Rome 2007 - Mike & Amanda's Trippie - Part 2
Day 2 – TUESDAY 23rd OCTOBER 2007
The bed was very comfortable, and overall we slept well, although the total lack of any background noise meant that even slight sounds from other guests in the common areas tended to disturb me – I woke a couple of times after 3.00am, briefly, but dozed on until 6.45.
We shower and prepare our kit for the day (I take a small, lightweight daypack around with me, even on UK days out, so that we can carry water, notebook, jackets etc). I am annoyed to discover that our power adapters don’t mate with the room sockets (they did in Florence) and pop out to reception to ask if they have any spares.
A middle-aged guy is on duty. He tells me, with a clearly American accent that sadly they don’t. He does, however, write down in Italian exactly what we require, so that we can try an electrical goods shop in town. We look at the weather forecast on his pc and decide it should be a good day overall.
It’s 8.30 when we leave the hotel, through a secondary gate onto the street at the back of the building. From here, it’s a short walk, vaguely in the direction of the Metro, to a traditional café, ‘Mary Café’ where we stop for breakfast.
Roman cafes have a particular protocol for ordering food and drinks. Firstly, having ‘buongiorno’ d the staff, you decide what you are having from the displays on one side, before paying for it at a separate till area, usually on the opposite side of the café, if space permits. Having received the receipt, you turn around and theoretically present it to the server behind the food stand …. In practice, if it’s quiet, they overhear what you ordered at the cash register, or the lady on the till shouts it across to them, and they are already on with it.
It’s not long before we’re tucking into our Americano coffees and panini’d ham and cheese croissants (it spoils the shape a bit, but you try stopping them – they stick everything under the panini grill! It stopped me ordering sweet cakes on a few occasions, just in case!)
The cost is 5.40 Euro. We learned in Florence that Americano is our preference in Italian cafes – sometimes we like espressos, but they are tiny by anyone’s standards (and extremely strong, although that raises no complaints from either of us) – the modest amount of water they add to their version of an Americano makes a slightly longer drink, somewhere between a UK espresso and a strong, filter coffee in strength. Typically they cost one Euro or less – Café Mary charge 70 cents.
I’m not totally comfortable with the shoes I’ve chosen this morning, so while we are within easy reach, we head back to the hotel so I can make a change to something dead certain before heading off on a long day’s wanderings. On the way we stock up on large bottles of water, wine and some more beers, from a supermarket round the corner.
It’s now 9.15. We walk into the city centre along the same route as yesterday, across the nearest bridge, along the busy Via Flamina, and through the gates into Piazza Popolo once more, which feels much more welcoming in the sunshine today.
This time we take the central road out of the square, the Via Del Corso and stroll towards the Vittoriano. There are some beautiful buildings and basilicas along the way – we decide to go inside one of the most imposing, the ‘Chiesa Des Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso’ – which sounds rather prettier than ‘ The Church of Saints Ambrose and Charles on the Via Del Corso.’ Because of the narrowness of the streets and the impressive height of the church, combined with the stark shadows, getting a decent photograph is challenging.
This magnificent church was built by the Lombard family between 1665 and 1669 (which seems incredibly short when you see the size of the place and the lavishly detailed finish throughout). It has a nave, two aisles – and virtually no people! Just a lone priest walking about at the rear of the building, silently praying and reading a bible, and us! This would be a cathedral anywhere else we’ve ever visited!
We leave at 9.55. The contrast between the virtually silent church and the bustle of the Corso is shocking. It’s bright, mild, and promises to be reasonably warm later. We stroll eastwards, towards the heart of the city., passing familiar stores along the way:
A commonly recurring problem arises, when we could both do with a restroom. There don’t seem to be any public loos anywhere (we later discover that there is apparently just one for central Rome, but we never find it!) and stopping to take on more fluids as a ploy for using a café’s facilities seems self-defeating. Back in Manchester, or New York etc, we’d head into the nearest department store, but Rome tends towards small, high quality designer boutiques and doesn’t really have any to speak of. The nearest we get is a modest, 5 storey building further along the Corso which is the home of a posh store called La Rinascente. It would fit neatly into a corner of a typical John Lewis or Selfridges! We climb to the third floor where they have a smart but minimalist toilet provision and then slink away under the withering glances of the Armani-suited staff.
Heading onwards, the Corso passes an open square called Piazza Colonna, which has as it’s focal point a massive, carved monolith, the Column of Marcus Aurelius, erected in 180 AD to commemorate various, northern European campaign victories, and astonishingly carved over its incredible height with scenes from the campaigns. I presume a statue of the Emperor himself once capped it, but a later Pope replaced it with a statue of Saint Paul.
Opposite the piazza, on the eastern side of the Corso is a beautiful, 19th Century shopping centre, the Galleria Sordi, with a lofty, columned arcade onto the pavement.
We’ve again reached the trafficmania piazza in front of the Vittoriano. Smartly dressed cops are directing the flow of vehicles with typical, Italian panache.
I idly wonder whether they regularly get flattened at night, due to the dark blue cloth of their designer suits, sorry, uniforms?
It takes a few minutes to work our way around the square and to the left/eastern side of the monument (again busy with tourists). Our agenda today is to get a taste of Ancient Rome, and our first objective is the Forum area, sitting behind the Vittoriano, and south east of the neighbouring, Capitoline Hill.
The Forum is only part of the original, ancient Roman centre – a large portion of it extends away to the north, but Mussolini ploughed a damn great road, the Via Dei Fori Imperiali, right through it in the 1930’s, doubtless destroying many important buildings.
We linger for a few minutes to get our bearings. A road winds up the back of the Vittoriano, presumably to the Capitoline proper, and seems a good way to overlook the Forum, if not actually to gain access (as the guide book suggest the main entrance is on the Via Dei Fori itself.) Pausing to let a large group of happy, chattering, primary school kids pass, we head onto the road before dropping down to the edge of the ruins.
The first impression is wonderful. I’ve seen photographs and reconstructed impressions of the Forum all my life, but the reality is many times more powerful. Spread out in front, below and around us are huge structures of seemingly every kind, arches, pillars, single walls, whole buildings…. Interspersed among them are piles of broken columns, statues and other remains. There is an entry point here (there is no charge) and we carry on down into this 2000 year old capital.
We wander for a couple of hours, pausing often to identify some of the major sights. I could ramble on for as many hours, describing every step, but instead, and because it’s a place you really need to visit yourself, I’ll just highlight a few of the most impressive parts from our perspective.
The Curia – a complete and roofed building, originally constructed by Julius Caesar (although this is a third century reconstruction, so I suppose at only 1800 years old, it’s hardly worth a glance!) as a meeting hall for senators, who used to sit on the raised, stepped areas on each side.
There are various Arches around – the Emperors seemed to build at least one each in their name. Here are The Arch of Septimus Severus and the Arch of Titus (the latter stands at the Coliseum end of the Via Sacra, the ‘main road’ that ran through the Forum.
Other Arches were built but are only visible as stumps now, presumably having collapsed.
Perhaps the best-preserved temple on the site is the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, (now the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda). Because it was adopted as the Church in, (get this!) the 7th Century, the 6, massive Corinthian columns at the rear, along with the original roof architrave frieze and an inscribed lintel have been saved from damage or loss. (The present church, incidentally, is accessed from outside the Forum, on the Via Dei Fori Imperiali.)
Two further structures that greatly impress me, the first because of its age and function, the second because of its particular history, are the Cloacca Maxima, and the Temple of Julius Caesar.
The Cloacca Maxima is essentially the Main Sewer, built to drain the original marshland that used to cover the Forum site. It runs a substantial distance to the Tiber, and, (you’ll like this bit) it STILL works, and is responsible for keeping the area dry to this day.
The Temple of Julius Caesar is little more than a ruin. It is sited centrally in the Forum, and was built around the cairn-marked spot where his body was cremated – this round, brick dais has been excavated (now protected by a sheltering roof) and you can view it easily. Some wilted flowers had been placed there …
The last major structure we visited before leaving the site is one of the largest, and technically impressive, although it is probably less visited than others on the Forum, due to it being set up on a higher level, approached by a leafy path to one side. The Basilica of Maxentius was built in the early 4th Century, by which time the Romans were experts at building with poured cement. The structure that remains standing is really only about a third of the area of the original building. Look at the scale of it carefully by comparing the height of the people in the photograph with the massive arches.
We return to the main part of the Forum and head, mostly against the flow, towards the eastern entrance.
The Arch of Titus sits at the top of a slope, straddling the Via Sacra and highlighting the way to Rome’s most famous, ancient landmark, the Coliseum.
It’s 11.45 as we approach the plaza of this huge amphitheatre. Another monolithic Arch (of Constantine) stands to our right.
The Coliseum attracts huge crowds every day of the year, and we are expecting serious queues. It’s no hardship if we don’t decide to visit it today, as the admission ticket also allows same day access to the adjacent Palatine Hill, and we don’t want to rush either of them. As expected, there is a vast line outside the entrance, and we decide to stroll around the perimeter of the structure instead.
It’s 12.00 noon. We’ve done pretty well this morning, and the weather has remained lovely. Time for lunch. To the east of the Forum and Colosseum lies a mixed district of businesses, shops, restaurants and apartments, effectively sitting between the Celian Hill to the south and the Esquiline Hill to the north. (A brief word about these ‘Hills’ – Amanda and I had been expecting some challenging climbs and barely visible summits, to be honest. Instead we found that, unless you consulted a map, you were hardly aware of any significant, elevation changes. The distances between the Hills and the actual, modest area of them was a surprise. You could certainly walk around, up and across 3 or 4 of them in a few hours!)
Our trusty Rough Guide map highlights a few café-restaurants in the vicinity; with two virtually side by side a couple of blocks away. From the outside, the nearest one, La Naumache, looks pleasant and moderately busy.
We enter to a polite greeting and are shown to a table.
They have a full menu, based around pizza and pasta dishes, plus a number of lunch specials already prepared and on display at a hot counter. We both choose pizzas off the regular menu and order a half bottle of wine and a jug of water.
The service is leisurely, but we chat and update the trippie notes while we wait. Meanwhile, the restaurant fills up with diners, mostly Italians, and, by the look of them, who work locally. They tend to choose from the prepared meals and are tucking in with minimal delay.
Our pizzas arrive and are perfect – mine is a Pizza Blanco (no tomatoes) with bresaola and rocket…
..Amanda’s Capricese (proscuitto, artichokes, egg & olives).
The bill (il conto) is E23.50. We finish and leave around 1.30pm.
We stroll back to the Colosseum to get our bearings, and then head off along Via Claudia, as this leads to a road across the Celian Hill to the south. This is described as one of the most peaceful of Rome’s hills, and will allow us (we hope) a pleasant wander towards our next objective, the Circus Maximus.
Via Claudia climbs gently along the side of the Celian Hill, which appears to have been fortified in ancient times, with the remains of high walls visible along its length. After ¼ mile or so we turn right, through an aged, fortress like gateway, into the quiet Via San Paulo Della Croce.
This leafy, walled lane heads over the centre of the hill, and past a couple of attractive churches and a beautiful, backwater park, the Villa Celimontana.
The incredible, high-topped pine trees are everywhere in Rome, and must provide wonderful shade in the heat of full summer. We notice that a flock of parrots are crowding noisily in the branches of some of them.
The first of the two churches on the hill, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, is very picturesque, and apparently, popular with wedding planners for the excellent photo opportunites it affords.
We follow the road down, past the church, and under a series of brick arches, to the lower slope of the hill.
Here lies the mediaeval church of San Gregorio Magno. This faces the beautiful, pineclad slope of the Palatine Hill, opposite, although the peace is spoiled somewhat by the endless drone of traffic on the highway between the two hills.
It’s 2.00pm. We have been blessed with a generally sunny day so far, ideal for this (our favourite) kind of wandering, where we just head in a chosen direction and see what appears. The next, nearest headliner attraction is within a few metres – the Circus Maximus.
Little remains of this ancient stadium, once the city’s main venue for chariot races. Some limited structures exist at the southernmost end, but it is the vast expanse of the original oval that draws the eye. It is thought that around 400,000 spectators could have been accommodated when the building was at its height.
We stroll along the southwest side of the stadium, and sit on a bench facing the Palatine ruins opposite.
A coach load of German tourists arrives behind us, and around 50 disembark, briefly, to snap photos of each other with the Circus and Palatine as the backdrop, before being herded back on board and hustled off to the next highlight…. I couldn’t imagine a worse way of ‘doing’ a city!
It’s around 2.30. We take our lives temporarily in hand and dash across the busy Via Del Circo Massimo, to climb the gentle and leafy slopes of the Aventine Hill.
This generally upmarket residential area feels pleasantly detached from the city hustle. The first building of note is the Basilica of Santa Sabina, the central church of the Dominicans in Rome – we don’t visit the interior, but wander the lovely gardens in search of a view.
It does not disappoint. The elevation provides a superb panorama of central Rome, and views stretch across the Tiber to St Peter’s and the Vatican.
We continue over the hill and descend towards the river, passing a series of lovely villas and hotels.
The lower slopes lead us to the mixed, essentially commercial district of Testaccio. There’s nothing here of specific interest to us, we are simply making a vague and circuitous approach to the southwestern area of Trastevere on the opposite side of the Tiber, and Testaccio is along our way.
It all feels a little tawdry, to be honest, with a fair amount of redevelopment underway, including around the sprawl of the Mattatoio, or slaughterhouse, now closed, but once the neighbourhood’s main employer.
We soon reach the Tiber and cross the nearest bridge (Pont Sublico) to Trastevere.
Once again the lack of toilets has left its mark, and even though we’re trying to remain medically dehydrated (kidding, but only just!) we have to find a restroom. A nearby café suffices, and we celebrate our fluid loss with an espresso-Americano each! (less than 40 pence, and excellent, by the way!)
It’s 4.00pm, and still warm in the afternoon sunshine. We stroll the narrow, characterful streets of Trastevere for an hour or so.
We arrive at the River again, a little further north, close to the only island in the city area – the Isola Tiberina, literally the “Island of the Tiber” I think. It’s not very large, and has few buildings, although one is of course a church (San Bartolomeo) and the other is Rome’s oldest hospital, Fatebenfrateli, founded in 1548.
However, the main point of interest for me is the bridge linking the island with the other bank of the river, the Ponte Fabricio – I am stunned by the fact that this lovely and functional structure was built in 62 BC.. and has not been restored or altered in the 2000 years since!
We stroll back across the island, pausing for an ice cream at a shop near the church. There’s a peculiar construction just to the south, obviously the remains of a bridge. We walk along the riverbank pavement for a closer look.
Research advises that this is the delightfully named ‘Ponte Rotto’ (‘broken bridge!’), the only remnants of the first stone bridge across the Tiber. Built between 179 and 142 BC, (it may just be me, but I am still gob-smacked by the casual way we seem to be stumbling onto buildings, carvings and the like that are almost as old as Christ!).. it collapsed around 500 years ago.
Heading back into the narrow streets of Trastevere, we do the touristy thing and find a pretty square that we can buy expensive drinks in. The Piazza Di Santa Maria in Trastevere (I’m sure you can manage the translation by now!) is a lovely space, set around a central fountain and named for the 12th century church at its western side.
We take a table at a cocktail bar/ice cream parlour in one corner and are served promptly – Pinot Grigio for Amanda, Americano coffee and brandy for me.
It’s very relaxing – probably the longest rest we’ve had all day – and we sit, watching our favourite sight (people!) and letting the day slide into dusk around us. I phone the kids back home.
Another brandy round seems to be in order. It’s 6.50pm when we pay the bill (33 euros, or £23.50 – not cheap, by any means, but worth it on several levels.)
We take the obligatory shots of and from the fountain before heading into the church for a mooch around.
It’s stunning, but we are discovering that this is a common state of affairs in Roman churches.
It’s after 7pm now and tummys are rumbling! There are a couple of Rough Guide recommendations within a short distance – we like the look of the Casetta di Trastevere.
It’s described as a traditional, Roman eatery, with simple, local food at modest prices. We are shown to a window table and order drinks – a bottle of Pinot (12 Euro) and a litre of water (2 Euro).
The interior is understated and attractive – tiled floors, painted plaster walls with painted murals and ‘tromp l’oeil’ doorways. It’s early yet, and there are only a few other people dining, but it fills up steadily over the next hour. My photos didn’t do the interior or the food justice I’m afraid, but this one maybe shows something of the place…
There are lots of things to tempt us on the menu, but we are intrigued by the seafood linguini ‘in a cornet’ – it comes in a sealed, foil package, where it has obviously been steamed – the smell when it’s opened is fantastic!
You may have noticed that we didn’t have starters – this means that, according to Ancient (Mike) Statute, we are obliged to eat desserts. Panna Cotta for me, Tiramisu for Amanda. They are delicious!
It’s 8.20pm as we finish off the wine and ask for the bill. 36 Euro (£26) including the drinks – excellent value!
We head north, staying off the busy, Lungotevere (riverside) road as long as possible, by keeping to the parallel, Via Della Lungara until it joins the bigger highway just before the Vatican. It’s still a pleasant walk, as the pavement is wooded, and the Vatican buildings and various bridges along the way are beautifully lit.
The 4-mile walk takes just over an hour, and we arrive back at the hotel by 9.30. I reckon we’ve covered around 15 miles today, more or less. We’re pleasantly tired, but not ready for bed, and so we enjoy a bottle of Chianti in the lovely garden, where the temperature is still acceptable wearing just a light jacket. (For anyone taking particular note of our alcohol units, please be advised that we don’t normally drink quite this much, but hey, we’re on holiday! And I think Amanda had most of it anyway!)
We head indoors around 10.30, and Amanda is asleep by 10.50. I sit and read for a while, doing a bit of homework on the Vatican and the Palatine Hill, two of our targets for the next couple of days.
I switch the light out at 11.40. Goodnight.
Mike & Amanda
Tomorrow: The Coliseum, Palatine Hill, Monti and Quirinale.
Another great report, i was going to make a quip about bridges being built to last and then i saw the collapsed one :rotfl2:
'Wow' because of the amazingly beautiful things you both saw today. What a wonderful city.
But also 'wow' because of the distances you cover on foot!
The alcohol intake was impressive too. :thumbsup2
Thank you. Just thank you. Truly speechless now.
You both certainly cover alot of territory.
Thanks for another fabulous report Mike.
Awesome report, makes me miss my time in Roma!
fabulous report. I am glad you found the disney store!
Another great read and amazing pictures.Them pizzas looked lovely.x.
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