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Rome in a day...? I don't recommend it!

Updated: Aug 6, 2022

Our first overseas holiday was a whirlwind through Europe, with only one day to see Rome.

Note: all photos were taken with our then brand new Canon EOS 300 on 35mm film

We are very lucky to have visited Rome three times now in our travelling history and all were very different experiences. The first was a mad rush, the second time we properly fell in love with it and the third time we introduced it to our children (which I have written about here). This is about our very first experience with this amazing city.

Our itinerary allowed us only a day in which to see Rome. It was nuts, but this was the pace of our first overseas holiday.

Ponte Sisto

December 1st 1999

Our carefully planned schedule had been blown out by the nasty flu we both came down with soon after arriving in London. We had a Europass and were doing 5 countries, but now in only 11 days. When we got to Rome, we had already been to Barcelona and Avignon in France. To get to Rome from Avignon was a huge trip. We left at about 2pm, had dinner in Nice and hopped on an overnight train, arriving in Rome at 7am feeling like crap! We hadn't reserved a sleeper, so ended up in a compartment. The seats at least slid out into a bed, however we were woken three times by conductors and every time we stopped at a station, people would open our door to see if there were spare seats. With bleary eyes we gobbled down some breakfast at the station and set out to find accommodation. We then got lost trying to find the pensione recommended by the Lonely Planet guide (our bible for this trip). Navigation challenges ended up being the theme of the day! But we eventually found it and after checking in and showering, we were a bit more awake and ready to see as much of Rome as possible.    

First on the agenda was the Colosseum, which we only just managed to find without getting too lost. Funny I know, cos it kinda stands out! We had followed some other tourists who looked like they knew where they were going. We then watched in horror as they nearly got robbed by three people waving a sheet of cardboard at them. Already on high alert from reading about this kind of stuff in the Lonely Planet, it didn't help our anxiety levels! On arrival at the Colosseum, we found we didn't have enough money to go inside because we had spent it on our accommodation. We started to look for an ATM but to no avail and decided to keep going, planning to return to the Colosseum later. Not a great start!

Early morning light at the Colosseum

So we walked on past the Roman Forum (not even through it!) to The Victor Emmanuel II Monument and finally found a bank. I swear that the whole currency thing was one of the biggest stresses of the entire trip! Even though the Euro came into existence at the start of 1999, actual notes and coins didn't come on the scene till 2002. Therefore every country we visited meant a new currency and trying to judge how much we'd need. In Rome we withdrew 200,000 Lira which sounds like SO much, but it only just lasted us the day.

I can recall this level of detail some 21 years later because I was very good at journalling in my early travel days and I documented all of our costs. In my defence, we had a lot of time on the train to kill (see left, about 38hrs all up) and not a lot of money! You can see why the cash didn't go far when our pensione room was90,000L and food for the day 75,000L. But I do digress...

After stopping by the Victor Emmanuel II Monument and Palazzo Senatorio on Capitoline Hill, the plan was to then walk along the River Tiber to the Vatican. This should have been about 3.5km if we didn't get lost, but of course we did! We ended up walking some way up winding streets to find ourselves at a lookout. I've managed to track down where it was and it's Terrazza Panoramica Passeggiata del Gianicolo in Janiculum. I'd highly recommend the hike, as it has awesome views over the city (see below).

We finally reach the Vatican around 1.30pm and bought some lunch to eat in St Peter's Square. Looking back at the photos now, I'm amazed at how quiet it was! But we were travelling at non-peak time, it was the first day of winter. On entering the basilica we were blown away by its size and beauty. I was struck by how much work and dedication went into creating this enormous structure. It's hard to adequately describe the ornate details and artwork, but I was quite happy with my photos from the day considering my hack skills at the time :-) The sun rays added a really beautiful effect to the scene.

We explored the Vatican literally from top to bottom, going down into the Necropolis underneath and up around the inside of Michelangelo's dome to the top of the basilica from where we took in the sight of St Peter's Square and city beyond.

The plan was to then swing back by the Colosseum to finish off our day's sightseeing. So we jumped on a Metro and got there at 4.30pm to discover it had closed :-( We finished off our day with a lovely meal of pasta, wine, gelato and a cappuccino. Don't worry, by the next time we visit Italy we're much more coffee savy (ok we had become proper Melbourne coffee snobs, haha) and knew not to order capps after lunch!

We realised as we left Rome the next morning that we would need to come back if we were going to do this city any justice.

You simply cannot do Rome in a day...


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