I’m back. Rome was lovely. The weather was just about right. It rained a bit on some days but we had sunshine for the first couple of days. As suggested by S, who has more imagination than I do, here is the Slightly Sketchy Guide to Rome.
<lj-cut> Getting there Ryanair are doing dirt cheap flights to Rome Ciampino. We got into Rome on the bus they point you at from the airport, and, having missed that on the way back, took the Metro Line A out to the end at Anagnina and then taking the bus from there, which was much cheaper and got us there in time for Ciampino to close its airspace because of a security alert and surround an Air Berlin flight with machine gun wielding police. We never did find out what that was about. Got back an hour late, which wasn’t too bad.
Places to stay Hotel Colors was a good place to stay. It’s a tiny hotel/hostel about 5 minutes from St Peter’s. It has dorm rooms and private rooms (we had one with bathroom after I learned my lesson about specifying this in Barcelona), a kitchen with fridge, and a terrace to sit on. I did see one review on the web complaining it wasn’t a party all night sort of place (they lock the kitchen and terrace at 11pm), but that was all good from our point of view, as our room was next to the kitchen.
Things to see So much to see. To my ex-evangelical Protestant eyes, St Peter’s looks more like a palace than anything to do with religion, but is nonetheless spectactular inside and out (outside more so by night). The view from the dome is worth the climb. We made some attempts to translate the Latin stuff which is written in large and friendly letters around the inside, but these foundered because of fading memories of Latin (hers) and New Testament quotations (mine). There was some stuff about rocks and Churches, anyway.
The Colosseum was suitably colossal. The approach to it is a bit spoilt by the noise and fumes from the traffic. You can get to it via the Forum during the day. The Forum itself is a crazy mixture of triumphal arches, temples and other slightly crumbled, very very old buildings.
The Pantheon is a pagan temple converted into a Christian church. The hemispherical dome, equal in diameter to the height of the building, is pretty impressive for a building which is thousands of years old.
The catacombs along the Via Appia were an interesting place to spend an afternoon. The Via Appia Antica is closed to traffic on Sundays, so we chose that day to head out of Rome and along the shady cobbled road. After a few minutes walk, all was quiet save for birdsong. We found our way to the Catacombs of San Callisto and joined a tour of the second level underground, which was given by an little old American Catholic priest. We were told that nobody ever lived in the catacombs as it was too hot. The Christian Romans lived along side their non-Christian counterparts, although they would use the catacombs as an out of the way place to hold services during periods of persecution. The Christians would seal up the body on a shelf in the rock after covering it in quicklime to speed decomposition and get rid of some of the smell. There were no remains on the level which is open to the public, as the archeologists had moved them to prevent bits being taken as souvenirs.
The tour was all too brief, so we didn’t really have time to stop and look at anything beyond his organised stopping places. There were a few plugs for the church his talk, but even so, I found it more spiritually affecting than the Vatican itself. There were about a quarter of a million people buried in the catacombs, with tunnels extending for miles underground. The priest’s running gag was to pretend he might get lost, so the American mom in our group would constantly have to reassure her brood that he was joking.
Places to eat Anywhere but somewhere recommended by the Rough Guide, it seemed, as the couple of times we tried that the food was worse than in the places we just wandered into off our own bat. Trastevere was a good place to go for restaurants, though there were a couple of good ones in the area near the Vatican, too. Our favourites were Scaletta dei Sapori on Via Crescentia, Trattoria Romolo near Vatican and Castello, and Aristocampo in Trastevere.
What to read I took Don Cupitt’s “The Sea of Faith“, was hard going in places but provided much food for thought. Cupitt wants a version of Christianity which explicitly denies that God exists other than as an idea in the minds of people. I’ve reviewed the book here, if you’re interested. It caused much discussion over dinner. I also bombed through “The Lovely Bones” in the airport, so I’m not sure I did it justice.
The Rough Guide was OK, except for the restaurant reviews. It did come in handy for finding the hotel and for finding our way out to the Catacombs, though.
Overall Rome overwhelms you with its history. There’s almost too much to take in. It’s chaotic, fascinating and well worth a visit.