When in Rome you do as the Romans do, they say. And it’s true – if you want to be able to completely relax and enjoy your environment and really get a sense of what a place is all about, as we did on our trip there last week.
I’ve always been a fan of trying to get off the beaten track, just a little, even with time constraints (we only had a few days) and a bucket list of attractions to see as long as my arm, so I was delighted when Wimdu offered me an opportunity to review their accommodation in Rome. I practically jumped on the email, then there might have been some expressive language and a bit of dancing around.
Would I like to stay in an apartment in Rome and see Rome as the locals do?
Er, wait, let me see…..
We arrived in Roma early last Thursday morning (after the night train from Venice) and were absolutely delighted when Marzia the gracious owner of the cute Trastevere apartment we’d booked, agreed that we could check in early. Such relief. I was so tired my eye balls were on stalks and I wanted nothing better than to get to Trastevere and revive. We jumped on board the number H bus and was treated to an amazing tiki tour of Rome as the bus swung past the impressive white buildings of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuelle II (dedicated to the first king of a united Italy)on Capitoline Hill and the Fontana del Tritone (which we kept confusing with the Fontana de Trevi) and then down to the bottom of town and across the Tiber.
Our apartment was down a cobblestone road, past the public water fountain where children washed their hands and travellers and locals alike refilled their water bottles. Travellers need not buy mineral water whilst visiting Rome as the water fountains are everywhere. A good thing as it was pushing 40 deg C when we visited. It was spitting distance from the Santa Maria in Trastevere – a magnificent church on a Piazza surrounded by bars and cafes, which was also hosting the music contribution to the ancient festival, Festa De Noantri (the festival of ‘us’) which dates from the 16th Century. Although we had missed the spectacular procession through Trastevere and down to the Tiber (which was on the 16th July) we did catch the open air evening musical performances of jazz and folk music. I even recognised a familiar Antipodean twang on stage and found the Australian singing duo – Hussy Hicks – wowing the crow.
Trastevere is literally ‘across the Tiber’, a gentrified working class suburb popular with American students, free thinkers, buskers, and independent travellers. There’s no shortage of foreignors in Trastevere, but they are of the walking-catching local-buses kind, not the coach-guide-goading type. And although the area is full of travellers it all seems harmonious, the locals have continued living as they have done for centuries, eating the same way, cooking the same way, drinking from the fountain, siesta in the middle of the day, washing hung under the shutters..
The local osteria owners even have a sense of humour.
We spent the first day in Rome heading out of Trastevere back into the city to see the Colosseum and the Forum. We took bus 8 to Largo Angentina and walked from there in the baking midday sun (Mad dogs and Englishmen anyone?) until we spied the familiar shape of the Colosseum at the end of a major highway.
We had bought the Roma Pass so we bypassed the long queue and the guides touting for business, and walked straight into the ancient ruins. There wasn’t much in the way of explanation, I guess they felt the Colosseum speaks for itself. And it is a magnificent place. It didn’t take a great deal of imagination to be able to hear the cheers of the crowds and the roars of the lions. I was struck by the large Cross and reminded of the stories I’d translated as a 14 year old Latin student about the Christians and the lions.
Through one of the arches on the top level there was the marble frame juxtaposition of the ancient world and the modern – represented by traffic and tour buses.
And yet the Colosseum still stands.
After a good couple of hours at the Colosseum we walked back out and down past the ruins of the Forum, past this guy – one of Vegemitevix’s earliest fans.
Slowly the heat of the day turned into golden evening light as we walked down to the Piazza Navona where most of Rome (it seemed) had gone to play in the relative cool of the evening. The atmosphere was incredible – couples courting, families pushing prams proudly filled with bambina and visitors licking gelati. Imagine a hot Covent Garden, complete with locals enjoying the street performers alongside the visitors to the city.
In the centre of the Piazza Navona is a magnificent fountain (yes, another one) called Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (the Four Rivers Fountain). One of the most impressive of all the fountains it was created by Bernini in 1650s and was so expensive to build that the bread tax was increased to help cover its cost. The Four Rivers depicted are; Danube, Nile, Ganges and Rio de la Planta.
We took the obligatory photos and soaked up the atmosphere before deciding exhaustion had beaten us and it was time to return to our part of town. So we jumped back on the bus and headed back over the Tiber to Trastevere, grabbed a meal at one of the local Osteria’s before walking home to a soft bed and deep sleep.
And that’s the best thing of all about travelling like a local. With high quality local accomodation, you can make for yourself a home base from which you can venture out and be a tourist for a day, and then when you’re done like a dinner you can head back home to sleep and live like a Roman.
Disclaimer: I was the grateful guest of global accommodation specialist Wimdu (whose tagline is ‘travel like a local’ for two nights in Rome. All opinions above are however my own.