Day 2: Rome of the Caesars

Ahhhhh, day two. I know I slept hard the night after day one- in fact, I’m pretty sure I never even changed positions. By morning, we were both refreshed and ready to set out on some Roman adventures.

We started with breakfast at the hotel and then a nice morning walk down to the Basilica of San Clemente. Now, I do believe that San Clemente was probably one of my favorite sites in Rome. It’s unassuming from the exterior, but in and UNDER the church…. that’s another story. San Clemente is a small 12th century basilica with some nice decorative frescoes and mosaics. There is a great artistic ceiling as well. But the fun stuff is really the scavi, or excavations, under the church. From an annex on the right side of the nave, you can purchase tickets that will allow to descend stairs taking you nearly two thousand years into history. Down the first flight of stairs, you come to the remains of a 4th century Early Christian basilica. There are still frescoes and columns dating from that period. This church dedicated to St. Clement stood until the Middle Ages when it’s deterioration necessitated the building of the current church. From this level, you can again descend a set of stairs that takes you down to the remains of an even earlier religious site- a 2nd century Temple of Mithras. As you continue to walk around, you will also come across the remains of a 1st century spring house, where water is still rushing through. The whole site is just intriguing to visit. Unfortunately you aren’t supposed to take photographs (and I’m a total nerd who pretty much always follows the rules when it comes to stuff like this) so I don’t have any photos of the interior to show you. However, here are a couple of shots that were taken from outside in the cloisters area and maybe from before we read the “no picture” sign… 😉

the ceiling of the current basilica

apse mosaics

After visiting San Clemente, we walked down the street towards the Colosseum. We had timed entry tickets for the Underground Tour (more on that in a second), but wanted to get a few outer shots before going in. It was crazy hot by this time and super crowded. This and St. Peter’s were probably the most crowded sites that we visited the whole trip, which does make sense as they are two of the biggest symbols of Rome. We did walk around the Arch of Constantine, celebrating Emperor Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312. (This battle was, of course, the battle in which Constantine saw the symbol of Christ guaranteeing his victory over his enemies and leading to his conversion to Christianity.)

the triumphal Arch of Constantine, the 1st Christian Emperor

After walking around and snapping a few pics, we started trying to find our way into the Colosseum. Now, by this time, the general admission ticket line was wrapping around a good portion of one side of the building. But knowing we had already purchased internet tickets, we tried to find a way to avoid standing in that line. As it turns out, for those of you who decide to do what we did and go ahead and purchase a timed tour entry, you just take your printout to the LEFT side of the long line that everyone else is standing in, show it to the security guard, and waltz right in. Once inside, we waited behind one other person to trade in the printed voucher for our actual tickets- the whole process taking less than 5 minutes. So I highly recommend this method as opposed to the standing-in-line-in-the-hot-sun-for-45-minutes method! We had a few minutes before our tour started so we headed upstairs to get a look at the museum that’s on the second floor and snap some pics from that level. At 12:30 pm, we headed back downstairs to meet our tour group. The tour was in English with a very friendly young lady with a thick Italian accent. It lasted around 90 minutes, taking us on to the reconstructed part of the arena floor, under the floor where all the gladiators would mill about, and up to the third tier which is the highest accessible level currently. These areas are only reachable on the tours. We found the tour, as a whole, to be informative and enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it!

the Colosseum

doric column, for my neice 😉

ionic column

corinthian column

You can still hear the roar of the spectators, can’t you?

shot showing the partially-reconstructed arena floor

tunnels where the gladiators walked

more of the underground area

ancient graffiti

pic from the third tier

When in Rome…

Once the tour was completed, we walked around a little bit on our own before realizing that our camera battery had run out and that we had forgotten the back-up back at the hotel (WHOOPS!). So, we made a little detour heading back to the hotel, grabbing some take-away pizza on the way. By the way, if you’re getting the cheapy take-away pizza from one of those kebab places in Italy- go for the one with all the veggies (the eggplant, zucchini, etc) — you won’t regret it! Being sufficiently armed with a new battery, we walked back to the Forum for our tour there. I will say, the entrance to the Forum that we used was a lot longer walk than I was expecting. I had thought we could enter right at the end, next to the Colosseum, but we didn’t find that entrance and instead walked quite a ways to enter more towards the middle of the Forum area. We ended up using the Rick Steve’s audioguide to tour the Forum, but had I to do it over again, I would definitely shell out the money for a real guide. I just don’t feel like we got a complete overview of everything that we could have. Lesson learned, next time hire a guide!

Arch of Titus

remains of the Basilica of Constantine

ruins of the Temple of the Vestal Virgins

inside the Senate building


ruins of a temple

Now, round about here, is when we probably should have stopped for the day. *I* was getting a mite bit hot and tired. And the ticket to the Colosseum/Forum/Palatine is good for two days. Given the heat, I threw out to the husband that mayhaps we should just call it a day and return first thing in the morning to cover the Palatine. But he’s a trooper and was determined to finish up the Palatine Hill too. So…. away we went. Now the Palatine is the area that used to house the villas of some of the emperors. It’s been excavated to show it was among the first populated areas in what is now Rome, with ruins that date back 3,000 years. You can visit some of the rooms of the enormous Flavian palace. You can see what was Augustus’ house. You can also visit the home of his wife, Livia. Supposedly you can actually go in each and see frescoes and such, but they were both closed when we were there. You also couldn’t get around to the back of the main palace for the supposed spectacular view of the Circus Maximus. This was all quite disappointing. The only real highlight for me (and I will fully admit that I may not have been in the best of moods to truly appreciate the site by this time) was seeing the ancient huts that are touted as being the original huts of Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome.

the private stadium area of the palace

ruins of the palace

more palatial ruins

some floor tiling that still remains

the huts of Romulus and Remus

Us, in what used to be the throne room of the palace (where we belong mind you). We’re hot, sweaty, and tired, but by god— WE ARE IN ROME AND WE WILL ENJOY IT!!!!

With the three major sites of Ancient Rome completed, we headed back to our hotel for a quick siesta nap. Thank god, the Italians believe in late dinners. We slept for a couple hours then got up, got clean, and headed out to eat! For dinner this night, we consulted our usually trustworthy guidebooks and picked somewhere reasonably close to the hotel. We decided on a wine bar that would be on our way back down to the Colosseum/Forum area so we could see it lit up at night. The wine bar was Enoteca Cavour 313. And I gotta tell you, while the wine was fantastic (we had a very smooth bottle of Chianti) this was our least favorite meal of the trip. The food was just ‘meh’. I started with pork cracklings (that were so tough you couldn’t chew them) and the husband started with a cheese-stuffed smoked pork. I then had a pretty flavorless smoked trout while the husband had chicken couscous. Everything seemed to lack seasoning and flavor. The staff was friendly and the decor was nice, but really nothing could make up for the disappointing food. Ah, well. One bad meal in the two weeks we were there— I think that’s a pretty good number.  We did decide to grab our first taste of real Roman gelato for our walk back down to the Forum area so we stopped by Flor Gelato. I has a combo of dark chocolate, banana, and coconut. The husband has strawberry, banana, and dark chocolate. And it was all FABULOUS! This truly began our love affair with Italian gelaterias. I seriously think we ended up getting gelato every other night of our trip except 2. The flavors were just sooooo good- and true to what they were supposed to be! Seriously, I will forever rave about Italy’s gelato! With said gelato in hand, we spent a good hour or so walking around the ancient sites at night to see how they were lit up. It made for a late night, but it was a lot of fun and we did have some nice pics.

the Basilica of Constantine in the Forum

shot of the Roman Forum with Colosseum in background

the Arch of Constantine

ruins of an aquaduct

the Colosseum

Coming soon: Day 3: Some displaced Ancient Rome?

Day 1: Buongiorno, Roma!

Red-eye flight from Charlotte Int’l? Check. Our flight from the East Coast was about 9 hours. The husband got a few hours of sleep, but I can rarely manage to sleep on planes– this trip being no exception. We touched down in Rome around 9:30 am, a little hungry, a little nervous, and a lot tired. But when this is one of the first sights you see on the way to the hotel… it’s time to wake up and smile:

We were officially in Rome!

Before leaving the US, we arranged through our hotel  to have a car to pick us up at the airport. While this may have cost a few more Euros than just grabbing a taxi or trying to get a bus or the metro, the convenience factor for not having any hassle after getting off a long TransAtlantic flight can NOT be underestimated. Our driver was very friendly and dropped us at the hotel by 11 am. For this leg of the trip, we stayed at the Hotel Raffaello.

The hotel was very centrally located- about a 15 minute walk to the Colosseum and Forum, 5 minutes to Termini train station, 15 minutes to the Trevi Fountain, and about 20 minutes to the Pantheon and Piazza Novena. The service at the hotel was quite good as all of the staff was very friendly and willing to answer any question we had. We had a room on the fifth floor with a private terrace, which was lovely in the evenings. Breakfast was included in the rates at the hotel and the spread was pretty decent- a wide selection of pastries and fruits, some charcuterie and cereals. The cappuccino was nothing to complain about either! Really my only *slight* annoyance with the hotel is that like many hotels in Europe, you must have the room key in the slot at the door to turn on the lights or run the AC. However, you also have to turn in the room key before you leave the hotel each day and pick it up when you return. This means that there is no AC running during the day. The hotel also had controls on how low you could adjust the air once in your room as well. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge issue but since we were visiting Rome during a massive heat wave where the daily temperatures were around 95 degrees, it could definitely get uncomfortable. That said, we enjoyed our stay at Hotel Raffaello and wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again (especially since we’ve decided the next trip will most certainly have to take place in the fall or winter, haha!)

Luckily for us, when we arrived at the hotel, the staff was happy to inform us that our room was ready so we could go ahead and check in. This was AWESOME news! After a shower, we headed out to start exploring the city!

To start, we decided to walk down and see the area of ancient Rome- the Colosseum, the Forum. We knew we had tickets to visit these sites the next day, but wanted to see them from the “outside” and get a feel for the area. We also walked by the Imperial Forums, which were an expansion of the original Forum of the Caesars. Trajan’s markets and Trajan’s column are probably the most prominent features of this area. You can go in and visit the interior of the Imperial Forums, but several of my guidebooks mentioned that it’s not really worth the price of admission, so we simply admired from the outside.

a panorama of the Imperial Forums

Trajan’s Column, celebrating and telling the story of his victories during the wars against the Dacians

After walking around a bit, we headed up to the Capitoline Museums, which house some of the most iconic and important sculpture from Ancient Rome.

head of Medusa


the Capitoline She-wolf with Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome


The Dying Gaul

bust of the Emperor Commodus (y’all remember Gladiator, right?)

After visiting the museums, we hopped back to the hotel for some much needed rest. Refreshed, we set out for Santa Pressede, which was only a couple blocks from the hotel. Santa Pressede is an 8th century church known for its early mosaics and for housing the supposed remains of the pillar upon which Jesus was flogged during the Passion. It’s a small church, but very lovely.

the supposed pillar of Jesus’ flogging

apse mosaics

looking down the nave of the church

After having visited Santa Pressede, it was time for an early dinner and an early bed time. For our first meal in Rome, we ate at a small restaurant around the block from the hotel, the Bar Ristorante Esquiline. While this wasn’t the best meal we would eat on the trip, it was tasty and the service was very friendly. We shared 2 bottles of water, one bottle of house wine (which was fruity and light, but good for a hot summer day), and two courses each. The husband started with lasagna then had a roasted lamb dish. I started with bucatini all’amatriciana (pasta with bacon and tomato sauce) followed by a roasted rabbit dish. Everything was pretty good. The waiter also gave us each a small lemon sorbet for dessert. For a touristy area, it really wasn’t bad at all with the total bill being under 70E.

With a short walk back to the hotel, it was time to call it a night. And we were soooo ready for bed by that time. Traveling is exhausting, don’tcha know!

Stay tuned for Day 2: Ancient Rome.