I am in between travels right now, so I thought I would start a new feature looking back on past trips and sharing my favorite things about some of the cities or regions I have visited over the years.
First up is Rome – one of my favorite large cities and probably one of the few places I could visit over and over again and never get bored!
1. Palatine Hill
Overlooking the Roman Forum on one side and Circus Maximus on the other, Palatine Hill was the center of ancient Rome, home to aristocrats and emperors like. Legend has it that Palatine Hill also was where the twins Romulus and Remus lived in a cave as infants before Romulus eventually killed his brother and founded the city that is now Rome. Entrance to the Hill is included in the admission ticket to the Coliseum so there is no reason not to check it out. I personally enjoyed it because I love ancient Roman ruins, it provides some great photo opportunities, and it is just so incredibly old – there is evidence humans lived on the Hill as early as the 9th century BC!
2. Villa Borghese
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the Villa Borghese is the place to go. Entrance to the Borghese Gallery is limited so it does not have the crowded, rushed feel of the Vatican Museums. On display are paintings and sculptures by the likes of Caravaggio, Raphael, Bernini and Botticelli. The décor of the mansion alone is worth the price of admission, with vibrant ceiling frescoes that feel almost three-dimensional. The gallery itself is in the middle of a mini-Central Park, with green lawns, neatly trimmed trees, a pond with a floating temple and an amphitheater that was once used for horse races.
3. Basilica de San Clemente
A lot of other churches in Rome get far more attention than the Basilica de San Clemente but few can beat its history. The church that you visit today was built in the 12th century. Pretty old, right? Well, it was constructed on top of a 4th century church (really, really old!), which was built on top of a 2nd century Mithraic temple and a 1st century Roman building (mind-boggling old!!). As I mentioned above, I have a thing for Roman ruins, so as soon I heard about the Basilica, I knew I had to check it out for myself. The ruins of the older buildings have been excavated, so you can actually descend several levels to see the remains of the 1st and 2nd century buildings. And at the very bottom, you can hear the groundwater running below you!
4. Climbing the dome of St. Peter’s
As long as you aren’t claustrophobic and don’t mind a bit of workout, climbing the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica shouldn’t be missed. Even before you get to the top, walking along the catwalk inside the dome provides a unique perspective of the Basilica (I happened to get an overhead view of the Pope during his weekly audience). Once you’ve scaled the 320 steps to the top of the dome, you can venture outside for magnificent, sweeping views of the entire city.
Rome is a big city. It covers nearly 500 square miles and has nearly 3 million inhabitants. Despite its size, I love walking in Rome. On my last trip, I stayed near the main train station, not too far from the Coliseum. One morning I took the train to the Vatican Museums and then, after spending the morning at the museums, St. Peter’s and the Castel Sant Angelo, I worked my way all the way back to my hotel by foot. Along the way, I wandered through the side streets and small squares, stopped by some cute-looking shops, indulged in chocolate gelato, dined on greasy pizza and stumbled upon the Pantheon, which seemed to just appear out of the blue. By the time I arrived back at the hotel, I was completely exhausted, yet extremely satisfied.
Have you been to Rome? What are some of your favorite sites or things to do?