Accommodation Review: Hotel Assisi, Rome, Italy

We were sure Rome was going to be a pain. Almost every large city we’ve ever visited while traveling seems to pull more out of you than it puts back. Our goal was to just to try to have a decent time in Rome during the 2 days we had there and try to see some highlights at the end of our trip, before heading back to the States. Our stay in Rome turned out to be a lot more enjoyable than we imagined, and a lot of that was due to the centrality and comfort provided by the place we stayed: Hotel Assisi [Google map].

After all, when you imagine being in Rome, you might imagine hanging out at the Colosseum.

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However, finding a place to stay near the Colosseum, one that is also comfortable and safe and offers good links to travel beyond the city, well, you have options, but it can be difficult to figure out which one to choose. We went with Hotel Assisi, which received several good reviews online and is a relative bargain at 80€ per night for a double. Is is also located only a couple of blocks from the central train station in Rome, Termini, and easy access to the metro.

On the downside, I saw this random scene from the remains of a very localized Vespa fire a block away from Hotel Assisi and Termini, so it isn’t clear how safe your vehicle would be if you parked it in the area.

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The lobby of Hotel Assisi is where you enjoy the excellent complementary breakfast (feature all of the espresso you can drink!) and a good (if charged per hour) wifi connection. There is also lounge area with some entertaining ancient tourism videotapes of Rome from the 1970s. Don’t miss those!

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Our only complaint is that our room’s fan made a lot of noise (which the management fixed after we told them about it) and the air conditioner in the room didn’t really work to cool it (and there was no way to turn it up or change the settings – which left the room pretty hot). However, the neighborhood around Hotel Assisi is pretty quiet, so we slept well with the windows open.

The bathroom was pretty small but very clean and adequate. There are two competing and excellent Italian restaurants just outside the front door of Hotel Assisi, so getting a good meal at a decent price, even late, is pretty easy. The reception was cordial and helpful, offering advice about the best sites to see (and order to see them in, based on our time limits), as well as providing options concerning getting to the airport (which is pretty easy from the train station – there is a special train that runs every half-hour that takes you there).

All in all, Hotel Assisi was a good deal for the money. You could do a lot worse.

Contact Information:
Hotel Assisi
http://www.hotelassisiroma.it
info@hotelassisiroma.it
Via dei Mille, 29
00185 Roma, Italy

(39) 06 445 3813

The Pantheon and a Brush with Power

Near the Vatican is impressive Castel Sant’ Angelo, which has been a castle, fortress, and prison for various popes over the years. The Ponte Sant’ Angelo in front of the castle is a beautiful bridge, full of very statues in dramatic poses.

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We stumbled across the city, bouncing from gelateria to shoe store, eventually ending up at the Pantheon, which is one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever been in. Most impressive is the concrete dome, poured in place with scaffolding, which is one of the first uses of concrete and definitely one of the earliest examples of concrete that still exists and is useful today, more than 1900 years after it was built.

Even Kath was impressed…

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After seeing the sights in the Pantheon, I went outside to rest and soon heard a commotion nearby. Thinking that someone may have been hit by a car, Kath and I joined the crowd streaming that direction. Instead of a traffic accident, we got a picture of Prime Minister Berlusconi emerging from a gelateria with a big cone full of the good stuff, looking very happy and flanked by a dozen security guards that melted into their vehicles when it was time to speed away.

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To make sure that we come back to Rome, we had to make a final stop at the tourist mecca, the Trevi Fountain. Kath drew the short straw and got picked to throw the coin over her shoulder in the fountain, which is a tradition that is supposed to bring you back to Rome at some point in the future. It was quick and painless, and we got out of there.

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Rome was much more than I was expecting, and the trip, as a whole, was even more enjoyable than I could have hoped for. We had a blast, and I hope to return to Italy someday and explore another set of niches of the country, such as Sicily, Lake Como, Cinque Terre, or Milan.

When In Rome…

After dropping off the rental car, taking a shuttle in from the airport, and getting settled in our hotel (Hotel Assisi, near the train station), we headed out to explore the city. Our first stop was to pick up my brother’s leaf. For the last few times we’ve gone abroad, my brother will get on Google Earth and pick out a tree somewhere near a place were we are going to be visiting. In the course of the trip, we track down the tree, get a leaf to take home to him, and take a photo. This trip’s tree was in the Parco del Colle Oppio, just to the northeast of the Colosseum. And, man, it was hot. And dry. But we got the leaf.

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The Colosseum and the nearby Arco di Costantino don’t really look real up close. In fact, a lot of things really don’t look real in Rome, but you have to learn to just trust your eyes and enjoy what you can, trying your best to ignore the crush of tourists, and hawkers that follow tourists, and guys dressed as Roman soldiers that want you to take a picture with them, and tour guides that chide you in your native language if you don’t use their services.

Perhaps the most interesting physical thing about the Colosseum is the sheer number of holes in its ancient structural walls. Near every intersection of the marble blocks in the travertine pillars facing out has a huge hole in it, some so large that you can’t understand how the entire structure can stay up. Apparently, I’m not the only one that noticed this. The odd thing about these holes is that they formed so long ago that no one is exactly sure what caused them. The leading theory is that iron clamps were in place to hold the blocks together but were taken out in the 5th century to be used for other things, during a period the Colosseum was starting to be used as an unofficial building material warehouse.

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Another of the most interesting remains we came across is the Porticus Octaviae, which has a fascinating history and allows the visitor to see several different styles of ancient architecture, materials, and architectural purpose in the same building, while standing the exact same spot. There is something that stirs within you imaging this place as a library, curia, and fish market through the years, this now ramshackle, almost dangerous-looking ruin located a dozen or more feet below the current level of the street. You can see the ancient (and largely destructive) attempts at patching it, to keep it a viable building for daily use.

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Nearby the Porticus Octaviae is the Temple of Apollo, or what stunningly remains of it.

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Rome wasn’t all old carved marble to us, though. We wanted to experience some of the street life, and we found some of the best local flavor and least tourists, in the old part of town at least, in the Trastevere area. I mean, who could not love a place that could make a meringue cookie this large?

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The Pantheon was a treat, as well, but we wanted to spend more time than we had left in the day, so we bookmarked the spot in our mind and agreed to come back tomorrow.

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While walking back to our hotel, we practically stumbled by the famous Trevi Fountain, which only has its majesty diminished due the crushing crowds that jostle for position near the edge of the water and along the steps beside. The scene on the fountain confused me, but I’ve since learned that is depiction of virgins leading Roman citizens to the source of pure water outside of Rome that ends up in the fountain. Ironically, the carvings of natural rocks, which are actually carved out of natural rock (marble), make the fountain so striking, in addition to it’s sheer size.

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Once the blasting heat of the sun starts to fade, Rome really starts to turn on the charm. Street life has this kind of intimacy in Rome, one where you can’t help bumping into strangers as you scan your surroundings for the ever-present little nuggets of art, tiny treasures that Romans have come to expect and internalize and take for granted.

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I had come expected a gritty city, but Rome had begun to charm me, despite the heat of mid-July.

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