June 11, 2011

Grand Tour Rome

Firenze, May 2010 - We were about to embark on the final leg of our journey with Trafalgar's Contrasts of Europe train tour through England, France and Italy with a short trip from Florence to Rome's Termini station.

Before checking into our hotel, we took an orientation tour of those same ancient sights that had attracted earlier travellers on their Grand Tours of Europe. We drove past the Baths of Diocletian and the ruins of the Roman Forum to arrive near the Arch of Constantine for a tour of the Colosseum.

Arch of Constantine

Colosseum, Rome

After a brief introduction, we were free to explore this site of bloody gladiator battles on our own.

Interior of the Colosseum

Tunnels below the Arena Floor

The Colosseum's Roman Arches

Then we continued on to the Circus Maximus, where Romans held their chariot races.

Circus Maximus

We checked into our hotel, the Diana, and then had a free afternoon. After searching for a bancomat for some cash, and a pasticceria for some cannoli, we confirmed the remainder of our travel arrangements with the local tour operators. The Contrasts of Europe tour was almost over, but we were then headed further south to Sorrento for an additional 3-day tour which would include visits to Pompeii and and the Isle of Capri.

At 5:30 p.m. we departed on the evening's optional excursion, a visit to the Spanish Steps followed by a Roman dinner (89 euros). We walked the short distance to the Piazza Republicca where we took the Metro to Piazza di Spagna and the famed Spanish Steps.

Piazza di Spagna, Rome

I had read in the guidebooks of the steps being adorned by a mass of pink azaleas in the month of May. Either we had arrived in Rome too early, or the poor weather was again to blame for their absence.

The Spanish Steps, Rome

It was raining again, and umbrellas clustered around Bernini's Fountain of the Old Boat, which sits at the base of the steps. As the name suggests, this fountain is in the shape of a boat and was chosen after a boat was left behind by receding food waters from the Tiber River.

Fountain of the Old Boat

At the foot of the Spanish Steps is Babington's Tea Rooms, a traditional English tea room that has served travellers since 1893 and a favourite gathering place for writers, artists and politicians.

Babington's Tea Rooms, Piazza di Spagna

We climbed the steps and looked out over the crowds filling Via Condotti, which is lined with luxury boutiques and designer shops.

Via Condotti from the Spanish Steps

Next we joined the evening passeggiata down nearby Via Margutta, which became fashionable after the 1953 release of Roman Holiday.

Via Margutta, Rome

Via Margutta has been home to celebrities such as Federico Fellini and is now known as the Artist's Quarter.

Fountain of the Artists, Via Margutta

From here we proceeded to Piazza del Popolo for dinner at Canova. Afterwards a bus was waiting to take us back to the Hotel Diana, where we headed for the rooftop terrace. But, as in Florence, the terrace was closed due to weather. I hoped for better conditions for our group farewell on the rooftop the following night, our last night in Rome.

Next:  Rome and the Vatican

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