No of course not – but certainly, you can see why some may have said this. My first ever visit to this most eternal of cities took place this November. The opportunity came up and, as Rome was high on my wish list, I jumped at the chance to visit the former capital of arguably the most enigmatic empire the World has ever known.
In preparation, I was given a guide book by my travelling companion, a family member who fortunately, has an excellent grasp of the Italian language. I opened the book on several occasions – and closed it almost as quickly. The sights to see are just overwhelming – where to start?
We arrived early afternoon on a BA flight from London Gatwick and immediately fell for the over-priced taxi scam! You are accosted by a smart man in a suit who, although locally authorised to carry passengers, happened to be about 20 Euros more expensive than one of the plentiful white taxis which proclaim their fares right slap bang on the driver’s door – 48 Euros. Rookie Mistake Number One – don’t get flummoxed into taking the first cab you are offered!
Rocket Assisted ride into the City
We were driven at speed with usual Roman flair and enthusiasm. And after this rocket-assisted flight into the city centre, we arrived at our hotel within 35 mins of leaving Fiumicino Airport (also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport). We soon forgot about the higher cost, we didn’t mind really, we were right in the heart of Rome and ready to explore!
Our hotel was situated on the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and was comfortable, clean, spacious and staffed with a reception and hospitality team that couldn’t be faulted. Friendly and smiling, they proved a really-useful resource as we planned our four days in Rome.
Our time in Rome was spent on daily route-marches in which we visited the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, the Forum and the Circus Maximus. We walked our feet off and ticked-off almost all the main tourist sites we had wished for! Hannibal himself couldn’t have travelled further in such a short time.
Prior to our arrival, I had regretted not studying the guide book in advance more diligently. I was intending to pack-in as much as possible. However, after our first two days there, I had changed my mind completely.
Read the guide book in advance
My advice now would be, if it’s your first trip to Rome, take a guide book for sure. But leave it closed until you have spent two full days just wandering the many cobbled streets and piazzas of which there are plenty. Get a feel of the scale first and, in all honesty, don’t plan to cram in every sight imaginable. Also, take comfortable shoes!
Allow yourself time to wander and stroll the streets. Enjoy the very cheap leather and clothes stores, tuck into great classic food and very pleasing wines. If it’s warm, try the Spritz which blends Aperol, Prosecco and soda into a very refreshing and not-too-heady aperitif.
Tuck into the usual Italian fare. You are never far from pizzas, pasta and various meat dishes, but you may have to look a little harder for items out of the ordinary like Carciofi alla Roman (or Giudia), which are deep-fried artichokes. This Roman-Jewish favourite is a speciality you’ll most likely only find in gourmet or traditional Roman restaurants. These will be off the beaten-tourist-track. Crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, they are an interesting starter.
Rome: Spare a thought for the Gladiators
Queueing for entry to the Colosseum is well worth the wait. There are plenty of guides who claim to get you in to the building in double-quick time for three times the usual entry fee. But when it’s busy, there is little difference in how long you’ll be kicking your heels in line. Delays are more likely due to security checks rather than bodies waiting to pay!
This magnificent structure leaves me feeling rather ambivalent though. On one hand, it’s beautiful in its architectural splendour and longevity. On the other, it’s monstrous in the brutality and suffering caused to Gladiators, big cats and any other creature unfortunate enough to be selected as entertainment for the Roman mobs of the early centuries AD!
The expression Roman Holiday isn’t just reserved for a light-hearted romantic comedy where runaway princess Audrey Hepburn meets Gregory Peck. It also means getting pleasure from someone else’s pain or suffering. In the Colosseum, you can see where the saying came from!
A typical Gladiator’s lifespan would rarely exceed age thirty or ten tournaments. Although often held in high esteem, it was rare for any to retire or leave the arena other than dead. A brutal reminder that, as awe-inspiring as it is, the “Colosseo” is a site and symbol of the nasty side of Roman life. Where giving the crowds entertainment in the form of bloody-combat was one way the State could maintain order.
But will I return? Absolutely! This must be the jewel in Italy’s crown. A mixture of history, splendour, great food and wine and great shopping! Don’t miss it! Go now! For other travel articles see our living and culture section including a review from a nervous flyer here