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Archive for May 22nd, 2013

Odds Blog: Notes from Rome

Posted by indigodream on 22 May, 2013

Sunday 19th May

The entrance to our hotel - construction started in 1643...

The entrance to our hotel – construction started in 1643…

We’ve just come back from a week in Rome – a big treat for my big 50th birthday!

I would normally only blog about boating and greyhounds, but I thought it might be useful to make some notes so that I remember useful stuff for the next time we go there!

We’re fated to go back – we threw a coin into the Trevi fountain; one coin means that you will definitely return to the eternal city; two coins means that you will fall in love with an Italian; three coins means that you will marry him/her. We stuck to just the one!

Hotel

I wanted a hotel which would give us a bit of peace from the bustle of the city – but choosing a hotel from online descriptions adds an element of chance. However I needn’t have worried –  the Hotel Donna Camilla Savelli was perfect! It was a 4-star hotel housed in a beautiful building that was first used as a convent in the 1600’s. The hotel was set back in its own courtyard and encircled a peaceful garden; it also has at least two roof terraces with fantastic views over the city. The service was superb – attentive without being pushy; the reception staff were very helpful.

The hotel is in the Trastavere area of the city – this proved to be away from the main tourist areas, yet is THE place to find a cafe/restaurant within easy walking distance. But more on eateries next….

Orange groves on the Aventine Hill...

Orange groves on the Aventine Hill…

Eateries

We ate a serious amount in Rome; luckily we also walked many miles, leaving us with a unique combination of rotund torsos and marvellously toned legs 🙂

Our Favourite: Osteria numero 6, Via Garibaldi 60: Run by the charming Samantha, with “mama” producing home-cooked Roman cuisine in the kitchen. Just a few yards down the road from our hotel, we visited this little restaurant every day – be it for a meal or just coffee and cake. The food was lovely, but the service is what took us back there time and again. It has great reviews on Tripadviser….

The others: We ate at a few restaurants that were either recommended by our guide book or by local people; they were all ok but not distinguished enough for us to go back….

  • Dar Poeta, Vicolo del Bologna 47: reputedly the best pizzeria in Rome; it was certainly popular and the pizza was ok but not outstanding
  • Alle Fratte di Trastavere, Via delle Fratte di Trastavere: The review raves about the welcome and the food – neither impressed us
  • Pizzeria Popi Popi, Via delle Fratte di Trastevere 45: Recommended by a local but we found that the service was inattentive and slow (even by Italian standards); the food was unremarkable
  • Hi-Res restaurant, Via della Fontanella 14: rooftop terrace offering a view of, well, mainly other rooftops! A “posh nosh” restaurant, pricey, with disappointing main courses but amazing service and a delightful range of free “extras” that arrived while we were waiting for the bill – a plate of petit fours, followed by a selection of mini desserts followed by half a glass each of Prosecco – perfect…

We visited various Gelateria – Roman ice-cream is truly luscious – they were all equally good, it was just a matter of finding a gelateria which offered the flavours we liked most!

View from the top of the "elevator" - Rome is also a city of domes....

View from the top of Il Vittoriano – You can see that Rome is also a city of domes….

Shopping:

Rome is THE place for designer accessories but I just wasn’t in the mood for shopping and I really do have enough bags, coats, gloves etc to last a lifetime. However, we did visit two very different shops:

  • Pitran, Via del Gambero 18: A men’s clothes shop which caters for the larger end of the market; so large, in fact, that Richard is only a medium in their shop! He bought three stylish suits which all needed some alterations – which were completed by the following day – result! We had visited this shop during our last visit about 6 years ago, but we couldn’t remember its name or location; luckily, when we described the store, the hotel receptionist knew exactly where we were talking about!
  • Almost Corner Bookshop, Via del Moro 45: An old-fashioned English language bookshop with an extensive range of books ranging from the classics to modern best-sellers. I thought that the English proprietor’s sneeringly patronising approach to customer service did him out of sales, but he seemed happy that he’d established his superiority so let’s hope that keeps him in business……..I should add that R didn’t notice the man’s attitude!

Transport:

  • Top Tips:
  1. Take comfortable walking shoes and wear them at all times – we found that many streets are unevenly cobbled and the public transport system is incomprehensible (at first) so we did end up walking a LOT!
  2. Download the most recent bus/tram/train maps onto your smartphone before you go and use these. DO NOT buy a transport map/book – they’re may not be in date, accurate or practical! There is an ap which you can download but it is not perfect.
  3. On your arrival, find a station and buy a week’s “travelcard”, which covers bus/train/tram and metro – it was only £24 Euro and does not need a photocard.
  • Roman theatre in Ostia Antica...

    Roman theatre in Ostia Antica…

    Taxis: I think you can hail them on the street but there are taxi ranks dotted around the city; avoid the ones at Termini, the main railway station, there are touts for minicabs as well as competition between the official taxis, who may try to charge an extortionate fixed fee rather than use the meter. Outside of Termini, the taxis were fine. It’s worth getting a taxi to/from the airport rather than getting the train into Termini (which is what we did) – the fixed fare from airport to/from the city is 48 Euro – bargain compared to train/onward taxi fare from the station.

  • Buses/Trams/Metro/Train: There is a great transport network, but working out what goes where and when is tricky! We had cheap European roaming packages on our smartphones so we could access current information but that was dependent on the connection. Next time we’ll download the information before we go….
  • Walking: It is possible to get round the city on foot! The traffic is busy and sometimes you’ll cross on a “green man” at a crossing but find that the traffic also has a green light – you have priority. We were amazed that there weren’t more accidents, but there seems to be an amiable culture of people walking in the middle of the road and of traffic not running them down!

Excursions:

A week isn’t long enough to see every sight that Rome has to offer; however, I found that a week was enough for me as the city is overwhelmingly busy, so return visits are a must! This is our third visit, having previously spent two short weekends here. Here’s our “top ten” list from this trip:

  1. The famous Trevi fountain - the sculpture is of Neptune with one wild horse and one tame horse, indicating the sea's different moods..

    The famous Trevi fountain – the sculpture is of Neptune with one wild horse and one tame horse, indicating the sea’s different moods..

    Ostia Antica: This is out of town – about half an hour’s train ride from “San Paolo” station. This is an ancient Roman port, though sadly land-locked now because of change to the course of the River Tiber. The ruins have been sympathetically excavated and restored with good signposting and information boards. This means that you do not need a guide (human or audio) to get around. We enjoyed wandering around – take half a day and enjoy the relative peace of the site whose ruins are matched only by the wild flower meadows, old orchards and song birds that surround the ruins. It also has decent loos and a good cafe. The only nuisance was the bus tours of noisy young children who’d much rather be having races up, down and round the ruins than actually appreciating the setting!

  2. Coliseum: Well restored and interesting, but very very busy. We chose the audio tour, which was reasonably priced and was easy to navigate. However, to get access to the newly restored section of arena floor, we’d have had to take an official Coliseum guided tour (human). We are not too sure but we think that the touts that work outside the Coliseum offering group tours do not have access to the restored arena floor.
  3. Riverside Walk: If you’re into waterways, as we are, then the Tiber is a source of great fascination. Why is the water a dusty green? Is it navigable? How deep is it? And then, of course, are the bridges, ancient and decorative. You can walk the river at high level, but then you get the full impact of the crows, traffic noise and street hawkers. Some 8 metres below, there is a good cycle/foot path at river level which gives a welcome break from the bustle above. We walked around 2 miles from Ponte Cavour (where there are lots of fascinating houseboats/floating restaurants to the weirs below Ponte Fabricio (which crosses to/from the Isola Tiberina).
  4. The Caravaggio......

    The Caravaggio……

    Il Vittoriano, Piazza Venezia: Wend your way toward the back of Il Vittoriano and you’ll find a lift which take you to the top of the monumental Il Vittoriano buiding. The building is visible from just about everywhere in Rome so it’s hardly surprising that everywhere in Rome is visible from its roof. The view is stupendous! There is a small fee to use the lift but it’s well worth it.

  5. Aventine Hill: It’s well worth walking to the top of the Aventine Hill in order to enjoy more stunning views of Rome and to enjoy a stroll through the heavily laden orange trees that line the paths of the charming park at the top. On the way down, we found Rome’s official rose garden – now at its best with beautiful blossom and the most beguiling scent.
  6. Vatican City, including St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel: We booked a “Green Line” guided tour – this saved a LOT of time as the tours bypass the half-mile long queues of tourists, pilgrims and supplicants that want to enter the Holy City. We were guided round with monotonous disinterest by a young woman who, nonetheless, gave our visit to the vast labyrinth some structure. Sadly you can’t take photographs in the Sistine Chapel – the frescos are very beautiful. Sadly a genuine pilgrim is unlikely to enjoy a quiet epiphany here – there must have been tens of thousands of visitors in Vatican City early on this weekday!
  7. Pantheon: The tardis of the ancient world – scarred and blocky on the outside but vast and airy on the inside with its light central oculus and impossible dome.
  8. Piazza Navona: My favourite piazza – sadly, it’s everyone else’s favourite too, so it was thronged with people, especially around the famous fountain of the four rivers. The cafes charge an extortionate amount of money for a simple coffee (8 euro each), yet it is a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by.
  9. Trevi Fountain: Impossibly busy but the fountain is beautiful and it is fun to throw your coin(s) into the water!
  10. The gilded ceiling....

    The gilded ceiling….

    Fountains, Churches and Obelisks: One guide said that Rome was a city of churches, fountains and obelisks! The obelisks were ancient before being plundered after Rome’s conquest of Egypt. The many carved Egyptian lions in the city seemed disconsolate, having been ripped from their homes of 4,000 years to languish in a foreign city for yet another 2,000 years. There are churches galore – ranging from the devoutly plain to the ecstatically ornate; in many churches, priceless paintings exploring the delicate relationship between light and soul are topped by gaudily gilded ceilings decorated with the artistic sensitivity of a pious magpie. Rome is apparently awash with water; a guide told us that most of its fountains are gravity fed (rather than pumped) – there is the pleasant sound of running water in every piazza – what a shame, then, that the city has so few public toilets…..

The only thing that we didn’t enjoy was our walk around the Palatine using another audio guide. This site is poorly signposted with few meaningful information boards (so unlike Ostia Antica). The audio commentary was pretty dull. We will probably go here again, but will wander around ourselves, because it is a welcome green haven in the city and just a nice place to be, even without the history lesson!

Interesting things:

    • When on our riverside walk, I saw several crow-like birds – unmistakably crow-shaped but with a pale grey back/body and darker wings. I assumed they were a local species of crow and thought no more of it. But when I came to look them up, I realised that I may have spotted an unusual “illegal” immigrant from Asia – the House Crow (Corvus splendens) – apparently it’s a rare sight in Europe, but experts suspect that the species will spread, probably to the detriment of other local bird species. I didn’t bother taking a photograph because I assumed it was a common local crow not a rarity – curses!
    • Rome is a busy city and there’s a lot of ground to cover, yet I was often stopped in my tracks by the sweet scent of jasmine blossom, prowling in profusion over the ancient walls. Sometimes the soft subtlety of roses held me back as I realised that I was walking on a path strewn with petals. Being a milder climate, the flowers are well ahead of the season here – I though that Rome’s flowers were one of the city’s most alluring distractions.
    • On the plane on the way home we met an interesting, impressive lady who works as a Dolly Parton impersonator (she also does Cher and other singers) – she was on her way back from a gig on a cruise ship. She gave me her card, just in case I ever wanted to book a “Dolly experience” (the name of her show). At the moment, I can’t imagine a situation when I will need a “Dolly experience” but just in case, here’s her website!
      Subtle Richard did ask her how she managed the cleveage.

Photoblog:

The view from our bedroom window - breakfast was served in that tranquil garden...

The view from our bedroom window – breakfast was served in that tranquil garden…

The oldest bridge in Rome - built in 62BC - and no doubt maintained since...

The oldest bridge in Rome – built in 62BC – and no doubt maintained since…

The interior of the Coliseum - the flat "stage" to the bottom left of the photo is the partially restored arena floor - the sub structures held the cages/cells/barracks for those taking part, as well as elaborate stage mechanisms e.g. trapdoors

The interior of the Coliseum – the flat “stage” to the bottom left of the photo is the partially restored arena floor – the sub structures held the cages/cells/barracks for those taking part, as well as elaborate stage mechanisms e.g. trapdoors

Ancient wall painting at Ostia Antica...

Ancient wall painting at Ostia Antica…

Beautiful wall mosaic at Ostia Antica - there were several partially restored mosaics here - all wonderfully detailed...

Beautiful wall mosaic at Ostia Antica – there were several partially restored mosaics here – all wonderfully detailed…

The exterior of the Roman theatre at Ostia Antica...

The exterior of the Roman theatre at Ostia Antica…

May is a great time to visit Rome - the trouble is that everyone knows it! This is the crowd at the Trevi Fountain...

May is a great time to visit Rome – the trouble is that everyone knows it! This is the crowd at the Trevi Fountain…

The Oculus that shines a mysterious light on the Pantheon..

The Oculus that shines a mysterious light on the Pantheon..

Piazza Navona and the famous fountain of the four rivers..

Piazza Navona and the famous fountain of the four rivers..

Disconsolate Egyptian lion in Vatican City...

Disconsolate Egyptian lion in Vatican City…

St Peter's square...

St Peter’s square…

The river boat trips are currently suspended - it seems that all of their mooring platforms have been damaged by trees carried down by the winter floods...

The river boat trips are currently suspended – it seems that all of their mooring platforms have been damaged by trees carried down by the winter floods…

The debris caught on the mooring wires and on the bridge piers are a testament to how high this river rises - Richard is 6' 4" to the top of his head!

The debris caught on the mooring wires and on the bridge piers are a testament to how high this river rises – Richard is 6′ 4″ to the top of his head!

Tiber view...

Tiber view…

Diana the huntress and one of her hounds - that's the nearest that we saw to a greyhound on this visit. I had hoped that fate might put us int hepath of Blue the greyhound's sister, Amy, who came to live in Rome a few years ago :-)

Diana the huntress and one of her hounds – that’s the nearest that we saw to a greyhound on this visit. I had hoped that fate might put us in the path of Blue the greyhound’s sister, Amy, who came to live in Rome a few years ago 🙂

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