Each time I’ve been to Rome there has been something new and different for me to see and experience and after three visits to this ancient city there is still so much more worth exploring. On our last trip in November 2015 I was hell bent of doing a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere so I booked a private guided tour with expat Tiffany Parks, author of The Pines of Rome blog and contributor to The Bittersweet Life podcast to which I regularly listened in the lead up to our holiday. Tiffany is now an Italian citizen after living in Italy for ten years, she is a legitimate tour guide and in addition to sharing her knowledge and experience of Rome she has a relaxed manner and made us feel like welcome visitors, her walking tour was one of the highlights of our trip.
We met Tiffany near the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, a square that was home to Pompey’s theatre and is now home to a cat sanctuary. There were plenty of cats lazing about in the sun, although it was late autumn the temperature was mild and the skies were clear. Having only seen photos of Tiffany, I was worried that I would not recognise her however that wasn’t a problem and I am sure that we stood out among the locals. Neither of us had ever been through the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere neighbourhoods, it was fascinating to come face to face with things that I had only read about or seen on travel shows. We started in Trastevere, it is very close to the Largo di Torre Argentina and at first I was a little overwhelmed and wanted to absorb everything Tiffany was saying so my camera stayed put in my bag. I also felt as though I was intruding on the local’s Sunday morning by toting a large camera around and taking photos of everything. That said, I eventually relaxed and managed to take a few shots as we walked through the Jewish Ghetto, across the Tiber and in to Trastevere.
The ancient ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina
One of the many cats looked after by volunteers at the cat sanctuary housed in the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina
The late Italian Renaissance Turtle Fountain (Fontana delle Tartarughe) located in Piazza Mattei
The turtles on this fountain are copies of the originals which were added years after the fountain was originally constructed. Bernini apparently suggested the addition of the four turtles during a restoration commissioned by Pope Alexander VII in 1658
Small, cobblestone-sized memorials, placed in memory of the individual victims arrested or sent to concentrations camps during WWII when the Nazis occupied Rome
Stone reliefs mounted on a wall in Via Reginella alley in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto
Baghetto Milky, a restaurant serving arabic and kosher meals in the Jewish Ghetto neighbourhood
The ancient Theatre of Marcellus, still used to host classical concerts in the summer months
I will spare you the details of the tour, one, I can’t remember them all and two, there is plenty of information about these areas online including several posts on Tiffany’s blog. There were several memorable moments especially as we walked through the narrow alleyways in the Jewish Ghetto. As you look down at the cobblestones you will see memorials to the many victims of the Nazi occupation, look up to see the stone reliefs featuring the menorah and the Star of David on building walls. To see these things is an extremely sobering experience.
Once in Trastevere it is hard not to fall in love with the beautiful buildings covered in vines or the absence of thousands of tourists like us, the lack of heavy traffic is also a plus. Tiffany knows this area well and takes us to some of her favourite sights including well known churches such as Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria. Hubby isn’t a fan of churches but I love the art that is often contained within and these two churches are home to stunning mosaics and beautiful sculptures. Food is also very important to me when travelling, and Tiffany provided us with great tips for two lunch venues and a gelateria. It was a toss up between a pizzeria and Da Gildo for lunch, in the end the thought of eating authentic Roman gnocchi for lunch won us over followed by a visit to the gelateria for dessert before heading back across the river.
There are plenty of tour guides in Rome, some are legitimate and some are not. Tiffany was perfect for us and had I not been listening to the podcast she co-hosts then we probably would have settled for a small group tour. Both of us are so glad that we didn’t have to settle and if she is still doing private tours I recommend you consider booking some time with her when you’re in Rome.
The Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola on Tiber Island
Crossing the Tiber River via Ponte Cestio
Trastevere is a labyrinth of narrow, cobblestone streets.
Beautiful buildings in Trastevere
The façade of a tenth century synagogue in Vicolo dell’Atleta (Athlete’s Alley), Trastevere
The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere façade was built in 1725 by Ferdinando Fuga, the courtyard is decorated with ancient mosaics, columns and a large water vessel.
The church nave of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
Famous baroque sculpture in the Santa Cecilia in Trastevere church, Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno. On the floor in front of the statue is a marble slab declaring that Maderno sculpted the body as he saw it when it was discovered in 1599
Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere
The breathtaking apse calotte mosaics (1140-43) within the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
On the wall outside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere are fragments of gravestones of the early Christians from around third century AD.
The arch of Porta Settimiana, reputedly the onetime home of Raphael’s lady love, La Fornarina is nearby.
A view of Tiber Island from the Ponte Garibaldi as we leave Trastevere after our walking tour
Roman Gnocchi for lunch, delicious.
Our lunch venue in Trastevere, good food and filled with Italians on a Sunday
I have tried to put as much information as I can in the image captions. If I miss anything or get something wrong please let me know.
Where’s my backpack has an interesting and challenging travel theme this week. Late is the theme and it is not an easy one for me to find suitable travel photos, but I hope you appreciate my effort anyway 🙂
Poor planning on our last trip to Rome resulted in me being unable to get a ticket to see the Borghese Gallery, I was devastated and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again. After failing to successfully purchase tickets through the Borghese Gallery I decided to pay that little bit extra and get skip the line tickets through Viator. Our entry time was at 9am and we had until 11am to view the entire gallery, at 11am they kicked us all out and the next group of visitors went through. Two hours doesn’t seem like much, we could have easily spent another hour at least in the gallery especially with the addition of garments from the Azzedine Alaïa collection being on display.
The ‘no photo’ rule seemed to have been withdrawn from the Borghese, I vaguely recall reading in guidebooks and hearing on travel podcasts that photos were strictly prohibited and cameras would have to be stored in lockers. All around us people were taking photos with iphones, DSLRs and compact cameras and nobody seemed to care. After a few quick shots with my iphone, out came my trusty Nikon DSLR and it didn’t return to its bag until we were in the gallery gift shop.
The Azzedine Alaïa gowns on display were stunning, much thought had gone into the location of each gown or group of garments with some looking almost like a ghostly apparition among the sculptures and paintings. In the nineties I loved seeing Azzedine Alaïa’s designs on supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Stephanie Seymour, they wore them so well and the gowns looked like works of art. Moving around the gallery, my eyes flicked from classical sculptures to fashion items and while others crowded around Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne I was taking photos of the nearest design by Azzedine Alaïa. This gave me one advantage, by the time I had finished admiring the design most of the group had moved on and I could enjoy the sculptures in relative quiet.
The Borghese Gallery is a most magnificent place to visit, I walked out of there feeling extremely happy and it would have to rate as one of my most enjoyable gallery and/or museum experiences. The restricted number of visitors at any one time certainly enhances the experience, having been to the Vatican Museum where numbers do not appear to be limited and large tour groups crowd the halls and stairwells, I much prefer having to book in advance for a nominated time slot.
Rome is such a bustling and chaotic city. There were moments when the crowds became too much and I just wanted out and then there were times when I was in complete awe of the history of this ancient city.
Whilst travelling around Europe last year I took thousands of photos, some of these focused on the delightful array of food available from markets and the meals we consumed. Many of the photos are merely happy snaps, badly lit and slightly blurred photographs of the food we ate and often I was so absorbed in the eating of a tasty dish that I completely forgot to take a photo. Anyway, the first part of our journey and the food we ate is covered in Food glorious food…part one and I had meant to continue the story but never got around to it…until now.
The food in Italy can be bad, good or fantastic, we were lucky in that we chose good to fantastic food for the majority of the time and the two bad meals we ate were due to laziness and convenience, not bad for four weeks of eating in Italy. Italians don’t really do breakfast, at least not the way we do so we settled for the in-house breakfasts most of the time, although not great, we enjoyed trying Cruesli (Muesli with choc chips) and the array of home baked cakes and tarts at the B&B Villa degli Ulivi were scrumptious. Occasionally cold cuts of meat and boiled eggs were also available in addition to the pastries, jam and bread rolls, the coffee was usually very ordinary so we took to visiting the local bars for an espresso.
Wherever possible we tried local wines and local specialties, guided by the waiters in the restaurants and in Rome we asked the ‘host’ of the Cantina Cantarini to help us choose our meals, selecting fresh, seasonal produce and simple flavours so good that we returned the following night. In Florence we ate picnics outside the Boboli Gardens, pasta in the San Lorenzo Markets and spent an evening with our travellers at a inTavola cooking class, the class was so much fun and at the end of the evening we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour accompanied by a couple of glasses of wine.
Wherever we went I managed to track down a gelateria (even in Germany), I was on a mission to try as many flavours as possible and am proud to say that I tried 25 different flavours, some of them twice (pistachio, zabaglione and pannacotta) and some of which I don’t remember. I have to admit that there are just some flavours that I’ve never been really fond of such as melon or licorice so I stayed clear of them and there are possibly hundreds more flavours I could have tried however there was still a budget to stick to and having gelato for every meal was not the objective. Some of the more unusual (for me) flavours were: Coconut, Riesling, Fior di Latte (Milk), Torrone and Cherries and cream.
Here is just a taste of what we enjoyed in Italy, starting with local specialties in Vernazza to wild boar in Umbria, panettone in Siena and seafood in Sorrento, it really was a food tour of Italy and the extra kilos in weight that I gained were well and truly worth it 🙂
We bought the Roma Pass for 25 euros from the Palazzo Massimo, one of the National Museums of Rome (Museo Nazionale Romano in Italian). The pass is valid for 3 days and included entry to 2 museums or archaeological sites and 3 days of transport on trains and buses within the city plus discounts at other attractions. The Palazzo Massimo is near Termini Station and it is one of three different museums housing the collection of the National Museum: the Baths of Diocletian, Palazzo Massimo, and the Palazzo Altemps and all three count as one museum so you can use the pass at another site without having to pay for entry. We used the pass again to bypass the long queues at the Colosseum, a guide touting for business tried to tell us that we still needed to join a guided tour to eat the queues but I had read my travel guides for Rome and we ignored his ‘advice’. Entry to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill is included with entry to the Colosseum so technically, you can visit all 6 sites mentioned with the one pass but it is alot to squeeze into 3 days especially if you have other attractions you want to see.
The two other museums we visited during our stay in Rome were the Vatican Museums and the Capitoline Museums. We decided to do a guided tour of the Vatican Museums because we wanted to understand what we were looking at, it was a good idea however I think we would choose an early morning private tour next time, they cost alot more but you enter the museums before they actually open. The crowds in the Vatican Museums made it almost unbearable at times, yet it didn’t take anything away from the beauty of the Raphael rooms and Sistine Chapel.
The Capitoline Museum was less busy, almost empty in comparison and on a hot day it was one of the best places to be, cool and comfortable, away from the mad rush outside. I explored this museum by myself, my husband was a tad over the museum/church thing by then and I wasn’t leaving Rome without seeing the colossal feet or statue of the wolf feeding baby Romulus and Remus. From memory it was 11 euros to enter the museum, average price for a tourist attraction in Rome and by now my Roma Pass had expired. The sculptures and mosaics contained within are a must-see for any art lover or history buff, I had only seen these pieces were in art books or text books at school and here I could almost touch them.
After Easter things get pretty busy in Italy, especially in the capital and ancient city of Rome. The guidebooks and travel websites tell you that there isn’t a quiet time to visit Rome and the once shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn are almost as popular as the Summer, still we decided that Spring was the best time for us and spending the last few days of our trip in Rome would be the perfect way to end the trip.
Rome is a city of concrete, marble and cobblestones, great for reflecting the heat of the sun back onto unsuspecting tourists. Coming from Queensland we didn’t think that the heat would be a problem, how hot could it get? The temperature moved between 24 and 28 degrees Celsius which is something that we’re quite used to, however we didn’t count on the impact of walking all day surrounded by concrete and other reflective surfaces which bounced the heat back at us. It didn’t take us long to realise that we needed to factor in more breaks and make better use of public transport, it is easy to see the sense in having a siesta or long lunch to escape the heat. Although we didn’t indulge in an afternoon nap or long lunch we had our methods for avoiding heat exhaustion:
Picnic on the grass around the Colosseum;
Catching a bus from Piazza Navona to Vatican City;
Standing in the centre of the Pantheon absorbing the cool air;
and sitting on a park bench near the Borghese Gallery listening to a jazz musician/busker.
In Spring the Spanish steps are decorated with large pots of brightly coloured flowers, sometimes azaleas but during our visit the geraniums were in bloom and the sight is spectacular even with the hundreds of people milling around and jostling for a seat on the steps. At the Victor Emmanuel monument there are no flowers and there no sitting on the steps, the monument is situated on Capitoline Hill and was built in honour of the first King of a unified Italy, it is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and eternal flame. Should you dare sit on the steps then you will be reprimanded by one of the many security people on site, they loudly blow their whistles and make hand gestures so you know exactly what they’re asking of you.
Victor Emmanuel II Monument
Wandering around the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill was made a little challenging for me, we experienced and extended spring shower and occasional downpour making it difficult to juggle my camera and an umbrella. Still, it didn’t stop us from exploring the ruins and although we were a little cold and damp, our enthusiasm and awe did not wane. One of the more beautiful areas of the Roman Forum, even when it is raining, is the House and Temple of the Vestal Virgins. The courtyard contains rose gardens and statues of the priestesses who guarded the the sacred, eternal flame which was considered to be the symbol of the eternal life of Rome. The priestesses served for 30 years and had to remain virgins for the entire time, to do otherwise resulted in death.
A number of special exhibits were set up throughout the forum, the focus was on the Roman Emperor Nero, more famous for his bad behaviour and murderous, corrupt ways than anything else. The exhibits are part of a trail of Roman locations that can be directly connected to Nero. The former palace of Nero, the Domus Aurea is closed to the general public as a result of buildings collapsing and a concern for safety. We followed the path that connected the forum to Palatine Hill where more of Nero’s story could be found. Much of the Palatine Hill is in such a state that you need to use your imagination or a guidebook to be able to identify the buildings, our aim was to head towards the Imperial Palace complex that overlooked the Circus Maximus. Looking at Circus Maximus now you would think that it was just a normal park suited for walking the dog or holding concerts but it was once home to chariot and horse races, events that attracted tens of thousands of spectators.
Took a couple of sneaky, not so good, photos of the fake gladiators during our stay in Rome, they did seem a tad obnoxious and we watched with interest as one couple tried to get out of paying for having their photo taken outside the Colosseum.
I love Rome, the crazy traffic, the noisy piazzas and ancient ruins in abundance are overwhelming but it is such an amazing city and full of contrasts. We spent five days exploring the streets of Rome and could have spent another 5 days there easily, especially after discovering the wonderful Cantina Kantarini not far from our hotel. I’m not going to write much about at this point, instead I have posted some of my favourite photographs and when I have more time I will expand on Rome and several other destinations in Italy. Enjoy!
The popular Spanish Steps
The fabulous Trevi Fountain
Gelati for sale – the choco mint was yum
Ancient sculpture: The Boxer
Inside the Colosseum
Roman ruins in the forum
Ruins of the Palatine
Umbrella pines on Palatine Hill
The Roman Forum and Colosseum
The Roman Forum as seen from Palatine Hill
Largo di Torre Argentina
Monument of Victor Emmanuel, otherwise known as The Wedding Cake
Trajan’s Column detail
Piazza Navona fountain
Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona