Discover the unique Italy: visiting Tivoli’s Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana

Rome

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Scene of everyday Tivoli

Tivoli is a small town, located an hour away by a train from central Rome. The journey there was planned and I encourage everyone to consider going as well, especially for it being a very popular tourist attraction. Tivoli boasts of hosting historical villas and we visited two of them – Villa d’Este and Villa Hadriana (Adriana).

Getting there

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We took a train to Tivoli from Roma Termini, which, I will be honest, is a very confusing train station, so we were forced to seek out help in the tourist information, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand which train is which. The tickets weren’t expensive, without return it cost us €2.6 to get there. To get to Villa Hadriana from Villa d’Este, you will need to use a local bus, which runs within Tivoli frequently and is not expensive. Tickets are bought from tourist shops.

Villa d’Este

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Fountain of Neptune, Villa d’Este

It was such a lucky day for us, especially in terms of weather. Not too hot, not too cold. Going from Tivoli train station, we stopped at a local flea market and a coffee shop. Coffee there was very delicious and we tried Italian sweet treats as well, all for cheap; make sure to try local food and drinks in Tivoli! Stop there to refresh your taste buds and higher your spirits up for the rest of the day, because it will be overwhelming.

We strolled through tiny centre of Tivoli, making our way to Villa d’Este. First we were confused which way is the right way, however, locals are very friendly and will do their best to advice you about the directions.

Honestly, about Villa d’Este. It is a remarkable place, originally built for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este in 16th century. Villa is renowned for its Renaissance architecture, especially fountains and is one of the most important architectural sites in Italy, also being protected as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Inside Cardinal’s halls

We walked into the Apartments of Cardinal, and we were stunned by the frescoes and the extent of the building, having in mind that it was built for only one person to enjoy. Each hall had its own purpose and name, personally I loved the Hall of Venus, which had its own fresco and a fountain, which is no longer original (Venus statue was replaced after Cardinal died).

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Detail of Cento Fontane

We toured around the building for awhile and rushed outside to see those beautiful fountains that everyone fuss about. I fell in love with Cento Fontane or The Hundred Fountains. Each of the fountains had a unique face, it left such a huge impression on me. The garden itself is quite big with fountains, grottoes, statues on the way. Everything was overwhelming with luxury and details, so I would suggest taking your time to observe the uniqueness of this place. You can observe The Fountain of Neptune straight across the fish ponds. This fountain is the main detail of whole villa, something you will see in pamphlets and advertisements, however, this one was built in 20th century due to original piece deteriorating. It receives water from the upper fountain, called Fountain of the Organ.

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I can’t put everything I saw there into this single post, but every single piece in this villa is extremely detailed and ingenious. To think that this villa, with whole lot of fountains, pools and channels was designed in 16th century without any modern technologies, is fascinating. The amount of symbolism in this architecture was the most interesting to me actually. Symbols of both, Christianity and pagan religions, co-existing together and making an overall harmony, are simply beautiful.

Getting there: The villa is within walking distance from the train station (approx. 15-20 minutes) and is not too hard to find. I am pretty sure that tickets can be bought online and at the villa, here is the official site for more info.

The Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana)

After Villa d’Este, we continued our journey in Tivoli by visiting Villa Adriana, which is an archeological ruin complex dating back to 2nd century AD, designed for Emperor Hadrian, who later governed the country from there.

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When we entered the gardens, we immediately felt a different atmosphere than that of Villa d’Este. Time stopped to us completely. The day was warm, there was no wind and the setting sun created mysterious shadows, the feeling was indescribable. You could feel like you travel in time and found yourself somewhere far away from civilisation, surrounded by ancient ruins and mountains in horizon. It was especially enforced with the fact that there were barely any tourists, maybe due to the season or because that it is more remote area.

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Pool of Canopus

Villa consists of vast garden, its flora seems almost unique and adapted to that villa through the course of centuries, pools, baths, fountains and aqueducts. The most notable place in this villa is pool of Canopus, that is usually the selling point of this place.

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It is worth to take a walk through all (or most) of this site, paying attention not only to the ancient ruins that have lots to tell, but also to plants (and animals! You will meet fearless turtles nearby the pool by the entrance).

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Tickets are bought at the entrance, I’m pretty sure there is a discount to young people. More about Villa Adriana here.

General advice for Tivoli

I would encourage to pack enough food for whole day, because there might not be any chance for you to stop to eat (I hope you will have time for it, though). Water can be acquired almost everywhere in Tivoli, including Villa Adriana, it has its own water fountains, designed for drinking. If you are lost, don’t hesitate to ask locals for information and have your ID with you when you go, you might get discounts if you are between the age of 18-26. Also, make sure to plan your day accordingly and think about the villas you want to visit (there are more than two that I wrote about), because each of them takes time to enjoy and some of them can be located far away from each other. If you are staying in the central Rome, make sure you don’t miss the last train or the bus (you can go back to Rome with either of them).

More information about travelling in Tivoli can be found here.

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Visiting the Europe’s cultural pillar – Rome, Italy

Rome

In this post I am going to share one of the most magical experiences so far in my life. I had an opportunity to visit Rome for roughly 4 days together with my family. Being an avid fan of ancient Roman history and mythology I was extremely thrilled to see the everything myself, the city which was built around this great history and cultural roots of Europe. I knew I will be impressed, however, I did not know that it will impress me to this extent.

We arrived to Ciampino airport, which is around 30 minutes away from the city centre by a shuttle bus. I do not recommend taking a taxi from the airport, because it is overpriced and people are complaining that taxi drivers are trying to rip off extra money even though the taxi fares are regulated by the city council. Anyway, the shuttle bus costs start, I think, from 4.90, which is at least 6 times cheaper than taxi and it takes people from the airport (the stop is located near the arrivals). The bus took us to Roma Termini, the main railway station of the city from which we walked to our apartment for around 20 minutes.

The apartment we stayed in was a good price for 5 people sleeping 5 nights, as I remember. Located just few minutes away from Colosseum and Roman Forum; all sightseeing spots were within walking distance. More about bookings and the links I will write later down below.

Colosseum and Roman Forum

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Once one has seen it, everything else seems small. It is so huge that the mind cannot retain its image; one remembers it as smaller than it is, so that every time one returns to it, one is astounded by its size – J.W. Goethe on Colosseum.

We dedicated first day of our journey to visit Roman Forum and Colosseum. Ticket reservations can be made online (link), however, as I did not fully understand the online booking, we decided to buy on the spot and ended up paying less. We came straight to Roman Forum, which was close to the placed that we stayed, and joined the queue for tickets, which went fairly quickly, as you can also observe the beautiful scenery. So, the tickets were 12 for adults and 7.5 for young people (ages 18-25) and they are for both, Colosseum and Roman Forum, one entry each, for two days (starting with the day you bought them).

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Roman Forum

Roman Forum is ancient ruins of government buildings dating back to 8th century BC. Rome as a city was built around Forum, which functioned as a marketplace, site for trials, elections, gladiator fights, important speeches and list could go on. Basically, everything important for the city and the country would be found there. The site has a path from the entrance, which could be followed easily around the site. Exhibits are secured by chains, so most of them have to be admired from a near distance, but there are also few buildings that you can enter. Going further, you can discover a panoramic view of the city, so take your time to admire and savour it. I suggest taking a book or preparing some information beforehand, because not all exhibits have explanations and the little map that you will get on the entrance contains too little information to understand what really you are seeing.

The site is accommodated by drinking water fountains (as also is the whole city) and toilets a bit further within the site.

So, when you are through all Roman Forum, make your way to exit to Colosseum, which will be seen straight ahead. If you have already bought the tickets, join the ticket queue and pass through the security (they will check your bags) and make your way to see the, oh, mighty Colosseum. Really, its presence was overwhelming. There will be footpaths for you to follow, but be aware, as I am going to warn you, there will be loads, I say, LOADS of people. I will be honest, as amazing as Colosseum was, it was a bit challenging to enjoy it through the crowds of people. And it wasn’t the tourist season yet. But it should be in everyone’s /Bucket List/ as it is an important part of history. Colosseum, or sometimes referred to as Flavian Amphitheatre, dates back to 70 BC and has lived to this date with some restorations. It was used to host various events, and yes, there were the gladiator fights.

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Inside the Colosseum

Pantheon, Trevi fountains and more

So another day of our journey was dedicated to wandering out and about the city, seeing other famous sites. We paid a visit to Trevi fountains which were built in 18th century by Nicola Salvi and Pietro Bacci. One of the most famous fountains in the world, surrounded by tourists and young couples taking pictures.

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Trevi fountains

Trevi fountains were followed by Spanish Steps, that led us towards Villa Borghese. We went around the park, however, didn’t enter the villa itself. Went through a path which was accompanied by busts of famous people and then relaxed while laying peacefully on the grass, nearby a pond.

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Fountains in Villa Borghese

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We continued our journey by strolling back to the city centre, while popping into 150 flavour gelateria. If you ever find yourself in there, first thing you got to do is to prepay for your gelato at the till and then go and select your flavours. The place was buzzing with people and was quite confusing, we left without getting anything, but it looked impressive (vegan soy gelato was available as well).

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Pantheon

Going a bit further we arrived to Pantheon, that I was very excited to see. The entrance is free to witness this masterpiece from 2nd century. Originally, it was a temple for all ancient Roman gods, however, later with the Christianity it was accustomed to the needs of the new religion.

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Altere della Patria

On the way home, we stopped by Altere della Patria, a monument for Victor Emmanuel, king who unified Italy. It is a really impressive building, worth seeing!

Food and accommodation advice

Contrary to my belief, Rome was not too expensive for food, as a large city. Sure, local food shops charged way more than those of a small village or a town, but in exchange we were able to buy fresh vegetables, fruit and delicious meals from there to take home! The Italian food quality is something impressive when you are coming from the UK. Also, there are many canteens, restaurants, pizza places to cater for your meals, a lot of them, usually bigger places, have vegan/vegetarian options. If you cook in your apartment, there should be no difficulties in acquiring vegan products, especially fresh veggies, but the problem is that Italian cuisine uses a lot of cheese, something to look out for when going out for a dinner. Be sure to try Italian wine in there, it is devilishly cheap and very tasty!

As for accommodation, we stayed in Baccina 45, this particular room. It was clean, spacious, had all kitchen and bathroom inventory, towels and a nice view through window. For me, the street, although in centre, was calm enough to get good sleep. If looking for a cheap student sleep, I suggest looking out for hostels, their prices are reasonable.

 

Visit to the holy land of Vatican

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Please note: Vatican’s museums are closed on Sundays except on the last Sunday of the month. More about the working times, follow the link.

Before I start, the most important thing to say about Vatican is that I advise wholeheartedly, reserve the tickets beforehand, otherwise you will be stuck in endless queue for the museums and Sistine Chapel for hours. Tickets can be found here.

Another advice before you leave is that Vatican requires a certain dress-code, meaning that no shorts, miniskirts or sleeveless shirts are allowed, otherwise you might be asked to leave or to change.

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St. Peter’s Basilica

We left our apartment quite early in the morning and went there by foot, since it is not that far away from where we stayed and we could enjoy views while walking. Vatican is a theocratic state located within Rome, protected by walls, with a population of a bit more than 800 people, rest of whom you will see will be tourists.

We started our trip here by going to see Vatican Museums, which hold impressive treasures acquired from around the world, ancient Rome artefacts and all of that is basically Pope’s property. I found it impossible to see everything in there just within one afternoon, taking in mind the queues (which can take ages to get through), fatigue and the extent of what there is to see. Since we had reserved the tickets in advance, we skipped the line; be aware that you will be stopped by a lot of people, who will try to sell guided tours or whatnot, it is up to you whether you will choose to buy, but in all honesty, it wore me down trying to evade all of it.

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You will be given a short plan with how to navigate the area, somehow I lost mine and I cannot upload on here. We followed the crowd and went through different rooms and galleries of ancient statues and art, and made our way towards Raphael Rooms, where you could take pictures and take a short moment to admire the works of a great Renaissance auteur.

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The School of Athens (1509) by Raphael

Going further, we found our way to Sistine Chapel and the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, the highlight of Vatican. No pictures or talking is allowed, which would be very appreciated by the staff in there, who were shouting on people without catching a breath while some lady took one picture followed by big ass flash-light straight to their faces. Thus, I did not take any pictures out of respect and took my moment to appreciate the magnitude of Michelangelo’s legacy.

Being tired and barely walking, we sat down in an inner garden of the museums to have some coffee, which was surprisingly not that expensive and quite good! So look out for a coffee bar.

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The Gallery of Maps

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

Next after the museums, we went on to join a queue for St Peter’s Basilica. One of the main Christian religious sites, a symbol for Italian Renaissance that took over 100 years to be completed. While I am not religious myself, being in the presence of this magnificent church took my breath away, and I am sure I was emotional, because the beauty and the size of this building is hard to describe by words. You will find Michelangelo’s “Pieta” straight on the righten side when you enter, surrounded by people. You are allowed to take pictures in the church, so go for it. We ended our journey with taking last pictures of Vatican and Swiss guards near the basilica, I loved their costumes!

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