The Eternal City: Rome, Italy, 2015
Rome or Roma like the Italians call it, has etched memories in my heart and come what may, she will always remain the best trip I ever had in my life. Although this is totally from a personal point of view, I still believe that Rome does live up to the hype it receives all over the world. The whole expense of my trip did not exceed 200 euros including tickets, souvenirs and transport. Travel does teach you many lessons and budgeting yet having the same fun is one of them. Make sure you read the entire blog so that you could understand as to why this trip was so memorable for me.
Plan: Ok, so let's begin!!! My trip for December was planned way before in September itself as I just wanted to be on the safer side so that I was "in" Rome for Christmas. Little did I know that my train ticket would cost so less by planning three months before. So I happen to get the tickets of Italo Treni which is one of the super fast railway services in Italy. The train goes at a speed of 360 kmph and no wonder I reached Rome in no time. I urge you guys to travel this way as it was so much fun. I would also suggest booking your accommodation much before if you are going during peak season. However, if you are a solo traveler there isn't much to worry about as you would find many hostels at the price of 20 euros a night. I on the other had an Airbnb which was far from the city centre, so it cost me much around 15 euros a night and that price during Christmas was like a boon (I did book it in September too!).
Arrival: Roma Termini is the name of the train station in Rome and once you step foot here, try to be aware of your surroundings because, with so many tourists, Rome has her share of petty crimes like pick-pocketing and luring foreign travelers into traps. After dodging a few strangers who wanted to offer me services like a guided tour of the Colosseum, apartment rentals, etc. I strolled out of the station and the capital of Italy was already casting its spell through its beauty. As you keep walking around, I am pretty sure you will come across a piece of history in the form of a fountain, cathedrals or some sculpture. The icing on the cake was it was just one day before Christmas and the lights did embellish the city much more.
Advice: Warning! do not try to accept any gifts or anything offered by strangers as this is another trap to extract money from you. In short, I'd say do not encourage any conversation that you have not initiated! If you have any queries make sure you ask at the help desk or tourist information centres.
I kept walking with my backpack and a map in my hands and lady luck greeted me on the way. I was fortunate enough to spot a scooter rental service that cost 50 Euros per day but since the next day was Christmas and as the shops would remain closed, I got the scooter for 2 days at the price of 1!!! So yay!!! The best part was that it was a 50 CC scooter and the fuel cost for two days was only 5 euros!! This was like a blessing in disguise for me at it cut short my travelling time by more than half!
I got onto to my scooter and the first location on my GPS was the "Colosseum".
P.S: I was studying in Italy, hence the GPS.
📍 The Colosseum!
Rome could gobble you up with its sheer grandeur and the Colosseum is a colossal example of that. I was riding on my scooter and this grand structure starts appearing from a distance. Witnessing the Colosseum was so emotional that a tear rolled out from the corner of my eye while gazing at this magnanimous beauty. The ticket cost 12 euros but I'd always suggest booking well in advance as you can get to skip the line. Beware of scams here as there are people who pose as guides and tell that it's a long line and that they'd make you skip the line. NO!! it's a scam and you should not fall for it. Do take the audio guide or a guided tour offered by many reputed companies online as it helps a lot, else you'll be left staring at rocks and pillars without understanding the essence of it. Let me not go deep into its history here because you'll find out about that anyway, but when you are in the Colosseum, take a moment and cherish the amount of history this place must have witnessed. The place did hold battles of gladiators which resulted in either life or death, therefore you need no introduction to visualize. My sincere advice to all my fellow travelers is to have a brief idea about the Colosseum before visiting it as it helps you a lot in reliving those thoughts while you are physically over there.
Ok guys prossima fermata, Fontana di Trevi!!! (Next stop, Trevi Fountain)
Advice: Before I take you to Trevi fountain, let me share my Gelato experience with you. After being in Italy for four months now and roaming a lot with the locals did enhance my palet (that's what Italy does to you!!). This made me understand how an authentic gelato tastes like. So guys whenever you go to a gelato store in Rome or any famous Italian city try eating at an established outlet rather than any gelateria. Torcè in Viale Aventino is one of my favourites gelato spots.
📍 Trevi Fountain
Talk about water systems and Romans, it's like poetry. This fountain is the terminal point of one of the aqueducts that served Rome for 400 years. Tre in Italian means three and Vie means streets and since the fountain was built on the junction of three streets, it is called Trevi Fountain. The fountain is also charitable as the tradition of throwing coins with your right over your left shoulder. This legend has it that if you throw a coin, it will ensure your return to Rome (they also say a second coin throw would get you love and a third coin would get you marriage 😉). Ok, this is the only fountain where coins are thrown and so do not become a victim of any scam by people making up stories out of thin air near the other fountains. The lesser-known fact is that the coins in the Trevi fountain are collected during the night times and this money is used as a donation to Caritas, which is a charitable organization that in turn takes care of the needy. Stealing this money from the fountain is considered a crime and if you're wondering why then the answer is simple, that's because each day the fountain gets coins worth 3000 euros thrown into it. There is a small fountain on the right where couples drink the water from it for the sake of eternity of their love (legend has it) and if there are any couples, I'd say there's no harm in being a part of this legacy.
Advice: Now for scam alert guys, you will see street hawkers or random guys who come up to you on the pretense of giving you a bracelet and later ask you for a donation. A big NO again. Never try to accept anything from anyone!!
📍 Next stop: Piazza Navona
One of Rome's beautiful piazzas, Piazza Navona is home to some of the best works of Bernini and Borromini. It has many cafes and restaurants to chill. I did take a walk around the piazza and got talking with the locals over there who explained to me the history of Piazza Navona. Rome has some of the friendliest people and their relaxed attitude did make me comfortable amongst them. So I was fascinated by one of the three fountains in the square, the Fountain of Four Rivers. The four giant nude statues on the fountain represent the four main rivers of the four continents, the Nile for Africa, whose head was covered with a veil as the source of it was unknown, river Ganga for Asia, the Danube for Europe and Rio de la Plata for America. The sheer mention of river Ganga filled the Indian in me with pride. Spend some time here and beware of the fake Italian restaurants with their menus written in English and people calling you to come and eat at their restaurant (no good restaurant does this!!!).
Advice: Another piece of advice, when you spot people dressed as gladiators or any other ancient character, you might have the urge to click a picture with them, do it if you like but be ready to pay them in the end too (I saw a tourist pay 20 euros!!). While doing this, be careful about to whom you hand over your camera or phone as you could be robbed right in front of you and you wouldn't notice.
📍 The Spanish steps
A total of 135 steps, famous for its butterfly design, the scala Spagna or the Spanish stairs are an example of elegance. You could always sit here and enjoy the eternal bliss of the city. The beauty of the stairs was very popular amongst artists and this paved way for beautiful women to come to Rome, which attracted travellers and Romans from the rich families. These stairs serve as a good landmark for meetings or chilling with your friends. I did not know that riding scooters was not allowed in a few areas around the stairs but fortunately did not fall into any trouble as I was warned early (be through as the fines are pretty huge).
📍 The Pantheon
As a civil engineer, this monument intrigued me at various levels. The mystery behind the use of the building has not yet been deduced but the monument is for sure an engineering marvel. The pantheon's structure has stood tall and withstood the ruins over time and it is the only ancient Roman monument that is in such pristine condition. Let us talk about the dome. An oculus or opening on the top of the dome was the only way light could enter the building and just by looking at it, one would start wondering how did the architects in that era pull this off. It is the largest unreinforced concrete structure and the material used in it is a mystery till now. The flooring of Pantheon dates back to 2000 years and is made out of marble. Michelangelo also said that the Patheon looks like a work of angels and not that of humans. The art bug in me also loves the fact that the famous artist Raphael's tomb is here. So when you are in the Pantheon, soak in its elegance so that you could reminisce about it for the rest of your life.
Important Advice: Time for another one. No matter what, whenever someone approaches you telling that they are 'undercover' police officers and would like to have a look at your passports, DO NOT give it to them. Police in Italy has no intention to go 'undercover' to frisk you. Just ask them to take you to the police station but do not budge to any of their threats. This is a huge scam and you should not fall for it.
📍 Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore
After a good night's sleep, I headed to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore as it was Christmas!! This is the largest church in Rome for Mother Mary and when you enter it, the gilded ceilings made out gold take your breath away. The gold used in this was from newly discovered America, as it was a gift from Christopher Columbus. The bell tower is tallest in Rome at a whopping 75 ft. Within the church, you can see that six popes were buried here and their 'incorrupt' bodies can be seen through glass chambers. I happened to show my student badge and got a discount and the entrance cost was just 2 euros. It was good to enjoy various styles of art as there is a blend of different eras in this church.
📍 Victor Emmanuel II Monument
This monument was built to commemorate the first king of unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel II who was the first king after the unification of Italy. The statue of Victor Emmanuel II is present right at centre riding a horse. Although the monument was dedicated to the king, it also holds other significant parts and one amongst them is The Altar of Fatherland. It lies on the top of the entrance stairway and above it is the goddess of Rome. This was built to honour the soldiers who lost their lives in the war. The goddess of Rome was to symbolize divinity in their sacrifice.
Advice: You do get dehydrated as you walk along, therefore stay hydrated. My advice is to not buy bottled water from the street hawkers and instead carry an empty bottle with you as there are many fountains in Rome where you could always fill water (street guys' price of a small bottle is 4 euros!!!).
The Vatican City was a part of the trip too!! Of course it was the Christmas time!! Read the blog post of The Vatican City to know how luck favored me on the Christmas eve night of 2015.