Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ho Ho!

....... no not Santa but a budget travellers alternative to the Hop on Hop off bus. We are going to walk & use the little electric buses that zip around the city and actually take you closer to the sights in the historical centre.

I'm going to suggest that you invest in a BTI (integrated tourist ticket) that lasts for 3 days & costs €16.50.

You can pick these up at metro stations, bars & tabacchi which you will recognise by looking for signs like the one below.

The first time that you use your ticket it will need to be validated. We are starting our day  at the Spanish Steps. Depending on where you are staying this could involve a metro journey to Spagna, in which case your ticket will have been validated as you pass through the gates to the platform. Alternatively you can use the validating machine on your first bus journey.You only need to validate your ticket once.
Ticket Validating Machine

However, before you venture out to the Spanish Steps you need to pick up picnic supplies. Wherever you are staying there will be a local market or failing that a  deli where you can pick up the makings of a portable 

The Spanish Steps were actually built by the French in the 17th century to link the church of Trinita dei Monte with the piazza below.The area is named after the Palazzo Spagna, headquarters of the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, which stood here.Walk to the top of the steps and admire the view.

View from top of Spanish Steps

Casina Valadier

Turn left and walk along past the Villa Medici until you see a road veering off to the right, Viale del Belvedere. This will take you to another spectacular view  which you will reach after passing Casina Valadier, a romantic restaurant which too has spectacular views, especially from the terrace at night.

At this point turn right  into the Villa Borghese Gardens. There are many spots in this lovely park where you can sit & enjoy your picnic but the area around the lake is particularly pretty and benefits from a plentiful supply of benches.

Giardino del Lago, Villa Borghese

From the lake head south through the park to Porta Pinciana where you can pick up the 116 electric bus. They run approximately every 11 minutes. You will take this for 5 stops and alight at Tritone/Barberini. As you get off the bus look for the signs to the Trevi fountain - actually you will hear the fountain long before you see it and if this is your first time in Rome be prepared to be stunned by the beauty of this magnificent fountain in a tiny, tiny piazza.

Time for gelato and where better than Gelateria San Crispino (closed Tuesday) on Via della Panetteria which is on the left if you take Via D Lavatore from the fountain. Plenty of flavour choices here but my absolute favourite is 'San Crispino' made with corbezzolo, a bitter honey from Sardinia. 
Time to retrace your steps to Tritone/Barberini stop and pick up the 116. Again you are travelling 5 stops - this time to Parliamento. Alight here and walk south to the Pantheon - another iconic symbol of the city and well worth a visit for the oculus alone.

From the front of the Pantheon take Salita D Crescenzi then left to Piazza San Eustachio, famous for its cafe (see 'Waters of Rome ' post) Take Via D Stadari from the piazza which will bring you to Corso del Rinascimento. Cross here to reach Piazza Navona. Enjoy a stroll around the piazza, admiring the magnificent Bernini fountains before exiting back on to 
Corso del Rinascimento    
to pick up the 116 once more. 

Giordano Bruno 
Campo di Fiori 
This time you are going 1 stop to Baullari where you will alight and follow the road down into Campo di Fiori. Sadly the market will have closed down for the day but the square is lined with bars where you can take refreshment whilst viewing the brooding statue of Giordano Bruno, the philosopher burned at the stake in 1600 for heresy. From here it is a short way to Piazza Farnese which is dominated by Palazzo Farnese, home to the French Embassy. The facade of the palazzo was created by Michelangelo. Notice the fountains in the square which are decorated with lilies - symbol of the Farnese family. Pick up the 116 bus at the corner of Via dei Farnese/Via Monserrato. The bus will take you all the way along Via Giulia and across the river. Leave the bus once you are over the river and walk up to Piazzale Garibaldi (detailed directions can be found on day 3 of this post) Again you will get a fabulous view & also a chance for refreshment. Carry on walking until you come to the Acqua Paola Fountain & again take in the magnificent views.

View from Acqua Paola
Carry on walking down the hill until you reach Trastevere. Enjoy the quaint streets and squares of this area of Rome until it is time for dinner. There are many choices of places to eat - I am going to recommend three to you that we have personally enjoyed. The first is Da Augusto on Piazza dei Renzi, off Via del Moro - simple food, wine from a barrel, shared tables, an amazing atmosphere and incredibly cheap. No bookings or credit cards and we have found the opening times somewhat erratic but absolutely worth seeking out. Secondly Da Lucia, Vicolo del Mattonato - family cooking at its finest. Again no bookings or credit cards. Finally, if you are in the mood for pizza try Da Ivo on Via San Francisco - not only is the pizza amazing but this trattoria has a fantastic atmosphere too.

After you have eaten make your way to Viale Trastevere to pick up the number 8 tram to Argentina. Once you reach the terminus at Argentina you will either be able to connect with a bus to whichever part of the city you are staying in or take a taxi back to your accomodation.
Day 2
We are starting our day at Piazza del Popolo - the nearest metro station is Flaminia. If you are arriving here via the metro you will enter the piazza through the impressive Porta del Popolo. On your left as you enter the piazza is Santa Maria del Popolo which is well worth a visit. Fans of 'Da Vinci Code' will know that this is the location of Bernini's sculpture of Habakkuk and the Angel. Unfortunately this has been under wraps the last few times we have visited but thankfully the two Caravaggio paintings are here to be seen.

When your visit is complete head towards the middle road between the two churches on the other side of the Piazza - Via del Corso
This is where you will catch the 117 electric bus that will take you all the way down the Via del Corso to Piazza Venezia. Ron in Rome has an extremely detailed article on this bus route which is very helpful. Admire the Victor Emmanuel Monument (known as 'the typewriter' or 'wedding cake' amongst other names) and then head round to the magnificent staircase, the Cordonata, that leads to Piazza del Campidoglio. 

View from Campidoglio

Climb the stars and once you reach the piazza head to the right hand side and walk between the buildings. Here you will see a view of the Roman Forum with the Colosseum in the distance.

Retrace your steps & pick up the 117 bus once more. You are going 2 stops to Serpenti. This will take you into the Monti area which is an ideal place to stop for coffee & pick up provisions for lunch. Depending which of the two Serpenti stops you have used either head up or down to the small Piazza Santa Maria del Monti which is situated halfway along the street. There are a couple of places here to get coffee
 or you could just sit on the steps of the fountain & watch the world go by.

Piazza Santa Maria del Monti

An alternate coffee stop would be Er Barreto on Via Boschetto (which runs parallel to Via Serpenti).The barista here specialises in creating little works of art with the foam on your cappucino. 

Coffee at Er Barreto

Opposite Er Barreto is La Piadineria where you can pick up a delicious wrap for your picnic lunch.
Retrace your steps down Via Boschetto until you reach Via Leonina. Look for the steps that will take you on to Via Cavour. Cross Via Cavour & if you still need provisions for your picnic pop in to Elite supermarket. The steps continue on this side of the road & they will bring you to San Pietro in Vincoli. 
The church closes between 12.30 & 3.00 but if you are in time it is worth a peep in to see Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses.

From the front of the church take the road to the left, Via Eudosiana and follow it until you reach the Parco Traiano. Make your way into the park and find yourself a picnic spot from where you can admire the Colosseum from your elevated viewpoint.
After lunch walk down to the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine for a closer look.........

Arch of Constantine

...... before picking up the 117 bus once more from the bus stop directly in front of the Colosseum. Stay on the bus for 4 stops until it reaches the terminus 
in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterino. Walk across the 
piazza to the obelisk. This is the oldest obelisk in Rome (15th century BC) and was bought here by Emperor Constantine.Look up to the statues on the facade. Each one is seven feet tall.
The church itself is one of the main pilgrimage churches in Rome and is where the Pope celebrates Maundy Thursday mass
Head in to the church but do make sure shoulders and knees are covered as the dress code is strictly enforced. 
They do have disposable shawls to borrow but at busy times demand is high and you may have to wait a while. Before you actually enter the church take a look at the magnificent bronze doors. They were originally from the Senate House in the Forum and would have been held open for Caesar & Cleopatra.
The enormous nave of the church is lined with statues of the apostles. St Matthew is shown with coins while St Thomas has a set square- he is the patron saint of architects.

The prize relics are the skulls of St Peter & St Paul held behind a grille on the altar.

For a small fee you can visit the  cloisters with their beautiful  twisted


After your visit to San Giovanni in Laterino cross back across the piazza to the Scala Santa or holy stairs. These stairs are said to have been climbed by Christ in the house of Pontius Pilate at the time of his trial and bought to Rome by St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine. No foot may touch the stairs so the faithful climb on their knees.

When you are ready to leave you can again take the 117 bus all the way back to the Piazza del Popolo.

Today we will visit St Peters and the Vatican Museums. There are various ways that you can reach the sovereign state of the Vatican - by metro or bus but I am going to suggest that we use the 116 once more as this will enable us  to walk the route that pilgrims used in the past. Depending on where you are staying in the city you can  pick up the 116 at various points. If near the 
Spanish Steps then head for the Column of Immaculate Conception (pictured below). The 116 bus stop is located in the street beyond the column, Via Due Macelli
Column of Immaculate Conception
If you are closer to the Via del Corso then pick up the bus outside the Parliament building on Piazza del Parliamento.

You are taking the bus as far as  Zanardelli  (6 stops from Due Macelli, 3 from Parliamento. Walk down Via Zanardelli & head right in to Via di Coronari.The street is named after the sellers of sacred objects, particularly rosary beads who traded with  medieval pilgrims who thronged this street on their way to St Peters. The crowds proved hazardous in the Holy Year of 1450 when around 200 pilgrims died either by being crushed or drowning in the Tiber. Today the street is a reminder of Renaissance Rome and is lined with antique shops. In mid to late May a two week antique fair is held here when the street is lit with candles and the shops stay open late.
Turn right at the end of Via dei Coronari to reach Ponte Sant'Angelo. The angels on this magnificent bridge were designed by Bernini and carved by his best students. The angels replaced gallows that used to line the route over the bridge.
Ponte Sant'Angelo

Statues of St Peter & St Paul can be seen at start of bridge and the angels represent pain, suffering & sacrifice of Jesus. The  second angel’ on right is St Veronica who holds a veil with image of Jesus. Legend has it that she wiped the face of crucified Christ with her veil & image appeared on it.

Bernini Angel

Walk across the bridge towards the impressive Castel Sant'Angelo which was originally the tomb of Emperor Hadrian and later became a fortress.
Castel Sant'Angelo

Via D Conciliazione

Turn left after the bridge and cross Piazza Pia to bring you on to Via D Conciliazione. This road was created in 1932 by Mussolini to provide a monumental approach to St Peters. 

Walk in to St Peter's Square and admire the graceful Bernini colonnade that appears to welcome you with open arms. Look for the  circles on either side of the square. If you stand on one of these circles and look to the columns the three rows appear as one - a very clever optical illusion!

Don't be put off by the long line to pass through security to enter the basilica as it moves very quickly. However the dress code is strictly enforced here so make sure that shoulders and knees are covered.

I have covered some of the highlights of St Peters in my previous post and I highly recommend DK Eyewitness Rome  as a useful tool as it includes a guided tour of St Peters for you to follow.
After your self guided tour leave the basilica and head towards the left hand colonnade. Pass through the columns and follow the Vatican walls around to the Vatican Museum entrance. Again do not be put off by the queues as hopefully you will have purchased your 'skip the line' tickets online here before you left home. You will need to exchange your paper confirmation for tickets once inside the museums but then you are all set to seek out the cafe for lunch. The food here is perfectly OK but what makes eating here worthwhile is the view of St Peter's dome from the outside tables.

Once you are refreshed then begin to explore the museum. Again, if this is your first visit, I suggest concentrating on the highlights and using a guidebook as a self guided tour. The museum will undoubtedly be busy and the Sistine chapel will not be a quiet contemplative place to be but as long as you are prepared for crowds then nothing should stop you from witnessing Michelangelo's sublime masterpiece of the Sistine chapel ceiling at the end of your tour.

After you have exited the museum retrace your steps back as far as Piazza del Risorgimento then head down Via Ottaviano to pick up the metro back to the city.

I think you will agree that the three day travel card was good value for money. Extra information on buses and metro can be found on the ATAC website which is the official site for public transport in the Rome area.
Happy travels!

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