Travelling to Rome with a Small Dog
All roads lead to Rome … that may be true but once you are there chaos ensues!
If you only have a single day in this city; one drenched in bloody history and boasting more historical buildings than most large countries, the last thing you want to do is get lost and waste valuable time. Especially when travelling to Rome with a small dog! In addition, you may not want to take it upon yourself to drive in this city. From our perspective this is very much a “do so at your own risk” scenario.
We arrived at the main train station to find before us the only real solution given our time crunch. The hop-on-hop-off buses. These open-air double-decker tour buses are modern, clean and top notch and the perfect way to get a glimpse of Rome’s best sites. It is also often the best way to get a decent photo or video of the really large monuments.
There are many companies to choose from and if you have the knack for haggling you can use them against each other to get a better deal. There are vendors near the train station and bus stop called Termini (you will see it – all the double-decker buses alight here) selling the packages – some tickets are valid for a day some for 48 hours. In our case, with most of the morning already finished, we got a rebate on a day pass. It pays to know how to bargain. It was also the perfect time to ask about a canine on board. We were told, true to Italian law, that this would not be a problem as long as I was attached and in a carrier or sling. Although once on board and settled on the upper deck, no one seemed to mind my sitting on a lap instead.
The Rome hop-on-hop off tour offers the opportunity to move around with great views of the city from high above the traffic line. The buses are equipped with a personalized audio system able to function in 8 different languages and you are provided with your own pair of throwaway ear buds.
The buses make many stops. These are only the most famous, and arguably the most beautiful, cultural and evocative sections of this eternal city. Tourists have the chance to organize their day in Rome knowing they can trust the driver with their safety, and that they will find their way to the location they wish to visit and back. It is far less stressful to zigzag through the city center on the double-decker bus – with a bus arriving at your stop every 20 to 25 minutes from 09:30 until 19:00 (according to local traffic conditions) – than trying to figure out some other way to get around.
If you stay on the bus and never get off, the loop takes about 2 hours. We found the map with the main museums and landmarks to be very useful as well and this comes free with your ticket purchase. The buses do not all take the same route – so make sure you choose the one that goes to all those locations you wish to see.
Here are the stops we remember from our day with a quick commentary for each … although some of these frankly deserve their own blog entry, we will try and keep it short and sweet. Perhaps if we return and spend a week we will have a chance to elaborate more fully. Once again, with only a day to get a taster of this magnificent ancient city, we stuck to the exterior of the sites and did not enter since all museums and many monuments are not dog friendly … with one exception. Stay tuned!
Roma Termini: Our start and end point. The Rome train station was named after the ancient Baths of Diocletian, which can be found across the street from the main entrance of the station. When the Roma Termini station was built in 1931 and completed in 1950, it was a great success and achievement. This is where we arrived and also found the double-decker buses.
Santa Maria Maggiore: Founded in the 4th century, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica of Saint Mary Major) is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome. Its 18th-century exterior conceals one of the best-preserved Byzantine interiors in the city. We did not get off at this stop.
Colosseo: The Flavius amphitheatre is the biggest and most imposing in the Roman world, but is also the most famous monument in Rome and is known as the “Colosseum” or “Coliseum”. Started by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavia family, it was opened by his son Titus in 80 A.D. We did not get off at this stop but enjoyed the bird’s eye view we had from the double-decker bus.
Circo Massimo: Now little more than a basin of yellowing grass, the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus) was Rome’s biggest stadium, a 250,000-seater capable of holding a quarter of the city’s entire population. The 600m racetracks circled a wooden dividing island with ornate lap indicators and Egyptian obelisks. Chariot races were held here as far back as the 4th century BC, but it wasn’t until Trajan rebuilt it after the AD 64 fire that it reached its maximum grandeur. We did not get off here.
San Pietro – Vatican City: The “Holly See” as it is also known, is one of the most sacred places in Christendom, and attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. Unique collections of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter’s Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. The basilica, erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world, the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderna. Although not religious we felt it was an important stop so we got off here and walked over to the huge piazza in front of St. Peter. It was very hot at this point so I was really happy to find the two fountains and had a chance to cool off. We also went up to the obelisk at the center – the one thing that remains from even before the Vatican itself. Lorenzo Bernini was entrusted in 1656 with the renovation of St. Peter’s Square . He built two enormous hemicycles with Doric porticoes linked to the church through a trapezoidal plaza that frames the facade between two inclined perspective backdrops. It represents the Church’s embrace of all Christianity. We could see this being cleaned while we were there. You could clearly see the clean, the “in progress” under the tarp and the still dirty part clearly. We walk around and sat a while watching both tourists and pilgrims and a very large number of nuns.
Caste Sant’Angelo: The Castel Sant’Angelo is probably one of the most original monuments in Rome, dates back to the Roman period but has been deeply transformed over the centuries. At present, its charming and complex structure is due mainly to the presence of different architectural strata. Unfortunately we had not enough time to venture out to see this and we still wish we’d had more time on our side. But Rome has just too many amazing things to discover and sacrifices were made.
Patheon: Michelangelo (1475-1564) looked at everything with an artist’s critical eye, and he was not easily impressed. But when Michelangelo first saw the Pantheon in the early 1500s, he proclaimed it of “angelic and not human design.” Surprisingly, at that point, this classic Roman temple, converted into a Christian church, was already more than 1350 years old. What’s even more surprising is that the Pantheon, in the splendor Michelangelo admired, still stands today – another 500 years after he saw it. The Pantheon presents a great mystery. Why, after nearly 2000 years, is this structure, built on marshy land, with a dome whose span was not surpassed for hundreds of years, still standing? We got off to take a closer look. Here was a wonderful exception to the rule. I was allowed inside as long as I was in a sling AND the visit is free. Yes, you can go and visit this amazing edifice absolutely free of charge! We walked in and it was relatively crowded and we soon found out why. A wonderful concert was underway with dramatic voices in a strong choir. We walked around, and were just dumb struck by the magnificence of the place. Back outside, we stopped in the pedestrian street indulged in some pretty darn good gelato and a lot of water. If you are in Rome , even if just a short while – this is the stop you want to make. We will never forget our time spent there.
Trevi Fountain: The Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain is the most famous and arguably the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome . This impressive monument dominates the small Trevi square located in the Quirinale district. The Trevi fountain is at the ending part of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC. It brings water all the way from the Salone Springs (approx 20km from Rome ) and supplies the fountains in the historic center of Rome with water. The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one … how shall I say this … less so. They symbolize the changing ways of the seas and oceans. To the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, the statue on the right represents Salubrity. Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain. The water at the bottom of the fountain represents the sea. Legend has it you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain. For some reason we did not do this and we are hoping this does not mean we will not return! If you do not like crowds be warned. This place is packed. The bipeds held me for the most part just to make sure I wouldn’t’ be accidently trampled *gasp* this fountain really is beautiful and is worth the stop.
Capitoline Hill: The Capitoline Hill was important in antiquity and in Medieval times, but it is really around the time of Pope Paul III that the Hill became the symbol it is today. He commissioned Michelangelo to plan a new (and very ambitious) project; the creation of a new monumental piazza, and centre for political life in Rome . The project was begun in 1538, and was only completed after Michelangelo’s death, but according to his original design. Michelangelo had some serious architectural problems to overcome. The biggest hurdle was the shape of the piazza itself; a trapezoid. In addition there is a gentle slope to the ground. His ingenious solutions create a beautiful, harmonious space. The arrival by the monumental staircase “Cordonata” drawn by Michelangelo, is a pleasure but watch out for the gypsies here. And although the lions of Egyptian origin, no longer act as “wine fountains” they are still very impressive. The three palaces are splendid and if you are an amateur of museums you will be spoiled, although be warned these are not dog friendly.
One of our favorite discoveries however was made when following the small streets left or right of the palace of the Senators with the sights on the Foro Romano. We spent more time looking at this then the actual Capitoline Hill!
The Roman Forum: The Forum Romanum is located in a valley that is between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill. It originally was a marsh, but the Romans drained the area and turned it into a center of political and social activity. The Forum was the marketplace of Rome and also the business district and civic center. It was expanded to include temples, a senate house and law courts. When the Roman Empire fell, the Forum became forgotten, buried and was used as a cattle pasture during the Middle Ages. Much of the forum has been destroyed. Columns and stone blocks are all that remain of some temples. The arch of Titus and the arch of Septimius Severus still stand and are in good shape. Like many other ancient Roman buildings, stone blocks have been removed from the Forum and used to build nearby churches and palaces.
Piazza di Spagna: With its characteristic butterfly plan, the Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous images in the world, as well as being one of the most majestic urban monuments of Roman Baroque style. In the Renaissance period, the square was the most popular tourist attraction in the city: it attracted artists and writers alike and was full of elegant hotels, inns and residences. You will likely know it as “The Spanish Steps”. We did not get off here and are saving it for our next trip!
NOTE: Now it is important to note that we did come across one major hick-up on our day trip. On our last Hop-On we were not allowed on the upper deck. For some reason we still do not understand the lady working on that bus said that dogs are not allowed in the open air section. This meant that mom who was holding me had to stay bellow. This wasn’t terrible but the view is far less pleasant and since it was a lovely warm sunny day she was a bit miffed and frankly so was I. I really enjoyed the scenery! But it was our last stop and so … we said nothing. We also didn’t want to get the other young lady working on the other bus in trouble – just in case she had bent the rules for us.
So after a long and somewhat harried day, we got off where it had all started at the termini stop. We slowly made our way across the street and back to the train station where we hoped on a fast train and made our way home to Florence in about an hour and forty five minutes.
In review: Travelling to Rome with a Small Dog is fabulous and to be fair; to really say you have seen Rome you need more than a simple day. Having missed so much it almost feels like we barely even scratched the surface. It is on the whole very dog friendly just like the rest of Italy . Well worth it but do remember that if you do want to go inside a museum you have to do so without your canine friend. In addition, remember that for some attractions very long waiting times can be expected. For the Vatican ’s St. Peter and the Sistine Chapel for example, line-ups can be as long as 6 hours and of course no dogs are allowed inside. But Rome is a Grand Old Lady, well worth your time. Look beyond some of the crumbling infrastructure and you see a stunning city that has much to offer.