Day 1.  Our First Day in Rome 

As we had booked an early morning flight from London Heathrow, we decided to stay overnight at the London Hounslow Travelodge which was easily accessible from the Piccadilly Line.  We found a J.D. Wetherspoon pub nearby and took advantage of their Thursday evening curry night specials before returning to our room for a few hours sleep.

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Heathrow Terminal 4 Observation Deck

It seemed no time at all when our alarm woke us at 04.15 a.m, and shortly after 5.00 a.m. we were on an Underground train to Heathrow’s Terminal 4.  A bonus of travelling so early in the morning was that the airport was extremely quiet, taking us a matter of minutes to pass through the necessary security checks.  There was ample time for a light breakfast followed by coffees in a branch of Carluccio’s before heading towards Gate 14 for our Alitalia departure to Rome.  Approaching our gate we noticed an observation deck located up several flights of steps.

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View from the Observation Deck

Having a few minutes to spare, we clambered up the steps to take a quick look.  I wish we had known about the observation deck earlier as there were panoramic views and a beautiful sunrise to be enjoyed.  The observation deck is equipped with binoculars on chains and touch screens showing plane movements on a live map.  No-one else was around which wasn’t surprising as we hadn’t seen it signposted or advertised but if we travel from Terminal 4 again we would definitely allow more time for a little plane spotting up there.

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Snack on board our Alitalia flight

Our Alitalia A320 Airbus departed promptly with some passengers still finding their seats as the aircraft was pushing back from the airbridge.  The two hour flight was smooth and complimentary refreshments of hot and cold drinks with a choice of sweet or savoury biscuits were brought round.  We then managed a little sleep for an hour before the plane came into land at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.  There was a slight delay in disembarking because the shutter at the end of the airbridge had jammed at chest height necessitating passengers to bend down to leave the aircraft.

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View from our hotel room

Following signs to the railway station, it took about 8 minutes along moving walkways and escalators to get there.  We tried to buy tickets from the rail ticket counter but were instructed to purchase them from a nearby newsagents.  Having already researched which ticket we needed, we bought 2 Metrebus Lazio CIRS integrated regional tickets covering 3 zones and costing €34.50 each.  Surprisingly, only cash payments were permitted but fortunately we had just enough money between us to pay for the tickets, so please bear this in mind if you are arriving in Rome.  The tickets needed to be validated in a green machine at the end of the platform and our names and dates of birth added before use.   I.D. also needs to be carried ready for inspection but we were never required to produce our tickets.  Although we only needed travel tickets for four days, this ticket was the best value for our needs as, in addition to viewing the city centre sights, we also wished to travel further afield.

Basilicia di San Giovanni

We caught the FL1 train as far as Tuscolana station in the south of the city, which was just a short walk to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express San Giovanni located in a residential district.  Although it was only 12.00 noon we just had to wait about 20 minutes in the lounge until our room was ready.  Our first floor room was pleasant and overlooked an inner courtyard.  Unusually for a Holiday Inn there were no tea making facilities but these were brought to our room shortly after we requested them.

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Inside the Basilicia di San Giovanni

After quickly unpacking, we picked up a map from reception and caught a No. 85 bus from around the corner to the Basilica di San Giovanni.  Before entering the church we needed to pass through airline type security screening but it was very quiet and it didn’t take long.  This Basilica ranks above all other Roman Catholic churches and is the official seat of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.  The interior of the church is exquisite and contains the papal throne.  Until the 14th century it was the Pope’s principal residence before he relocated to the Vatican.

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The Colosseum, Rome

From there, we walked along narrow, cobbled streets towards the Colosseum, the route being signposted by Roman soldier emblems on the pavements.  The Colosseum was a large amphitheatre constructed by the Emperors of Rome to entertain the masses with gladiatorial shows and hunts of wild animals.  In 80 AD the Colosseum was completed and an inauguration lasting 100 days was held, all shows being free with seats being allocated according to the class of spectator.  Viewing the iconic Colosseum was an impressive sight as it is one of the most recognisable monuments of Ancient Rome.  As can be expected, it was crowded in places but walking around a little we were able to find the perfect spot to take our photographs without people poking selfie-sticks out in front of us.

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Arch of Constantine, Rome

Located between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill in the Piazza del Colosseo stands the Arch of Constantine.  This arch was built in 315 AD and erected by the Roman Senate.  It is the largest of the three remaining Roman triumphal arches in Rome.

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View from Palatine Hill, Rome

Walking up Palatine Hill, the path along the lower section of the hill passes through lush parkland providing welcome shade from the early afternoon sun.  A gentle climb to the higher slopes and we were able to look down onto the Roman Forum and view many of the archaeological ruins.  Palatine Hill is the place where the Roman Empire was formed in approximately 753 BC.  The site was chosen because of its height, making it easier to defend.  In later years the hill became a residential district attracting the nobility.

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The Roman Forum, Rome

We then spent some time wandering around the Roman Forum admiring the decaying ruins and monumental remains.  There are several elevated paths and viewpoints where we paused to look down on some of the oldest and most important ruins including shrines and temples.  Information boards with detailed maps helped us to identify some of the excavations.

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Monument of Victor Emmanuel II from The Roman Forum

Continuing along the road, we could see the huge white marble Monument of Victor Emmanuel II in the distance.  It’s located between Capitoline Hill and Piazza Venezia and is approached by a grand, sweeping marble staircase.  The monument is free to visit with the exception of its museum and uppermost viewing terrace.  Taking the polished marble outdoor staircase we arrived at The Altar of the Fatherland, which is where the tomb of the unknown soldier is located.  Although the building is known as the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II it also commemorates all war casualties.

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Marble staircase at the foot of the monument

The focal point of the monument is the statue of a horseman.  This was designed to represent Victor Emmanuel II and was completed in 1889.

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Horseman statue of Victor Emmanuel II
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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Rome

It was worth the climb to the upper viewing terrace as from there we had beautiful panoramic views looking down onto Piazza Venezia and the surrounding area.  Before leaving, we explored the interior of the monument returning to ground level down the other side of the marble staircase.

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View from the Upper Viewing Terrace

Across the square, we boarded a tram to Trastevere Station so that we could return to our hotel by train.  After such an early start to the day, and so much walking around we were in need of a short rest.  A little later, feeling refreshed we enjoyed dinner in a pizzeria quite near the hotel.  The pizzas were very good and the decor and checked tablecloths were typical of Italian trattorias.  After our meal we took the Rome metro for the first time from Ponte Lungo to Barberini as we’d planned to walk to the Pantheon.  Unfortunately, it suddenly started raining heavily and as we had left our coats in the hotel, we decided to cut our walk short and return to the hotel as we were also feeling tired.

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Day 2. Sightseeing in Rome

We woke at 8.00 a.m. and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant before catching the metro to Ottaviano S. Pietro station so that we could visit the Vatican.  Since 1929 the Vatican has been an independent state and is located across the Tiber river from central Rome.  It was a beautiful sunny morning as we joined the crowds in St. Peter’s Square.  The centrepiece of the Vatican is the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica built between the 16th and 18th centuries.

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Approaching Vatican City, Rome

The queue to enter the Basilica seemed endless, snaking all the way around the square and more besides.  It hardly appeared to be moving and the thought of spending about three hours queuing convinced us to just explore the outer parts instead.

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St. Peter’s Square, Rome

We admired the Piazza San Pietro which is a large oval area built between 1656 and 1667 to provide a setting where the faithful could gather.  It is enclosed at each end by semi-circular colonnades surrounded by a balustrade with 140 statues of saints.

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Swiss Guards in Vatican City

We sat down on a bench to write some postcards, affixing Vatican City stamps to them before posting them in the Vatican post office so that they would arrive with the postmark of the world’s smallest state imprinted on them.  Before leaving the Vatican we explored the roads surrounding the main square that were open to the public and spotted some Swiss guards in their brightly coloured uniforms of blue, red, orange and yellow giving them a distinctly Renaissance appearance.  The Pontifical Swiss Guard is a small force responsible for the safety of the Pope.

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St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City

Leaving the Vatican by a different exit, we walked towards the Castel Sant’Angelo along the banks of the River Tiber.  The castle was built as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian and converted into a papal fortress in the 6th century.  Strolling along the tree lined riverside path we had some splendid views looking back towards St. Peter’s Basilica.  A little further along we walked over The Ponte Umberto I bridge near the magnificent Supreme Court building, where we continued our morning stroll on the opposite bank.  Spotting a cafe, we paused for refreshing cups of cappuccino and some irresistible chocolate croissants.

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River Tiber, Rome

From there, it was only a short stroll to the large Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s largest, most beautiful squares.  Early on the Saturday afternoon of our visit, the square was crowded with tourists, street entertainers and musicians creating a lively atmosphere alongside the omnipresent street vendors trying to persuade passers by to purchase a fake handbag, a selfie-stick or some red roses.

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Castello Sant’Angelo, Rome

Our route continued along more winding, narrow streets towards the Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotonda.  There was a lengthy queue to go inside, but noticing that this was progressing quickly, we joined the end and within a few minutes we were entering the former Roman temple through its Greek inspired colonnade.

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The Pantheon, Rome

Inside the Pantheon, we marvelled at the opulent, cylindrical structure with its magnificent giant dome.  Looking upward, there was a hole at the top of the dome, known as an oculus which lets natural light into the building.

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Inside The Pantheon, Rome

Set into the walls are monumental tombs and shrines with an elaborate altar taking centre stage.  There is currently no charge to enter the Pantheon but from early 2018 it is likely that a €3 entrance fee will be imposed for all visitors.  The sun was beating down, reflecting off the nearby buildings so we paused to remove some layers before continuing to the Trevi Fountain.  It took some time to edge forward to be able to see the fountain clearly but it was worth the wait as the largest Baroque fountain in Rome lived up to its reputation as being one of the most beautiful in the world.

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The Trevi Fountain, Rome

After admiring the fountain and trying to capture its beauty on camera amid people wielding selfie sticks in front of us, we caught the metro from the nearby Barberini station to Termini.

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Frascati Cathedral

Our plan for the rest of the day was to take a regional train to the town of Frascati.  It was just as well that we had arrived at the station early as our train departed from Platform 18, which was located at the far end of the station taking quite awhile to reach.  We travelled on a modern, regional ‘Jazz’ train which was quite comfortable and we were able to find seats on the upper floor for the 30 minute journey.  Approaching Frascati we could see field after field of vineyards as Frascati is home to this Italian white wine.

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Villa AldoBrandini, Frascati

The train terminated in Frascati and it was a steep climb up to the historic old town square which was dominated by its cathedral.  Passing a Gelateria we couldn’t resist the temptation of buying some coffee flavoured ice cream cones to lick in the warm afternoon sunshine.  It was pleasant wandering along the medieval streets admiring the faded grandeur of the town’s historic past.

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Villa Torlonia Public Park, Frascati

The wealthy built villas here, the most impressive being the Villa Aldobrandini which dominates the Piazza Marconi.  We had hoped to stroll through its gardens which are open to the public after picking up free entry permits from the nearby Tourist Information office, but were informed that they were closed at weekends which was a pity.  Instead, we examined our map and made our way to the Villa Torlonia public park for a little look around there.

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Old fire engine, Villa Torlonia Public Park

On the main terrace of the gardens we found the local fire brigade were holding a display of old fire engines and police cars, so it was an unexpected bonus to take a look at these vehicles.  Moving on, we followed a path through the park which was actually more of a forest trail that looped back round to the entrance gates.

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Religious Procession in Frascati

Leaving the park, we were beginning to feel thirsty so we wandered back to the old town where we found a cosy, small cafe for some refreshing cold drinks.  Just as we were about to leave, a religious procession led by the Frascati Brass Band paused outside the cafe so we hurried outdoors to see what was happening.  A short service was taking place but it seemed strange that they had decided to hold it on a narrow stretch of road and not continue slightly further to the cathedral.  Glancing at our watches, we realised that we had only a few minutes to get back to the station for our return train to Rome.  Hurrying along, we were just in time and it was just after 6.00 p.m. when we returned to Rome.

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St. Peter’s Square at night

A rest in our hotel room followed before having dinner in a restaurant near to the PonteLungo metro station.  Because it had been such a clear day the temperature had dropped considerably so we returned to the hotel for our coats before taking the metro back to the Vatican to see it illuminated and without the day time crowds.  After taking a few photos we found a cafe for coffee and slices of tiramisu then crossed the river towards the Trevi Fountain which seemed even busier than when we were there at lunchtime.

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Castello Sant’Angelo, Rome

From there we returned to the hotel from Barberini station where we were surprised to have to wait 15 minutes for a metro train at 11.15 p.m.  Finally back in our room our feet ached and when we checked our phones we realised that we had walked 37,900 steps (over 15 miles) during the day!

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The Trevi Fountain at night

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Day 3. Rome’s Spanish Steps and an afternoon in Bracciano

It was another bright, sunny morning as we made our way to Piazza di Spagna to climb the Spanish Steps.  The square was already crowded with tourists around the fountain at the foot of the steps known as the ‘fountain of the old boat’.  The fountain resembles a sinking ship and is thought to be based on a folk legend.

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The Spanish Steps, Rome

We climbed the steps which are a mix of curves, straight flights and terrace viewpoints.  The steps connect the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinità dei Monti where we found it’s beautiful church dominating the skyline.  There were some good views looking down to the square and along the terrace artists had set up their easels and were sketching and painting in the morning sunshine.  Church bells were ringing, welcoming worshippers to Sunday morning services and many tourists like us were taking in the views.

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The fountain in Piazza di Spagna

Returning down the polished stone steps we crossed the square and strolled along Via dei Condotti which is home to many of Rome’s designer stores.  The narrow street was crowded with tourists wandering along glancing in the windows of world famous luxury clothing, jewellery and leather goods stores.  On one street corner we paused to listen to an opera singer who was entertaining the Sunday morning crowds.

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Via Dei Condotti, Rome

Our walk continued through the district where we looked inside the beautiful Baroque style San Giacomo church on the nearby Via del Corso.

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Basilicia San Giacomo

Walking a little further in a northwards direction we arrived at the vast Piazza del Popolo which lies inside the huge northern gate known as the Porta del Popolo.  The square was designed in neo-classical style between 1811-1822.

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The Porta del Popola, Rome

Dominating the square is the church of Santa Maria del Popolo but, as a service was taking place, we were unable to look inside.  In the centre of the square, a large group of keep-fit enthusiasts were following routines from the organisers wearing wireless headphones.

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The Terrazza del Pincio

After watching them for a few minutes we clambered up the steps to the Terrazza del Pincio, a balustraded viewpoint which overlooks the square.  From there we had some fine views both of the Piazza del Popolo down below and of some of Rome’s landmarks further afield including St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Looking down from the Terrazza del Pincio

From the terrace in Pincio Park we followed a pathway to the Villa Borghese Park.  Just as we were approaching the park gates we were overtaken by the keep-fit enthusiasts who seemed to be undertaking a power walking stage of their keep-fit routine through the gardens.

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Villa Borghese Park

The sun was beating down so we enjoyed the cooler temperatures under the shade of the trees as we strolled through the Villa Borghese Park.  Along the main avenues many people were enjoying a little exercise.  We came across joggers, in-line skaters and those simply out for a gentle morning stroll, just as we were.

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The Boating Lake, Villa Borghese Park

Along one path we came to a picturesque lake so we decided to follow the circular path around it known as the Viale del lago.  The centrepiece of the lake is the beautiful Temple of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing.  Rowing boats could be hired and seemed very reasonable at only €3 per person for 20 minutes.  We did consider taking one out ourselves but as we’d planned more activities for later in the day we decided against it.

We left the gardens at the exit by the National Museum of Modern Art from where we caught a No.19 tram to Cornelia.  Some heritage trams operate on this route and it was one of these that we boarded.  The only disadvantage being that there were few seats resulting in us having to stand for the early part of the journey.  Feeling hungry, we found a cafe for a light lunch and then caught the metro two stops to Valle Aurelia for a regional train to Bracciano which lies 32 km to the north of Rome.

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On board the No.19 heritage tram in Rome

There were frequent stops along the line and although the train was crowded when we boarded there were few remaining passengers as the train approached Bracciano.  Looking out of the train windows we caught our first glimpse of the azure blue volcanic lake nestled below the small town.

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The main square, Bracciano

Leaving the train, it was just a short uphill walk to the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town which is built on a hill above the volcanic lake from which it takes its name.  Dominating the small town is the medieval Orsini-Odescalchi castle which is a popular wedding venue for international celebrities.  We walked around the castle ramparts and took in the spectacular lake views from the Belvedere della Sentinella.  We didn’t go inside the castle but admission prices and further details can be found on its website here.

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Bracciano Castle

A ferry usually connects the small lakeside towns but sadly it was not operating as the lake’s water level had dropped too low.  We were aware of this before arriving in Bracciano but it would have been lovely to have taken a trip on the lake and then return to Rome from a station further along the line.

Bracciano Lake

Continuing along the narrow lanes we came to another viewing terrace  lower down the hillside with equally stunning views.  The lake looked so beautiful and from where we stood and it didn’t appear to be short of water.

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Bracciano Lake

Heading back towards the town centre, we admired the church in the main piazza before treating ourselves to ricotta and cinnamon ice creams from a nearby gelateria.  Finding a bench we relaxed in the warm sunshine, licking our ice cream cones whilst enjoying the tranquility and natural backdrop of this charming lakeside town.

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Bracciano Castle

We returned to Rome on the 4.08 p.m. service which conveniently stopped at Tuscolana station, just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  After a short rest we had dinner in the same trattoria that we had eaten in on our first night.  My carbonara was one of the best I had tasted and our house wine to accompany the meal was full bodied and excellent value.

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The Colosseum, Rome

Leaving the restaurant we took the metro to Colosseo station so that we could view the Colosseum illuminated after dark.  It was much quieter than during the day time without coach loads of tourists annoyingly poking their selfie sticks out constantly.

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The Altar of the Fatherland, Rome

After taking in the views we wandered on past The Roman Forum as far as the Altar of the Fatherland. We felt completely safe strolling around this part of Rome at night and enjoyed viewing the illuminated sights.  Feeling ready to return to the hotel for the night we boarded a tram to Trastevere station from where we changed to a train to Tuscolana after a lovely day of sightseeing in Rome and Bracciano.

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Day 4.  Gianicolo and Trastevere, Rome

On our final morning in Rome we started the day with a visit to the Gianicolo Hill viewpoint, one of the highest hills in Rome.  It’s located above the Vatican and Trastevere districts to the west of the Tiber.  Our phone map suggested taking the train to S. Pietro station and following a path from there but after walking up a steep hill and a lengthy flight of steps we discovered that the path ahead was blocked.  After consulting our map again, we decided to take a bus from S.Paola to Gianicolo instead.

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Garibaldi Square, Gianicolo

The journey to the viewpoint was up a steep hillside along narrow, congested roads.  The viewing terrace in Garibaldi square was easily recognisable by its huge statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi on horseback surrounded by busts of other war heroes.

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Gianicolo viewing terrace

The viewing terrace was an oasis of calm with very few people taking in the panoramic views.  From the viewpoint we could see many of Rome’s landmarks including the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and the gardens of Villa Borghese.

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Views from the Gianicolo Terrace

After exploring the square we caught a bus down to Trastevere.  The small bus was already crowded when we boarded meaning that we had to stand for most of the journey.  We needed to hold on tight as the bus sped down the steep hillside, twisting and turning as if we were on a rollercoaster.

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Trastevere

Getting off the bus in Trastevere, we wandered along the charming narrow, cobbled streets which wind their way through this Bohemian neighbourhood.  The Basilica of Santa Maria dominates the square bearing its name.  Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, the church was undergoing renovations and covered in scaffolding, leaving only its clocktower visible.  It is one of the oldest churches in Rome and although currently unattractive from the outside, the interior was open and we were able to admire its treasures including its noted 13th century mosaics.

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Interior of the Basilica of Santa Maria

Continuing our stroll through the district, we discovered that Trastevere still maintains a strong, local identity with dozens of family run trattorias and pavement cafes filling every courtyard and street corner.  In typical Italian style, washing hangs overhead and geraniums blossom in window boxes on orangey-brown paint faded walls.  The centre of Trastevere was crowded with locals and tourists alike enjoying leisurely lunch breaks but as we approached the river it gradually became quieter with fewer tourists in evidence.  We strolled across the beautiful Ponte Sisto footbridge which crosses the Tiber.  From there we took a bus along to Piazza Navona which seemed even busier than on our previous visit.  It was bustling with tourists, performers, artists, musicians and, of course, those annoying street vendors armed with selfie sticks.

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Ponte Sisto Footbridge, Trastevere

Finding a not too busy cafe we settled down for a light lunch then walked the short distance to the Campo de’ Fiori open air market to take a look around some of its stalls.  This market is one of Rome’s oldest produce markets but nowadays many of its stalls are dedicated to souvenirs with just a few still selling traditional market produce and flowers.

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Campo de’ Fiori Market

Spending a shorter time than planned at the market provided us with an opportunity to walk along to Capitoline Hill, pausing to view some Roman excavations on the way.

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Views from Capitoline Hill

Climbing the stone steps to the Piazza del Campidoglio we were rewarded with splendid views looking down.  A path leading to the rear of the Rome City Hall gave us us some excellent aerial views of the Roman Forum.  We returned down via a steep pathway and headed back towards the hotel by metro from the Colosseo station.  It was then 4.30 p.m. and we planned to have an early meal before returning to the airport.  Unfortunately, at that time many restaurants were closed so we had to walk around awhile until we found a suitable place to eat.

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Piazza del Campidoglio

It was then time to return to the hotel to collect our luggage and make our way to the airport on the FL1 train from Tuscolana taking 40 minutes.  Our Alitalia flight departed on time at 9.25 p.m. and we had plenty of room to spread out as the aisle seat next to us was unoccupied.

Back in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 we only had a few minutes to wait for a bus to Feltham where we had booked an overnight stay in the Travelodge before returning home the following day.  Our weekend break in Rome had been really nice with many interesting places to visit, a comfortable hotel, delicious Italian food and good weather.  All our travel in Rome was covered by our Metrebus Lazio CIRS Regional weekly 3 zone ticket costing €34.50 each.

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