Layers upon layers of history, the birthplace of one of the greatest empires in history. A city that saw monumental buildings, rulers and power rise and fall, but still withstood the test of time. Still alive and still great today, it truly is the eternal city.
Of all the beautiful and fascinating places I was to visit in Italy, none held such esteem or caused such anticipation as Rome. Along with Greece, Rome laid the foundation stones of western civilisation. Without the two of them the world wouldn’t be the place it is today, and as you walk among the amazingly preserved ruins of the empire and as you learn more of their society and culture, it seems that the world might be caught in a cycle of moving forward to a more utopian society, and then moving backwards to a more barbaric, narrow-minded, illiberal society. There are plenty of examples throughout history. After all it was the fall of the Roman empire that plunged Europe into the Dark Ages.
You could spend years in Rome and still find new things to do or to see. So for anyone out there planning a trip to Rome, make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I spent nine days there and still found myself wanting to stay for longer and search every nook and cranny in the city.
A great place to stay in Rome is the Yellow Hostel. However, if you’re after a quiet time, it’s not the place for you. It is a party hostel in every sense of the word, having its own bar next door with a club downstairs. There are activities and treats all through the week, with live music, beer pong competitions, dancers, and my personal favourite, live karaoke. You will find travellers and fellow hostel stayers from all over the world there, and I made many good friends and met some very interesting people in my time at the Yellow Hostel.
The hostel offers a range of activities like tours, yoga, and pasta-making lessons. It is also very close to Rome’s central train station. If you are going to book a stay at the hostel make sure to do it on their website, as if you do you get a discount at the bar. I would definitely recommend a stay at the Yellow Hostel – I’m sure you will not be disappointed.
There are the obvious places to visit in Rome, like the Coliseum, the Roman forum, and the Vatican. I truly loved those great historic and beautiful places. A helpful tip for visiting Rome is that on the first Sunday of each month a lot of the museums and heritage sites are free, like the Coliseum and the Roman forum.
The Coliseum is truly monumental and grasps the air from your lungs when you first catch sight of it, dominating its environment with the mesmerising, light blue Italian sky behind it. Built in 70-80 AD, the building is fantastically preserved.
As it’s easy when staring at it to lose sense of what’s going on around you, and because of the number of people packed around the monument, the area around the coliseum is rife with pick pockets, so make sure always to keep one eye on your belongings.
I’d advise taking a joint tour of the Coliseum and the Roman forum. The tours are significantly cheaper on the first Sunday of the month so try to fit it into that day.
On the tour you walk through the different levels of the greatest arena ever built and truly appreciate the master engineers that were the Romans, impressively building the coliseum in eight years and being able to accommodate a number of spectators estimated at between 50,000 and 80,000. After the coliseum visit the Roman forum just next to the arena: that is the best surviving representation of what ancient Rome looked like.
Although missing the glamour and grandeur it would have once held, the forum still is amazing, and fills you with a longing to create a time machine to witness the creation of these truly beautiful buildings. From each block laid to each decoration or intricate symbolism placed around and inside these buildings, from the multiple palaces built on Palatine Hill, to temples and Senate buildings, it is one of the greatest collections of Roman architecture and history in the world, and an absolutely fascinating place which I am sure to visit again.
Now for the country within a country: the Vatican city. Before visiting the Vatican, make sure you match the dress code. If you are wearing shorts or a top that doesn’t cover your shoulders, you will not be let in. Knowing this I decided to keep it dignified and regal, so I opted for jeans and a Celtic top.
Here as in other places I was joined by a fellowship of travellers who made my stay much more enjoyable. While waiting in the very long queue to enter St Peter’s Basilica, wearing a friend’s scarf as a shawl, trying not to pass out from the heat, and looking like an extra from the set of Lawrence of Arabia, I heard the delightful sentence, “I think I’m going to go get a beer.” It came from my friend and borderline alcoholic Todd. I just laughed, but nothing compared to the laughter that bellowed out of me when he actually returned with a beer. I finally convinced him, who saw no issue with taking beer into the Vatican, that the fact that I’m not allowed to wear shorts into the Vatican, means you definitely can’t take beer into the place. We set off to St Peter’s Basilica without beer.
The Basilica is grand and beautiful and does convey the sense of admiration and awe that you would expect from the centre of a religion.
You can also visit the top of the Basilica for a lovely view of the surrounding area. I must warn you that the climb to the top is tiring, but the view is certainly worth it.
I would advise either getting to the Vatican very early or doing it in two trips, as the museums of the Vatican are exhaustingly large, and at the end of them there is the beautifully decorated Sistine chapel. The chapel and museum take a whole day in themselves. By the time we reached the Sistine chapel we were extremely tired and didn’t get to appreciate it as much as it deserved.
I’m told that the Orange Garden is a good place to visit for a sunset, but due to me catching my flight back home I didn’t get to see it at that time of day. I did see it during the daylight hours, and found it to be quite a tranquil place and stayed for longer than I thought I would.
The food in Rome I found to be okay. While I did have some lovely meals I also had some bad ones, but the prices were alright as long as you find a good place to eat.
For nightlife in Rome I’d advise the previously mentioned Yellow Bar. There are also pub crawls with different groups throughout the week. I went on one on Halloween at the behest of friends, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The Ice Bar is also supposed to be good but I didn’t get a chance to visit in my time there.
The best advice I could give to anyone visiting Rome is, just get out and explore. You discover some of the more beautiful spots or Roman ruins that way. It’s a city where you can aim to become lost as you will be much too happy to care how far from your lodgings you might be. So go out on a wander, and you might just be amazed at what you will find.
One thing you will notice about Rome is it is quite dusty, there was a few times I had to wear my sunglasses just to prevent anything being blown into my eyes. You also see how severe poverty and homelessness is in Rome. There is a lot of people sleeping on the street, and there is beggars all around. I had one man come up to me after a meal asking if he could have my leftovers. This was a problem I saw all around Italy but it was certainly more rife in Rome compared to the other places I visited.
Overall, out of all the places I visited in Italy I enjoyed Rome the most. It’s an ancient, vibrant city, and very friendly – in that regard It reminded me a lot of Glasgow back home. It’s beautiful and warm and a place that I would advise anyone to visit.
I would like to thank Samantha for the recommendations she gave to me for Rome. If you are ever in Scotland, Samantha, I will return the favour – after all, you still owe me a meal. I also want to thank Lucie, Todd, and Taylor for giving me a Halloween I won’t soon forget, and just remember Chad Hogan is always with you. And I definitely want to thank my fellowship of travellers who made sure that Rome will always hold a special place in my heart, so thank you to Todd, Hani, Alaina, Maddie, and Tahnee. And I want to leave you guys with some wisdom I learned on my travels – wherever you are, whatever you end up doing, always remember to take your wine bottle to the bin.
And that’s everything, I will do one more blog post doing a quick summary and overall experience of Italy and that will be it for now. So talk to you later…