Rome: I don’t think there is any word as synonymous with history and ancient civilization as this single four lettered word. There is no city in the world which connects you to the past as Rome does. With its magnificently preserved architecture, huge piazzas bustling with activity and the stunning Vatican art, Rome absolutely lives up to its hype.
But wait, let us not get ahead of ourselves.
So if you have read our first post then you know that our flight was substantially delayed and we reached Rome at 10 pm on 11th April. We had made bookings at Marini Park Hotel which was on the outskirts of the city but the cab we took from the airport got us there pretty quickly. The check-in was smooth and we soon got a room. But as soon as we started unpacking, I discovered to my horror that the toiletries kit was filled with some viscous liquid which turned out to be the contents of my shampoo bottle. So we spent the next hour washing the bag and all the items that were inside it. With the delayed flight and then this, what a start to the honeymoon it was!!
We decided to start the first day of our trip, a Sunday, by visiting the Catacombs of Sebastian since it was closest to our hotel and the word “catacomb” had certainly piqued our interest. So we got ready, had a nice breakfast at the hotel and were good to go. We had read that you can get bus tickets at any tobacco shop (Tabachi) and 1 ticket is good for 1 journey regardless of where you want to go in the city. So we asked the receptionist about the closest tobacco shop. She told us since it was a Sunday we won’t find any shop open and could buy tickets on the bus itself. What a piece of misinformation it would prove to be. After waiting for almost 20 minutes at the bus stop (which was right opposite the hotel), the bus came and we boarded it.
We: “Hello, we want 2 tickets”.
Driver: “No. no tickets”.
We: “But the lady told us we can buy tickets on bus”.
Driver: “No. no buy tickets on bus.”
And thus we were back at the bus stop.
Fortunately we saw an old couple coming from the opposite direction with something that looked like bus tickets in their hand. We asked them where we could get them and they pointed us in the direction they were coming from. So we went in that direction and after walking about 100 meters – Lo and Behold there was the tabachi shop. Finally we bought the tickets, walked back to the bus stop, waited a few more minutes and eventually boarded the bus.
Once onboard we kept a track of the stop at which we needed to get down and when the stop prior to our destination stop had passed we went and stood by the exit doors. But to our disbelief the bus passed our stop and kept going further. A Bangladeshi guy sitting close to us realized our quandary and told us that the bus did not halt at every stop and we needed to press one of the multiple “Stop” buttons in the bus if we wanted it to halt at a particular stop. So we pressed one quickly, got off at the next stop and started our hike back.
After a 1.5 km walk, which was admittedly very scenic and green, we reached the sign pointing us to the ticket window for the catacombs. We were glad to find that there was no line for tickets but as soon as we reached the window we realized that it was because the window was closed! A quick Google search informed us that Catacombs of Sebastian remain closed on Sundays. What a trip this was turning out to be! See this is why making day to day itinerary was a key step in our last post. Since then every night we checked the timings and location of the places that we planned to see the next day.
Anyways, with half of our day wasted and having seen nothing of note, we decided to go straight to the heart of the city and hoped that our luck would change for the better. A short bus ride later we were inside the Aurelian walls and just like that we had stepped into history. For a few minutes we just stood at the intersection where the bus had dropped us and soaked in the atmosphere. In front of us was one of the most prestigious churches in the world – The Papal Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran while the 1800 years old Aurelian walls lay behind us.
As we approached the Archbasilica we got our first taste of the magnificence of Roman architecture. The basilica was a beautiful white structure with Latin inscriptions and statues of saints adorning its front facade. Its significance is derived from the fact that it is the oldest of Rome’s four major basilicas and also ranks above all the other Roman Catholic Churches – even St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the official seat of the Bishop of Rome i.e. the Pope and holds the title of ‘Mother church of the whole world’ among Catholics.
As soon as we entered the church we experienced our first jaw-dropping moment. The splendid ceiling, the realistic paintings, the finely crafted sculptures. I don’t think words can do justice to what we saw so I won’t even try. Take a look at the pictures and judge yourself.
Our next stop was the most famous Roman monument of all. And as soon as we stepped out of the metro station we saw it. The largest amphitheater ever built. The arena of legendary gladiator fights. The icon of Rome. The Colosseum. The first thought that crossed our minds was that – IT IS HUGE! And these are only the ruins of it. It must have been a truly colossus structure in its prime. It took us almost 30 minutes to buy the tickets and get inside the building (People who hate lines can also book tickets online). The interior of the building isn’t as visually appealing as the exterior but it does give a sense of the enormity of Colosseum.
Next up was a short visit to Arc de Constantin, located right next to the Colosseum. It was another marvelous example of ancient Roman architecture.
After that we entered the heart of the ancient city of Rome – The Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. It felt like someone had put us in a time machine and transported us 2000 years back. We were surrounded by arches, ruins of basilicas, temples and other buildings of the capital of the Roman Empire. Another thing which stuck us was that the ruins were spread over a huge area and took us a lot more time to cover than we had thought. After spending a couple of hours getting awed by all the history that lay before us, we exited the Forum and walked towards the famous Capitoline Museums.
Capitoline Museums are a group of 3 buildings built around a Piazza (a square) on top of the Capitoline Hill. We were not overly interested in museums and were also short of time, hence we saw these buildings only from the outside and then moved on to our next destination – The Pantheon, the famous Roman temple.
The walk to the Pantheon through the narrow lanes of the city lined up with cafes and street artists offered us the true Roman experience. Even though the tourist season was yet to begin, the streets were thronged with tourists and the atmosphere was enlivening. Strolling through those streets we came across a tiny pizzeria where we had the first of our many pizzas in Italy.
Finally when we reached Pantheon, it was past its closing time therefore we could only see it from the outside. It was huge but plain structure. After that we walked to the Trevi Fountain. We were really looking forward to see it but as luck would have it, the fountain was under renovation. Well it just took two double scoop Gelatos to lift our mood and end our first day in Rome on a happy note.
Our next day started with the visit to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Let me just say it outright – Vatican is mind-blowing. It is a visual treat. It takes hold of the part of the brain that processes the feeling of ‘awe’ and enthralls it with frescoes, paintings, sculptures and tapestries that are so majestic, gorgeous and grand that in the end the brain is simply overwhelmed. It took us more than three hours just to complete the tour of the museums. Since we can’t sufficiently describe what we saw, we will soon come up with a Vatican photo blog.
From Vatican we walked a short distance to Castel Sant’Angelo. This building located next to river Tiber has a unique cylindrical design. It was originally built as a mausoleum for a Roman emperor but was later used as a castle. Since it was a Monday the building was closed but the atmosphere outside it was very romantic. Musicians were playing soft music and a man was blowing soap bubbles in the air with children playing around it. We spent some time sitting in front of the Castle with the river behind us.
Next we visited the 2 beautiful and famous squares of Rome – Piazza Navona and Piazza del Popolo. These piazzas, especially Piazza Navona, were bustling with tourists and filled with artists and performers showcasing different kinds of work. We also saw the famous Fiumi fountain at Piazza Navona and the twin churches at Piazza del Popolo.
After the piazzas, we climbed the famous Spanish steps to capture the view of the city from the top at sunset. However the whole experience was quite underwhelming though we did get to see an Audi R8!
We ended our stay in Rome with one last glimpse of the magnificent Colosseum under the lights. It indeed was the perfect farewell to this glorious ancient city.
Florence here we come….
PS: One needs at least three days to cover Rome in its entirety so do plan accordingly.