Rome, Italy: It was just magic!

Roman Forum.  Copyright Fototeca ENIT
Roman Forum. Copyright Fototeca ENIT

I know what Roman gladiators must have felt like when they were sent on a long march. For I had a blister the size of the colosseum in Rome after Ruaridh and Flora had finished with me!

Welcome to Rome – the fast and furious Italian city, whose rustic charm will have you falling in love with it, the minute you start to explore.

San Pietro with the Basilicia in the background. Copyright Fototeca ENIT

San Pietro with the Basilicia in the background. Copyright Fototeca ENIT

Cheap flights mean this city is an accessible one for all and when Ruaridh and Flora decided to take an active interest in all things Roman, well pizza and gelato eating anyway, we just had to head to this fascinating city.

The city centre is a 40 minute train ride from the airport and we chose the Radisson Blu Es Hotel as our base. Well-placed just opposite the main railway terminal, it’s an ideal spot for families and businessmen alike. The Radisson chain has a reputation for being smart and easy on the eye and this hotel was no exception.

Lit up by multi colours during the night, the top floor breakfast restaurant during the day is the main attraction as it affords a lovely view across the city. And the food is top notch too, with a massive buffet breakfast, with hot and cold Italian specialities to keep you going for the day, all washed down with the famous Italian expresso or latte coffees. There is fine dining and cocktails on offer at night.

The rooftop also boasts a nice swimming pool, which is needed in the hot summers and there is a gym and spa for the fitness enthusiasts too. The bedrooms are modern and airy and with all the mod cons you need.

The Colosseum. Copyright Fototeca ENIT

The Colosseum. Copyright Fototeca ENIT

A short ride on the underground soon has you in the old part of the city, home to the famous relics of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatino Hill. The Colosseum is the jewel in the crown. It was here that gladiators met in mortal combat and condemned prisoners fought off wild beasts infront of baying, bloodthirsty crowds.

As you stand and take in the magnificent view, it’s easy to imagine the roar of the crowd and the majestic fighting which took place in this wonderful 50,000 seater amphitheatre which was built by Vespasian in AD 80. To mark its inception, there was 100 days and nights of fighting which saw 5,000 animals slaughtered. Eighteen years later this was topped with a marathon 117 day killing spree involving 9,000 gladiators and 10,000 animals.

A joint ticket will take you into the nearby Palatino Hill, once home to the most exclusive of Romans. It’s a fascinating site to wander round, with magnificient views and you are soon lost in thoughts of living in this once luxurious town, high above the city. From here you can look down into the Roman Forum , an ancient district of temples, basilicas and vibrant public spaces.

As in most cities, Rome has a special pass which can be bought for the duration of your stay and the price includes entry into top sights, unlimited travel on public transport and discount on museums and galleries.

After a pit stop of Pizza Bianca, delicious simple white bread made with a little salt and olive oil, we decided to walk to the famous Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. We had prepared for our trip by watching the classic Lizzie McQuire film, which features a schoolgirl who falls in love with a Roman pop star and shows off all the main tourist sights.

The Trevi Fountain was a must for the children, as throwing a coin with your left hand over your shoulder will mean all your wishes coming true and with Valentine’s Day coming up, this was especially important to Ruaridh (8)!

This foaming fountain is a masterpiece of architecture and attracts big crowds. Depicting Neptune’s chariot being led by Tritons with seahorses, it’s a white wonder and after a multi million pound spruce up in 2015, its looking pretty good these days.

Nearby are the Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe and built with French money 300 years ago. There are 138 steps to the top where lies a Roman obelisk and a 16th century church. A few years ago a Columbian man decided the steps were not for walking, but driving his car down, with disastrous results!

From the steps we head to the Pantheon, a striking 2,000 year old temple, now a church and home to one of the best acoustics in the world, with many famous singers choosing this building to record their albums.

Rome is home to lots of quirky sights, such as the Mouth of Truth, a big ugly stone face inside a church entrance, where legend has it, you place your hand in and if you tell a lie, it bites it off! We were obviously on our best behaviour because we survived and went on to see a tomb shaped like a baker’s oven and an enormous statue of emperor Constantine’s massive foot!

No trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the state of Vatican City, whether you are religious or not. Separate from Rome, it’s the smallest state in the world and owned by the Catholic church and run by the pope. Only 800 people live in the city, but it’s a beautiful place with lovely museums and grounds and of course, just outside the walls is the St Peter’s Basilica, a magnificient church, surrounded by a huge square where the pope holds his Wednesday open air services.

The main attraction though is the Sistine Chapel, which is where Michelangelo and other painters contributed to some of the most religious artwork in the world. Angelo’s Last Judgement picture caused major upset, at the time of painting, because of all the naked bodies!

But it’s the Piazza Navona square which sums up Rome best. Filled with crowds of people and buskers, its star attractions are the white, silver or gold statues who make money from not moving a muscle. We are still trying to work out how our “Buddha’’ managed to stay cross legged and high in the air with no seeable way of holding himself up. Like Rome, it was just magic!

Factfile:

Accommodation: The Radisson Blu Es hotel in Via Filippo Turati is conveniently located just across from the main railway station, so is easily accessible from the airport and a great place to stay as its so near all the major sights. For latest offers and reservations, log onto: www.radissonblu.com

Tourist information: For more information on the Roma Pass, log onto www.romapass.it

To find out what to do, where to stay and how to get around, check out www.turismoroma.it or telephone 00 39 060608.

Guides: The Lonely Planet has a new guide out, which is packed with information and a handy pull out map. Published last month, it’s bang up to date with tips and is priced at £14.99. There is also a Not for Parents guide which is a fabulous idea for the younger traveller as it explains in simple terms what to see and do. This £9.99 guide is also published by Lonely Planet. Check out www.lonelyplanet.com