by Helen Edwards (A runner-up entry in the inaugural Travel Writing Competition)
My husband and I arrived in Rome late one Halloween and found ourselves amidst a group of young, good-natured revellers dressed as witches and devils, sprinkling black and orange confetti everywhere.
After several wrong turns we found our hotel, tucked discretely as it was down a narrow cobbled street.
We could not fault the very clean and elegant Hotel Artorius in Monti, Central Rome, with its friendly and courteous staff, old-fashioned iron lift, and not forgetting the frothy cappuccinos served with smiley faces.
As we went to Rome out of season we weren’t really bothered by crowds with the exception of near the Trevi Fountain.
The rain hampered the first day of the trip. It was torrential at times. We didn’t expect that! However the temperature was pleasant and on the last day it was so warm I didn’t need a coat.
My Highlights of Rome
• The Colosseum. Set against a grey backdrop, the tiers of the ancient amphitheatre looked like a black and white photograph. It was fascinating to see where the wild animals used to be kept, yet hard to believe that such barbarism once took place there.
Guide books advise you to buy your ticket for the Colosseum online, but we took a chance, went early, and queued for half an hour.
The tickets cost €12 each (guided tour not included), which I felt was good value considering the tickets also covered entrance to the Palatine Museum and the Roman Forum, and were valid for two days. There is free entry for EU citizens over the age of 65.
• Trevi Fountain. Noisy (all that water gushing out), and beautiful, the Trevi Fountain is richly decorated with statues. Viewing the fountain amidst a mass of colourful umbrellas was difficult and we had to be quick to take photographs.
I couldn’t resist throwing in a Euro or two and making a wish; when in Rome and all that . . . It was all in a good cause as the money goes to charity.
• The Roman Forum. Our first view of the Roman Forum was at dusk. With the city lights twinkling all around it, it was mesmerizing, and I could have gazed at it for hours despite the drizzle.
We went back the following day to explore the ruins properly. I was most taken with the imposing Temple of Saturn, which soared high into the bright blue sky.
• The Pantheon. Free-to-enter, the Roman Pantheon is extremely well-preserved. The architecture defies belief. I spent most of my time there gazing up at the beam of sunlight shining through the oculus, the large hole in the domed roof.
• Vatican City – St Peter’s Basilica. Late afternoon and St Peter’s Square was basked in the rosy glow of the setting sun. Over 100 statues decorate the two semi-circular colonnades and there are two fountains.
There was a small queue for St Peter’s Basilica itself (the main part is free to enter). We didn’t see the Pope, but we did see Michelangelo’s Pieta; it is hard to say which was more impressive, the outside or the inside of the dome.
• Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. I got a crick in the neck viewing Michelangelo’s jaw-dropping frescoed ceiling. The detail, not to mention colour, is incredible. Be warned – you cannot take photos. We didn’t see the signs saying photography was forbidden and so my husband was snapping away, oblivious to the fact he was being shouted at (in Italian) by a security guard!
There is so much to see in the museum including the Borgia Apartment and Raphael’s Rooms, even the spiral staircase is a photo opportunity.
Entrance to the museum costs €16 per adult. We didn’t have to queue, although you can advance book if you want to.
Many airlines fly to Rome including British Airways and Ryanair. We flew with Ryanair from London Stansted to Rome Ciampino for approximately £60 per person return. Please note that Rome Fiumicino is the city’s main airport.
Terravision offers low cost shuttle bus transfers from Ciampino airport into Rome city centre. We bought return tickets upon our arrival at the airport, for €11 each, but unbeknown to us the driver tore off the part of the ticket we would need for the return leg of the journey, so watch out for that (there are other bus companies which will take you to/from the airport). Instead of giving the company any more of our money we opted to take a taxi to the airport. What an experience that was amidst the Roman traffic.
We found the Metro straightforward to use. There are currently two lines and the ticket machines have an English option. Tickets are cheap; you can buy a card for all day travel for just €6. A single trip costs €1.50 but it’s time limited.
Street traders seemed to be everywhere we turned in Rome and they were extremely persistent. And then there were the beggars. One beggar insisted upon helping us to buy our ticket for the Metro from the automated machine at the Termini (the main train station in the city). She wouldn’t go away. Another approached us whilst we were having lunch in a restaurant. I was shocked that she’d even been allowed in.
I’d wanted to go to Rome for some time and I wasn’t disappointed with this long weekend to celebrate my birthday. Despite the heavy rain, street traders, beggars and our experience with Terravision, I fell in love with The Eternal City. Arrivederci Roma, until the next time.
(Most of the photographs were taken by the author and supplied after the competition had been judged.)