Long time coming, this post – but I finally did it! I finally made it to Rome, one of the most popular tourist cities in the world, and did it in relative style! Not going to lie, this was one of my more challenging solo adventures, and my patience and hatred of inefficiency was tested big time. Want to know more? Read on, friend!
I flew into Rome Fiumicino airport at 11pm on Saturday 21st September, which was my first gripe (seriously Alitalia, why schedule all of your flights so late?). The flight itself was fine and fairly standard for a short haul economy flight, but the addition of a complimentary drink and snack was a nice touch (looking at you here, BA). Because of the late flight time, transport to the city centre was fairly sporadic and/or nonexistent, so I’d booked a room at the Best Western Rome Airport and got an Uber there from the airport. Pretty straightforward but annoying that I’d had to do this because of Alitalia’s poor scheduling decisions.
Up and at ’em the next morning, the hotel had a shuttle bus to Circo Massimo/Piramide, a Metro station just outside of the city centre, where you could ‘easily’ get transport to the rest of Rome. This is where my first problem was – turns out Rome public transport is not really that clearcut or straightforward. I give you this map as an example:
Now, looking at this map, you wouldn’t know which line is bus, tram, or metro, would you? Even the legend on the right hand side is confusing. I’d like to think I was pretty savvy with these things, but even after asking various Italians and looking like a right n00b, I was still none-the-wiser and ended up walking to Roma Ostiense station and getting a regular, bog-standard train to Roma Travestere, the area I was staying in for the next few nights. From there, I had to get a tram (which doesn’t technically reach the centre of Rome but is useful for navigating the suburbs like Travestere) to Trastevere/Min. Instruzione, where my AirBnB was. Phew!
Trastevere (pronounced tras-TAIR-vare-eh) is traditionally the working-class suburb of Rome, and is famous for nightlife, excellent food and drink, the odd Basilica, and cobbled streets with street art. My AirBnB was a hop, skip and a jump away from the main squares, next to Basilica di Santa Maria, and after plonking my bags down, I found an excellent little restaurant (of which there are many in Trastevere) called Ombre Rosse, which also turned out to be one of the top-rated restaurants in Rome (something I had no idea about until checking them just now on TripAdvisor!).
After devouring the above, washed down with some day wine and some fresh focaccia, I hopped on the trams and made my way over to one of the main reasons I went to Rome – the Colosseum.
I won’t bore you with my mediocre historical retelling here, instead I’ll redirect you to the Wikipedia page and tell you what it was like to actually be there. The entrance was slightly hard to find, surrounded by tourists
and umbrellas because there was a light drizzle, but I managed to find it, passed through security, and paid the €12 to enter.
The Colosseum was large as you might expect, but the detail was something I really enjoyed (and do with any attraction like this). The graffiti and little drawings from the Roman era on the more hidden columns made it ‘real’ and human, and whereas it was very grand and imposing, the human elements were what I enjoyed the most.
There was also a really interesting museum on the top floor which detailed the history of the Colosseum and the context of it within Ancient Rome, as well as artefacts found inside it (coins, games and hilariously some schoolboy drawings of penises) which I really enjoyed. Worth having a look out for these.
After the obligatory Colosseum visit, I went to a restaurant near my AirBnB where I had some burrata and bread, some wine, and a heaving portion of insanely good fresh wild mushroom tagliatelle. Whole thing cost €22. Unreal.
The next morning brought with it a new challenge in the guise of a TRIP TO POMPEII. Insert volcano emoji. I say challenge because, well, you’ll see.
To get to Pompeii for the guide tour I had booked on AirBnB (shout out to Lello who was a huge help in this whole palava), I had to get up at the crack of dawn, get the tram back to Roma Trastevere train station, get the train to Roma Termini, get another train to Naples, get another train to Pompeii, and do all of this as early as possible to get in town for midday for the tour. It was all looking good, until I made a fatal error in trusting the Italian national train system. Delays were rampant (I should have been clued up to the fact that the train departure boards had a special column for delays), and the confusion I experienced earlier in the trip with the transportation system was magnified due to a lack of signs, staff, and sense. The train from Rome to Naples (which was delayed half an hour) originally cost €16 for the slow train, but there were no signs to indicate which was a slow or fast train and I ended up getting on a fast train accidentally and being fined an extra €35 for the pleasure. When in Naples, there were minimal signs or staff to show where to board the train to Pompeii, so I ended up missing another train and waiting with a nice Scottish family for half an hour until the next one. After all of this, I was late for my tour and didn’t make it – one of the more significant bummers of the trip, especially as I’d gotten up at 6am on my holiday to make it in time.
I wasn’t about to give up and turn around though, I was in Pompeii after all, so I quickly downloaded an audio tour (shout out to Rick Steves!) and got to stepping. I walked to Pompeii from the train station (around 25 mins – there is a shuttle bus if you want to save your legs for the actual ruins) and paid €15 to enter.
Right, first point, right off the bat – Pompeii is HUGE. Like, HUGE. I didn’t quite realise how big it was (the more cultured among you will know that Pompeii was a city like any other), but there was no way I could cover the whole thing in my little day trip, and indeed most guides and tours will stick to a few of the districts around the sides. As with most destinations on my hit list, it was absolutely swarming with tourists, which was actually quite useful as I weaved in and out of tour groups and just joined the back of the English-speaking ones from time to time. Shh, don’t tell.
Second point – book. a. tour. Rick Steves tried, bless his little travelling heart, but there is almost no point in doing Pompeii without a tour guide, because to the untrained eye (I am of course assuming that most of you aren’t archaeologists), it all kiiiiinda looks the same, and it’s very easy to lose where you are and what you’re actually looking at. In hindsight, it would have been exponentially better to have booked a tour from Rome so that I didn’t get stressed or miss the tour, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s something I’ll do next time for sure. From a quick Google search, The Roman Guy looks like a good option (not sponsored).
I didn’t hate Pompeii, but it could have been a lot better, is all I’m saying. Anyway, obligatory pics below!
After the palava of Pompeii, I decided to just take it as easy as possible on my last day in Rome, and start the morning relaxed with a coffee in one of the squares, after checking out of my AirBnb. This was definitely the right choice.
Because I didn’t have too long until my flight, and even though I’d walked quite a lot of Rome, I chose to be Tourist Extraordinaire and bought a ticket for one of those hop-on-hop-off buses to see the bits of Rome I hadn’t quite made it round to. This was a genius idea, even if I say so myself – gave me a nice relaxing journey, I stopped off at a few of the attractions (Spanish Steps, Circus Maximus, etc etc) and had a trot round, and then made my way round the rest of the city. Annoyingly I didn’t have time to go to the Vatican or the Trevi Fountain, but I’ll be hitting these up the next time I go for sure.
Finished off the trip with a cheeky gelato at Roma Termini train station, and set back to the airport using the Leonardo Express airport transfer train.
Overall, I liked Rome, but 3 days (2 days if we exclude Pompeii) was not nearly enough time to see everything I wanted to. I did, however, manage to scoff pizza, pasta, gelato, coffee, and so much mozzarella that I’m now just a walking ball of cheese, so at least that’s a positive. To summarise – would go back for the food and the drink but for God’s sake Italy, sort your bloody trains out.
(Also – severe apologies for the lack of photos on this post – I got a new phone yesterday and haven’t transferred a lot of pictures over yet, so will endeavour to do this soon. Probably. Maybe.)