As we had booked an early morning flight from London Heathrow, we decided to stay overnight at the London Hounslow Travelodge which was easily accessible from the Piccadilly Line. We found a J.D. Wetherspoon pub nearby and took advantage of their Thursday evening curry night specials before returning to our room for a few hours sleep.
It seemed no time at all when our alarm woke us at 04.15 a.m, and shortly after 5.00 a.m. we were on an Underground train to Heathrow’s Terminal 4. A bonus of travelling so early in the morning was that the airport was extremely quiet, taking us a matter of minutes to pass through the necessary security checks. There was ample time for a light breakfast followed by coffees in a branch of Carluccio’s before heading towards Gate 14 for our Alitalia departure to Rome. Approaching our gate we noticed an observation deck located up several flights of steps.
Having a few minutes to spare, we clambered up the steps to take a quick look. I wish we had known about the observation deck earlier as there were panoramic views and a beautiful sunrise to be enjoyed. The observation deck is equipped with binoculars on chains and touch screens showing plane movements on a live map. No-one else was around which wasn’t surprising as we hadn’t seen it signposted or advertised but if we travel from Terminal 4 again we would definitely allow more time for a little plane spotting up there.
Our Alitalia A320 Airbus departed promptly with some passengers still finding their seats as the aircraft was pushing back from the airbridge. The two hour flight was smooth and complimentary refreshments of hot and cold drinks with a choice of sweet or savoury biscuits were brought round. We then managed a little sleep for an hour before the plane came into land at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. There was a slight delay in disembarking because the shutter at the end of the airbridge had jammed at chest height necessitating passengers to bend down to leave the aircraft.
Following signs to the railway station, it took about 8 minutes along moving walkways and escalators to get there. We tried to buy tickets from the rail ticket counter but were instructed to purchase them from a nearby newsagents. Having already researched which ticket we needed, we bought 2 Metrebus Lazio CIRS integrated regional tickets covering 3 zones and costing €34.50 each. Surprisingly, only cash payments were permitted but fortunately we had just enough money between us to pay for the tickets, so please bear this in mind if you are arriving in Rome. The tickets needed to be validated in a green machine at the end of the platform and our names and dates of birth added before use. I.D. also needs to be carried ready for inspection but we were never required to produce our tickets. Although we only needed travel tickets for four days, this ticket was the best value for our needs as, in addition to viewing the city centre sights, we also wished to travel further afield.
We caught the FL1 train as far as Tuscolana station in the south of the city, which was just a short walk to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express San Giovanni located in a residential district. Although it was only 12.00 noon we just had to wait about 20 minutes in the lounge until our room was ready. Our first floor room was pleasant and overlooked an inner courtyard. Unusually for a Holiday Inn there were no tea making facilities but these were brought to our room shortly after we requested them.
After quickly unpacking, we picked up a map from reception and caught a No. 85 bus from around the corner to the Basilica di San Giovanni. Before entering the church we needed to pass through airline type security screening but it was very quiet and it didn’t take long. This Basilica ranks above all other Roman Catholic churches and is the official seat of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. The interior of the church is exquisite and contains the papal throne. Until the 14th century it was the Pope’s principal residence before he relocated to the Vatican.
From there, we walked along narrow, cobbled streets towards the Colosseum, the route being signposted by Roman soldier emblems on the pavements. The Colosseum was a large amphitheatre constructed by the Emperors of Rome to entertain the masses with gladiatorial shows and hunts of wild animals. In 80 AD the Colosseum was completed and an inauguration lasting 100 days was held, all shows being free with seats being allocated according to the class of spectator. Viewing the iconic Colosseum was an impressive sight as it is one of the most recognisable monuments of Ancient Rome. As can be expected, it was crowded in places but walking around a little we were able to find the perfect spot to take our photographs without people poking selfie-sticks out in front of us.
Located between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill in the Piazza del Colosseo stands the Arch of Constantine. This arch was built in 315 AD and erected by the Roman Senate. It is the largest of the three remaining Roman triumphal arches in Rome.
Walking up Palatine Hill, the path along the lower section of the hill passes through lush parkland providing welcome shade from the early afternoon sun. A gentle climb to the higher slopes and we were able to look down onto the Roman Forum and view many of the archaeological ruins. Palatine Hill is the place where the Roman Empire was formed in approximately 753 BC. The site was chosen because of its height, making it easier to defend. In later years the hill became a residential district attracting the nobility.
We then spent some time wandering around the Roman Forum admiring the decaying ruins and monumental remains. There are several elevated paths and viewpoints where we paused to look down on some of the oldest and most important ruins including shrines and temples. Information boards with detailed maps helped us to identify some of the excavations.
Continuing along the road, we could see the huge white marble Monument of Victor Emmanuel II in the distance. It’s located between Capitoline Hill and Piazza Venezia and is approached by a grand, sweeping marble staircase. The monument is free to visit with the exception of its museum and uppermost viewing terrace. Taking the polished marble outdoor staircase we arrived at The Altar of the Fatherland, which is where the tomb of the unknown soldier is located. Although the building is known as the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II it also commemorates all war casualties.
The focal point of the monument is the statue of a horseman. This was designed to represent Victor Emmanuel II and was completed in 1889.
It was worth the climb to the upper viewing terrace as from there we had beautiful panoramic views looking down onto Piazza Venezia and the surrounding area. Before leaving, we explored the interior of the monument returning to ground level down the other side of the marble staircase.
Across the square, we boarded a tram to Trastevere Station so that we could return to our hotel by train. After such an early start to the day, and so much walking around we were in need of a short rest. A little later, feeling refreshed we enjoyed dinner in a pizzeria quite near the hotel. The pizzas were very good and the decor and checked tablecloths were typical of Italian trattorias. After our meal we took the Rome metro for the first time from Ponte Lungo to Barberini as we’d planned to walk to the Pantheon. Unfortunately, it suddenly started raining heavily and as we had left our coats in the hotel, we decided to cut our walk short and return to the hotel as we were also feeling tired.
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