Wednesday 25th March
I’d spent at least an hour the night before planning different options depending on the weather. When I woke I could hear the patter of rain which is what every weather forecast I’d seen predicted. My phone has a app called Geo News to alert me if there are extreme weather conditions in my local area and for the first time it beeped but only to tell me there were high winds predicted.
It looked like the weather would improve in the afternoon so I decided I’d start by exploring parts of Rome that were covered and underground. First I headed to somewhere I’d been told about on my first trip in 2009 but which I hadn’t had time to see. The church the Capuchin Crypt is located in didn’t look that spectacular from the outside but I knew not to judge a book by it’s cover. The crypt has, since around 1641 contained the the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars some of whom had lived and died there.
I made my way through the museum but I wasn’t sure which displays to focus on and trying to read them all just left me feeling a bit overwhelmed and if I’m honest a bit bored. The subject matter was mostly religious and about the monks not about the display. The museum is fairly new and whilst it was well set out I wasn’t there to see a museum display I just wanted to see the crypt. I eventually made my way down the short flight of stairs in to the darkness. It was quite eerie seeing all the bones presented as art and it really did make me just go “wow”. It was visually impressive (if a bit macabre) and I can see how the display successfully challenges the perception of death and our own mortality.
Next I made my way to the Basilica San Clemente. I have to admit I’d known nothing about the place until the day before when I had looked at doing a half day tour to the Capuchin Crypt and the Domitilla’s Catacombs which included this. The Basilica of St Clemente shows how the city of Rome has been built up over many different levels over the centuries. There are areas of London where you can descend and see a glimpse of the old Roman street level (e.g remains of the Roman Forum at a Barbershop in Leadenhall Market). Obviously in Rome the remains are much easier to find with some “at street level” but nothing beats a bit of exploring underground to make it feel like you really are entering a lost world.
The current church was built by 1120 however descending down a level I came to the remains of a church built in the 4th century. Descending yet another level I came to a Roman street dating from the 1st century which contained a house (with a spring) and even a Mithraeum dating from the 2nd Century. To me it seemed to show how religious sites are particularly sacred in Rome and that even if the religion changes new buildings would simply be built over the top so the area was preserved for worship.
By the time I’d finished at the Basilica San Clemente it had just gone 11am so I didn’t have enough time to reach the catacombs which were closed for lunch. Instead I commenced the journey to Ostia Antica. As I made my way to the Colosseo station it appeared the rain had passed. I was walking down one of the streets when in the distance I caught my first glimpse of the Colosseum (on this trip). It gradually grew larger and I had a real sense of excitement. When I saw the queue outside however it reminded me why I wasn’t planning a re-visit quite yet.
It took about an hour to reach Ostia Antica which was the old port of Rome. I thought it had stopped raining but almost as soon as I looked at a map of the area it came down from my left side with even more fury. A German school teacher (in charge of a group of school children) and I had been trying to work out together where to go and quickly ran back to the train station for cover. I was drenched though the rain eased off just long enough for us to reach the entrance. The site was out in the open so although I’d brought a map the rain meant I couldn’t use it.
Unlike the main streets in Pompeii which were made of stone the path at Ostia Antica was mostly a dirt path perhaps because it had deteriorated more over the centuries. Luckily the the main street wasn’t to muddy and I managed to avoid most of the bigger puddles. As I walked past Neptune baths I realised it was possible to climb up the stairs to the top which I thought would give a good general view of the site. Unlike Pompeii it wasn’t very busy and not only did I have the roof to myself there weren’t that many people wondering around.
Without a guide or a useable map I wasn’t sure which directions to head in to see the buildings that I knew would interest me the most and the rain had dampened my enthusiasm. I read a few of the displays but it was only when I reached, the theatre that I really felt a sense of awe. After walking through the tunnel in the arena area I again climbed to the top but as I was taking in my surroundings the rain came down ferociously again.
Mercifully I saw a sign for the cafe and briskly made my way. After getting some food and looking round the museum I again started exploring the site with refreshed enthusiasm. I walked towards Forum and on the way saw a shop and what appeared to be a Roman Bar. Unfortunately I got slightly lost and by the time I found the Forum another sudden down pour caught me out and a tree offered little protection. I was now so wet couldn’t take in the part I felt was most important as it was ‘the centre’ and realising my camera lens was wet I gave up taking pictures.
2 hours wasn’t long enough to explore the site but it’s all I could face in the wind/rain. I later saw that ‘the Capitol’ was one of the best preserved buildings but I hadnt found it. If I ever find myself in Rome again in nicer weather I’d probably return. The site claims to be a better version of Pompeii and certainly seeing the height of some buildings is impressive but the rain and lack of a guide or map meant I preferred my day in Pompeii.
As I returned to the station I got stuck behind another school party which meant I missed my train and so began a miserable journey to the Catacombs. One I was finally back in Rome I saw my bus approaching and realised I was on the wrong side of the road. I should still have been able to get on but I didn’t realise the back door was only to let people off and so he didn’t open the door and went off without me. To add to my woe the next didn’t arrive for 25+ minutes by which time my umbrella was ruined and my feet squelched. I wasn’t impressed at my fortune and muttered a few choice words to myself.
Eventually I arrived at and found the Catacombs of St Domitilla. I had made it before closing time and was told a tour in English would be starting shortly. It was nice to finally have a guide and it was fascinating to explore the oldest underground burial network in Rome. Some of the early Christian artwork was interesting and whilst we were told some of the tombs had been ran sacked by thieves some still contained bodies.
Entry to the total network which is 15km on 4 different levels was via a church which was abandoned in the 9th century and only rediscovered in the 16th century. The tour was a bit shorter than I expected though this is because the ‘newer’ but deeper sections are not open to the public. We were exploring the oldest section and I was glad we had a tour guide because it would have been very easy to get lost as it all looked the same.
I made my way back to the hotel room and spent a couple of hours drying out. I tried to do what I could to my walking shoes but the hair dryer didn’t really help and there was no radiator. Luckily I had taken a smart pair so I put those on as I headed to the oldest pizzeria in Rome Est Est Est Pizzeria Ricci. It was opened in 1888 as a wine shop before the owner started selling pizza in 1905.
I ordered a white wine Vino bianco asciutto “frascati” which was recommended to me by the waiter. I had quite an appetite and noticed that Suppli (Fried rice balls) and fried cod both of which I had been advised to try were on the menu as starters. For a main course I eventually settled on the Calzone and ordered a refreshing Peroni Gran Riserva Doppio Malto to go with it. I knew I had to try a tiramassu so ordered that for dessert but I’m not the best judge of them but it was nice enough.
Thursday 26th March
For some reason I really struggled to get out of bed once my alarm had gone off and I had a bit of a headache. I had woken up about an hour before the alarm and spent it trying to go back to sleep without success. I wanted to explore the area suggested to me by my guide to Pompeii and after I was ready spent a bit of time planning a route so I could get there and back to the airport before my flight.
It was a lovely day and at one point I had considered walking to the top of Janiculum Hill where the Piazza Garibaldi is located. Instead using the excuse that I wouldn’t have time but that I’d walk back down I stayed on the bus. It wasn’t hard to miss my bus stop due to the big statue and I made my way over to the edge to see a wonderful panorama of Rome spread out below. Admittedly it would have been handy if I’d known which direction to squint in to see the landmarks but I thought I made out a few.
I made my way back down the hill to the area of Rome called Trastevere. Whilst initially I thought I’d stumbled down a Mafia street due to a load of Vespas parked outside a house I quickly fell in love with the little side streets. It had the atmosphere of a small but fairly busy picturesque town and it didn’t feel like I was still in the Italian capital at all. I suppose it was comparable to Hampstead Heath.
I made my way to Piazza Santa Maria where I went to Santa Maria Basilica which was quite grand on the inside due to a number of gold mosaics. Carrying on through Trastevere I arrived at the Piazza Cecilia and Basilica Santa Cecilia. I didn’t quite have enough euros in coins and the guy serving didn’t have change so he let me in as a student. This church had a smaller write up than Santa Maria but I preferred it. It had a spectacular crypt and then at a lower level the remains of a Roman house which is believed to have been the house of Saint Cecilia dating to the early empire.
It had just gone 12 when I finished so I made my way towards one of the most famous pizzerias in the area Dar Poeta. I sat outside on a table with a red and white pattern which reminded me of Bella’s restaurant in Fireman Sam. The pizza itself was Rome style so a thinner crust compared to the Neapolitan style but it was no less delicious. It seemed like a nice place to just sit back and relax and although I was starting to think about my flight home I still got sucked in to the no rush attitude.
Eventually and slightly later than planned I paid the bill and left though I knew I was alright for time so long as I didn’t encounter any delays. Fortunately I didn’t and I arrived at the hotel around the time I’d hoped. I collected my bag and found the coach terminal I needed and checked in.
I was told to wait outside and naturally when a coach came in around the time mine was meant to leave I and quite a few others started loading our bags on. When I then got to the guy checking tickets he kept speaking to me in Italian and sending me away. I used my I-translate app which only told me “Airport “. I was confused and a bit concerned eventually he said two words I understood “next bus”. I then had a bit of a scramble to grab my suitcase off the coach because whilst I’d been near the back it had been pushed further back and a huge push chair was in the way. That drama over I waited and boarded the correct bus.
I had priority boarding on the flight home which meant I didn’t have to join the large queue when we were eventually called. I had the window seat but a girl was already in the aisle seat and I felt a bit awkward when she had to move for me. We eventually got chatting because of the beautiful sunset and because she asked me for some ideas of some markets and other nice places to visit whilst she was in London. It was nice to have some company on the flight but we went our separate ways at the airports train station though we did exchange numbers on the off chance I went back to Rome or she returned to London.