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When in Rome

Photo: Inside the amazing Vatican, Rome, Italy 
By Amanda Barnes

The Colosseum, the Vatican, the Forum... where to start? Well, wherever you start you will end up with sore feet. There is a lot of walking in Rome, but fortunately there are a lot of espresso cafes and pastry shops to help you along the way! Rome's old town is very walkable, not only because of its compact size but also because of the beautiful sights that you inevitably stumble across along the way. Rome is an artists dream with ancient ruins and grandiose palaces scattered across the picturesque city, but the art of Rome is how these monuments of old sit so comfortably along side the coffee shops, designer labels and street markets of modern day Rome. Rome is one of those cities that actually has got something for everyone from renaissance paintings and a quiet walk in the park, to the hectic cosmopolitan lifestyle of the modern Roman.

There is no shortage of ‘culture' in Rome and whether you enjoy sightseeing or not, the famous sights of Rome cannot be missed. The Colosseum is a perfect place to start with its central location and its close vicinity to many other sights. The Colosseum is always crowded from the moment it opens to when you are kicked out, but the best time to visit it is without a doubt for the last admission in the early evening. Not only are there fewer crowds but the view over the forum at sunset from the window of the Colosseum is awe-inspiring.

The Colosseum has been looted, damaged and collapsed and although you can still imagine gladiators and lions chasing each others heels inside, it is well worth joining a guided tour in order to fully appreciate the design and history of its crumbling walls. As you meander outside the Colosseum you are usually approached by the tour guide groups who offer an entertaining tour, entrance and queue jump for around €14 (you can normally get this price down if you can convince them that someone else offered you a tour for cheaper). The tour guides are a lot of fun, usually Italian men with a comic grasp of English, whose funny phrasing will confuse and humour you. It is easy to see why this is one of the most visited sights in Europe, however as a consequence there is a bit of a tourist circus around it and people do try to rip you off — especially those in gladiator costumes who demand a hefty €10 per photo!

To avoid the masses, visit the Colosseum in the evening, when it is closed! Although fascinating from the inside, the Colosseum also needs to be fully appreciated from the outside. The ring is lit up tastefully and the lack of umbrella-holding Japanese tourist groups makes it terribly romantic (despite the fact that it was essentially a place of barbaric sports and whoring!) The small patch of green outside the Colosseum lends itself to the perfect spot for a picnic — although a toilet can be quite hard to find after a few bottles of wine! If the amazing ruins and architecture don't interest you, then all the wedding parties posing outside the Colosseum will certainly keep you entertained throughout the evening!
The forum is also especially good to visit in the lazy glow of the early evening, as it casts beautiful shadows across its own walls to show off its compelling architecture. However the best tour is offered by young Romans who will gladly show you where a ladder has been hidden for years, in order to climb over the wall and have a private viewing at 3am!

Although Rome is beautiful by night, the Vatican City has to be seen during the day — unless you have an invite from the Pope. The best way to beat the crowds is again by arriving just before last admission. The entrance queue does trail around the block a number of times, however it is relatively fast moving — and is certainly quick considering it is a border control for an entirely different state! The collections in the Vatican museums have taken hundreds of years to be accumulated and it would take you quite a few years to view them properly. Every wall is dripping with luxurious artwork painted on every spare square inch – and that is just the decor! The collections themselves are vast and exhaustive! Everything in the museum has been collected by a Pope and they all seem to share, to say the least, ‘eclectic' taste, from the Egyptian museum to the Raphael rooms to the bizarre room dedicated to dogs in the act of violence or fornication! The Vatican museums do deliver a fantastic entertainment factor and at times it does feel like you are walking around your crazy uncle's attic full of random things he has collected over the years — although this isn't your uncle's attic, they are the ‘attics' of some of the world's most important religious leaders, but nevertheless full of their random collections over the years!

The walls of the museums are so exquisitely decorated that as you meander through them you continually wonder whether you have been through the Sistine chapel yet. But when you do reach the Sistine chapel, after a very long walk through the many isles and isles of the museums, you will know you are there! There could not be another chapel in the world that has received so much attention to detail, to the point that there is not a spot of wall left unpainted! The Sistine chapel has been decorated and redecorated by some of the world's greatest painters which results in a jaw-dropping (if not slightly garish) explosion of fine art at its finest!

The Sistine chapel is one of the many triumphs of Michelangelo and Rafael among others; however it is by no means the only triumph. It would seem that almost the entire city of Rome has been designed by some of the world's most amazing artists. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo (one of the many Basilica di Santa Maria's) behind Stazione Termini is one of the more underrated but nevertheless extraordinary art works in Rome. The architecture of the Basilica, partly designed by Raphael, is engrossing and can only be appreciated fully after walking around the outside of the church at least ten times! It is a wonderfully obscure looking building with typically lavish décor (by Caravaggio) with cherubs literally coming out of the paintings.

Saint Peters is also a very impressive church, along with the very impressive queue size, however it is easy to wile away your wait on the piazza watching the terribly amusing huge family of pigeons that resides there. Although Saint Peters is impressive, the walk behind the piazza is also pretty exceptional. The sheer number of Pope Memorabilia shops is unbelievable and you can buy anything from a mini Vatican City fridge magnet to an entire replica pope outfit!

Rome is full of charismatic and important land marks to the point that you never really need to leave, but to escape the heat and bombardment of monument upon monument, it is worth catching the train just out of Rome to visit what used to be a retreat for the wealthy Romans, the quaint and alluring town of Tivoli. An hour's bus or train journey through the rolling countryside brings you to this gorgeous quiet town with winding cobbled streets, narrow sloping houses and the tranquil Villa d'Este. The villa alone is stunning with its rich renaissance paintings and gorgeous views, but the real draw here are the luscious green gardens and their fountains. To say it has a few fountains is an understatement, there is water gushing from every corner anointing grand statues and often spraying those walking by! This is a memorable day trip with magnetizing views across the Italian landscape and more ancient ruins in the distance, and is especially welcoming on a hot summer's day or for the evening during the summer programme of live jazz.

The fountains within Rome are also very calming amongst the bustle of the city. The Trevi fountains have to be visited, although they are often very crowded and for the optimum viewing it is best to go late at night when there are less people and the water is lit up. Despite being quieter at night, there are still people at the fountains (usually a young friendly crowd enjoying the view with bottle of wine!) however it is still guarded by armed police men, although a ‘La Dolce Vita' moment may seem like a good idea at the time, it should probably be avoided!
There are so many captivating look out points all over Rome, one of the best is from the large park Villa Borghese where the view stretches from San Pietro to Arco di Costantino and the majority of Rome's sights can be located. Rome has a vast number of fantastic monuments, some subtle and many terribly unsubtle (young Romans often call the imposing Vittoriano the ‘white monstrosity') however the parts of modern day Rome are also enchanting.

The steep maze of narrow streets above the Spanish steps and around Villa Borghese provide a lovely walk around towering flats, hanging laundry, worn-out cobbles and artists crouched over canvases on every corner. Similarly below the Spanish steps the streets are beckoning to be wandered with their mandarin painted houses and cosy candle lit cafes, the perfect place to watch the city roll by. This is also the area for shopping (or window shopping as the case may be) at all the famous Italian designers boutiques, with Gucci, Cavalli, Moschino, Fendi and Versace all lined up for the picking. More economical shopping is also readily available, high street stores and colourful street markets are filled with lively clothes, shoes and leather goods and Rome is the best place to buy your fake designer sunglasses with stalls on literally every corner!

In the evening, street drinking is by far the most popular and authentic way of enjoying a night out Roman style! The piazzas in Trastevere are always packed with a young friendly crowd and often live music accompanies. Alcohol can be bought from gelaterias, pizzerias and bars and a large beer will set you back one mere euro. Around the Stazione Termini is also a popular hang out, but girls should try to be accompanied by a male in order to avoid unwanted attention. There are pub crawls organised for young travellers every night, however the ‘pubs' you visit are aimed for and mainly used by tourists and pick pocketing is a common occurrence.

Getting around Rome is fairly easy, it is often quicker to walk but if your feet are too tired the bus service is good and the metro runs until quite late. A 90 minute travel ticket costs €1.20 and covers all types of transport, although at night the metro barriers are rarely guarded, so a ticket is not always necessary! Accommodation in Rome is varied and there is plenty of it, from five-star luxury to very budget hostels. Both ‘Rome' airports are about a forty minute bus ride out of the city and it is easy to catch the bus from Stazione Termini, avoid airline operated coaches who charge ten times the fare of a regular bus ticket to do the exact same journey! The train station is easy to navigate but if you are in a rush there is only one ticket booth (despite being the Italian capital city!) and queues can take a while, it is better to purchase your ticket from a machine if you can work it out — or get an Italian to work it out for you! Although there are worse train stations to be waiting in, with a whole shopping mall surrounding it and slices of pizza for next to nothing, there is plenty to occupy your time with!

Rome boasts some fantastic culinary delights and with its huge number of foreigners, Italian is not the only food on the menu. However, the pasta here is taken quite seriously and needs to be tried many, many times. Be prepared to have to pick from at least thirty types of pasta and at least thirty types of sauce! ‘Pasta Mio' (13 Via Veneto) is a popular pasta place with the Italians and has a large variety, but be warned the Italian waiters may offer women a free massage; it is all part of the Italian... ‘charm'! Many good restaurants can be found down the narrow back alleys of Rome, the main streets normally house overpriced restaurants catering for tourists — the best restaurants are the ones without a translated menu, here you usually receive a more authentic meal (and occasionally a slightly surprising meal if your Italian is poor!)

Rome is undeniably beautiful and exudes a typical Italian simplicity and charm alongside the complex and awe-inspiring architecture and art. It certainly wasn't built in a day, but it won't take much more than one day for you to fall in love with it!



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