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Travel & Holidays in later life

From Laterlife’s winter base in Capena, Italy it’s just a 35-minute bus ride to the station at Saxa Rubra, then 15 minutes by train to Flaminio where the Metro opens up all of Rome. Armed with a €6, 24 hour, ticket covering all public transport Laterlife Travel Editor, Moira McCrossan goes exploring.

St Peters Rome

I love the Italian public transport system. It's quick, clean, regular and there are connections to take you wherever you want to go.

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However today I want to walk and the pleasure of walking in Rome is that at every turn, there is something to see. A few hundred metres from the station I am in the Piazza del Popolo, one of the many massive piazzas of the city, with an ancient Egyptian Obelisk at the centre. Across this vast space, people scurry purposefully to business, confer on mobile phones, pose by spouting lions for the camera or sit enjoying the January sunshine. From the Piazza three straight streets, known as the Trident, radiate to the eternal city beyond.

Piazza del Popolo

To the right Via di Ripetta leads to the Tiber, a riverside walk and across to the Vatican and Saint Peter's Basilica, the most magnificent duomo in the world. The street to the left, starts as Via del Babuino to the Spanish Steps and continues beyond, to the Piazza del Quirinale, where another Roman obelisk is flanked by enormous prancing horses. The Palazzo del Quirinale on three sides of the piazza was originally built as a residence for the Pope in the 16th century, has been a royal palace and is now the official residence of the President of the republic.

I choose the central street, the Via del Corso, which runs all the way to Piazza Venezia, dominated by the 'typewriter', the huge monument to Victor Emmanuel, the first King of unified Italy. This brash, white marble edifice has little to recommend it as a building, but the view of Rome from the top is unrivalled.

Spanish Steps Rome

The Via del Corso has remarkably little traffic at the start and pedestrians wander along the centre, although it does get much busier at the other end. I spend my time wandering along the many side streets, particularly to the left, where there are lots of shops, restaurants and hotels. People linger at outside cafe tables, although well wrapped up in coats and scarves at this time of year. I take the Via Condotti, named for ancient Roman pipe runs, to Piazza di Spagna. The long narrow street has many fashionable and exclusive designer shops, selling clothes, shoes bags and accessories. It is also the best approach to the Spanish Steps, which are in view at the end, crowded as usual, even on a morning in January. The Spanish Steps were actually constructed by the French as a grand entrance to the Trinita dei Monti, the church at the top. There is always buzz in and around the piazza and on the steps, and I can't resist climbing all the way up to the French church. In the piazza, for ex-pats feeling homesick, there is Babington's English tearooms, where English breakfasts and traditional afternoon teas of scones and jam are served.

However, when in Rome or anywhere else for that matter, eat local. I pass by a few obvious tourist traps with signs for menu turistico of pizza and pasta, I pass by McDonald's with alacrity and immediately around the corner I see a bar with a queue of office workers. The panini are varied and fresh: rustic bread, focaccio, cornetti and ciabatti filled with prosciutto, salads, parmigiano, roasted vegetables and more. The only problem is choosing. I finally decide on focaccio with courgette flowers, anchovies and mozzarella which I eat, washed down with a beer, in the small room at the back. It’s one of the tastiest sandwiches I have ever eaten and all I paid was €6. They also do hot meals and everything is much cheaper than the widely advertised tourist menus.

Trevi Fountain

Afterwards meandering through back streets I get lost a couple of times but don't mind because wandering these quiet, cobbled streets, gazing at elaborate gateways and russet buildings in the low winter light is a joy and delight. Finally looking at the map I see that I have passed by the Trevi Fountain, just one street along. I find my way to Via del Tritone and head back along to the fountain. I remember how surprised I was the first time I saw the Trevi Fountain. It was much bigger than I had imagined, but in a much smaller space and I had no idea that it was built into solid rock. I love watching the fountain; I love the contrast between the classical facade, the rocky base and the athletic statues of Neptune and the Tritons riding the sea horses; I love the myriad cascades; and I love watching the people. All human life is there: old and young, families, backpackers and elderly matrons, sitting on the benches above the fountain, leaning on the balustrades, posing for photographs as passers by politely wait or wandering around surveying the souvenirs. Only a step away from the fountain and I am once again in quiet back streets. I decide against going to Piazza Venezia today and instead wander up the Quirinale hill to Via delle Quattro Fontane and Via del Quirinale to admire the four 16th century fountains of the street name. On each corner of this modest crossroads, a recumbent figure lies in an arch pouring water into a trough. Where but in Rome do you find priceless statues at every turn. From here the obelisk of the Piazza Quirinale is visible at the bottom of the hill.

ROme back streets

Having dallied and meandered and lost my way on back streets, I now need to take the most direct route back, so I cross the Piazza del Quirinale and return, by the Spanish Steps, to Piazza del Popolo and thence to Flaminio Station. My entire outlay for the day has been €18, having squandered another €6 on a map and postcards, which I write on the train. Next time I think I might explore the Villa Borghese and the Pincio Gardens, the green spaces above the Spanish Steps. I think I might just spend a whole day doing that too.





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