Italy 2011, Rome, Piazzas and Pizzas

Our plan was to spend two days in Rome and today we would visit the northern classical part of the city and the areas that are predominantly Renaissance and Baroque in architectural character and we would leave Ancient Rome of the Emperors and the Gladiators until the following day.

It was approaching midday as we set off towards the Piazza della Republica and then down the long straight Via Nazionale towards the centre of the city.  We could see the huge Victor Emmanuel monument now but before we reached it we took a turning right that took us past the Quirinale Palace built by the Popes on one of the original seven hills of Rome, previously the home of the Italian Monarchy and now the official residence of the President of Italy and to our first sightseeing destination, the famous Trevi Fountain.

There was no need for a map to find it, we just followed the swarm of people, because this has to be one of the busiest places in Rome with the huge fountain almost completely filling the tiny Piazza with people crammed in and shuffling through as they squeeze slowly past the crowds.  Thirty-five years ago, on my first visit, people were still allowed to sit on the monument and cool their feet off in the water but that has been stopped now.  There is a tradition of throwing three coins in the fountain guarantees that you will return one day to Rome.  These days’ tourists with a desire to return to the Eternal City deposit an average of €3,000 a day in the fountain and this is collected up every night and is used to fund social projects for the poor of the city.  That is probably why people aren’t allowed to paddle in it anymore and there were plenty of police on duty to make sure that we didn’t.

It was time for a refreshment break and true to form Kim rejected the first perfectly suitable place that we came across so we walked a little way further and found a pavement café where we stopped for a while.  It was pleasant but the cost was a shock when the waiter presented a bill for €25 for three small beers, a Coca-Cola and a bottle of water, which was expensive by any standards and much more than we really like to pay.

Rested and refreshed we made our way now to the most famous and most crowded of all Rome squares, the Piazza di Spagna, shaped like a bow tie and surrounded by tall, elegant shuttered houses painted in pastel shades of ochre, cream and russet red and in the centre a fountain shaped as a leaking, sunken boat at the foot of the famous Spanish Steps that were crammed with people making their way to the top and back under the shade of cheap parasols sold on the streets by the illegal traders.

To the right we saw the house, now a museum, where the English poet John Keats lived and died and to the left the Babington Tea Rooms which was opened in 1896 by two Englishwomen who spotted a market for homesick British tourists with a yearning for a traditional afternoon pot of Earl Grey and a plate of cream scones.  We turned our back on this and walked along Via Condotti, which is Rome’s most exclusive and most expensive shopping street where the major designers have their shops and where prices were way beyond our budget!

Spanish Steps Rome

At the Via del Corso we turned left and walked back towards the Victor Emmanuel Monument at it southern end but turned off half way down and in a matter of minutes passed through hundreds of years of history, first through Piazza Colona and the column of Marcus Aurelius, then skirting past the Italian Parliament building, the Palazzo di Montecitorio, and after that the Temple of Hadrian with its huge columns which is now the façade of the Italian stock exchange.

It was lunchtime now but after the earlier scare we weren’t prepared to risk Rome restaurant prices so in the narrow and shady Via del Seminario leading to the Pantheon we found a fast food take away and ordered a slice of pizza each and ate it in the street before continuing with our itinerary.

We visited the Pantheon, which is one of the best preserved ancient Roman buildings, originally built as a pagan temple but later converted into a Christian Church and is the burial place of the ex kings of Italy and other important Italians such as the artist Raphael.  Next it was the Baroque Piazza Navona in the blistering heat of the afternoon as the temperature reached well into the thirties.

I liked all of these sights but I was intrigued by something much more mundane.  All of the manhole covers displayed the Roman symbol SPQR which, I learned later, is the motto of the city and appears in the city’s coat of arms, as well as on many of the civic buildings.  SPQR comes from the Latin phrase, Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (The Senate and the People of Rome), referring to the government of the ancient Republic. It appeared on coins, at the end of public documents, in dedications of monuments and public works, and was the symbol on the standards of the Roman legions.

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15 responses to “Italy 2011, Rome, Piazzas and Pizzas

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters | Have Bag, Will Travel

  2. We will have two days in Rome this fall at the beginning of a trip . Sounds like we should brace ourselves for the prices.

    • Absolutely – certainly one of the most expensive places that I have visited! Have you been there before?

      • No this will be our first time to Rome Andrew. This will be my third trip to Italy so felt we should see it but not planning to spend a lot of time there.

      • That’s a shame because you really do need a lot of time there. How will you decide what to see and what to leave out?

      • That is a very good question Andrew. I think we need to move to Europe, quit work and spend our time exploring 🙂 The main chunk of the trip will be cycling through Tuscany. We are squeezing in Rome, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast before and then following that Camogli and flying out of Nice.

      • These are my suggestions:

        Rome in 2 days – first day the Colosseum and the Roman Forum – second day Classic Rome, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon etc. You would really need a third day to see St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. Rome is hard work there are a lot of hills.

        On the Amalfi drive make sure you go to Positano.

        Skip Pompeii and go to Herculaneum instead, there is much more to see. Pompeii has been badly neglected recently and there are lots of it that are out of bounds to visitors. in ten years the visitor areas have reduced by two-thirds and parts of it keep falling down due to lack of funding. I have never been to Ostia Antica near Rome (the Roman seaport) but the word is that this is better than Pompeii as well.

        Because of my volcano fascination I would also recommend a trip to the top of Vesuvius!

      • Thanks so much Andrew. I will definitely keep these suggestions handy as we get closer to the trip and get into serious planning. Much appreciated!

      • That’s great Andrew. I have book marked it as well as copied your suggestions from earlier in the week. Really appreciate the help! 🙂

  3. What a lovely tour you’ve led us on, Andrew.
    Is there a person alive who hasn’t at least heard of the Trevi Fountain? Spectacular, isn’t it?

  4. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet – SPQR | Have Bag, Will Travel

  5. A work colleague who visited Venice a couple of years ago told me that it was cheaper for the family to take a train out of the city for lunch, and then return to continue sight seeing. I wonder if Rome is worse or better than this quite extraordinary situation?

    • From my experience I would say much worse. In Venice there are some cheaper places away from the tourist hot spots but everywhere in Rome I found expensive. When I visit Italy now I always find somewhere to stay out of the city so that I can sightsee during the day and dine reasonably at night! Thanks for the comment.

  6. Another gorgeous place to visit. Maybe not eating in Rome, I might start my diet and lose some weight. 😀

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