Easter Holiday in Rome


Following the established and successful formula of combining a visit to my family (cats, dogs and chicken included) in Croatia with a holiday nearby, the destination for this year’s April detour is – Rome. This majestic city, the centre of the ancient empire and today’s capital city of Italy, was suggested by our restless and inquisitive seven-year-old during last year’s visit to Venice, Padua and Verona and the two of us – equally eager to revisit this eternal city we hadn’t been to in a decade – jumped at the chance.
Besides, I cannot think of a better place for a first-hand lesson in art, ancient history, religion and food for a curious Year 2 pupil…
I booked our departing flights from London to Trieste and the return from Rome to London as early as November, leaving all the other arrangements for some later date. At that time, I did not realise that our dates coincided with Holy Week and that we would be in the very centre of Christianity during its most important celebration. Still – I was not going to change my plans because of possible overcrowding and expressions of spiritual commitment. We would either try to avoid the epicentres or simply blend in.


At the very last moment we ditch the scenic route on a slow-moving train from Trieste to Rome (six hours plus) in favour of a one-hour flight on Alitalia departing Trieste on Wednesday morning. Not the cheapest, but certainly the fastest option…
Our departure is delayed by half an hour “due to fog in Rome” but when we reach the capital of the ancient Roman Empire the plane-grounding mist has lifted and we are greeted by glorious sunshine and tropical temperatures. The Leonardo train to Stazione Termini takes us through sunlit Roman suburbia. Overbuilt, dense areas with jam-packed buildings are erratically interrupted with villa-style residences surrounded with trees and parks.
We are staying at the reasonably priced and centrally located Hotel Esposizione in Via Nazionale. Situated halfway down the popular street lined with high and mid-end brands, cheap outlets and hotels galore, close to Stazione Termini and within walkable distance from all of the attractions on our to-see-list, it seemed a perfect choice. Well – at least on its website! This is one of those hotels that are not very easy to find or navigate through; the reception is located on the 3rd floor of one building, your room is on the 4th floor of the second building and breakfast is on the 2nd floor of the first building (but that’s not mentioned on the website). And the lift is a recently added token-feature, consisting of a miniature see-through metal box as seen in old thrillers. It can carry a maximum of 2 ½ people or a person and a suitcase at a time… The room is spacious and with high ceilings covered in recently added old-style fresco paintings; the bathroom is large and sparkly with complimentary soaps, shower gels and shampoos galore; and the window opens to the view of the majestic Palazzo delle Esposizioni.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II
Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II

After dropping our bags, we walk into a bright and hot afternoon towards the bottom end of the Via Nazionale and to the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II. The out-of-scale and overpowering memorial to the father of the united Italy is immaculately white and shiny; as if just scrubbed and bleached. The place is busy but not overcrowded. From the viewing platform, we enjoy the mesmerising views of the Roman roofs, the Forum, the Colosseum and other remnants of the Roman empire scattered anywhere our eyes fall. The sun is reaching the end of its working day, the light is turning a gentle orangey shade and the breeze is softening the heat. Che bella cosa na jurnata 'e sole.

Eating with the locals

Via del Boschetto and Via dei Serpenti, two old cobblestoned streets around the corner from the hotel, are packed with inviting little osterias emanating smells of basil, oregano and rosemary and serving authentic Roman cuisine. For our first supper in the Imperial city we choose “II (Due) Colonne”. This homely eatery appears extremely popular in the neighbourhood. Throughout our dinner, we witness several people popping in for a quick plate of pasta or a pizza or to collect pre-ordered takeaways; all accompanied by a complimentary chat with the cheerful owners, a couple in their fifties.
Whilst our seven-year-old sticks to her favourite Italian dish – penne al burro e parmigiano – the two of us opt for more advanced gastronomy. A selection of salami (bresaola, parma ham, and another two I could not name) with crispy bread to start; and bucatini all’Amatriciana, saltimbocca alla Romana with spinach fried on olive oil and garlic to follow. We wash it down with a large Peroni beer and one, two or possibly three glasses of red wine (not sure how much it was in the little carafe but definitely more than the one I ordered). I love spinach in all forms and combinations, but the one served at “II Colonne”, decorated with a crust of grated parmesan cheese and paired with the buttery and sagey juices of the saltimbocca, was pure ambrosia.

Saltimbocca alla Romana
Saltimbocca alla Romana

For pudding, we order a Torta della Nonna to share. Oh, I do love it when I see Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s tart) on the menu, both in Italy and in Croatia, and so far I have not tasted two identical ones. Of course not – different nonna, different cake. This one was the closest to the original it can get – a soft sponge with a generous filling of crema pasticcera (in taste and consistency similar but not identical to custard). And all of that for €60.
Back in the hotel, our male travel companion tries to find a TV channel showing a Championship game (unsuccessfully); our little big reader ploughs through yet another adventure of the Famous Five and I start streaming an episode of the Italian series L’onore e il rispetto. Minutes into the tense drama about mafia and romance, just when the plot starts to intensify, my Internet connection dies and shows no intention of coming back to life… Disappointed, I fall asleep before the other two…

THURSDAY – The Vatican

Next morning it becomes obvious that the best characteristic of our hotel was indeed – its location. The Wi-Fi is temperamentally unreliable and the taps are offering unpleasant lukewarm trickles. A cold shower is not the best way to start our first full day in Rome. Luckily, the breakfast of croissants overflowing with custard or Nutella and properly prepared espresso and cappuccino manages to enhance our mood.

Ponte Sant'Angelo
Ponte Sant'Angelo

On the way towards the Vatican we breath in the overwhelming grandiosity of this place: buildings and facades dating back to countless historic periods, roundabouts set against amazing backgrounds, and pink and white blossomed trees contrasting with the paleness of the azure sky as if on impressionistic canvases. We are deafened by the city’s soundtrack: horns and sirens (either of the carabinieri or the Croce Rossa ambulances, or both) tyres screeching, mobile phones ringing and people shouting in numerous languages and dialects…
Buying tickets upfront for Musei Vaticani is a must! We bought our ones – two adults and one child for € 77.50 – through the Rome Museums website. The representative meets and greets us (and scores of others) at the stairs in Via Tunisi, across the road from the main entrance to the Vatican museums. We are ordered into sets of twenty or so and follow our guide through the group entrance. After a full-scale airport style security, the representative gathers together all “reduced” ticket holders (children) and walks away with them. In no time I lose sight of my 7-year-old – who by the way is the smallest and youngest of the group – and the scenario of losing a child in the Vatican suddenly crosses my mind… Ten minutes later our kiddies are back, we are handed tickets and let loose…
A visit to the Musei Vaticani – one of the largest museums in the world - requires physical and mental stamina; and tolerance for large crowds. Covering everything is impossible, with or without a child. Our passionate Year2 traveller gets her own audio guide and a treasure hunt map that she sticks to with uncompromising enthusiasm. After we miss a couple of exhibits from her map in the Egyptian museum, we are forced to return to the very beginning of the museum to find them… Stubborn child.

Musei Vaticani
Musei Vaticani

In the Sistine Chapel, the cherry on the cake at the end of the tour, visitors are crowded like in the rush hour on the London underground; with all eyes directed upwards towards Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Gallery assistants’ intermittent shouts “silence please” are unable to quieten down the murmur of the people overwhelmed by the artistic and religious significance of this magnum opus.
The door to the right of the chapel – a tip from the Musei di Roma guide – takes us directly to the Basilica di San Pietro. After a quick walk around the overwhelming and slightly scary place of religious celebrations, we exit to the Piazza di San Pietro. The concave shaped colonnades of the square resemble expended arms inviting people for a hug and refuge. The sun is shining and the temperatures are reaching the levels of a successful London summer…

Piazza San Pietro
Piazza San Pietro

One of the places I cannot miss when in Rome is The Antico Caffè Greco in Via dei Condotti; where Keats and Byron drank their coffees, and talked poetry, love and weather in the early 19th century. Keats died from tuberculosis in a house at the bottom of the famous Spanish steps. Since my last visit, the café has been renovated; it feels more spacious but it has remained true to the old décor (including the painting of a young curly boy by a Serbian painter that’s still on its wall). Décor is not the only the only thing that has been upgraded; the prices have too. A single espresso costs 7 euros, cappuccino 9 euros, and cakes (12 or 14 euros) are more expensive that two-course lunch menus in most osterias around the city…

Antico Caffè Greco
Antico Caffè Greco

The coffee was good but not excellent. It’s grainy aftertaste and the lingering sourness did not make it onto my list of best Italian espressos. The café, established in 1760 and known for its famous cultural past, these days seems to be frequented exclusively by tourists, and the penguin-suited waiters and waitresses spend more time taking photos than serving coffees.
Exhausted and overwhelmed by the day, we grab a quick dinner in the osteria “Al Boschetto” in Via del Boschetto. Pizzas for my travel companions and trofie allo scoglio (pasta with seafood) for me… Scrumptiously delightfully delicious…

GOOD FRIDAY – Three coins in the fountain

Day at ease; without a plan or an agenda. Our map can guide us to any and as many places as our legs can take us. As long as we steer clear of the Colosseum and the Vatican, where masses of people are gathering in celebration of Good Friday. I don’t react (or behave) too well in large crowds and I would rather avoid them, if possible. I blame it on my childhood on an isolated farmstead in the middle of vast space…
After a leisurely stroll around the empty streets surrounding the Quirinale, one of the official addresses of the Italian president, we descend to Fontana di Trevi, the most famous fountain in the world. This impressive, 26 meters tall and 50 meters wide Baroque sculpture features in many movies with the most famous being La dolce vita and Three Coins in the Fountain. After the obligatory back-turned coin throwing to guarantee a future return, we try to find a good spot for a photograph; a challenging task due to the shadows of the buildings – it being early in the morning – rather than the crowds of people…

Fontana di Trevi
Fontana di Trevi

The narrow street taking us away from the Fontana is lined with handicraft shops selling original souvenirs made of wood or leather and the not-so original selection of calendars featuring vistas of the city, smiling young clerics next to aprons with images of Michelangelo’s David, well parts of…


Not far is the wall built around the surviving colonnades of the Temple of Hadrian and just around the corner is the Piazza della Rotonda and the Pantheon. The Pantheon is one of the best preserved Ancient Roman buildings, which later in its two-thousand-year history became a church. We walk around in a large circle, mesmerised by the hugeness of the place, the colours of its tiles and the light seeping through the oculus in the dome. The Pantheon is also the resting place of several important historical figures; such as the artist Raphael and kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I.
Piazza Navona, just a few minutes away from the Pantheon, seems the perfect place for our late morning coffee. The square was constructed around an ancient stadium giving it its rectangular shape; over the centuries it hosted markets and theatre performances and these days it’s a popular spot for a chat, a walk, a coffee, an ice-cream or a meal in one of the many cafés and restaurant facing the square. The sun is still on the morning side of the zenith, the temperatures are pleasant and the square is almost empty. We walk around the centrepiece of the square – Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi - and head to the north side of the square, sit on the terrace of the café-restaurant Nettuno and agonise over ice-cream flavours…

Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona

Inspired by the sun and the Mediterranean way of life, our male companion heads off for an afternoon nap, while the two of us prefer a stroll with a chance of shopping. After a quick glance at the stalls with not very inspiring but very cheap souvenirs (€1) at Piazza della Repubblica we stumble across this amazing bookshop called IBS – LIBRACCIO. Three or even four floors of pure heaven for book lovers of any genre. I treat myself to Niccolò Ammaniti’s “Io e te” and the newest selection of contemporary Italian short stories “Toilet 23”. My Year2 pupil finds it hilarious that those stories are meant to be read “on the toilet” and that each of them also features the minutes required to finish it… “Unstrap your belts and remain seated”. Whatever – good for my Italian.
The George Byron Café is on our way back to the hotel and we cannot resist a pitstop for an espresso and a slice of marble-looking cake; in Rome called “ciambellone alla nonna” (good old nonna!) As we munch on our cake, sip coffee and juice and read through our books, the streetlights are coming on and the afternoon is ageing and turning into dusk.
Yellow-façade Osteria al 16 in the Via Del Boschetto boosts with an impressive list of plates containing polenta (maize mash), one of my all-time favourite dishes. We start with a platter of Italian cheeses and follow with polenta with baccalà for myself, rigatoni all’Amatriciana for my other half, and pasta al burro – what else? – for the fussiest member of our traveling crew.
The restaurant is linked to the one next door – called Osteria al 19 with an equally yellow front and almost identical menu - and our waiter and the waitress from next door keep running between the two establishments. Either they have only one kitchen or the chef of our restaurant has not turned up yet. We find it funny. First the waiter brings beers from the other place. Then the waitress from Number 19 rushes in with a platter disguised with a green kitchen towel in her hands; no doubt those are the cheeses served to us two minutes later. The four extra-hard and extra-strong cheeses are very similar both in taste and in texture and I feel disappointed; not by those cheeses but by the fact that I was hoping for more variety, maybe a mozzarella, a blue cheese, or something else…
The polenta dish is truly delicious: soft maize mash is spread around the plate and covered with a thick layer of rich, aromatic baccalà sauce. When the bill arrives, I realise that we have been charged €11 for a plate of penne with a knob of butter; more expensive in fact than the rigatoni all’Amatriciana. We are too tired and too full to argue. Instead we opt for a passive approach – no tip, no return and no recommendation…

SATURDAY – The long way to the Colosseum

After breakfast, we happily descend Via dei Serpenti towards the Colosseum. A warm and sunny morning is announcing yet another summer-like day and we feel excited and optimistic. We are in possession of a prepaid voucher; after all! Our positive mood deflates in the queue for “voucher holders”, longer by miles than the one to purchase the ticket! One hour and a bit later we reach the booth and get our voucher exchanged for a ticket with the time stamp “for entrance after 2.30”. And that’s another four hours away. Great. Just great.
In a side street, not too far from the Colosseum, yet far enough to get away from scores of tourists, we walk into “Café Café” (Via dei Santi Quattro), a stylish and funky café serving amazing coffee. Even the toilets are quirky; toilet paper comes in all colours and an old lion head fountain has been turned into a basin. The Wi-Fi is incomparably better than the one in the hotel and we finally catch up on world news. The first snippet of info is the one about North Korea preparing for a nuclear attack… Just when you think the day cannot get any worse…
Over the next few hours we: spend some time in Parco delle Colle Oppio, walk to Stazione Termini to check the festive timetable for buses to Ciampino airport and stop for lunch. Birreria Marconi, in a side street not far from the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, offers a lunchtime menu for €10. Bruschetta with tomatoes or just olive oil, Italian sausages or chicken breast with ham and cheese served with roasted potatoes Italian-style (rosemary and garlic), and pizza Margherita sets us up for the rest of the day.


Back at the Colosseum – just gone 2.30 – we find ourselves again in the longer queue. This time the ticket holders queue is at least ten times bigger than the one for purchasing tickets and it circumnavigates approximately half a way around the amphitheatre. Great. Just great!
A brigade of sellers of selfie sticks, bottles of water, cheap and trashy souvenirs and dodgy characters promising you to jump the queue if you follow them are appearing on the loop. The temperatures are reaching record levels even for the capital of the ancient empire for this time of the year and our enthusiasm is dipping to worrying depths.
Conclusion – buying vouchers in advance for the Colosseum is a complete, utter waste of time.
Once we are finally in – after tight security controls and fights with scores of fellow visitors – we are deflated, anti-climactic and weary. Admittedly – for the two of us this is not the first time inside the largest arena of the ancient world, but it is for our little one so we do not want our stroppiness to spoil her enjoyment of the iconic symbol of this city and its past… And as we walk around, we try to imagine gladiator fights, enactment of sea battles, theatre shows and religious celebrations in this majestic building, before sitting on thousand-year-old stones and drinking from the water fountain…
On the way back to our hotel, we stop in “Il Gelatone” in Via dei Serpenti, a gelateria serving a hundred plus tastes, options, colours and portions of ice cream. The waitresses are impatient and rough around the edges, but hey it’s not easy to decide between such a variety! We opt for fruity flavours - melone, limone e mandarino. My mandarino ice-cream has a strong flavour and the refreshing consistency of sorbet. Probably the second best gelato I had in my life (the first being a fig flavoured one in Taormina)…


In the evening of our last full day in Rome we head for an evening stroll up the Via Nazionale and to the George Byron café. Over a drink or two we summarise our impressions of this eternal city. My opinion oscillates between pure fascination with its remarkable history and surprise at the decadence of its present. The streets could do with a good clean and some façades with renovation. It also reflects the people we encounter – from amazingly friendly (owners of “II Colonne”, the people in the IBS bookshop) to uncaring and rough (receptionists at our hotel not too bothered about the lack of hot water or non-existence of the WI-FI, the waiter who overcharged us at Osteria al 16)…

EASTER SUNDAY – Ciampino Airport

It’s only 7 A.M. and we are already at Ciampino airport – a 25-minute bus drive from Stazione Termini – for our 10.20 flight. The suitcase checked in, we sit down for breakfast in the pre-security control restaurant in the hall.
“Our flight has been delayed!” announce my travel companions as I place the tray with custard cream croissants, two coffees and a sciuma (babycino) on the table.
I wait for the “just kidding” part of the joke; but it does not arrive.
“To 4pm! Look at the display!”
The attendants on the Airport information and the Ryanair desks are emanating an air of fed-upness: not only do they have to work on Easter Sunday but they also have a plane-load of dissatisfied customers, the majority with children. Yes, the flight is delayed by six hours. No, there are no places on the following two flights to London that are leaving on schedule. No, it does not look like your flight will be any earlier than the “previsto” 4pm.
Ciampino is the other Roman airport, the one that caters for Ryanair planes and is located in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do, nothing to see and nothing to shop. Mid-morning we grab sandwiches and bottled water (courtesy of the airport), mid-afternoon we eat squares of pizzas and drink coca-colas, and in between we consume numerous coffees and chocolate in all form and shapes; elevating our caffeine and sugar levels to hazardous heights…
Well, Happy Easter to us!
PS: Two days later we received a letter of apology and notice of compensation from our airline. Good old Ryanair!