Rome is a fantastic city to visit and I had a really brilliant time there, which is probably obvious by the fact that this is now my third post about Rome alone! I knew that I would enjoy walking around the ancient sights, and I visited all of the main tourist traps. But after all of that, I still found that Rome has surprises up her sleeve, and this made me love her all the more.
This is a huge monstrosity of a monument, built to commemorate Victor Emmanuel, the first King of unified Italy.
It is not all that popular in Rome as it sticks out like a sore thumb from every angle. I have to say I quite liked it when I was there, but looking back at my photos from Rome I can see exactly what the haters mean – it really doesn’t fit into the Roman skyline at all.
But the views from the monument are sensational, and some would say the best in Rome for the fact that it is the only place from which the monument can’t be seen.
You can take an elevator to the top for €7, but we saved our cash for yet another ice cream and stuck to the lower terraces which still gave us incredible views over Rome.
Inside Il Vittoriano, there is a museum about Italian history, in which Garibaldi featured heavily. We found out that Garibaldi is actually an Italian General who became one of the founding fathers of a unified Italy, and not just a naff biscuit!
It is a really interesting museum, we learned a lot, it has multi-language information plaques and with it’s cool marble floors and air conditioning, it is a great place to gain some respite from the heat.
After visiting the Vatican Museums and St Peter’s, we were in desperate need of a rest. We decided to head for a park where we could lie on the grass, eat some ice cream and just chill out for a couple of hours, so we identified a patch of green on the map and headed off up a very steep, twisting, winding hill, with no sign of any kind of park or grassy area.
What we discovered is what looked like a park on the map was actually private land which was below the hill we were walking up. But what we found was so much better than a park. In my opinion, this humble hill provides absolutely the best views of Rome and the hills beyond.
We were virtually the only people who were walking up this hill and we couldn’t understand why, because it had the most wonderful panorama of the whole city which kept opening up between the trees. There was a lovely little rest stop where we had an ice cream break and sat on a bench watching the whole of Rome spread out at our feet.
After the ice cream break we carried on walking until we reached the Garibaldi Monument, where he is sat astride a horse viewing the whole of Rome.
We sat for ages on the wall, snapping photos, admiring the view, and trying to avoid being in the shot of something being filmed for the TV up there.
Our feet were absolutely wrecked – it was a long walk that we hadn’t intended to embark upon – but is was absolutely worth it. For great views of Rome for free, Janiculum Hill is the place.
I have to say that I did not find visiting the Sistine Chapel to be a remotely religious experience. Partly that is is down to the fact that I’m not really a religious person, and partly that is down to the sheer volume of people packed into a compact space and the exam hall type atmosphere created by the staff.
However, there is one church in Rome that did feel like a very religious, holy place and which took me completely by surprise: The Gesu.
We had heard of The Gesu beforehand as part of our research into the trip, but had not really planned to visit. We just stumbled upon it when trying to find our way back to the hotel and so we decided to have a quick look in.
From the outside, it doesn’t look like a church at all – it looks really quite unremarkable. Inside, it was stunningly beautiful, and it really felt like a church rather than a tourist attraction. That may have been down to the fact that there was a choir singing when we were there, filling the vast space with such tranquil music, or maybe it is down to the fact that there were so many people actually praying. Whatever the reason, it had a very peaceful and very holy atmosphere and it is by far my favourite church that I have ever visited.
Cats amongst the ruins
This surprised me on two fronts. First of all we came across ruins right in the middle of quite a built up area with busy roads. The ruins formed kind of a roundabout for the traffic. We had stumbled upon the Largo di Torre Argentina, which is home to four Roman temples and to Pompey’s theatre, where Julius Caesar was assassinated.
We noticed when wandering around these ruins that there seemed to be an awful lot of cats. Rome has a lot of stray cats, but the population was really quite dense in these ruins and they kept popping up in surprising places. We then noticed a sign pointing down some stairs to the cat sanctuary. This is a no kill cat shelter which provides sanctuary amongst the ruins for up to 300 cats.
Unfortunately, the Cat Sanctuary is being threatened with eviction from the ruins and is fighting to be able to stay. I absolutely loved seeing all of the adorable cats wandering around the ancient ruins, and so I really hope they are able to stay and carry on their good work.
Villa Borghese Gardens
On our last afternoon in Rome we finally found a patch of grass on which we could lie down and chill out for a couple of hours in the Villa Borghese, which is Rome’s equivalent to Central Park.
This is home to the Galleria Borghese, which is a really important art gallery with a vast collection. Tickets need to be booked in advance to visit.
We didn’t go to visit the Galleria Borghese, and though tempted, we didn’t even go to the zoo. We visited the gardens for some down time from the hectic pace that we had kept up in Rome and it was absolutely a perfect place to do this. We wandered around, got hopelessly lost, and sat on the grass just chatting, taking pictures and soaking up the sun.
I would definitely visit the Villa Borghese on a return trip to Rome because there are so many ways to enjoy this huge green expanse. You can hire bikes or segways, or even horses. In addition to the Galleria Borghese there are several other museums within the park, as well as the zoo and a sports complex. But top of my list on a return visit would be to hire a riscio (i.e. a part pedal, part motorized chariot) to tour round the park. Yes, it is shamelessly touristy, but it looked like so much fun!