So, the end of 2017, and my final trip of the year. I’m cheating slightly and doing one trip over two months, but visiting two cities, Rome and Florence (actually, it’s three as we can’t forget The Vatican too). I never expected 2017 to be so topsy-turvy. Life isn’t always easy by no means, people can be messy, confusing and complicated and there are bound to be disappointments, but I’m super thankful that I achieved so much travelling, made many memories and had some good people around me. I learnt a great deal about myself in 2017 – maybe that’s one for another blog post - and I ended the year healthy and around my family.
So, Rome…I visited this city at the beginning of summer 2016. It was somewhere I had always dreamt of visiting; I’m surprised it took me so long to get there to be honest. I built up such a romantic image of the city in my mind, and in all honesty, I wasn’t blown away on that first visit. That bugged me, because if you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll notice that I adore Italy. I found it way too touristy, and despite thinking I was being vigilant and careful, I had my phone stolen – not fun when you’re flying solo and rely heavily on google maps!
So, why go back? Like I say, I adore Italy, and it bothered me that I didn’t fall in love with The Eternal City. I seem to have found a love of visiting this country in winter months too – I just find it so much more magical, mysterious, intriguing and romantic. It’s also not as busy. I was also determined that I was going to take a day trip to Florence too. It’s another city Mum and I visited years ago on a coach trip. We both remember walking across the Ponte Vecchio bridge and stopping to take the obligatory photo. I knew even then, that I would have to go back one day.
Since returning home to London after my last trip to Palermo, I found myself having ‘up and down’ days. I really missed my ‘office work routine’ (which I guess after having devoted 20 years to the same company was only to be expected). I had days where everything was exciting and I was super productive, and then days where I felt alone and a little melancholic. I was usually that person giggling at an inappropriate joke and making some rude remark in an office full of people - I missed the office banter. I was going to have to adapt. I sat in my new little office-space thinking. I caught up on some writing, sent emails, did a little networking, but I needed to get away somewhere I could take photos, explore, discover new things, think with no distraction, put a few feelings ‘to bed’ so-to-speak, and write for a few days…and Rome seemed like a perfect choice.
“…it’s almost 11 o’clock when the train pulls into Trastevere railway station, and after ten minutes, the rain which was a faint drizzle not-so conveniently starts to get heavier. I look to my phone and google maps, and plod on; it’s not too far a walk. I look a little soggy when I arrive outside my Airbnb and greet Maria. Climbing the stairs my feet a little squelchy, I head down a teeny corridor and into the cutest, most adorable room. It’s a loft, and O.M.G it’s so adorable. All thoughts of how soggy and wet I look are forgotten. I want to stay here forever!” I remember this exact sequence like it’s happening to me right now and I’m actually there….
As much as I wanted to sit in my adorable little loft, warm up and dry off, it’s early. And, it’s still light outside. I’m eager and excited to explore. I hadn’t really explored much of Trastevere the last time, and I knew it was one of the prettiest and most local areas of the city. Thankfully I packed an extra pair of trainers, so at least I had dry feet!
I walked around that afternoon with a smile on my face, I had a good feeling that this trip was going to be fun. That evening I called home and spoke to my Mum. I told her all about my cosy loft with its fairy lights and bed in the ceiling. It had started raining again, so I made a cup of tea, headed up the teeny wooden step ladder to bed and listened to the rain.
The next morning, I woke up early - just before sunrise - and made my way up to Janiculum Hill. Last nights’ rain had made way for a beautiful and mystical foggy morning. It was a little eerie too, but it was early. I was all on my own except for a lonely dog walker who appeared from nowhere through the fog. Minutes’ earlier I was only thinking to myself ‘I wish someone would walk towards me, it would make a great photo’! Slightly unprepared, I think I still got a photo. I then stood and gazed out at what I imagined was a view over the city. The sun broke through the clouds and my tummy grumbled. I realised I’d not eaten since yesterday afternoon.
Some of my favourite spots in Rome may not be the quintessentially top places to visit in the city, but they are my favourite, and I hope from reading my post you’ll see why…maybe you’ll bookmark this page and if you ever visit, you’ll discover your own favourites.
I also did my first ever Big Bus Tour and hands down, it’s a perfect way to see the city. More on that later…
So, Trastevere, is right on the River Tiber. I took a fair few walks along this river in the morning, just as life in the city was gearing up for the day. It’s one of those Italian neighbourhoods that rises with the sun and parties with the moon. Outdoor cafés and restaurants fill pathways flowing through streets of beautifully worn buildings; locals gather to share a morning espresso and a gossip; workers head off to start their day and children hurry off to school. As sunsets, the outdoor cafes are replaced by popular bars and clubs and there’s a cheerful infectious atmosphere that fills the air. It’s one of the only neighbourhoods in Rome where there’s a large mix of locals and travellers. I like it a lot. It feels friendly, it feels like I’m living with the locals, it feels safe and I’m so glad I chose to stay here. I find a cute café and order an Americano and croissant, which I greedily devour.
Another of my favourites is Piazza Navona – I love this Piazza, more so than when I visited in summer, and I loved it then too! The size of the square, life and laughter coming from the bars and restaurant that surround; shouts of buongiorno and buonsera, the Bernini fountain and just the whole vibe. And, yes, it gets touristy – extremely touristy come midday - but standing in the middle of the square and just watching life unfold in the morning is something I loved. The streets leading off from the square around the districts of Ponte and Parione are possibly – in my opinion – some of the prettiest around Rome too. Oh, and Via del Coronari is where my favourite gelateria @gelateriadelteatro is located, so naturally I gravitated to this street a fair bit. Of course, I tried other gelaterias (it would be rude not to right?), but I was summoned back to this one for its unique flavours and for the friendly people behind the counter who loved to help sway my decision when it came to taste combinations. It’s slightly hidden, and for some reason has a peaceful ambience. I always found a gathering of old Italian gentlemen sitting around the fountain smoking cigars, crying out buongiorno to well-dressed locals gliding by on vintage bicycles, or admiring a pretty girl. Essentially this street is made for strolling, peering in the windows of the art and antique stores, stopping for a caffé – or in my case a gelato - and watching the eclectic locals.
Not far from here - pretty much opposite Castel Sant’ Angelo - is where I fell in love with the harsh mid-morning light, I literally stood and had heart eyes for the light that bathed the cobbled streets casting the most amazing shadows. I stood waiting, willing for a person to walk into the light so I could capture them and their shadow. And, if they didn’t comply and walk exactly where I wanted them too, I chastised them.
You can’t come to Rome and not see the main sights; The Colosseum, The Pantheon, The Trevi Fountain, and The Roman Forum. You must take a trip to The Vatican and see St. Peter’s Basilica and The Vatican museums (you need at least a full day here) – they’re all historic, incredibly beautiful and definitely worth seeing. But, I think it’s a good thing to get off-the-beaten-track – live the real Rome - visit some of the little neighbourhoods, and then dip into the tourist sights along the way. And, you do also have to take a walk down the Spanish Steps. I always feel like I need to pop on a wispy summer dress and sandals here and sashay down the steps waiting a tall dark handsome Italian to come and sweep me off my feet. It’s one of those places – if you ignore all the designer shops around you – that you feel like you’re stepping back to years gone by. There’s a movie like feel as well as something nostalgic, and for me it feels whimsical and romantic. The view from the top overlooking the Piazza di Spagna and the city is pretty special too – and this gets even better if you walk along Viale della Trinirà dei Monti towards Pincio Hill and Gardens. Each time I made this walk, I didn’t stop taking photos, or videos. Eventually you’re rewarded with a beautiful view over the Piazza del Popolo. And from here you can strike out further to explore Villa Borghese and Villa Medici.
The views from up here are possibly my favourite views of Rome, especially as the sun sets. I visited for my last sunset just before making my way back to the airport.
I consider myself having mastered the Italian art of the passeggiata (yup, that slow, think slow stroll through the streets). Summoned by an invisible force, it’s a tradition that’s hard to resist. I’m still working on perfecting my ‘fare la bella figura’ (make a good impression) style of Italian finesse and dressing the part, but it’s an evening ritual that I love. Watching nonnas catching up on a gossip, seeing couples on that pressure-free date, or young men catching the eye of a pretty young girl, the passeggiata fills a range of social needs, and my evening ritual very quickly became walking along Via di Ripetta, then up Via del Corso, criss-crossing over one of the quaint side streets to walk up the Spanish steps, taking in the panoramic view from above as I walked back towards Piazza del Popolo and then window shopping in the fancy high end designer shops of Via Babuino. And, all l that mileage I’d clocked up also meant, I could treat myself to a gelato and a cone of yup – roasted chestnuts!
I’m finding it really hard not to list all my favourite streets and piazzas, but here’s a couple more aside from the above that I loved getting lost in and around the most….
Via Del Boschetto, a real treasure trove for vintage and handicraft lovers. If vintage items are your thing, you’ll be sure to find a retro leather handbag or pair of shoes.
Via Del Governo Vecchio, a gorgeous street just off Piazza Navona. I defy anybody to leave this street without having seen something that takes their fancy.
Via Urbana, a relatively short dinky cobble-stone street, but super sweet. It’s where trendy meets classic, and young meets ancient. It’s kinda antiquey and vintage, but cool and hipster at the same time. And, apart from admiring the ivy-coated buildings, you can take an exploring pitstop in one of the cool bars and cafes here. And, Rione Monti. Not exactly a street. It’s more a neighbourhood, but one that’s not as touristy as Piazza Navona or Campo de’ Fiori. It’s got old-time charm, with a side order of beauty, and a great place to grab a coffee, people-watch and take photos…my idea of bliss…
So, the question I asked myself at the end of my 5-day trip to Rome and Florence (read on for my post about my 'Day trip to Florence')…’did I fall in love on my second visit?’ and the answer ‘most definitely YES’. I lived Rome, and I love Rome (I know, so cliché, right?). I was blissfully content walking the streets with my camera for those 5 days. I was blown-away by the magical winters light. I felt safe and comfortable in the city. One of the things that keeps me so tied to Italy is how it feels so frozen in time – albeit the high street shops and designer names. Winter is absolutely beautiful, and whilst Venice is still my number one (and always will be), Rome is now coming up as my number one, minus a teeny bit. It’s a city that I know I’ll visit again and again :-)
Oh, and, I know it’s well known that Italians dress so super stylish, but oh my, the people of Rome – you are by far the most stylish of all Italians that I’ve come across. It’s a place where hardly anyone wears trainers (I love that!), where a guy can wear bright yellow cords and get away with it, where men in trench coats and trilby hats come out to play, where women look so effortlessly glamourous.