When in Rome

When I say I live abroad, many of my friends might think that I’m actually holed up in a shed in the middle of nowhere with an excellent internet connection and that I simply copy and paste images from the web, pretending that I’m in a given place. Well, finally this theory was disproved as a couple of my friends from England visited me in Italy. Although they landed in Brindisi so as to be close to where I live in Bari, we actually spent most of the weekend in Rome.

Highlights of the weekend would include taking in a highly-charged Serie A game, having legs grabbed by beggars, someone rehearsing lines only for girls not to understand them, being asked if I was from Africa, and of course, taking in the wonderful sights of Rome.

Getting there

I’d pre-booked the train from Bari up to Rome for a tidy sum of 20 euros, but had failed to notice that the train journey took a mere six and a half hours. That said, the Freccia Bianca, the high-speed train with less stops, did cost three times our train, though it might work out better if booked more in advance than I had. Nevertheless, we entertained ourselves by playing cards and taking photos of all the train stations we passed, though the best part of the ride would come later.

Matt had foolishly left his I-phone charger back at my place in Bari, and was getting in a frizz about how he’d be able to take photos on the trip. He stealthily hawk-eyed the carriage we were in and spotted an attractive young girl with the equipment he required, but wasn’t brave enough to go and ask her for it, so that was left to me. Absolutely no issues with that, but I managed to convince him to try and talk to her when giving the charger back, if only to provide a confidence boost with a good-looking girl. Thus I drilled the Italian phrase Mi hai salvato la vita (you’ve saved my life) into him. Surprisingly, after an hour of practising, he went over and emptied the words out, but unfortunately she failed to understand and I had to explain to her. We carried on our chat for a while, but unfortunately the aforementioned phrase was the extent of Matt’s Italian and we soon went back to our seats.

Where to stay

We arrived at Roma Termini, the capital’s central station, very much on time, and jumped on to a metro to Re di Roma for a one-way price of 1.50 euros, though we would buy the 24-hour unlimited ticket for 7.50 on our subsequent journey. This took no more than ten minutes and the apartment we’d procured on Airbandb was easy to find, just metres from the metro stop.

We paid approximately £55 per night between the three of us and stayed at an apartment rented out by Rossana, who I later guessed was Bulgarian. We had a room to ourselves, shared a bathroom, and also had access to a kitchen that we didn’t use.  When we got there we were rather hungry and so when one of the hosts set about explaining everything about Roma (very useful information), it seemed that he went on for about 20 minutes despite our short negative responses when he continually asked whether we wanted more information.

Rome by night

We headed out quickly, grabbed the last scraps of what was left over at the fast food place near the apartment (arancini and pizza) and got on the metro to the Colosseum. I must admit that seeing this wonder of the world at night is completely different. Set against a dark sky and without droves of tourists and screaming vendors, you can appreciate it a lot more.

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The same goes for the forums as you walk down towards Piazza Venezia. My camera doesn’t really do the view justice, but seeing the swathes of ruins scattered around majestic churches and palaces is really quite something, and again by night there’s more tranquillity, what with no traffic and subsequent car horns, less crowds and noise, which allows you to simply take in what you are seeing rather than trying to get out of the way of someone else’s photo.

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The last metro was at about 1am and we passed up on a long night in Rome knowing that the following day we wanted to make the most of our time doing power tourism. And lack of sleep and hangovers aren’t conducive to the walking demands of Rome by day.

Rome by day

We got up reasonably early and I introduced the boys to the wonders of pistachio cannoli, though Will preferred a can of coke and a Nutella biscuit. As they say, when in Rome, but not for his taste buds, as his diet would consist of ham and cheese pizza and beer for the weekend. I thought about slyly ordering seafood hidden under the cheese on his pizza, but controlled my urges.

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Connecting via Termini we got to the Colosseum at mid-morning and there were already large queues. Entrance price is 12 euros and we had to wait about half an hour before getting in, and ignored the advances of the dozens of touts trying to get you to pay double that to cut the queues. All they do is simply put you with the minimum number of people to be considered a group and basically escort you over to the group entrance.  The rule here is not to engage them, or anyone lurking in the area for that matter, as I’d later find out.

There is no denying that the Colosseum is absolutely majestic, whether you’re looking at it from the outside or inside. Yes, there are masses of people in there with you, but there always arises an opportunity to get a good viewpoint and therefore clean photos. I learned that as well as there being traditional fights to the death and battles with beasts such as lions, at times the arena would be flooded and water sports would take place. It’s quite amazing how intact the Colosseum is and it’s easy to visualise how the abovementioned forms of entertainment occurred.

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Outside the Colosseum and there are loads of guys trying to sell Water Water Water and several others trying to sell you some form of junk. As mentioned before the rule is not to talk to any of the non-tourists, as ultimately their only aim is to get money out of you, even if disguised by friendly chat. One gentleman, who introduced himself as Senegalese, asked me if I was African, before shaking my hand (classic attempt to gain trust) and attempting to sell me something I can’t recall. I told him I lived in Bari, which excited him as there was supposedly a gang called Black and Whites operating there, which he suggested he had been involved in. When we told him we didn’t want to buy his stuff, we were accused of being racist, so we decided to move on.

Our tickets  to the Colosseum included entry to the Roman Forums, but having seen the ridiculous length of the queue to get in, we decided to have a look at them from the outside, much as we had done the previous night. I’d argue that there’s no benefit to actually going inside and we figured that having a wander would be better use of our time.

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Now, because central Rome is essentially full of history, architecture and photo opportunities in every street and at every curve, you can easily end up just ambling towards and into places that don’t figure in your itinerary, just in case there’s another hidden wonder just around the corner. We had started to do this when traipsing around near Piazza Venezia, and such walking can catch up on you, especially as there are endless stairs, ups and downs wherever you go.

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With that in mind and with Matt chugging, we went to a restaurant for lunch just over the road, where I grabbed pasta carbonara, the origins of which lie in Rome, while the others unpredictably ate pizza, one of my party unashamedly licking the plate clean having finished. As we left the restaurant, perhaps my mind deceives me, but I’d like to believe that as Matt was walking by the palace in Piazza Venezia, distracted by his phone, a cloaked beggar clung on to his leg and wouldn’t let go. Whether this is true I don’t know, but he gave her some coins (probably very few, knowing him) so that she relinquished her grip.

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Realising we had to see more important monuments, we headed towards the Trevi fountain on foot, which took no longer than if we had gone the one stop by metro. A vast network of narrow alleys welcome you on your approach and a sudden beehive-like murmur greets you as you’re about to hit the fountain, so just follow the noise! The fountain was as beautiful as it had been nine years previous on my first visit to Italy, with streams of water bursting out around a Roman God riding by chariot, who I assumed to be Neptune, but he turned out to be Oceanus upon further research. We sat down here for a while, and I threw in some coins for good luck.

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Next we marched off to the Pantheon, and spent very little time queuing, meaning Will had to down his extremely cultural slush puppy as we were going in. The Pantheon is basically a large temple in what I think is Greek style, with a triangular roof propped up by immense pillars all the way across. Inside and there is a massive hole at the top of the ceiling, to let in the sunlight and perhaps to in some way signify God’s presence. I’d heard that for whatever reason, rain never came through the whole because of a peculiar way in which it was designed, but when we went there was no way of testing that theory.

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I then had the idea to head off towards Piazza Spagna and the Spanish Steps, as I had a romantic recollection of them being a nice spot to sit, though I had somewhat underegged how far away they were. At this point Matt was chugging even more than usual and so a café break was necessary, and he got into trouble for opening the fridge for too long when pondering whether to grab Coca Cola or Fanta. An earlier rest had occurred as an excuse to see what would happen to a Bangladeshi man whose merchandise (selfie sticks) had been confiscated by a mean-looking policewoman, though to be fair, it was quite hot and humid and I appreciated the need for rests.

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As time was ticking to the match later that evening at 20.45, we opted to jump on a metro and get towards the Vatican City before it was too late. However, getting off at Ottaviano metro stop and seeing there were relatively few people, I thought something must have been wrong. As we approached the Vatican itself, there were no queues snaking around the walled independent state, and more strikingly, a distinct lack of beggars in the vicinity. After some ratiocination, we realised that it was closed because it was a Sunday, and we contented ourselves by looking at St.Peter’s Basilica towering above the walls inside the complex and then by knocking on the huge wooden doors and asking for the Pope to no avail. Getting a lovely ice cream on the way back to the metro made up in some way for not seeing the Vatican, however.

In order to get to the football match calmly, we decided to go back to the hotel to grab a nap and take a shower, where Matt commented that I slept too quietly and very still, much in contrast to my other two room buddies, who sound like burping hippopotamuses sparring with hyperventilating werewolves.

We got back from the game easily enough and decided to hit the hay early as the next day involved an early start to get the train back down to Bari. We easily got to Termini on time, though there was a moment where Will went hunting for a coca cola and took rather a while to get back. My tiredness permitted me to sleep close tot he whole four hours despite the jungle/woods sounds around me, and I suppose their grunts may have been subdued by the vast terrains we’d hooved through the day before.

Conclusions

It had been nine years since I was last in Rome and lost my camera a few weeks later in Brazil with all my photos, and the second visit certainly wasn’t a disappointment. There are a plethora of things to do in the Italian capital, and a lot more beautiful sites you’ll come across that you’ll probably be unable to name. It takes a decent amount of walking, though keeping on the move is definitely worth it. Given that there were clear blue skies throughout our visit and a pleasant 25 degrees temperature, we could really appreciate the historical significance of Rome in all its glory, and I’d definitely like to go back and take in more of the sights.

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