When: 3 March – 5 March
Flying from: London – Luton Airport
Flying to: Fiumicino Airport
Flying with: Monarch (outgoing) EasyJet (incoming)
Staying: Hotel Savoy
Rome has been on my bucket list for donkey’s years so when compiling my Adventure List for 2017, I added it on with excitement. Rome is an ageing decadent city from which you can hear the echoes of the grandeur, elitism and splendour of this ancient gems equally brutal and majestic past. When I think of Rome, I think of gladiators, horse drawn carriages, goblets of blood-red wine and platefuls of pasta and pizza. The feeling Rome generates is visceral, immediate and sensual.
In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert goes to Italy to eat and it’s certainly a city to get fat in. Here, you can embrace all of life’s pleasures. Rome reminds us that even the pinnacle of civilisation can fall when its citizens embrace hedonism and excess.
I booked this trip a little differently to my others. Normally I’m quite happy to slum it as I spend most of my time out and about exploring. The room becomes somewhere to shower and sleep but Rome is a romantic, historical hub so why not see it in style? Retiring to a luxurious room after a day pounding the cities pavements felt necessary.
I booked my flights and accommodation with VoyagePrive, a company that provides luxurious experiences at a reasonable price. I always keep my eye out for different deals although I typically book with via skyscanner, Expedia and booking.com. VoyagePrive is ideal for those trips that you want to be a bit special.
I flew with Monarch and walked to my hotel, the Hotel Savoy. I was told the walk would be 10 minutes but it ended up being closer to 30! No problem, taking in the city by foot was quite exciting and the weather was gorgeous, although I was a sweaty mess by the time that I stumbled into the marbled splendour of the Savoy.
A travel buddy of mine had already given me the heads up regarding Rome so I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I threw my stuff down in the hotel and headed out to the Spanish Steps.
This area is popular with tourists and crowded with people. What’s exciting about this part of town is that it looks like something from a Bond film. You can picture 007 zooming through the tiny streets via Vespa motorbike. It’s a romantic, picturesque area and you can find some of Rome’s most luxurious shopping experiences at the bottom if you are in a splurging mood. It’s also the perfect place to people-watch and take in the tourists and locals that Rome houses.
I then headed to the Trevi Fountain, another of Rome’s most famous sites. The custom is to toss a coin over your left shoulder to ensure that you will return to Rome one day. Despite the crowds, I did manage to eek my way to the front of the fountain for a photo! You do need to be on guard around this area as there are plenty of hustlers out to get your money and you’ll be badgered for a selfie stick or umbrella every three minutes (even if you have both in your possession.)
Fortunately there are various Italian policewomen with whistles who are there to make sure that you don’t get conned and any seasoned (or even unseasoned) traveller will be fully aware of the game that’s played. It’s easy enough to avoid being duped if you keep up some healthy boundaries. Remember, anyone that is overly nice to you and insincerely friendly or seems to have a contrived story like an X Factor contestant is coming at you with a pitch and that pitch is to part you with your cash.
I took my time strolling around Rome, finding my way to the Colosseum, which is absolutely stunning and gargantuan in real life. The Colosseum is a literal colossus that dominates Rome no matter where you look. It’s formidable, intimidating and spectacular and it’s easy to see why Rome’s revellers frittered their time watching gladiators fight for the crowds favour.
The Roman Forum was intricate and beyond impressive, a mix of crumbled ruins and lush green. What’s incredible about Rome is that historical sights lurk around every corner and remain well-preserved. Yes, there are plenty of ruins but what remains standing is kept in glorious condition. Rome is a city that incorporates its buildings with nature so there’s a great sense of space and scope. It’s easy to imagine yourself ‘back in the day.’ I half expected to hear the soundtrack from Gladiator playing (unfortunately it didn’t). I didn’t even hear Russell Crowe boom ‘are you not entertained?’
By this point I was hungry, so as I stumbled across a little restaurant and decided to order bruschetta and pizza. Rome is renowned for its food but there’s also plenty of tourist friendly places that offer average overpriced food. To eat like a Roman, you need to head out a tiny bit further to try authentic dishes with the locals. I’m not a pizza snob though so I loved every bite.
Rome at night is just as stunning and ethereal and by the time I got to my room, I took in the view from the rooftop restaurant, enjoyed my complimentary drink and went to bed!
Up early the next morning, I went to explore the Villa Borghese gardens which are huge and quintessentially Italian. You can spend ages wandering around the gardens stumbling across horse riders, fountains and gorgeous Italian architecture. This is a place to get lost, write poetry, people-watch and fall asleep to the sounds of the city. It’s a place that easily and effortlessly transports you back in time.
The weather had taken a dip so I went back to my room to add a few layers of clothing before heading to my tour of the Colloseum, Pantheon, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. I have to warn future travellers, if you don’t want to book onto a tour you can enjoy the Colosseum for free on a Sunday! I met with my tour group by the Arch of Constantine and was given a headset enabling me to stray from my guide and still take in her information. She was a font of knowledge. Here are some facts that I did not know beforehand:
- The Colosseum was built by architects and slaves over an 8 year period;
- The gladiators never fought to the death as they were too valuable;
- Wild animals were used in the Colosseum. Such animals included elephants, giraffes and rhinos. Archers were prepared to shoot if the animals attempted to leave the Colosseum;
- Contrary to popular belief, gladiator battles were never fought 1 on 1. This was not considered a big enough spectacle. Instead, up to 50 pairs of gladiators fought at any one time.
After my tour, I headed to another Italian restaurant and I rather unimaginatively went for Pizza again followed by white wine. Well, when in Rome…
I followed this up with a customised Magnum from the Magnum store failing my lent vow to give up chocolate in spectacular fashion.
The following day, I decided to head for the Vatican. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and the crowds were out in full force. The sky was a sea of umbrellas and I considered turning back. After all, the Vatican is just another church right? Wrong! To get into the Vatican City you have to pass through security (just as you do with the Colosseum) but once you are inside, the crowds thin out and you have space to breathe.
I soon realised why the crowds had been so huge. I had timed my arrival perfectly with the Pope’s address! Of course I didn’t understand a word he was saying but it was still a big moment! I decided to purchase a ticket to the top of the dome. You can walk the 551 steps to the top but if you suffer with cardiac problems or are otherwise less able to walk, the lift is recommended. The staircases are quite narrow and slanted in parts, giving it a claustrophobic feel. Once at the top, the few is stunning. You can see a panorama of the entirety of Rome. The cost to take the lift is 8 euros or you can walk for 6 euros.
I then headed into St. Peter’s Basilica which is absolutely stunning and intricate. Even if you are not religious, there is a calming ethereal sense of peace here that is humbling.
Before heading back to the airport, I decided to return to my favourite parts of Rome; the Spanish steps, Trevi fountain and the Colosseum.
There was still so much of Rome that I hadn’t seen but I’d fit in the main things that I’d wanted to do and although I didn’t manage to beat the amount of steps I walked in New York, my feet still took a pounding!
Oh, and if you need any tickets, look out for these little kiosks. They are dotted throughout Rome.
All my love