Monday, 29 July 2013

Ostia Antica - the harbour city of ancient Rome

If during a visit to Rome you wish to escape the city bustle for a day, a magnificently preserved old city awaits not far away. It is located just next to the today's seaside destination town of Ostia. It is located 30 kilometres south-west from Rome.



It is interesting that a port town is not located by the sea. Ostia once definitely was a seaport, but due to silting and a changed course of the river Tiber it now lies 3 kilometres away from the sea.


Ostia got its name from its position at the mouth (ostium) of the river Tiber. This was perfect for various trading activities but not so much from the defensive point of view.



The city was founded in 7th century BC but the oldest preserved buildings currently visible are from the 3rd century BC. The downfall of once thriving harbour city started with recurring pirate sackings. After a naval battle between Christian and Saracens in 9th century AD the remaining inhabitants finally had enough of it and moved to a nearby city of Gregoriopolis.



The place is massive - it stretches for well over a kilometre in length! One should definitely keep that in mind while setting the viewing pace. It took us a whole afternoon to more-or-less walk through it. Whenever we ventured into one of many side streets there was an interesting surprise waiting for us just around the corner.


Among the highlights of this site are many ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics - all of them nicely preserved. The sheer size of the place was a definite highlight for me. Apart from that the state of buildings and mosaics is truly amazing.



Apart from beautiful mosaics there are also many buildings one should definitely not miss. These are my personal favourites in no particular order:

  • The Amphitheatre of Ostia Antica definitely deserves your attention. It is a perfect spot for a midday snack (on a cloudy day).
  • Just next to the theatre there is also an ancient market full of beautiful mosaics with representations of various vendors through their goods and trades.
  • I loved perfectly preserved public latrines, organized for collective use as a series of marble seats that also served as an important social moment apart from their obvious use. They were connected to a practical sewage system, spread all over the city.
  • Multiple public baths with beautiful mosaics and remains of ingenious central heating systems are something not to be missed.
  • I also really liked a nicely preserved bar on Via Casa di Diana (yes, there are streets in Ostia Antica). The inn called the Insula of the Thermopolium gives you a perfect idea of such a place back in those days. Shelves for food and drinks for sale can still be seen. It is not all that much different from modern bars.


How to get there? You can easily reach Ostia Antica from Rome by train. Take the city Metro (Line B) to the Piramide station. When you get to the station use the stairs/escalators at the north end of the tracks. Once you reach the top, head left until you reach a different set of tracks of the ROMA-LIDO (beach) train. Your metro pass can be used on this train and it will take you directly to the Ostia Antica station. The trains leave about every 15 minutes during peak season. You can buy your return ticket either at the beginning of your trip or use a ticket machine on Ostia train station before your trip back.


Really cheap and easy! Well worth the effort - especially since you can combine a visit to Ostia Antica with some beach time on the nearby Ostia Lido.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Roman stone ornaments





Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.

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Monday, 22 July 2013

Top coffee places in Rome

If after a meal at one of the places I suggested in my recent post about where to eat on a budget in Rome you feel like you need a cup of strong coffee, you should keep reading.



Neither M. nor I are true coffee lovers. That does not mean we can not appreciate a good cup of coffee and every time we visit Italy, we treat ourselves with a cup or two. Rome was no different.
We have had a couple of not-so-great coffee experiences during our trip, but mostly it was great stuff and not at all expensive. That is if you take it as locals usually do - at the bar.



Among the places we have been to, these two impressed us the most:

  • Antico Caffè Greco on Via Condotti 86 (just a stone-throw from Spanish steps) is a centuries old classy institution. They serve (in my humble opinion) the best coffee in Rome. You can get an excellent espresso for 0,80 Euro - if you drink it at the bar. On the other hand, if you choose to order a cappuccino at one of those classy looking tables you can however expect to pay 8 Euro. You will be served by a classy waiter in white gloves but nevertheless the price seems a bit high by my standards.
  • Tazza d'Oro on Via degli Orfani 84 is also a famous coffee place located near another popular sight - the Pantheon. They serve many varieties of coffee which they roast and mix themselves. It is a perfect place not only for drinking a cup of coffee, but also for buying a pack of it for your coffee-drinking friends back home. The best thing is you can try it out before you buy it. An excellent value for the money.



Regardless if you are or are not a coffee person I strongly recommend you to stop for a cup at both places mentioned above. After all you will probably find yourself near the Spanish steps as well as the Pantheon at some points of your stay in the Eternal city.

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Friday, 19 July 2013

Best desserts Rome has to offer

It may be impossible to pick just one out of a number places in Rome claiming to offer the best ice-cream, chocolate cake, tiramisu and tartufo. If ice-cream is your thing you should probably check out which are the best ice-cream places in Rome in our opinion. Italians really do know a thing or two about the art of making good ice-cream.



This may come as a surprise to some of you, but apart from ice-cream there are also some other, at least just as delicious desserts to be found in Rome. Among the things we got to taste there are at least two places that stand out:

  • Pompi on Via Albalonga 7 is where you want to be when you feel the need for a dessert. Here you can get (supposedly) the best tiramisu in Rome for 3,50 Euro - if you take it with you. You can obviously expect to pay more if you choose to eat it sitting down. They serve generous portions of tiramisu deliciousness in various flavours. In addition to Tiramisu classico al caffé you should also try the Tiramisu al pistacchio variety.
  • Tre Scalini on Piazza Navona 28 is a somewhat pricey restaurant with an impressive confectionery section. That is where they make their famous Tartufo. It will cost cost you a hefty 5 Euro and you can double that if you order it sitting down. No point in doing that since you can enjoy a great atmosphere anywhere on Piazza Navona, just a few steps away. Despite the price it is worth a try.



Either of those things might not seem all that cheep for a dessert but you should keep in mind both come in pretty large portions that might easily satisfy two persons each.


You are very welcome to share your own experience of sweet Rome in the comments section.

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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Rome with a Tilt-shift twist





Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal them all in a much more flattering resolution.

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Monday, 15 July 2013

Top budget food choices in Rome

Those of you who also follow me over Instagram (@travel_pb) have probably already seen a photo with this catchy slogan: Italy is Eataly. It is a slogan of an Italian gourmet food and wine marketplace chain Eataly.


I spotted one of their billboards while in Rome and found it really cute. I know nothing about the food chain and have never been inside one of their places, but their slogan addresses a very important part of Italian culture - food.



In my opinion Italy is as much about good food and wine, as it is about history and art. Combine it all together and you get a perfect mix and a strong tourist magnet. Every time I visit Italy I try to get a taste of every one of those things.


Rome was no different. Apart from good wine and excellent Roman artisan ice-cream I already wrote about, we also had to eat once in a while during our week-long trip. You are welcome to check out our Roman wine tasting experience as well as the tour of Frascati vineyards we really enjoyed.



I am glad to report we had no bad food experiences during our stay in the Eternal city whatsoever. The worst two things we got were an overpriced cup of mediocre coffee and a glass of undrinkable house-wine. That is it - everything else exceeded our expectations or was at least as good as we had expected. A much better outcome than were hoping for.
We were obviously not depending only on our luck and instincts - I also checked for some on-line recommendations. Smartphone support (with Tripadvisor app and web access) can also be a very welcome help in some situations.


We tried to eat as many local dishes as possible and stay on a budget while doing it. I was pretty sceptical about this before the trip but as I learned, it is actually quite possible to eat good food for a reasonable price in Rome.
However, a glass of good wine (by my not so low, European standards) was quite a bit more expensive than back home in Slovenia.



These are the places I can gladly recommend. Please keep in mind these are mostly budget options and the ambient might not always be the best, but it definitely is authentic. Above all, they serve delicious local food.

  • Pastificio on Via della Croce 8 (located a couple hundred metres from Spanish steps) is actually an artisan pasta shop, offering pasta meals every day from 13:00 to 14:00 for 4 Euro. A glass of quite drinkable wine is included. Each day they have a tasting of two different pasta/sauce variations. They serve it until they run out - so make sure you are there on time. Food is served on plastic plates with disposable cutlery but it is delicious.
  • La tavernetta 48 on Via degli Spagnoli 48 is actually a very good and moderately priced restaurant. It does however offer budget (usually typical local) two course fixed meals for 13 Euro every day at lunch time only.
  • Formula 1 is a pizzeria located on Via degli equi 13. It may not look like much and it is also not set in one of the attractive parts of the city, but they serve good food at budget prices. You can get a tasty pizza for as low as 4 Euro. You should also try some of their many fried local specialities. Unlike most other pizza places they are also open during lunch time.
  • Navona Notte on Via del Teatro Pace 44 (a short stroll from piazza Navona) is another moderately priced pizzeria with a wood-burning oven. You can expect to pay one or two Euro more compared to the one mentioned above but it is located in a very touristy area. In addition to a wide range of pizzas, here you can also choose among many other typical dishes.
  • Checchino dal 1887 on Via di Monte Testaccio 30 is NOT a budget option, but if you decide to spend a bit more on a special occasion this is my recommendation. They are as authentic as they get and (supposedly) never disappoint. This is a true Roman institution and they serve all the typical local dishes like Caponata, Saltimbocca, Spaghetti alla Carbonara and many more. Since it is quite popular it is wise to make a reservation.



If you just came back from Rome and would like to relive some of those great tastes of Cuccina Romana, I have a treat for you. Here are two recipes by no other than Elio Mariani - the chef and co-owner of Checchino dal 1887 restaurant himself. Let him share his secrets while you watch him prepare Saltimbocca alla Romana and Spaghetti alla Carbonara - two typical Roman dishes. Bon Appétit!

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Friday, 12 July 2013

Best time for visiting Rome

As it is evident from my recent posts we have been on a week-long trip in Rome. Me and M. both wanted to visit The Eternal City since we drove past it some 10 years ago on our road trip to Sicily. This year we finally made it back to Lazio region in central Italy.



There were a couple of times when Rome popped up on our travel destinations shortlist before, but usually we dismissed it for one reason or another. I think everyone should take into consideration the following things before scheduling a trip to this great city:

  • Ferragosto. When Italians go on their main summer vacation (roughly from mid-July to mid-August) it is quite a challenge to travel around Italy. If you choose any of the popular (usually seaside) destinations within or near Italy, in addition to all other tourists, you will also have to deal with a loud crowd of Italians.
    Since Rome is not a seaside destination you might have to face a different kind of challenge. Many places simply shut down and others often change their working hours.
  • Reserve enough time to see the real Rome. Make sure you have enough time to REALLY see the city. Racing from one attraction to the other just to cross them from your list is not the way to do it. Take time to relax and try to take a look at the city from the local perspective.
  • Plan your trip at least a few months in advance. Waiting for a great last minute deal will probably not end well. Flight tickets as well as accommodation costs all tend to go up as the date approaches. This might not be all that evident in low season, but in the most popular times of year it might prove to be essential.
  • Do your research. Rome might be there for a long time and many things have stayed the same for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, some things are definitely worth looking into.
    For instance, if you are planning only a short stay in the city it would be a shame to spend half of your time standing at entrances of the most popular attractions. You should definitely book some tickets ahead of time over the internet.


In my opinion the best times for visiting Rome are in spring (late March through mid-May) and fall (September through early November). You should expect at least a few rainy days both in spring and autumn. Due to longer days I prefer spring.


This time I had enough time to do some research before the trip and I must say it was really worth it in the end. We just got so much out of it for less money and we also got to enjoy some things we would have never found out about by ourselves.



Usually it all begins with a search for a flight ticket but since I live in a neighbouring country (Slovenia), this time I also considered driving there myself and using a train. After some research, this time we chose to use the train - it proved to be the cheapest of the three options. I suggest you keep this often overlooked mean of transport in mind when planing your trip. In some parts of the World you can travel over large distances even faster using one of those super-fast trains, compared to air-planes (mostly due to airport security and regulations).


Also making a detour is very easy when using a train. Depending on which part of Italy you might be crossing, there are many great cities more than worth a detour. Turin, Milan, Florence and Venice are just some that well deserve the attention. You can easily find a high-class accommodation in Milan that will make you love the city even more.



Since we were passing through Florence on our way we were thinking about a short stop but decided against it after some consideration. We figured it might be wiser to spend all of our time in the Italian capital this time. We did not regret our decision.


We stayed in Rome for a week, taking it in from early mornings to late afternoons but still felt like there was so much of it left undiscovered. It might not happen soon but we would not mind returning one day and spending some more time in this lovely city.

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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Pope Leo XIII Coat of Arms

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Monday, 8 July 2013

Missing penises of Vatican

The Vatican Museums (or Musei Vaticani in Italian) house an enormous collection of art pieces. The collection was built over the centuries by the Roman Catholic Church and includes some of the most renowned and most important pieces of art in the world. In total there are more than 100 000 pieces! Since Vatican has been mostly safe from threats, most of those magnificent pieces of art are nicely preserved.


As I have already mentioned in my previous post where I wrote about Vatican attractions in general, it is strongly advised to book Vatican Museums tickets on-line ahead of time. If you however fail to do so, there is a last minute alternative... Try to schedule your visit at the time when Pope's audience takes place (usually every Wednesday), but there are just too many other factors to rely on this as a fact.



If you are after free admission, that is also possible. On the last Sunday of every month there is no entrance fee, but they stay open only until 2:00PM and you can expect a large crowd. They are closed on other Sundays. The Museums usually get the most crowded on Saturdays, Mondays, rainy days, days before or after a holiday and obviously on the last Sunday of the month.
So, if you can, you should try to schedule your visit on one of the remaining days. There is also a dress code to keep in mind: no short shorts or bare shoulders are allowed.


This is obviously a very popular attraction. Over 4 million visitors every year is a definite proof of that. When you walk by the usually hundreds of metres long queue at the entrance, you will quickly begin to appreciate the benefits of a ticket purchased on-line.



I think this place definitely deserves all the attention it is getting. I had a feeling I would have to spend months inside to begin to appreciate those vast collections of beautifully preserved pieces.
This obviously does not apply to everyone - there were quite a few groups of people just flying through those rooms, not paying any real attention to anything on their way, probably visiting Vatican just to thick another item on their list... Try not to be one of them and rather enjoy your experience instead - even though this means skipping some items on that long list of yours.


Everything from floors to ceilings deserves visitor's attentions. Even wooden window shutters look like pieces of art on display here!



Another thing I could not help noticing were all the missing/covered penises on those countless statues. After a brief investigation I found out they were chopped off and covered by fig leaves by the order of Pope Pius IX. Some of his successors also continued with this tradition. Supposedly there is no statue with a visible penis in Vatican today.
This made me wonder... Where did all those penises go? Do they keep them in a secret compartment somewhere behind the thick Vatican walls or were they destroyed? Is nude art still an issue today?
After some additional investigation I learned all those private parts have actually been kept in wooden boxes somewhere in museum's storage rooms. There is actually an ongoing debate about restoring various pieces of art to their original state. Nothing is certain but at the moment it seems like penises in Italy might be making a comeback sometime in the (relatively) near future.



Many people visit Vatican museums just to see the famous paintings by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. To reach it, one has to walk through a substantial number of other exhibitions first. I believe this is a good thing - it definitely bumps one's appreciation of the place up a notch or two.
The chapel definitely left a strong impression on me, but I think some other sections are just as spectacular.
Also after a while spent there, the crowd was starting to get on my nerves. Some people were really loud and almost everybody was trying to snap a (forbidden) photo. Apart from some screaming kids (who I could hardly blame) those guards were definitely the loudest. After a quarter of an hour those repetitive "Shhhhhh... No foto, no video! Silenzio! ..." sounded like a really annoying chant and it was time to move on.
Oh, and if you are wondering... No, I did not take a photo of the Sistine Chapel.


If you have an eye for detail and enjoy classical art, I suggest you schedule your arrival early and plan to stay the whole day. I felt like I could easily keep coming back for many days, if not weeks or months and still not really see it all.

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Friday, 5 July 2013

Vatican highlights

When in Rome, a visit to the City of Vatican is a must. Apart from many perfectly preserved antiques tucked inside Vatican Museums and world famous St. Peter's Basilica, the world's smallest independent state is also the place of residence of the world's most popular pop icon - the Pope himself.



It does not really matter which one of those attractions is your thing, you should make at least a short stop in Vatican when in or near Rome.


No matter in which part of the city one might be, the iconic St. Peter's Basilica almost always dominates the skyline of the eternal city. If during your visit there is time for only one thing, this should probably be it. Despite the obvious fact that it is really huge, an enormous amount of effort was also invested in details.



After entering the basilica it actually did not appear all that huge. Only after I started walking towards the main altar I got the right feeling of the place. It is built with the opposite philosophy in mind compared to the majority of other similar structures - it is built in a way to appear smaller than it actually is. This became really evident to me when I climbed to the balcony built around the inside of the cupola. Only from there I could see the true size of those letters of the inscription at the base of the cupola (visible on the third photo) - they are 2 meters (6.6 ft) high. That is also the approximate size of the four cherubs positioned at the first piers of the nave, carrying two Holy Water basins.


Another thing that might help you grasp the true size of this structure is on the floor of the nave. Starting from the entrance, there are several markers showing lengths of other churches in comparison to St. Peter's.



If one of your reasons for visiting the basilica is of photographic nature, you might like to know that at certain times each day crepuscular rays are regularly seen coming through windows. They make an already great photo setting even better. Unfortunately at the time of my visit, there were none to be seen.


Another thing worth doing while at the basilica is climbing to the top of its dome. Views in all directions are truly spectacular. If you want to save a few Euro you should skip the elevator. Even if you don't mind spending a few extra coins on a commodity like that, you should keep in mind that it will not take you to the top. The hard part of stair-climbing is at the very end - those stairs that can be skipped by using the lift seemed like a nice warm-up to me.



On days when the Pope makes his public appearance (usually every Wednesday he holds a papal audience in St. Peter's Square) you can expect a large crowd of people (literally thousands from all over the world) and increased security there. It is also worth noting that on those days you will probably not have to face usually very long queues when entering Vatican museums. In any case I strongly advice you to book your Vatican museums tickets on-line in advance. For attending a Papal audience you will also need a (free) ticket. Try to be there at least a few hours early.
If seeing the Pope is one of your main reasons for visiting Rome, you should also keep in mind that during the summer (mid June or so through late August) the Pope will not be in the Vatican - at that time he he usually spends some time at his summer residence (Castel Gandolfo).



Swiss guards are also one of Vatican's attractions. If you want to witness the change of guards you can observe it below the Arco delle Campane (if looking at the front of the church, it is the low arch on the left side of St. Peter's basilica) and at most other entrances to restricted areas at every hour on the hour.
You should however not expect the "fanfare" or a particular formal ceremony such as for instance at the Buckingham Palace in London. Nevertheless, they do look quite nice in their colourful uniforms.



The Vatican museums are just huge to say the least. Therefore I decided to dedicate a separate post to the subject. It will be the topic of my next post, so stay tuned for some first-hand useful advice.

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Thursday, 4 July 2013

One for the Boys: A Football Mad Manchester Itinerary

Anyone footie mad will know how important Manchester is to the beautiful game. Home to not one, but two, Premiership teams, including the infamous Red Devils, Manchester United, it’s no wonder that footie fans head for this northern Mecca on regular occasions.


Even if you miss the opportunity to catch a game at one of its stadiums – Old Trafford or Etihad – there are plenty of other football-related attractions to get your teeth stuck into. Whether you’re travelling to the city solely for football purposes or you’d like to incorporate something into your weekend break to keep your other half happy, click here to check Manchester Travelodge hotels to ensure your stay is affordable and comfortable.


If you have the entire weekend to dedicate to the game – particularly if it is stag-do related – take a look at this ideal itinerary that will make sure you don’t miss anything.



Friday

Arrive in the city in the morning (or even better, the night before) and head straight for the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ – Old Trafford. Enjoy a tour of the world-class stadium, including the pitch, stands and player’s tunnel before heading to the Old Trafford Museum where you will be able to appreciate the club’s remarkable history.


Next up is the new National Football Museum. Just a couple of minutes away from the central Victoria Station, it’s right in the heart of the city and is full to the brim with fun and interesting facts and exhibitions. Some of the prized installations include Maradona’s shirt from the ’86 World Cup and plenty of famous trophies to feast your eyes on.


After a footie-mad day, the evening frivolities are up to you. Whether you choose a quiet pub to enjoy some top nosh or you choose to head for the bright lights of Manchester city centre for some quality clubbing opportunities is completely up to you.



Saturday

After nursing your hangover and filling your stomach with a slap-up English breakfast, it’s time to head for the stadium to catch a home game. Whether your team of choice is Man United or you have an affinity for Manchester City, the football season is packed with quality home games that you could be a part of. Old Trafford can seat up to 75,000 fans at any one time – be one of them by organising a trip with the lads to enjoy the game.


Depending on the kick-off time, you may have chance to head for the Trafford Centre for a bit of shopping before the match (or after, even). It’s not just the WAGs that enjoy retail therapy – lads can do it too and with a whole host of top brands and designer names, you can be sporting new threads in no time.


Spend the evening on the tiles before crashing at your chosen accommodation for the night. It’s undoubtedly time to head home the following day, so make the most of your evening.


Book your trip and enjoy a weekend away with the lads this summer. Whether you’re lucky enough to see a match or not, the love of the beautiful game in Manchester is crystal clear.

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Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Overlooking the Roman Forum

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Monday, 1 July 2013

Interview for the Globetrotter newspaper

There is a first time for everything. Today you can congratulate me for my first interview!


I have taken part in a few interviews before, but never was on this side of a microphone before. This was also the first time for Travel Photo Blogging to appear as the main topic of an interview.



The interview was done for an internet magazine called Globetrotter. It is a monthly newspaper published by the Slovenian branch of Hosteling International. It is being published in both Slovene and English.


I have been in touch with some of organisation's staff members before but this was my first opportunity to meet Anja (a volunteer working for Hostelling International Slovenia) in person. I must say we had a really relaxed discussion about our common love of travel. Since she has also done her share of travel, at some point I had an impression I should be interviewing her. The exchange of useful travel tips was definitely going both ways. It was really fun and I think we both enjoyed sipping a drink in a relaxed atmosphere of one of many cosy bars Ljubljana has to offer. The two photos were taken during a short stroll through the Ljubljana city centre.


The main topic of the interview was obviously travelling. Apart from that I also shared a few blogging tips for everyone thinking about starting their own blog.



Not only Anja but everyone at Hostelling International Slovenia I have been in contact with so far is really nice and they know just what a traveller needs. They really put a lot of effort in finding relevant information for their guests, invest in hospitality and always try to connect with the local environment. They are a part of a global organization you should always consider when looking for accommodation.


If you are wondering what the interview was all about you can check it out directly on the Hostelling International web page.

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