August 4, 2009

Rome - One Bella of a City

For some strange reason, I wasn't very excited to visit Rome on this trip. I'm guessing it's because I didn't have a great experience the last time I was here in the summer of 2000. At that time I was backpacking Europe with my old college girlfriend, and from what I remember, Rome was hot, the hostels sucked, and the food we ate tasted like it was straight from a Chef Boyardee can. Nine years later, Rome is still hot and humid in the summertime, it is crowded with way too many tourists, the hostels are pretty crappy, but somehow I didn't care this time around. Maybe it's because I've been to hotter and more crowded cities since then, but I had a fantastic time with my six days in the city.

I left the Amalfi Coast, and my family, and headed to Rome to get some much needed solo backpacker time. I had just spent several weeks with my mother and father, and as much as I love them, that's just too much time without a day off. The plan was for them to come meet me in two days, where we would celebrate my mother's 60th birthday in style. My sister Rachel was flying in from New York, and it would be the first time in several years that we were all together again.

The train ride from Salerno took about two hours on the express train, and I arrived at Rome's Termini Station at around noon. Termini is the main transport hub in the city, and also the best area to stay in my opinion. You can walk to almost any point of interest, and if you need to take the subway, all the trains run through Termini. Another great thing about the area is that food is pretty good and cheap. You can get a three course price fixed meal for around ten to fifteen Euros, including wine. My favorite is the Ristorante Il Condor at #50 Via Manin Daniele. There are some serious shady (or "dodgy" as the Brits like to say) parts around Termini, but if you're not out too late, and keep your wits about you, then it seemed safe to me. Plus, I always think that these types of neighborhoods add character and even possibly a good story to a vacation. I mean, if you wanted safe, you could just book your next vacation to a Club Med resort, but is that really living life?

I ended up staying at the Rome Korean Hostel on Via dei Mille. I know what you're already thinking. Korean Hostel? I just figured that a Korean hostel had to be somewhat clean, and maybe I could get some Bi Bim Bap! Most of the Rome hostel reviews on Hostel Bookers and Hostel World seemed to be bad, and this one was somewhat good. Not great, but good. It turned out that the hostel was pretty bad. Online it said they had air conditioning, free pasta dinners, and lockers. When I arrived, they couldn't find my reservation. They actually didn't even have a computer at the hostel to check reservations! But the day attendant from Sri Lanka (not Korea) was nice and very accommodating. My room didn't have air conditioning, they only do pasta dinners on Saturday nights, and in addition to no lockers the dorm rooms were un-lockable, and the main hostel entrance never seemed to have an attendant around. I spoke to other backpackers, and it sounds like most of the hostels in Rome are similar. The hostels are incorporated into residential apartment buildings and all claim to have amenities that don't really exist. It's like one big joke on the backpacker community...ha. Maybe I'm getting better at dealing with these bumps on the backpacker road, but after a couple days, I didn't seem to mind. It was hot during the day and a cold water shower was actually kind of refreshing.

In contrast to my hostel, when my parents and sister arrived several days later, we checked into a real hotel, and it was like night and day. The Hotel Selene is also near Termini Station, but is in a much nicer area, around the corner from Piazza della Repubblica, and across from the Teatro dell' Opera (Opera house) on Via del Viminale. Okay, so rooms here run a hundred Euros a night, compared to a dorm bed at twenty Euros, but if you can splurge, go for it. The hotel also had the most amazing buffet breakfast that was included in the room price, and I might have even eaten a hundred Euros worth of food each morning. Hey, sightseeing in Rome will make you hungry!

I was recently asked by a friend of mine who is heading to Rome, how much time do you need and what would you see? Since I had six days I could take my time, but the funny thing is that I basically saw all the major tourist attractions in two days. So, it's up to you. Two days is the minimum you would need to see Rome, but three to four would make it more enjoyable. So this post is dedicated to my friend Jess in Argentina as she's heading to Rome shortly.

Without further ado, here is what I would do and see if you only had two to three days in Rome:

Day 1: Visit the Roman Forum, Palantine Hill, and Colosseum.

- Head out from Termini Station and walk to Piazza della Republica. The piazza is more of a traffic circle with the nicest McDonald's I've ever seen, but the buildings are gorgeous. If you have time, check out the Santa Maria degli Angeli church. It's really pretty inside.

- Walk down the Via Nazionale until you come to Trajan's Market and Trajan's column. This is the first of many ancient sites, so get ready. From here you can also see remains of the Forum of Trajan, the Forum of Augustus, and the Forum of Caesar.

- Walk across to the Piazza Venezia and visit the massive Monument to the first king of Italy, Victor Emanuele II. The monument is truly amazing, and gives such a nice view over the Roman Forum, all the way to the Colosseum.

- If you exit from the back of the monument, this will take you next to the Capitoline Hill, and the Piazza Campidoglio, designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century, and said to be the most perfect piazza in all of Italy. The Capitoline Museums are also located in the square, and are not to be missed.

- Head to the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill. The ticket cost is about thirteen Euros, and also includes entrance to the Colosseum. I would buy the joint ticket at the Forum instead of at the Colosseum. It saved me tons of time as the line to buy it was much shorter. I recommend visiting the Palantine Hill closer to sunset, since the view over the Forum and other parts of Rome is amazing.

- Last stop is the famous Colosseum, just next door to the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill. Make sure you go up to the top so you get a nice view down into the chambers that were once beneath the arena floor, and which housed the exotic animals and slave gladiators who fought them.

- Finish the day with the best meal in Rome, only a five minute walk from the Colosseum. We celebrated my mother's birthday at Ristorante La Piazzetta (tel 06 6991640) #23/a on Via della Buon Consiglio. It has a buffet antipasta table with the most amazing dishes. You could probably make a meal of just this, although their mains are to die for. Seriously, the best meal in Rome.

Day 2: The Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and a whole lot more.

- Get up early. I mean early. You want to be at the Vatican Museum when it opens up. It really is an amazing collection of art, and as much as I hate being herded in like cattle with thousands of other tourists, it's worth it. Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is breathtaking, but there is so much more to the museum than just this. You could really spend a whole day in here and just break the surface. I only lasted three hours.

- From the Vatican Museum, walk to St. Peter's Square and Basilica. I had tried to visit the Basilica twice in my six days in Rome, but I never got in. The first time I had a Swiss knife in my pack and the security guards didn't like that. On the second time, the Pope was giving his weekly Wednesday speech to the huge crowd gathered in the square. I had visited the Basilica in 2000, so I wasn't too bummed, and seeing the Pope was pretty cool.

- Walk across the Ponte Sant' Angelo with the statues of the ten angels.

- Go for some much needed lunch at the best Pizzeria in Rome. La Focaccia is located at #11 Via della Pace, just around the corner from the Piazza Navona.

- Check out Piazza Navona. My favorite Piazza in Rome, which has the famous Bernini fountains.

- Next, head to the Pantheon, my favorite building in all of Rome. You'll see why once you get there. It was originally built by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Rome, and still has the original columns in place at the entrance. You feel dwarfed by the size of the columns and building in general. I was there on a day when it rained, and the water came straight down through the central oculus that is open to the sky.

- From here, head to the Trevi Fountain which is the largest Baroque fountain in Italy. I visited the fountain every day while I was in Rome, and even spent two hours at night just staring at it. Be warned that it's a mad house with tourists at all hours of the day and night. Everyone wants a picture of themselves tossing a coin over their shoulders into the fountain for good luck. I'm still waiting for my wish. But I'm patient. Oh yeah, don't forget to try some amazing homemade gelato from San Crispino which is around the corner at #42 Via della Panetteria.

- If you can time it right, head to the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna for sunset. The view from the top is gorgeous, and hopefully you'll get a nice view of the sun setting over St. Peter's Basilica in the background. If you're into designer fashion, check out Via Condotti just next to the steps.

- It's party time. There are numerous pub crawls that take place around Rome. They are cheesy, and I was one of the oldest guys on the crawl, but I still had fun. I joined the Spanish Steps Pub Crawl, but I think they're pretty much all the same. Open bar for an hour, free pizza, and then you go bar hopping for a couple hours. If this isn't your scene and you want to do what the locals do, head to the Campo de Fiori and enjoy a bottle of wine in the piazza with some friends. It's much cheaper and more European. From here, head to the amazing bars and restaurants in Trastevere. Trastevere is probably my favorite area in all of Rome. If I had to make a comparison, it's like the East Village in New York. Packed with young people, good food, and a fantastic nightlife. Maybe I'll move here one day. On your way to Trastevere, check out the original Jewish ghetto (where the term came from), with a beautiful synagogue. Then continue walking over the Ponte Fabricio, with the little island, it's well worth it.

- Some other things you could see as well are the Piazza del Popolo, the church and fountains of San Carlo Quattro Fontane, and the Villa Medici.

Okay, so if you're not exhausted by reading all of this, then you'll definitely be exhausted by doing all these things on the itinerary.

By day six in Rome I was going stir crazy, so I jumped on a plane for Stockholm. Hej Hej Stockholm, but that's another story.

Here are my photos, Rome 1 and Rome 2, from the amazing city.

1 comment:

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