Rome is saturated with history. Around every corner is some testimony to architectural capability in varying states of decay. You would never be able to see everything in one weekend, and nor did I particularly want to. In the July heat I would rather pick and choose a few sites to enjoy than slog through basilica after basilica.
I flew into Ciampino airport on Saturday night. This is the smaller of Rome’s two airports, and the one commonly used by budget airlines. From the airport, a very comfortable shuttle bus will take you directly to the central station for only €5.
I stayed in the Hostel des Artists. This is a cheap, clean, and comfortable hostel offering 3-bed rooms. The staff were very welcoming and happy to suggest places to eat.
I slept a restless night in the heat but forced myself bleary – eyed from my bed at 6.45 am. It was the first Sunday of the month and that meant entry to the Colosseum was free. It also meant the queues would be extreme. My roommate warned me the night before that on an ordinary day I had to be ready to queue. The beauty of the hostel is that much of central Rome is in walking distance and since this was set to be a budget weekend I decided not to opt for public transport. If you’re happy to spend time soaking up the sun and the atmosphere like me, take comfy shoes – none of the beautiful wedge heels the Roman women clip clop around in.
The early morning air is slightly cooler and fresher than the day-time heat and the half – hour walk to the Colosseum is a lovely way to see some of the city. I reached it by 7.50, 40 minutes before opening time, and already the queue was long. By the time it opened, people were disappearing around its flanks. The Colosseum is quite a sight, though I found it more impressive from the outside than in.
It’s hard for me to start a day without coffee so by the time I found myself outside again, I knew I would need to go in search. I recently spent time in Thessaloniki, where I got used to paying €1 for (admittedly not fantastic) coffee. So there was no way I was paying €4.50 for a cappuccino. I had almost given up my hunt when I found Eat Italy, a small cafe around the corner from my hostel. A good cappuccino cost only €1.30 and it offers a range of vegan and gluten- and lactose- free goodies.
In the afternoon I headed to the Trevi fountain, getting lost on the way. This became something of a recurring theme of my weekend. The fountain is definitely worth a visit. In crowded, stuffy Rome it is like a oasis. In the square I found one of the many counters full of stunning pizzas. Take your pick and they will cut as much as you want, charging by weight. I opted for artichoke heart and prosciutto. It was rich, savory, and earthy and divine
After lunch I headed to the Parco della Borghese. It was a relief to relax in the shade of the green leaves and I lay for a long while on a bench. Finally I headed back to the hostel, buying food for dinner from the corner shop. I collapsed, exhausted into bed that night and was so greatful for the fan whir lulling me to sleep.
Day two, I allowed myself a much needed lie in, then packed and checked out. The hostel requires checkout by 10 am but there is space for luggage storage if you are not leaving the city for a while.
Over coffee I thought about visiting the catacombs or the Vatican but both were beyond walking distance. Instead I headed for a picnic in the park. On the way I went into the Bacillica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. The park around the Borghese villa is huge and meandering and I got more lost here than in the city. I wanted to made my way slowly toward the gallery of modern art on the northern side of the park. On a Monday the park seemed so empty compared to the day before and as I made my way past other galleries and attractions I became increasingly aware of this lack of people. I finally arrived at the gallery to have my suspicions confirmed: closed on Mondays. Still, the walk was nice and the building is impressive even from the outside.
Mid-afternoon seemed to require ice cream. There are some stunning gelaterias around the city and a few with queues out of the door. I headed for one of these smaller ones but even this had a formidable array, especially for someone as indecisive and I am. At €5 it was not cheap but damn it was worth it.
I meandered back through the Roman forum, the ruins shining in the afternoon sun. That night I would be flying so I soaked up what I could of the city. In Café U. Giuliana, near the hostel I had wine and spaghetti Bolognese. What was meant to be a fancy send off – my celebratory meal – was admittedly rather average. The waiter was cool and seemed to prefer not to deal with English speakers and the food was something I could have made at home. But this would not sour my mood.
I took the shuttle bus to Ciampino airport, where I had planned to spend the night before my 6.45 am flight. Unfortunately, the airport closes at midnight. Therefore, the most expensive part of my holiday was the getting a taxi to the nearby Hotel Villa Guilia (€25 taxi, €38 for a single room, €15 shuttle from the hotel back to the airport). Still, the room was comfortable and the staff were very helpful, and happy to organise a lift to the airport at 5 am.
And thus I was gone as quickly as I arrived.