14 April 2014
This March, I was lucky enough to visit Rome for the second time in my life, as part of a trip organised by St Andrew’s History Society. In 2008, I fell in love with Italy when I went on a family holiday to Pisa, Florence and Rome. Although I was almost confident that I would enjoy my second trip to the Italian capital just as much, I prepared myself slightly for disappointment. After all, I was no longer discovering the city with the easily-enthralled and inexperienced eyes of a twelve year old. So, I prepared myself for what could be a very different experience. (…Despite, coincidentally, our hostel being directly across the street from the hotel I stayed in six years ago.) However, Rome did not disappoint. The fact that my more sceptical, mature self came back even more fascinated than six years ago serves as proof to the capital’s charm and allure.
Rome is by no means perfect. Like any major capital city, it has been subjected to the commercialisation of the tourist industry—all key attractions and sites are mobbed with people, and constantly bombarded with the sale of souvenirs. However, take a five minute walk away from the major tourist spots, and you discover charming little paved streets, lined with cafes, restaurants, and of course, gelaterias.
We stayed in the Yellow Hostel, perfectly located just a five-minute walk away from the major metro station ofTermini. The area was mostly comprised of hotels, hostels and restaurants, yet managed to evade being excessively touristy. We found cheap, unpretentious, yet delicious, restaurants literally next door to where we were staying. The hostel also had a restaurant-bar, serving cheap food and drinks all day, which at night turned into an animated club-type scene that hosted a variety of events. (Yes, we did do karaoke one night!)
Our first day consisted of a visit to the Coliseum and the Ancient Roman Forum. It is worth battling through the overwhelming waves of tourists simply to see the striking and imposing ruins of Rome’s past—a sight made even more remarkable by the fact these sites appear almost nonchalantly amid the more modern, yet equally captivating, architecture of Rome’s centre.
We continued our tour of the city’s key landmarks on the second day, visiting the Trevi Fountain and the famous Spanish Steps—the top of which reveals an astounding view of the city. That day we also enjoyed a walk down one of Rome’s major shopping streets, la Via del Corso, from which a short detour accidentally led us to the Trevi Fountain. Indeed, the centre of the city itself is not excessively expansive. Walking back to our hostel from the Trevi Fountain took no longer than half an hour—a walk that allowed us to take in our surroundings, as well as really feel part of the city and pretend, momentarily, that we weren’t tourists.
On our last day, we were given a fascinating guided tour of the Vatican City, where we were shown around the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. Whereas six years ago, I viewed the Vatican solely as a religious symbol, not fully understanding why it attracted so many visitors from across the world, I was now able to appreciate it as a true artistic and architectural masterpiece. I only began to grasp the magnitude of the whole Vatican experience on learning that on average, the Vatican receives 20,000 million visitors per day. (That, and the fact that our tour was almost three hours long.)
A trip to Rome, or any place in Italy for that matter, is worth it just for the food. During our stay, we enjoyed an endless and delicious supply of pizza, pasta and ice cream of every flavour you could possibly imagine. Even better is the fact that you do not need to spend a fortune on findinggood food. Of course, the main tourist spots, especially around the Vatican City, can be seriously over-priced. An ice-cream cone bought in one of the cafes in the beautiful Piazza Navona would have cost us 9 euros. However, a five-minute walk from our hostel, we found the amazing Gelateria La Romana, where a freshly chocolate-coated ice-cream cone cost merely 2 euros.
Rome truly is a beautiful city, with its remarkable combination of impressive ancient buildings and quaint cobblestone streets. Perhaps the most striking aspect of a visit to Rome is the ability to feel both part of a grand and, at times, daunting city, yet also of somewhere charming and pleasantly welcoming. That, and the surprisingly high amount of McDonalds in the revered epicentre of the gastronomy world…