This trip to Rome was more than 30 years overdue, as we planned to travel together in Europe and particularly in Italy, way back when we were still teenagers in Brazil.
We travelled to Rome at the end of September/2013 for 8 nights in the Italian capital.
We are 3 sisters (Gilda, Virginia and Angelita) and our best friend (Sinara), who is like the 4th sister. I first met Sinara at a pre-university course called ” cursinho pre-vestibular” (Brazilians know what I am talking about…), where we hit it off immediately and became best friends. I later introduced Sinara to Virginia and also to my youngest sister Angelita and so the 4th sister entered the family.
We have all travelled or lived with each other at some time or another, but have never travelled together as a foursome, so this trip was very special to us.
Meet the girls:
Virginia, she is a manager of the education department at a London Museum and has recently started a Masters in Museum Studies, therefore Rome was a dream come true for her. She led us to the appreciation of this great city as a living museum. She had never been to Rome before.
Sinara also works in education and she lives in Brazil. She had visited Rome during her Inter-railing trip, way back in the early 1990’s, which was the closest any of us got to the round Europe backpacking trip we had planned to do together, which never materialised as our lives took different paths. She was the only one to realise that dream and she did us proud.
Angelita, our baby sister, lived in London for 3 years with Virginia in the early 1990’s and visited me regularly in Dorset (as I was then married and had relocated with my husband to Dorset). Angelita went back to Brazil in 1993 to go to university there and became a Dietitian (we share a love for our profession) and she also teaches English. She lives in the South of Brazil with her 2 sons. She had never been to Rome before.
Me, the organiser of this trip. I have been to Rome with my kids and Brian in 2007. It became a joke in our family that it took me 20 years of living in Europe to finally visit Italy in 2007 ( the land of my grandparents and my reason to come to Europe in the first place).
How Did We Get There?
Virginia and I flew with British Airways from London Gatwick to Rome (Fiumicino).
Sinara and Angelita flew with TAP from Porto Alegre (Brazil), via Lisbon (Portugal) to Rome (Fiumicino).
We had a cab driver waiting for us at the airport in Rome (arranged via our rented apartment’s owner) to take us to our home for the week. Sinara and Angelita arrived in Rome before Virginia and me, since our flight from London was delayed. Our cab driver had a sign with my name and our address in Rome. Both Sinara and Angelita had a lot of fun trying to explain to the driver who they were and that there were 2 more crazy girls arriving soon. I think we drove him to despair with our giggles and non-stop talking. He took his revenge though by driving insanely quickly while looking and sending messages on his mobile phone….it was a scary taxi ride to our apartment.
Where Did we Stay?
We rented an apartment for 8 nights near the main train station Termini, it was very easy to get public transport from there and also easy to get into a train to Naples ( when we visited it later on in the week). We loved having the apartment, the only downside was that there was only one bathroom between four girls, so we had to be very organised and agree in advance who would go for a shower first in the morning.
What Did We Get Up To?
Sunday was our very first full day and we opted to take an open bus tour which helped us to get our bearings. Rome can be overwhelming, in a sense that there is just so much to do and see that, to begin with we each felt that we could not decide what to do first and since we were all as bad as each other with poor sense of direction and could not read a map, we felt like headless chickens!. So the tour was a good decision and gave us an overview and a feel for this great city, as well as a better sense of direction (I still don’t know how we managed to find our apartment at the end of each day….it is a mystery, but it turned out that we each could remember a particular detail or a landmark and so we somehow pieced it all together and laughed all the way to our front door).
After finishing the full circle we left the Tour Bus at the Fontana di Trevi, which is well sign posted and we also asked for directions when necessary, using mostly our Portuguese mixed with a little Italian and some English thrown in at times. The Fontana Di Trevi did not disappoint and of course, we enjoyed looking and hanging out at this incredible Baroque masterpiece. The Fontana Di Trevi became one of the most recognised and familiar sights in Rome, thanks to Fellini’s, Hollywood movie “La Dolce Vita” that showed Anita Ekberg bathing in it. We took turns to throw the coins in and make our wishes (to return to Rome of course) and take endless pictures. And although it is very touristic and busy, somehow the crowd does not spoil it but simply adds to the energy and fun of people throwing coins, posing for pictures, eating their gelatos and hanging out like there is a “party” going on (a party in which many of the guests are Chinese, although we did meet some Brazilians there also).
In the evening, after our dinner, we went back to see the fountain at night as it is all lit up and looks incredibly romantic. Rome feels even more special at night with the lights shining on all the ancient monuments and buildings. We walked from there to the Spanish Steps (at the Piazza Spagna), which has a church at the top of the famous steps. Another great place to hang out, chat and people watch, this place has also been the set of many movies including “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn.
Monday (our second full day) we decided to see The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. We arrived at the Colosseum at around 8:30 in the morning and were pleasantly surprised to find there were hardly any people queuing and we were able to get in easily. We did not hire a guide or get an audio guide since we felt that we wanted to soak up the place in a more relaxed manner, and we walked around marvelling at this grand structure. We talked about how it must have felt for Romans to come here and be entertained by the fights and killings that went on. The mighty Gladiators that would have fallen here and the ones that would have found glory and victory. Constructed in AD 72-80, under the Flavian Emperors The Colosseum is incredibly impressive, with many layers and hidden passages, and we spent over an hour and a half there.
From the Colosseum we walked to the Roman Forum, again imagining life here in Ancient Rome, walking past giant columns, ruins of temples, and through the heart of the old city where we imagined the Romans socialising where businesses thrived and political alliances were made. It was again a beautiful and sunny day and as we stopped for pictures and enjoyed each other’s company, in awe of the ruins of building and monuments showing a glimpse into Roman life more than 2,000 years ago.
This site is like a window into the past, tempting us to speculate how they must have lived their everyday lives here under the rule of Emperors such as Julius Caesar, Nero, Caligula, Hadrian and many others. Each Emperor keen to leave their own mark by building spectacular and powerful structures to show the world how the Roman Empire was a force to be feared and respected.
In many ways, I think it would have been nice to have had a guide to help us to make more sense of it all. There really is so much to see, spanning long time periods, and piecing it all together without a guide is a little bewildering
We stopped for lunch before continuing to delve into Roman life at the Palatine Hill, one of Rome’s famous Seven Hill’s, where there are are pretty views over to the Forum and to the Colosseum. There are lovely gardens, more buildings and ruins of palaces, clearly, an area that used to belong to the rich and powerful, it is charming and picturesque.
All 3 sites can be seen in one day, and although a little tiring, we did enjoy it a lot. Wearing comfortable shoes is a must; also sun protection, hats and lots of water. Drinking so much water can have a price to pay though since we soon found out that there are not a lot of public facilities in Rome and at times it was difficult to find facilities!
Tuesday and another sunny and warm day. We made our way to the world’s smallest independent state: The Vatican.
We travelled there by underground train (Metro), from Termini station, very near our home. As we walked along towards the Vatican, we could see the immense Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s) in front of us, we were so excited and could not wait to get inside.
You don’t have to pay to get into S Peter’s, since it is a church. It is beautiful and grand, really magnificent. We quietly looked around, took pictures and proceeded downstairs to see the tombs of past Popes (surreal, peaceful and emotional place). Altogether we spent about 1:30 to 2 hours there, though unfortunately we were not able to go up into the dome (the queue was far too long), which is supposed to offer some of the best views of Rome.
We also visited the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and Raphael Rooms, where some of the worlds largest collections of paintings, sculptures and works of art are kept.
It was uncomfortably busy there and we felt like a big conveyor belt moving along. I had seen it before with Brian and the children on a much less busy day and enjoyed it a lot more. But again, even with the crowds there, it still is an amazing place to see, the art work is beyond comprehension and words can not explain it. You would need a life time to see it all and fully appreciate it.
Perhaps having a guide or being part of a guided group would have given us a better understanding of it all, as it is vast and you would need to spend several days here to do it justice. In any case, we were again speechless at this collection of art. Michelangelo’s frescoes of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are fabulous and a must see, as is another of his works, the Last Judgement, which is very large and covers the whole wall behind the chapel’s altar.
Before leaving the Vatican City, we got tickets (from the Swiss Guards),to see the Pope next day (Wednesday), and were so excited, we could hardly wait.
Wednesday we woke up to yet another beautiful day, it was our plan to be at the Vatican (for the audience with the Pope), very early. But 4 women and only one bathroom it is not conducive to an early start, and we arrived at the Vatican at around 8 ish, and so our heart sunk at the overwhelming amount of people that had the same idea, but did not have to share a bathroom and hence managed to get here earlier and grab a seat!
We felt that there was no hope for us. But somehow we managed to find a space by some of the barriers. We sat down on the ground (since we knew we had at least 2 hours of waiting for the Pope to arrive), as the crowd continued to gather all around us. We soon realised our luck, as we could see that the Pope would be moving around in the Popemobile and passing right in front of us. As more and more people gathered around us we eventually had to stand up and place ourselves right up to the barrier. It was very hot and sunny, but we came prepared with hats, sun cream, and water – although drinking too much would not have been a good idea, since finding a toilet would have been impossible.
The Swiss guards looked lovely in their colourful uniform. There were recently married couples waiting to get blessed, the brides wearing beautiful wedding dresses. The procession of brides, grooms, security guards and the crowd kept us all well amused and entertained. We did also see a couple of people fainting with the hot weather and having to be carried away in a little “golf cart” type car. It can get very hot and I don’t think I would like to be here in July or August, when the temperatures can go up to 35 degrees centigrades.
And just as we were getting very hot and bothered, Pope Francisco arrived, and as expected everyone screamed his name and waved as he passed. We saw him from a very close proximity, it was a VERY special moment, his charisma felt by all. We saw him been offered a “chimarrao”, a drink typical of Argentina and the South of Brazil ( we drink it when we are in Brazil), by some fellow Argentinians, he accepted and drank from it, the crowed loved him and so did we. Seeing him was the highlight of our trip to Rome, he blessed us all, and we felt peace and warmth in our hearts. I did get quite emotional seeing him so close.
After all the excitement and emotion we left the Vatican by tram and headed for the Borghese Gardens, thinking that perhaps we could find it and have a relaxing picnic there sitting on the grass – but our problem as always was our complete lack of direction and inability to read a map. So got a bit lost. We decided to have lunch at a restaurant and use the toilet facilities, and found a lovely place to eat and relax a little. Bellies full and bladders empty, and with a new found energy we continued unsuccessfully to search for the elusive gardens. Just as we had given up, by cheer stroke of luck we walked right into the entrance to the Borghese Gardens. We could not stop laughing at how we stumbled on it, totally unexpectedly.
At the Borghese Gardens we hired some bicycles and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon there, surrounded by flowers, greenery and art. We decided not to visit the Galleria e Museo Borghese, since we had already seen so many fabulous pieces of art, any more would just be an overkill of art. We were “arted out” for the day!
Thursday, we took this day to travel to Naples, walk up Vesuvius and to visit Herculaneum.
We managed to leave on the 7:30 fast train from Termini to Naples. Once in Naples we took another train to Herculaneum and from there we booked ourselves into a bus tour up Mount Vesuvius. A friend had suggested that we should walk up Vesuvius in the morning since later on in the afternoon the weather can change and it can get a little cloudy. This was very sound advice (thank you David!).
I am doing a separate blog for this day spent in Naples, so watch out for that.
Friday and Saturday, our last 2 full days in Rome were a little more relaxed (well…kind off), as we visited the 2,000 year old Pantheon which is a stunning Roman building (when you think of a Roman building, that is the image you have in your head). It has been a Temple and is now a church, and hence the entrance is free (you don’t pay to get into churches in Italy). The Dome and interior are particularly interesting, it is all marble floor and walls and there is a 9 meters hole in the middle of the ceiling which provides light and a glimpse of the sky. The dome’s diameter is 44.4m and it is greater than the dome of St. Peters, and it’s just staggering to think how long ago it was created – those Romans really did create some incredibly advanced engineering.
We also visited some other churches, a great way of seeing fabulous works of art such as paintings and sculptures without having to pay, though you can off course offer a donation (which we did).
We visited the famous Piazza Navona, both at night for a stroll after dinner, and during the day time just before visiting the near-by Campo dei Fiori market.
This was my favourite Piazza in Rome, very dramatic and grand. It is dominated by 3 fountains and there are stalls selling art and other bits and pieces, artists painting and lots of visitors hanging out. There are lovely flower baskets hanging from the beautiful buildings, and the Brazilian Embassy is also here. I loved the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and a scene of the movie was filmed here, as Julia Roberts sits down in contemplation whilst eating a lovely gelato.
The lovely outdoor market of Campo dei Fiori (Field of Flowers) – stalls of colourful fruit and vegetables, great selections of Italian pastas, sauces, cheese, meats etc. We could not resist buying things here, such as packets of pasta, sauces, olive oil etc.
The expensive designer clothes of Via Condoti were a little too pricey for us although we enjoyed looking around (and getting funny looks from the sales staff, who probably knew we would not be buying anything there). Via Del Corso and Via Nazionale, were a little more for our budget and we did buy bags, shoes and clothes here.
It is so different when you shop with girls, and we had so much fun without our husbands/partners/boyfriends asking us ” do you really need another pair of shoes?”, or “don’t you already have a bag like that?” Boys just don’t get it (maybe some do, but not in our experience). My only worry was how am I going to get all this shopping home? Angelita and Sinara had a much better luggage allowance ( about 32 Kg travelling long haul), than Virginia and I with our budget airline flights (only 20 Kg).
We had fun just watching the Italians, how in many ways they remind us of our own family (after all we are descendants of Italians), the facial expressions, the gestures, the famous Latin temperament. It made us laugh, and we got into trouble few times, for example in one occasion we sat on the wrong side of the restaurant (where the tables were nicely laid for people who were having a proper meal, whereas we were only eating a sandwich), the waitress come over and shouted at us to move to the other tables (the picnic type tables) she was very rude to us. In fact we met quite a few rude Italians in Rome, at the train station “Termini” we were told off for not having change to buy our train ticket, surely if we had coins would we not use the machines to buy our tickets instead of having to queue at the office? But we also met some lovely and friendly Italians, ones who gave us directions and who were kind to tell us about the best bus for us to take from near our apartment into the centre of Rome.
I think the concept of customer service is not well known in Rome (?). But perhaps we were just unlucky, on more than one occasion when people who work at a restaurant, train station etc. let us down with very poor customer service. But because we were part of a group, we were able to laugh it off and just go with the flow without getting stressed out about it.
We found the Polizia (Police), very friendly and polite, and also very fashionable, my sister Virginia liked their uniform so much that she asked to have a picture taken with a Policewoman.
The traffic and the parking in Rome is very amusing and we laughed on many occasions of how crazy it is. The Italians park in every available space.
It is fun to watch the women looking very chic and riding their “Vespas” around, usually wearing high heels and a suit.
All four of us LOVE Italian food and were in heaven eating out every night at lovely charming places, restaurants or trattorias near our home or a pasta bar/restaurant in the town centre. We ate pasta, gnocchi, risotto, delicious meats, cheeses, salads and pizzas. This pasta bar below near the Trevi Fountain is a lot of fun, you order your pasta and a choice of sauce to go with it. There are tables inside or outside, but as it was a lovely evening we decided to sit outside and enjoy the life going on all around us.
Beware of the “servizio” (service), the bread and cover charges in all the restaurants can bump up the price of the meal. The menu usually begins with antipasti (starter), then il primo (pasta, risoto, gnocchi, soup) and then il secondo (meat, fish). Vegetables and salad are usually also served separately. We did not usually have all the different courses and we found that it was ok to do that, restaurants do not expect you to go through all the different courses – although maybe the very posher restaurants would.
I don’t drink alcohol, but the other girls enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine at every evening meal, although usually they chose the house wine to keep the costs down and they found it to be very nice.The gelato (icecream) is a must, and we indulged in a delicious gelato many times. We particularly liked the one at the San Crispino (voted the best in Rome) near the Trevi Fountain, where the gentleman serving it could speak Portuguese (I think he probably spoke many languages) and he was very friendly and funny (one example of great customer service).
Needless to say we fell in love with Rome and we were sad to say goodbye.
On our last night in the Italian capital we reminisced about the week gone by (so fast), and chatted for ages about our past and future (who needs therapy, when you have sisters to laugh and cry with!).
Together we have bucket loads of memories, of happy and sad moments that we have shared together for more than 30 years. We have been through dating, marriages, divorces, birth of children, death of our closest and dearest and we have learned that we still enjoy each others company even more than ever. We feel very blessed to have each other.
Sinara and Angelita left our rented apartment in Rome in the early hours of Sunday morning to catch their flight back to Brazil. Virginia and I waved them off and went back to bed, getting up later on to catch our own flight back to London where Virginia’s husband and daughter were eagerly waiting for us.
From London I had another 2 hours to drive back to my home in Dorset where my lovely husband was waiting for me. This trip to Rome helped me to come to terms with my son leaving home for University (my daughter had already left the year before). But life goes on and I am so happy for them; in any case I soon got on the phone to tell them both all about my trip to Rome and of course they were delighted for me.
As for the girls, even though we live in different corners of the world we will make sure to get together again in the very near future for another girly trip, or maybe we will even go back to Rome again? After all we did make a wish at the Trevi Fountain!!