30.09.2008 - 04.10.2008
From Fiumicino airport, we took Leonardo express (€11) (you can also take TrenItalia) to Roma Termini (Convalidare). FMN1 (€5) train do not go to Termini but you can take the bus. I got excited to see Vogue, Italia magazine. I simply have to get one for my roommates. Termini station is pretty big and have lots of shops. Lockers are €3.50 for up to 5 hours per luggage then an additional €0.60/hour there after. They're open 6AM to midnight and are located downstairs, below the post office and and tourist info booth. Lines may be long so allow some time when checking in or picking up your luggage.
The tourist info desk printed out a list of hostels and hotels close to Termini station. We bought a phone card (€5)and started making calls to check for rates and availability. Some hostel operators do not speak English while others make an effort to communicate in limited English. We found a cheap place to stay at Hostel Sandy (€22/person/night for a quad/4-bed room with bath). It's just a few blocks north of the Termini station along Via Cavour. The hostel is not as clean. There are rooms with stinky roomies and we hear some people complaining on how they just can't simply sleep in that room. People there are friendly and you can leave your luggage with them even after you check out, while you do your tours and waiting to check in on your next hostel or hotel.
Along Via Cavour, you'll find really good, authentic food places and bakeries. It's where the locals hang out at night and where you'll really enjoy those crispy, thin pizza and canolli. There's a metro stop right on the street, too. The metro is less complicated with just Metro A and B (530AM to 9PM) - one North to South and the other East to West and takes you pretty much anywhere. A day pass is €4/person. Train ticket to Civitavechia is €4.50 per person (one way). We took the train to Civitavechia, where our Carnival Splendor cruise starts. The Carnival dock station is very far from the train station (about 4 km or 2 miles). We split a taxi with five people to save money (about €5/person). If you have plenty of time, walk to the entrance/gate of the port and take the bus that will take you to the dock.
We toured Rome before and after our Mediterranean cruise. We bought a Museo Nazionale Romano pass (€7) good for 3 days and includes unlimited metro and 4 museum passes plus discounts. The Roma Archaelogica Card (€20) is good for 7 days with unlimited metro and 9 museum passes plus discounts. After the cruise, we stayed with another couple at an apartment rental, right across San Giovanni Church and the one of the gates that leads to Appia Nova. It was a lovely, spacious apartment. At San Giovanni Church, I joined the pilgrimage and prayed on my knees as I climb up the Scala Santa (what believed to be the steps walked up by Christ on his way to trial before Pontius Pilate). Appia Nova is known for its catecombs and the old remains of Roman aqueducts. However, we also enjoyed the country side feel and the locals hanging out at the park and exercising in the outdoor gym! It's so fun to watch people and walk around the aqueducts. This place is also known for fountains where locals fetch fresh drinking water.
To get to the aqueduct, take Metro A-Anagnina and get off Subagusta, which is also where you can find major bus lines (Bus 557, 451, 503, 552, 558, 559, 590, 650, 654. Exit toward direction of Tito Labieno and walk 600m to the park. When you cross via Quintilo, you know you're on the right way. Cross via Lemonia and you're there. Another way is to find via Tuscolona, which is in between the Subagusta and Cinecitta Metro stop. Continue on this street until you cross via Lemonia. This will take you the main park entrance where you can find a map of the park. The aqueduct is behind the tall pipe that runs through the park. Find the stair that will let you cross that tall pipe and on the other side of it you'll find the aqueducts. This is a great park with a lot of people usually playing soccer, walking their dogs, or enjoying a nice bike ride or stroll.
The tour of ancient Rome was most surprising because the ancient monuments and buildings are right in the middle of the modern city. The Colosseum/Roman Amphitheater was so big, and so hard to imagine it being built so long ago. I was most surprised that the floor wasn’t exactly a floor. The second floor has the museum and gift show and model The actual floor had fallen through, and what you could see were the underground hallways and elevators that ran under the floor. Next to the Colosseum/Roman Amphitheater and past the Arch of Constantine is the Imperial Forum "Avenue", walk by the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. The Mouth of Truth, best known from the film "Roman Holiday". It's hard to find and it's outside a medieval church near the Roman Forum. Palatine Hill with the residence of the Roman Emperors. Venice Square (Piazza Venezia) has a huge and impressive monument of King Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy and an Unknown Soldier.
My favorite part of Rome was definitely the Trevi Fountain. Its so gorgeous, and anyone visiting Italy really needs to stop and see it. We stop at the Trevi Fountain where king Neptune's Tritons guard the sparkling waters of the massive monument and each of us tossed a coin into the Fountain to ensure our return to the Eternal City. Then, we walked to the Pantheon (where you can find the grave of the great Italian Renaissance painter and architect, Raphael). This is a good place to try some good gelato (€2.50 by the fountain). We saw this angel's wings wax sculpture by the window of a shop and took picture of it with one of us in front of it. We continued on to Piazza Navona where the magnificent baroque Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gianlorenzo Bernini awaits. Unfortunately, it was going through a restoration process and all boarded up. The rivers symbolize the four quarters of the world: the Danube for Europe, the Nile for Africa, the Ganges for Asia and the Rio della Plata for America.
The Triton Fountain, in Barberini Square and along Via Veneto, is a very elegant street wiht the most fashionable sidewalk cafes, expensive shops, and luxurious hotels. We took the metro and followed Via Veneto to the Borghese Gardens and Museum. The Borghese Museum is only through reservation. It was one of my favorite museums with vast collection of work that are intriguing and I probably learned a lot on Greek mythical history through the sculptures. We passed the Aurelian Walls, the most ancient defence of the Romans against the Barbarians, surrounding St. Paul's Basilica. Past People Square with its imposing obelisks and Sant'Angelo Fortress(from via della Conciliazione), is the ancient Hadrian Mausoleum. Finally, we walked to the Spanish Steps, which was packed with a lot of people. Taking "finding Waldo" pictures was fun! We walked up and down the steps before finally heading out to a local resturant. Unfortunately, we hated the food they served. They're very salty and nasty! So, we decided to get something else to eat at McDonald's near the obelisk for the Virgin Mark. It's the first McDonald's in Rome and just couple of blocks away from the bottom of the Spanish Steps. At least we also get to use the restroom for free and lots of seating - two things that are usually difficult to find in heavy touristy area. We walked back up the Spanish Steps afterward to Piazza Novena.
We met our tour guide for the Vatican tour at the Porta di Bronzo, the Bronze Gate, containing many of Bernini's outstanding masterpieces, including the statue of the Emperor Constantine. In the Cappella Niccolina, the Pope's private place of worship, you'll find frescoes painted by the famous painter Fra Angelico representing scenes fromt he lives of St. Stephen and St. Lawrence. There's also the 65-meter long gallery with paintings represnting 52 religious scenes by Raphael Loggia. Our tour started at the Vatican Museum - the richest storehouse of art in the entire world. I was amazed by the sheer size and collection of the incredible collections displayed in the Tapestry and Geographical Maps galleries, the Candelabra Gallery and the magnificent Raphael Rooms until we reached the Sistine Chapel - where Michelangelo's breathtaking frescoes and dramatic technique development in the chapel's ceiling is now fully restored to their original colors. There are masterpieces by Botticelli, Signorelli, Perugino and, of course, the breathtaking "Genesis" and "Last Judgement" by Michelangelo.
The Sistine Chapel can change its hours at short notice so make sure that you double check with them its schedule before you start your tour so you can work around the time it's open. The Sala degli Ori is where precious Etruscan fewels are displayed and more precious objects given for devotion to the Basillica can be seen at St. Peter's Treasure. St. Peter Basilica is believed to have been erected over the St. Peter's tomb over several other churches. It is famous for the mosaic medallions (no oil paintings) with the portraits of various Popes. To realize its enormity, look at the metal markers on the floor of the main nave, which sow the comparative lengths of other churches and cathedrals. Looking up the ceiling to the dome, you'll see how tiny those people who are walking around the base of the dome. Suspende dover the alter, where the Pope celebrates mass, is Bernini's gilded papal canopy called Badacchino. In the apse is the splendid gilt and bronze throne. Finally, we viewed the best-known pieces of sculpture in the workd, Michaelangelo's white marble - the Pieta.
There are three post office in the Vatican. Two of them are inside the Vatican museum (near the cafeteria and by the giftshop) and one on the left side of the church, next to the bookstore. I bought some stamps for my dad, who loves to collect stamps. We took more pictures outside by the base of the Obelisk and with the Swiss guards and with me spreading out my feet between the border line of Rome and the Vatican. I was finally in two cities at once! I also love all the nice and cheap shops by the Vatican where we bought most of our souvenirs - like an apron with Italy's map, magnets, and scarves.
DINING AND SHOPPING on a budget:
- Castel Romano Outlet Mall where you'll find discounted designer clothes and stores situated along quaint avenues and small piazzas.
- Via Urbana - best pizzaria, cannoli, and where most people enjoy nighlife. It's easy to find cheap and good quality food in this area - pizza (€2.50), three course meal (pimi, segundi, salad) for €12.50, internet (€1.50/hour), 1.5L water bottle (€2)
Other wonderful places to check out in Rome:
- Old Ostiense Way, crossing the ancient borders of the city and driving through the Aurelian Walls, passing by St. Paul's Gate and the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, a Roman Magistrate who was so impressed with the Pyramids of the Pharaohs that he built one for himself. Circus Maximus, where the chariot races were held.
- Pass the ultra-modern suburb of Eur, the district built for the World Exhibition in Rome in 1942.
- See the Chigi's Chapel inside Santa Maria del Popolo Church, where the murdered first Cardinal Ebnes can be found, Santa Maria della Vittoria Church where Cardina Guidera was burned alive and materpice is the symbol of the Fire Element. Admire the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, by Bernini.
- Pass the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Circus Maximus, the famouse arena of the Chariots Racing, and th Imperial Avenue.
- Cross the Tiber River - A little walk away from St. Peter's Square.
- Along the new Appian Way, which runs adjacent to the old one, see the enchanting Campagna with its rolling hills and lush farmlands dotted with farmhouses, villas and palaces until you reach the Lake of Albano, settled in the crater of an extinct volcano. Continue to the top of the nearby hill and stop for a short stroll in the lovely medieval town of Castelgandolfo and visit the Popes' Palace and Gardens summer residence. Drive through the gentle hills and undulating fields of Rome's wine growing hinterland and stop at Montegiove Farm House. Meet Count Raimondo Moncada, who will introduce you to the history of his noble family and invite you in for an aperitif of his favorite terrace overlooking the Tyrrheanian Sea and the beaches of Anzio and Nettuno.