There was no time to recover from our previous day’s trip to Pompeii and Naples as we were up early again to visit Rome. Before this cruise I had visited woefully few European cities and Rome was definitely one that I was looking forward to as it is mentioned so evocatively in so many films and books.
This was definitely one of those stops where you needed to pay for a tour unless you are brave enough to risk public transport as the city was an hour’s coach trip away from the port at Civitavecchia. We wanted to do our own thing though, so we just plumped for “Rome on your Own”, which is basically just a very expensive return bus ride.
Unfortunately we managed to get ourselves on a different bus to Andy and Jan and then failed to find them when we arrived in Rome, so we really did have the day to ourselves.
We arrived in Rome on 1 November, which didn’t mean much to us, but of course this is All Saints Day, which the Catholics seem to take seriously as a religious holiday. As a consequence many of the sites, including the Vatican, were closed, so the timing was not ideal. Timing was also not ideal as this was the day of the Rome marathon, so most of the streets were closed for much of the day, meaning there was no option of taxis or buses to get us between sites. We had a hard day of walking ahead of us.
The coach dropped us off near St Peter’s Square, which is vast. It was also laid out ready for the end of the marathon, with row upon row of those uncomfortable plastic chairs that you normally find in schools. It was still quite early and, with all of the other excitement going on, there was hardly any queue to get into the Basilica, so that’s where we started.
You hear much about the opulent splendour of the Roman Catholic church, but nothing prepares you for the Basilica: it is huge. The size and sheer over the top exuberance of the place boggles the brain and makes you wonder about the priorities of the people who decided to spend this much money on their buildings rather than finding more useful ways to do the bidding of their God.
We noticed that there was some kind of ceremony going on in a side room, so we hung around to see what it was all about. It seemed to be a fairly low key affair, but obviously still accompanied by much pomp and ceremony. Later, on the coach home, some of the American passengers were excited about having seen the pope, but this clearly wasn’t him!
Despite the splendour of the place we didn’t dally too long – it was just too much – so we headed off to see some more sights. Once again it was a beautiful sunny day and by this time it was getting quite hot. We crossed the Tiber, seeing St Angelo Castle in the background, which we didn’t visit. We plunged into the maze of small streets that make up Rome and quickly got utterly lost – our map reading skills being notoriously bad. We stumbled upon numerous small but bustling piazzas with interesting buildings and statuary, but had no idea what they were.
Eventually in one such piazza we decided to stop for a much needed drink. We had been warned not to use café’s in the vicinity of the main sights as they are, of course, ridiculously over-priced, so we thought this small square would be ideal. Having settled ourselves in and found a menu our eyes did indeed pop at the prices – but too late, we were here now. Only later did the reason for the prices become clear – the large building at the edge of the square was the Pantheon! D’oh!
The reason that we hadn’t immediately identified the Pantheon was that, having come across so may similar squares, it didn’t really look much more impressive than the norm. The square was small, and it just looked a bit squeezed in. This was a theme for most of the rest of the day – although the structures themselves were undoubtedly impressive, the overall scale of the sites was much smaller than I expected.
Despite the cost of the drinks we had a pleasant sit watching life go on around the square, marred only slightly by a busker enthusiastically singing Christmas songs. Up close the Pantheon was more impressive – unfortunately we couldn’t get inside as a religious ceremony was going on, but with the tall, austere pillars it reminded me of the temples of Luxor and Karnak in Egypt.
Whilst wandering around the Pantheon taking pictures we were approached by two burly men dressed as Roman centurions. They wanted to use my camera to take our picture with them. We didn’t really want a picture taken with them and I was dubious about handing over my camera, but it seemed rude not too: it was obviously the touristy thing to do. Having taken the pictures they then demanded money for their trouble. We remonstrated and, eventually I handed over a few euros – much less than they were demanding. Having now been fleeced by a café and some centurions we thought it was time to beat a hasty retreat.
With surprising ease we found our way to the Trevi Fountain, which is not far away. Again it is a very impressive large structure squeezed into a very small, busy square. We decided that next we would head to the Spanish Steps, the setting of many a film, and after a while arrived hot and tired at a large monument. Was this the Spanish Steps? We weren’t at all sure, so asked a passing policeman. No, it wasn’t, the Spanish Steps were back the way we’d come: we’d gone pretty much 180 degrees in the wrong direction – those map reading skills again.
Where we were, though, was very impressive: Venice Square with the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and Trajan’s Monument. This also meant that we were not far from the Colosseum, which we had wanted to visit but had thought too far away. The road to the Colosseum runs alongside the Roman Forum. It is broad and, with the traffic stopped, was a very pleasant walk. Like many European cities there were a good number of living statues along the route and we noticed that, like our centurion friends, they were trying to force people to pay for their photos to be taken. We were wiser by now.
The Colosseum itself was quite impressive. No doubt it would be even more impressive inside, but the queues were long and time was short, so we only managed to see it from the outside.
Determined to see the Spanish Steps we set off right across Rome, winding our way through street after street, by now having got our bearings and doing much better with the map reading. Eventually we arrived in the very bustling Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the steps. The Spanish Steps themselves were, once again, smaller than we thought, but they were crowded with people – tourists and locals alike – just sitting and watching the world go by. We couldn’t help reflecting on the difference between this relaxed nature and the locals’ behaviour when behind the wheel of their cars.
We decided to join them and have a breather. Well, when in Rome…
At the top of the Spanish Steps is the Trinità dei Monti church, so I took a walk up to see it. A nice little church offering some great views over Rome.
Somewhat rested it was time to head back to St Peter’s Square to meet up with our coach. Overall we were quite disappointed with Rome, but I think this was just because it was too rushed and we didn’t get to see anything properly. I would like to go back for a long weekend and do it at a more leisurely pace – preferably when public transport is available.