Rome - March 2010

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When in Rome... as the Romans? And what will it be this time, considering it will be my third visit to The Eternal City?

No new UNESCO sites this time. Even though Tivoli would be well worth a visit, considering it houses two alone - Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa. But there are other options for day trips outside. In fact..three out of the four full days are planned to be spent outside the city, and here are the sites:

- Ostia Antica

- Via Appia Antica (revisited)

- Parco Acquedotti

These places are more 'off the beaten track' of the regular throng of tourists who have very little time to spend in the city. For them, it is the usual route: Colosseum, Vatican and St Peter's, Fontana di Trevi, Spanish Steps, Pantheon..and on a good day maybe Piazza Navona. Even the Forum with Palatine hill enjoys much fewer visitors..and the Forum is right next to Colosseum - but this is where people flock to. This is what all people have heard of. This is what all people have to see - and indeed, most will be first (and maybe last) time visitors - so they make the obvious choices. I would even guess many haven't heard about Forum Romanum.

Back to the trip..


Day 0+1

Since the flight is pretty early - 08:55 out of Oslo airport Gardermoen, it is a good idea to spend the night right at the doorstep of the terminal building - in the Radisson Blu hotel. The brand has finally changed name in Norway too, as advertised - the SAS brand is no longer there. But the hotel is still the same, as is also unfortunately the somewhat weak air conditioning. I have several times wondered how to control it properly. I still can't get anything except heat from the second vent, so I use the window instead as before and it is better. Maybe they have a very reduced air conditioning at this time of year. It is still a very good hotel, and the breakfast is the highlight in my eyes!

The flight is uneventful, and partly good weather over the Alps gives a chance at an attempt at photography...but it could have been better I guess.

The Leonardo Express is easy enough to use to get to Rome's central Termini station. Unfortunately, the city scenery along the way hasn't changed much - there is lots of litter and tagging along the way - not the best first impression for first time visitors either, I am sure.

My hotel of choice is different this time - but it is close to the airport express exit from the station, just down from track 26, where it enters. I even pass the entrance to the Radisson Blu hotel on the way, but continue onward to Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II - then walk to the south side of it, and find Hotel Napoleon. Based on Tripadvisor results, the place should be really good.

The building itself looks impressive enough on the outside, though the entrance is fairly small and the area outside not the prettiest. But it is not unique in this way - the hotel lobby is fairly small, but there are two separate desks. My booking is ok, and I am handed a porter who helps with the luggage and explains how to work a tv remote control (actually how to find the foreign channels ;)

The room itself isn't particularly big, and I wonder if it really is 16 square metres (excluding bathroom) as written on the hotel's website. It seems to have been recently refurbished, but even though the hotel is rated as **** the room is in my eyes not. The best part, though, is that all rooms face an internal courtyard - although small and crammed, but you may sleep with your window open here - and practically not hear a sound at all - in the very centre of Rome!

The main salon is really nice, with old style chandeliers and furniture. There is a small bar area which should be selling light meals and drinks from 12 - 24, according to the website. However, according to the posted menu, they only serve until 19, after which the restaurant takes over. You can still get the menu, but via room service, at some added cost. A small 'Italian surprise' ;)

I will already add here - the breakfast is really good. There is a wide selection available - cereals, juices, yoghurt, toast, meats, cheeses, several cakes (as expected), jams, honey, coffee, tea etc as well as warm dishes - scrambled eggs, bacon, boiled eggs (but no egg cup?) It is far and away above Italian standard, which is usually a cup of espresso and on a good day a glass of juice.

As the journey has been efficient, there seems to be enough time to go ahead with the planned itinerary for the day - a (re)visit to the Colosseum and Palatine hill (new). And visiting Palatine first, thereby getting the ticket there - instead of joining the 300-metre-long queue at the Colosseum seems like a good tip. I check on a website that the opening hours should be sufficient - until sundown, and it is still a long time till that.

It is a short walk to the Colosseum, 10-15 minutes or so. But we head for the entrance to Palatine as planned, and find small Italian surprise no. 2 - they close the ticket office at 16:00 - and it is now 16:05. So they do not close the exit till 17:30 or so - but the ticket office and entrances close well before - I did not find any information about this. Italian surprise no. 2?

Back to the hotel then..and out for dinner - at the trusty old Chinese restaurant right next to Termini station - and it is still there, at Via Giovanni Giolitti no. 105-113. The sign outside says 'Ristorante Hong Kong' but the bill only says 'Ristorante f&b - food & beverages'. The food is good and we have deserved fried banana for dessert - we ask about it. 'No'. What no? You do not have fried banana? 'No'. Mamma mia! I have never been to a Chinese restaurant which didn't have this - it is THE classic dessert - and they even used to have it! Maybe nobody eats it anymore? Most of the visitors are Chinese - only a few tourists come. And maybe a few scattered natives.

So what do you do when you can't have this dessert? You recall the information on the hotel's website, saying there is a very large gelateria close by. And indeed it is - Palazzo del Freddo - and not just any gelateria, it is in fact Italy's oldest - since 1880! €1.50 for a small cup, and €2.00 for a big one - both with three flavours! 30 flavours to choose from...but mmm...limone! This is definitely not just a tourist place - natives come here to love their ice cream too. Tourists buy ice cream at 3-4 times the price next to Fontana di Trevi or Pantheon.


Day 2

Ostia Antica is not an option today, as it is closed on mondays. But the weather is really great, as it was yesterday - a clear blue sky and somewhat cold in the morning shade. So a new territory will be explored - visiting the aqueduct park. Although it is far from the beaten track, it is fairly easy to find once you know how to get there. Take the red metro line 'A' towards Anagnina, and get off at Giulio Agricolo. Head southwestwards on Via Giulio Agricolo towards a strange looking, modern church. When you reach it, head southeastwards (to the left as you face the church) on Via Limone. The park will be to the right and one of the "modern" aqueducts (from the 1500s) will be visible at first, but by far the most impressive one is the 2000 year old Acqua Claudio, which is 28 metres at its tallest.

The park really is a park - there is a large, peaceful area here along the aqueduct, a golf course, a field for grazing sheep, a place to picnic (I would advise anyone to bring their lunch out if they plan to stay for some time, as there aren't any restaurants out here).

The planes heading for Ciampino airport pass right over the aqueduct - it is mostly used for internal and charter flights, so it is not too trafficked.

Well..there is more of the day left - it was originally planned as more or less a day trip, but didn't take nearly that long, so there's time for another attempt at Palatine hill - and it is successful, apart from Palatine hill being less impressive than I had imagined at first. The view down towards the Forum area is actually better. So..time to head for the Colosseum. I remember seeing a picture at a website showing the floor seemingly complete now, with a small corner being done, and a walkway stretching all the way across, seemingly for visitors to have a better peek down in the so called hypogeum - the place where pulleys, mechanisms, cages hiding animals, people etc were hidden below the actual floor of the arena. But there is no such walkway - I can't believe having seen a picture of this, and it quite simply isn't there! Italian surprise #3?


Day 3

The weather forecast is still great, so it is time to go for the 'longest' day trip of this visit - Ostia Antica. It is not too hard to reach either, and here is the formula:

Take the metro line 'B' to the station Piramide. From here, follow the signs to 'treni per Lido' - the train line goes all the way to 'Lido de Roma' and Ostia Antica is on the way. You can use the same metro ticket to get there, and trains leave every 15 minutes or so from the six tracks of the station, where the signs will say 'Porta San Paolo'. Get off at the station 'Ostia Antica' and cross the pedestrian bridge over the busy road, follow straight ahead, then turn left and you will see the entrance and signs pointing to the ancient site itself. It is only €6.50 for adults, so it should be well worth it.

Be prepared to spend most of the day to see a fair bit of the ruins - the area is quite big, and is often referred to a 'quieter' or 'better' Pompeii - as this may indeed be the case, since the amounts of people here are nothing like the crowds at Pompeii. While Ostia may not have the spectacularly dramatic history of Pompeii, it nevertheless houses hundreds of ruins, houses, temples, barracks, an amphitheatre...

So where to start? It may be a good idea to either prepare a map before your trip, or buy one at the ticket office, as it is not included in the admission price. The option is to just wander around, get a little lost, try to find your way back, walk in a few circles, try to get your bearings..and just enjoy the ancient site, the masses of ruins, the green park feeling, and all the birdsong...

Ostia was originally a colony under Rome, but it grew rapidly to become the city's major port, and had at its peak 100.000 inhabitants. While not as rich as for example Pompeii, it still has a few interesting houses, as well as (of course) its own Forum, in addition to the places previously mentioned.

The warehouse site, next to the amphitheatre is very interesting, as it housed several kinds of shops. At the time, most people were illiterate, therefore the shops had pictures of what they sold instead. And they were made with mosaics - and many of these are beautifully preserved - note pictures of fish, ships, elephants (elephants for sale? All you need for your pet elephant here??)

And please do NOT step on the refurbished mosaics. There's a reason why there is a physical obstacle between them and you..and it applies to americans too ;)

After a fair bit of exploring and walking, it is time to head back to the hustle and bustle of the city, have some lunch at the hotel (very good salad and pizza with whole artichokes) and a bit of rest before heading out for the tripod-night-shot-mission. This time the target is St Peter's and as usual, it is a bit difficult to time perfectly, so we stop for a capuccino on the way from the metro station. The most expensive capuccino I've ever had in Italy at €5. Actually it's the first I've had in Italy at all. What will be next? Espresso?? Hah!

Anyway..apart from the rather cold wind in the vast open space of St Peter's, the picture mission turns out fairly successful. I would have liked a go at Castel St Angelo too but it is already enough..and the prospect of dinner sounds much more tempting :)


Day 4

Today is the last day..and the sun is still shining from a clear blue sky. It probably never rains in Rome. They just have a ton of gardeners running around, taking care of all the trees and grass - yep..that must be it.

A slightly modified version of a classic city walk is done - metro to Ottaviano San Pietro, head down Via del Conciliazone, cross Ponte Sant'Angelo, get chased away because they are shooting some tv/movie clip, consider walking down along the Tiber, give up for the first stretch because it is flooding, try the next bridge, walk down the steps and pass the human toilet on the stairs, continue along the Tiber for a while, then walk up the stairs past another human toilet, up to Trastevere (for the first time!), search for a lunch place, discover it isn't cheaper than other places (at least the ones with the billboards), Piazza Navona (whose fountains are unfortunately still is being refurbished)..Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi. Then stop for lunch at a small trattoria which looks quite cosy and has a lunch meal offer - a portion of pasta, a glass of wine and 'coffee' at €6.90 - not bad at all considering you are in the middle of the beaten track! The food is good..but I had expected the coffee to be exchangeable for tea..or at least regular coffee - but no..the offer says coffee. And when we say coffee, we mean of course espresso. Ouch! A contender for Italian surprise #4... anyway, add lots of sugar, close your eyes, finish it..and then you won't be able to close your eyes for the rest of the day.


So...what are the final words? Rome is still a very interesting city, but after three visits, I feel that the amount of traffic, pollution, pushy sellers, beggars, litter etc. is choking the city more and more. As much as I would like to say 'Arrivederci Roma' this time it will probably be 'Ciao Roma' - there are so many more places on my wish list - I do not expect to run out of possible destinations anytime soon!

UNESCO sites visited on the journey:

Nothing new :(


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