I don’t know why but neither of us were particularly excited about Italy, maybe due to the mixed reviews we’d heard or read from fellow travellers that had often told of a roller coaster experience of one minute loving the place and the next minute disliking it, or maybe we were viewing it as a country we were simply passing through on the way to our next destination of Greece (which was kind of the case).
We’d chosen to take the Grimaldi lines ferry from Barcelona to Civitavecchia (around 80kms north of Rome) a 20 hour overnight crossing. The positives of this were that it got us to Italy in just one day; the negatives were that the boat was old and very grubby with over 1000 teenage students on board who partied into the small hours. Eventually almost 3 hours behind schedule we arrived in port at 10pm the following evening feeling a little frayed at the edges.
With only 12 days to explore and Rome being top of our list the following day with it raining heavily we made our way straight there, choosing to stay at camping Flaminio Village (GPS 41.960275 12.4801). The campsite is located just 11kms from the centre and an easy single train journey in, with an onsite restaurant, small shop and 24 hour reception it certainly ranks highly, but it’s the bathrooms which really set it apart, not only are they heated (a first on a campsite for us & a small luxury), they have beautiful classical music playing in the background and piping hot powerful showers, bliss!
Rome is one of the most historically-packed cities and is filled with monumental spectacles, it has quickly gone to the top of our list of favourite cities visited. It is so packed with wonders be they ancient Roman, Renaissance or Baroque that exploring on foot uncovers hidden gems that appear around almost every corner. It’s not a heritage city living in the past though, as well as the traditional, the city and its inhabitants offer a certain charm and style, but it’s also chaotic, frantic and anarchic. There’s a lot to see, but making time to take it all in whilst watching the world go by idling at pavement café sipping an Aperello Spritz or getting lost in the narrow cobbled streets offers another view of this charming city.
Colsseum Roman Forum and Palentine Hill
Places we visited
- Colsseum, Roman Forum and Palentine Hill
- Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Plazza Navona
- Piazza Del Popolo, Pantheon, Circus Maximus
- Vatican & Sistene Chapel
Inside the Vatican
Our Top Tips for Rome
- If visiting the Vatican buy the tickets on line beforehand. Although they charge 4 Euros per ticket more this way it will save you half a day waiting in line! The tickets cost us 20 euros each buying this way. It’s the only way you can pre-book tickets as the kiosk only offers same day tickets. Note that the museum exhibiting the history of the Etruscan is only open until midday – we only found this out once inside and missed out on it as our tickets were for afternoon.
- The admission for the Colosseum (12 Euros) includes The Roman Forum and Palentine Hill, buy your tickets at the Roman forum to avoid the huge queues. We did the audio tour but wouldn’t recommend it (we had to queue a further 3 times to pick up and drop off handsets doing this). We found the audio guide a little confusing (especially at the Roman forum) and not that informative. A guided tour would be better value as the audio tour was 12.50 each although you only actually need one between two as the audio is played through a handset and there are no headphones.
- Take change for buying metro tickets as the only notes the machine took was 5 euro. We just bought a ticket for 100 minutes (which allows you on buses or trains for the allotted time slot) for 1.50 each. Ensure you feed the ticket into the stamping machine before you board the train or inside the bus. If staying at camping Flaminio ensure you catch the urban train back as the suburban train doesn’t stop at the local station.
- We considered the option of the 3 day Roma pass which costs 38.50 & gives you two admissions to all national and city museums plus discounts to other covered sites, it also includes transport, but note the Vatican is NOT included, however when we added it up it wasn’t really worthwhile for us. We spent a total of 42 euros on transport and admissions (not inc the Vatican and the audio tour for the colosseum which wouldn’t have been included on the pass either)
- Wear comfortable shoes (we walked over 30 miles in 3 days) and as usual in cities watch out for pickpockets.
After 3 hectic days in the city and a day catching up with chores on site we headed for the tranquillity of Lake Trasimeno. Set between the cities of Rome and Florence, the 128 sq km lake is Italy’s fourth largest and the perfect location to get away from it all and enjoy the outdoors. Beyond the downward slope, gentle hills form the backdrop to the lake, along with sporadic woods and sunflower and corn fields, vineyards and olive groves. It’s a true natural paradise home to wild ducks, cormorants, kites and kingfishers. Surrounded by quaint castle topped medieval towns such as Casilglione del Lago or Passignano (we stayed at the latter at camping la Spiaggia GPS 43.183689 12.149472 19 euros for standard pitch and 2 or 3 euros more for lake side with ACSI card). With direct access to the lake the campsite gave us the opportunity to road test “Kev “our newly purchased kayak and take him out on his maiden voyage, the calm waters presenting perfect conditions. With a circumference of around 70 kms it’s also possible to cycle around the water which with some electric assistance we managed to do! So with perfect sunny weather in the early to mid 20’s we whiled away our days kayaking, cycling, exploring and generally enjoying the outdoors.
With only 3 other motorhomes on site (at the start of our stay) the tranquillity of both the site and location appealed to us after our hectic days trudging around Rome. We often reflect on the lifestyle we now have and stop to appreciate all that it offers. Not only does it give us the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors more it also means we get to meet other likeminded travellers along the way, and we were privileged to spend a couple of evenings in the company of our Dutch neighbours Ada & Fred sharing stories and of course food and wine! Our original intention had been to stay for a couple of days to re-charge and move on, but the peacefulness of the site appealed and so we stayed put for 6 nights. We’ve got to get moving though as we have a ferry to catch to Greece on Friday!!!
Our short stay in Italy has given us a small taste of what the country has to offer, yes the roads are the worst we’ve driven on so far and shake the bones out of the motorhome, and the graffiti everywhere you look is not endearing, but if you look past the general unkempt feel and lack of organisation there are some beautiful spots just waiting to be explored. Italy we will be back I’m sure!
P.S. The cost of almost everything here is a shock after Spain, Diesel on average is around 1.40 a litre (we filled up in Spain for 1.08 before we left), food in supermarkets is noticeably higher (other than the wine) and drinks & coffee’s in café’s are also higher.
We’ll be back soon with more travels from Greece.
Andi & Paul xx