“Rome wasn’t built in a day” must be the best understatement of all time. Neither can Rome be described in a day or even in a few thousand words. At the same time, I’m convinced you must discover Rome for yourself.
We had had three days in Rome with Elderhostel, and after bidding goodbye to old and new friends, we set off for the Piazza della Rotonda, for our next location, within shouting distance of the Pantheon, at the Albergo del Senato. If you ever have a chance to stay at this charming and elegant establishment, grab it. We were lucky enough to have it suggested to us by a friend who knows Rome well, and is “in the know.” From our balcony room, overlooking the Piazza, we discovered weeds on top of the Pantheon. (Talk about being “in the know.”) The hotel has the virtue of a dynamite location, and has a roof bar we couldn’t stay away from, so compelling were the views and the libations. We managed a couple of sunsets up there, and will always remember them. The breakfast room, and the goodies available were picture perfect, and just as tasty. (By the way, the weeds do NOT detract one iota from the glory of the Pantheon.)
The Pantheon is one of my all time favorite buildings in the world, with not enough superlatives in my vocabulary to do it justice. I was so happy to be near enough to go inside every day, simply to look and to meditate. The area is also very central to the historic district. The Piazza Navona and the Campo de Fiori were just a couple of blocks away. The wonderful Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva was practically next-door. (Don’t you just love the name? It means “on top of Minerva” which is where the church was built, and it can be found because it must be the only elephant holding up an obelisk in Rome.) Just around the corner in the other direction was Tazza d’Oro, now our favorite for “caffe” and for gelato.
We took advantage of being in the Centro Storico for three days, and spent most of our time walking the streets, checking out the Carravagio paintings, people watching, going to galleries and churches, eating, eating, and eating. We favored an outdoor restaurant in a little square just outside the Raphael Hotel, called the Santa Lucia. It was one of those “movie set” restaurants, wrought iron chairs, on a terrace, beneath a large tree canopy, with tuxedo’d older waiters, who offered delicious wine and silken pastas beneath dappled sun. We did go back again, and again.
We had learned via the Fodor’s talk forum (and our hostess at a hotel where we stayed later on) how to get a reservation for the Scavi Tour. The complicated arrangements of properly worded and properly spaced emails worked, along with a bit of luck and prayer, so off we went to the Vatican arriving at the left side of St. Peter’s colonnade at exactly 10:45 am, to descend where few tourists are allowed, to see the actual tomb of St. Peter, in the company of only 8 other people, and a very punctilious English speaking nun in civvies. It was more than worth the approximate $10.00 that we paid for the privilege of walking directly beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s in the some of the original catacombs.
Above ground once again, and after a visit inside the magnificent St. Peter’s itself, that we decided we needed a rest. Wanting to stay outside on a sunny fall day, we happened to see a stop for the red double decker tour bus, which wanders around all the major sights of Rome. It was a super way to rest while sightseeing. It’s called the “Trambus”, or the “110open” and I think we paid about $12 or $15 for an all day pass to get on and off as often as we liked; it was well worthwhile.
When our Dutch friends arrived for the weekend, we began to figure out the local public transportation. The ease of use of the Metro, the bus system, and the trams, as well as the more local trains, opened up whole new world for us. We had been walking more than three miles a day, slightly more than our usual aerobic activity at home. We still walked a lot, but had more fun.
We saved a lot of money by NOT hiring a car for a day to go to Ostia Antica, a well preserved ancient town, much more accessible from Rome than Pompeii. We took a metro, changed once, crossed the platform, got on a train and in twenty minutes were back in ancient times. Our half-day there was a marvelous exploration of an important ancient archaeological site, with a treasure-trove of a museum, several themed routes to walk, and a modern cafeteria and bookshop. For me, this was a much better choice than a long drive and longer day at Pompeii.
If we had rented a car for the day to go there, it would have cost $100.00, but our cost was less than $5.00 each, thanks to the young desk attendant at our final hotel, the Daphne Veneto.
We had been lucky enough to book three nights at a new place called the Daphne Inn. Billed as a contemporary B & B, set in two newly restored townhouses in the area of the Piazza Barberini, and about half the cost of the beloved Albergo del Senato, I decided to dollar-cost average, and take a chance. Truth be told, I was persuaded by the fact that these incredibly friendly and helpful hosts (long before arrival, on internet communications) not only give guests a long and detailed consultation on what to do and where to eat in Rome, they also hand you a cell phone to use during your stay. That and the 24-hour free Internet access were just too good to pass up. Nothing on their web site is exaggerated, beds were very comfortable, breakfasts were just dandy, and we felt right at home.
Here I am again at the end of my space, and there is so much more to tell, about the churches, the art, the people, the food, the poor Protestant cemetery, where Keats and Shelley lie, which is lacking funds to maintain, and so much more. You must go to see for yourself, and make your own discoveries.