After recovering from a Covid-induced hospital stay in intensive care, my friend Anthony finally went on his dream train trip in Italy. In the first of a four-part series, he shares the start of his Italy rail adventure, which begins with two days in Rome.
Just before the pandemic I was planning a trip to Italy – my initial idea was to fly into Rome and spend a couple of days soaking up the sites before moving on to Perugia. Covid-19 almost drew a permanent line under the whole idea when I contracted the virus and spent two months in intensive care.
It was touch and go for a while; so much so that I was put into a medically-induced coma for more than a month… it was not something I’d recommend.
The excellent ministrations of the NHS doubtless saved my life (I was almost unplugged a couple of times; it was that grim) and I came home from my medical adventure weak as a kitten but determined to resume my travels just as soon as was possible.
And what better way to return to globetrotting than my aborted Italy trip. But this time I was going to supercharge it with a whole list of added extras – the bonus material that would turn the excursion into something really special.
Rome in 2 days
My first port of call was two days in Rome, a city I’d previously visited but which still held much to explore. I’d already seen the Colosseum and the Forum, which was just as well as tickets should ideally be purchased in advance… online. Be warned, you may not be able to just rock up and hope to nose around.
So I snooped over the fence before heading off to the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna E Contemporanea… that’s the modern art museum to you and me. The walk was something of a hike from my hotel near the central station but the sun was out and my route took me through a very pleasant park beyond the Via Pinciana.
The gallery, founded in 1883, is a splendid building – full of light and air. The actual layout of its works was a bit jumbled – if there was a plan I couldn’t spot it – but that didn’t detract from what was on show. Once inside I encountered major works by Braque, Cézanne, Degas, Duchamp, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Monet, Rodin and Van Gogh. I’d call that a result any day.
Scribbling and doodling
I also stumbled across the Villa Medici, situated on the Pincio hill, which featured an exhibition called ‘Scribbling and Doodling – from Leonardo da Vinci to Cy Twombly’.
This contained 300 original works dating from the Renaissance to the modern day that aimed to shed light on one of the most overlooked aspects of drawing: scribbling and doodling. It was pretty good and wholly unexpected; I literally walked past it and through “why not!”… often the best way to enjoy a visit to a new city.
Next up I visited the Museo Leonardo da Vinci, a small but interesting display of the great man’s inventions… brought to life by 3D models that you could touch and operate. It was quite amazing to experience the fruits of his mental labours – drills, pumps, a military armoured vehicle, a diver’s suit (you couldn’t try this one), hoists, cranes, lifts, a flying machine (another non-operational prop)… you name it, Da Vinci invented it.
It all felt a little cramped if I’m honest, but his dazzling intellect shone through. There’s no doubt he was a genius and this hands-on gallery helped underline just how damned clever he was.
Lost in the castle
I also managed to get lost in the Castle Sant Angelo, which was originally built in the 2nd Century as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian. It was later converted into a fortress, a Papal residence and a prison.
Apparently, Pope Pius II saw Archangel Michael sheathe his sword atop the mausoleum, which marked the end of a plague. I remain unconvinced and I’m also doubtful about the directions around the great building itself – getting back outside proved slightly more complex than it should, but it was a great visit nonetheless.
Top tips – where to eat in Rome
If you’re near the Trevi Fountain, and you almost certainly will be at some point, go try a pizza at Piccolo Buco. The locals queue up outside for a table, which gives you an idea of how good it is. And it won’t break the bank, either.
Just up the road is The Albert – a great pub that I’d happily have as my local.
Keri also highly recommends the nearby Gioia Mia Pisciapiano, another great find frequently by locals just a hop, skip and a jump from the famous fountain.
Rome to Perugia by train
So, with Rome ticked off my list, I headed for the train to Perugia. The good news is that trains in Italy are clean, comfy, reliable and cheap… on the whole.
But be warned, there is more than one Rome railway station so make sure you’ve not turned up at the wrong one (no, I didn’t make that mistake). Also, tickets are easy to purchase as all the ticket machines can speak English. Worryingly, the first words they utter are “Beware pickpockets”, very loudly! It all settles down after that.
Also, there are two types of train ticket – one, you pays yer money and off you go, for the other you need to enter your name and your ticket is then printed with a seat reservation. I’m not sure there’s much difference truth be told, but just do as the machine tells you and you’ll be fine.
Don’t forget to validate your ticket before boarding. Also, railway station food is good and not wildly overpriced! Yes, you did read that right.
Next stop, some amazing hills towns… and some related moaning about sore feet!
Things to see in Rome in 2 days
So there you have it, my itinerary for two days in Rome. I hope you found this useful – why not pin this for future reference when you decide to take your own rail adventure in Italy?
This caught your fancy? Why not check out Four Days in Perugia – Part Two of the Italy Rail Trip of a lifetime! This includes a guide to some amazing Italian hill towns… and some related moaning about sore feet!
This is a guest post by Anthony Clark, journalist, copywriter and longtime friend of the Ladies What Travel team. He loves beer, cheese and travel and is a genius when it comes to making the most of his annual leave.