With Florence serving as the base of our 2016 trip to Italy, we took a two hour high-speed train ride to Rome for a day in the ancient metropolis. The high-speed train was really something, and to my surprise, the views of the countryside were amazing, even when getting close to Rome itself. I don’t know what I expected, maybe more urban/suburban sprawl, or industrial areas. Instead, it was beautiful farmland and rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves. This was my first experience with a really large city in Europe. Lisbon reminds me a lot of Washington D.C., which I sometimes describe as ‘a big, little town.’ Rome reminds me of New York. It’s a big city, with everything you expect from a big city, but it also has a lot of history everywhere you look. The history in Rome just goes back a LOT further than it does in New York. Again, like New York, I had fun and I want to go back, but there’s simply so much to do and see that you’ve got to have a plan, hit a few specific sites, and get out. We didn’t get to the Vatican, for example. I want to go back for a day and go there. We didn’t make it to the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps, either. So, we’ll return some day, for sure. Because of its location, I could imagine using it as a base location for a trip, where you then train out to various spots. Like New York, though, it’s not a city for me, not a place I think I’d want to spend a really long block of time visiting. A couple days? Sure. A week? That’s pushing it.
First and foremost on our itinerary was the Colosseum & Forum. It’s just a quick subway ride from the main train station to the Colosseum. Here’s a hint for you when you visit. Don’t get your tickets at the booth by the Colosseum. Walk over to the entrance to the Forum and buy the combo tickets there. The line is much, much smaller (we were behind two or three people, VS a long line at the Colosseum gate), and it’s the same ticket. So, when you’re ready to do the Colosseum itself, you can just show your ticket and go in (you might still have a bit of a line, because it’s very, very busy, even in the ‘off season’).
The Forum was a huge surprise for me. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for it, figuring it would just be a little ruin or something. Turns out, it’s a huge complex and you’re going to want to give yourself some time. Every time I thought we’d hit the end, another section opened up. The levels of history on the grounds are amazing, with stuff from the Napoleonic era, back to part of the original Via Appia. The Forum ended up being the highlight of Rome for me.
The Colosseum, by contrast, was something of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very cool. I really like that they’re actually restoring some parts of it to look like it would have when it was originally in use. However, it’s a sports arena. It looks like a sports arena. I’ve been in a few sports arenas, most of them larger and more impressive. Somehow, the sense of history and ancientness doesn’t really hang about it like I’ve sensed at other ruins. Maybe it was just where my head was at in the moment. It was one of the more crowded places we went, and had some of the most rude fellow tourists (the older couple who refused to leave the best spot for taking photos, even though literally hundreds of people were trying to get to it). I don’t know. I’m glad I went, but it didn’t take my breath away.
Between the two sites, we spent much of the morning, easily three to four hours, so I recommend you have a good breakfast. When we were finished, we headed to a local corner shop for a snack…which wasn’t very good, so I won’t go into it. Then we headed to the old city, to see some more history and art. We ran into a problem that reared its head a few times in Italy, places that were supposed to be open were not open. We were able to get into the Pantheon, though, and it was quite beautiful. Then we started wandering around, looking for food and cool stuff to see. We found a really good little Gelato place, which also let us get in out of the rain. And then we found an awesome little restaurant, Antica Trattoria dela Pace, complete with surly waiter, and really good food. After dinner, we took a nice long stroll back to the train station, seeing some different parts of the city.