Sunday, 4 September 2016

Italy: The eternal beauty of Rome

The eternal beauty of Rome

The Tiber River, ancient, with all of its serene majesty, slowly flows amongst monuments of human grandeur. On one side the imposing St. Peter’s Cathedral stands high, in the middle of its large circular plaza aligned by columns and on the other side the Coliseum, which rises high, a solid and impressive structure covering with its shadow the ancient Roman Forum. Two symbols of different periods in history, but in the same amazing city. A city of a glorious past, and a colorful and tasty present, with heady aromas and unique beauty, that awaits you to enter its magical labyrinth. The “eternal city”, as Romans call Rome, does not belong only to them but to the whole world, and you can also make it a part of you, forever.

Roman Pantheon

The historic center of Rome, the Roma antica, will be, in reality, the core of your exploration, but first you will have to solve the issue of your accommodation.  In Rome, there are, actually, thousands of places to stay, with quality but not so cheap, near or even inside the historical center. The Via Nazionale, is a unique street, which can be a perfect base for your excursions, as it does not belong to the "hardcore" tourist zone, ideal for shopping with stores in all of its length, and has many accommodation offers at an affordable price. At one end of Via Nazionale you will find the Piazza della Repubblica and its metro station (Repubblica), where by paying a ticket of EUR 1.50 you will be able to take a ride anywhere in the historical zone, while the at the other end of the street, you will find yourself in the heart of the ancient Roman Empire, and in the Roman Forum. There, you will come upon the well-preserved Trajan's Market,  and, within walking distance of Piazza Venezia, the imposing,- and "sacred" for the Italians-, National Monument of the Homeland, known as "Vittoriano".

Fontana di Trevi and Vittoriano

Fontana di Trevi

Also, at a very close distance from the Via Nazionale, you can find the famous Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), which has recently been renovated, and its whitewashed marbles sparkle under the Roman sun. However, I would recommend you to visit it further late in the evening, when it is beautifully lit and full of couples in love, receiving into its watery embrace coins filled with dreams and wishes. Note that, nearby, lies a secret "temple" of the Italian gastronomy, "La proschiuteria", where in a small alley, you will be able to enjoy the excellent cheeses and sausages of not only of the Lazzio region but also from the whole of Italy, as the famous prosciutto of Parma or the salami of Milan, accompanied by an excellent Italian wine.

Vittoriano and Trajan's Column

However, in order to be able to really feel the majesty and the imposing beauty of this city, you will have to walk. A lot! You can reach all important focus points on foot, and each different alley is sure to reveal to you a gorgeous new secret. I suggest a nice walking tour, starting  from the National Monument, the "Vittoriano", where you can take some  beautiful photos of this splendid white, impressive monument dedicated to the unification of Italy, but paying attention to your behavior, since the security guards take pride in whistling even if you rest on the stairs!


Afterwards, you will head for a quick espresso (“café” in Italian, as the Italians never actually use the word “espresso”), to the Piazza Venezia, serving as a central hub for your explorations, as two main streets start here, the Via del Corso, which is the central shopping road and the longest street in the historical center, and will bring you to the famous Piazza di Spagna, and the ancient imperial road (dei fori imperiali), which will bring you to the Coliseum. Following the "imperial" road, you will essentially start a virtual tour of the Ancient Rome, the starting point of which is the Trajan's Column and the end is the Coliseum, a monument that even from afar seems to defy the human scale. When you reach the Coliseum, the waiting queue will be usually very long, but you can use the time available to make a whole tour around the monument, perhaps discovering along the way some corner of it, which has not yet been photographed (nearly impossible!). Note that next to the Coliseum, you will encounter the Gate of Constantine and exactly opposite the "Temple of Venus and Rome", a beautiful complex of monuments which unfortunately the reputation of the Colosseum has concealed.

Piazza di Spagna, Prada and espresso!

With your mind filled with scenes from the Gladiator movie, you can take the metro from the Coliseum station, and head directly to the beautiful park of Villa Borghese and the famous steps of Piazza di Spagna. The park is ideal for wonderful walks even by bicycle, while small, beautiful and outdoor cafes are scattered in the park, especially on the small lake. In Piazza di Spagna, amidst the cheerful crowd and couples resting in the famous steps and around the small fountain in the center, in the shape of a boat (the most famous meeting point in Rome), you will be able to indulge in a shopping marathon, as the options are many and for all budgets. Especially in Via dei Condotti, all the infamous Italian brands are gathered, together with other renowned brands, from Prada and Gucci to Cartier and Luis Vuitton.
Sant Eustachio Cafe

At the end of this street you will arrive in Via del Corso, previously mentioned, which is a more "affordable" shopping area, with many Italian brands and alternative shops. Near Del Corso Street, and walking in the labyrinthine of narrow alleys you will come upon the unique Piazza Navona, where you can enjoy the best Italian coffee and savor one of the most tasteful meals. The café "Sant Eustachio" is always crowded, because it uses a unique coffee blend in the whole world, as the sugar is already toasted within the blend! I would seriously recommend you to buy some coffee for your home from its shop.

Eating as an Italian!

Trattoria "La Cabana"
"Gelatto", itlaian splendour!
Further down you will find yourself in the imposing "Pantheon", a monument containing all the tombs of the Italian kings, and probably the only one with a circular hole in the central dome. Next to it, the "L'Antica Salumeria", with cured prosciutto hanging on the ceiling and fine "Parmesan Grana Padano" aged for 36 months, will certainly provide a tasty memory from your trip to Rome. But in order to be actually fully submerged in this delicious world of flavors, that the Italian cuisine offers, you should visit the small, -authentic Italian-, trattoria (Italian restaurant) "La Cabana", where you may taste the best handmade pasta of your life with wild mushrooms, while in nearby "Sapore di Mare", crates, full of the best fish that you may find in Rome, decorate its showcase. Alternatively, seek the elegance of one of the oldest "trattoria" of Rome (since 1870), the "La Matriciana", a common but fanatically loved by Italians trattoria, though with slightly more elevated prices, or head to the fast and non-conformist style pizzeria "La Monte Carlo Pizza", with beautiful Roman pizzas using very thin dough, and the famous "Dar Filettaro" with steamed cod fillets served on a piece of paper!

The Vatican'

Cathedral St. Peter and square

Finally, having regained your powers, you should cross the Bridge of Sant Angelo with the stunning views of the Tiber River and the Vatican, as well as visit the impressive Castle Sant Angelo, from which the bridge took its name. Being in the renowned Trastevere, you will have the opportunity to visit the magnificent Cathedral of St. Peter, and of course the Vatican Museum (Musei Vaticani) and admire one of the greatest works of mankind, the famous Sistine Chapel, a marvelous dome crafted by maestro Michelangelo, as well as many other masterpieces both from Rome and Ancient Greece. However, you should know that, because of the increased security measures, the queues may stretch for kilometers! Nonetheless, Vativan definitely worth a visit before you leave the eternal city of Rome, haunted by the beauty  of a unique, vibrant place, that respects its rich past and knows how to promote it, while at the same time enjoys the love and respect both from Romans and tourists alike.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on December 12, 2015 - transl. & edited from Greek, original here)

Sant Angelo Castle and Bridge

La proschiuteria
La Matriciana