Roaming wild in Roma

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May 2nd 2010
Published: May 6th 2010
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We landed in Rome and caught the train from the airport, arriving at Termini at 12.30am. It was warm and raining as we set out for the hotel. We got lost in the rain and eventually had to ask a café worker for directions. We were only 100 metres away from the hotel street, which we had already checked once - the packs were heavy and we were tired. We reached the hotel at 1am, unpacked, showered and went straight to bed at 2am. At the end of a long journey from Seoul, we had finally arrived in Rome.

We woke early and headed out at 7am for a café latte and pastry, and then walked the city to a few places of interest. It felt strange to chance upon the Pantheon. It was the name of a band I joined years ago - luckily we changed it quickly, as the other band members wanted to distance themselves from their old guitarist. As a band we certainly didn’t match the magnificence of this architectural wonder. We arrived back at the hotel by 10am. Beautiful city; beautiful atmosphere; beautiful Rome!

We ventured back out to St Peters Basilica for the remainder of the day. We got slightly lost on the way, but in Rome being lost can be as much fun as knowing where you actually are. We found and followed the Tiber River to St Peters, and used the river to navigate our way on the return journey. Our legs began to feel weary and we began to tire, but nothing an amazing pizza magherita, risotto alla pescatore (risotto with seafood) and carafe of red wine didn’t fix instantaneously.

We set out for a laundrette in the afternoon and in keeping with our travel tradition found a laundrette to rival the one we used in Granada. The place was fine - we had been lured by the promise of free Indian tea, but my question to this affect was met by the apologetic response “maybe on another day”. While waiting for the cycle to finish, we ventured into the surrounding streets and found a below-ground café offering cheap coffee and pastries. The coffee was fantastic, and was only bettered by the owner’s description of his pastries - one chocolate, one apple and one we couldn’t understand, so he described it with a gesture that involved placing his hands at the top of his chest and rubbing them down to his waist and up again. The lurid and comical look on his face as he did this ensured that we didn’t choose the unknown pastry, so we ordered apple and ended up with chocolate.

We freshened up and met our fearless guide in the evening. After another great meal and a fantastic house red, we ventured out on a night tour of Rome. Our legs and feet desperately tried to let us know that they needed more than just pasta and red wine to continue on the cobblestones of Rome, but the atmosphere of this fantastic city consumed us and lured us into the late night. We ended up at the Colosseum where we surrendered and caught a bus back to the hotel, arriving a little past midnight to a locked door and a welcoming hotel owner.

We awoke early again and headed out at 7am for a café latte and pastry. Some routines will never change on this trip. 😊

We then packed and headed out for a last stroll before preparing to leave for Florence. As we walk around, it continues to amaze us how many couples argue and bicker incessantly while on vacation. The stress of travel must place undue pressure on possibly unrealistic expectations that they have of a holiday.

On the train to Florence now - beautiful countryside viewed through the window of a very fast train.

Our flight to the Eternal City of Rome was delayed by 30 minutes (see our last post on tantrum throwing child). We landed at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International (Fumicino) Airport quite late at night and as a result had to really rush through the airport formalities to catch the last Leonardo DaVinci Express train to the city. But that was the easy part. By the time we arrived at Stazione Termini it was well past midnight and we were well and truly buggered; but with no taxis in sight and with only a few blocks to navigate, off we walked into the dark and rainy night. In normal circumstances ‘third street on your left’ would be a very easy instruction, but at 1am after a 14 hour flight with backpacks on in the rain, it seems this can be a complex navigational task. We took one wrong turn that caused a 10 minute detour that we didn’t need. On the other hand we inadvertently scoped the neighbourhood for possible bars and cafés to try the next day.

After a fantastic night’s sleep we were happy to awake to the sound of church bells...ahhh we must be in Europe! On this trip we decided that as much as was possible, we would try and awake before the city or town we were in and watch it wake up... so on the first morning, up bright and early (well, not so brightly actually), stumbled into walking apparel and off we went... the aim was to get to Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fountain to experience them in the quiet of the early morning before the tourists flooded in. Having a whole massive city to ourselves was a priceless experience. 😊

But before one more word is uttered - omg real coffee and cornetti (breakfast pastries)! We chanced upon the excellent Cafe Risto Campo around the corner from the hotel for our morning coffee. We were the only non locals in the café and needless to say the caffe latte was glorious and the pastries divine. Our hotel - Hotel Castelfidardo is basic-ish but completely adequate, has a cute antique lift, and is a very well located hotel in the residential part of the Termini area.

Properly sustained, we walked into the historical centre. There is possibly no other city in the world with so much ancientness and grandness in one smallish space - the Trevi Fountain was the beautiful first stop and at that hour the only other soul there was the cleaner dredging out the last 24 hours of coinage thrown into the fountain over various superstitious shoulders. After this we were walking swiftly to Piazza Navona when we turned a corner and standing large on a square, there was the Pantheon in all its splendour! We were there at the 8:30am opening and were two of only four people in the whole place. I cannot tell you how special this place is. Finally dragging ourselves away, we eventually got to Piazza Navona with its three extravagant Baroque fountains which are gorgeous, gorgeous and gorgeous. We then walked down Via Condotti with its fabulous shoe shops and designer wear (my credit card got quite nervous) and finally got to the Spanish steps in Piazza Di Spagna just as the morning rush commenced, but we were still able to absorb the essence of the space.

We didn’t feel like anything too intensive that first day. We are in Rome for two days before our travels north and east, and we also come back here to spend a few days before heading south. So we decided that the only plan for the rest of the day was to visit the Vatican and St Peters Basilica. The walk to St Peters Basilica was relaxing and picturesque, however when we got there the queues and crowds were just maddening, and it’s not even proper peak season yet! So deciding to come back another day (at a much earlier time!), we engaged in some people watching in Piazza San Pietro for a little while... cioccolata gelato in hand. 😄

We headed out of the tourist areas to look for a suitable restaurant for lunch, and again we found a nice place in the quiet neighbourhood of our hotel. We had our first extended Italian style lunch which was just superb. We are very big on observing local customs - and pausa pranzo (a siesta/nana nap) was dutifully undertaken later on to allow our bodies time to adjust to the different time zone, and to recover from the early start and all the walking!

That evening we met the other travellers on the Essence of Italy Intrepid Travel trip (a combination trip of La Dolce Vita from Rome to Venice via Tuscany, and Umbrian Escapade from Venice to Rome via Umbria), and our group leader - Alvaro, who is a five-language speaking, humorous, bright and cheerful physicist turned language teacher and travel specialist. The group is mostly Australian and most are at the end of long European trips and have many travel tales to share. The group is Claire and David from the New South Wales central coast, Jennie and Mick from Wollongong; Taryn from Perth; Hilary and Graeme from Sydney; and Marta, Jim and Noemi from Southern California. We headed out to dinner for our first group dinner to Barba Rosso, where Alvaro obviously has a great relationship with the owner as we got a ridiculously big four course meal for €15 each. We are looking forward to other such feasts on this trip! 😊

We decided to do another Intrepid Travel trip because our last Intrepid trip in Vietnam was definitely made more fabulous as a result of the local guide’s priceless knowledge of the locality and ultra efficient organisation of travel connections - enabling us to experience things that we would never have found on our own unless we had the luxury of more time. Intrepid organises your accommodation (at local family hotels), transport between towns (mostly on public transport) and sometimes also includes an orientation tour when you first get to a town; but then you are left to explore the place on your own. Cannot wait!

We were meant to have an orientation tour of Rome the next morning to explore the glories of ancient Rome, but given predictions of inclement weather, we got treated to a night tour of Rome which was pretty fabulous. We walked to the following sights in the old city centre:
~ the Spanish Steps at night has no tourists and is full of local young ones hanging out - this gives it a brilliant festive atmosphere and is a top people watching spot;
~ the Trevi Fountain was still ridiculously packed at 11pm. As pretty as it is, it is waaay too touristy to make an impact after about 9am;
~ the Pantheon was rather sombre looking at night. This could have been because of the deathly quiet and poor lighting of the surrounding piazza, or the Pantheon itself being half shrouded in scaffolding...but I still loved it very much, and it is probably my favourite architecture/space in Rome;
~ the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument is a grotesque demonstration of Mussolini’s power and it is slightly weird in it’s beautiful Piazza Venezia setting, however it is a classic remnant of a bygone era that had such an impact on the Italian psyche;
~ the Colosseum and Arco di Costantino are really outstandingly OLD and HUGE. The lighting here is spectacular and makes it look immensely imposing, but yet quite ethereal.

We walked to many other magnificent monuments, relics and masterpieces - but far too many to list and rave on about here. The orientation tour ended with a midnight bus ride back to the hotel. So yet another long day had been much for a quiet first day! 😊

That being that for group stuff in Rome, Andrew and I spent the rest of the time here lazily meandering through the streets and checking out the neighbourhood. We’ve had the most brilliant but full-on two days in Rome, and we are absolutely exhausted as a result. We had put in a good effort for two slightly travel weary travellers, and now here we are, completely flaked out at Stazione Termini waiting for our train to Florence. No jet lag yet...fingers crossed...

Before I finish I should apologise for this long blog post...but also point out that its length is probably directly proportional to excitement plus energy levels, so chances are that subsequent posts will be shorter. I should probably also clarify some of the Italian terms that may be frequently used in this blog: Duomo - cathedral, i.e. residence of a bishop; Forum - ancient town centre; Palazzo - old private home of palatial proportions which is now either a government building or museum; Piazza - town square usually surrounded by a church, tower and town hall; Ponte - bridge.

See you in Tuscany!


6th May 2010

didn’t feel like anything too intensive
Ha!!!! Nothing like a good rest after a long flight! Very, very entertaining and contrasting stories. Probably hysterical fatigue... Can't wait to find out how hard it is to find Michaelangelo's David in Florence on your own. It was ridiculously difficult years ago!
6th May 2010

Great reading guys - keep it up - no tv reception on boat so it is great to "travel through your eyes and feet". As for the pastries - I would imagine from your description andrew that the unknown pastry with apple and chocolate would have had to be chestnut from his sign language. Keep safe, have fun and wash your socks! Robbo and Ali xo
6th May 2010

apologies not necessary
Keep the long blogs coming....I'm enjoying reading them.
6th May 2010

Re: didn’t feel like anything too intensive
KD - yes we were a bit manic on the first few days, and the multiple espressos didn't help either. found David easily...he lived 5 minutes from our andrew's map reading skills are brilliant! :)
7th May 2010

Thanks Robbo and Ali. Ah! yes, could have been chestnut...if he wasn't so comic he could have won the prize for greasiest-sleaziest-pony-tailed-guy he made brilliant coffee! Take care and give Noah a hug from us. xx
7th May 2010

Re: apologies not necessary
Thanks Lyns! Firenze blog next...hope all is well with all of you. xx
8th May 2010

I have not followed traveller friends via travel blogs before. It is very exciting! Stay safe guys - love and hugs from Kirsten, Jared and moi xxx
8th May 2010

Hey Rom, glad you are enjoying it! Trying to write as we go, but it doesn't always happen... :)
14th June 2010

Great travel log, guys
I remember that you were busy on train rides working on your diaries with your super-9-hour-battery-laptop, and I was looking fwd to reading it all, bud this exceeds my expectations. Thank you for describing me as a "five-language speaking, humorous, bright and cheerful physicist turned language teacher and travel specialist" I guess that if I put that in my CV I'll never be unemployed....
16th June 2010

Re: Great travel log, guys
Hey Alvaro - Thanks. It was such a pleasure to write about such a gorgeous country and such an interesting travel experience. And as you know we love our 9 hour battery netbook very much! xx

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