A Long Day In Rome

I have been a Big Time Fan of Italy for as long as I can remember. My childhood memories are primarily of Venice, hunting down winged lions and consuming enormous amounts of mela verde gelato, but Rome has grown to occupy an equally special place in my heart. The first time I set foot in la cita eterna (Rome? The eternal city? Has no one read the info packets etc. I have used this Ungermeyer quote so many times it's involuntary at this point) was a day or two after my fifteenth birthday as part of a classics trip organised by my school. We spent two frosty weeks exploring the city before spending the rest of January weaving our way down the entire southern half of the country to Sicily. My memories of the Roman portion of that trip were frigid and overcast but I loved it, and I've been back probably a dozen times since. Whenever I spend too long away from Italy my soul begins to shrivel, so seeing what's happening there - as well as everywhere else right now - has made me feel even more determined to highlight all the amazing facets of a place that holds so many significant memories for me. I questioned posting this at first, but I'm really enjoying seeing normal content in the midst of the absolute shitstorm of information I'm taking in every day, so hopefully you'll enjoy having a little look at a few days I spent in Rome, and feel inspired to head over yourself once things are back up & running and they're in need of some economy-boosting tourism.

My favourite places to stay in Rome are always central. No particular area - though wherever you end up will have its own vibe completely different to somewhere even a few streets away - but always somewhere well placed enough that I can walk anywhere I like. The metro is great if you want to head out of the city centre or get somewhere fast, but not super necessary for basic Point A to Point B. In Milan public transport is a huge time saver and in Venice it's boats, so I do give those a good whirl, but in Rome if you cut out the walking you miss half the experience. And this is coming from someone who is not typically a fan of walking full stop.

I spent just under a month based around the corner from the Pantheon a few summers ago (much like the main character in my novel even though she's NOT me, look out for that where all good books are sold once I have finished, edited and sold it to a publisher) and found that an amazing place to explore from, so I'd recommend that general area v highly, but the time I am about to share with you I went for a hotel about half way between Piazza di Spagna and the Trevi Fountain. One drawback was that it was at the top of a hill, which is not the most premium of situations in the middle of an Italian heatwave, but that inconvenience was completely negated by the fact that amazing views were only a short walk away, as was of one of my favourite places in the city - The Borghese Gardens.

If ever you should find yourself in Piazza Di Spagna, take your tourist pic, hop up, walk all the way up those famous steps, turn left and keep going. Along the way you'll find some of the best sneaky peeks of the city from above, and eventually you'll reach a pretty nondescript ramp leading up to the gardens. This park is made up of the estate surrounding Villa Borghese, and while you'll need to book in advance to visit the museum itself, the gardens are open to the public year round. You can sit on a bench and read a book (or make out with confronting enthusiasm as the local youth seem to prefer), hire a golf cart or a segway, or just go for a stroll and admire the many sights and sounds. I went for a mixture of the book and the wander, ft. a necessary photo stop at Terazza Del Pincio. Whenever I visit Rome with friends this is one of the first places we hit up, because the view gives you such a good idea of how the city is laid out, and the gardens themselves are a fab place to spend an afternoon with some gelato, invariably listening to some man in an ostentatious hat enthusiastically recreate the Hits of 2008 on an accordion.

Considering it does require a bit of uphill action, people tend to omit the gardens from their itinerary unless they're already planning to visit the Villa, but that's #theirloss because the further into the estate you get, the more fountains there are, and I think we can all agree that fountains are the true currency of a Roman holiday. Trevi? Fountain. Piazza Di Spagna? Fountain. In front of the Pantheon? Fountain. Piazza Navona? Multiple fountains. Tiber River? Glorified fountain. If you visit Rome and see any fewer than seventeen fountains, you've not done it right. In addition to the fountains (and an actual lake, which I am yet to photograph - always nice to leave future thrills to anticipate), the view is also phenom at sunset, and if nothing else you can feel cultured by walking past about nine thousand stone busts of historically significant Italians. On this occasion, however, the day was young and I had other sights to see. After my fair share of reading and a solid twenty minutes of being chatted up by a man from Florence named Valentino, I bid adieu to the Stone Bust Army and skipped down the many steps to Piazza Del Popolo.

There's not a huge amount to see in Piazza Del Popolo, I won't lie to you. It mainly exists within my personal sphere of reference as somewhere that looks good from above and reminds me of a guy I used to be in love with. There are some nice domes to admire along with the obligatory fountains, and I did take the photo you will see below of a weathered teal door whilst waiting for traffic to pass, but despite these considerable draws I had a specific mission in mind requiring a different locale. This seems a fitting time to reiterate the fact it was consistently 42+ degrees during this trip, but as I mentioned before Rome is a Walking City, so I wore no makeup for the entire week, drowned myself in sunscreen and was a sweaty mess from dawn to dusk. It was a fab time. Innywho, my end destination on this particular day was a decent walk away, so I navigated the vespas, found an alleyway that seemed like it was heading in the right direction and trotted on.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the colour palette of the City of Rome? We're talking deep greens. We're talking soft blood orange. All the shades of blue a person could possible want, many of which present in crystal clear liquid form. We're talking cool greys, inoffensive corals, yellows that somehow don't make me angry. Even the river manages to be a vaguely acceptable shade of muddied green most of the time, which can not always be said. I am looking at YOU, Thames and Yarra. Walking along the Tiber is an absolute joy (unlike walking along the river in Florence which is just the worst colour combo of browns and yellows of my entire life, no offence but it's true), and happily my destination was situated upon its majestic banks, so stroll along those banks I did.

Whenever you next find yourself in Rome, I highly recommend setting aside an afternoon just to walk along the river from Ponte Regina Margherita all the way down to Trastevere. Not to chuck an enormous spoiler in here but I do indeed have some Trastevere photos coming in a later post that absolutely slap, so keep an eye out for those. The path along the Tiber is almost entirely shaded by trees and is surprisingly empty most of the time compared to other routes, so along with ripper views the entire way you also get to see a huge portion of the city without the overwhelming heat and crowds. As you wind your way south the architecture changes with the neighbourhoods, and no matter how many times I do this walk I always notice something I haven't before. This time it was a little Neo-Gothic stone church, which I've since found out is called Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio and added to my list of places to properly visit in the future. The intricacy of the design seemed like such a bizarre contrast with the fact the actual building was dwarfed by everything around it, and reminded me much more of buildings I've seen in northern Italy than anything else around Rome. After some googling I've discovered I am not alone in that - it's apparently referred to as a mini version of the Duomo in Milan, although this one took a lot less than six centuries to construct. You see? Things I never would have learnt if I'd taken public transport.

Remember that walk I recommended you take? Well boy do I have the perfect mid-point stop for you! On (what is at that point) the north bank of the river, between Ponte Umberto and Ponte Sant'Angelo, is one of my favourite spots in the entire city. Biblio Bar is a freestanding cafe with good coffee, free wifi and an unobscured view of Castel Sant'Angelo. The prices are decent, and in true Italian fashion no one seems to notice or care if you stick around long after your coffee is gone. I've been known to set myself up there for the majority of a day and just work away, topping up on caffeine as I go, completely uninterrupted. On one side of the cafe is a little seating area backing onto a courtyardy kinda deal, and the other is a leafy, shaded path, lined with stalls selling books and paintings and souvenirs. The whole things is very picturesque and wholesome. I assume you can probably also grab one of the many books they have displayed to read while you're there (the clue is in the name), and I think they sometimes hold events in the evenings, though I've never personally participated in either. It's definitely a daytime place for me, when I want to get something done or just have a break but still feel like I'm taking advantage of the city. Can't feel uncultured in the shadow of a towering ancient mausoleum. Not possible.

Over the years I have spent many afternoons at Biblio Bar, both alone and with a handful of my favourite people, and it has gradually but firmly woven its way through several different chapters of my personal history in a way few other locations have managed to. 'Twas here in mid-2014 that I flew into a rage upon discovering details about my first big breakup had been misconstrued to mutual friends. 'Twas here that I started my 'Right This Second' blog series on an iPad whilst exchanging a series of text messages with Will, back in the days when he was just a guy in some of my uni classes who liked me but was emotionally stunted and scared I wanted him to be my boyfriend. Oh how the tables have turned. I stopped here in 2016 when I flew in for a 26 hour whirlwind trip to see my friend AD, and I sat at one of these tables for a bev and some bantz on a warm, breezy day that in retrospect ended up marking one of the most significant turning points in my life. Fab times at ye olde Bibio Bar. Plus it's just a nice, breezy place to sit with some coffee and an iced tea and take a break, and although it's in a central location it's never crowded. On this particular occasion I did some journaling, list making and goal setting, and then adhered to the theme of the venue and read more of my book while I pondered where to head next.

By this point it was late afternoon, I had sweat half my life away and I was ready for a shower and some aircon, so I decided to walk back to the hotel but via a slightly longer route. I crossed over the bridge in front of Castel Sant'Angelo (SO many ripper pix from inside there to come in the next post) and wove around Ponte, Parione and Colonna, through a completely inefficient but deeply enjoyable series of side streets. Walking aimlessly is one of the best ways to spend time in Rome, so if I don't have an itinerary to stick to (see: company) I tend to get a bearing of which vague direction I'm heading and then just let the chips fall where they may. Until I get too overheated, then I pull up CityMapper and stomp, stomp, stomp exactly where that little line tells me to. Happily my afternoon of kickin' back at Biblio Bar had restored a good amount of my heat tolerance and overall energy, so my nostalgic city-specific playlist and I covered a lot more ground than I would otherwise have expected.

 I am obsessed with the Doors of Rome. One look at my instagram feed tells you that I also have a thematic fixation re: visually pleasing doors (houses, storefronts, facades, sometimes even windows if I'm feeling wild) in general, but I'm reasonably certain that the Roman porte ('doors' in Italian, bitta culture for free) kicked it all off, and WHO could BLAME me. Scroll down. Look at that. The carving. The greenery. The contrast of the charcoal against the goldenrod of the larger wall. The extent to which my younger self would have wanted to absolutely die rather than discuss the aesthetic properties of doors. But she did not have a poppin' instagram, so her opinion matters not. Phenomenal door. Even the little tile with the house number on it looks dope.

I think my fatigue set in around Piazza Navona. It tends to have that effect on people. Ha ha jk but not really. One summer we stayed in one of the buildings in the actual piazza and that was sick because earlier in the morning when it's quiet you can ~*appreciate*~ the architecture and (say it with me) the fountains (well done) and the sheer size of the place, but during the day it is just very full and a bit pointless. There are restaurants, but they also have those elsewhere. There are pretty fountains, but I think we've covered that pretty thoroughly by now. It's v enclosed and v busy and just feels like it exists as its own entity separate from the rest of the city but not in a nice way like spots along the river. More of a comparable vibe to that bit in the Percy Jackson movie where they're in weird demigod Vegas and keep eating those magic flowers and they think it's been 5 minutes but really they're trapped there forever. That is the vibe I get from Piazza Navona when it's busy. And so it does make sense that I would start to feel a lil keen 2 sleep at this particular point. No offense 2 P. Navona fans, it just requires a certain mood to really zing.

If you think this blog post is long, imagine how the actual day felt. In, may I add once more, 44 degree heat. Sitting on that hotel bed, showered and stationary with the aircon sending sweet waves of frigidity my way, I settled in for an evening of Neflix and not moving at all. I think I had acquired a pizza at some point, I think it was good. Anyway, I was planning to stay absolutely still until I realised I was 500 metres from the top of the Spanish Steps and the sun was going down, so I did what any absolute hero would do and struggled wearily to my feet, found some shoes and bravely left the comfort of my hotel to go look at a sunset from one of the most picturesque locations in the world. I know. We don't all wear capes. As you can see below, my efforts were not in vain. I wasn't even bothered by the crowds because a) you sign up for that when you go to Italy in July and b) there was a great deal of merriment in the air bc I have perfected my BASTA face to the point where not a single obnoxious vendor even tried to sell me a light up ball or a weird little ferret on a string. A selfie stick guy correctly clocked I was his target demo, but was wise enough to heed my steely glare and reverse his approach. All in all, a fab little moment. Got some gelato, headed home.

That's right, the title of the post promises one day of adventure, but SURPRISE you are getting a bonus outing. Bang. For. Ur. Buck.

Seeking a culturally valid way to spend the following morning that would not require me to brave the heat for more than ten minutes at a time, I decided to hit up one of Roma's most underrated historical attractions - The Keats-Shelley Museum. The year I studied Keats in lit class coincided with the release of the movie 'Bright Star', and I think the novelty of being able to place his work within the larger context of his (sad, sad, sad) life led me to feel more of a sense of attachment to Keats than I may otherwise have developed. I certainly liked him more than Forster (dry retch), who we had studied the term before. The fact I was bored to death by Forster's writing and couldn't bring myself to read past chapter one of A Passage To India probably did not help his standing in my Lit Faves Hierarchy, but that is beside the point. 'The point' being that I have since harboured a soft spot for ol' Jonny Keats and his OG softboi legacy, so the prospect of visiting the rooms in which he so tragically expired of consumption aka tuberculosis aka the common cold of the 1800s (show me a single period drama where there isn't at least one character secretly coughing blood into a handkerchief) was one that appealed to me greatly. Throw in the fact that Keats-Shelley House was located directly down the hill from my hotel in Piazza Di Spagna, and would presumably be air conditioned for historical preservation purposes, and you've got a recipe for success.

Boy if you're gonna pick a place to die, you truly could not find somewhere more simultaneously stunning and cavernous. The views alone would be worth minimum double digit milliez nowadays, and are snapping in every direction. Up the steps. Down the steps. Over the piazza near the steps. For fans of steps (the physical objects not the late 90s pop quintet) you really could not wish for more. That being said, for a sunny day in mid-summer it sure was dark. Heavy floor to ceiling drapes, cabinets and shelves covering almost every wall in a deep wood to match the display cases; a small anteroom of memorabilia completely devoid of any natural light. Scandi-minimalist it is not, but then again I'd imagine crisp white furnishings and a severe case of tuberculosis will not be coming for PB&J's 'Classically Adored Pairings' crown any time soon. Not the most 2020 Instagrammable styling job (although dark is making a comeback - shout out to Farrow & Ball for singlehandedly convincing every blogger with a renovation to invariably paint their kitchen cabinetry in Railings or Hague Blue) but for a couple of fancy saddies writing heavy volumes in the 1820s I'd imagine the vibe was spot on. Apparently there is an absolutely banging terrace for Vitamin D acquisition included in the ticket price, but I was not aware of this at the time and honestly probs would have been too sweaty to full appreciate it anyway. C'est la vie. I'm sure Keats managed to shuffle out there at least once or twice. 

The Shelley bits were somewhat lost on me, but nonetheless appreciated. I know a bit about him but have never felt particularly motivated to seek out more. In any case the museum's website states that he "poured out the great body of his major work in less than a decade, and drowned off the coast of Tuscany at the age of 29," and while that's not a fate I would directly wish for myself, it's a vibe I can greatly respect. Speaking of death, the room in which Keats kicked the bucket (too soon? apologies to Fanny Brawne) has been preserved largely as it was then, and although it isn't what I'd describe as spacious it is a ripper of a chamber to expire within. I'll go out on a limb and say there have been adjustments made in the intervening centuries, because there is a painting of the site where he's buried on the wall and even for a 19th century poet that seems like an odd thing to anticipate and then hang by one's bed. I also don't think the daybed in there is the spot where he died. I don't have this on any authority, but I know I would have wondered this at the time, read any and all plaques nearby and for sure 1000% remember if I had encountered his actual literal death bed. This is not a memory one would allow to get lost in the sands of time. Where the larger room was dim and moody, the death room was upliftingly bright and pastel. Was there a death mask around the corner? Yes. Could they still charge extortionate rent for the place if the whole museum thing flopped? Oh ya. Really though there were death masks and life masks and all kinds of busts scattered around the place, plus a very fetching painting of one of the bois posing near a tree (see image way up there above Endymion) that I would love to personally recreate and hang in my own home. The view from his window was bonkers iconic (as you can see in the photo next to Endymion) and the fact it's just there in plain sight makes me wonder how many other famous death sites I have sidled past unknowingly. Next time you're walking up the steps, turn to your right and chuck up a shaka for the big guy. Least we can do. Wrote some baller odes and had great taste in real estate.

After the Keats Museum I went for a brief stroll and then retired to my hotel for a siesta, before awaking with an overwhelming desire for chicken nuggets. Yes, I was in Rome. Yes, one should probably eat pizza, pasta, pretty much anything other than chicken nuggets when in Rome. But as anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Italy will tell you, it is - unlike Australia or the UK where a variety of different cuisines are readily available - a very mono-culinary place. You can get amazing pizza, amazing pasta, amazing meats and cheeses and wines, but after a while you just want some chinese food or, in this case, some McNuggies. Luckily, I knew the nugs were located at the end of a culturally rich route, so I didn't feel too bad about it. Walking past enough monuments cancels out the shame one may otherwise feel about entering a McDonalds in Rome. Plus they sell beer there so in a way it's a cultural experience of its own. I didn't acquire any beer, but I did stop to check in on the Fountain of All Fountains, Signor(a?) Trevi. A wonder. A treasure. A lot more serene in photos than in reality, but we will all collectively employ the power of imagination to erase the hoards of tourists and incessant street vendors and allow ourselves to believe this beacon of tranquility exists, bubbling and clean, in a realm of its own.

Join me next time for straight up the nicest collection of photos I've ever posted to this platform and I do not say that lightly so BE THERE, in Rome: Part II.

Although it did take me approx 40 years to write all of this one and I am tired so there will probs be some other posts before then. Much love x0