We took the train (Trenitalia) from Venice to Rome. Definitely one of the best train rides I had in Europe. It was a much more modern train than those I usually take out of Austria. Also, much cleaner and the seats are more comfortable.
My first impression of Rome was that it was just an extremely rich city. It was, after all, the capital city of the Roman Empire. If you’ve seen enough movies, you’re sure to know a little bit about The Eternal City.
Upon arrival at our hostel, Dj and I went for a late lunch at a restaurant, excited to taste “real” Italian food. However, I was slightly disappointed. Maybe my tastebuds are too accustomed to the Italian food here in Singapore, or my mum’s Italian cooking.
The next day, we visited the Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. We entered the basilica the night before, but once more so that Joel and Jared could also take a look. The basilica looks utterly run-down from the outside, just reddish-brown bricks and stone. However, upon entering, we were absolutely spellbound. I had never seen a church like it before.
Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs)
This would be the first of many churches visited in Rome; each one more spectacular than the last.
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs stands on Piazza della Repubblica, which is the starting point of one of the main streets of Rome – Via Nazionale.
Piazza della Repubblica & The Fountain of the Naiads
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest church in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It also holds the name of major basilica, one of only four in the world.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The church’s marble columns, fifth century mosaics, triumphal arch and nave are stunning. Definitely one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen (and I think I’ve seen a lot). We also entered the Crypt of the Nativity. The crypt houses the Reliquary of the Holy Crib, said to contain wood from the Holy Crib of of the Nativity of Jesus Christ.
Next up, the Pantheon. The Pantheon is one of Rome’s most well-preserved ancient buildings. The height to the oculus is dizzying, 43.3m tall. During the Renaissance, it was used as a tomb. It is now a church where mass is held.
Just a few minutes walk from the Pantheon is Giolitti, where I had the best gelato! Giolitti is supposedly the oldest ice cream parlour in Rome.
Gelato from Giolitti
We visited Giolitti at least twice to satisfy our gelato cravings. Flavours we tried include: nocciola (hazelnut), gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut), riso, Nutella, and champagne. The best has to be Nutella, although nocciola and gianduja put up a close fight. Then again, Nutella and gianduja are almost the same thing. Ok, don’t trust me. I obviously love hazelnut and chocolate! You also get to choose if you would like your gelato topped with whipped cream, but the gelato is good enough on its own.
Giolitti is opened until 2am, so it’s a great place to get your late night munchies on.
Forum of Augustus
Forums are public spaces or squares built by the Romans. The Forum of Augustus housed a temple in honour of Mars and was also the venue of ceremonies and where the senate held discussions.
Another must-see is the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland). The monument was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of unified Italy. Personally, I find the monument quite grand and very different from the surrounding architecture – more Greek than Roman. I really love the two statues of the Goddess of Victory, Victoria, riding on the chariots.
Altare della Patria
Altare della Patria by night
Fans of pasta, attention please. Ever wondered where Carbonara comes from? Well, Rome. La Carbonara has been serving delicious pasta dishes from 1906. The original Roman Carbonara, unlike the Carbonara we get in most parts of the world, does not include cream, and is instead, a mixture of eggs, cheese and bacon. Can’t say I prefer the original though. The guys all got their Spaghetti alla Carbonara (€6), while I chose Pomodoro e Mozzarella di Bufala (€7), mainly because I love tomato-based pasta and also because my favourite cheese is buffalo mozzarella. The Pomodoro was delicious, and the buffalo mozzarella was nice and stringy. Amazing how something so simple can taste so delicious! However, for the sake of it, make sure at least one person at the table orders Carbonara so you can try the authentic version.
Pomodoro e Mozzarella di Bufala from La Carbonara
I recommend visiting the Colloseum before or after having your pasta fix art La Carbonara. They are just a short distance away from each other.
The first time we visited the Colloseum, it was about to close. As it was during the winter season, it closes earlier than during the summer. We decided to come back again the next day, and as luck would have it, it was the perfect sunny day in Rome.
We spent a good hour or more walking around and taking lots of pictures. It was really spectacular. The largest amphitheatre in the world, the Colloseum has a capacity of 50,000 to 80,000 and was used to host the renowned gladiator contests. It is hard to believe that it is still standing. What an amazing feat of Roman engineering!
After the Colloseum, we decided to walk a little more around the Roman Forum.
We got an amazing view of the rooftops of Rome. I wasn’t feeling very well after the Colloseum, and left the boys to return to the hostel myself. I remember they were a little concerned about me traveling back myself. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself! The guys visited the Catacombs of Rome after, and from what I heard, it was really spooky. Good thing I didn’t go. I think I would’ve sensed a lot of weird things.
At night, we visited the famous Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi), which is a big-ass fountain, the biggest, in Rome. Built in my favourite Baroque-style, it a sight to behold.
Legend has it that those who throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain with their right hand over their left shoulder, with their backs against the fountain, will most definitely find themselves in Rome again. Do I really need to toss a coin to return? Nope.
The coins are cleared every night from the fountain – almost €3,000, and is used to fund a supermarket that helps the needy in Rome.
Us, at Trevi Fountain
Because SMU sends its students all around the world for exchange, it was easy to meet up with fellow school mates in Rome. Ben Ben was staying with some other SMU students in an apartment, so he arranged for us to have dinner one night… with Singaporean food! Chicken rice, laksa, and the best Swedish meatballs ever (take that, IKEA) made from scratch by their Swedish flatmate.
Food, glorious food
I knew Ben from FTB, and Benny from my TA class. But the rest were strangers, and the guys knew no one at the table. But it’s really amazing how just being from the same school, or being exchange students in a foreign land can so easily bring people together. Well, the food helps too.
After dinner, we hopped onto a bus and headed to Giolitti for gelato. Really, happy calories don’t count.
One of the mornings, I passed by a pastry shop near our hostel. It sold really pretty desserts, bread and pastries. I couldn’t resist the amazing looking chocolate croissant. I’ve never seen croissant made this way, striped with chocolate. More often, we have pain au chocolat, with chocolate in the middle. It was so delicious.
On my last day in Rome, Dj and I headed to Vatican City. It was a twenty minute train ride from Roma Termini.
An independent state of its own, it is the smallest in the world by area and population. The population of tourists, however, not so small. When we arrived, there was already a snaking queue waiting to get into St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano).
Fortunately, we only queued for an hour, and the weather was super! It was warm, and I could remove my coat. We had to go through security first before entering the church. Entry to the church is free.
I’m not exaggerating, but my jaw really dropped when I entered. St. Peter’s is one beautiful piece of art. The dome, the mosaics, the columns, the marble, the sculptures… everything was so ornate, so stunning. Not to mention, St. Peter’s dwarfs every single church I’ve laid eyes on. I felt so small and insignificant, like a tiny ant amongst the rest of my kind.
The artist Michelangelo helped to design the basilica – the dome being one of his most celebrated works of art and architecture. The dome of St. Peter’s is the largest in the world.
St. Peter’s is the burial place of St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles, as well as the first Pope and Bishop of Rome.
We didn’t get to stay long in St. Peters, as there was something going on the next hour and they were clearing the church before the guests arrived. A pity though, would’ve loved to climb to the top. I’ve seen, from photos, how the view of Rome from the top looks like.
St. Peter’s Square
Panoramic view of St. Peter’s Square
From St. Peter’s Square, we walked around the walls of the Vatican and to the Vatican Museums.
The walls of the Vatican
The museum houses some of the most important pieces of religious art in the world, and also, with the ticket for the museums, you may enter the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t linger too long around the art, but quickly made our way to the Sistine Chapel instead.
For many years, I’ve been longing to see Michelangelo’s paintings. My aunt told me about the beauty of the Sistine Chapel, but I never imagined it to be as beautiful as she claimed. Sure, the chapel is a little old and dusty, tourists are packed in like sardines, and the annoying guards keep shouting “No photographs, no videos” every thirty seconds, but I think everyone can appreciate Michelangelo’s work. The ceiling is magnificent. If there were mattresses on the floor, I’m sure everyone would just lay down and stare at the ceiling and frescoes all day long.
After marvelling at Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment and The Creation of Adam for a really long time, we left the Vatican Museums hunting for more gelato. Using our trusty Tripadvisor iPhone app, we found Hedera, which is ranked #8 out of #8,433 restaurants in Rome. Can the gelato at Hedera compete with that of Giolitti? Well, yes, it could! However, Hedera doesn’t have as many flavours available, so it definitely doesn’t appeal as much. Having said that, the quality of the gelato is amazing. I had nocciola once again and the taste was richer than that from Giolitti. They use premium ingredients for their gelato, and it’s just plain to see why so many people have rated their gelato among the best in Rome.
Nocciola gelato served in a cup + a mini cone
After gelato, we walked back to St. Peter’s Square, and towards Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel).
St. Peter’s Square, bustling all day
Castel Sant’Angelo was built as a mausoleum, was used as a fortress and a castle, but now serves as a museum. It is also featured in Dan Brown’s book Angels & Demons. We didn’t enter as it was only thirty minutes to closing time, and we didn’t want to rush through it. Outside Castel Sant’Angelo, many street peddlers can be found selling counterfeit goods, especially fake Prada and LV bags. Just ignore them.
From Castel Sant’Angelo, make sure you look back towards St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a spectacular view, that straight road down.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Be sure to admire Ponte Sant’Angelo, the beautiful bridge just beside Castel Sant’Angelo. The statues of angels holding Arma Christi (the Instruments of the Passion) adorn the sides.
We caught the sunset at Ponte Sant’Angelo before heading back to the hostel. I left that night back for Graz, and had the most terrifying train ride ever. More on that next time.
St. Peter’s Square still crowded in the evening
I really enjoyed Italy. I think it’s one of my favourite places now. I would love to visit Florence, the rolling hills of Tuscany, Sicily, Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast some day. Special thanks once more to my best friend, travel buddy and boyfriend for making this trip so memorable and for putting up with me (I know I can be difficult).