Ailsa from ‘Where’s my backpack‘ has chosen a travel theme inspired by St Patrick’s Day and the luck of the Irish this week. I have no photos of the elusive four leaf clover lucky charm however I hope you’ll enjoy my selection of ‘Four’ themed images regardless.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This week’s batch of photos brought to you courtesy of Where’s my backpack Travel theme: details.
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 🙂
A big thank you to ‘Once in a Lifetime Travel‘ for giving me this idea.
A: Age you went on your first international trip:
10 months old on a plane to New Zealand, we ended up staying for two years.
B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where:
I don’t really like beer but I did enjoy a Radler on the top of a snow capped mountain near Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany.
C: Cuisine (favorite):
D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why:
I love, love, love Italy and would really like to see more of France, Germany and the Netherlands. European art and architecture has fascinated me since studying art in school and being surround by so much history blows me away, plus I love the food. New Zealand is also one of my favourites, beautiful scenery, great food and a bit closer to home so easy (and cheap) to visit.
Least favorite was Los Angeles, Disneyland and Universal Studios were fun but the food was ordinary and it just seemed a little grotty but it was a long time ago and we were not there for long.
E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”:
Being in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and listening to the angelic voices of a children’s choir, magical experience.
F: Favorite mode of transportation:
Trains and planes for longer distances.
G: Greatest feeling while traveling:
Waking up on that very first morning on an overseas holiday and remembering that I’m in another country.
H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to:
No place has been hotter than where I live (yet), temperatures have risen to 44 degrees Celsius in summer. The closest would have to be Rome in summer 12 years ago.
I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where:
B&B Villa Degli Ulivi in Orvieto and the Zeppelin restaurant in Orvieto, we were well looked after, given wonderful advice and served delicious food.
J: Journey that took the longest:
The flight from Brisbane to Paris via Dubai, roughly 27 hours.
K: Keepsake from your travels:
Colourful prints from an American artist living in Amsterdam and also the silver charms I collected along the way, each one representing the area we visited.
L: Let-down sight, why and where:
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy. Too many pushy hawkers selling crappy souvenirs, apparently we should have gone into Pisa as well and not just visited the Leaning Tower.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel:
I was about 13 and leaning over the fence on my Grandparents farm in New Zealand, looking at the green rolling hills dotted by sheep and ducks, the air was pure and fresh and I said to my cousin ‘I can’t believe we’re in another country’.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in:
Sheraton Mirage on the Gold Coast in Queensland, fabulous place to stay and thankfully that one night was paid for by work.
O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?:
It is more a question of ‘what am I not taking photos of while travelling’? I take photos of interesting doors, flowers, signs on shopfronts, dogs, people with dogs, our hotel rooms (including bathroom) and the view from the window.
P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?
Very few now that they don’t stamp passports in Europe – England, New Zealand and United States are the ones I remember best.
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where:
The Capuchin Crypt in Rome.
R: Recommended sight, event or experience:
A cooking class in Florence and riding Icelandic ponies in Sweden.
S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling:
Italian leather jackets from Florence, so soft and warm although not terribly suited to our short winters.
T: Touristy thing you’ve done:
Tour of the Tower of London, great fun.
U: Unforgettable travel memory:
Travelling around Europe with my husband for 8 weeks, 4 of which were spent in Italy. Such a fabulous holiday and one I could happily repeat every year.
V: Visas, how many and for where?
Only ever had one for the US.
W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?
A couple of glasses of Orvieto Classico outside a bar in Orvieto, we met a couple of Brazilian ladies and spent two hours chatting and laughing with them.
X: eXcellent view and from where?:
Flying over the centre of Australia as the sun was setting, spectacular!
Y: Years spent traveling?:
All my life but not as often as I would like with most trips being to New Zealand.
Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:
I know they exist but the closest I have gotten to them was a the Rugby World Cup in Australia, a Samoan supporter dived on the ball as the South African playing was about to kick for goal, he was knocked out, taken to hospital and banned for life.
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.
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.