Traffic, of course, was insane. Horns were blaring, Vespa and Piaggio scooters were everywhere, sirens were going off in frequent intervals, and it seemed pedestrians were used to taking their lives in their hands while crossing the street. Once I had covered the entire sightseeing tour of Rome, I started walking and admired the church Santa Maria dei Angeli, a basilica with phenomenal mosaic floors and wall frescoes whose construction was started in 1562. Then I walked all the way past Via Veneto to the gardens of the Villa Borghese. Many upscale hotels and restaurants line the streets in this district.
Santa Maria dei Angeli – one of Rome’s many gorgeous churches
I then inquired with a bus driver how to get a full day ticket and he explained that for 4 Euros you can purchase a day ticket for the whole public transit system with unlimited rides. Rome has a subway system with only two major lines that cross at the Roma Termini train station. They are working on a third railway line, but every time the construction crews dig, they actually hit some ancient ruins, which adds even more delays to the construction schedule.
One of Rome’s many palatial homes
One of the destinations I wanted to explore was Ostia: the ancient port of Rome. I took a subway, a commuter train and a bus to the beach of Ostia where locals were basking in the sand, enjoying the warm weather in Rome. Ostia Antica, a large archeological site, is close by and it was Rome’s seaport at the mouth of the Tiber River. Today, Ostia Antica is about 3 kilometres from the sea as a result of silting and a drop in sea level.
The beachfront in Ostia
It was now early evening and I had to get back into the city. On the commuter train back I talked to a nice couple from a Swedish town near the Arctic Circle who were enjoying a long weekend in Rome. Europe with its cheap charter flight connections is always great for travel. It’s just so easy for people to hop on a plane and spend a weekend in another country. I wish it was that easy from Canada….
Finally back in the centre of the city I exited at the Colosseum (sometimes also referred to as the Coliseum), the ancient elliptical amphitheatre that was built in the first century AD. This ancient arena was capable of seating 50,000 spectators and was the location of the famous gladiator fights, mock sea battles, battle reenactments and even executions. Despite the fact that the Colosseum has suffered some earthquake damage over the centuries and much of its stone-cladding was stolen, it is still one of the most impressive sights on the planet.
The Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine is located on the west side of the Colosseum and was completed in 315 AD to celebrate Emperor Constantine’s victory over his co-emperor Maxentius. Further west is the Roman Forum, the center of ancient Rome’s political, commercial and judicial life. With this high concentration of ancient monuments, Rome’s history and significance becomes tangible for any visitor, particularly in this area.
The Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Duly overwhelmed by Rome’s antique treasures, yet extremely hungry I started walking up the Esquiline Hill back towards my hotel. On the way there I stopped in a small restaurant on the Via Cavour for a quick pasta dinner. Not all Rome restaurants are expensive: I ended up spending less than seven Euros for very tasty Penne Arrabiata and a drink. At the top of the hill I had another look at the impressive papal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The church was closed by then, but the exterior of this structure is monumental. The colonnaded nave of this church dates back to the 5th century as well as the biblical scenes in the nave and the outstanding mosaics on the triumphal arch.
Flowers on the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II
To cap off an exciting day I settled in for an ice cream on the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele II before I headed back to the hotel to rest up for another action packed day of sightseeing in Rome.