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Friday, September 22, 2017

Photo Log: 4 Ancient Roman Sites in 1 Day

Welcome to Rome Day 2! On our second day in the Eternal City we visited the Ancient Core, which includes the Colosseum, Palatine Gardens, Roman Forum, the Pantheon, and then took a day trip to my personal favorite, Ostia Antica. Yup, it’s Ancient Rome day! I’m splitting Day 2 into two posts because it would be too long otherwise. To read about Ostia Antica, go here.

Colosseum

Rome ColosseumWe used our Roma Pass to skip the ticket lines and enter. The Roma Pass includes unlimited public transport and 1 attraction. Since the Colosseum + Palatine Hill + Roman Forum are bundled to count as 1, it’s really a 3-in-1 deal! The Roma Pass can be purchased at the Tourist Information at Fumicino International Airport – it’s on the way out and easy to find.

Watch out for people dressed as gladiators offering a photo-op. They will demand a tip. My sister’s boyfriend was scammed (on a separate trip) and paid dearly for it. Also watch out for pickpockets.

colosseum

Here you can see the underground passages where they kept slaves and animals.

It’s fascinating to think that the Colosseum is 2,000 years old, and where the bloodiest, goriest gladiator games played out. It’s really something to stand on a structure that was built thousands of years ago. It’s even better to think it was home to a brutal, violent, ancient sport.

As a bonus, there is an informative exhibition area leading up the Colosseum that tells about the history of the ancient ruins, including what ancient Romans ate while watching the sport (they must’ve had really strong stomachs), ancient tools, and excavated bones.

Palatine Hill

Palatine HillThe Colosseum is only a short walk away from the Palatine Hill and the Roman Forums, all included under the same entry ticket as the Colosseum. Frightfully convenient. Just scan your Roma pass at the start of the entrance line. Simple! Be careful not to leave without visiting both the Palatine Hill and Roman Forums – the combo ticket does not cover re-entry.

Once a Roman palace, the Palatine Hill was beautiful. You’ll find remains of the ancient palace, an ancient stadium, and a charming little Museum.

Palatine HillThe stadium was impressive. I think it was being used as an actual stadium, because there was sports equipment at the borders, and a random word.

Colorful flags were set up, helping to add a pop of color to the ancient palace.

Palatine Hill

It started pouring while we were exploring (bring an umbrella and/or a poncho!), so we sought shelter in the museum for a little bit along with a bunch of other tourists.

Yeah, turned out it also got pretty cold. Dressed only in T-shirts and shorts, we ran to the Roman Forum and sought shelter under this large structure, along with many others. There was a metal fence going around it, but people gotta stay dry.

Funny, embarrassing story time!

When leaving the shelter, coordinated as I am, I tripped on the metal fence surrounding it, sprawled face-first for the soaked gravel ground and went SPLASH! in a puddle.

My right hand broke my fall, and it bruised terribly and ached for days afterwards. It didn’t bruise as badly as my dignity, though.

My sister took pity on me and bought a bright orange poncho for 5 Euros from a brilliant entrepreneur. It was raining and people were stranded at the grounds, so he ran to and fro armed with ponchos to sell. (Who knows where he got them from? It was genius!)

Heed my warning: come to Rome armed with an umbrella and a good windbreaker. And don’t try to hop through fences. It doesn’t work.

Roman Forum

Roman ForumWarm and snuggly in my bright orange poncho, we ventured into the drizzle and cold winds and explored the Roman Forum. Rick Steves offers an awesome guided tour of Roman Forum, with histories of the Arch of Titus, House of the Vestal Virgins, and the Temple of Julius Caesar, to name a few.

The white arch on the right is the Arch of Septimus Severus, a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus.

The Roman Forum was once Ancient Rome’s birthplace and center. Someone needs to develop an app that juxtapositions images of what the ruins used to look like in its glory days. I want to hold up my iPhones and see the Roman Forum in its full splendor. Pretty please?

My sister and Temple of Antoninus Pius, a Roman emperor

The rain eased up and thankfully it got warmer as we made our way to the Pantheon (~ 20 minute walk). Along the way we shared a quick lunch – a panini with ham, cheese, mushrooms and marinara. Cheap and good eats are abundant in Rome!

Rome food
Yummm.

Pantheon

Pantheon RomeIt’s hard to believe this was built two millenia ago because it looks brand new. A Roman temple dedicated to all (pan) of the gods (theos), it was originally built in 27 B.C. by Marcus Agrippa, and then rebuilt by emperor Hadrian around A.D 120. It was converted into a Christian church, which preserved it through the Dark Ages.

The dome served as the model for Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence, and then Michelangelo’s dome of St. Peter’s, both prominent Renaissance features. Roman engineers knew their stuff.

This is a must-see. Free entry to all!

Pantheon Rome

Like the Trevi Fountain, it lies smack in the middle of the city. Google Maps comes in handy for those who cannot read maps (like me.)

That marks the end of this post, but that is not the end for my post on Ancient Rome, nor is it the end of Rome Day 2! Go here to continue onto my feature post of Ostia Antica! (I liked the ancient park so much, I gave it a post all to itself.)

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This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links; at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you would like to support this blog, please consider using these links!

11 Tips for Surviving Rome

I enjoyed Rome. But for a first-timer, Rome can be quite daunting. It’s oozing with history and culture, but it’s also a city of graffiti, pickpockets, and dark alleyways.

I was not kidding about the graffiti.
I was not kidding about the graffiti.

Being two little Asian girls, my sister and I kept our guard up at all times. Our BnB was located in Cipro. It was 5 minutes away from the metro but the streets were dimly lit and the walls graffitied; a stark contrast from Singapore and Orange County. We might have been paranoid. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Here are some tips to have the easiest trip to Rome.

Tip #1: Buy the Roma Pass.

If you’re staying more than 2 nights in Rome, consider getting a Roma Pass.

They have 48-hour and 72-hour options. Both provide unlimited rides on metro, tram and buses within Rome, as well as 1 or 2 museum/archaeological site admission. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Gardens all count as 1 attraction, so that’s a great deal.

The convenience of not having to worry about buying a metro ticket whenever you hop on public transit is well worth it.

Tip #2: Buy a TIM SIM card with 3G.

As someone hopeless with maps, I relied heavily on 3G to navigate with Google Maps. Google Maps told me which metro station to walk to, which metro station to disembark, and how to walk to the site from the metro station. It was a godsend.

One of Italy’s top Telco providers, TIM provided great 3G connection. TIM stores are everywhere. There is one at the International Airport, one at the Roma Termini (central train station), and several others scattered all over. To save money, we bought only one and used a hot spot to share the data.

Tip #3: Have the Telco store staff switch out SIM cards for you, activate it, and then ask for a switching tool (or bring one).

If the shop doesn’t have a tool they can give you, ask if they have a paper clip. The TIM store staff made one out of a paper clip for us. Ingenious! (If you have to make one yourself, bend the paper clip and cut off any wrapping material. Tada! iPhone pokey thing.) You’ll need it for when you go home/ visit another country.

Tip #4: Bring a portable phone charger.

Between taking photos, navigating, and researching the web for information, you’re going to need it. My sister brought a portable charger that held multiple charges, so we were never afraid of running out. I recommend this charger from Amazon.

Tip #5: Learn basic Italian phrases.

The Italians appreciate it. We should’ve known better. Except we didn’t. We arrived in Rome without the teeniest knowledge of Italian. (Sorry.) Learn some basic phrases, such as:

  • Grazie – Thank you
  • Prego – You’re welcome (Italians say this a lot. I’ve found it is sometimes used interchangably as “Good” or “Please” or “Welcome…”)
  • Per favore – Please
  • Si – Yes
  • No – No
  • Mi Scusi – Excuse me
  • Any food items so you’re not completely stumped by menus

Italians in the tourist industry do speak some English though, so if you’re only in Italy for a few days the basic phrases should serve you well.

Tip #6: Wear comfy shoes!

This might be a no-brainer, but you will be doing a lot of walking in Rome. Have you tried walking on cobblestones in heels? I haven’t, but since my feet ache after hours of walking in tennis shoes, I can’t imagine heels would be better!

Tip #7: Pick a hotel or BnB in a central area.

This way you avoid having to walk through dark alleyways. I loved our room in the BnB, but I did not love the neighborhood. I’ll pick a place more central in the future.

Tip #8: Buy all admission tickets before departure if possible.

The lines to the most popular attractions are loooong. We followed the advice of Rick Steves and bought our tickets to Vatican Museum way before we boarded the plane. There were many people who didn’t and ended up having to wait in line under the blistering sun. You have too little time to be standing in line. So if an attraction offers online ticket booking, book it!

Tip #9: If visiting in summer, do not wear jeans.

It is hot as heck, humid like a sauna, and your legs will not be happy. However, certain religious sites do enforce a dress code that prohibits shorts, skirts over the knees, or bare shoulders. Wear loose-fitting pants, a long airy skirt, or bring a scarf that you can wrap around your legs or shoulders. Anything is better than skinny jeans that chafe your skin.

Tip #10: Be careful of street vendors.

There will always be several street vendors touting flowers and trinkets at major tourist spots. Most are nice. There are pushier ones, though, who will shove roses into your hands, tell you it’s for good luck, then hold out a hand and say, “Tip?” One vendor tried that with us, and when we denied his “tip”, he rolled his eyes and snatched the flower back, leaving my hand cold and empty. How quickly his attitude turned! (This happened to us at Trevi Fountain.)

I have also read of cases where street vendors distract you while their partner-in-crime pickpockets you. Alternatively, someone may ask you to sign a petition, distract you, and pickpocket you. Steer clear of them.

Tip #11: Pack light.

I cannot stress this enough. Rome is: cobblestone streets, metro stations with stairs only, and a whole ton of walking. And if you’re taking a train to multiple cities, you’ll need to hoist your luggage up narrow stairs.

Lugging 2 large backpacks and 2 large suitcases (each weighing 25kg = 50lbs) with skinny Asian arms was not fun. Whenever a futile search for an elevator reaped no results, I would groan in defeat and wait for my sister to lug her own luggage up/down the stairs and then come up to help me with mine. Towards the end of the trip we caught on and started carrying the luggages together – I would grab the top handle and she would grab the side handle.

Seriously. Don’t do this to yourself. Pack light.

Conclusion

Our London tour guide said people either love or hate Rome. While I was there I couldn’t help but think, “I wish I was in the U.K.” But thinking back, Rome was beautiful amidst the chaos, and if I’d been better prepared, I would’ve had a better time.

Needless to say I intend on returning. There are so many things I haven’t seen or done! And, y’know, Ostia Antica beckons.

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Photo Log: Rome, Vatican Museums and Trevi Fountain

Roma, Italia. The ancient, magical city of  history and architecture. If you are an ancient history geek (like me) Rome will fascinate. It is well-worth the insanity, sticky summer heat and lurking pickpockets.

My favorite place in Rome – the Trevi Fountain!

Itinerary:

DAY 1: Vatican City Museums, St Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain 

DAY 2:  Colosseum, Palatine Gardens, Roman Forum, Ostia Antica

Time Spent in Rome: 3 days, 2 nights

Arriving in Rome

Summer = humidity. It’s like walking in a mild sauna. Being born and raised in a tropical country, I loved it. What I didn’t love was my jeans. So wear shorts (and bring a thin scarf to wrap around your legs for buildings with dress codes). You have been warned!

Our B&B was comfortable, had an adorable tiny elevator with two doors, and most importantly, was air-conditioned. Located in the Roman suburb of Cipro, it was a short metro ride to the center.

Vatican Museums

Behold, the Musei Vaticani. The history was so rich you could practically feel it radiating from those walls.

Armed with our pre-bought tickets, we entered the Museums in a jiffy. I highly recommend pre-booking tickets. There was a long line of tourists waiting to buy tickets, standing in the hot sun! Don’t waste your precious time in Rome waiting in line.

We saw the best Greek and Roman statues, the School of Athens, and the Sistine Chapel, which is the pope’s personal chapel, and where new popes are elected. No photography was allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Some tourists pretended not to see the signs, so the low murmurs in the Sistine Chapel were punctuated by the official’s insistence of “No photos!!”

Vatican City

Personal anecdote: I was a walking zombie the first half of our exploration because I barely got any sleep on the plane. I held onto my sister’s shoulder because my knees were buckling! Then I got espresso. Thank goodness for the magic of caffeine.

St Peters Basilica

We took a shortcut from the Sistine Chapel to St Peters Basilica. (Psst… it’s in the far right end corner of the chapel. Kudos to Rick Steves, who writes awesome travel guides. The entrance is technically for tour groups, but try to blend in and act like you’re part of a tour group. It saves 30 minutes of walking.)

No shorts, above-the-knee skirts, or bare shoulders are allowed at St Peters Basilica, and other religious sites in Italy. Girls wear a top that covers your shoulders (like a tee-shirt), and airy pants or a long skirt. I wore jeans, and in the heat and humidity they almost killed me. You can also wear shorts and bring a scarf that you can wrap around yourself to pass dress code. Guys – pants that go below the knee work just fine.

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica there are plaques on the floor showing you where other churches end up if placed inside. Entry is free, but there is additional cost if you want to climb to the top of the dome or visit St. Peter’s original grave with the Scavi (excavations) tour. We skipped it because we were short on time; maybe next time!

Please don't let my weird expression distract from the beauty that is St Peter's Basilica.
Please don’t let my weird expression distract from St Peter’s Basilica.

St Peter's Basilica Square
St Peter’s Basilica Square

Trevi Fountain

Next, good ol’ Google Maps led the way to Trevi Fountain. (If you cannot read maps to save your life, like me, then I highly recommend getting a 4G SIM card so you can use Google Maps.)

It was only while processing this photo that I noticed one of the diners giving us a thumbs-up. Gotta love the Italians!

Roman diner giving us a thumbs-up

Rome at evening time is very enjoyable. The heat is dissipating and a cool breeze wafts through the streets. We had a great time meandering along the cobblestone streets (don’t wear heels) as Romans stroll by dressed to the nines, chattering away in Italian, their well-behaved little dogs in tow.

We passed a ton of touristy shops selling the same souvenirs over and over, including brilliant magnets like these:

Trevi Fountain is tucked away in the middle of a bustling city. I’ve always had the impression from the Lizzie McGuire Movie that it was in a space of its own. But before you know it, you’ll spill out from the narrow streets into a wide courtyard and find yourself gaping at the grandeur that is the Trevi Fountain. In fashion of good ‘ol Loki in Thor: TA-DAAAH!

Baroque architecture smack in the middle of a modern city.
Baroque architecture smack in the middle of a modern city.

The larger-than-life Trevi Fountain will take your breath away. This Baroque work of art celebrates water, first brought into Rome via ancient aqueducts. Read this site for a detailed description of the statues and history behind it. Did you know it features 30 species of plants?

We followed the age-old tradition of tossing a coin into the fountain. This means we’re definitely returning to Rome! Yay!!

Don’t let the crowds daunt you. It took us ages to squeeze through and get to the fountain so we could toss in a Euro, but it was well worth it. Worth it!!

Vendors were tossing light-up helicopter toys into the air and the toys would copter down to the ground. Be careful of pushier vendors, who will shove roses into your hands, tell you it’s for good luck, then hold out a hand and say, “Tip?” One vendor tried that with us, and when I denied his “tip”, he rolled his eyes and snatched the flower back, leaving my poor hand cold and empty. How quickly his attitude turned!

Don’t miss the Spanish Steps, only a 5 minute walk from Trevi Fountain. The Piazza di Spagna has been the hangout of Romantics over the years. We didn’t get to climb the 138 steps though; they were blocked off when we got there.

I wish we had the budget to sit down at one of the al fresco restaurants and order something off the menu. We settled for fresh-made pasta at Pastaficio instead, something my sister found in a Lonely Planet guidebook. It was empty when we got there (8-9pm?), but according to Yelp there’re usually lines far out the door. The pasta was chewy and a little cold; probably because they were closing soon. It was still good though, and lasted us at least 2 meals each!

4 Euros for 3-4 servings - great deal!
Pastaficio Marinara – 4 Euros for 3-4 servings – great deal!

We ended the long day with a little bit of grocery shopping at a supermarket by our B&B in Cipro. Oh and btw, Italians love sweet stuff. (This was confirmed by our Airbnb host in Milan. She admits all Italian breakfasts are sweet.) When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? So we stocked up on yogurt drinks and fruits. I’m still hunting for the delicious Italian pear juice in US grocery stores. No luck so far.

That concludes Day 1 in Rome, Italy. We returned to our B&B exhausted, sticky, but happy.

Things We’ll Do Differently Next Time

  1. I will not wear jeans in the middle of summer in Italy.
  2. I will not accept roses from a stranger.
  3. Get a hotel/airbnb in central Rome because 2 little Asian girls walking through dark alleyways in Cipro gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I also wrote a post on Surviving Rome. Rome has so much to offer, but things can easily go wrong – make the best of it by preparing well! I talk about why you should get the Roma Pass, a TIM SIM card, and more!

Guidebooks

My go-to guidebooks were:

  • Rick Steves Italy – Full of insider information, tips on planning and avoiding lines. Good guided tours you can follow. Rick Steves prides himself as “the tour guide in your pocket.” I carried around his Rome guidebook because the Italy version so was big.
  • Lonely Planet Italy – Very helpful for first-time visitors as they show you the highlights of each destination. Helpful tips on keeping costs down,  beautiful pictures and layout. They also publish a Rome version.

If you’re on a budget, you can borrow guidebooks from the library. I borrowed mine – libraries are the best resource ever! My libraries allow us to borrow dozens of books for months (we can renew 5 times.) Love it!

Use the guidebooks to plan your trip. However, if you are hopping from city to city, I do not recommend bringing guidebooks. It is very important to pack light. Halfway through the trip, as I was getting short on luggage space, I whole-heartedly wished I could leave the guidebooks at our Airbnbs. But I couldn’t abandon them, because, y’know, they were library books.

Overview

  • Main Mode of Transport: Metro (with Roma Pass), Foot
  • Highlight of the Day: Trevi Fountain
  • Food: Pastaficio, Melon and Chocolate Gelato (omg I love Melon Gelato), groceries, Espresso from cafe in Vatican Museums
  • Accommodation: Bed & Breakfast in Cipro.

Next: the Colosseum, Palatine Gardens, Roman Forums, and my Roman favorite: Ostia Antica! Onward, march!

Liked this post? Pin it!

This post is part of a whirlwind 14-day trip in Western Europe with my sister prior to her exchange programme in Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for a trip of a lifetime!! (And here’s to many more!!)

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links; at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you would like to support this blog, please consider using these links!

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Welcome my personal blog! I'm an INFP Singaporean girl living in sunny California! I am mother of 3 furkids, unapologetic nerd/geek, and a city girl married to a country boy. Read more about me here. I love writing . cats . FOOD . photography . travelling . stationery . japanese merchandise! I love lots of things... this isn't a complete list!

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