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Andersonstown News reporter Francesca Ryan enjoys the dolce vita on a magical weekend in the Eternal City

Roman Holiday

By Francesca Ryan

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That’s the saying, and if you were to take it literally you could find yourself ordering executions at the Colosseum and Circus Maximus for entertainment (Emperor Domitian), burning Christians in your garden simply to create light (Emperor Nero) or ordering all the general undesirables of the city to be rounded up, thrown into an arena and forced to hack each other to death with meat cleavers (Emperor Commodus).

On my most recent trip to Rome earlier this month, I decided to follow in the footsteps of these slightly unstable Roman emperors but not to do as they did, of course, rather just see up close what they saw and where and how they lived. I did it safe in the knowledge that a hefty 2000 years separated me from their, eh, entertainment.

I’ve visited Rome before several times but I keep going back because it is an outstanding city with so much to offer and, not least, because no matter how many times you visit, you will always see something new when you go.

My something new for this trip started with the hotel. In the past on my visits to the Eternal City, I have stayed in self-catering apartments, friend’s homes and hotels – but this time I wanted it to be different. Enter the Regina Hotel Baglioni on Rome’s famed Via Veneto. This isn’t your standard hotel, it’s THE hotel to stay in when visiting Rome.

This beautiful building is situated a stone’s throw from the Villa Borghese, Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) and Via Condotti, the famous fashion street.

A meeting place beloved of the international jet-set, this luxury hotel in Rome has a magnificent selection of rooms in original Art Deco style.

The comfort offered by the rooms knows no bounds – and believe me, for all the walking to be done in Rome, comfort is what you will be longing for after hours spent trekking through the historic city.  And walk we did.

Day one was spent pottering through Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna, Via Condotti and Via del Corso.  If you haven’t been to Rome, you wont understand that just walking along the routes is like walking back in time.  In this area alone you will quite literally stumble across historically significant gems including the delightfully ornate Trevi Fountain, the ancient Mausoleum of Augustus and the architecturally majestic Pantheon, to name a few.  All are on the hit list of must-see attractions in the city, which, according to legend, was founded by and named after Romulus.

Romulus takes us back a fair bit to ancient Rome and the mighty gladiatorial days of the Colosseum.

I’d seen the Colosseum and Roman Forum prior to this trip but my partner, an ancient Rome buff, was keen to see them up close and personal – well, as close as you can get without the blood and slaying – so I decided to organise a surprise.

After some research, I discovered the popular Walks of Italy tour company who offer walking tours from Pompeii to Milan and everywhere in between.

As far as Rome goes, they offer Vatican tours, underground tours, twilight tours and much more but the one that caught my eye was the Colosseum and Roman Forum tour. I immediately jumped at it.

Just last year, the Colosseum opened up both its hypogeum and its top tier: the area beneath the arena and the highest level from where spectators would cheer on the games below. On this tour, we were allowed to explore the wonderful terrace with its sweeping views over the building, walk through the underground where slaves and animals kept the proceedings alive back in the day, as well as exclusive access to the arena floor.

My beaming partner got to tread the same ground that Maximus Decimus Meridius (that’s Russell Crowe in Gladiator, if – like me – you haven’t seen the movie) valiantly fought his way across. Add to that a fabulous walk through the Roman Forum including a walkabout inside the original Roman Senate, plus stops at the Arch of Constantine and Palatine Hill, to name a few.

The expert guide was friendly, knowledgeable, fluent in English, organised and efficient on a tour that was simply breathtaking. For anyone planning a trip to Italy any time soon, remember these three words: Walks of Italy.

Don’t look past them for an indepth and professional tour you will carry with you for the rest of your days.

The historic news out of Rome this month that Pope Benedict XVI is to hang up his Papal vestments due to ailing health was unexpected but added poignancy to the fact that we got to see him just days before he told the world of his decision.

He seemed in fine form that Sunday as he stood at his balcony and spoke authoritatively to the packed St Peter’s Square below, giving no inkling of what was to come.

On our final day, there was only one place left to see. The staple of any Catholic’s trip to Rome: the Vatican Museums.

The Musei Vaticani are among the greatest museums in the world, displaying works from the immense collection built up by the Catholic Church throughout the centuries including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.

The jewel in the crown is unquestionably Michelangelo’s Cappella Sistina, Sistine Chapel.

Painted by Michelangelo in the 1500s, the artwork on the ceiling and walls is a keystone in Renaissance era art.

It’s a lot smaller than you would imagine but the intricate detail of the art astounds and the general atmosphere just emits perpetual piety.  This is where the Papal conclave will be meeting in the next few weeks to choose a successor and there really is no better place, in my opinion.

In fact, I’ve come to think that way about Rome in general.

It’s got everything you could want from a trip: culture, history, attractions, weather, bruschetta and red wine in abudnace. There really is no better place. Arrivederci Roma!


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