When in Rome, We do as the Romans do – 5 Things Travel Guides Will Probably Not Tell You

Location: Rome, Italy
No. of Days: 3.5

The first thing that struck me when I landed in Rome: THIS PLACE IS A MUST-VISIT BEFORE YOU DIE!
Ok my first impression of Rome wasn’t at all that impressive: we stepped out of the airport at about 9pm and for the first hour in the city it almost felt like zombie town. We hardly saw anyone and the 40min train ride out of the airport was just darkness, remoteness and quietness. It also didn’t help that when we arrived at Ostiense Train Station (supposingly a major train station) there was no one in sight and the next time we saw another human being, it was a good number of homeless people sleeping around the perimeter of the train station… Trying not to be judgmental but I can’t help being freaked out after being robbed twice in Europe and the tons of horror crime stories I’ve heard before arriving.

So from that we learnt that we really shouldn’t be out past daylight hours, and luckily for us, dusk only happens at about 9ish in summer…

The thing about Rome (I’m gonna use Roma from now on – just feel more comfortable using the Italian word!) is that the whole city IS a museum, full of impressive architecture and historical artifacts. And luckily for me, an architecture and history buff, I loved every minute of everything!

Key tourist spots we visited were:

  • Day 1: Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum
  • Day 2: Vatican City
  • Day 3: Pompei
  • Day 3.5: Piazza del Popolo & Spanish Steps

Lesson 1: Pay For Guided Tour

If anyone tells you a place is full of tourists, they probably haven’t been to Roma. There is a minimum of 2 hour queue for everything if you didn’t pre-book your tickets and/or sign up for guided tour. Even with pre-booking we had a bit of queuing (about 15 minutes ?), but nothing like the throng who showed up unprepared. I don’t usually like to pay for guides, but in Roma, this is quite necessary because there are so much stories that not all are printed on the boards and you probably don’t have the time to read everything. Plus, you may not know what you are looking at… And not everything is in English. There are also SO MANY tourists that you never get to read everything because someone is blocking you all the time. There is next to no chance of taking a picture without any stranger in it. Guided tours also tends to bring you into more exclusive areas that normal ticket holders don’t get to go.
Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum

The moment the guide talked about Gladiators, my brain woke up. You can read about the history and all elsewhere, so I will save you the pain of reading it here. Our guided tour brought us to the underground and the top floor which was not open to the normal ticket holders so I was a happy camper.

PS: Some places will spell Colosseum as Coliseum, it means the same thing!

The underground – View from the underground!

The underground – view from the top!

The Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum are essentially next to each other, so it is necessary to dedicate one full day to them. So when you buy tickets, make sure it covers all of them.

This is the walk up to Roman Forum, and it is quite common for me to snap a picture at such a perfect timing (the flapping pigeon in the middle) so I thought it is worth a little brag. The pebble flooring is not easy to walk…
All ruined.. by what and how, I don’t know (didn’t get the guide for this one, thus the regret!)
In awe that people of almost 1,000 years ago can build something like that, and still standing! Brings a whole new meaning to “built to last”.

It was a bit sad to see the ruins and imagine what it looked like in its heyday…
I probably burned a lot of calories trying to take this view. Made all the pasta I ate worth it.

Lesson 2: Walk as much as you can!
Being a Singaporean, I know walking is not our favourite pastime especially it is 30+ deg C here was well BUT it will be worth it here because it is actually possible to walk this city and there are so many things to see along the way! There are only 2 train lines here (anyone remembers the days of EW and NS lines?) so that gives you an idea how small this city is. Doesn’t help that the Metro looks really dodgy… I don’t think I’ve seen more graffiti on trains more than in Roma.
Even the train station is not spared. I couldn’t even tell what station this is!
Vatican City

A proper visit usually consists of Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museum and St Peter’s Basilica. Again, this is one place where a guided tour is necessary – because there are too many people and there is very little signage to tell you where you are going. All 3 are almost linked internally, so having Google GPS is kind of useless. The Vaticam Museum alone is so big, it is probably second to the Louvre, so if you were to roam around yourself (with the human jams caused by the army of tourists) it will probably take forever. Sistine Chapel strictly bans cameras, so no pictures BUT silly me only found out this piece of art came from inside the Sistine Chapel…
So I sent a post card to myself! hur hur…<

Royalty’s bathtub… And they bathed in milk. Mmm I want!

 Too many items to post, but here’s a few teasers to demonstrate the grandeur…

Art on tiles, if this is not impressive, I don’t know what is

Map of Sicily – some kid once asked the guide how did people hundreds of years ago without Google Maps do this. Answer: don’t know!

 St. Peter’s Bascilica

 Everything is made of marble so it didn’t feel like 30+ deg outside. No wonder my parents loved marble tiles at home… It finally all made sense!

 St Peter’s Square: too big, too big.

The window that the Pope gives his blessings every Sunday. THIS IS IT!

And before there was Fiat 500… (and in case you don’t know, Fiat is Italian)

That Pharrell song ringing in your head yet?

I would totally get one of these if I lived here.

Lesson 3: Don’t dine at restaurants that have menus in 5 languages

This tip came from one of our guides. These usually mean: Italian, English, French, Russian, German and we’ve gone as far as to see one containing Japanese. These restaurants also tend to be more expensive – at the most expensive one we paid EUR 3.5 for a 300ml of Coke. A more reasonable restaurant price should be closer to EUR 2.

Nonetheless, quick snapshot of what we had for 3.5 days:
Lots of Vongole, every pasta imaginable, melons with parma and my favourite pinot grigio!

 And I must recommend this pasta place that was 3 min walk from my hotel, extremely friendly people and THE best Carbonara ever. (That’s the one on the top pic). And their menu is only in Italian and English, phew!


This was a place that to me only existed in history text book. I only realised by chance that Pompei is a 3hr bus ride away from Roma and doable as a day trip. Its one of those things that I don’t even bother researching – I just knew I wanted and had to go. 

In case you can’t remember what your primary school text book taught you, Pompei was a town that was buried by volcanic ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted more than 2,000 years ago. People were so caught unprepared that many were fossiled in whatever they were doing at that time. It is not a tiny town, though.. I’d imagine it the size of… half of Tampines???

This one is better left for the pictures to do the talking…

 Gladiator School


 A fast food shop
 Pompei Forum

 The road to the brothel (not kidding) – look at the shape of the “arrow”
Brothel menu (really not kidding – the “menu” is painted on the wall)

 Immortalised – notice how small sized they are. Made me wonder what a long way we’ve come to evolve to the size we are today.

Street signs

And this is the volcano crater that destroyed it all – Mount Vesuvius.

Lesson 4: Eat gelato everyday. 

It is worth your calories (not much anyway) but don’t fall for the tourist traps. To be specific, I’m referring to pushcarts run by “Foreign Talents” with big banners claiming to sell gelato. A proper shop should look like this…

Any gelato shop that can grow to this size is worth a visit.

And very cheap too! EUR 2.5 for two scoops I think?

 Gelato cakes, anyone?

And I chanced upon this one around Piazza del Popolo. I think it must have been mentioned in some Korean tourist guide because there were more Koreans than any other nationality…

Piazza del Popolo & Spanish Steps

This is one of the shopping areas, but not the main one. But it was good enough, after all we were not there to shop… There are lots and lots of Piazzas around Roma but this is one of the key ones because it is one of the oldest and the grandest. Built around 1,000 years ago…

 With a impressive fountain in the centre, and two at the sides hence its tourist factor.

 Come here to people watch…

For the life of me I can’t remember why it is called the Spanish Steps, all I can remember is that it is built so that people can move up and down easily.

Spanish Steps from the bottom

Spanish Steps from the top

Lesson 5: Free drinking water everywhere!
This is not really a lesson but an advice to bring an empty bottle on your travels here. There is probably no other place on Earth that you get clean, ice-cold (despite the hot summer) natural drinking water spouting out from the walls/grounds. There are 600 of them around the city, and there is no faucet – water just flows out 24/7. Just wow. I love Roma!

Rejuvenating Foot Reflexology at Teochew Meng in People’s Park Complex

We had finished our briefing on Marina One at ERA Toa Payoh and there was still two hours before my haircut appointment at Ang Mo Kio’s Soul Scissors Studio. We was thinking of some activity to kill some time and we thought of going for a foot massage. Though my girl friend and I have just went for a 90 minutes full body massage at Robertson Quay’s Natureland the night before, but we still eager to have another massage.

Initially, we thought of going to Green Apple Spa at East Coast Road, but my friend recommended Teochew Meng Reflexology in Chinatown instead, which is cheaper.

It is quite unimaginable that on a Monday afternoon where everyone is working, the foot massage parlour is fully occupied and we was asked to go to another of their branch on the fourth level. Pre-warned by my friend who has visited the parlour previously, the fourth level branch was only equipped with fans instead of air-conditioner, but that does not spoil our mood for a good massage experience.

The masseurs are very friendly and despite their age, they do still have strength and experience that rub off the knots on your foot and sole, leaving you rejuvenated. Perhaps I have always opted for body massage while foot massage was not my cup of tea, I had to endure the pain while the masseurs rubbed skilfully onto the acupoints on my foot, though I have already requested for a minimum strength. It does not only effectively soothe the aches on my foot, but as well it relieves my shoulder aches as well.

$25 for a 60 minutes foot massage is certainly a good deal and definitely I would recommend their services to other as well.

Teochew Meng Reflexology Centre
1 Park Road
#03-K76/77/79 & #04-01 People’s Park Complex
Singapore 059108
Tel: + 65 62231268

Opening Hours:
Mon to Fri – 10am to 9.30pm

Yuling Beauty & Slimming Care at Bedok North

Picture Source: StreetDeal

Yuling Beauty & Slimming Care
Blk 218 Bedok North Street 1, #01-09
Singapore 460218
Tel: +65 6448 6607 / 6448 8627

Opening Hours:
Mon to Fri – 11am to 9pm
Sat – 10am to 6pm
Closed on Sunday and Public Holidays

Updated on 18 August 2014