Rome was an amazing city to explore; the only thing was that a map of the city was just about useless for me. I remember standing at the corner of a street, turning the map in any which way you can think of, but I just could not make sense of it! It seemed as if every single street led to yet another piazza and I could never figure out which was the right street to take once we walked out the other side! But this was actually the best part – just walking about and ending up seeing much more than what we would have if we just went straight to the next destination. Even to this day we don’t use online ‘street view maps’ when we arrive in a new city. I see too many tourists walking with their noses pressed up against the screen of their phones, never stopping to look up and around at all they are missing out on.
It’s hard to pick a favourite from all there is to see and do; but I will start with people watching. I loved the people watching. Be it sitting on the Spanish Steps, watching locals and tourists, watching locals and tourists alike (!) or sitting in small, unknown piazzas we stumbled across, watching real Roman life go by. In one particular little square we sat down on the steps, and a local mom and her daughter came to sit next to us. The little girl had so much energy and you could tell all the mom really wanted to do was to sit and take a bit of a break. Very excited the little girl talked and gestured to her mom and off she went – running around the square, and back to her mom. Turns out mom was “timing” her little run around the piazza! She kept going for at least half an hour – and remarkably her time “improved” each time she came back to check! A very creative way to tire the little one out, if you ask me.
Rome has an inordinate amount of things to see. I can’t remember how many things we had on our “must-see” list, but what I do know is that we definitely did not make it to everything!
Down romantic cobbled streets and alleyways we walked into countless beautiful churches (and not even the famous ones!)
But St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums were definitely a highlight. However, we warned, the Vatican museums are packed in the morning. We booked online tickets and got to skip the line (which was at least 1.5km long!) but still, once inside the entrance area, hubby had to hand in his back-pack and I had to pick up our actual tickets. We split up to do this, almost to never find each other again amongst what seemed like 10 000 people mulling about! (Top tip #1 – If you decide to split up in the entrance hall, agree on where to meet each other again. I will never forget the feeling of dread when I turned around from the ticket counter and saw a sea of people, and no hubby in sight! Top tip #2 – Visit the Vatican museums in the afternoon. We left around lunch time and the entrance hall was like a graveyard!) It was pure instinct that drew the two of us towards each other. It was such a relief to see him again! However, all the stress was worth the crowds and you’ve got to go see it for yourself.
No visit to Rome would be complete without visiting the spectacular Colosseum. We booked a tour that included access to the passages underneath and that ends up with you walking out into the arena. WOW! It was really worth booking this. I could not even begin to imagine how overwhelming it must have been walking out to a packed amphitheatre full of people screaming and shouting. It’s hard to believe that this was constructed in AD 72 – 80. The ingenuity of that time is something to behold. (We went on to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill after visiting the Colosseum. (Top tip #3 – bad idea! We were exhausted afterwards… and the 37° heat didn’t help!)
And as much as the piazzas stood in the way of my navigation skills, I loved all of them. Sure, some are filled with touristy restaurants with waiters all but fetching you in the middle of the square to come and dine at their establishment, but the vibe is undeniable. We stayed close to piazza Navona and had the privilege of walking through it a few times a day! The Four Rivers fountain roars with water as street performers and artists rival for your attention. My favourite night time spot was probably Campo de’ Fiori. Musicians battle it out in the square for their turn to play, while people would buzz in and out of the restaurants and bars that line the piazza. We sat down at a place with an odd name: Sloppy Sam’s – and they tagline “sloppy in the back, classy in the front”! Huh? Who cares?! I loved it!
From a food perspective, Rome was the last stop on our three week Italian holiday. At this point there was not a parma ham, prosciutto or bruschetta that we didn’t know, a pasta or pizza we didn’t taste or a gelato flavour unbeknownst to us! Being from the South African Karoo, growing up in region famed for flowers and lamb, I craved meat! So for me, the best meal I had in Rome was at a little restaurant that had lamb chops on the menu! Three beautifully prepared gorgeous lamb chops… but with the requisite paste course preceding it, of course!
We saw so much, but left behind so much more to see. So we did what needed to be done… Some say that if you throw a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder into the Trevi fountain, you will definitely return to Rome. So to make sure, we duly did the coin toss! (An interesting fact about the coins from the Trevi fountain… on a daily basis the coins are collected and it is actually used to help subsidise a special supermarket that serves the poor in Rome, with help from the Italian Red Cross.)
So now I know without a doubt that we will walk down the streets of the Eternal City again soon; it is a city that feels like and indoor and outdoor museum, it causes you to stop in awe around every other corner as it reveals a bit more of its history and it’s a city that completely dazzled us with its soul.