Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I caught up with the lovely Rebecca Thomas, who previously took part in the feature with an awesome Postcard From… Siem Reap. This time, British travel addict Rebecca has been exploring Italy. Rebecca works full time in PR, but her spare time is spent planning her next adventure in great detail (much to the horror of her far more laidback boyfriend), dreaming of far off shores and keeping the world updated on her travels and top tips for their own visits through her blog, The Ramblings of Rebecca.
Welcome back, Rebecca. Where have you been now?
In November I finally got to visit the capital of Italy, Rome. Rome has been on my ‘must visit’ list for many years thanks to its ancient history, rich culture, world-famous cuisine and beautiful language. A long weekend was the perfect opportunity to walk around and soak this all up. And this is exactly what we did, making the most of every minute.
Sounds pretty awesome – did you have a good place to stay there?
I actually won my trip to Rome (best freebie ever right!) but the hotel chosen for us was the best I could have picked anyway. We stayed there at Suite Dreams for three nights; it’s two floors are tucked away in an old apartment building with a modern vibe – we stayed in the Paul McCartney room. Breakfast is plentiful, the staff are as friendly as you can get and make great restaurant recommendations. Best of all, it’s a less than 15 minute walk to the Colosseum and all the surrounding sights.
Congratulations – pretty amazing prize! What did you get up to in Rome?
Rome is a city with a sight or attraction around every corner, the most famous arguably being the Colosseum. It seems hard to believe that something built in 80 AD is still standing! As you walk around, you can imagine the tiered seating for around 50,000 people, and the rooms underground where the gladiators and animals prepared to fight to their deaths.
Just a stone’s throw away is the Roman Forum. This plaza of political buildings, temples and markets marks the centre of ancient Roman life, and is worth an exploration to get an understanding of how they once lived, worked and worshipped.
For a slice of ancient religious history, then the Pantheon was a clear winner. This temple to the gods of Ancient Rome is one of the best preserved Roman Buildings largely thanks to the fact that is has been in continuous use since its construction. Almost 2000 years later, it still boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, with a central oculus at the top the only source of light. Come rain or shine this makes for a great visit, whether watching the beam of light move around the interior, or to see rain drops bouncing off the tiled floor.
The most famous church in Rome however has got to be St Peter’s Basilica, actually not located in Rome at all but Vatican City. St Peter’s Basilica and St Peter’s Square in front of it draw thousands of people, meaning the queues can be long. We were lucky enough on our trip to catch Pope Francis delivering Sunday mass out on the Square!
For one of the best views of Rome, I would recommend that you head up the glass lift to the top of the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. You can’t miss this massive, white ‘wedding cake’ monument smack bang in the middle of Rome, and it offers some incredible panoramic views.
Too much to see all in one trip? There is certainly a lot more I could write about but Emily would need to give me room for about three posts! Throw a coin into the classical Trevi Fountain and legend has it that you will be back one day for another go.
Wow – so you did and saw a lot! Can you pick a highlight?
As a bit of a history buff, the Colosseum takes your breath away, but for me the absolute highlight lies some feet underground. Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini is the remains of an ancient Roman villa preserved underground and only discovered three years ago when an underground car park for the government buildings above was started on.
Thanks to the help of glass floors and some very clever lighting, the tour makes the first century meets the 21st . As you walk through the building looking down at the villa underneath, the small group tour highlights key parts of the building, revealing the history that has literally been stripped back below your feet. Now you can see an intricate mosaic floor, the traces of the red paint that decorated the stairs, and the outline of the baths amongst other things.
There are two English language tours a day which are limited in numbers, so it’s worth seeing if you can book online to make sure you don’t miss out. There is nothing like it to literally bring history to life in Rome!
How was the weather?
Wet! Unfortunately, Rome’s highest rainfall is in November, right when we arrived. However, apart from one horrifically wet day where my shoes literally fell apart due to the saturation, the weather was dry and mild, if overcast. On the plus side though, there were barely any crowds or queues to get in anywhere. From other people that have visited Rome, this apparently is a rarity that makes a little bit of rain worth the risk in comparison to how much more you can see.
So you can’t talk about Rome without mentioning food. How was it?
The food in Italy was simply incredible. I stuck to the three ‘p’s diet largely: pizza, pasta and plenty of cheese! It was unlike any of our corny British imitations, bursting with freshness and flavour. I am personally torn between two places to recommend. Da Ricci (also known as Est! Est! Est!) has the honour of being Rome’s oldest pizzeria, established in 1905. Tucked down a quiet side street just off the Via Nazionale, this family eatery offers traditional pizzas. Don’t miss either the suppli (fried rice croquettes with tomato and egg) or the fried mozzarella balls that melt in your mouth. It makes me hungry just thinking about it…
If you have a little bit more cash to spend, then the family run trattoria Armando de Pantheon might be for you. Right next to the Pantheon on the Salita dè Crescenzi, this place is special – and incredibly popular. The menu is seasonal Roman and delicious. With a wide range of wine and extensive menu, it delivers an authentic sense of Rome and felt like a slice of luxury. When we arrived bang on opening time at 7pm, we were asked if we had a reservation. Shaking our heads, we were told we could have a table if we could be gone by 9pm. We then saw lots of others turned away, so make sure you book in advance!
Did you have any disasters on this trip?
Our luggage being left in London was an unexpected nightmare that happened in the very first minute of the holiday! After losing a couple of hours to report it as missing, we unfortunately missed most of our first afternoon by the time that we arrived in the city centre. Luckily though there was a silver lining – it was my boyfriend’s bag rather than mine, and we all know men don’t need as much luggage as women!
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
If you are travelling any time but November, then you might want to see about booking some tickets in advance. Le Domus Romane for instance allows you to book your tickets online. While the Colosseum also tends to have queues out of the door, consider the fact that the combined ticket that can be bought at the much quieter Palatine Hill and will allow you to skip the queues when you get back to the famous arena.
If you are travelling on a budget and have always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel amongst the other treasures that the Vatican Museums can offer, then bear in mind that on the last Sunday of every month, the Museums (which are usually closed on Sundays) open their doors. More than that however, entrance is free!
When eating out, we soon learned that the Italians don’t do early dinners. In fact, you will be lucky to find anywhere that is open much before 7am which after a day of endless walking can see late enough with a rumbling stomach. On the plus side, being ready to eat then did mean that we could get a table at some places that we never could otherwise, simply by being early.
And finally, what’s the most useful Italian word you learnt?
Allora. Don’t be confused when you realise that you are hearing this in every other sentence – it is a toss-away word that simply means ‘ok’, ‘well’, or ‘so’, casually thrown into conversation at every given moment. It can mean a lot of things and nothing all at the same time, but is useful to know in advance to avoid confusion!
NB – All photos are owned by Rebecca Thomas