Italy - Rome

· Travel

Rome. I've always wanted to visit especially the Colosseum. As usual, I did zero reading up about the city before arriving so didn't know what to visit or where to go.  

Having almost given up using hotels and knowing our trip was just a couple of nights, we opted for a cheaper than usual AirBnB. This was one of two critical errors. The place was near Porto Furba subway station so quite handy for getting about. Yet the area was rundown, nowhere near shops and a little pokey. It was OK, it just wasn't great.

The second critical error was being told we had to pay a government tax during our stay there for which we belatedly realised was a con after we left. We did pay €60 to be met at the airport by the host and her husband who drove us to the apartment; that was an acceptable. But after we had left, we realised there was no reason to pay for an accommodation tax especially as the booking was through AirBnB. It wasn't much, just irksome.

Getting around Rome is easy via the subway and it's €1.50 for any stop with the ticket needing to be used within 100 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from any tobacco kiosk or using the machines in the station. We felt safe on the aged subway and while the tunnels and platforms murky, the trains are new and modern.

The first day we went to the colosseum by subway to Colloseo station with a change at Termini. We'd been warned by our hosts that pickpockets were rife in the tourist areas (someone else told us Naples is the worst place in Italy for pickpockets) and not to buy water from street sellers.

First impressions of the colosseum were spectacular. The facade was stunning. But this joy was quickly tarnished by just how messy it is to get in. Rome is a lot like Barcelona with numerous historical sights scattered around the city but that's where the similarity ends. Because unlike Spain where there is clear sense of order, Rome's tourism board has taken a hands off approach.  

There's nothing in the way of an explanation how to get in, no price guide, nothing to indicate what you can expect to see, no nothing. There are, however, loads of confused people walking about and dozens of tour guides with official looking lanyards but who really knows if they were legit or not.

There are many scampreneurs trying to flog watches, sunglasses and other tat. These guys are clever. They speak English and will catch your attention by asking a question about whatever it is you're wearing. If any give you a thread bracelet for luck, end the conversation nicely, walk away and remove the bracelet without being seen. Because once it's on, you're marked. Scampreneurs will try anything to get you to part with your money. And sometimes it's by brute force.

Crossing the road from the subway exit, you see a long line of people queuing. These were tour groups we were told. The only way in is if you join a tour group with guide. Of course, this costs an exorbitant amount. We paid €70 for two. You get to see the Colosseum, Arena Floor, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill. The thing is, even if we paid over the odds, it was worth to see 2000 year old architecture still standing.

After some faffing about and hearing some rubbish from the tour group people about entry, we were on our way. The sun was blazing hot at this point and of course, I'm getting burnt and there is little in the way of shade so a hat and suncream are must haves for next time.

The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were awesome. I know it's a cliche, but you can imagine being transported back to Rome as it was 2000 years ago with people bustling about amidst streets and buildings. The view from Palatine Hill is spectacular and well worth the made-up admission price alone.  

The guide was OK. Rattled through the historical features. There's nothing in the way of information at all along the way. No maps, signposts, points of interest, no place to buy water or souvenirs. I think I've laboured on about the chaos and disorder too much. I was only there for three days yet that was my immediate impression.

After Palatine Hill it was an amble to the jewel in the crown: the majestic Colosseum and Arena Floor. There is a bag check before entry and then it's in. Walking out onto the arena floor and seeing what was the basement before, was a stunning experience. Seen Gladiator? That's what I thought about when walking around the ruins.

Built with five tiers of seating (the rich on the first two levels, then the poor and females at the very top), the Colosseum is impressive and far bigger than I imagined only ever having seen the exterior. There's lots to see and once inside, you don't need to remain with the group. We peeled off and explored by ourselves.

One thing I didn't realise was that the Colosseum had a roof made from linen and that the principal of opening and closing it is used in stadium designs today. There's a small museum of artefacts up a twin set of steep stairs. Well worth visiting.

We spent at least two hours inside then went back home.

Other worthwhile places to visit are the Trevi Fountain (total chaos), Spanish Steps (total chaos too) and Piazza del Populo (not chaotic at all!). A visit to both churches at the Piazza del Populo is recommended.

Not sure I'd go back to Rome. I know it's wrong to be judgemental about a city after only 72 hours yet there just wasn't the comfort level. We did have a spectacular plate of ham, salami at a bodega near Trevi Fountain. Simply outstanding.

The next day we caught the high speed train from Rome to Milan. The high speed train I went on in Taiwan had a top speed of 250kph. The one in Hainan did 280kph. Rome to Milan was a bonkers 300kph! Outstanding. Lake Como next up.

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