Sightseeing in Rome on the off chance
For sightseeing in Rome, there is very much travel information available. One leaflet, book, or website in even more detail than the other. For a short break in Rome, however, you do not need much information, it can easily be done on the off chance, ideal for adventure travellers. There is something to see or do around every corner of every street. Finding a room, however, may be very difficult in summer.
Getting there from GreeceOn the overnight ferry from Patras on the Greek Peloponnese to Bari in Italy we can stretch ourselves on 4 chairs each, since there are very few people onboard. After watching a few movies, we go asleep only to wake up when we have nearly reached Bari. That’s great, but what’s not so great is the fact that we got bitten a few hundred times by who knows what. The coming days will be spent scratching numerous annoying itching spots.
In Bari, a shuttle bus brings us from the ferry to the bus station. Unfortunately we have to wait there for half an hour for a bus to the train station. And once there, we have to wait three hours for the train to Rome. Time to watch the city, but there is not much more to see than a nice central park.
The train ride shows us Italy’s landscape. Once in a while we pass an antique aqueduct. Unfortunately we have a delay of an hour, and we need to switch to a train completely full with people returning to Rome after spending the weekend elsewhere. Finally, at 7.30 PM we arrive in Rome, after travelling for two days.
The Youth HostelFor our first night in Rome we check in at the youth hostel close to the train station. We are looking forward to some company after spending November in almost deserted Greece. And it is indeed quite a contrast. In the TV-room a movie is playing very loud, all PC’s are taken, and so are all the chairs in the common room. Tonight is beer night, but after one beer we decide to go to bed, away from the crowd. Apparently Rome’s youth hostel has no off season.
The next day we spend searching for alternative cheap accommodation. Not an easy task in Western Europe, but we succeed in finding a double room for just a little more than the bunk beds in the youth hostel. While searching, we get an idea of Rome. A big city obviously, but the center is relatively compact, and the crowded streets are separated by different piazza’s with often a nice fountain with statues. Italians like to have lunch on the street, so there are a lot of eateries where one can choose pizza or pasta from the showcase. All in all, the city has a nice feel to it.
Tour along the ParksBefore we go sightseeing in Rome along the main attractions, we have a walking tour along the parks of Rome. From the Ethiopian embassy, where we arrange a visa for the next part of our journey, we walk to the closest park, Villa Torlonia. A lot of mothers and children along the trees. There are ruins as well, from which we cannot determine their origine. And there are some nice large buildings in the park, where art collection are on display.
The next park on our map is Villa Paganini, small but nice. Then on to Villa Albani, but large fences and a closed gate prevent us from entering that one. So we move on to the largest of them all, Villa Borghese. This is the terrain of the very important family with the same name, who delivered several popes in the past. The current park is very large, and has art collections, a few museums, and a zoo. We stick to walking along the ponds, buildings, and an obelisk from Egypt, from which the Romans took so many back to Rome.
and Piazza’sOn the other side of the park we arrive at Piazza del Popolo. There is another obelisk here, plus a few nice churches and sculptures. From here we walk on to Piazza Spagna, and this is obviously the expensive part of Rome. There is another beautiful fountain here, and the famous Spanish stairs to the French embassy. And even the McDonalds here is situated in a very fancy building.
Our sightseeing in Rome walk continues along many nice streets and piazza’s, until we reach the famous Trevi fountain. Located on a small piazza this fountain spreads along the complete façade of a big building. It is hard to see the details however, since the fountain is surrounded my hordes of tourists. Again we conclude that Rome does not have a low season.
Typewriter?Before we head for antique Rome, we pass the enormous monument of king Vittorio Emmanuel II. It is a marble structure of multiple storeys of statues, paintings, etcetera. It was built between 1880 and 1927 in several stages, and all the famous artists in that period contributed to it. The whole is very overwhelming, although it looks like (and is referred to as) a typewriter.
Close to the monument on Piazza Venetia is also Trajan’s column. A huge pillar with in reliefs the adventure of this emperor. And behind it is where the forums start. Apart from the Roman forum several others were built by several emperors, started by Julius Caesar. The ruins of all of those can be visited here.
The ColosseumWe move on to the Colosseum, where we wait together with some Arsenal supporters from England, who are here for the soccer game of their team against AS Roma. Once inside, they hang their huge Arsenal banner on the gallery. But before they can make a good picture, it is removed by the guards.
The Colosseum itself disappoints us a little. The original seats are gone, as is the floor in the central arena. The rooms underneath the floor are visible though, but we should have taken an (expensive) guide to learn more about it. We are looking to make good pictures, but the best ones can be taken from the exterior. Not with one of the fake Roman warriors with plastic swords that swarm around the Colosseum, though. The Arch of Constantine serves as a better and cheaper foreground.
Roman Forum and Palantine HillWe walk on to the Roman Forum and the Palantine Hill. These were the center and the fancy neighborhood in ancient Rome. After the decline of the Roman Empire, these parts declined as well. The marble here was removed to build churches and palaces elsewhere, and everything disappeared under a thick layer of dirt.
In the 19th century people started excavating the area again, and it is thanks to the economic construction by the Romans that so much is still preserved. Instead of constructing everything from marble, they made the framework of each building from cheap bricks, over which they applied the marble. It is that framework that can be seen everywhere, in contrast to ancient Athens, where almost everything is completely gone.
Without a guide there is not much to learn from the ruins on Palantine Hill. Yet, it is a lovely quiet walk around, while we wonder who used to live here. There is a small museum with statues and information about the residents. It dates back to the era before the Roman Empire, when the Etruscans lived here, a people that probably had its origin in Southwest Asia, and lived here in huts on the hills.
The Roman Forum is a gathering of remaining pillars, arches and stones. It can be seen that a lot was learned from the Greek, but also from the Etruscans and others. The Romans perfected those styles and created impressive buildings with it. Other than on Palantine Hill, it is a little crowded in the Forum. Tour groups are gasping at the rests of temples. The ruins are quite nice, but more and more of the same, so after a while we have seen enough and move on.
The VaticanAnother must when sightseeing in Rome is the Vatican. The metro brings us nearby, and we only have to follow a monk to get there. From the side we enter St. Peter’s square. This giant square is surrounded by a gallery of pillars, with on them the statues of almost every saint. In the middle is yet another Egyptian obelisk, with a fountain on both sides. And on the head end of the square, the huge St Peter’s Basilica. All in all, pretty impressive.
When we enter the Basilica, we are searched first. The priest before us isn’t, so it can’t be too difficult to sneak in, we think. Inside the Basilica are large collections of statues, paintings, and sculptures by all the famous artists from the Renaissance. The Pietà of Michelangelo is probably the most famous one, but the rest is as impressive.
Together with the many pilgrims we can touch the bleak foot of the bronze St. Peter, and we can make our confession. There are confession chairs for different languages, but not for Dutch, so we give it a pass. The enormous list of popes is nice but we cannot visit their tombs. We can visit the museum in the Sistine Chapel though, with the famous ceiling painting by Michelangelo. Everything is overwhelming, and like in the Hermitage of St. Petersburg, there simply is too much to see, although this is on another scale.
More sightseeing in RomeThe walk back from the Vatican brings us along the Castello, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. The Castello is the fortified building where different popes used to retreat in times of trouble. The oval Piazza Navona is built on an antique hippodrome, and is full with baroque architecture, among which three impressive fountains. It is a nice spot to watch people, the normal tourists drinking expensive drinks on the terraces, and the backpackers drinking soda from bottles on the benches on the square.
The Pantheon is the only remaining complete building of ancient Rome. It is a dome with an open roof and a façade with pillars. It has survived since it was used as a church, and it is currently the burial place of king Vittorio Emmanual II, whose tomb is heavily guarded.
We try to spend our last days in Rome as the locals do. We hang around in the cozy Trastevere district, visit some parks, have long lunches, etcetera. Even when we are not sightseeing, there is much to see in Rome. We keep on passing monuments, piazza’s, fountains, and other things which are worth having a second look.
From what we have seen, Rome is the city with the most places of interest and attractions. Everywhere we look, we see more, and it’s not all the same. On the contrary, there is something here for everybody. You can spend weeks sightseeing in Rome, but it is also a great city for relaxing at the restaurants, squares, or around the ancient monuments.
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