Random observations of the good and the bad from our recent holiday in Italy.

St Peter's Basilica from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo
St Peter’s Basilica from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo

It’s good to finally get here, after our failed attempt in July when I ended up in hospital the night before we were due to fly! Our itinerary was almost the same as we originally planned. A one-night stop in Rome after our flight from the UK, then a train to Naples for three nights on the coast near Pompeii. Train back to Rome, and a further three nights at a hotel which turned out to be within sight of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

Fontana delle Api, Piazza Barberini
Fontana delle Api, Piazza Barberini

Our hotel for the first night was the Holiday Inn Express, within minutes of Tuscolana railway station, so when we landed at Fiumicino Airport we bought tickets for the regional FR1 train. A little bit slower (and cheaper) than the Leonardo Express, but we were checking into the hotel by around 2pm. Straight out again, to explore some of the piazzas and fountains around the old part of the city. Walking downhill from Piazza Barberini metro station eventually brings you to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and on to Piazza Navona with its magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers. Our first experience of real roman gelato was from a little kiosk tucked away around the side of the Pantheon – what an impressive place to sit on a wall eating ice cream!

Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain

We had to get up at stupid o’clock for our flight from the UK, so by Saturday evening we were struggling to function. We decided on an early meal nearby, and soon discovered the Gallo Umbro cafe around the corner from our hotel, on the Via Tuscolana. A mixture of corner shop, delicatessen and cafe. Inhabited mainly by locals, who clearly know good value and good food when they see it. A delicious pizza for two washed down by a bottle of Peroni cost us little more than a fiver.

Inside the Pantheon...
Inside the Pantheon…

Breakfast open-air in the central courtyard of the hotel, and then Sunday morning saw us travelling in absolute air-conditioned comfort on the Frecciarossa train from Rome to Naples. Contrasting with the throngs of tourists battling to get onto the crowded Circumvesuviana train towards Sorrento. But you can find out more about this and see photos of our trips to Pompeii and Herculaneum in my earlier post, ‘Pompeii or Bust!‘.

Outside the 'Ara Pacis' museum
Outside the ‘Ara Pacis’ museum

Three days later, we arrived back at Termini station in Rome, where we bought our 3-day Roma Passes from the ATACS office on the underground. Our next three nights were booked at the Cardinal Hotel St Peter, about a mile west of the Vatican. The price was competitive, and we had the unusual benefit of an outdoor swimming pool and a rooftop terrace with several jacuzzis. After a relaxing afternoon, we headed out to the city once more, and enjoyed a nice meal and good service at the Rotonda restaurant, Via dei Pastini, close to the Pantheon.

Dome of St Peter's from the roof terrace
Dome of St Peter’s from the roof terrace

The next day we mainly spent exploring the Collosseum and the Roman Forum. We had already downloaded some excellent audio guides to our phones from Rick Steves‘ website. A red hot day, so after several hours in the Collosseum we went in search of more gelato down the side streets to the south of the Collosseum.

Which reminds me of Italian drivers. No, stay with me on this one! We’re all aware of the perils of using mobile phones whilst driving, but what about eating ice cream? Imagine my surprise to see a woman driving past in a little Fiat CinqueCento while eating a gelato cone! I only wish I’d been quicker with my camera and captured the moment. Crazy Italian Drivers…

Collosseum
Collosseum

Funniest comment in the forum was from an American guy we passed, who was clearly very fed up and far less impressed than his wife. I was wandering around the ruins when I heard him shout across to his wife – ‘Hey, look, there’s some more ancient shit over here!’ Poor bloke, but can’t help admire him for his honesty!

Roman Forum
Roman Forum

In the evening we settled for a meal in the hotel. A little bizarre that our main courses consisted just of meat. No potatoes or chips; no vegetables; just meat. We asked for a side dish of salad and got a bowl full of rocket. Maybe the chef is new?

Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps

Next day, the Castel Sant’Angelo. A remarkable monument, which has served different purposes over the centuries. We visited it partly because of the Dan Brown connection, as a location in the excellent ‘Angels & Demons’ movie. After exploring all that we could, we stopped for a coffee in the small restaurant at the top, with its stunning views all over Rome. Our final afternoon around the pool, then back out for a last romantic meal in the heart of the old city. We stumbled upon the Patricii et Plebei restaurant on the Via del Lavatore. Really unusual interior, with a medieval-themed painted ceiling, and background music provided by someone playing a harp. Excellent food as we had come to expect, and a carafe of a very drinkable house red.

Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo

Almost all of our trips were made so much easier by Rome’s Metro. Fast, frequent and clean, and of course included in our Roma passes. One of the hidden highlights was the ‘Rubicchio’ cartoon on the train. The episode we saw was about his exploits in Pompeii at the time of the Vesuvius eruption. Can’t wait to see the next episode! – maybe we can find it on YouTube?

The Pantheon
The Pantheon

Lowlifes – Whenever you travel abroad, a small minority will always try to take advantage. Even though we were fully prepared and expecting it, a few people managed to sneak under the radar. So in no particular order, some lowlife worthy of a special mention:
The Caffe Borghese, Piazza Borghese, for ‘upselling’. Given a choice between a small and large bottled beer, I naturally asked for a large one (at 6€). What actually arrived was a litre of draught in a huge glass stein. Not a problem when you’re thirsty, and the dish of crisps was a very welcome touch. But the final bill was for ‘Table Buffet’ (14€).
Then there was the little Chinese guy in the souvenir shop close to the Collosseum. We bought a cheap trinket but were short-changed. It was only after leaving the shop that we spotted he had substituted 2x 5 cents in place of 2x 50 cents. He deals with the currency every day, so it would seem quite deliberate. Still, only 90 cents down, and a useful indicator for the future.
Next was the mini-market near the Metro station on the Via Baldo degli Ubaldi. We bought some beers and snacks to take back to the hotel. Forewarned by the earlier experience, I made a point of counting the change on the counter before picking it up. No surprise to find it was short by one euro. The shopkeeper was very apologetic and readily corrected it, but there must be a small fortune to be made from short-changing tourists every day like this.
Finally, the ‘Woman helping at the train station’. On the last day, just a moment’s indecision after the ticket office while trying to find the platform for the Leonardo Express to the airport. We’ve all encountered ‘false guides’ before and should have known better. A respectably dressed young woman walking past asked if we needed any help. ‘Platform one?’ – ‘Yes, follow me’. Then at the platform at the top of the adjacent escalator, ‘Can you help me with some money, in return for helping you?’ Needless to say, she got the Paddington stare!

Drinks at a nice cafe. I think it was on the Via Ripetta?
Drinks at a nice cafe. I think it was on the Via Ripetta?

Rant mode over. After all, these were just minor irritations in what must be our best holiday ever – Glorious sunshine; ancient monuments to explore at every turn; sitting on benches eating gelato; and some excellent food and drink in some of the most romantic locations imaginable.

Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain

We’ve both thrown a coin over our shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, so I’m sure we’ll be back for more one day!

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