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August Rome trip [Sep. 11th, 2014|08:13 pm]
Late August, I went on a 4 day trip to Rome with my mother.

Back story: my mum turned 65 this year. She threw a party and invited lots of friends and family, who asked me if they should get one big gift or just give an envelope with some money. After some back and forth emails, we decided to not do anything big, but give her a hint about what to do with the money, which was taking a holiday by plane (which she's never done before - I've had to hear "oh I've never been on a plane, I wonder what's it like" since I was a kid, so, yeah, time to get that over with).

The first idea was a trip to Spain or Turkey, since our local airport covered a few locations in those countries. But those were really just beach holidays, and, to quote my mum: "why would I want to go on a beach holiday when we have a beach right here?".
So, next plan, a city trip to somewhere in Europe. She seemed to settle on Rome very quickly, even though I urged her to look at other cities before deciding. But Rome was firm on her mind, and a week later we booked our trip at the local travel agency.

The actual departure to Rome was fairly uneventful, apart from some turbulence while taking off. Which was kind of fun actually. This being my first plane trip in eight years, I rather enjoyed myself in general. My mum fell asleep about 15 minutes after we took off, so yeah.

Weather in Rome was around 31°C when we arrived (difference of about 10°C from home), so that took some time getting used to. We got to our hotel, which was really, really nice and have no complaints about whatsoever... well apart from maybe the tiny tiny shower, but otherwise it was one of the best hotels I stayed in and at almost half the price of far worse hotels in Paris or London. Very helpful receptionist and friendly staff throughout our stay, so yeah, I was very happy with my choice of hotel.

It was around 5PM by the time we unpacked and freshened up a bit, so it was time for our first event: a ride in one of the tourist buses. I thought it was a good way to start our trip and get to know the city a little better. I only really researched stuff we would visit, so the rest of the city was pretty much a mystery to me. The biggest surprise on this tour was definitely the "Altar of the fatherland" aka "the Vittorio Emmanuele national monument" aka "the typewriter" aka "the wedding cake". I'm talking about this:
Altaar van het Vaderland
It's huge and really impressive up close, and it might give an idea how some buildings in ancient Rome might have looked, but on the other hand, it's completely over the top and reeks of fascism. Even worse is that they destroyed some other archeological sites on the Capitoline hill, so I have very mixed feelings about it. Apparently it's not very popular among Romans as well, and with reason I guess.

Anyway, it was fun getting a first taste of the city, and I was impressed with a lot of things I saw... I mean, the Colosseum!! It's huuuuge!! And we saw several other ancient Rome stuff, some of which we would explore the next day...

Day 2. We started by going to the Baths of Caracalla, a recommendation by a friend. This must have been one of the most impressive buildings in ancient Rome, and even now walking through the ruins, you can't help being deeply impressed by it. I tried to take some pics to show the scale of it all, but trust me it's far more impressive in real life. We went through it with an audio guide, which is pretty much a must since there are only a couple of info panels. We took our time and spent no more than 2 hours there. Part of the site was closed though, and there's an underground thing which was locked as well. But it was well worth going, and I'd definitely recommend it.
Afterwards we had lunch in a little café close to Circus Maximus, they had very very yummy pastry.
Thermen van Caracalla
In the afternoon, we did an "Ancient Rome" guided tour. Which was basically the Coloseum, the Forum and the Palentine, all in less than 3 hours. Obviously that's not enough to see everything, but it was interesting enough, and the guide was pretty good. The group was fun as well, especially the American tourists who were completely clueless about ancient Rome... at every turn they were all "OMG really? Romans did that? 2000 years ago? No!!" Ha. But we had a good time, it was certainly nice to be inside the coloseum (something to cross off my bucket list) and get a tour by a real Roman.
Oh, and to get to this, we were picked up by a driver with a minivan, and seeing him navigate these tiny up-and-down streets at least 50km/h was an attraction of its own!
Boog van Constantijn en Colosseum

We had pizza for dinner... and it was very nice but so huge I couldn't even finish it :( After that we went to a show at the Forum of Augustus... I failed to get tickets for it, but we could still watch the projections on the forum from the street, but if you bought a ticket you got an audio guide thing explaining everything. Still, I was happy to have seen it, and I think stuff like this (projections and modern technology) should be used more in museums and such, especially 3D projections could be handy to make things seem more "real".

Day 3. Our last full day. I wanted to go to Castel Sant'Angelo (yes mostly because I played Assassin's Creed Brotherhood) late morning and then make our way to the Vatican museums where we would get another guided tour. The walk to the castle took a lot longer than I thought (someone warned me about this; distances on a Roman map are deceiving), but it was worth it, passed the Mausoleum of Augustus and walked along the Tiber.
We didn't see everything in Castel Sant'Angelo, but my main goal was to go to the top and see the angel, and the view of Rome of course. The base of the building (the mausoleum of Hadrian) must have been pretty impressive at the time, but the castle built on top of it isn't half bad either. It has quite a bit of history and it was interesting exploring the different layers of the castle. The view on top was great as well, it was one of my favourite places in Rome.
Castel Sant'AngeloCastel Sant'Angelo -Standbeeld aartsengel Michael

After that we slowly made our way to the Vatican... we had time for a quick bite and something to drink... but I wish I had the reviews for this place... a tiny sandwich and two drinks: €28. There are a lot of beggars and thieves in Rome, but was the only time I felt like someone stole from me.

Anyway. Vatican museums with a guide. She was pretty good, gave a lot of insider info and historic background (like a rough timeline of how the Papal states and Vatican city came to be). Again, we only had 3 hours which wasn't nearly enough to see all the seperate museums, but we did see a fair bit, thanks to it not being a crowded day (no lines at all to get in, guide said this was only the second time ever she saw so few people in her 30 years doing this). My highlights were the Sala Rotonda (including the dome) and the ceiling in the map room. You can probably spend a day or two here visiting all the rooms, but in the end I was pretty happy with what I saw. Lots of stuff I knew from (art) history... uni wasn't a waste of time after all!

Sala Rotonda - Koepel van Michelangelo
Vaticaans museum - Sala Rotonda

On to the Sistine chapel and Saint Peter's Basilica. Sistine chapel is obviously impressive, not sure what more I can say about it. Saint Peter's Basilica was... pretty good I guess. We got to visit the crypt which was more interesting than what was above ground heh. The dome was nice with the sunlight through the windows...

Sint-Pietersbasiliek - koepel

We were already pretty tired from walking, but I had planned for more, lots more! First a short stop for an ice cream, then off to the Pantheon... and I got lost trying to find it :'( Stupid little streets that are confusing as hell. Eventually found it, went inside (so many people), looked up at the dome, saw the tomb of Raphael (who knew one of the Turtles was burried in Rome?), left. Next stop was the Trevi fountain, which was... under construction. Great. Back to the hotel then... and have another ice cream for dinner ehehe.

Day 4. I wanted to get up a little earlier so we could still do a little tour around the forums close by (we were only a 10 minute walk away from the Via dei Fori Imperiali). Took a closer look to everything in that area, including Trajan's column, and what was actually depicted on it, I never saw even a picture of the full frieze, but now I could, and it had a lot of interesting stuff on it.
Since it was still fairly early, there was almost no-one around, it was really peaceful and just slowly walking around the forums and the monuments was definitely one of my favourite moments. Took lots of pics but some didn't come out as good because -oh shocking- the weather was getting very cloudy!!

Forum van Augustus
Zuil van Trajanus
Back to the hotel, packed our bags, then subway, then train to airport, then wait. We were 3 hours early... which was more or less what I thought it would be, but still. Better early than late I guess. Anyway. There was a rude woman at the Alitalia check-in :( Only rude person we've met, everyone else had been really friendly and patient with us dumb tourists until that point. Plane was delayed/moved gate as well, but we had a comfortable flight back home.

So, as you might have guessed after reading all this, it was a really great trip, pretty much everything went according to plan, we didn't get sick, got robbed (which was the first question one of my mum's friends asked when we got back), had a great hotel, etc. etc.
I fell in love with Rome. Really. Okay, I fall in love with pretty much every new city I visit, but Rome resonated with me far more than I expected. No doubt part of that is because I'm a history/archeology geek with a preference for Ancient Rome stuff, but there's still more to Rome than that. Like, the people. Okay, they wear their sunglasses on top of their head and never stop talking in their phone, but in general they've been quite friendly and willing to help us in English (not-so-good English, but they made an effort anyway).
And yes, there were a lot of beggars, peddlers and no doubt thieves, but to me that was part of the experience, and I thought to myself "well, it must've been like this in ancient Rome as well!"

I guess we were also lucky that we went the last weekend of August, not a lot of people, not a lot of tourists, weather not -too- hot (it only bothered me on the first day). Hotels get more expensive (sometimes a lot more!) from September on, so it really was pretty much the ideal time to go.

Rome sometimes feels a bit weird when you see old Roman buildings that are now churches, and that cross in the Coloseum, and that saint on top of Trajan's column. Not to mention all the statues that are now in the Vatican museums. In one way I hate that this happened, but on the other hand you have think: what would've happened to all the ancient roman stuff if a few people in power didn't take an interest in all this? You'd have even less statues, less monuments, less everything. It's not ideal, of course, but it's better than nothing.

Lastly (this entry has been too long already), I want to go back!!! I still need to do the Capitoline museums, the villa of Livia, the museum of roman culture, and I want to take the train to Ostia Antica and maybe even Tivoli. Rome is actually pretty small, but there's really so much to see, you could easily spend two weeks here and still not have seen everything.

So yeah, I definitely want to go back. Let's be honest, do you think I could ever hate a place where people constantly eat pizza and ice cream?

(more pictures here if you want them - I recommend doing the slideshow if you want to see them full screen)