This travel article I did get paid for! During my 25 hour journey home from Bourgas, Bulgaria (to see my nephew Rob get married to a wonderful Mimi), I got to take in the sites of Rome for 5 hours. Next time, I aim for a week to experience Rome’s secrets.
Italy Travel: A five-hour, whirlwind visit to Rome
ROME—My first visit to the Eternal City lasted 25 minutes, 10 of them spent leapfrogging over luggage and dodging around passengers in my mad dash to make a connection.
Four days later, a leisurely nine-hour layover awaited me on my return. I hoped to squeeze five hours of sightseeing to discover Rome’s ancient beginnings.
Parsed from recommendations by friends and travel guides, I aimed to see the Forum, Colosseum, Roman Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona. Everyone agreed that the Vatican was out.
I landed at 9:20 a.m. one day this summer and within 45 minutes I had parked my carryon luggage with the baggage people at Terminal 3 and caught the train to downtown Rome. The train pulled into the Termini station at 10:40. Paying 14 euros for the train made it more costly than the bus but far less than a cab, and freed me from worries about traffic.
Armed only with a good map, I started my whirlwind visit. Termini station is in the heart of the city, a mere 20-minute walk to the archeological wonders of the Forum, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill. Along the way, I stopped for a delicious, fresh-out-of-the-oven breakfast pizza. I reached the Forum at 11:10 a.m., and wilting in the 35C heat, I purchased my best buy: frozen water that cost two euros. Pressed against my melting flesh over the next two hours, it allowed me to pursue my jam-packed schedule.
Since a 12-euro ticket covers the Forum, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill, Frommer’s travel guide advises tourists to buy it at the Forum, bypassing the insane lineup at the Colosseum. This great advice saved me at least an hour; I purchased my ticket after a five-minute wait. After wandering through the seat of power in ancient Rome admiring the skeletal remains of vast, public buildings, I wended my way to the Colosseum. A vast line of broiling people snaked around the building in the midday sun but I sailed past, just as Frommer’s had promised I would.
The Colosseum was the must-see place for me. The site where so many brutal battles were pitted between man and man, beast and beast, and beast and man is an uncanny juxtaposition to the sophisticated vibe of Rome. The stands, while amazing since they held 65,000 bloodthirsty fans, pale to the labyrinthine cells below the arena. (Not accessible to the public when I visited, it is easy to view them from the stands.)
Taxis are a quick way to navigate the city. A five-euro taxi trip from the Colosseum to the Pantheon took less than five minutes. Don’t be shy to ask taxi drivers the cost. They’ll also know you’re keeping an eye on the metre, which starts at three euros.
I arrived outside the imposing Pantheon by 12:15. This well-preserved ancient building honouring the gods, built between 27 and 25 B.C., was rebuilt in its present form by the Emperor Hadrian in 125 A.D. The dim interior is punctured by a hole in the domed rotunda revealing a perfect, cloudless sky, and provides the main light. Free admission meant I was surrounded by hundreds of tourists also admiring the ethereal space.
No trip to Rome is complete without making a wish at the Trevi Fountain. The trip took ten minutes and cost eight euros. The fountain and surrounding square, teeming with people, proved challenging to me to fully appreciate. A good time to go, I’m told, is after midnight when the crowds lessen (but never go away). I didn’t even get close enough to toss in a coin.
I reached the Spanish Steps after walking for 10 minutes. Also popular, it’s nevertheless easy to get a good picture and climb the 138 stairs. The view of Rome and its neighbourhoods is the prize for the short, but hot, climb.
It was now 1 p.m. and I needed refreshment and relaxation. I hailed a cab to Piazza Navona. The cabbie started the metre at 10 euros but reset it once I questioned the amount. I spent a glorious hour eating my lunch, resting my feet and gazing at the beautiful square. It sits on the ancient ring of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 85 A.D. to host Greek athletic events. I was overcharged for my meal (33 euros), but then again, I chose a major tourist spot in which to eat it. Beer, pasta, sparkling water, and ice cream for dessert gave me sustenance for the last push.
Now 2 p.m., I still had time to sightsee. I crossed the Tiber River and gazed at the spectacular Palazzo di Giustizia (Hall of Justice). From the bridge crossing the Tiber I could see St. Peter’s Basilica tantalizingly in the distance. I walked past the Castel Sant’Angelo, admiring the fortress built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian.
I spent too long wandering and, in a panic at 3:30, I found a cab that took me back to the Termini station. The train brought me back to Terminal 3 at 4:20, cutting close to my 6:10 p.m. departure time. This time I didn’t run since I possessed a boarding pass and carry-on luggage. My nine-hour flight home gave me the leisure to reflect on my glorious, dizzy, five hours in Rome.
JUST THE FACTS
PLANNING You’ll want a travel guidebook, a good map, and recommendations from friends
PAYING Checking bags at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport airport: six euros for one carryon suitcase for six hours. Train from airport to Termini station: 14 euros one way. Taxis: 26 euros. Food and water: 38 euros. Attractions: 12 euros. Total: 104 euros ($132 Cdn.)