Touring Antica Roma

Breakfast at the hotel is included. The breakfast room and terrace is just outside our rooms. It has a fairly substantial buffet of cereals, breads, eggs, fruits, yoghurt, cheeses, cakes, juices and coffee, even espresso if you ask. Because it is close to our room, we can bring cups of coffee into our room before were ready to go out and eat.


I discover my cellphone is not working for calls although the text messaging works fine. I still don’t understand what the problem was. Instead, I use the internet as the hotel provides 3 free hours of usage.

We head out from the hotel to walk to the Colosseum (or Colosseo in Italian). I had used the via Michelin website to get directions from the hotel to the entrance to the Palatine Hill where we are to meet our docent. The instructions are very detailed, which was good in my view because, although at times we are walking on what seems to be the same street, the name changes when we cross a road. The instructions say it should take 35 minutes to walk but it does not include our stopping to take photos along the way or when we unexpectedly come upon the Trevi Fountain (Fontana Trevi), more time for Robin to toss in a coin. It turns out that this is the only time we pass the Trevi when there are few people around.

We are late and looking for the entrance where we are to meet, when someone asks if we are looking for Context Rome. It is our docent, Olivia Ercoli. She shows us where the ticket office is and explains which type of ticket we need. She also gets Robin a discount as a student at an EU university. [Entry ticket for both Palatine Hill & Colosseo is €11]

The Palatine Hill, according to legend, was where Romulus founded the city in 753 B.C. (on April 21, to be exact). We start at the remnants of the aqueduct of Claudius and Olivia gives us a basic overview of ancient Roman history from tribal settlements, the republic, to the emperors. Robin is quite keen on this since Scottish law has aspects of Roman civil law and he has learned some ancient Roman history. For Scott and me, this is mostly new or stuff we have long forgotten.

Circus Maximus

We spend a fair amount of time on the Palatine hill looking at ruins from buildings built under Septimius Severus and Domitian which were used as a palace complex, as well as the mosaics left from Nero’s so called Golden House. We have a quick visit to the Palatine Museum, where there is no additional entry fee.

From there, we descend into the Forums, walk down the Via Sacra (the main street of ancient Rome), past the major sites of the city center, including the Curia (senate house), the temples, triumphal arches, and basilicas around the Forum Square, the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Basilica of Maxentius, and the game boards etched into the steps of the Basilica Giulia.

We decide to go to the Capitoline Museums for lunch. Michelangelo designed the Piazza Campidoglio, with its famous reproduction of Marcus Aurelius’ bronze equestrian statue. The original is in its own room created in time for the 2000 celebrations of the Catholic Church. Olivia gets us through the rather confusing process of ticket buying and checking extra bags and coats, which involves going in and out various doors while avoiding going out the doors that would require we re-purchase entry tickets. [Entry for the Capitoline Museums is €6.5]

The bar and restaurant at the museums is on the upper floor and the weather, which initially looked threatening, is now warm enough we can eat outside and have a view. We just have a quick sandwich but the food going past us to other tables looks good. The wines by the glass are limited — but we have one anyway. A bicchiere di vino is €5.00, a panino is €5.50. We think we like a place where wine is cheaper than a sandwich.

We ask Olivia about tipping. Many places include a service charge, written as “coperto” on the bill (il conto). In that case, only a small additional tip should be left. For our €41 bill, she said leaving €2 on the table was sufficient. Over the course of our trip, we found the inclusion of the coperto was not consistent and had to review the bill each time to to see if it was there or not.

At the Capitoline Museums, we focus on the pieces most important to understanding the art and architecture of antiquity. After, we go back to the Roman and Imperial Forums, exit by the Mammertine Prison to the Imperial Fora, a series of interlocking public spaces constructed during Rome’s Imperial Era, to the Colosseo.



Because we bought the ticket which included the Colosseum, we skip the long queue for tickets. At the Colosseo, we not only look around but get a different view of some of the ruins we have looked at earlier.

It’s after 6:00 p.m. when we finish. Olivia, with whom we have had a thoroughly good time, agrees to come with us for a drink. She takes us to an enoteca called Pentagrappolo, [Via Celimontana, 21] 3 or 4 streets away from the Colosseo. It is a small (aren’t they all?) attractive looking enoteca with a piano set up in the corner. Their business card describes it as a wine music bar. Most enoteca are little wine bars where you can stand and have a glass of vino and some little bites to eat, or sit and have table service. The food is fairly casual and simple, as is the service.

At this place, their wine list is very good. We had a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino and were brought little snacks called, I think, stuzzichetti. (I can’t remember and can’t find it in my dictionary). Tiny sandwiches, olives, pieces of frittata, and crostini. Petulia joins us and we have another bottle of wine and get a whole new array of snacks, crostini with different toppings, different fillings in the sandwiches, fried balls of ceci and I can’t recall what else, but all very tasty. With Petulia and Olivia, we have an opportunity to chat about life in Rome, Italy generally, universities and raising children, as well as how to get the most out of our visit to Rome.

As a private tour, this was fairly expensive but having confusions avoided, highlights picked out and contact with two women who are native Romans has made it very worthwhile. This company specializes in docents with masters or doctorates in art history, history or related areas which give them particular expertise in the topics for the tour. We have done a number of private tours in the UK but this group tops them all. You can see their website at Context Rome.

We have no dinner plans so Petulia makes a reservation for us at La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali [Via Madonna dei Monti, 16; (06 679 8643)] and gives us directions how to get there as well as how to get back to our hotel which is in the opposite direction from where Scott guessed it would be. Then to top it off, she pays for the wine.

We follow Petulia’s directions but are not yet used to the narrowness of the streets nor their darkness and are questioning whether we got the right street when we see the awning for the trattoria. It is a small traditional family run place and the owners’ son, Aldo, is expecting us. We order another bottle of Brunello (this becomes one of the themes of our trip) and can’t decide whether to have both primi and secondi. Aldo suggests starting with the primi and decide later if we want secondi. We each order the pasta specials of the day (as recommended by Petulia): Scott, carbonara; me, clams and fresh tomato; Robin, wild boar. The food is great. Scott, who is a carbonara afficionado, thinks his dish is one of the best carbonaras he’s ever had. We have no room for secondi but each order a dolci: pear, bananas and chocolate, fresh ricotta and chocolate; lemon cake and fresh strawberries. Simple but delicious.

The place is tiny and when I go to the bathroom (il bagno) I can see the crates of fresh produce stacked outside the kitchen. The artichokes look especially gorgeous and nothing like the brownish things with dry cracked edges we see in Calgary. The place is extremely busy and people get turned away. Cats are hanging around; some get put out but one very fat calico is allowed to wander or waddle among the tables. At one point, an accordian player comes in and plays. After we paid our bill, Aldo brings us each a limoncello, a slightly sweet lemon flavoured alcohol based drink. It is sold in tourist shops as souvenirs everywhere we go.
We’d go back to this restaurant in a heartbeat and moreover, it is quite inexpensive.

Robin and Scott claim their “man compass” can get us back to the hotel without my referring to my written directions. Surprisingly, it does and so we get a chance to see the Trevi Fountain at night. There’s a lot more people around it and even a couple getting married in front of the fountain.

It is almost midnight, so we call home where it is 4:00 p.m. and talk to the girls who are home from school.

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