In just three days’ time I’ll be in Rome, checking out the Eternal City and tracking down the best coffee, pasta and gelato – well, it’d be rude not to. I’ve been loosely planning my trip for a few months, but now it’s time to actually work out the must-see sights on my list and make sure I don’t leave without ticking them off.
WEIRD AND WONDERFUL
1. The Museum of Purgatory – Regular readers might have noticed that I’m a sucker for unusual sights, so this tiny museum (dedicated to souls stuck between heaven and hell) is an essential stop. It’s at the back of a church and consists of just 20 exhibits in one tiny room, amassed by a single collector up until his death in 1912, so it’ll be a bit like stepping back in time by 101 years.
2. The Globe Theatre – When someone tells you they’re going to build a full scale replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the grounds of the Villa Borghese, it’s best not to argue, just stand and admire. Performances are held throughout the summer, so I’ll be too early to watch one, but I can’t wait to see what this slightly mad copy of the London landmark looks and feels like when it’s out of its natural context.
3. Capuchin Crypt – Boasting more skeletons than most politicians have in their closet, this is a big draw for tourists, but it’s particularly important to me as I’m so obsessed with anatomical art. Although you can’t take photos, I will try and linger long enough to do some sketching of the thousands of monks’ bones assembled here. You can also buy crypt postcards from the church, which help to support its preservation. As an avid and slightly grannyish postcard collector, I’ll be sure to invest in a few, if only to use as chilling birthday cards for people I don’t like.
1. Mouth of Truth – Gregory Peck famously made Audrey Hepburn think his hand had been taken by this ‘statue’, which is actually an old drainage cover that looks a bit like a gaping mouth. The scene they shot there for Roman Holiday is a classic. I’ll be scooting over there on a vintage Vespa, with Scooteroma.
2. Cinema Dei Piccoli – This is a cinema designed especially for children, so it’s essentially child-sized, and sits in the middle of the Villa Borghese Gardens. The owners used to have a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on the roof, but had to take them down for legal reasons (ah, the power of the corporate mouse), however locals still remember it for quirky touches such as this. Nowadays it’s used for school screenings in the mornings, but there are public showings in the evenings and weekends.
3. Spanish Steps – As seen in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Roman Holiday, etc., you just can’t ignore this place if you’re into film locations. It used to be where artists would scout their models, whereas now it appears to be the place to pose for an Instagram selfie as a tourist. I’ll be trying to get nice photos of people going up and down the steps, but I’ll then start swearing when I realise how frustrating it is trying to work on manual settings and I’ll resort to one of those default modes, in despair. Pfft.
1. Valentino – Having watched the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor, thanks to a lovely press evening at One Aldwych in London, and subsequently seen the Master of Couture exhibition at Somerset House, it’s fair to say I’m a little bit enamoured with the great Mr. Valentino Garavani. He creates couture so effortlessly beautiful that it would make my old GCSE Textiles teachers cry tears of little tiny dressmaking pins. I will be tracking down the studios and standing outside like a crazed fan, no doubt.
2. Louis Vuitton – Not just more window shopping here; the building used to be Rome’s first cinema and the screen is still a focal point, albeit showing Vuitton films rather than the latest releases. Also look out for an unusual ceiling that’s been carefully restored, alongside period fixtures brought in especially to keep the vintage mood intact.
3. Delfina Delettrez – One heck of a jewellery designer, some of Delettrez’s dark designs wouldn’t look out of place in the Cappuchin crypt. Her boutique in the city centre means I can get up close to her work, including the amazing skeletal hand pieces, even if I can’t afford to buy anything.
A TASTE OF ROME
1. Bar Del Cappuccino – Rumoured to be the best coffee in the city, Bar Del Cappuccino has won awards around the world for its talented owner and chief barista, Luigi. I’ll be putting his skills to the test, but obviously not ordering the signature drink after late morning, as I don’t want to be laughed at by the Romans, who move onto macchiatos and Americanos once it gets to lunchtime and beyond.
2. Freni e Frizione – Transformed from a former car workshop, hence the translation of ‘Brakes and Clutches’, this is a popular bar with a wide drinks menu and aperitivi (a.k.a. snacks) for about €7. I will be taste testing as much as possible and admiring the decor as I kick back with a beer.
3. Gelato Di San Crispino – Out of the overwhelming choice of ice cream shops in the city, it’s got to be San Crispino. Immortalised by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love, this company offers unusual flavours, from grapefruit to a special hazelnut blend, all served without a cone, so as not to impair the overall taste. I’m up for sampling some, possibly at the end of a night out (each branch is open until about 12:30am, in case you get the munchies).
1. Colosseum – Not just because my dad will enjoy impersonating Russell Crowe in Gladiator, one of his all-time favourite films. There’s plenty to admire about the Colosseum, from its architecture to its social history. I can’t say I admire the barbarism, but I guess it shows how far we’ve come since then. Until you look at programs like Big Brother.
2. Trevi Fountain – Cinematic connections aside, the Trevi is an essential point of pilgrimage for any self-respecting tourist, or so I’ve read. All the guidebooks and websites recommend it (even the really ‘alternative’ ones), though I don’t plan on wishing for anything too extravagant when I throw a coin in. Its restoration project is being spearheaded by the fashion house Fendi, led by Karl Lagerfeld, so maybe I will just wish to bump into him and say hi.
3. Roman Forum – Mainly because I want to write a blog post called ‘A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum…’, but also because this is a vast expanse of Roman history. Back in the day, the Forum was used for everything from political meetings to trading and money lending. We don’t have a UK equivalent that I know of (it’s not like they did much business in Stonehenge), so this will be a unique experience.
Besides these places, there’s loads more that I’ll be exploring, but I know not everything will go to plan. Due to the Papal Conclave, I’m not expecting to get into the Sistine Chapel, and the weather’s also not supposed to be too great until the day we leave, so I’m preparing to be pretty flexible.
If you have any recommendations for me to add to the list, feel free to share them below.