Thursday, September 25, 2014

Postcards from an Afternoon Stroll in Rome

The first time I visited Rome was part of a whirlwind, seven-countries-in-two-weeks bus tour. Needless to say, we did not spend much time in Rome, and much of what I saw was looking out the bus window. Upon returning this last summer with kids and hubby in tow, I realized that Rome is a place that is best savored leisurely and on foot, preferably with a gelato in hand.

After landing in the morning and enjoying our first, authentic meal in Rome — pasta, of course — we let the kids pick our starting point for exploring the city. Considering that our stroll was not planned out in minute detail as is my usual modus operandi, we see a breadth of sites in one afternoon. Perhaps it's because in Rome, you can't go wrong. Anywhere you turn, there's something to see.

The Pantheon

Light streams in from the hole in the Pantheon's domed ceiling.

First up was The Pantheon. My daughter has been intrigued by it ever since reading Lonely Planet Not-for-Parents: Rome that's aimed at kids. From the outside, this two thousand year old building looks like a Greek temple. Eight grand columns hold up a triangular pediment. Step inside, and what immediately grabs your attention is the massive dome which happens to be the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. With all the marvels of modern engineering, I'm amazed that the record has yet to be broken. The only light inside the building streams down from the 8 meter (26 foot) wide oculus or hole in the center of the dome. At mid-day with the sun nearly overhead, the large room is flooded with light. Small holes in the floor drain off any rainwater that falls in through the hole.

From there, we head west along Via Giustiniani a few blocks to reach Piazza Novona.

Piazza Novona

A festive air permeates the square. Tourists enjoying espressos and gelatos sit at cafes and stand around the Piazza Novona. Buskers entertain the audience, hoping that people will cast a few euros into the containers laid out on the ground before them. Oddly, someone is singing Hotel California, and whenever I hear that song on the radio now, I am instantly transported back to that afternoon in Rome. 

The Four Rivers Fountain stands proudly at the center and pays homage to the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata in Uruguay. Each river is represented by a muscular god with my favorite one being the Nile whose head is shrouded in cloth. Ain't no pigeon gonna poop on his hair. Actually, the cloth represents the unknown source of the Nile's headwaters.

The god of the Nile River, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi in the Piazza Novona 

An Egyptian obelisk originally from the Temple of Isis rises up from the center of the Four Rivers fountain. I came to this city to discover more about ancient Rome, so I am intrigued to find slices of ancient Egypt here as well.  

Eygptian Obelisk on the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

After what turns out to be the first of many gelato breaks during our stay in Italy, we exit the piazza to the north, turn left and find ourselves on....

Via dei Coronari

This quaint pedestrian street makes its way through the type of charming neighborhood where it's easy to start daydreaming about moving to Rome permanently if I suddenly win the lottery. It is named after the coronari, rosary bead sellers, who used to set up shop along this way to peddle their wares to pilgrims visiting the nearby Vatican. Buildings sit cozily along a narrow street, and the roar of Rome's traffic seems worlds away. Handicrafts, antiques, and even more gelato beckon me, but the kids pull me along, and my wallet thankfully remains closed.

Rome neighborhood
Via dei Coronari

We turn right onto Via di Panico and, in a few blocks, find ourselves face to face with the Tiber River and Castel Sant'Angelo.

Castel Sant'Angelo and the Tiber

Love locks on the Ponte Sant'Angelo over the Tiber River

Reminiscent of our previous summer's trip to Paris, we find love locks on the bridge crossing the Tiber River. In such a romantic city as Rome, how can a couple resist indulging in this increasingly popular activity? Granted, the Ponte Sant'Angelo isn't loaded down with nearly as many locks as in Paris. Hopefully, Rome won't fall as out of love with the tradition as Paris has

Castel Sant'Angelo

The best way to approach the Castel Sant'Angelo is from the pedestrian-only Ponte Sant'Angelo.  Bernini's angels watch over you as you cross over the Tiber and seem to be blessing the castle which was built in AD123 as a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian. In a city full of domes, cupolas and steeples reaching up to the sky, the castle seems rather squat even as it looms above us. We decide to save the long climb up stairs and ramps to better explore the castle for another day's sightseeing.

Turning left between the bridge and the castle, we find ourselves looking down the Via della Conciliazione directly at St. Peter's Square. What a sight! To the kids sorrow, no passport stamps are added as we cross into Vatican City.

St. Peter's Square

Just a few of the statues of popes, saints, martyrs and evangelists atop the colonnades around St. Peter's Square

With St. Peter's Basilica holding court at the back of the square, two colonnades wrap around the elliptical plaza in order to embrace visitors in "the maternal arms of the Mother Church" according to its architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  Yet another Egyptian obelisk rises up 25.5 meters in the middle of this square. It's strange to me that the epicenter of the Roman Catholic church features a granite monument originally erected in ancient Heliopolis, Egypt between 2494 B.C. and 2345 B.C. It's thousands of years older than Christ.

Since the line to go through security is not too bad on this Saturday afternoon, we decide that now is the time to explore St. Peter's Basilica. While most of what's inside has been there for centuries, the inscription of "Sanctus" for Saint on Pope John Paul II's tomb has only been added in the last few months since his recent canonization.

The People of Rome

In some ways, it's easy to think of Rome as an old city, an ancient town that's here for tourists to explore. But it's a living, breathing and ever changing community. As we followed the Vatican City wall northwards towards our hotel, we came across a protest. People waved flags and carried a banner to take a stand against inadequate medical treatment in prison hospitals that resulted in prisoner deaths. What I took to be the carabinieri, the police, lined up behind them to ensure it remained a peaceful protest. 

Carabinieri (police) ensure a peaceful protest
(Goodness sakes, I hope Italy isn't one of those places where it's forbidden to take photos of the police.)

Down the street, a trio of nuns walked by enjoying a late afternoon snack of gelato. It appears that no one is immune to the lure of this tasty treat.

Even nuns cannot ignore the temptation of gelato

We made our way to the Hotel Alimandi Vaticano across the street from the entrance to the Vatican Museum to rest up before dinner. In just one afternoon, I'm already captivated by Rome.

Good Eats: Duecento Gradi near the Vatican Museum serves up a variety of over 60 different sandwiches, both savory and sweet. Stomach, say hello to the Nutella and Strawberry sandwich on incredibly crusty bread. Much to our surprise the Chocolate Pie we ordered turned out to be Chocolate Lava Cake. Located on the Piazza Risorgimento and open daily 9AM - 1:30AM.

Related Posts:
Villa Borghese: Enjoy the Outdoors in Rome
Discovering Art with Kids at Galleria Borghese
Contemporary Art at the Vatican Museum
When in Rome... Learn to Fight at Gladiator School
Ice Cream is the Cure for Jet Lag

This post is part of the following link ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. It is a long time since I have wandered in Rome. I hope to get there again one day hopefully next year. Love the Nun and gelato photo, and Bernini's Angel blessing the Castel. :) I love your story telling, always interesting too.

  2. Rome is definitely a beautiful city, I would love to visit one day, walk around,visit all the sites, soak in the beauty, of course with a gelato in hand :)

  3. Nice shots. Reminds me of my own visit to Rome in 1999, the first city in Europe I'd been to.

    The "love locks" are getting a bit out of hand in Paris where there's a move afoot to remove them from bridges. (You'll also find them in Prague near the "Lennon mural."

  4. "Rome is a place that is best savored leisurely and on foot, preferably with a gelato in hand" oh yes, how right you are, and even that nun agrees - great photo by the way! Did you hear that the authorities have taken off the love locks from the Pont des Arts in Paris and have replaced the metal bars with glass panels to stop them coming back? Ths just happened a few days ago. It really was gettting out of hand there.

  5. What a wonderful tour! Brings back memories of our favorite spots there and I am beginning to think that guide-book 'not for parents' is one I should be considering. Love the tips. And I love that map you provided! And the photos are beautiful~

  6. Michele, Love your photos, and now I'll never feel guilty having gelato again!

    1. Michele, Thanks so much for joining us on Weekend Travel Inspiration. Hope to see you next week as well!

  7. Rome is one of those big cities you have to visit a few times, once to see all the touristy must-sees and again to explore beyond the tourist city to the real one. Also, if you go back you get to eat more gelato...

  8. We love Rome! It's been so long since we've been there though and your posts are making me want to go back soon!!!! Looks like you're having a great time!

  9. Your lovely shots bring me straight back to Rome, one of my absolute favorite cities! I love your capture of the nun with a gelato... who can't resist after all ;)

  10. Gorgeous. I'd love to visit Rome, but I'm beginning to think it will be without my kids. They may travel overseas before I do!

  11. Hi Michelle, you impressively covered a lot in one afternoon. It's great that your kids showed a lot of interest in Rome's antiquities, especially Pantheon. It's one of my favorite sights as well. You were lucky to find less crowd in the Vatican, otherwise it may eat up your whole afternoon. Lovely post. I miss Rome already.

  12. Awww beautiful!! I still haven't made it to Rome :)

  13. What a great afternoon stroll, Michelle! It was great to virtually travel with all of you and I'm just sad I don't have a gelato with me while reading this ;-) Rome is such a great city to explore and get lost. My kids weren't with us during our visit too so I'm glad to read some of your kids' experience here. Glad you were able to return and explore the city on foot this time.

  14. We left a love lock in Prague, and although I treasure that experience and memory, I can understand the residents of a city moving to prohibit it. It can detract from the site's beauty (especially when thousands of locks are left!). In some ways I could see the argument being made that it's vandalism, as it alters the appearance of a bridge. Anyhow, I loved this post since we were just in Rome this past summer, too! Thanks for sharing!

  15. Yessss... I agree that the best way to see a city is by aimlessly strolling with an ice cream in hand. And even better if it's a gelato in hand in Rome! I haven't been yet, but that's exactly what I envision my first Rome experience to be like. :D

  16. I love these postcards, especially the one of the nun eating gelato. There's just something about capturing a picture of a nun in Rome (I have one too). And I love the fact that hearing "Hotel California" transports you back to Rome. There really is just so much to see in Rome. For the two days that we were there, we merely scratched the surface. I'd love to return.

  17. Your photos brought back memories of a trip I took to Italy over ten years ago. My family spent a week in Rome and enjoyed seeing many of its meighborhoods.

  18. The best way to see a city like Rome is wandering - preferably for days at a time with frequent gelato breaks. Love you nun photo.

  19. I enjoyed wandering through Rome with you. I'd really like to visit the city some day.

  20. I LOVE that photo of the nun enjoying her gelato!;-) The little things in life, right?

    This was a nice escape from the gloomy weather we're having in the Big Apple at the moment, I'm inspired to watch Roman Holiday tonight!;-)

  21. Popes, saints, sinners, love-locks, architecture and Gelato! Who could ask for more! I haven't been to Rome (yet) but I do loved Italy ... so thanks for the travel today.

  22. I really enjoyed my time in Rome and I would love to go back. Maybe skip the museums and to just soak in the people and the food. I got so terribly lost wandering from the Pantheon to Piazza Novona. The streets are just too twisty, but so much fun to explore.


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