The Colosseum lit by night (from Wikimedia Commons)
The Colosseum lit by night (from Wikimedia Commons)

With major weekend cramming for exams behind me, and deadlines happening left, right and centre, it could only mean one thing. It must be week six of first semester. My friend and I needed no better excuse to get out of St Andrews. We decided to spend 36 hours in Rome, or thereabouts.

The blue sky, unique umbrella pine trees and shorts and t-shirt temperature got us into holiday mode almost instantly, and we soon forgot the cold, bleak, damp Scottish weather we’d left behind. I was the designated map-reader on this trip, a first for me. I always hated any form of orienteering at school. Having said that, there’s something really exciting about finding out how modern and ancient Rome fit together on the map. Whilst walking to our hostel (Ma Hostel, cheap and very cheerful) eyes fresh and looking at Rome for the first time, we caught a glimpse of a place that seemed even to us very familiar. It was an unbelievable moment, to be walking down a rather non-descript side street to see at the end of it the Colosseum. Expanding before us as we passed pizzerias and souvenir shops obstructing our view of it, we couldn’t walk fast enough. And then, all of a sudden, it seemed that all of ancient Rome was to be seen: the Arch of Constantine (half covered in scaffolding), the ancient Roman Forum, Palatine hill (housing the cave where legend has it that Romulus and Remus were kept alive by a she-wolf) and the Colosseum (itself partially covered in scaffolding). How exciting it was to stumble upon such history!

The main attractions of Rome are always crowded, but that got us even more excited to see what all the fuss was about. Such was our experience of the Trevi fountain, which was impressively lit when we visited it that evening. You’re supposed to throw a coin over your head into the fountain, ensuring your return to Rome in the future, but we didn’t do that. Maybe we would never come back – maybe we would never leave.

Our diet during the trip was not limited by consideration for our health. We ate nothing but pizza, gelato, fruit and Italian pastries. Now that I have tasted Italian pizza, it will never be the same for me. Potato pizza was a particular favourite – small chunks of potato on a cheese and tomato pizza base. Who would have thought carb-on-carb could taste so good? Bomboloni – miniature chocolate-filled doughnuts, absolutely divine. Gelato – Pomegranate, chocolate, raspberry and all the flavours in between (the famous San Crispino gelateria stands out, but with gelaterias scattered throughout the city you are limited only by your sense of exploration).

Early next morning we woke up to explore the Colosseum, one of the 7 new wonders of the world. Busy as soon as the gates open, we decided to skip the tour but listened in opportunistically as tour guides passed us by. Next stop was Vatican City, to see the Sistine Chapel (tip: buy tickets online to avoid the queues). With everyone distracted by the stunning ceiling (including the security guards), we managed to sneak some photos in of the famous “Creation of Adam” fresco, though technically this is forbidden. Our day got even better after we left the Sistine Chapel. We stumbled across and followed an animated crowd who sang their way to St Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis was to speak later that afternoon. We couldn’t believe our luck! The square was almost bursting, and we were treated to musicians, guest speakers and then Pope Francis himself, who gave a captivating talk on traditional family. If only we understood Italian! That night we returned to the spookily lit Colosseum and sat on the grass nearby to watch Gladiator and eat grapes, like true tourists.

Rome is a great walking city; you do not have to rely on the metro to get between places. What this means is you can absorb the atmosphere of the city, and get lost down one of its restaurant-filled side streets, but still you’re never too far away from a major attraction. I find that both of these aspects are essential to truly experience Rome. It’s great to feel like a city is within reach, and perfect for a short trip because you can visit all the major sites in one go. We were constantly aided by the friendly locals, who fortunately were able to laugh with us at how awkwardly little Italian we knew (“Prego”, “Grazie”, “Ciao”, “Molto bene” and not much besides).

36 hours in Rome, or it would have been, had we not missed our flight back. So it became approximately 72 hours in Rome. We somehow managed to make light of the fact that our student loans had just been crippled by the cost of a next day flight back home. But how could we not feel good about spending more time in Rome? We recuperated our losses by really making the most of our last last day in Rome. To round off our time in Rome we, of course, bought several cringe-worthy souvenirs, before finally making our way back to St Andrews, inspired and impressed by what we had seen. It’s the perfect getaway.

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