Roman Holiday

Days: 1 – 2 (20th July 2018 – 21st July 2018)

Total distance travelled: 17,048.87 kilometres (10,589.40 miles)

In the northern winter of 2015/16, after alighting an overnight bus in the frozen Turkish town of Göreme (somewhat oddly, I was wearing shorts and flip flops at the time), we wandered into our lodgings where we met an Argentine couple, as well as a Swedish/Australian pair, the latter of whom were checking out that day for fancier digs.

We met them all that evening for dinner, as well as a week or so later for an Istanbul lunch.

Two years later, Johanna the Swede, and Paul the Australian, were inviting us to their Italian wedding!

Within that time in between, they’d not only moved to our home city, but also to our home suburb. Separated only by minutes, we went on to become firm friends, so it was with some excitement that we looked forward to their 2018 big day.

We never going to just travel all that way, and only attend the wedding, so in Italian adventure lay ahead, as well as a quick visit to the low countries before the long journey home (as ever, Australia remains as far from most of the world as ever).

In late July, we took flight for Rome via Guangzhou, a seemingly straight forward affair.

Now I’m not sure what most people know about hidden transits, but as a travel agent it was something that was fairly commonplace in my line of work.

It’s an instance where a flight transits a city or airport, that does not actually show up on the itinerary, hence the name, ‘hidden transit’.

Ours had one, but in the time from me booking them and us travelling, I’d completely forgotten!

So there we were, arriving in Guangzhou all ready for our transfer, only to be told we needed a domestic connection to Wuhan. No biggie, right?

Well, yes and no.

We’d need to queue to apply for and hopefully be granted a transfer visa in a reasonable time!

Fortunately, we had a window of a few hours. That should be enough.

It was a weird situation though.

We had to hand over our passport to some man seated behind a narrow glass window and mill about in a small holding area with a bevy of other travellers (it seriously was like an animal pen, to keep us corralled).

Some had far shorter connections, bearing quite worried expressions.

Indeed one poor Brazilian traveller had already missed their connection, and was wondering what this now meant!

With that in the back of our minds, there was a feeling of considerable relief when we finally received ours, and were able to head through to our connecting flight.

Onwards to Rome… via Wuhan!

An unexpected detour…

Somewhere, on the fringes of Europe (many hours later), the sun rose over the clouded horizon.

It felt good to be back!

Okay, so we weren’t back yet, but we were pretty damn close.

A little after 6am we touched down at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, the sky above largely blue, but with a nice cool feel at such an early hour.

Ever thrifty, once through customs and given a mostly friendly welcome into Italy and the EU, we hustled ourselves over to an area where (we’d researched) we could catch a bus service into the city proper – Fiumicino sits about 30km from the heart of Rome proper.

Cruising into the city at that hour, the roads were largely empty, but for the odd street cleaning vehicle… and us.

My first ever view of the Colosseum. That would also come whilst aboard that bus into the city.

Surprisingly, our first impression of Rome was one of Pyramids!?

In terms of proximity to Roma Termini station (where the airport bus would deposit us), we’d chosen well, with it being roughly a 500-metre stroll from the station to our accommodation.

We made the short walk through the still sleepy streets, found the address, and pressed the buzzer… nothing.


Double-check the address and try again… walk back down the street and count the numbers.

Still no joy.

Eventually, we gave up and wandered back to the station to assess our options.

We simply decided to wait for a bit, and try again later.

Sure, we could have sat in the street, but we weren’t too interested in looking like hobos, and besides, back at the station there were at least benches on which we could rest our bums.

Usually, when we touch down in a new country, despite the fatigue induced by a long-haul flight, the adrenaline and excitement of somewhere new or at least foreign, is often enough to get us through that first day.

That morning, sitting tired and bored in that station, we found a wonderful way to let that adrenaline die!

After a couple of attempts, where I’d wander back to the address, whilst Sarah held the fort with our bags back at Termini, I eventually had success, with an answer to my buzzing.

Ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, and I’d retrieved Sarah through streets that were starting to wake (our immediate surrounds began to, and later, would fully resemble a street market, with random stalls set up selling all manner of ‘genuine’ goods with a wide mix of ethnicities), and we’d hauled ourselves and our packs up several flights of a spiral staircase to our pad.

It had felt like a long morning, yet in truth, the clock, in all likelihood, was yet to strike 9.

Definitely time for us to head out before we crashed and burned!

After a quick conversation with our host, where she asked if we wanted to cancel our online booking, and pay her directly for a better rate (and therefore none of her revenue lost to commission), it was time to head out.

We’d agreed to her offer as well.

There was still some scattered cloud, the morning was at present cool, but the day promised to heat up very quickly.

Our part of the city was slightly elevated, so it was an easy downhill stroll towards the historical centre (in fairness, one could argue most of Rome could be called historical, but you know, those bits where the Colosseum sits and the Roman Forum, etc).

Our local phonebooth to Jesus, the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

For Sarah, Rome was nothing new, but for me, I think I was fairly smitten from the start.

A city built in and around the ruins of itself, narrow cobbled streets and alleyways… if it wasn’t for the mountains of trash and the smell it would start to emit as the day warmed, it’d be divine!

We ended up on some of those very same narrow streets that kept us away from traffic, and led us perfectly down towards the Foro Romano or, Roman Forum.

Fighting fatigue as we start to explore the cobbled warren that is the heart of Rome

Okay, so we had to maneuver a little to reach the forum, but it was close enough, and when the barrier that separated us was centuries of history, it’s not all so bad!

Not the worst barrier to have to navigate around
As the sun broke through, the Foro Romano

I’m not sure I can recall anywhere else in the world, where’d we’d hit so many sights or history within minutes. Indeed the only other that comes to mind with such history in its heart, is Mexico City.

Had we turned left, we’d have hit the Colosseum, but for now, we were headed elsewhere, although in truth, I’m sure we could have whiled away a few hours had we just hung in the forum, but for now, we had other parts of the city on our mind.

Nevertheless, the grandiose facade of the Piazza-Venezia gave us cause to pause for a few minutes.

This was one I certainly hoped had a good lighting budget come nightfall!

The impressive Colonna Traiana (Trajan’s Column) and the even more incredible Piazza-Venezia in the background!

Back on the streets, there was certainly more bustle, as the place was now far more alive with both locals and tourists.

A few twists and turns through the streets, and we were at one of the more famous sites, and one we’d heard was a tourist nightmare.

At this relatively early hour, it was busy, but we had little need to queue, nor even wait long to snap a few pictures of it and us (you know, just to prove we were there).

Tired as we may have been, we still even managed smiles!

This was the Trevi Fountain!

The Fontana di Trevi
Just to be clear, fewer people was certainly by no means no people!

For a while, we did our best to dodge the crowds, exploring a few piazzas, by no means off the beaten track, but somewhat less popular than areas visited by those looking to tick those slightly more famous sites off their Rome hit-list.

But for the oldest obelisk in the city (which appeared to be covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics), the Piazza del Popolo big as it was, felt a little charmless, and it wasn’t long before our wanderings saw us hit the river Tiber, across which the religious state that is the Holy See sat.

With plans to visit it another time, we dismissed the urge to cross, stopping instead on a small street corner, taking some time for breakfast and appeasing my stomach with some crunchy bruschetta.

A quiet place for a spot of breakfast
A very green looking Tiber River

With my “hangry” averted, our explorations continued, the ancient cobbled roads and streets continuing to charm, it was simply a wonderful place to wander.

This will also be the type of city where I’m sure I’ll use fewer words, and more pictures to explain what we saw and convey the beauty (or ugliness) that was beheld.

Beauty in the everyday!
A little more going on: Piazza Navona

Sure, there were all manner of shops about, but of the few that stood out to us, many were gelaterias! Of this, we made note, as some (hopefully) good quality Italian gelato would never be unappreciated!

Further research was required before we could start the sampling in earnest…

Despite the heat (and by now, the day was warming up), Italy was looking like a challenge to keep the diet in check!

It’s a good thing at least that we like to walk as much as we do.

Would it be Rome without them?
Crashing Italian wedding photos

In time we made our way, albeit loosely, back to where we’d started the morning at the forum, now awash with people and baking under the early afternoon sun!

A lunch of beer and edible, but only average pizza was had at an al fresco restaurant, not too far from the Foro Romano, as a little weariness induced by both the heat and our already long day began to kick in, so we were certainly appreciative to take some time for a little rest.

A little busier than at half past six in the morning…

One thing no photo can really convey is smell, be it good or bad, and here in Rome, as I look through our many pictures, this is very evident.

You see, Rome in July is hot (indeed, for this reason, April/May into June is considered a far better time to visit), with today, and many preceding days no exception.

A large sprawling city of many people and narrow streets, sees much of its refuse, even that properly bagged and awaiting collection, left on the streets, as there’s simply no place else for it to go.

Add this product in volume, along with the aforementioned heat, and for all of its beauty, some parts of Rome really stunk!!

Exploring hidden spaces (left) & Our lodgings stairwell (right)

Our local, now under a gorgeous afternoon sky and the moon

As expected, stunning at night (incredibly, we were still awake)

Somewhat refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we (by ‘we’ I mean Chris) started the day in an amusing fashion, as we kicked things off with our included breakfast.

The previous day, our lovely host had brought us a collection of goodies for our morning meal (a pattern repeated for the duration of our stay), items for tea, coffee, a pastry or two and what looked a small bottle of milk each.

Few good days begin without a lovely hot tea with milk, so we prepared our brews before I opened one of the small bottles to add a splash of milk… only it wasn’t milk!

Turns out (perhaps there was a touch of jetlag), we’d each been given a small drinking yoghurt, and I’d just liberally poured an Aloe Vera flavoured one into my cup of tea!

So, this particular Sunday morning, fruit and a pastry would have to do…

For the first time in my life, we were off to Sunday Mass.

Another glorious day
Give us your gold, we promise we love you…

Okay, so it wasn’t planned, but we should have realised (being ‘the Lord’s day’ so close to the seat of Catholicism).

We could have taken confession, there was the option in either Italian or English, but the priest on duty was far too engrossed in his phone for us to have any chance of making eye contact… plus, we dare not steal the place of anyone who actually wanted or needed the service!

The bright day was still lovely and cool, the rising sun yet to assert its dominance on the day, making it the perfect time to be out and about.

Most local businesses were still shuttered, either for the morning, or potentially the whole day, but their roller doors certainly hadn’t been wasted, but rather turned into many an impressive canvas!

Shutter Art

Ahead lay a 10 (or more) kilometre walk, so it made sense we got on our way sooner rather than later, not that it ultimately made much difference.

Before long, the cooler morning was gone, replaced by the Roman Summer heat.

Two days in, and us versus the heat was already a recurring theme.

But walk we did, along the ancient cobbled streets, away from the tourists, and eventually, away from pretty much anyone.

We were headed for the the Via Appia Antica, that most famous of ancient Roman roads, the Appian Way.

Appia longarum… regina viarum “the Appian Way, the queen of the long roads”

The original runs all the way to Brindisi on the Adriatic… we wouldn’t even be leaving Rome.

There were supposedly some old tombs or catacombs we could apparently visit which sounded pretty cool, but as the photos (or absence of them) below can attest, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Still, the walk itself took us to and through parts of the capital we’d otherwise have never seen.

Sweating our way through history

Loosely retracing our steps for the return journey, along roads that largely lacked space for pedestrian traffic, we’d re-emerge near the Parco del Colle Oppio, a stones throw from the Colloseum.

In truth, pretty much anywhere we might choose to wander, we’d some ancient ruin, monument or basilica.

It’s pretty incredible like that!

As close as we were, now was not the time for us to visit this most iconic Roman edifice, and back amongst the narrow cobbled streets, we found both respite from the sun, and watering hole for lunch.

When I think of the Eternal City, Pizza, Pasta and Wine all come to mind.

Craft beer does not, however, when we discovered Open Baladin, we had to give it a try.

The chance to get indoors, sample a couple of ice old beers, and have a little lunch was certainly most welcome!

Dust and crowds at the Arch of Constantine
Pecorino dusted Chips & craft beer for lunch

From Baladin, it was a short five minute walk to the Galleria Spada, which was home to an example of forced perspective art by Francesco Borromini.

It was interesting enough, but a few minutes to check it out were certainly enough for us before moving on.

A somewhat forced perspective in the Palazzo Spada

We were headed less than a kilometre away, but it was well before we got there, that we hit the crowds.

The heart of Rome was buzzing with people, and near its famous sites, the afternoon was reminiscent of a disturbed anthill, with people in movement in every direction.

Outside the Pantheon, our destination, the movement slackened somewhat (as people queued for entry), but the volume continued to swell.

There was little we could do but wait our turn, and in fairness, the wait was not a long one before we were able to ourselves enter this roughly two thousand old icon of the city.

Ancient Rome’s best preserved monument, the Pantheon. Sarah looks thrilled with the crowd…

Inside, it was lovely and cool, and despite the press of people, it was certainly not as noisy as one might expect.

Perhaps the voices were lost in the high ceiling, or perhaps the visitors today were just a little more respectful? Who knows…

We were far too late to experience mass in this still functioning church built atop an ancient temple, but that mattered not.

This former resting place of the Italian monarchy, was still something special to experience.

Crowded beneath the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome
Obligatory selfie

We’d pretty much called it a day, however our route back to our lodgings afforded us a view of the Colosseum most times we’d travelled to or from the apartment, so we thought it as good a time as any to check it out under the afternoon sun.

Foot weary, our trusty flip flops continued to serve us well, and thus we pretty much wrapped up the second day of our Italian adventure.

Opting to snap a pic of ourselves and a random truck on about our 5th pass of the Colosseum

* Our open jaw (into Rome, out of Amsterdam), flights cost us $930.05AUD each, which I found and purchased through work at STA Travel

* We confirmed 5 nights at Smart BB near Termini station in Rome through for €410.00. Upon check-in, our host offered to offer us a discounted rate to cancel and pay directly through her!

* I purchased Eurail Italy 5 days within a month travel passes through work (which provided an industry discount) for $72.00AUD per person

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