Visiting Italy: Roma

We spent 5 days in Rome in November 2012 under spectactularly blue skies!

Where we stayed

Great boutique hotel in Rome

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by tvordj on November 14, 2012

We stayed five nights at the Bailey's Hotel. It's about a 10-15 minute walk from the Termini or a short cab ride around the back of the Baths of Diocletian on a narrow street parallell to XX Settembre. That's handy for the busses and there are two Metro stops within about 15 minutes walk as well.

The staff at the hotel were top notch, very helpful and friendly. Any request was quickly attended to and they had lots of suggestions for restaurants and things to do and how to get there on the map they gave us.

We had a superior double room and it was on the top floor facing in inner courtyard. The room was very quiet as a result but the street itself wasn't really busy with traffic. The room was large by European standards and we had lots of room. The bed is a king sized one with a memory foam mattress I think. We found it quite comfortable. There's a mini-bar that we used to store some of our own cold drinks. The hotel has free wifi and it worked very well for us.

It was still too early for them to have the heat on (early November) and the Air conditioning was a little chilly at times. Didn't seem to be a way to turn it down by temperature though we could turn the fan down but it wasn't that much of a problem and there were extra blankets in the wardrobe if we had found it cold at night though we were fine with the covers on the bed.

The bathroom was a decent size with a tub and shower which was nicer than a small corner shower unit. The lights worked on the key card and there's a motion light that turns on outside the bathroom which was good for night time access.

The only thing I'd complain about for the room was that there wasn't a lot of storage for clothes aside from the wardrobe and we wanted some drawers to unpack. We used shelves in the wardrobe instead. Also the safe in the wardrobe was not big enough for a small laptop. When you offer free wifi, it makes sense to have a laptop-sized safe in the room.

Breakfast was included and was a fairly decent buffet of pastries, rolls, cereal, ham, cheese, yogurt and scrambled eggs. There was a selection of Twinings teas and little teapots which was nice as i am not much of a coffee drinker. My partner's opinion was that the coffee wasn't great but you could ask for a cappucino which was made fresh and he said that was quite good. We did find that the eggs were a bit rubbery, as well and the juices were little more than coloured sugary water. That definitely needs improving.

There's a little bar on the ground floor and the staff that served us there were always pleasant.

We got a good deal booking through Air Canada's hotel website (pay for four nights, get a fifth free so that worked out to a 20% discount).

Unique Qualities: Free wifi, fairly good breakfast. Some very good restaurants down the street a few blocks, transportation handy. Excellent staff!

I would stay here again.

Directions: One street behind/parallel to Via XX Settembre, close to Piazza Repubblica
We paid about 150 canadian dollars a night with a 20 percent discount through the Air Canada hotel booking site that gave us the fifth night free.
Bailey's Hotel
Via Flavia 39
Rome, Italy, 00187
+39 (06) 642020486

What we did

Arriving in Rome

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

We left Manchester very early and security queues were long and bothersome. I found myself in the middle seat both times which was Bad Thing #1 but then, The man sitting next to me and his wife across the aisle were moved to where they could sit together so at least we could spread out and it was a bit more comfy.

We got into Rome about 2:30 and trekked our way through the airport to where the train station is. I'm sure I saw a sign that said there was a regional train alternative to the more expensive express but the machines didn't show it nor did the rather rude man at the ticket counter admit it either. I'm not entirely confident but it seemed we didn't have a choice and spent the 32 euros for the two tickets. It takes about 35 minutes into Rome Termini from the airport.

We took a taxi because we were tired of dragging our bags around even though we only had carry on luggage. The hotel, Bailey's Hotel isn't too far from the main train station and is on a narrow one way street, Via Flavia. Our room is on the top floor next to the tiny elevator but we don't hear a thing from it as there's a little corridor into the room from the door. Nice large room and working wifi!

We headed out to see if we could find something to eat. It's close to 5 and restaurants close for a while and reopen in the evenings. We did find a little place that had some sandwiches, a pasta dish and a burger and a few other things that could be reheated and we had that since we were starving though it was hardly a "foodie" welcome to Rome!

We continued to walk as it got dark and headed towards the Spanish Steps. Graham wasn't impressed. To be fair, it doesn't look like much from the top, it's better from the bottom with the stairs rising in front of you and no, it's not one of the WOW sights of Rome but it *is* one of the famous views. At least, from the bottom. We stood at the top for a bit, glancing at some of the artist renditions of various Roman views and watched the people and then got a cab back to the hotel. We relaxed in the room for a bit and then went to the hotel bar for a couple of glasses of Vino Rosso to cap off the day!

The next day, The sun was out and it stayed out ALL DAY! This is epic for us. Everywhere we go we generally get maybe one day of sunshine and it's forecast nice all week! I can't get over it! To make sure we saw as much of Rome as possible under sunny skies, we thought it would be a good day to do the open top bus tour. I know they're a bit expensive but we like them.

First, breakfast in the hotel. Not bad. They had lots of cold items, including bakery goods, and a big pot of scrambled eggs which was nice though the eggs tended to be a little rubbery. The juice was little more than sweet coloured water, though.

We walked to Piazza Barberini where we could catch the tour bus. At the Termini station stop there were vendors milling around beside the bus trying to sell scarves, hats and even bottles of water to the tourists on the bus.

The tour covered all the main sights though it's not always easy taking photos from the top of the bus. The bus is either shaky or you get the bus rails in the way or what you want is on the other side and then you just get the backs of the heads of the other tourists in your pictures!

That's ok. It is a good overview of the sights. At one point the bus stopped and stayed there quite some time. It seemed to be an accident though not sure if the bus was actually involved or stuck behind one. A police officer finally arrived, blew his whistle and things seemed to get moving shortly thereafter.

We got off the bus a stop before the one where we got on because I knew the Trevi fountain was nearby. We found the fountain and took photos but Graham didn't want to throw the traditional coin in because he said there are other places he wants to see first and may not want to come back to Rome! He's not counting it out but was just hedging his bets! I've been three times now so I'm not bothered.

We elbowed our way out of the crowds and took a side street away from there, stopping to look at some of the souvenir shops and for coffee. I knew that the Piazza Colonna was along Via del Corso nearby as we'd seen it from the bus earlier . The column is that of Marcus Aurelius, showing scenes from his campaigns, and dates from 163 C.E. The statue on the top and the fountain under are from the 16th century.

From there we found ourselves in the nearby Piazza Montecitorio where there is an Egyptian obelisk which was apparently brought to Rome by Augustus.

On the outskirts of that piazza, we saw a very cool store called Eclectica where you had to buzz a doorbell to go in. it was filled with all sorts of memorabilia and antiques. There were even medals and items dating to WWII but with a difference, there was a lot of it relating to the Nazis and Mussolini. You don't see as much of that elsewhere, not that I've seen but it is a part of Italy's heritage and history.

Just past there was a nice little wine bar and we decided to have lunch there. It was a leisurely lunch as is traditional in Italian restaurants. We had Italian beer, and I had a plate of pasta carbonara, my favourite. (Enoteca Capranica, see review)

Finally, we came to the Piazza della Rotonda, where the Pantheon is. It's one of the oldest Christian churches in Rome and was a pagan temple before that. The dimensions of it are beautifully perfect, as high in the middle as the diameter of the dome. Though the interior has been redesigned over time, the marble floors still date from ancient Rome. The church itself is circular as well with a portico outside lined with columns. It's one of my favourite buildings in Rome (see review)

Walking from there along the cobbled streets, we looked at some market stalls and I bought a triple print that I can frame as one large picture. We found Piazza Navona next and walked around there a bit, taking pictures of the big fountain, Bernini's famed Fountain of Four Rivers, and sampling amazing gelato! There are a lot of artists set up in the square along with entertainers. One guy was sitting in a chair, his head obviously under the jacket but a hat and sunglasses were balanced over that and it looked like an invisible man sitting there. Another couple was dancing the tango. The piazza is lined with restaurants and there's a church on one side. This is another busy and popular spot at night.

By now we are flagging a bit and though we found our way to a street where we might have been able to catch a bus, we couldn't figure out where the bus stop was so we ended up in another taxi. The traffic was rush hour strong and it took a while to get back to the hotel. I'm not entirely sure the cabbie didn't take a round about way but perhaps it would not have made a difference no matter which route he took at that time of day. We got back in one piece, that's the main thing and I feel much better after a shower and rest.

We went out again later to find a nice restaurant, one we saw mentioned in a Trip Advisor review of the hotel actually, though they didn't put the name of it in. They said "left out of the hotel, down about 70 yards over on the right is xxxxxxxx" obviously meaning to put the name of it in after and didn't get to it. We went down the road and decided on one of two that were side by side. It was a good choice! We'd had steaks that were some of the best I've ever had. The "primo" course of soup was served in something the size of a small mixing bowl and it was really good but there was far too much of it. Definitely a meal to write home about!

Oh the Horror!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

I don't know about footloose but we certainly are foot sore! We "did" the Colosseum today, Nov. 7, and seemed to involve ourselves in more walking than necessary. I don't know what it is but we either get off a bus at the wrong spot or have to walk extra to find our destination.

This morning we headed to find the bus stop. It had a stop for every number except the one we wanted, naturally, though we saw the bus we wanted go by a few times. We waqlked up the road. Surely we'd come across the stop eventually. "Eventually" was the accurate word. It probably wasn't far in the grand scheme of things but it was farther than we thought we'd have to go. Once on the crowded bus, our noses pressed up against the front door, we spotted the stop at the place we started. For some reason, neither of us saw it though we were right beside it.

We knew the bus was heading to Piazza Venezia which was a bit of a walk to the Colosseum so I thought we should get off at the stop before. Which turned into just as much walking. We went down a flight of stairs and around near the Trajan Markets and ruins of the Trajan Forums. We probably wouldn't have had as good a view of that had we stayed on the bus so that was good to see at least.

The column of Trajan has a relief spiralling up to the top with illustrations carved into it of all Trajan's victories. The markets were just that, shops but they were multi levels of shops, very modern! They were up as high as six storeys in some parts and contained offices and warehouses as well. There is a museum on the other side of it, we walked past that when we first got off the bus.

It was still a bit of a walk to the Colosseum from there and it's really warm today with hardly a cloud in the sky. We booked the tour online so we buzzed through the reservation line, got our tickets and had a 15 minute wait for the guide. The tour we took included the hypogeum (basement level) and the third level in addition to the main stuff.

The guide was quite good though we did find the radio devices a little hard to make out at times. Booking these tours is the only way you get to go down under and see a bit of the underbelly of the Colosseum where they kept the cages and props and all the mechanics for pushing people and animals and stage bits up into the stadium.

I managed to get up the steps from the basement and barely managed the steeper stairs up to the second level. I didn't think I'd get up to the third level so I stayed put and Graham went up and took pics from there.

The tour ended after that. We were both tired and thirsty and exited the structure and tried to decide where to go next. We walked around away from the direction we'd come and there were a string of restaurants there. We knew it would be pricey and we shouldn't have gone into one but we did. We ordered burgers but if that patty came from a cow, then the cow had feathers and clucked. The waiter said he'd ordered the one we wanted but I don't think the cook got the message. It was ok but I'm pretty sure it wasn't beef.

Did we have the energy to go tramping around the Forum? One sign pointed us to the right for an entrance which seemed to indicate we'd have to climb the Palatine Hill before getting to the Forum. I was sure there was another entrance around the corner and there was. But it was blocked off. We were both done in and I was damned if I was going to walk all that way back around. It was starting to get late and we'd not have a lot of time inside before they closed anyway.

Finding a bus stop was another problem. We walked into Piazza Venezia in front of the big white "wedding cake" building, the Vitorio Emanuelle II monument, and couldn't see where the busses stop and the one we wanted seemed to be coming from around a corner. Expecting we'd have to walk another long way, I gave up and we headed to the taxi stand

Into the cab and a fairly short ride back unlike yesterday's marathon in traffic. But before hitting the room, I really wanted a beer so we went into the hotel bar and had a Peroni and it hit every spot there was! We tried one of the other neighbourhood restaurants tonight, Taverna Flavia (see review). Food was pretty good though last night's was better and cheaper.

November 8

The theme for part of today was Horror. From "real" horror to fake horror! The real horror was the museum and crypt of the Capuchin Monks at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccin on Via Veneto. (see review in this journal) The main attraction is the crypts, decorated elaborately with the bones of thousands of Capuchin monks over several centuries. It's eerie and kind of unsettling really. There are even what appears to be skeletons in the brown hooded monks' robes surrounded by bones and skulls.

Next order of business was the Fake Horror. It was too far to walk to our next destination so we took the Metro for the first time. It was pretty simple to use. The signs were clear for which platform you needed since we knew the stop we wanted. We got tickets from the machine and went through the barriers. I asked at a news kiosk which direction for Via Gracchi and headed off.

Graham is a big fan of horror movies and in Rome there is a shop owned by Italian horror director Dario Argento called Profundo Rosso which is also the name of one of his films. The shop itself is small and contains pretty much the usual sort of thing you might find in any sci-fi fantasy themed shop. The cool thing is that underneath is an exhibit of movie memorabilia from Argento's films. It's dark and shadowy, with the exhibits lit in lurid lights and there's a sound track to describe each "cell" and which film it relates to. It's gruesome, but then it would be, wouldn't it? It was well put together, though and only took about 20 minutes to see everything and take some photos.

Time to find somewhere for lunch. We walked towards a shopping street called Cola di Rienzo and found a small cafe called Taverna di Luisa on a side street. They had a fixed price menu for 10 euro with bruschetta, pizza, dessert and water included. The pizza was lovely, crispy thin crust and really big.

Over to the shopping street next. We shopped and browsed and picked up a few things, some for gifts and some for ourselves. We walked down to the Tiber River and wandered along it until we came to Castel St. Angelo, the fortress that is best known as the stronghold of some of the medieval popes. The area in front of it is thronged with both independent hawkers pushing more cashmere scarves and all kinds of other things, and a little market stall area with legitimate vendors that allow credit card payment as well as cash. I did find some nice things there and bought a handful of Christmas presents.

I'm not as worn out as I was yesterday but I still have sore feet and legs. We got bus tickets from a machine and found the right stop. The next bus was only about 10 minutes' wait and we even got seats! As the bus wound its way through the streets, it got quite full.

Something we've noticed, though we buy tickets and validate them on board in the machine, people are getting on the bus, not just at the front but at the rear exits and are not paying or punching tickets. I don't know if they have passes or are just taking chances. We weren't about to. Don't want the Italian SWAT teams swooping down and tossing us in the dungeons of Castel Sant'Angelo for not paying for a bus ticket!

We even managed to get off at the right stop this time. We stopped off at an old patisserie just around the corner from the hotel to get take out tiny coffees and pastries. We had a rest and then we decided to go to the Hard Rock Cafe for our evening meal, by taxi. It's not that far but we were tired of walking for today.

Oh wait, it *is* another country

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

Today (Nov. 9) is a gruelling 3 hour tour in the Vatican museums.

We slept in this morning and didn't get moving until mid-morning. We walked to a Metro to take it to the Vatican where we are later to meet the tour group. We skipped breakfast and had an early lunch to fortify ourselves for the long tour through the museums and St. Peter's.

We were early for the tour meeting spot in Piazza di Risorgimento and decided to have gelato and sit in the sunny square. The gelato was beautifully creamy and the sun was warm. The square is just outside the walls of the Vatican City which is a state/country of its own. If we had been visiting anywhere in it beside the museums and basilica, we would have to go through passport control. I believe the official name of the country is the State of the Vatican City.

We met our group of about two dozen ended up being split into two, our group was guided by Sussana and the tour was given in Spanish and English. We had another of those radio thingys with a single earbud which worked better than the phone style receivers we used at the Colosseum.

We walked to the entrance halls of the museums where Sussana had the tickets printed. Up a flight of marble stairs out into a courtyard, We stood there for about a half hour while she explained the highlights of the Sistine Chapel and some of the more important panels along the sides including one or two by Boticelli, and some by (Perugino) one of which is very important as he was the first to use perspective in a painting.

She then talked about Michelangelo and the history and story behind his painting the chapel ceiling and the Last Judgement. It's interesting to find out the way the frescos are created (wet plaster, outline from a "cartoon" etched into holes, then filled in with paint). Michelangelo did the first three panels of the ceiling with one format, scenes from the story of Noah and the Ark but realized that from the floor the figures in the panels looked too small so he did the rest with fewer people and larger so they would be seen better from below. The last few panels were done without the cartoon outline, just straight painting onto the plaster. The ceiling panels are all Old Testament stories, no references to the Christian era at all.

Before we get to the chapel, we have to walk quite a long way, through several large galleries. A couple also have little gift shops along the side. We also ducked into one room that had high ceilings and was completely covered in painted scenes. It was very impressive. We weren't able to go into the Rafael rooms though. I guess it's just not part of the tours which are mainly to get you through to the Sistine and out again. There are 17 km of galleries and museums and I'm sure it would do you in trying to see it all in one day.

Finally we come to the main event. The Sistine Chapel. By now it's 4:30 and the light outside is fading into night. The windows in the chapel are blocked and only indirect light shows inside saving the paint from deterioration. For the first 500 years, this was used regularly as a church and centuries of smoke, candlelight, incense, oil lamps and people had coated the painting with soot and dirt. A Japanese company paid millions in the 1980s to have the artwork cleaned and it took something like 16 years.

The chapel is dim inside, partly because of the lateness in the day. We had 20 minutes to look around. You are not supposed to take photos even without a flash. That always annoys me because if there's no light, there should be no damage caused. You can take pictures elsewhere in the museums without a flash. Anyway, even though I shouldn't have, I still managed to sneak some stealth photos.

Our feet, legs and back were really taking a punishing through all this and we still had to walk all the way back up to the entrance/exit. We did get to walk down the spiral ramp/staircase though, which was neat.

After that, the tour is done and we had to walk all the way around to the Basilica on our own. We had to go through a security x-ray check and by this time I was a wreck. I told Graham to go ahead since I'd seen it and he hadn't and I'd catch up. By the time I dragged myself to the stairs to go in, he was already at the top. A guard noticed me and I must have looked pretty bedraggled because he offered me the chance to use a lift. The problem with that was that I didn't know where I would be inside and Graham wouldn't find me so I struggled up the stairs which were mercifully not steep.

The Basilica closes at 6 and we only had about 15 minutes by this time. We made sure to see the Pieta, my favourite ever. She's right by the entrance. We didn't go all the way to the Bernini bronze canopy but could see it. The ceilings are very high and the decoration is all very lavish mosaics, not paintings, plus all the statues.

It's the largest Christian church in the world and there are markings on the floor from the entrance showing you where the edges of some of the other large cathedrals and basilicas would reach, including St. Paul's London and the Duomo in Florence. I forgot to look for the markings to show Graham. He's not religious at all and though it's quite a sight to see, thought it was an awful lot of expense and effort to go to in order to build something dedicated to something that doesn't exist!

We left the building just before the six o'clock bells rang and saw a changing of the Swiss Guard in their colourful uniforms. When I say "changing of the guard", don't expect an elaborate ceremony like you might see in London. It's just 3 of them changing their posts with a bit of marching and such. We were there at the right time to see it and got some pictures.

I wasn't even sure I could feel my feet except for the pain radiating from them. Taxi time again. We saw a stand at the back of St. Peter's Square. One taxi drove up and we tried to get in but a group of people pushed past us insisting they were waiting first. Fine. Another one came and a woman grabbed that out from under us too. When I third one came, I was ready to fight for it. We didn't have to and got in.

After a rest of about an hour, we decided to go back to the restaurant down the road where we had that delicious steak. I enjoyed my meal just as much as the first time we'd eaten there, though Graham still thought the steak the other night was not to be bested. I made sure I had room for dessert this time and it was a little torte of ricotta and pears with a powdery top, presented on a plate with chocolate drizzles and a bit of whipped cream on the side. Heaven!

Arrivederci, Roma

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

A couple of notes:

"Prego" is a word you will hear a lot. It seems to be a multi purpose word. You may hear someone behind a ticket desk or the hotel desk use it to summon the next person waiting. You could hear it used as a "your welcome" if you say thank you or grazie. It is almost always the word used to answer the telephone as well. Quite handy to know!

Of course there are homeless people in Rome, just like anywhere else. There are people begging on the streets but we didn't notice anyone sleeping in doorways and even most of the main piazzas where the tourists are seemed free of beggars but we did see them. Some had disabilities and were unable to walk. They were perched or lying on low to the ground wheeled platforms, their disability sometimes displayed (i.e. twisted feet) and a cup in their hand. We also saw what appeared to be older women, wearing long full robes and a hood, on their hands and knees prostrated on the ground, forehead nearly touching the ground and holding a cup in front of them.

You couldn't imagine a more emotionally wrenching style of begging, could you? Except Graham noticed one of the "old" women stand up and he could tell it was clearly a young woman but some of the disabled people certainly weren't faking.

We say goodbye to Rome today and are to fly back to Manchester this afternoon, changing again in Gatwick and arriving in Manchester about 9:30 tonight.

We decided to book a car to the airport rather than drag our bags around train stations. A private car was only a couple of euro more than a taxi and infinitely more comfortable. It's yet another sunny day and the driver seemed to have taken us around some back streets and drove us around the Colosseum as well to get out of the city so it was nice to have a last look. At one point, though, he drove us down this little uninhabited lane and we both worried a bit that he was taking us to some field somewhere to murder us and fit us with cement shoes. Not really, but we were concerned until we realized he was taking a very odd approach to a motorway. Must have been an on-ramp that locals know about but isn't a formal one or something.

We had spectacular weather all week. I enjoyed most of the food though Graham only enjoyed a few meals we had. We did walk ourselves into comas a few days , or at least it felt like it. We always do. We saw a lot of the major sights and things on our "bucket" list even if we didn't make it to the Forums or the Gladiator school/barracks ruins. Those were probably the only things we didn't see that we wanted to but we were so tired that we probably wouldn't have enjoyed it at that point.

We saw the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel via tours and I think it was the right way to go. As always, I loved seeing the Pieta and the Pantheon. We had a bit of cross communication sometimes with waiters and shop staff but mostly we did ok with the few words of Italian I could remember. The hotel staff were all really good to us anytime we asked for anything. The only points the hotel loses is that though the breakfast did have eggs, they weren't very good and the coffee wasn't good either though you could ask for a cappuccino and it would be made fresh for you. It also loses points for the juices which were basically just sugary coloured water.

We used taxis a few times when we were too tired to fuss with busses and they were fine, obviously more expensive than taking a bus or metro, but always efficient even though the traffic was manic and you didn't always want to watch! Yes, the traffic. Insane really. No concept of lanes, especially with the million or so scooters. They did more or less stop at traffic lights which is an improvement. The bus and the metro were easy to use and there weren't too many steps in the metro stations we used. If you're going to use them a lot, get a day or week pass.

We tried to check in at a British Airways kiosk but it only printed one of the four boarding passes we needed. We asked at the BA desk and were directed to a shorter line at the check in area and got that sorted.

My god/dess it's a pain in the arse getting around in airports and planes and such! We passed through security at Fiumincino and headed in the general direction of the gate but stopped at a cafe for lunch. We already knew what our gate was so went directly there after. This is another very large airport!

The gate area for our group of gates was quite nice with all the designer shops. The plane arriving was late so we were then late getting away, nearly an hour by the time it pulled away from the gate. Luckily, though the plane was full, apparently the one empty seat across the aisle from us was next to the wife of the guy sitting on the aisle in our row so he moved over and we had the row to ourselves. Good thing! That made it more comfortable at least.

Getting off was the usual hurry up and wait and then there's the long walk through to passport control where there's 500 people in the EU (European citizen) line (Graham's) and about 2 dozen in the "other" passports line (mine). The EU line moved very quickly. Mine did not. There were maybe 3 agents dealing with our line. One of them had the same two women almost the whole time I stood there. I kept expecting them to be taken away at gunpoint or something. I don't know what the holdup was. Another agent took off to deal with people arriving on the gocart. *sigh* Finally once the other queue cleared completely, the people in my line were ushered to the other agents.

I was asked if I was traveling with anyone and when I said I was and he was in the other line and now waiting for me, she told me since we had been traveling together, I could have gone with him!!! Agggh! How were we supposed to know?

We had to exit the whole works and go back through check in, meaning more security. This time there was hardly anyone there so we sailed through. We then came into the lounge and found a restaurant and had a meal. Graham finally had the full English breakfast he'd been dreaming of all week!

Thankfully we had lots of time between flights so the late arrival and long queue in Passport control didn't really worry me. On the ground in Manchester, we catch a shuttle bus to a new car rental "village" and then picked up a few groceries for the next dayat a 24 hour Tesco before going home.

Rome was great. Will we go back? Probably not but we would like to go to Florence some day.


Perfectly proportioned Pantheon

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

The Pantheon is one of the oldest Christian churches in Rome and was a pagan temple before that. It's still a church now and has been since the 7th century. It's one of the best preserved buildings from ancient Rome as well. It was built as a temple in early C.E. It was rebuilt after a fire, burned down and rebuilt again by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century C.E.

The dimensions of it are beautifully perfect, as high in the middle as the diameter of the dome. Though the interior has been redesigned over time, the marble floors still date from ancient Rome. The church itself is circular as well with a portico outside lined with columns.

There are a few famous tombs there. The big attraction is the stone dome, a real architectural wonder for the day. There's a hole in the centre of the dome, an oculus it's called, for light and there are drainage holes underneath it for rainwater.

The piazza outside has an 18th century with an obelisk and fountain in the centre and is lined with restaurants. It's very popular and another busy spot, even without the tourists. The other hotel I was going to choose is actually on this square but I think I'm quite happy we stayed elsewhere as I think it would have been noisy.

The Pantheon is one of my favourite places in Rome. It's elegant, the marble floors are beautiful, the artwork is exquisite. The only jarring bit is the announcments to ask people to be quiet and respect the space as a church. The loud announcements seem to contradict the message.

Outside, the piazza is usually hopping with tourists. There are restaurants and gelateria in the area as well as a post office. The narrow cobbled streets around it wind around the buildings so that you enter the piazza a bit by surprise, to see the domed building in front of you. The Pantheon is free to enter. There is one low step to get up into the portico but aside from that should be accessible to all.
Piazza della Rotonda
Rome, Italy, 00186
+39 0668300230

*That* Chapel

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

Vatican City is an independent state, therefore, it's a different country. You're not in Italy anymore when you cross the borders but you can visit St. Peter's Square, Basilica and the Vatican Museums easily. If you go anywhere else, though, you will have to go through passport and border control. The official State is less than 100 years old, established in 1929 but the Catholic Popes have been in residence here mostly since the early centuries of Christianity thought it's not the only place in Rome where they lived. There was also a period where the Popes lived in Avignon, France.

The museums are a series of museums that exist to contain the collections of the Popes. They were founded by Pope Julius II in the 16th century. Currently there are 54 galleries and 17 km of corridors. It's a place you could spend all day browsing. You can buy the tickets and wander on your own, get an audio guide, or you can book a formal tour. The formal tours will basically take you from the entrance, down through one hallway of galleries to the Sistine Chapel and back to the entrance again. You can stay on and see the rest on your own. Entrance fees for an adult are currently 15 euro.

We booked a 2-3 hour tour because we didn't feel up to spending all day there.

Up a staircase from the entrance hall you can go out into the courtyard of the Acorn and yes, there's a large sculpture of an acorn on one side. (The bronze acorn used to be near the Pantheon, they think and think it was moved here to the courtyard in the early 1600s) In the middle is a large brass sphere sculpted by Arnaldo Pomodoro in 1990. Our guide was very good and spoke to us at length out in the courtyard of the Acorn that is set up with storyboards for the Sistine chapel. The guides use these to point out the highlights because you can't talk or make noise in the chapel itself. The guides take you down there, give you about 20 minutes to look around and up and then you move on. The chapel is guarded as well with eyes open for people taking sneaky photos as that's not allowed either. You can take photos in the rest of the museums without a flash.

The Sistine Chapel was built in the end of the 15th century for Pope Sixtus (thus, "Sistine"). While it is famous now for being the location that the Enclave of cardinals goes to elect new Popes, it wasn't always used for that. Sometimes, yes, but often it was in any location where the Pope happened to be when he died. In the last hundred or so years, though, it's always done here.

And yes, even though I wasn't supposed to, I took stealth photos in the Sistine Chapel without a flash. It's dim in there but with a little photoshop adjustment, they've brightened up well.

By the end of the tour we were very tired and staggered around to St. Peter's to have a quick look inside. Also worth visiting but by the time the Vatican tour was over we only had about 20 minutes left to see it.
Vatican Museums
Viale Vaticano
Rome, Italy, 00165
0039 06 69884676

Thumbs up for the Colosseum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on November 26, 2012

The Colosseum is an amphitheatre and was started in 72 C.E. It was completed and opened in 80 C.E. under Emperor Titus. It was used for public spectacles and festivals and gladiator competitions but was probably not used to set the early Christians against the lions as is popularly thought. It is believed that it's name was taken from a statue of Nero erected nearby which in turn was modeled after the Colossus of Rhodes. It was covered in marble and was painted but after the fall of Rome, the stone was pinched over the centuries to be used to build other things in the city.

The Colosseum was generally opened to the public for 3 or 4 times a year, but for weeks each time as the spectacles and festivals would last that long. It's one of the top attractions in Rome so if you just turn up you will have to queue for tickets and it could be some time during the busiest times of the year. If you can, it's well worth booking tickets ahead of time online. You can then zip through a much shorter line.

We booked with and booked the tour that includes the dungeons/basement part which has only been open to the public for a couple of years as has the third level. You get to go into the dungeons with the guide who points out where the original floors and walls were, where the winches were to raise the props and cages etc. to the main arena, where the tunnels to the gladiator barracks probably were as well. You can't go right out into the various corridors as they have not been shored up but you get a unique view from where you are.

The tour started outside with some discussion on the construction of the building. We then climbed up two steep sets of stairs to the second level. There is also a museum up there with lots of things to look at as well as a little gift shop. The views are good but even better from the third level, up another steep set of uneven stairs. The hypogeum (basements) are down a proper set of stairs. There is a lift but they seem to be restricted to disabled and elderly people.

We really enjoyed the tour and had a good guide. They use radio devices similar to mobile phones so you can hear the guide without them having to shout. The ticket to the Colosseum even without the tour allows you entry to the roman Forums and Palatine Hill across the road though I think those two are free anyway. The basic cost for an adult is 12 euros, and is good for 2 days. The extra tour for just the Colosseum lasts a little over an hour and there are also 3 hour tours that include the Forums in the high season. We were there in November so the only thing available was the shorter tour and I don't know if we'd have had the energy for the full 3 hours anyway.
The Colosseum/Coliseum
Piazza Del Colosseo
Rome, Italy, 00184
+39 (06) 7004261

Old Bones

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by tvordj on November 23, 2012

The Church of Santa Maria della Concezione is an unusual one. In the crypt, which is above ground level (though perhaps at one time it wasn't) has several little chapels. They are decorated. With patterns made of bones. Real bones. the bones over 4000 Cappuchin monks. Really.

There is a sign in the crypt that says "What you are, we once were. What we are, you someday will be." This is to remind us that life is fleeting. The bones are arranged on the walls and ceilings in elaborate patterns. Skulls are stacked up around the skeletons of other monks wrapped in brown robes. Even the hanging light fixtures are made of brown aged bones. It's truly bizarre, somewhat unsettling and yet beautiful.

The original monks arrived in 1631 bringing 300 carts filled with their deceased brothers. Soil was brought from Jerusalem. When the friars passed on, they would be buried but those buried for longer and had turned to skeletons were then exhumed and their bones added to the designs. This went on until the late 19th century.

There are six chapels of varying design. Above, in the lower level of the church, is a little museum about the history of the Cappuchin monks with lots of interesting artifacts in glass cases. There is an entrance fee but it's only a few euro. The church is also worth a visit for the beautiful art. it was newly built when the monks arrived. We didn't get to see the church when we visited the crypt as it seemed to be closed to the public that morning.

Location: Take the metro to Piazza Barberini and head up Via Veneto. It's only a little ways around the corner from the piazza.
Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini/Capuchin Crypt
Via Vittorio Veneto 27
Rome, Italy

Movies and magic

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by tvordj on November 23, 2012

We came upon this store by accident, walking along Via Ottaviano towards the Vatican. We saw a figure of a knight in armour on the sidewalk (pavement) and went closer. Inside a small courtyard was another figure of a wizard by a sign that said "Storia e Magia" and we saw that there was a shop in there. When we went in we discovered it was chock full of beautiful and wondrous things. Not only are there lovely gift items but a lot of the shop contains items related to famous fantasy movies and series like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter etc. And this isn't cheap tat either. You can buy full sized swords as seen in these movies, you can buy a replica of Gandalf's wooden staff. You can purchase gold LOTR engraved "Precious" rings.

There are amazingly detailed sculptures of LOTR characters, They have costumes for medeival role playing. There are beautiful and very different types of chess sets. There are small cast metal figures of knights, soldiers. You can buy beautiful writing implements, jewellry, ornaments. There's a whole room with figures of fairies, elves, and angels. Another room has the chess sets and other modern movie related items. You could spend hours in there looking at everything.

The only downside we found was that the staff were very picky about taking photos and followed us around the whole time we were browsing. I found that a bit off putting but i did manage to sneak one photo of the sword display.

There is a website, though only in Italian and they do seem to sell some things online though don't have nearly as much as they do in the shop
Storia e Magia
Via Ottaviano, 32
Rome, Italy
06 3974 5528


Tasty food at an Italian wine bar

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by tvordj on November 20, 2012

We came across this little wine bar while wandering the cobbled streets looking for the Pantheon. It's just off Piazza Montecitorio, near the Piazza Colonna which is on Via del Corso. It apparently has a long history of providing good wines from an excellent wine cellar. The restaurant is deep and narrow and has a long bar. The walls are lined with shelves filled with wine bottles. Lots of wood and high arched ceilings. The atmosphere is very nice.

We stopped in there for lunch and had a lovely Roman meal. It was a leisurely lunch as is traditional in Italian restaurants. We had Italian beer, and I had a plate of pasta carbonara, my favourite. My partner managed to find a plate of chicken in curry sauce! There wasn’t enough really for his appetite but traditionally you have an antipasti which is h’or doerves and then a "primo" which can be a plate of pasta or a salad which he hadn't done. Then your main meal which is the meat/veg/rice. I couldn’t get through it all if I had to do that. Just the pasta was plenty for me. It was all quite tasty and within what I would call reasonable prices (44 euro including the drinks and the 2 euro pp service charge).
Enoteca Capranica
Piazza Capranica, 99
Rome, Italy, 00186
+39 0669940992

Historic Pasticceria and cafe

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by tvordj on December 2, 2012

Pastticceria Strabbioni has been in existence since 1888 and is a neighbourhood establishment that serves up light lunches, coffee and awesome pastries and cakes. The interior is lined with wood and hand painted flowers on the ceiling. There's a coffee bar to the right and a showcase with hard-to-resist cakes and pastries on the left. There's also outside seating area for nice days.

We only stopped in to take out coffee and a cake to our hotel which was right around the corner. The coffee was a bit strong for us but perhaps we should have ordered lattes, I guess. The cakes are wonderful!

Panini €3-5. Pastries €0.80-3. Cash only. ~Open M-Sa 7am-8pm.
Pasticceria Strabbioni
Via Servio Tullio, 2/a, 00187
Rome, Italy

Italian Taverna on Via Flavia

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by tvordj on November 20, 2012

This restaurant was down the street from our hotel and most nights we were too tired from walking to go too far. We tried this Taverna on our third night in Rome and were not disappointed. The restaurant is far larger inside than it looks from the outside. The walls are covered with photos of famous people along with the owner who was there this night as well, keeping an eye on things. I don't think I liked the decor as much, though, it didn't give you a cozy feeling to the restaurant. No matter...

The waiter we had was pretty good though we did have some translation problems once or twice but nothing too serious. That's not his fault. The food was very good, though more expensive than any other restaurant we tried in Rome. A lot of it is typical Roman dishes and everything we had was very tasty. The wine was good and there was a good selection to choose from.

We didn't make a reservation but it was a mid week November night and probably a tad on the early side (7:30 or so) when we arrived.

I had artichokes done Roman style (steamed) with a plate of ravioli and a side salad and they were both very tasty. My partner had a starter and a mixed grill of various meats which he was quite pleased with. We had wine and a dessert and the total was just over 100 euros. I thought that was a bit high compared to the other neighbourhood restaurant we went to where we had similar meals, similar courses for about 25% less.
Taverna Flavia
Via Flavia, 9/11
Rome, Italy, 00187
+39 064870483

Gelato - it doesn't get any better than this

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on November 23, 2012

Italy is famed for it's gelato. We might call it "ice cream" but it's so much more than that. It's richer and creamier without being heavier. The flavours are more intense and most of the gelateria make theirs by hand, churning goodness into every lick of it!

We were in Rome for 5 days though only managed to get to two places. We did have some for dessert at one or two restaurants but it doesn't quite seem the same as sitting in a square by a beautiful fountain in the sun or as the sun is going down, with a cone or a cup of gelato in your hand. You may pay more in the hot tourist areas such as Piazza Navona or Rotunda but even then, it doesn't matter because it's all part of the Rome experience.

Most of the shops I've seen are small, just room enough for the counter and one or two people. The rest line up out the door it seems. You can usually choose at least 2 flavours or more. Some shops sell it by cups of varying sizes and you can fit in as many scoops as you can, usually 2 or 3 at least and the fun is in picking various flavours and seeing if they all work together.

We had gelato from a small outlet in Piazza Navona. It wasn't the more famed Tre Scalini, which is also a restaurant, it was just a tiny storefront across from the big church and Fountain of Four Rivers, I seem to recall. We also tried some from a shop called Blue Ice which is a chain of gelateria. The one we went to is close to the Piazza del Risorgemento outside the Vatican walls at the end of Via Ottaviano. Other famed locations are near the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, naturally, because of the throngs of tourists that visit there but you can find a gelato shop anywhere in Rome easily. And you should.

Neighbourhood Tavernella near the Vatican

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by tvordj on December 2, 2012

We were en route to do some shopping on Cola di Rienzo and were looking for somewhere for lunch. We saw this little taverna on the street and they had a set price lunch feature that looked ok so we went in. When you enter, you are in a narrow room with close set tables and there's another small room around the back. The cafe is unpretentious and rather plain but quite often those are the best kind. We sat at a table by the wall and though it was nearly empty when we arrived, it was completely full when we left, most of the clientele were locals, not tourists.

The set price menu for lunch was only 10 euro and included a starter of bruschetta, an entre of Pizza and dessert with bottled water included. The bruscetta was nice and the pizza was wonderful. It was huge, with thin crust and fresh everything on it. I couldn't finish it. We had a choice of desserts. All very good value for the money. The pizza could easily have fed two people.

Just off Cola di Rienzo, a major shopping street not too far from Vatican City. Lepanto Metro is the closest.
Tavernella di Luisa
Via Ezio, 5,
Rome, Italy, 192
06 3220007

Great food and wine, great portions

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on November 20, 2012

We stayed at Baileys Hotel on Via Flavia in Rome and the staff there said there were a couple of good restaurants just down the street. This one was one of 2 or 3 in a row but we liked the look of the menu the best. The restaurant is not that large, but the walls are lined with bottles of wine and apparently has an excellent wine cellar. The tables are immaculately set and though the tables are close together, you never felt crowded. The restaurant is in one room though on two levels. We were snug in a corner one night and loved the food so much we went back again before we left Rome and sat in the middle of the room that time.

The portions we were served were generous and the food was really, really good. Probably the best steak I've had in years was served to us on our first night. They have a section of the menu for seafood and fish (antipasti, primo, secundo) listed separately from the meat dishes. The pasta was all wonderful. The vegetable soup could easily have fed 2 or 3 for a starter. The desserts were amazing. The wine was superb and the service was good, not overly attentive but then I don't like wait staff fawning all over me anyway. They were efficient and did their job well. I really couldn't fault the restaurant for a thing.

The steak was probably our favourite. My partner had a mixed grill the second night and said it was very good but still the steak was better. I had huge shrimp in rose sauce and a pasta dish the second night and the soup and steak with roasted potatoes the first night. The dessert i had room for on the second night was a ricotta and pear tarte. Melt in your mouth wonderful! My partner had a chocolate pudding which was more of a mousse and he said that was creamy and delicious, too.

Both nights we at there, we had either a primo and secundo or an antipasti and primo, one night we had dessert and both nights we had a glass of wine each. The total both nights was about 75 - 90 euro. We thought that was about average for Rome and the type of restaurant, food and portions we got. Wonderful!
La Locanda di Bacco
Via Flavia, 32
Rome, Italy
06 87440105

Hard Rockin' Rome

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by tvordj on November 14, 2012

We decided to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe in Rome one evening. The Hard Rock cafes are fairly standard world wide. It's an American food menu and drinks with lots of music memorabilia decorating the walls. The food is plentiful and good and the wait staff is usually pretty upbeat.

The HRC Rome has a nice feature, a painted ceiling in the main bar/restaurant area. The music is prominent but not quite too loud to carry on a conversation. We had a shared starter, southwest style spring rolls and they were quite tasty. I chose from something healthy and had salmon while my partner had a burger and we were both really happy with the results. It was all cooked to perfection.

Our server was great! He even took requests for music since we felt it wasn't "hard rock" enough and the person in charge of the music played what we asked for and came over later to see if we wanted anything else.

As i said, the food was very good and the prices, while not cheap, were not as expensive as I expected but then HRC isn't a cheap place and you're buying the name as much as the food. You get plenty and could share many of the items on the menu.

There's a dining area in the front where the bar is and there's a dining room in the back area as well. There is of course the shop where you can buy your Hard Rock souvenirs. which are expensive.

It's easy to find. From the Barberini Metro, head up Via Vittorio Veneto and it's just a block or two up that street.
Hard Rock Cafe
Via Vittorio Veneto 62 A/B
Rome, Italy
3 (906) 420-3051

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