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Just a few weeks before my wedding, I got the chance to spend 2 days in Rome with an old friend. We’d both been to Rome before, so despite the usual pitfalls of going in peak tourist season, it wasn’t a stressful quest to see the Sistine Chapel or fight our way through the forum. Instead, we took it easy, taking in a few new sights, walking thousands of steps, and eating plenty of gelato. It was also a chance for me to take my new Nikon camera for an outing.

cats

The cat sanctuary at Largo di Torre Argentina.

As a self-acknowledged cat lady, this place was a must-see for me. The cats have the run of a large archaeological site which isn’t open to the public (lucky kitties). The cats are pretty much all abandoned pets, and you can visit their sanctuary, staffed entirely by volunteers, for free petting. Don’t forget to buy something to support the cats’ upkeep – I got a black tote bag.

B&theforum

B looking out over the Forum.

One of the best parts about the trip was the fact that my friend, B., is a Roman history expert. She wrote her Ph.D thesis on the ancient Roman army and now teaches classics and ancient history, and naturally made the perfect tour guide for our stay. If it weren’t for her, it’s unlikely that I would have made it to the Mercati e Foro di Traiano – and this museum is very much worth it. Unlike the nearby Forum (which it overlooks) it’s pretty quiet – and, bonus, it’s also shady and cool. The exhibition that was on while we were there was I Fori dopo i Fori (the Forums since the Forums), which explored life in this part of central Rome since the fall of the Roman Empire. Apparently both Giotto and Michelangelo lived in houses on the site of the Forum, and dwellings still stood there until as late as the 1920s, when Mussolini knocked them down and rehoused the residents.

vatican

The Vatican on 29 June – St Peter & St Paul.

While we were there, Rome also hosted its annual saints’ day celebration for St Peter and St Paul on 29 June. The Pope gave a special address, museums and civic buildings closed, and the cardinals came out in force on St Peter’s Square.

nunsanpietro

A nun waiting for her train at St Pietro overground station.

The first time I came to Rome I was fascinated by the numbers of nuns and members of religious orders thronging the streets. That fascination hasn’t gone away, and I spent quite a bit of time taking (respectful) photos of nuns in their natural habitat – in the heart of the Catholic church.

trevi

The Trevi Fountain.

Paying a visit to the Trevi Fountain was probably the most obviously touristy thing we did. It was busier than ever (should have gone late at night, or first thing in the morning…) but I was able to throw my coins in to assure my return to Rome. It’s a ritual I’ve repeated every time I’ve been in town. I hope to be able to do it plenty more times, too.

bernini

The Ecstasy of St Teresa by Bernini.

Last year I read a travel book, Un otoño romano, by Javier Reverte.  I found the author a bit pretentious, but he made a lot of this statue (to be found in the church Santa Maria della Vittoria, not far from Termini). I was eager to see it for myself. Some people, Reverte included, claim that St Teresa’s “ecstasy” is more earthly – read: sexual – than it is divine. I’m not so sure -and I’m no art critic- but it’s a lovely Baroque statue by an acknowledged master, free for anyone to see in the church.

B and I are already making plans to go back again next year.