Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered, which will be published by Simon & Schuster on August 5. She is a prize-winning, widely published journalist and author in addition to being awarded an honorary knighthood in recognition of her bestselling book, La Bella Lingua, by the President of Italy. Hales currently resides in the San Francisco Bay area with her family.
Hales tells all the unexpected aspects behind one of the most famous artistic subjects of all time in her new book “Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered.” Now she divulges some of the most unexpected adventures to be had in one of Italy’s most famous cities, Rome.
Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Climb to the magnificent Piazza del Campidoglio. Peer at the sky through the hole in the Pantheon’s roof. Join the pilgrims at St. Peter’s. But if you want to swerve from the well-trod tourist path, these five experiences are sure to add some adventure to your Roman holiday.
The Colosseum at Night
Walks of Italy
Via di Santa Maria dell’Anima, 48
00186 Roma, Italy
Thursday and Saturdays, 8:00 p.m.
69 euro (about $80)
On this spookily evocative tour, available through October, a guide leads a small group through the Roman forums into the Colosseum, the ancient amphitheater that hosted gladiatorial contests, animal hunts and grisly executions. With the gates locked and the crowds gone, you descend below the arena into the underground passages and holding cells where doomed souls once awaited their grim fate. Goosebumps guaranteed.
Sunday Morning Flea Market
Piazza Porta Portese (Trastevere)
Via di Porta Portese
00153 Roma, Italy
Sundays 7:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Rome is a shopper’s paradise but nothing compares with this weekly extravaganza. In a mammoth sprawl of stalls, you can find everything from the latest tablets and smart phones to rare books and antique vases. Expect good-humored crowds, a nonstop cacophony—and haggling. The basic rule: The stated price just starts the negotiations. If you don’t know Italian, you can get by with “troppo!” (too much) and hand gestures.
Related: Travel Guide To Paris, France
A Roman Riverboat
Between Ponte Regina Margherita and Ponte Pietro Nenni
Lunch daily 12:30 to 4:00 p.m.; dinner 7:30 to 11:30 p.m.
It’s a boat! It’s a bar! It’s a restaurant! No place in Rome—or elsewhere—looks like Baja-Roma, a floating fantasy moored on the Tiber off the Piazza del Popolo. Linger over a leisurely lunch prepared with organic ingredients. Sip an aperitivo while watching the sunset. Enjoy a gourmet dinner under the stars. Nestle with your sweetie on cozy pillows in the loft-like interior. Rome doesn’t get more romantic!
Altar of Bones
Via Vittorio Veneto, 27
00187 Roma, Italy
+39 06 8880 3695
9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.; closed Thursday
For a mix of the macabre and the mesmerizing, venture into the underground chapels of the Capuchin church, festooned with the bones of some 4,000 monks who died between 1528 and 1870. Skulls, pelvises, shins, arms and fingers form intricate altarpieces, pyramids and arches. The chilling message (inscribed in three languages) will haunt you: “We were once like you. You will be like us.” Not for the squeamish.
Hollywood on the Tiber
Cinecittà Se Mostra (Cinecitta Shows Off)
Via Tuscolana 1055
00173 Roma, Italy
10 euro for adults, 9 euro for children
Via di Castel Romano, 200
00128 Castel Romano Roma, Italy
29 euro for adults, 23 euro for children
Re-live the golden days of Italian cinema at Cinecittà, the studio where classic epics like Ben Hur and Cleopatra were filmed. Tour ancient Roman neighborhoods on the sprawling backlot. Venture onto the sound stages Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren made famous. At Cinecittà World, a newly opened theme park, you become part of the scene. Charge into battle with Roman legions. Explore an ancient temple of doom. Or play director and call “Ciak!” (the Italian equivalent of “Action!”)