Rome – 3 days in Italy

With the bustle of a large European metropolis and the detritus of a monumental past, Rome delights with a frenetic pace and antiquities lurking innocuously around each bend in the road. Here, history has been built on top of history for thousands of years. Seeing bankers in candy red Alfa Romeos zipping by millenia old ruins frames the endurance of this old city. Each sediment in time is visible and speaks to the ancient tale of decaying empire and modern function. The past is everywhere. You may be taking a stroll to sample some Trippa for a late lunch and accidentally stumble upon the Pantheon. There is a certain beauty to this unplanned chaos, and the overlapping of ages is historical mayhem at its most charming.

Rome is estimated to have been settled over ten thousand years ago. It has been a destination for a very long time. It is said that all roads once lead to this settlement on the Tiber. Thankfully, getting to Rome is inexpensive care of European budget air lines. Easyjet flies to Rome from several European cities such as Paris, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam for under $200 round-trip. Three days is plenty of time to see the highlights of Rome, but budget more time to truly understand this storied destination.


Day 1 – Roam the streets of Old Rome

One of the most amazing qualities of Rome is the integration of the ancient city into the modern metropolis. Most ancient sites beautifully disturb the modern order of things. On an old square, a McDonald’s faces the Pantheon in a worthy example of the strange compromises the present has made with the past. Due to this integration of the historical and the proximity of many Roman landmarks to each other, Rome is a great city for wanderers.

Start at the Colosseum, and take in the crumbling feat of ancient engineering. The queue at the Colosseum can be rather daunting, but booking tickets in advance or purchasing a Roma pass bypasses the line. Here is a great online resource for line skippers. Around the Colosseum, also seek out the Arch of Constantine. It is hard to miss.

From the Colosseum, start heading northwest towards Foro Romano, or the Roman Forum – the ancient seat of Roman government. It is a ruined old structure, and its considerate ambitions can be ascertained by the remnants. The Foro Romano is just east of Palatine Hill – one of the seven hills of Rome. The Circus Maximus, or old chariot racing ground, is just on the other side of the hill.

Continue northwest along Fori Imperiali road and slowly make your way to the heart of Rome. You will pass Foro Traiano, Piazza Campidoglio, and several other breathtaking landmarks. Eventually, if you stay the course, you will arrive at the doorstep of the Pantheon. The Pantheon is such a feat of engineering that it is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. During the renaissance, master architects such as Brunelleschi studied the Pantheon’s construction to reverse engineer advancements in the architectural field. This was 1300 years after the Pantheon’s construction. To call the Pantheon a marvel would be an insult. It stands as a testament to conquering impossibility.

Next the Pantheon, duck into Tazza D’Oro for some caffeine rejuvenation. Tazza is accused of making the best cappuccino in Rome. The place is busy and confusing. Follow someone who looks like they know the lay of the land.

Head north and east to the Trevi fountain, where well wishers toss away an estimated 3000 Euros per day. It is said that if you toss a coin into the Trevi fountain, then you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. North of the Trevi fountain is the Spanish Steps – the longest and widest staircase in Europe. Climb from the Piazza di Spagna to the top and cherish the view out over Rome.

For dinner, find a busy restaurant and order a lot of food. Rome is a mecca for food and has multitudes of delicious options. It is difficult to find a bad meal in Rome, so be adventurous. Hostaria Antica Roma on Appian Way is highly recommended.

Day 2 – Vatican City and Sistine Glory

Vatican City is a sovereign city state ruled by the Pope. With a population of less than a thousand, and only 110 acres in total size, the Vatican is considered the smallest country in the world, edging out the micro-state of Monaco. This center of the Catholic world boasts immaculate gardens, a heavenly basilica, and one of the top museums in the world.

The best way to reach the Vatican is on foot by crossing Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tiber River. Castel Sant’Angelo is framed gloriously between winged angels on both sides of the bridge. The castle is a great first stop of the day, and houses a museum and Hadrian’s tomb. Castel Sant’Angelo has been a tomb, a castle for the popes, a prison, and also figures prominently int the novel Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.

West of Sant’Angelo is Vatican City. Entering on Via della Conciliazione is probably the most dramatic way to approach the holy place. Once in Vatican City, take in the breathtakingly large Piazza di San Pietro (St. Peter’s square) before entering the basilica. The square boasts an obelisk that was relocated from Egypt almost two-thousand years ago.

The height of the Michelangelo designed dome in St. Peter’s Basilica is so lofty that you could fit the entire statue of liberty within the dome with room to spare. The interior of St. Peter’s is a heavenly place, festooned with gold finery and artistic masterpieces. You can climb to the top of the dome for a stunning view out across Rome, or take to the crypts beneath the marbled interior to check on some papal tombs.

If you happen to be in Rome on a Wednesday, then you can be blessed by the Pope himself. He hands out blessings at 10:30am on Wednesdays. Check with your hotel or guesthouse to arrange tickets for the event. The Swiss guard also hands out tickets on Tuesdays from their post near the bronze door. Be sure to check the Pope’s schedule before getting too excited about being blessed. He is a busy man and routinely leaves his Vatican home.

The Vatican Museum is my favorite museum in the world. From entire rooms filled with the works of masters to hallways covered with brightly painted maps of an uncertain world, this place is an unbelievable experience. Budget plenty of time to take it in. The museum is laid out to move you through several gorgeous rooms and immaculate hallways before climaxing at the Sistine Chapel. The museum is free the last Sunday of each month, and is not open any other Sundays. The rest of the week is fair game.

Finish your day with a stroll down the Tiber river just as dusk blankets Rome.

Day 3 – Trastevere and personal interests

With so many options around Rome, pick something personally interesting to do on your last day. Take a cooking class, check out the art at Galleria Borghese, go to a wine tasting, explore catacombs and crypts, check out Florence (only an hour and a half away by fast train), go to a football game, or perhaps just take to some serious shopping.

On your third night in Rome, spend some time in Trastevere. Trastevere is a cool neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber filled with locals, expats, artists, and college students. It is a great place to sample authentic Roman food, explore, and get inexpensive lodging. The area feels less like a museum than ancient Rome and is a great place to get in touch with the city’s less touristy side.

All photography by Justin Delaney

Tod’s shoe company to restore Rome’s Colosseum

The Colosseum in Rome will get some much-needed repairs thanks to the sponsorship of Tod’s, an Italian luxury shoe manufacturer, the BBC reports.

The restoration will cost about 25 million euros ($34 million). The iconic gladiator arena is right next to a busy road in a polluted city, and a subway line runs close by. Many stones have shifted and require bracing, and the whole things needs a good wash.

Don’t expect to see a dramatic change soon, though. Restoration won’t even begin until the end of 2011 and will take two and a half years to complete. The Colosseum will remain open the entire time, although some parts will almost certainly have to be put off-limits on a temporary basis.

Many of Italy’s monuments are in a sad state of disrepair. The problem received international attention last year when several ancient structures collapsed in Pompeii.

[Photo courtesy user AlexSven via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Colosseum to open underground tunnels

Archaeologists have almost completed a $28 million project to preserve the basement of the Colosseum so it can be opened to the public.

Underneath the famous building is an underground network of cells and corridors that housed gladiators, wild animals, and prisoners as they waited for their turn to go out on the sands and offer a day’s entertainment to 50,000 screaming fans.

The Colosseum is already an atmospheric place, but when these chambers open to the public it will be even more so. Imagine what it must have been like to be a gladiator looking up at the stone vaults, hearing the distant roar of the crowds, and wondering if you’d ever stand under another roof again.

Archaeologists have shored up the walls and are adding walkways so that the millions of tourists who visit Rome’s iconic building won’t damage the remains. It’s not clear exactly when it will open, but the archaeologists have said their work is nearly done. Stay tuned.

BBC news cameras got a sneak peak at what’s sure to be a prime stop on any tour of Rome. You can see the clip here.

Image courtesy Dilif via Wikimedia Commons.

The Five Most Overrated Tourist Attractions

Want to know what the world’s most overrated tourist attractions are? You’re in luck, as the Times Online has compiled their selection of the Five Most Overrated Tourist Sites, naming some very famous places, while suggesting alternatives that they feel are more worth our time.

The U.K. newspaper isn’t afraid to criticize one of the motherland’s top tourist attractions either, putting Stonehenge at the top of the list. They note that you can’t touch the monument, or even walk around it, and it isn’t exactly located in one of the most scenic locations either. As an alternative, the Times suggests that you skip “the Henge” and visit nearby Avebury, which has a larger stone monolith that allows for more access to the public.

The other four sites on the list that they recommend that you avoid include Petra, Jordan, the Colosseum in Rome, Machu Picchu in Peru, and Angkor, Cambodia. Generally, the Times is put off by the large crowds they attract, as well as the inconvenience of coming and going from these famous spots, several of which are fairly remote.

Personally, I think this list is best used as a way of keeping your expectations within reason when traveling to these sites that have become overrun with tourists. For instance, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to visit Machu Picchu when traveling to Peru? Just be aware that it is a crowded monument and getting there isn’t always easy. Patience will go a long way towards providing an enjoyable experience.

Those looking for new places to visit, off the beaten path a bit, will enjoy the alternatives suggested in the article however, as they are generally less crowded and are not on the radar for most travelers. Their alternative suggest for Machu Picchu for instance is the Isla del Sol in Bolivia, which is a much quieter location when compared to the Peruvian landmark.

So, what do you think of the list? What would you add to it? Any experiences with the ones they’ve selected?



American tourists return stolen Colloseum rock after 25 years

In an event bound to give American tourists a bad/worse name abroad, 2 Californian tourists have mailed back a chunk of the Colosseum they stole 25 years ago.

They had the small rock in their souvenir collection, but claim they kept feeling guilty every time they saw it (which begs the question why they didn’t mail it back sooner).

Of course, once chipped off the landmark, you can’t exactly glue it back in place, so the real damage had already been done.

Still, the head of the tourist board accepted their apology, and invited them to come back to Rome any time they want. He even used the news as an opportunity to promote his city some more, saying “The message is that visitors to our city continue to cherish it even after so many years”.

The lesson to be learned here is as simple as it is logical – do no steal pieces of historical landmarks.