My father took me to Rome when I was about ten. He went on business but planned to extend his stay for a couple of days so he could bring me along and show me the great city. I have a vague memory of us arriving in Stazione Termini, him in a grey suit, shirt and tie, although I have no recollection of us actually travelling aboard a train (or, for that matter, a plane beforehand). Anyway, I have since had this recollection of Roma Termini being a vast place full of light and little shops, tiny cafes, newsagents’, bookshops: busy, bustling, colourful and noisy. A textbook railway station.
I also remember us staying in a darkish pensione, our room having an enormously high ceiling and a shared bathroom down a narrow corridor. There was absolutely nothing glamourous about that pensione, on the contrary, it felt quite basic but there was a bar downstairs and in child’s eyes it was Ali Baba’s cave of treasure.
There we had our Italian style breakfast every morning: he a cup of coffee and maybe a cornetto (I don’t recall him having any but I know I’d have one in his place nowadays) and I a glass of spremuta and something from a glass cabinet. Boy, did I struggle to make a single choice out of everything offered: tramezzini with myriad of fillings, selection of focaccie, even slices of pizza, along with before mentioned cornetti. We would return to the bar in the afternoon, before dinner, and I would gaze at endless heaps of little boxes of candies, bags of salted snacks, colourful packets of bubble gum, chocolate bars.
In the next few days he took me around the historic centre to show me all things worth seeing: Colosseum, Forum Romanum, Circus Maximus, Boca della verita, Fontana di Trevi, Via Veneto, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Vatican. I remember it was cold and raining most of the time but I was mesmerised nevertheless: my dad did not only know a lot about Rome, it seemed he became my own private tour guide.
Fast forward almost forty (dear Lord!) years and the great city of Rome is still great. After that first visit with my dad I’ve been coming back for more on several occasions. The city has been infinitely attractive every time; as every child would know it’s soaked with magnificent history. In parallel, as much as the way of life of Romans is quite traditional (as is of every Italian), it’s also tremendously modern.
So, what do you do in Rome when you’ve already seen most of the sights?
- Don’t fool yourself: there are always things to see in Rome. There are so many artefacts, buildings, piazzas that practically every stone in this metropolis seems to bear a role of some importance. There’s always the food too.
- To see something different but quite alluring, check out Parco della musica designed by the great Renzo Piano. It’s a beautiful venue for concert goers, especially the Sala Santa Cecilia, home to the famous orchestra and chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. We listened to Rossini’s Stabat Mater and it was a delightful evening. Within the grounds of the Parco there’s a fantastic bookshop with a good selection of music CDs too (especially if you’re looking for Italian pop rock music).
- Roam: this is my favourite advice and the one I myself comply with gladly. Rome is immense, so choose your steps wisely or your feet might fall off. We made roughly 15 kilometres a day on foot, so trust me, I know what I’m talking about.
- Stop by Urban Market Monti for a dose of creativity. Saturdays and Sundays only.
- Looking for some shopping but not willing to spend a day in and out the boutiques? Go to newly refurbished Rinascente Roma Tritone. It’s a wonderful building outside and inside, there’s great selection of fashion, homeware, beauty and food, something for every taste. To only take a break from it all, go up to the terrace for aperitivo or a meal for that matter – great views!
- There are many palazzi in Rome and most of them are filled with precious art. One of them that’s open to public is Galleria Doria Pamphilj (owned by a family who gave a pope) near Piazza Venezia and guess what, it has a citrus garden within (yep, that’s me, #citruslover.)
- If there’s one place in Rome I could repeatedly go to it’s Pantheon. It’s got a calming effect on me and it’s like a magnet: there’s been no visit to Rome without going in. My Latin teacher would’ve been proud.
We were particularly lucky to have had the marvellous opportunity to enter the Sistine Chapel in Vatican in the early morning when no one was there yet. For a minute or two we were standing in the empty chapel, no noise but our own breathing, our eyes glued in awe to the majestic work of art above and around us. It was simply stunning!
I was brought up in an atheist manner but the Sistine Chapel blew my mind away. My parents have been no believers in institutionalised religion. The closest Catholic believers I knew about were one of my grandmothers and her sister. The rest of the family was, at best, ambivalent about questions of God. I was influenced by my family more against the Church (although no one ever told me to steer clear of it) than being advised to go congregate. I’ve not converted, it does take much more than visiting Vatican a couple of times, but experiencing the Sistine Chapel is on my personal top-ten-of-all-time list.
If I had to point out one significant detail about Rome that’s changed it for the worse in the past years it’s definitely the number of tourists. Be warned: Rome is crowded any time of year. It’s particularly overflowed with visitors on and around Catholic holidays. Accept from the minute you arrive that there will be masses of people on the streets and at the sights. You’re just one of them.
It’s no different at night, mind you. We strolled well past midnight in the neighbourhood of Fontana di Trevi and decided to check it out yet again. I’m not sure what we had expected but it was obvious from the noise that oozed down the street up which we were coming that it was packed to the brim.
We skipped Testaccio, the hot, trending rione of Rome, famous for its food, markets and trattorie and left it for another time. Also, ran out of time, want to go next time: Galleria Borghese. See, just to prove my point, there’s always something left to explore.
An absolute must-watch before you go: La grande bellezza, a fantastic movie by Italian first class director Paolo Sorrentino
For early risers: Rome without crowds via secondsister.com
Foodwise, see a recommendation in my post Top 17 Restaurant Meals of 2018 – Worldwide
As a result of my studying Italian language in recent years, I’ve stumbled upon some interesting details about different aspects of Italy and Italian life. One of them is captured in this video called Storni in stormi. Aren’t those birds artistic? (move to 1:00 to skip the intro).
Should you find yourself stuck in Rome overnight, or are of a particularly romantic sort, this one is for you: Notte sento (my Italian teacher was very fond of Rome).
Rome, you haven’t seen all of me yet. I’ll be back one day.