When in Rome: A Birthday Break in the Eternal City

Christina

Citalia’s Head of Marketing, Lisa Edwards-Webb, tells us all about her recent city break to Italy’s capital…

What better way to mark turning a new decade than a cheeky girls’ trip to Rome? As we left husbands, children, and responsibility behind, it felt like turning back the clock 25 years, to our college days, as our focus turned to having fun and spending some quality time together.

With its beautiful architecture, amazing food and great shopping, Rome was a perfect choice for our jaunt. Flight times worked out really well too, so we could make the most of our time away and really explore the city well.

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Arriving in Rome

We chose to stay in Travestere area (translated as ‘over the Tiber’), because it was walkable to many of the sites and enjoyed a lively, young (but not too young!) crowd in the evenings. When we arrived it was raining, but undeterred by the weather, we headed out. First stop: a pasta and prosecco fix.

Half the joy of visiting Rome is the pleasure of wandering along the beautiful streets and stumbling across a local osteria.We found such a place, Baylon Cafe, on Via di San Francesco a Ripa,where we huddled outside under large canopies and enjoyed one of Rome’s signature pasta dishes, all’Amatriciana, made from guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese and tomato. The cafe was quite hip in its decor, and had very friendly and trendy staff, but the food was excellent and it appeared to be frequented heavily by locals, having the advantage of being slightly outside the main tourist area.

We spent the afternoon avoiding the rain and soaking up a bit of culture at the Capitoline Museums.  Raised above the city with a view of The Forum, it’s a beautiful spot and immediately feels like you have stepped into a slice of old Rome. Famous for its immense and beautifully carved statues, arranged across two palazzi on opposite sides of the Michelangelo-designed Piazza del Campidoglio, it’s a really worthwhile visit where you can enjoy peace and serenity whilst reflecting over some awe-inspiring and enormous carvings.

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Exploring the Forum and Colosseum

Day Two and the weather perked up, so we were back on our feet walking the city and covering as many of the sites as we could. We took a tip out of this 48 Hours in Rome [LINK] article (which, I have to say, was a brilliant guide) and headed out early, grabbing a morning coffee and pastry. Our route took us past Circus Maximus, now largely unused and admittedly a bit tatty to look at. It’s sadly not half as romantic as it would have been in the days of chariot racing and gladiator fights, but still the scale was impressive and amazing to see. It is currently undergoing renovation, and in the future it looks like it will be returned to something like its former glory and made into a pleasant public space.

Having made a few, obligatory, quips from the film Life of Brian, we headed up Via di San Teodoro and stumbled across Cristalli di Zucchero (number 88). Unbeknown to us at the time, this is one of Rome’s more famous bakery shops, which specialises in miniature pastries and pretty cakes.  Delighted by our find, and more so by the most delicious croissant and coffee we chose, we headed across the road to a find a seat in a cute church square to sample our wares.

We spent the morning exploring the Forum area, which in Roman times was very much the centre of the city. Every turn in our path uncovered a new delight, and just to be able to walk freely amongst the remains of such once-magnificent buildings was mind blowing. It has to be one of those top memories for me.  We arrived by 9am and bought the combined Forum and Colosseum ticket, which has to be one of the best tips when exploring Rome as (a) it’s great value for money at 12 euros per person, and (b) it means when you eventually extract yourselves from the Forum, you can skip the queues at the Colosseum and sail right in (which is much appreciated after many hours on your feet!).

We lunched opposite the Colosseum at what should have been a tourist trap, but served very pleasant salads and paninis with a great view. Wow! Such amazing ruins, yet in a remarkably well preserved state given they date back to ‎70–80 AD. If you look up and study closely, there seemed to be a bit of a precarious ‘lean’, but we were assured it was fine and more of an illusion of the eye (?!).  To be able to walk round and imagine the history that goes with it – all those underground passages housing slaves, gladiators (more well-to-do slaves) and ferocious animals – it really is a special place.

An Evening in Rome

We ended the day by grabbing a local taxi (very good value and metered) to Piazza Navona, where we enjoyed browsing the market stalls and artwork for sale before relaxing with an aperitivo in Campo dei Fiori in the evening sun. Admittedly the square was a bit over priced and brimming with over-keen waiters vying for your attention, but the atmosphere and people-watching made it worthwhile.

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Morning at the Vatican

Our last day, determined not to be defeated by unexplored sights, we headed off early for the obligatory trip to the Vatican. Whilst a bit further out of the city, the journey was very worthwhile – just to stand and take in the vastness of St. Peter’s Basilica. We had previously decided not to enter the Sistine Chapel, but when we realised the queue to get in was a three-hour wait, it definitely confirmed our decision! If you do want to visit, make sure you book your tickets for the Vatican Museums online in advance, which will mean you get to skip the queues.

If you haven’t got time to head over to the Piazza San Pietro, a cheat’s tip could be to jump in a taxi on your way out to dinner one evening. Not only would you get to enjoy the beautiful architecture and get a feel for the ‘city within a city’, but if you visit at dusk, it is beautifully lit and gives you a totally different experience.

If you want some Italian paraphernalia, there are plenty of suitable shops on the main road leading up to the Vatican. Having stocked up on a few such items, we headed back to Central; our walk took us past the Castel Sant’Angelo – a surprising looking fortress/castle where we crossed  the river at the Ponte Sant’Angelo. We enjoyed meandering along a multitude of side streets, past small shops brimming with hidden treasures, and a plethora of delicatessens. It was a joy to not be following a map and just taking in the local atmosphere.

Shopping Spree

After a spot of lunch to refuel, we had the afternoon left to explore. And what better way to spend our final few hours than shopping? First up was Via del Corso, where you can easily spend a whole day amongst the high street brand shops (all made much more enjoyable by the favourable exchange rate to bag a few bargains!). Once our wallets had run dry, we moved across to Via Condotti – slightly out of our budget, but nonetheless enjoyable as we cooed past a multiple of designer names, sadly only able to window shop!

All too soon, it was time to leave Rome, and we left the city vowing we won’t wait for another special occasion birthday to return. In fact, my husband has a sneaky idea about going to watch England v Rome in the Six Nations in February 2016, so that might be the perfect excuse!

Our Top Tips for a City Break to Rome

  • Eat dinner at Ostaria Costanza (Piazza Paradiso 63/65, Campo Dei Fiori Area). A beautiful and fascinating place. The restaurant is inside a portion of the carved-up remains of Pompey’s Theatre, the site of Julius Caesar’s murder in 44 BC. Great food at quite a decent price.  Recommended to us by a local, this was definitely one of our favourites, not only for the food and ambience, but the wonderfully hospitable and charming staff.  (Closed on Sundays)
  • Enjoy a drink in Piazza Di Santa Maria in Trastevere, a beautiful square complete with fountain and church perfect for people watching and enjoying local street artists.
  • Spend the afternoon at the Villa Borghese and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this beautiful public park complete with rooftop views over the city. A great place to get away from the bustle of the city (especially welcome after the heat of scaling the Spanish Steps!).
  • Treat yourself to a Bellini at the rooftop bar in Hotel 47, near the Bocca della Verita.  Beautiful views over the city and delicious cocktails.

 

What would you recommend to see and do when visiting Rome?