouting crowds and illegal use of flash to really take in the surroundings. I really enjoyed the decorative aspects of the museum and seeing Raphael’s The School of Athens was a major highlight for the both of us. We’d both learned about it in art history and it’s always been a favourite of mine so seeing it in person was a wonderful experience. The modern religious art section was also very neat to see although I did get rather annoyed by the fact that there was no work done by a female artist, despite the art being from the 20th century and onwards. Salvador Dali had female colleagues people!! The Sistine chapel itself was obviously stunning although I did wish that they allowed fewer people in at a time. I would have happily waited in line had the experience inside the chapel been less hectic. Nevertheless, it was incredible to see and, having read the Agony and the Ecstasy before leaving, I felt as though I was truly standing beneath the work of giants. After the Vatican Chris and I indulged in the wonderful Italian happy hour which, for the price of two cocktails, includes as much delicious food from the bar buffet as you can eat. It’s very civilized and I feel as though I’d go out far more frequently if there were a consistent promise of delicious food. While we were dining and drinking outside we were also treated to some local street theatre in the form of an Italian road accident. We watched on the edges of our patio seats as a large man with gold chains rear-ended the car behind him, and then proceed to get out of his car and yell at the poor sod he’d rear-ended. With arms gesticulating manically and Italian words flying out of mouths at breakneck speed it was almost too much of a bad stereotype to be true.
Our final day in Rome saw us rather exhausted so we kept it as low key as possible. We wandered to the Trastevere area to visit a bakery, as I can think of no better reason to walk for an hour than the promise of biscotti. We people watched in the streets and meandered through the piazzas before ending the day at a nearby pizzeria for the required cheese and carbohydrates. We had a fantastic, overwhelming and history fueled time in Rome and although it felt like we were only there for a moment, it was time to move on to the next part of our Italian adventure.