June 28, 2017

Roaming Rome and Walking the Vatican!

The first segment of our travelogue - Italy-cised
Moving onto our second segment!

Rome is an architectural amass of several eras. Few still standing tall and proud and the rest bowing to time. This architectural extravaganza can be thoroughly enjoyed on foot - we know it because that is what we did. (Mainly because we didn’t know where to flag down a taxi or which bus to take)

We stayed at an Airbnb accommodation which is 20 minutes by foot from St Peters Basilica. On suggestion of our Airbnb host, we decided to take a bus to Piazza Venezia and begin our adventure there. This is the only time we used a vehicle for our transportation in our two day stay at Rome! 
Piazza Venezia is located at the heart of Rome and leads to the most talked of monument in Rome - the Colosseum.

Altare della Patria

The monument of Altare della Patria
Located on the right of the Piazza is Altare della Patria which hosts a museum and the tomb of the unknown soldier with an eternal flame. This monument is dedicated to King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. Unfortunately this monument is quite controversial as this monument was built compromising many medieval structures. After spending about half an hour taking in the view, we made our way to the Colosseum.

Fountain by the monument

The street that leads to the Colosseum is adorned by artists - the ones who create beautiful paintings of the historical structures, musicians, street performers and vendors. 

We were also lucky to witness a parade by the Colosseum with men, women and children dressed in flamboyant costumes of the eras gone by. Every word was spoken in Italian, hence we could make out absolutely nothing of what they said and what the parade was for!
Roma Forum, Palantine Hill and Colosseum

The ideal way to reach the Colosseum is through the Roma Forum and Palantine hills. Do your booking in advance to avoid the long queues and ensure to take audio guide! Or even better book yourself a guided tour.  Without this although you would be gaping at the architectural extravaganza before your eyes yet you would not be sure what you are looking at! Roma forum houses the ruins of public speech and trial sites, gladiator matches, ancient temples and towering above them is the Palantine hill. Wild flowers growing amidst the ruins on these hills are the remnants of the Botanical garden it was in the 1500s.  After a stroll through the hills, we headed over to the mighty Colosseum that till date was only something that decked the covers of our history text book. Now it was right before our eyes in full glory. The queue to enter the Colosseum was unbelievably long but our advance booking got us through within minutes.

The statue of Julius Caesar
Ruins at the Roma Forum
Colosseum, the largest amphitheater to be ever built stands as a symbol of the imperial Rome. It started off as an entertainment place housing on an average 60,000 spectators witnessing gladiator fights and dramas, as centuries passed by the amphitheater was rebuilt as a shrine, for housing, workshop, and fortress and later fell prey to the stone robbers as well. Yet even today the building stands as yielding memory architecture marvel of centuries ago when no technology or any of the inventions of the modern era was in place. A tour of these three places could easily take you about three hours. 

A view of the Colosseum

Another view of the Colosseum

The inside of the Amphitheater

We stopped by at a small cafeteria and gorged on sandwiches decked with fresh mozarella cheese and cold cuts of meat for lunch. 
We then made our way to the Pantheon through the winding streets. Every street is a treat to the eye with the beautiful architecture, fountains welcoming you and also the souvenir stores that are simply hard to resist. 

Pantheon (Colosseum to pantheon is about 1.7 kms)

The entrance to the pantheon

The obelisk decked by fountain on all sides in front of the Pantheon
The pantheon is a former Roman Temple.. It is the only monument in Rome that is believed to have survived the Barbarian raids.   About thirty minutes is a good enough time at this ancient Roman architecture before heading over to the next destination. Piazza Navona, a popular square in Rome known for its eateries is just 500 metres from the Pantheon. Since it was only 4 in the evening - way too early for dinner, we decided to cover the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before calling it a day at Piazza Navona.

Trevi fountain ( Pantheon to Trevi Fountain is about 800 mtrs)

We walked from Pantheon to Trevi via Piazza Colonna which has Marcus Aurelius obelisk ( a large pillar made of stone) and a beautiful fountain. 

We bought a TIM sim card on the way, which helped us a lot with the directions for the rest of our trip in Italy. As we near the Trevi Fountain, the streets got a little narrow and too many buildings came into sight and nothing prepared us for the beauty that is Trevi. The tourists were crowding around Trevi, yet there is a tranquility that precedes it all. It is not just a pleasure to the eyes but awakens your senses. The sound of the following water, the occasional mist of water that graces you brought by the winds - it is beyond what can be described in words. Traditional legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi, you are sure to return to Rome. The Trevi was filled with coins for sure - people return or not, this is the money that is used for the upkeep of such a magnificence. We tossed in our coin to in the hope that we return to Rome!

The beauty that is Trevi

Sculptures at the Trevi
 Spanish Steps ( About 650 mtrs from Trevi)

Spanish steps facing the upmarket area in Rome
 About ten minutes from Trevi lies the 138 steps ascend to the church that faces the upmarket area in Rome which is bordered by house of John Keats on one side, the old Babingtons Tea Room on the other side. What fascinated me was the beautiful fountain at the base of the stairs in the shape of a boat. Years back after the water receded from flooding of River Tiber - a boat was left behind on this very spot where the fountain now stands.

The boat at the bottom of the Spanish steps
 If shopping is on your mind and splurging isn't an issue - you will find all possible brands here.

Piazza Navona ( About 1.5 kms from Spanish Steps)

Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is a very beautiful square in Rome only next to Trastevere! Fountain of four rivers, Fountain of Moor and Fountain of Neptune along with a gigantic Egyptian Obelisk and countless eateries along the sides makes this square teeming with visitors.  Church of Sant'Agnese in this square is also a must visit - a serene and beautiful church that will leave you spellbound. We had our dinner here watching the fountains and the street performers. Our dinner for the night was Capricciosa pizza ( mushroom, egg, artichoke, tomato and mozarella cheese) and Spaghetti with egg and bacon. We had a good laugh over the pizza and we weren’t even sure how to eat it. The Spaghetti was very good!

The pizza we had a laugh over!
Sticking to our tradition to walk by foot, we began our one hour journey back to our stay abandoning our initial plans of taking a cab or bus. We are glad we did it because we got to take in the sights by the river Tiber, and also St Peters Basilica by night,  all lit up with no crowd in the way! The photo below says it all –
View of the Castel Sant'Angelo by River Tiber

A breath taking view of the St Peters Basilica
Since we have to leave early the next morning for the guided tour of the Vatican, we decided to stop by a resto on our way back, to buy some breakfast for the next morning. We stopped by a café named Sa. Ma Café which was on our way (near the San Pietro station) and ordered a focaccia. After waiting for quite some time, they gave us something which was thin and crisp, which left us wondering if it was really focaccia. They charged 5 euro for the focaccia, plus a 3 euro charge for take away!! That was a complete rip off. Since it was late night, we didn’t really want to argue. We took the focaccia and left. As expected, the “focaccia” tasted horrible.  We looked up reviews on this café, and they had plenty of horrible reviews too. Can’t believe our luck!

Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peters Basilica

The roof at the museum which makes
you wonder if it is painted or sculpted
Our day 2 began with an early morning jog to the Vatican museum to ensure that we were in time for the guided tour at 7:45am that we had booked through Viator. Not that we were fitness freaks, but the bus that was supposed to pass by our stop never arrived, hence the morning jog. Panting and puffing, we managed to reach on time. A very enthusiastic guide took us through the Vatican museum explaining the overwhelming architecture and paintings and how it evolved over years under different Popes to be what it is today. As history goes, Vatican City today stands on the burial site of Apostle St Peter. The tour of the museum was followed by the visit to the Sistine Chapel which stands as the testimony to the talent of Michelangelo. Michelangelo, originally a sculptor, was summoned to paint the walls of the chapel. It took him a good 4 years to complete, he swore never to return to Vatican but returned four years later to complete the Last Judgement painting! It is required to maintain complete silence in the chapel and no photographs are permitted probably owing to its sanctity. 

From here we moved on to the St Peters Basilica which was no less of an architecture marvel. It took us a good 4 hours but a well spent one. You could also climb upto the dome on an extra payment if you wish to. We skipped that part.

Michalangelo's Pieta - depicting body of Jesus on the lap of his Mother Mary

The altar in the chapel

The dome rising high

External view of the Vatican

Another view
 Campo di Fiori  and Jewish Ghetto ( 1.6 km from St Peters Basilica)

At Campo di Fiori
We then walked to Campo di Fiori, which is the place to go if you want to shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, dried fruits etc. We bought some lovely fresh strawberries from two elderly ladies, and walked across stalls with vendors trying to lure us at every corner.  The Jewish Ghetto is also close by. This area was once walled off for only the Jewish settlement and being a low lying areas it was often flooded leading to widespread epidemics. The synagogue is a must visit, somehow we missed that part. Our last agenda for the day was Trastevere, another happening square at Rome. Since it was only afternoon, we decided to explore a bit more of Rome. We walked across River Tiber and reached a small island which hosts Bartholomew Church.  We said our prayers and walked along river Tiber for quite a while till we reached Testaccio. Now, Testaccio as per google is quite a happening place but unfortunately the mood sets in only in the evenings. Almost every store and restaurant is closed at noon. Thankfully, we found one that was open and we desperately needed to rest our legs! We feasted on beef brisket, grilled chicken and roasted potatoes ( the potatoes were the best!!) before heading to Trastevere.


Enroute - Trastevere

Basilica di Santa Maria
 At Trastevere stands the Basilica di Santa Maria overlooking cafes and a beautiful fountain where street performers were queued up for their turns. Also an ideal shopping area for jewellery, paintings and the like. We relaxed at one of the joints and over a cup of coffee, brushcetta and panini, we sat back contemplating on the two wonderful days spent at Rome and how the city made us fall in love with its architecture.

Coffee and Panini - ending our day at Rome

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