Thursday, 2013-05-16

A visit to the Eternal City

My dad very generously invited me and my son (just turned 11) to Rome for a long weekend. We arrived Wed 1 May and left on Sunday.

We had a great time although you really need a much longer time to see all of the sights of Rome. Here’s a rough itinerary of what we saw and didn’t see.

A map of our wanderings can be seen here. In total, we covered 35km on foot, but that’s not counting interior walking around in some museums.

Decent walking shoes are a must in Rome.

Navigation: First day, second day, third day. Photography notes.

Arrival day

Our hotel (the Villa San Pio) was situated on the Aventine Hill, not far from the famous keyhole through which you can see the dome of St Peters framed. It’s a nice quiet neighborhood, rendered almost sepulchral by May Day. Viking and I arrived first and spent the afternoon doing some sightseeing (and buying icecream!) before meeting Jan.


First day

We walked from the Aventine to the Colosseum. A long queue to get in may be bypassed by the Roma Pass which also has a 3-day travel card. We never got it but check it out before going to Rome. There are a lot of museums that accept it, but not the Vatican.

Included in the ticket to the Colosseum is access to the Forum, right next door. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit it. Budget a whole day to these two sights.


Next, we walked a few hundred meters to the tourist information center just off Via dei Fori Imperiali. This is situated in a quiet courtyard and there’s a little café serving foccacia and the like. It has a bathroom too, recommended.

We then headed past the Vittoriano and up towards the Trevi Fountain. If you’re not sure if this is one of the most famous sights in the world the crowds of tourists will remind you. It was almost comical. One wonders how much it costs to close off the streets to make a movie with the fountain as a backdrop.

Last stop was the Spanish Steps, also absolutely packed with tourists. After that we headed home via the Metro.

In the evening, we walked to Trastevere across the Tiber and found a decent if not great pizza place.

Second day, a.k.a. Vatican Day

The Vatican Museum was mentioned in our guidebooks as being an absolute beast, one of the largest in the world, but if you were in a hurry (which we kinda were, dragging an 11-year old with limited patience for ancient artworks) you can sprint to the Sixtine chapel and back, hitting the highlights on the way.

We got up early on Friday morning and took the no. 23 bus to the neighborhood of the Vatican. However, when we arrived, the queue to the museum stretched around 2 blocks (half a kilometer according to Google Maps)! We took a long look at is then headed south to the basilica itself. A later perusal of the website suggested that booking a guided tour allows you to bypass the queues, check that out if you’re in a hurry.

The queue to the basilica was long as well (doubling back on itself while we dithered), leading us to take the command decision to try later in the day, and instead head across the Tiber to the Campus Martius. We visited the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and then wound our way southwards to the Campo dei Fiori. After a rather disappointing lunch we hopped on the no. 23 again and revisited the Basilica, arriving at around 5pm.

Piazza Navona

Success! The crowds were gone. The reason for this may have been the fact that half the cathedral was reserved for a procession of German Catholics on a pilgrimage, so we never got the chance to visit the crypt. We did however ascend to the cupola an its magnificent view.

View from the cupola of San Pietro

A final journey on the no. 23 (we were now quite fond of this bus) deposited us back in the Testaccio and a fine dinner of liver at a local restaurant (Il Cantinone, opposite Piazza Testaccio).

Third day (Saturday)

Our plans for this day was to visit the Galleria Colonna, a (still) private palace open once a week for visitors. But first I wanted to get my fix of Bernini, so we took the Metro to Republicca and walked a few blocks to S. Maria del Vittoria, where his Ecstasy of S. Teresa of Avila resides. Then we followed Via del Quirinale to his elliptical Sant’Andrea al Quirinale.

Sant'Andrea al Quirinale

We passed the Quirinal Palace, which has a museum annex, the Scuderie, showing an exhibition of Titian’s best works. This was not to be missed, on the risk of emptying Viking’s limited reservoir of enthusiasm for art. We saw some famous works, among them the portrait of Charles V and Danaë and the shower of gold.

The contrast between this exhibit and the Galleria Colonna couldn’t be greater. The Titian was clean and stark, the famous works lighted in dim gray rooms, protected by wireless alarms. Each was a legitimate priceless piece of art. The Galleria showed how art was exhibited in the 18th and 19th centuries, not carefully curated, but quantity before quality. The walls and ceiling are a riot of colour and gold leaf, all designed to convey the wealth and status of the Colonnas.

Galleria Colonna

After this we found a very nice restaurant (Antica Birreria Peroni, Via si San Marcello, 19) for lunch, then wandered back to Repubblica, looking at shops. We swung by the Capuchin monastery by Piazza Barberini to check out their creepy crypt skeleton sculptures, then meandered through small streets, getting more and more tired in the heat and crowds.

Finally we got a bus and hopped off near the Campidoglio. Our last stop was Michelangelo’s famous piazza, filled with elegantly clothed people waiting for wedding couples to register in the town hall, watched by the statue (or copy thereof) of the mounted Marcus Aurelius. A fine summation of the different stages of Roman history.

Piazza del Campidoglio

After getting on yet another bus we rounded out our evening with cut-to-measure pizzas at Volpetti Più, around the corner from Volpetti’s famous delicatessen.

On the last day the rain started, matching our mood at having to leave this fascinating city!

Photography notes

I shot with my D700 and a 3-prime kit: 28mm ƒ/3.5, 50mm ƒ/1.8 AF, and 105mm ƒ/2.4. The 28mm was used most, followed by the 50mm, and the 105mm only used for a panorama.

The use of the 28mm has led me to try to get a light travel zoom starting at that focal length at the wide end. I felt I missed a few shots (mostly of architectural details) because it was too much of a hassle to change lenses.

This was also the first time I used the Peak Design Capture system for a longer time, and I must say I was very happy with it. I used the clip attached to my Domke strap and it really helped to have the camera on hand all the time. I only used the Cuff when shooting my pano form the cupola, not wanting to earn eternal damnation by dropping my Nikon onto the head of the Pope.