Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bella in Roma

    For Christmas, one of Tom's gifts was a trip to Rome as he had never been. I chose June more for the weather than anything, but also because it was perfectly set in between our return from California and my birthday trip to Cornwall.

     Because I've had the privilege of spending some real quality  time in Rome on two previous occasions, I knew I could give Tom a decent taste of this magnificent city in even a couple of days.  I can't say that I would recommend to everyone only spending three days and two nights there. There is so much to see and do of course, but it's more that that. In Italy there is such a necessity to just BE. So if you are only able to go for a short stint, make sure you schedule into your itinerary some 'dolce far niente' time: sweet doing nothing, delicious idleness. I know it's sounds counter-intuitive to schedule time to do fuck-all, but you'll understand what I mean when you go. You will feel compelled to see, taste and experience everything which ultimately also means walking everywhere. 

     Even with two notches on my Italian leather belt, I still made this rookie mistake. I desperately wanted him to see as much as possible in 52 hours that we ended up 'enjoying' dolce far niente in an airport trattoria four hours early, barking dogs propped up and caneing (British for chugging) Miller Lites. We still had a wonderful time, but I should have shortened what I thought was already a short list of must-dos for an afternoon picnic in Villa Borghese. If you still can't control your excitement and find yourself powering through those Roman stradas like a gladiator, then power past the Trevi Fountain to toss in a coin thus ensuring your return. It's worked for me. Then next time, head for the Tuscan hills and the dolce far niente spirit will consume you entirely. It's fabulous. 

       Right then. Our cheeky getaway was from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday evening which was obviously slightly cheaper than going over a typical weekend. We landed at noon on a Sunday, and because this was a gift I hired a car to pick us up  and take us directly to our Airbnb loft in Trastevere. The car service, Blacklane, was not as expensive as one might think. It was only 59euros. The typical cab should only cost you 48 euros into the city centre. But because they're not really bound by anything, often times the cabbies will hear your accent and take you the looooong way round costing you way more. Or there is the train and tram.
If you didn't click on the link and are still tripped up by that seemingly unpronounceable word - Air B'n'B - is fan-flippin'-tastic. You can rent a room in someone's home or an entire space like we did. They are everywhere! I compared a load of different sites for hotels, and to rent this loft for two nights is what I would've paid for 1 night in a mediocre hotel. The neighborhood of Trastevere literally means 'beyond the Tiber' and is located on the river's west bank and is south of Vatican City.     

     Once we got our keys from the landlord, we were straight back out the door and headed toward Palatine Hill, the Forum and the Colosseum. Most things are open on Sundays, but as one may expect the entry times are slightly shortened so I had us hustling. The entry for Palatine Hill, the Forum and the Colosseum are all on one ticket and only costs 12 euros - such a good deal considering the magnitude of each of these sites.
Do yourself a favor, buy your tickets and start at the Palatine Hill entrance. Not as many people know this 'secret' and you will save yourself hours in the Colosseum ticket queue.
Palatine Hill is the perfect opening act because the walk uphill is more gradual than from the Roman Forum and offers more shade which in June's heat is welcomed. After doing the PH circuit you get a breathtaking bird's eye view down onto the Roman Forum before descending into it.

The entrance of the Roman Forum is a bit of a hike from the Colosseum, so use the exit only gate from the Roman Forum which dumps out right next to the Colosseum.

     Then we ambled our way towards my favorite (ok, one of because I can't pick a favorite) basilica, San Clemente which was just a 10 walk from the Colosseum. This church is deceivingly simplistic when you walk in. This 12th century basilica is fairly small and apart from the impressive fresco at the back, the eye catching apse mosaic at the front and a deep sense of peace you may light a candle and walk back out... without ever knowing what lies beneath. Pay 5 euros and walk down a flight of steps into a basilica from the 4th century. Admire the ridiculously well preserved frescoes and musty smell of this completely separate place of worship and vibe. Then continue down further and discover the 1st century pagan temple! Wander these narrow passageways as you hear the rushing of a fresh spring and see the the altar of Mithras, and an old schoolroom...from the FIRST CENTURY...just want to make sure you are grasping the coolness factor here. 
From here, we made our way to the Pantheon and settled in for dinner and people watching in Piazza Navona. You will pay higher touristy prices at the cafes/trattorias in here, but it is a lovely and lively spot. 
      Monday saw a homemade breakfast in our flat then took us to the Campo de Fiori farmer's market and then to St. Peter's Basilica where we stood in line for exactly two hours (12:40 -2:40). Unlike the Vatican, you cannot book tickets JUST for St. Peter's. You can book it alongside the Vatican and Sistine Chapel when you are part of a guided tour. I usually detest guided tours because I hate all the yammering and being herded around like cattle. Granted you learn a lot this way, but I prefer to feel my way through experiences like that and do the research on my own later. So. If you are like me, then you will wait in line for St. Peter's. For two hours. If you go toward the end of the day you will probably only wait an hour, but then you run the risk of feeling the pressure of getting to the front before the cut-off time. I cannot and will not describe St. Peter's. It's phenomenal. It's overwhelming when there are so many people and their selfie sticks all shoving and shuffling. Try and find a zen mental space, move out of their way, and find corners here and there to just admire. Also, absolutely pay to go to the top of the Cupola. It's 5 euros if you wanna walk all 551 steps. If you are physically able, do this! It's such a rad and trippy trek up up up. You get a break after the first couple hundred stairs and you are at the top of the dome inside St. Peter's so you can look down on the altar. If stairs aren't your thing, it's 7 euros to take the elevator.

       For a truly lovely, unique and off the beaten path place for lunch or dinner (we went for dinner), head to Ginger. The ambience is fresh, light, classy, and yet has that farm to table charm. See? 

And to give you an idea of regular vs tourist prices we paid the same for two bottles of truly fine Prosecco, a two person salad, a giant charcuterie board and three desserts as we did for a couple small plates and couple beers in Piazza Navona. The food was exceptional. Afterwards we were close enough to wander to the Spanish steps for a late night gander at the local social scene.

      Tuesday was all about the Vatican. I pre-booked our tickets online a few weeks before. DO this. It cost 16 euros a person for the Vatican plus the Sistine chapel unguided. I chose the earliest available time of 10am. We coasted right in, right past all those sad hot bastards queuing around the corner and then some. They'd be there for more than just a couple hours. There is room after room after room of awe inspiring mouth gaping head scratching beauty and preservation. My favorite room is this hallways of maps, I don't know why really. Maybe it appeals to my wanderlust, but it just makes me happy and the ceiling is stunning. The contemporary art hallways also hold some truly fantastic pieces and some gorgeous ones by Matisse. The Sistine Chapel is much like St. Peter's; tons of people shoving and shuffling. Stalk the seats along the edges, as soon as you see movement grab a seat and gaze. Toward the front of the ceiling is a giant man looking down, sitting with his legs dangling. Each time I could swear his legs are actually dangling out of the ceiling. Though they tell you it's supposed to be silent and there are frequent 'Shhhhh's from the guards- there is constant low murmur. Knowing that helps you let go of the annoyance at the disrespect.
     Once we emerged, we were both borderline broken in terms of walking and standing. There were at least five other basilicas I would like to have taken him to and the Villa Farnesina, but as this was HIS trip/gift and he felt complete we called it. 


    As I mentioned, I would advise tagging on a couple extra days to our whirlwind itinerary, plan more downtime, and/or rent bikes. All in all though, when you're in Rome even if you're broken by the end and only saw 50% of your list... you were in Rome! I'd put money on the fact that Italy will get under your skin in the most delicious way and hopefully lure you back. It has for me. Though I've seen so much of the whole country, I always want to go back for more. 

Next stop - the magic and sand beaches of Cornwall for my birthday weekend! 

Till next time... Love, Hugs, and other 'Drugs' XOXOXO

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