When in Rome...
...do as the Romans? And what will it be this time,
considering it will be my third visit to The Eternal City?
No new UNESCO sites this time. Even though Tivoli
would be well worth a visit, considering it houses two alone - Villa
d'Este and Hadrian's Villa. But there are other options for day trips
outside. In fact..three out of the four full days are planned to be
spent outside the city, and here are the sites:
- Ostia Antica
- Via Appia Antica (revisited)
- Parco Acquedotti
These places are more 'off the beaten track' of the
regular throng of tourists who have very little time to spend in the
city. For them, it is the usual route: Colosseum, Vatican and St
Peter's, Fontana di Trevi, Spanish Steps, Pantheon..and on a good day
maybe Piazza Navona. Even the Forum with Palatine hill enjoys much fewer
visitors..and the Forum is right next to Colosseum - but this is where
people flock to. This is what all people have heard of. This is what all
people have to see - and indeed, most will be first (and maybe last)
time visitors - so they make the obvious choices. I would even guess
many haven't heard about Forum Romanum.
Back to the trip..
Since the flight is pretty early - 08:55 out of Oslo
airport Gardermoen, it is a good idea to spend the night right at the
doorstep of the terminal building - in the Radisson Blu
hotel. The brand has finally changed name in Norway too,
as advertised - the SAS brand is no longer there. But the hotel is still
the same, as is also unfortunately the somewhat weak air conditioning. I
have several times wondered how to control it properly. I still can't
get anything except heat from the second vent, so I use the
window instead as before and it is better. Maybe they have a very reduced air
conditioning at this time of year. It is still a very good hotel, and
the breakfast is the highlight in my eyes!
The flight is uneventful, and partly good weather
over the Alps gives a chance at an attempt at photography...but it could
have been better I guess.
The Leonardo Express is easy enough to use to get to
Rome's central Termini station. Unfortunately, the city scenery along
the way hasn't changed much - there is lots of litter and tagging along
the way - not the best first impression for first time visitors either,
I am sure.
My hotel of choice is different this time - but it is
close to the airport express exit from the station, just down from track
26, where it enters. I even pass the entrance to the Radisson Blu hotel
on the way, but continue onward to Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II - then
walk to the south side of it, and find
Hotel Napoleon. Based on
Tripadvisor results, the place should be really good.
The building itself looks impressive enough on the
outside, though the entrance is fairly small and the area outside not
the prettiest. But it is not unique in this way - the hotel lobby is
fairly small, but there are two separate desks. My booking is ok, and I
am handed a porter who helps with the luggage and explains how to work a
tv remote control (actually how to find the foreign channels ;)
The room itself isn't particularly big, and I wonder
if it really is 16 square metres (excluding bathroom) as written on the
hotel's website. It seems to have been recently refurbished, but even
though the hotel is rated as **** the room is in my eyes not. The best
part, though, is that all rooms face an internal courtyard - although
small and crammed, but you may sleep with your window open here - and
practically not hear a sound at all - in the very centre of Rome!
The main salon is really nice, with old style
chandeliers and furniture. There is a small bar area which should be
selling light meals and drinks from 12 - 24, according to the website.
However, according to the posted menu, they only serve until 19, after
which the restaurant takes over. You can still get the menu, but via
room service, at some added cost. A small 'Italian surprise' ;)
I will already add here - the breakfast is
really good. There is a wide selection available - cereals, juices,
yoghurt, toast, meats, cheeses, several cakes (as expected), jams,
honey, coffee, tea etc as well as warm dishes - scrambled eggs, bacon,
boiled eggs (but no egg cup?) It is far and away above Italian standard,
which is usually a cup of espresso and on a good day a glass of juice.
As the journey has been efficient, there seems to be enough time to
go ahead with the planned itinerary for the day - a (re)visit to the
Colosseum and Palatine hill (new). And visiting Palatine first, thereby
getting the ticket there - instead of joining the 300-metre-long queue
at the Colosseum seems like a good tip. I check on a website that the
opening hours should be sufficient - until sundown, and it is still a
long time till that.
It is a short walk to the Colosseum, 10-15 minutes or so. But we head
for the entrance to Palatine as planned, and find small Italian surprise
no. 2 - they close the ticket office at 16:00 - and it is now 16:05. So
they do not close the exit till 17:30 or so - but the ticket office and
entrances close well before - I did not find any information about this.
Italian surprise no. 2?
Back to the hotel then..and out for dinner - at the trusty old
Chinese restaurant right next to Termini station - and it is still
there, at Via Giovanni Giolitti no. 105-113. The sign outside says 'Ristorante
Hong Kong' but the bill only says 'Ristorante f&b - food & beverages'.
The food is good and we have deserved fried banana for dessert - we ask
about it. 'No'. What no? You do not have fried banana? 'No'. Mamma mia!
I have never been to a Chinese restaurant which didn't have this - it is
THE classic dessert - and they even used to have it! Maybe nobody eats
it anymore? Most of the visitors are Chinese - only a few tourists come.
And maybe a few scattered natives.
So what do you do when you can't have this dessert? You recall the
information on the hotel's website, saying there is a very large
gelateria close by. And indeed it is -
Palazzo del Freddo - and not just any gelateria, it is in fact
Italy's oldest - since 1880! €1.50 for a small cup, and €2.00 for a big
one - both with three flavours! 30 flavours to choose from...but mmm...limone!
This is definitely not just a tourist place - natives come here to love
their ice cream too. Tourists buy ice cream at 3-4 times the price next
to Fontana di Trevi or Pantheon.
Ostia Antica is not an option today, as it is closed on mondays. But
the weather is really great, as it was yesterday - a clear blue sky and
somewhat cold in the morning shade. So a new territory will be explored
- visiting the aqueduct park. Although it is far from the beaten track,
it is fairly easy to find once you know how to get there. Take the red
metro line 'A' towards Anagnina, and get off at Giulio Agricolo. Head
southwestwards on Via Giulio Agricolo towards a strange looking, modern
church. When you reach it, head southeastwards (to the left as you face
the church) on Via Limone. The park will be to the right and one of the
"modern" aqueducts (from the 1500s) will be visible at first, but by far
the most impressive one is the 2000 year old Acqua Claudio, which is 28
metres at its tallest.
The park really is a park - there is a large, peaceful area here
along the aqueduct, a golf course, a field for grazing sheep, a place to
picnic (I would advise anyone to bring their lunch out if they plan to
stay for some time, as there aren't any restaurants out here).
The planes heading for Ciampino airport pass right over the aqueduct
- it is mostly used for internal and charter flights, so it is not too
Well..there is more of the day left - it was originally planned as
more or less a day trip, but didn't take nearly that long, so there's
time for another attempt at Palatine hill - and it is successful, apart
from Palatine hill being less impressive than I had imagined at first.
The view down towards the Forum area is actually better. So..time to
head for the Colosseum. I remember seeing a picture at a website showing
the floor seemingly complete now, with a small corner being done, and a
walkway stretching all the way across, seemingly for visitors to have a
better peek down in the so called hypogeum - the place where pulleys,
mechanisms, cages hiding animals, people etc were hidden below the
actual floor of the arena. But there is no such walkway - I can't
believe having seen a
of this, and it quite simply isn't there! Italian surprise #3?
The weather forecast is still great, so it is time to go for the
'longest' day trip of this visit - Ostia Antica. It is not too hard to
reach either, and here is the formula:
Take the metro line 'B' to the station Piramide. From here, follow
the signs to 'treni per Lido' - the train line goes all the way to 'Lido
de Roma' and Ostia Antica is on the way. You can use the same metro
ticket to get there, and trains leave every 15 minutes or so from the
six tracks of the station, where the signs will say 'Porta San Paolo'.
Get off at the station 'Ostia Antica' and cross the pedestrian bridge
over the busy road, follow straight ahead, then turn left and you will
see the entrance and signs pointing to the ancient site itself. It is
only €6.50 for adults, so it should be well worth it.
Be prepared to spend most of the day to see a fair bit of the ruins -
the area is quite big, and is often referred to a 'quieter' or 'better'
Pompeii - as this may indeed be the case, since the amounts of people
here are nothing like the crowds at Pompeii. While Ostia may not have
the spectacularly dramatic history of Pompeii, it nevertheless houses
hundreds of ruins, houses, temples, barracks, an amphitheatre...
So where to start? It may be a good idea to either prepare a map
before your trip, or buy one at the ticket office, as it is not included
in the admission price. The option is to just wander around, get a
little lost, try to find your way back, walk in a few circles, try to
get your bearings..and just enjoy the ancient site, the masses of ruins,
the green park feeling, and all the birdsong...
Ostia was originally a colony under Rome, but it grew rapidly to
become the city's major port, and had at its peak 100.000 inhabitants.
While not as rich as for example Pompeii, it still has a few interesting
houses, as well as (of course) its own Forum, in addition to the places
The warehouse site, next to the amphitheatre is very interesting, as
it housed several kinds of shops. At the time, most people were
illiterate, therefore the shops had pictures of what they sold instead.
And they were made with mosaics - and many of these are beautifully
preserved - note pictures of fish, ships, elephants (elephants for sale?
All you need for your pet elephant here??)
And please do NOT step on the refurbished mosaics. There's a reason
why there is a physical obstacle between them and you..and it applies to
americans too ;)
After a fair bit of exploring and walking, it is time to head back to
the hustle and bustle of the city, have some lunch at the hotel (very
good salad and pizza with whole artichokes) and a bit of rest before
heading out for the tripod-night-shot-mission. This time the target is
St Peter's and as usual, it is a bit difficult to time perfectly, so we
stop for a capuccino on the way from the metro station. The most
expensive capuccino I've ever had in Italy at €5. Actually it's the
first I've had in Italy at all. What will be next? Espresso?? Hah!
Anyway..apart from the rather cold wind in the vast open space of St
Peter's, the picture mission turns out fairly successful. I would have
liked a go at Castel St Angelo too but it is already enough..and the
prospect of dinner sounds much more tempting :)
Today is the last day..and the sun is still shining from a clear blue
sky. It probably never rains in Rome. They just have a ton of gardeners
running around, taking care of all the trees and grass - yep..that must
A slightly modified version of a classic city walk is done - metro to
Ottaviano San Pietro, head down Via del Conciliazone, cross Ponte
Sant'Angelo, get chased away because they are shooting some tv/movie
clip, consider walking down along the Tiber, give up for the first
stretch because it is flooding, try the next bridge, walk down the steps
and pass the human toilet on the stairs, continue along the Tiber for a
while, then walk up the stairs past another human toilet, up to
Trastevere (for the first time!), search for a lunch place, discover it
isn't cheaper than other places (at least the ones with the billboards),
Piazza Navona (whose fountains are unfortunately still is being
refurbished)..Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi. Then stop for lunch at a
small trattoria which looks quite cosy and has a lunch meal offer - a
portion of pasta, a glass of wine and 'coffee' at €6.90 - not bad at all
considering you are in the middle of the beaten track! The food is
good..but I had expected the coffee to be exchangeable for tea..or at
least regular coffee - but no..the offer says coffee. And when we say
coffee, we mean of course espresso. Ouch! A contender for Italian
surprise #4... anyway, add lots of sugar, close your
eyes, finish it..and then you won't be able to close your eyes for the
rest of the day.
So...what are the final words? Rome is still a very interesting city,
but after three visits, I feel that the amount of traffic, pollution,
pushy sellers, beggars, litter etc. is choking the city more and more.
As much as I would like to say 'Arrivederci Roma' this time it will
probably be 'Ciao Roma' - there are so many more places on my wish list
- I do not expect to run out of possible destinations anytime soon!
UNESCO sites visited on the journey:
Nothing new :(