I’ve tried really hard to read this next sentence without imagining David Brent saying it but I can’t, so here goes; it’s good to be back on the road.
As you probably know, I’m currently on my way to Japan to start a year’s teaching contract in Tokyo. When it came to booking my flights, I realised it would actually work out cheaper flight-wise to go via Rome and, having never been to Italy, I couldn’t resist the temptation to tick another country off my list. In the end this actually made it considerably more expensive in total, but the flights were cheaper so I’m going to keep telling myself that in the hope of justifying it.
Having said that, I honestly don’t think you can put a price on experiencing different parts of the world so when the opportunity arises, nine times out of ten I’ll take it. What is it they say? Travel is the only thing that costs money but makes you richer. Apparently. Tell that to my bank account.
Anyway, it’s been a blast here in the Italian capital – a bloody hot one, mind – but a blast all the same. As far as flight layovers go, you’ll be hard pressed to find any better.
Perhaps the main reason people come to Rome is to see the famous sights. Upon arriving at my rather bizarre hostel (a Charles Bronson lookalike controls the air conditioning in the rooms, and if you want it on before 10pm you have to pay – one of many reasons for it being ‘bizarre’), I decided I didn’t want to waste any more time/spend any more time at the hostel than I really needed to and headed out to the Colosseum.
The Colosseo metro stop brings you out directly at the front of the ruins – welcome to Rome indeed. On my way to the ticket office I was dodging selfie sticks left, right and centre and nearly lost an eye on a number of occasions. I really don’t get the whole selfie stick thing; call me old fashioned, but what’s wrong with asking someone to take a photo for you? It’s almost always going to be better, and you look less of a tosser in the process. As I said, maybe I’m just a bit of an old man.
After dodging the masses and arriving unscathed, I handed over a reasonable €12 entry fee and headed in. In terms of first impressions, the Colosseum really did Rome a good service here as I was super impressed. It was busy, it was about 38 degrees celcius, but it was brilliant. After a few Facebook photos, however, I was done and ready to head back. It had been a long day and I’m not one of these people who can stand for hours on end at monuments or galleries just admiring it. Once I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it and I’m ready to move on. Impatient, moi?
The good thing about Rome is that there is always something to see, and a lot of the sights tend to be quite close together. You can be walking down a random, quiet street when all of a sudden you turn the corner and *BAM* you’re faced with a massive church.
As a result of this, me and a group of lads from my dorm (who also had zero intention of spending much time in the hostel) managed to tick off a number of sights on day two, including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Campo de Fiori (where we would return for a couple of nights on the lash), Piazza Venezia and the Spanish Steps all in one afternoon. I lost track of how many times I said “Ohhhh, that’s in Angels and Demons, init?”.
These were all good to see but the construction work on the Trevi Fountain meant there was no water, which is kind of essential for a fountain, right? Also, spot the elephant in the room on this picture of me at the Spanish Steps.
It will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that I didn’t really think ahead, and as a result didn’t even think to check whether The Vatican would be open on a Sunday (it’s not). This meant my third day was something of a mish-mash. Feeling ever so slightly groggy from the previous night’s drinking didn’t really help either. The rest of the lads were off to see the Colosseum, so I was at something of a loose end.
We had all purchased the ‘Roma Pass’ the previous day, which entitles you to free public transport and entry to one sight valid for two days (€28) or two sights valid for three days (€36). In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure it was worth it in the end as the entry to most sites is between €10-15, and any journey on the metro only costs €1.50. When you consider the point I made before about a lot of the sights being close-by, you find yourself looking for excuses to take the metro just to get your money’s worth. The free night buses also mean it’s not needed after a certain time anyway.
Anyway, I used the pass to check out the Crypta Balbi – a museum built on the ruins of the Theatre of Balbus (13 B.C), with many of the remains still intact and available to explore. It wasn’t the most riveting experience, although going to the underground section and seeing the remains of the theatre was pretty cool. It killed an hour or two though, and it wasn’t big enough to overwhelm/bore you with too much information.
Finally, it was time to visit The Vatican. As you may or may not know, I’m not at all religious, but for some reason I was really excited to see The Vatican. Again, maybe it had something to do with the fact I’ve recently read Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’, but I think there’s just something so cool about the fact it’s a country in a city. We all took our passports, just in case; we didn’t need them.
Sadly, as you’d expect due to Sunday being a day of rest for The Vatican, Monday morning was absolute chaos with people rushing there to see what they’d missed out on the previous day. I have heard that most guidebooks recommend getting there as early as possible, so I’m going to make my own recommendation of going as late as possible to avoid crowds. Always have to be different, don’t I?
Upon leaving Ottaviano metro station we were bombarded by people trying to sell us tours under the pretence of just offering ‘friendly advice’. We were told that the queues to get in to St Peter’s Basilica were anything between two and four hours, which was fine as we only wanted to go and have a wander round the square anyway. Thankfully this was all we wanted, as upon reaching the square it was clear that the queue was a very long, slow moving one which snaked pretty much all the way around the square.
Again, we avoided the masses of selfie sticks (it’s what God would have wanted), grabbed a few photos, had a wander and made our way back highly impressed with what we’d seen. The sightseeing weekend had been a success.
No trip to Italy is complete without a mention of the cuisine on offer, is it?
In all honesty, I’m not the biggest pizza fan in the world. In Italy however, it’s a completely different ball game and I just couldn’t resist. Pizzerias in Italy seem to be even more common than chippies and kebab shops in the UK and what’s more, they sell the pizza by weight so you can get exactly how much you want for an incredibly reasonable price. I had three slices of a delicious prosciutto, tomato, and mozzarella pizza for just €2.50 – bargain!
After incorporating pizza in to my first three meals in Italy, it was time to move on and tick some pasta dishes off the menu. I had some delicious pesto pasta, a carbonara, a lasagna and a couple of others, however nothing came close to the gnocchi with mussels pictured below. I’ll let the snap do the talking.
As I type I’m currently sat in a small family-run B&B by Fiumicino Airport ready for my early morning flight to Tokyo via Istanbul. Rome has been an absolute blast, but I’m ready to get back over to Asia and crack on with the next chapter of my life; oh, and to eat some clean food and lose the stone I’ve put on since landing in Rome!