If you were to go around and ask your friends and family ‘What’s your Top 10 Places in the World You’d Love to See’, chances are the Eternal City of Rome would be in there somewhere. A culinary delight with an abundance of famous landmarks that are all fairly close to one another. A nice climate and be flown into on a budget airline. Sure why not?
By Jonathan Foley
Getting there is pretty-much a hassle-free experience. Under three hours on a flight from Dublin and with good public transportation on offer, via the trains that now run on time, your journey towards the more central parts of the Italian capital can be done in well under an hour. Especially if the Roma Termini station is your destination.
Taxis have set rates to and from both major airports, Fiumicino and Ciampino, so you know you can’t get ripped off. Never a bad thing. While Rome is a very walkable city, the option to purchase a Metro ticket (underground railway) is highly recommended. There’s only two lines so confusion about getting around is kept to a minimum.
Food in Rome is an absolute no-brainer. So many restaurants operate a walk-in service and offer simple, but delicious meals where their names just roll off the tongue: tageitalle del bolognese, pasta carbonara with a nice glass of rocha to compliment your meal before finishing off with a nice espresso or maybe a gelato. A foodie’s heaven.
It’s worth bearing in mind that some of the restaurants that are located within a close proximity to some of the most crowded sites do have a tendency to overcharge for fairly sub-standard food. Essentially, tourist traps where the chefs don’t have time to cook your dinner with the same artistry and love as most other places.
Perhaps the best thing about the majority of the city’s most famous landmarks is that they are free-of-charge. And the ones you can’t access for free, a lot of them are still visible from other parts of the city.
On my first day there, a climb up the beautiful white marble steps of the Altra delle Patria (Altar to the Fatherland) provided excellent views of the old Ancient ruins and just enough of the Colosseum to take a good photograph of. The quality of the city’s architecture and how it combines the old with the new makes this city so unique.
In keeping touch with my Roman Catholic origins – and to keep my Mammy happy – I later took a wander through St Peter’s Square where you can also catch a glimpse of the Basilica and the exterior of the Sistine Chapel. I chose not to go inside the Sistina, purely on the grounds that the queue to get in was eye-wateringly long.
As Easter weekend was fast approaching, there was a lot of hustle and bustle about San Petro’s. Chairs, speakers and big-screens were being thrown up with as much haste as possible, so as to have everything ready for the Pope’s Easter Blessing that was being planned for the Sunday.
Unsurprisingly, my love of history and sports combined on Saturday with a morning tour of the Colosseum (as well as the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill) where I got to walk along the arena floor of the world’s longest remaining sports amphitheater. And yes, I’ll admit, I purposely rewatched ‘Gladiator’ the week before to get in the mood.
Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable guy and had a wonderful way of explaining to us what a typical day at the Games would’ve been like during the heyday of the Roman Empire. It’s also worth pointing out that many popular television shows and movies which feature the Colosseum are very much exaggerated.
For instance, it was very rare for Roman Gladiators to carry out intense battles with each other. Why would they? Many of them were friends, or perhaps former comrades with the Roman Army who had turned their hands to entertaining crowds at the end of their careers. Once a fighter drew even a drop of blood, the fight was often stopped.
Having said that, it is true that the Colosseum was used as a venue for public executions against criminals while slaves and prisoners were often offered an opportunity to earn their freedom … if they could overcome the small challenge of wrestling and beating a wild, hungry lion first!
My last major port-of-call on this five day trip was to the Olympic Stadium where I’d secured a ticket for the Serie A match between Lazio and Torino. The game itself was no classic, and in truth, because of their right-wing tendencies, I’ve no real love for Lazio supporters. Nonetheless, it was great to see a famous stadium such as this one.
Having spent my last evening sinking a few beers in the Druid’s Den bar, an Irish pub owned by a Letterkenny lady who knew my mum and dad well, it was time for home early on Monday morning.
Hitting the snooze button too many times meant I came scarily close to missing my flight home, but alas, despite my final hour or two in Rome being rather stressful, I caught it just in time and I suppose all’s well that ends well. Whether food, sports, history, religion or general wandering is your thing, Rome is a city that’s highly recommended to you.