When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Quickly embedding itself firmly in our vocabularies, ‘when in Rome’ provided an ongoing excuse for any form of inappropriate (and appropriate) behaviour that occurred throughout the weekend. And when you combine a bunch of Americans, Kiwis and Españols with a crazy South African and a cheeky Mexican thrown into the mix then you can be sure there will be plenty of that! The first big group trip that I have experienced since being in Europe was a terrific one. Rome is a great city to explore with friends; there is just so much to eat, see, do and explore that sharing these memories with a group of friends was a wicked experience. From the moment we arrived at the hostel and seeing the poster that said “€20 open bar and pub crawl” I knew it was going to be a different kind of weekend compared with what I’ve had so far!

Upon our arrival at Rome’s Ciampino airport we caught the Terravision bus into the Termini station (€8 for a return trip) where we walked a few hundred metres to our hostel. We stayed in “Alessandro Palace and Bar” which was conveniently located right in the centre of all the tourist attractions we wanted to visit. The facilities were good, we were in mixed dorms that had 8 beds and 1 toilet and shower between everyone. There were no cooking facilities; however it did have its own bar downstairs which was an awesome way to meet new people.  Also, the train station is surrounded by heaps of cheap eateries and multiple supermarkets so it didn’t end up being as expensive for food as I originally expected.

Our first night was spent at the Trevi Fountain; the attraction that I had been most excited about for my visit to Rome. After throwing three coins over my right shoulder into the fountain to uphold the tradition that would one day ensure my return to Rome, I sat back in awe to appreciate its beauty. I was fortunate enough to go back to the Trevi Fountain twice more that weekend; once more at night and also again in the day. Although the photos taken in the day were better, I preferred being there at night; perhaps just for the fact that the hustle and bustle of tourists was slightly less. Right next to the Trevi Fountain was a gelateria that sold cannoli – a new experience for me! Originating from Sicily, cannoli is a sweet fried pastry with a ricotta and chocolate filling, topped with nuts. Extremely rich, and also extremely delicious!

Our first day in Rome saw us partake in a free walking tour, which left from the Spanish steps and covered Rome’s city centre, the Pantheon and ended up at the Vatican. Our tour guide was extremely informative, and despite being subject to what seemed like a never-ending spiel of Rome’s history (which saw my short attention span eventually switching off), it was a wonderfully inexpensive way to see some of Rome’s sights and orientate myself in the city. Two highlights were the Pantheon – on a sunny day, the sun shines straight through the glass window on the roof of the Pantheon and it lights up the entire floor; and secondly a gelato place we discovered with the most exotic flavours – I had pumpkin, almond and chocolate – the best gelato I have had so far in Europe!

We gave ourselves a day to conquer Ancient Rome. Joining the colossal queue at the Colosseum was a huge mistake – the €12 ticket also provides entry into the Roman Forum and Palatino Hill, so it would have been far more time efficient to buy our ticket at either of these entrances (which are located right by the Colosseum) where the queues are virtually non-existent (opposed to about a 60 minute wait).  The magnificence of the Colosseum can barely be described with words – and nor can photos do it justice. After spending an hour or two here we headed around to the gardens, which were deceptively big! I guess there is a bit of truth behind the saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day because a few hours later we were still wandering around, and it had begun to dawn on us that maybe Ancient Rome wouldn’t be quite so easy to conquer in a day after all! I would definitely recommend bringing some snacks along when exploring the Roman Forum/Palatino Hill, and have plenty of time up one’s sleeve – there were only about a million different places worthy of a picnic.

Not far from the Colosseum is the Circo Massimo. It only requires about an hour to walk and visit – there is not much there aside from the fact that it is where the chariots used to race back in the day (and the remnants of the track still remain). Terrific weather saw us (and a number of other people) just relaxing back on the banks and soaking up the sun – another great place for a picnic. Hunger pains eventually got the better of us and we made our way to La Dolce Vita, a gelateria that uses all of its own ingredients to home make all of its gelato, and was so scrumptious that we ended up visiting there twice! Also close by to the Colosseum is Zizzi Pizza, a place we scoped out due to its high recommendations on Trip Advisor and we were not to be disappointed. For approximately €2.50 a piece (which was so big that they give it to you folded in half like a sandwich!) it was fresh, cheesy, hot and also homemade.

The Vatican was another day trip – although one could easily spend longer there if they wished. St Peter’s square was enormous – wide and open with huge pillars around the side. We lined up for about 30 minutes to get into St Peter’s Basilica, which was hands down the biggest and most impressive church I have ever seen – and I feel like it will be hard to beat. Surprisingly entry is free; however you can pay €5 to climb to the top of the Dome – which provides landscape views of the city.  After the Basilica we headed around to the Vatican museum -which is the second largest museum in the world (after the Louvre in Paris) and costs €7.50 as a student. My brain was jam-packed full of information after about three hours and I did not think I had room to take in anything else. I was proven wrong: there is always room to take in the beauty of the Sistine Chapel! Located within the museum we had saved it for last, and went in and just sat for about half an hour – it was so beautiful, every single part of the chapel had been carefully designed – detail was everywhere, and covered absolutely everything. Our minds were exhausted after our wee excursion, so we stopped at a highly recommended gelateria which is down and across the road from the entrance to the museum. It is highly identifiable by the queue a mile long; however the gelato we had was worth every minute waiting.

Again the amount I spent in Rome was actually less than I had budgeted for (and similar to what had been spent in Paris) – helped primarily by the supermarket nearby and the lack of public transport we used while we were there. Most of my money goes towards food; I say without shame that as I wrote this I realised that the number of gelatos consumed probably exceeded the number of days we spent in the Italian capital… But hey, #wheninrome!

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