Total spend of somewhere around 300 euros, seriously aching, blistered feet, nearly 20 hours on long distance coaches, and some really dreadful photographs. So was my trip to Rome worth it? Hell, yeah!
My weekend starts in a dark, rainy coach park. The coach is scheduled to arrive at 8.20pm, which it duly does. It doesn’t say Roma on the front, though, which confuses me. I ask another passenger. ‘Per Roma?’ ‘Forse …?’ he replies, with a slightly quizzical look. I decide to ask the driver, who confirms that this is the coach I should be getting onto. I therefore do, and settle myself down for the 10-hour journey ahead of me. Half an hour or so later the driver makes an announcement. I’m not really listening, but luckily the man sitting next to me (who, by chance, is the one who I spoke to in the car park) is more on the ball. ‘Roma?‘ he asks. ‘Si,’ I reply. ‘Cambiamento qui!‘ he replies, with a slightly frantic look. Turns out that the coach doesn’t, as I had thought, go straight through to Rome. This one, in fact, goes to Pisa, approximately 260km north of where I want to end up. Thank heavens for friendly passengers, is all I can say. I’m sure Pisa’s lovely, but it would have been an awfully long way from my bed for the night.
The coach pulls in to Rome Tiburtina at just before 7 the next morning. I stagger blearily to the nearest metro station and thence to Termini, where I grab overpriced coffee, croissant and city map. Looking at the map, my hostel is the opposite side of town from Termini. However, I decide that I might as well start as I mean to go on and walk. It’s the start of a beautiful day in Rome, and the fresh air helps to clear my head. I wander happily, taking in Quirinale and Via Corso along the way, and setting my bearings for the next three days.
Arriving at my hostel in Trastevere, I climb the narrow stone steps to the second floor. As I do so, I surprise one of the staff, having a crafty cigarette out of the window. Clearly, the guests don’t usually come up the stairs. She gives me a cheeky grin and waves me through the door, pointing out the lift as she does so. I take her hint and don’t use the stairs for the rest of my stay. (Actually, that has more to do with my aching feet than anything else, but that’s by the by.) I check in at reception, and am told that my room isn’t ready yet, as I’ve arrived very early. I therefore dump my bags in the luggage room and go off for a wander around Trastevere, armed with the map that the hostel gives me which is, annoyingly, far better than the one I’ve just paid €2 for at Termini. Ah well.
After the emotion of the war memorial, I decide to head into the Centro Storico to see some of the more classic sights. Campo di Fiori is everything that an Italian market should be. It’s bustling with people, and has fascinating stalls at every turn. I make up my mind to come back later, for Christmas shopping opportunities. In fact, I never manage to return, as I am so busy cramming everything else into the short time that I have in the city. Ah well. There’s always next time.
Carrying on, I reach Largo Argentina, which is a very bizarre place. In the middle of a busy modern square, surrounded by traffic, there is an area of Roman remains. So far, so usual in this city. However, as you get closer, you notice that the place is absolutely crawling with cats. (In fact, you notice the smell first, but that’s by the by.) Turns out that it’s given over to a cat sanctuary. The thing that I found so fascinating about it is that the cats quite happily just hang out in the Area Sacra. There are no fences, and nothing to stop them from leaving. However, they choose to stay there. I felt an eerie sense of something pagan and ancient at work, keeping the cats there to protect the old temples. I know – I’m a crazy cat lady. So shoot me.
(All images by Kate Bailward)