I’ll just kick this off by saying, Rome wasn’t my cup of tea. On my travels, I’ve seen a fair chunk of Europe already, fallen deeply in love with a few places, amazed and inspired by most, and pleasantly surprised by others, but I was gutted that Rome left me feeling so ‘meh’.
I was really looking forward to my trip, I mean, this is Rome right? It’s the colosseum, it’s the Vatican, it’s pizza, it’s endless gelato! It’s meant to be this incredibly gorgeous city with all this fantastic history and bucket list sights – and don’t get me wrong it TOTALLY was, but annoyingly, maybe it was my bad luck, my visit was tarred by a few frustrations and I wasn’t loving it.
Fresh from enjoying a few days in Croatia where I’d been frolicking under sparkling waterfalls and taking walks along the beach, I’d caught a plane across the Adriatic Sea and landed in the Italian capital city, it was evening, it was August, and wow was it hot!
Having made contact with our BnB prior to our arrival, I’d already let them know that ours would be a later check-in than usual.
So why was I on the wrong side of a locked door and why was the buzzer going unanswered?
Not a problem, perhaps the buzzer’s faulty, right? Ringing the mobile number on the door; ‘I don’t care, I’m on my way home, you’re too late, no room! Find somewhere else to sleep…’ Uh sorry, what? It’s only 8.30pm… we told you… ‘Ciao, Ciao, Ciao’.
He hangs up the phone.
No big deal, I’m stranded in the strange city in the middle of the night. The streets were dark, even the convenience stores were shutting up shop, my phone battery was clinging onto its last few drops of juice, we were beginning to attract attention; who were these two foreigners lurking around with their flowery backpacks still in sandy flip flops straight from the beach?
Am I okay to panic now?!
Oh god, this isn’t how I imagined our first night in Rome. I’m meant to be getting up early to visit the Sistine Chapel – I didn’t think I’d be facing a night sleeping rough in St Peter’s square…
Upon hearing the commotion, a woman comes out of the building next door, and starts speaking to us in Italian. She appears to be coercing us to follow her.
‘I’m so sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying, do you speak any English at all?’
She pauses, shoots me a blank look and continues talking.
Eventually, it transpires that she is an aquaintance of the hotelier who owns the original BnB that we’d just been refused from and was now trying to offer us a room for the night; she appears to run the BnB next door. Fantastic I guess, but have you ever tried to complete a business transaction solely by gesticulating wildly (trying to find a universal sign for ‘I’m homeless and I haven’t got any money’) and/or furiously hammering in phrases into Google translate (you might as well not bother).
I hadn’t the foggiest what I way paying for or for how long, or what the hell was happening, this could even be part of some elaborate con (were they working together on this?)… I just knew I needed four walls, a ceiling and some sleep, and handing over a wad of Euros to the lady we’d met on the street ten minutes earlier seemed like my best bet.
Tucking the money into her purse she handed me a key and left.
I’d been in the country less than three hours, and I might have just been conned. Urgh.
So Rome didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. My travel style relies on having these core things planned out weeks before the flight, I’ll have researched the hell out of places on Tripadvisor, carefully organised my ‘travel folder’ with all the info I’ll need, so having this happen made me more than a bit anxious. Tonight I’ll be mourning the fact I’m couple of hundred Euros lighter whilst trying to get some shut eye in this hotel I still didn’t know the name of and tomorrow, despite feeling a bit down in the dumps and half wanting to jump on the next plane home, I’ll stick to the itinerary and head off to the Vatican.
There’s no denying the magnificence of this place; the buildings, the detail.
Both the Vatican Museums (which house the Sistine chapel) and St Peters Basilica took quite a bit of queuing to reach, and even then it’s a slow shuffle around the museums along with the other half of Europe that are also holidaying in Rome this summer, but it was incredible to stand in this world famous building, lapping up the history.
We chose to part with 5 Euros each and an hour of our time to take the stairs up the cupola for that glimpse over St Peter’s Square.
Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely!
We visited the city in August, which no doubt didn’t help; Rome was searing hot, it was quite an intense, dry heat without any breeze. The cupola is very long way up with not a lot of opportunity to rest, so it’s quite an effort on the best of days, let alone when the temperature hits 35 degrees C. The stairway gets tinier and tinier as it winds itself up towards the top of the dome, getting pretty claustrophobic at times. When you reach the peak it’s quite a small space, so again, there’s a bit of a slow shuffle and a lot of puffing as everyone tries to get a good view of the main square, but it was such a great experience. Halfway up you get super views of the inside of St Peters, a great view of the inside of the dome too with its incredible painted ceiling. And of course, it’s worth it to get this beautiful shot across Rome.
I won’t lie though, it was nice to finally get back onto terra firma and recover with an iced tea in the shade! Phew!
Sightseeing in Rome
One thing Rome isn’t short of is fantastic sightseeing opportunities.
We managed to get around to seeing the Colosseum (located in the middle of a busy roundabout!), Palatine Hill, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Pantheon (an incredible Roman temple that was completed in 126AD!) and a wander around a few of Rome’s parks.
Sadly the Trevi Fountain was completely encased in scaffolding at the time of our visit due to ongoing restoration works, but we did track down the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), which is obviously not as large or as grand as Trevi, but pretty darn beautiful in its own right.
Rome, you showed me some amazing sights but a few things really spoilt my travels here. Apart from the hotel fiasco on our first night, the general feeling we got from Rome is that tourists were unwelcome. The service is poor and once may people catch wind that you’re English everything turns a little sour. I got shoved and shouted at in the street on more than one occasion, which tainted our trip; it wasn’t, in our experience, the romantic getaway that many guide books promise. It’s a huge shame really, because apart from the people, Rome was faultless.
I could put it down to bad luck, but I remember a college trip to Florence ten years ago wasn’t all that much better (more hotel and service related issues) and my sister had said her views following a trip to Venice last year hadn’t been all that positive either, again believing that the people had been the problem. But of course, on the other hand, many people are hugely complimentary of this country and note their Italian adventures as one of their highlights of Europe… so!
The chance to see some of the most famous landmarks in the world, all in one place. I don’t think any other city can rival what Rome has in terms of historical sights. This place is pretty incredible, definitely a bucket-list destination.
All the free water! It’s no secret that Rome is baking in the summer, and having visited in late August, I can certainly testify that it’s hot and then some! Thankfully Rome has free and accessible (safe!) drinking fountains positioned around the city. Just bring an empty bottle and take advantage, you’d need to keep your fluids up as you trek from sight to sight.
If you’re like me and find yourself in Rome during it’s hottest month, you might want to escape the heat at some point during your visit, in which case I can recommend Lake Bracciano. This lake is surrounded by a picturesque town, perfect for a spot of swimming in the clear waters and feasting on some excellent bruschetta by the waterside. It’s an easy day trip from Rome.
And not so much…
Generally it was the people which spoilt our visit, we didn’t receive much acceptable hospitality during our stay. I’m not sure if it was our travel style or personality that just didn’t suit the Italian culture, but we just kept coming up against rude service and conversations abrupt. We did like to drop in the odd Italian phrase but our attempts weren’t well received, and as I mentioned, I didn’t feel very welcome throughout my trip.
I don’t regret visiting Rome in the slightest, it was just very different to what I expected it to be.
What were your experiences of Rome or anywhere else in Italy? Should I try a different city?