Architecture, Art and Ancient History in Rome

Our first full day in Rome was up to me to program so I set the alarm for 6:30 so we could get out and about before the city was too hot. Even though it only officially has climbed to 32 degrees it feels much hotter when the sun is radiating off buildings and cobblestones.

First stop was a place I’d found on Pinterest in one of those articles that claims to know ‘secret’ things to do. How secret something can be when it’s the first article Pinterest shows me about Rome… well, I have my doubts.

Quartiere Coppedèo

Our Airbnb apartment was in a location that I’m pretty sure locals would call ‘the arse end of Termini’, the main train station. Despite being almost across the road, the station is almost a kilometre long and we have to walk the full length of it to reach the entrance.

The place were we visiting was a 45 minute walk past the north end of Termini and when we got there we found that we, rather happily, had it all to ourselves (apart from and old guy washing his car using water from the fountain), possibly because it was 8am on a Sunday.

It was gob-smacking.

Please note there is a chandelier in the archway.

I really like interesting architecture and Quartiere Coppedèo was an astonishing mix of Art Nouveau, ancient, medieval, Spanish, and baroque elements.

Essentially it is four buildings around an intersection with a fountain in the middle. Each building is distinctly different from its neighbours and each is in excellent condition and contains details, both small and large, that are entrancing.

Delicate frescos, wrought iron gates featuring animals and insects, crowns and swords and Viking ships!

Absolutely marvellous.


The National Gallery of Modern Art

I felt like seeing a bit of art to break up all the history and architecture.

Once again we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The lion sculptures out the front were lovely.

There were some classics inside, a Klimt, Monet and Chagalls etc. My favourite was this painting.

Such a gaze!

Now have a guess what this artwork is made from.

Go on.

Acacia thorns! The mind boggles.

Next we walked to the Castel San Angelo, which I had walked past the last two times I’d been to Rome but hadn’t thought to visit until I read surfnslide’s blog .

On the way we stopped for a drink outside a very grand building that I had to google and turned out to be the Supreme Court.

Even for a court this was pretty grand. Apparently locals call or ‘the bad palace’. I’m not sure if it’s a comment on the architecture or the clientele.

The Castel!

The Castel is one of the oldest and most complete buildings in Rome. It was begun as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian and his family but became a refuge for popes, who decorated it in the style to which they immediately became accustomed.

We get it, the church has all the money.

Pope bed!

Every window seemed to have a view of St Peter’s.

Great views could be had from the roof.

But then there’s great views from everywhere in Rome, really.

Next we walked to the Tavestere district for lunch. I found a little sandwich shop called ‘Donkey Punch’ (I will always be a sucker for a weird name) and I had a salad with pork and Luke had a sandwich with pork. Roast pork is a specialty of the region and the shop also did a great range of pickled and marinated salad ingredients.

What a menu! All their sandwiches were named after rock bands.

By this time our feet were getting a bit tired. We wandered around Travastere a bit and admired the lovely architecture. The peach and salmon buildings reminded me of Bologna.

It was definitely time for a classic Roman afternoon drink – an Aperol Spritz.

We strongly considered taking a taxi home but decided to walk and break up the last few kilometres with bar stops and gelato.

Amazingly, we managed to walk past the gelateria we visited on our tour last time. We’d gone along for a free tour advertised on the Couchsurfing site and the guy took us to Punto Gelato, who do excellent, and unusual, icecream flavours. No beer this time but I did see pine and also salsa! We were more conservative – I had one scoop each of fig and peach sorbets and they were outstanding.

Luke got pineapple and coffee which is a weird combo.

Next stop was an Irish bar and it was nice to not feel apologetic when speaking english to the bar staff. We were also given free daiquiri samples because they made too much.

Apparently it was the world’s best. It was certainly good, but… best?

Who gives out these awards anyhow?

On the last leg we passed this … building. I guess there’s a building under there? Can you imagine this level of growth being acceptable where you live?

We finished our big day out in Rome with a meal at the restaurant closest to our apartment, sitting outside in the warm night air, listening to a guy on the piano accordion.

Very Italian!

Italy: Random Photos.

This is pretty much just a photo post because there’s a bunch of stuff that I took with my phone that I didn’t have time to deal with earlier thanks to my laptop dying. Again.

Hope you like them!

I just don’t.. uh.. what?

Baby Jesus says ‘Wassup?’

Mary looks disappointed that Baby Jesus wanted to be painted like one of your French girls.

Saucy saints are saucy.

I’ve only included another photo of this fountain so one of my friends could see the animal the mermaid is sitting on. I… think it might be a sea-spaniel. With no ears. Or something.

Our initial thoughts were that Jesus was escaping from men with crossbows that had traveled back in time from the middle ages, when crossbows were invented, because they were gong to kidnap him and use his magical powers to enjoy endless amounts of awesome Jesus wine. Turns out it’s some other saint. Supposedly. 

Boy George’s great, great, great, great etc grandfather. For reals.

No funny here – just the best gelato shop… maybe in the world! Check it out if you’re in Bologna.

Italy: Rome

If you don’t want to hear about food and fashion then this is where you get off, sorry folks!

Crowds at the Trevi Fountain.

After our midnight arrival from Istanbul and surly mini cab driver who waited around at the airport til 1am hoping for more passengers after saying we’d be leaving in 10 minutes (do not even get me started on how much I hate Rome’s airports and all who dwell within them – it’s a long story) we eventually got to our hostel and grabbed a few hour’s sleep.

Half the hostels here seem to have a daily lock out policy – that is, you must be out of the hostel between 10am and 3pm so they can clean the place and it probably discourages some kind of nefarious activities that I can’t quite imagine people wanting to do around midday in a bog-standard hostel. So this resulted in us being up relatively early and making our way to a couch surfing meet up, where a guy had offered to do a free 2 hour walking tour of the ‘non touristy’ bits of Rome.

Exploring the back streets.

Luke and I were, as is always the case, the first people on the scene. Eventually a group of about 15 people gathered and our tour guide, Alessandro, turned up. To say the guy looked flustered and disorganised is to put it mildly. He seemed like he’d had a big night out and his heart wasn’t in it. He’d explain something as ‘You know about Romulus and Remus, right?’ and if one or two people nodded their head he’d gloss over the story with ‘and so on and so on’, which was not exactly helpful. I know a bit of Roman history so I could explain a bit to Luke but our hopes were not set especially high in the beginning.

Apparently there are enough churches in Rome to go to a different one every day of the year.

But then Alessandro started getting on track and telling us really interesting things and the tour turned out to be really great. We saw through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta‘s establishment, some beautiful and unusual churches and a garden with interesting forced perspective and saw a rock, supposedly hurled by the devil at some guy who was praying. Oh and we saw a church for a saint whose name I missed but who lived under some stairs for a while so his shrine has stairs. I called him Saint Harry Potter.

Our feet were getting quite tired after a while so we stopped for gelato, which helped.

Tomato gelato, anyone?

Then we stopped for antipasto plates and wine, which was fantastic. We tried food in combinations I’d never had before – like parmesan and honey, which totally works. There was also zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh cheese – I’ve fried my own flowers with mince before but had not thought to have them fresh.


My favourite bit was when Alessandro told us that only in Rome can you eat Jewish Roman cuisine, but right now Roman artichokes weren’t in season and they use other artichokes and they ‘ruin everything‘. That’s right, an artichoke grown 100kms away will make your dining experience a complete waste. There’s something so delightfully Italian, whimsical and fussy about this statement and the casual but slightly depressed manner in which it was delivered. It as probably my favourite Roman moment out of all our time there.

Antipasto plate.

The tour was both improved and slightly ruined by the fact that it was a couch surfing thing and so we all tried to both listen and chat throughout. When you meet up with a group of people that you know you have something in common with and many of those people have not had a decent chat with a person in days it’s really hard to shut them up and couch surfers are, by nature, extremely social creatures. Not to mention interesting. Two of the guys had been sleeping in Termini station because they couldn’t find anyone to host them. Termini station is like.. uh.. hard to describe. It’s really big, old, busy and quite a large number of people live there. Not middle class backpackers, either. It’s about as full-on as European train stations can get. Kind of like a refugee camp/train station.

Despite the tour being touted as two hours, Luke and I regretfully tore ourselves away six hours into the as-yet unfinished tour to go have a nap and rest our poor feet, which were unused to so much walking.

In the evening we went for a short stroll to a nearby fountain to get some long exposure shots, which didn’t turn out anywhere near as well as I’d have liked, then had a drink at a bar that looked more like a roadside kebab van. The drinks were nice though, and the weather in Rome was perfect for sitting out in the evening.

As we sat I contemplated what I’d seen so far of Italian fashion. Italy is definitely a place that can intimidate the visitor in terms of style and flair. Particularly if said visitor is wearing trainers with holes in them and the same two dresses for weeks. Women in Rome are seriously striking and dress beautifully. They wear completely inappropriate shoes and enormous sunglasses. Their hair is dead straight or perfectly curled. They smoke endless cigarettes and throw the butts carelessly into the gutter. They walk tiny dogs, huge dogs, and push prams containing designer-dressed babies. I can’t decide whether I’m delighted, amused or horrified. Probably a mix of all three.

There’s this crazy paradox to Italians. So focused on fashion and appearances and being skeletally thin, yet the passionate, almost worshipful attitude to food and drink. Not that I’m complaining. Well, the only thing to complain about is not having enough time, money or space in my bag to go properly shopping.


Next stop: Florence… or do you call it ‘Firenze’?