Taking a deserted Roman holiday

HOT on the heels of Audrey Hepburn, Anita Ekberg and Julius Caesar, I left the unseasonably chilly shores of Spain for a dose of Rome the other week. 

In earnest, the choice of destination was a process of elimination.  Flights had to be direct, temperatures permitting togas rather than togged jackets, some decent cuisine and a dusting of culture. Hey presto, all roads led to Rome. 

Ryanair was the only airline to offer said direct connection, and with some trepidation we boarded a full-to-the-brim craft.

But we needn’t have worried, the Italian crew was charming, cracking jokes and being extremely helpful. Not the lap of luxury, but reasonably priced and, importantly, on time.  

The airport – Ciampino – is a mere 20 minutes away. With a long line of taxis awaiting the elusive clientele with baited breath, it was such a quick turnaround we failed to notice that the driver overcharged us by €20 until it was too late. But since we were probably his only clients that day you could understand his need to make some extra cash. 

The rest of the trip was similar. A few tourists milling around in the streets, but no one was spending. Shops were largely empty, the hotel upgraded us to the Penthouse in the absence of other guests, and the most popular restaurants had tables at the drop of a Borsalino.

Many venues were closed, because ‘it was not summer’. This was technically true, but the end of May often coincides with half term school holidays across Europe and in Palma it is hard to move for the abundance of visitors. 

Rome remains timeless, impressive and beautiful, but it was eerily quiet. It would seem that our Italian neighbours are suffering more from the economic crisis than Spain. Or else people are locking up their daughters, sisters and even their grandmothers to keep them safe from the illustrious politician Silvio Berlusconi, who is threatening to return to the mainstream of politics. His love of women is well-documented.  

Still, for disorganised people like myself, who failed to reserve ahead, now is definitely the time to visit Italy’s capital. Walking around the city is like stepping into a history book and the best way to navigate the streets, though you’d be well advised to watch out for the Grand Prix-speed Vespas and Fiats.

At the Colosseum you can practically hear the gladiators of yesteryear. The area of Trastevere is an idyll of pebbled streets, fragrant jasmine hedges, cafes and unique boutiques with a more relaxed vibe than the area surrounding the Spanish steps.

Not forgetting the Vatican and the obligatory visit to the Fontana de Trevi, where Anita once bathed in La Dolce Vita.

Russian Oligarchs, who admittedly seemed to be in short supply, should look no further than the Via Condotti, which hosts all the leading luxury brands. The best place to find them would probably be in the appropriately named Hotel de Russie, with its magnificent Stravinskij patio bar.

Worth a visit for a swift glass of Prosecco or a chilled Stolichnaya.

 The old adage goes; ‘When in Rome do as the Romans’, but if that were true, perhaps staying at home is the order of the day. Still, what would be the fun in that? 

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