23 Jan

An Epiphany in Rome


I’ve never considered Rome to be a crowded city. It is. I know it is. But most of my experiences there have been relaxed and pleasant.

I remember strolling around the forum one early morning in December 2007, with hardly another tourist in sight.

I remember leaving the Vatican Museum having shared its glories with other visitors thinking it didn’t seem too crowded.

And I remember the joy of stumbling upon the Gallaria Doria Pamphilj and thinking that you don’t have to “do” the big attractions to enjoy this rich city.

At 6 am on 6 January 2013 we once again set off for Rome. Not from our usual departure point of Dublin Airport, instead we boarded a bus outside the post office in Loreto Aprutino and after collecting other eager travellers, made our way to the autostrada and on to Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square).

The local travel agent, FreeTime, run by the wonderful Antonella and Graziano, had organised a day trip leaving early (6 am) and returning late (10 pm) so would-be shoppers could take advantage of the January sales.

We’d little interest in shopping. All we wanted to do was enjoy the journey, stroll around Rome, have a nice lunch and maybe stop a while and watch the world go by.

We had three items we wanted to do on a very loose list. Explore the Galleria Borghese, visit Piazza Navona and have a relaxing, enjoyable lunch.

Just after stepping off the bus we discovered you had to book the Galleria Borghese before visiting so we dropped that from the list. On arriving at Piazza Navona my heart sank and I had no desire to spend too much time there. It gets a lot of attention under normal circumstances but on 6 January, the feast of the Epiphany, there was hardly any spare room. Locals seemed to take it in their stride, even locals with young children and buggies – but after an initial buzz I soon realized it was too crowded for me.

As for lunch – well I may have messed up here also. Not because the restaurant wasn’t good, not because the food wasn’t tasty but because I didn’t do any research first. By the time we were peckish going on hungry I asked a member of the Carabiieri for guidance and we went to “Pasquino” on Piazza Pasquino, just off Piazza Navona.

Near Piazza Navona – are you mad? Well maybe, but the oxtail stew was wonderful and we passed a relaxing two and half hours enjoying the food, the atmosphere and the local banter.

Was it expensive? Yes if compared with Abruzzo prices, but we were in Rome so judging by city prices e.g. Dublin it was value for money.

The next time I’ll read up and try to pick a recommendation from Eleonora Baldwin’s wonderful blog Aglio, Olio and Peperoncino.

Hindsight is 20/20!

So what happened between our arrival at Piazza San Pietro around 09:30 and lunch at around 13:30?

Most of this!

And that included one of most colourful pageants I’ve ever seen.

P was told that the corteo storico folcloristico was a traditional parade which starts from Castel Sant’Angelo and passes along via della Conciliazione to Piazza San Pietro where symbolic gifts are given to the Pope.

Afterwards I read that there were fifteen hundred participants, including musicians, flag bearers, majorettes and horses –  the historic event was started in 1985 to help reintroduce the holiday of the Epiphany on the civil calendar.

It was fantastic.

We weren’t expecting anything like this when we boarded the bus and for me the surprise, the colours, the pageantry and the sheer joy of the participants and spectators made this trip worthwhile.

There is always something to do and see in Rome. Planning helps, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

a little bit about 

Noel is an IT Consultant, software development Project Manager, photographer, writer, and English teacher. These days he swaps his time between Abruzzo, Italy and Dublin, Ireland.

You can see more of Noel's photographs on
Noel McCarthy Photography

Many of these images are available to buy on 500px Art at