Destination: Rome

“What’s Rome like for a long weekend away?” I’m often asked this, and I always answer the same way, “For a long weekend away it’s rubbish”. You see, coming to Rome only for a long weekend is frustrating, there’s just too much to see and do in just 72 hours. It would be like walking into a room and being presented with the world biggest free buffet, full of delicacies from all over the world, but only having enough time to butter a bread roll before being ushered out again. Beautiful site, great experience, but if only you’d had more time…

As a weekend destination, Rome really does have it all, we all know about the amazing beauty and charm of the main cultural sites, but seriously, you could spend a whole day having a tour around the Vatican museums and still want to go back for more in the morning. The first time I went into the Colosseum, I didn’t want to leave, it really is that magical. Book a tour of the Roman Forum and let your guide reconstruct Roman life as they walk you around those cobbled, ancient streets. You could easily get lost in your imagination and spend hours there.

As night time falls, it get’s worse. There are so many restaurants to choose from, so many dishes you will want to try as you pass through the bustling streets of Trastevere, mouth and eyes wide open as you spy other peoples dinners as they eat ‘al fresco’ on the outside tables as you make your way to your chosen restaurant. After dinner, you could head down to the river and enjoy a cocktail and the open air cinema, or you could pop along to Gregory’s Jazz Club at the top of the Spanish Steps. If Jazz aint your thing daddy-o, then there are always the bars and clubs of Testaccio, San Lorenzo or Pigneto.

And then there are the other pleasures. Sitting on the bench outside Caffe Peru (just off Piazza Farnese) having breakfast takes up at least an hour and a half. Not because the service is terrible, Salvatore the owner wouldn’t allow that, but because it’s the best place in Rome to sit back with a coffee and watch the world go by. How about a stroll through Villa Ada, one of Rome’s lesser visited parks? It’s absolutely beautiful. A day trip to Anzio? Tivoli? Castelli Romani? Where are you going to find the time?

No, a long weekend in Rome just isn’t enough. With two main airports that cater to both the main and low-cost airlines and thousands of excellent hotels and beautiful apartments to rent, you have no excuse not to come again and again. I should know, I came here for a long weekend 11 years ago and never left.


Burn, baby burn…

We were discussing the music of Ministry yesterday afternoon during the fourth videographic session for When In Rome Tours under searing heat. At day’s end, Jello Biafra’s speech before outro ‘The Land of Rape and Honey’ in 1990 came to mind, and his prophetic ‘burn, baby burn, whenever I see you I see red’ speech (8/9) made painful sense. On returning home, I found myself horribly burned in the name of having recorded the best of ancient Rome for those who are about to receive a piece of Roman holiday land. We captured some nice sequences inside the Roman forum and on Piazza Farnese, the best of which will enhance company video content. I decided upon Dvorak’s ‘The Noon Witch’ for audio rather than tour guide commentary, and I am confident that it’s splendid appeal will permeate the masses, similarly Ministry 1988 – 2004. We have plenty of videos planned for release between now and the end of the year, they’ll be published here and everywhere else online in due course. If you love Rome as much as we have to, enjoy 🙂

The Restoration of the Black Stone

Our Rome tours with a private guide include an overview of the Lapis Niger (Latin for ‘Black Stone’), a site in the Roman Forum where an ancient shrine surrounded by black slabs of marble sets it apart from ubiquitous travertine flooring. Along with the Vulcanal, a sanctuary to Vulcan, it is the only surviving remnant of the Old Comitium, an assembly which pre-dates the forum. It may also be the location of a 7th or 8th century BC. cult.

The Lapis Niger was unearthed in 1899 by Giacomo Boni and it’s discovery was recorded in the writings of Sextus Pompeius Festus, which alluded to a ‘black stone in the Comice’ (Lapis Niger in Comitio). Described as a fatal place, the tomb of Romulus, or at least where he was killed, the literary tradition according to which the first Roman king was killed beside a sanctuary initiated the misidentification of the site with Romulus’ grave. This hypothesis has been excluded in modern times.

Excavations have uncovered a monumental complex comprising a platform supporting a tuffaceous altar with three antas (shutters) and a circular basement, perhaps used to house a statue, and a trapezoid cippus (low pillar) – possibly the Lapis Niger as described in ancient Latin texts – the sides of which show bustrofedic inscriptions (‘the way of plowing oxen’, i.e. from left to right in reverse) which date back to 570-560 B.C. The inscriptions resemble ancient Greek alphabet, and the stone is chronologically linked to the period when Greek lettering was in use by the people of Italy. As only fragments of each line have survived the ravages of time, it is impossible to decipher the meaning with any degree of accuracy. However, scholars are of the opinion that it may be a warning.

The Lapis Niger, occasionally referred to as ‘Heart of the World’, is being restored to it’s original splendour in situ after centuries of concealment. At the foot of the Campidoglio, between the Curia Julia and Arch of Septimius Severus, a specialized project area is now strictly off limits, as archaeologists dismantle 300 square metres of reinforced concrete floor laid in the 1950’s.  Project leader Pia Petrangeli reports that iron parts inside the paving, severely corroded by humidity, have been stabilized to reduce the possibility of collapse. In order to achieve such a delicate task, an innovative application has been used for the first time on an archaeological dig in Rome. Technicians will cut through the concrete with a sophisticated air-saw and ‘wagon-bridge’. At time of writing, the area is secure and works to uncover the stone are already underway. If you are interested in a tour of the Roman Forum in the company of an expert Rome tour guide, Ancient City, Piazzas & Fountains is a good place to start, as is Rome in a Day, Two Days in Rome and Three Days in Rome.


Cycling in Rome #1

An acquaintance of mine recently said of cycling in Rome, ‘you’re either brave or stupid’. Perhaps. For exercise, to experience the freedom one can feel on two wheels, for whatever reason, cycling is surely one of the most rewarding outdoor activities available to everyone, especially those fortunate enough to live in a city as beautiful as Rome.

To be able to move freely between the ruins while observing thousands of heavy legged, exhausted tourists in mid-July (call it research), trying to make the best of whatever it is their guide book is telling them, begs the question why there is still no stand alone cycling tour company in Rome, as opposed to our own ‘Bike Tours’, for example.

In our case, it’s just a small tour we offer to clients who are cycling enthusiasts back home, but in future we may extend the service to cover parks and bike trails in and around Rome (with connecting rail links), and offer different types of bikes, like hardtails and suspension mtb’s.

It’s always interesting to cycle from the Vatican to the Roman Forum and Colosseum within the space of 15-20 minutes to see exactly how many tourists are milling around, on a tour, are waiting for a tour, or waiting in line somewhere. Similarly, the amount of gatherers working these locations is astonishing. They must surely number well over a few thousand at any given time in Rome on any day in high season, selling all manner of Vatican tours (click to read about our tours of the Vatican – they’re the very best in Rome), and other small group tours of Rome (click to read about our ‘Rome tours in small groups’), on the more curious side of the Rome tours market. Gatherers don’t move for cyclists in case they’ll lose commissions. Fact, fans!