I’m very happy to tick another goal off of my bucket list!
At the beginning of August I set off to Italy with Tim to do a weeks sightseeing in Rome! Normally we wouldn’t have gone in the middle of the school break but our friend started a cycle challenge called Rome 2 Home and thought it would be a great opportunity to see him off.
His challenge is to cycle from Rome all the way back to Southampton, UK. Approximately over 1,400 miles over 14 days. He is doing this with one other bloke raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Southampton Children’s Hospital Charity. To find out more about his challenge read my other blog post Rome 2 Home.
So Tim and I left Britain with blistering rain – typical when I didn’t take a jumper or coat – and landed in the heat of Italy. This year we had our first Airbnb experience. For those of you who don’t know, Airbnb is a website that loads up peoples rooms / homes / caravans etc. to rent for a holiday across the globe. It can turn out cheaper than many hotels plus self catering can also help save the pennies. Visit their website here
So after meeting our host to explain house rules and to hand over keys we rushed back out to take a picture of the Coliseum.
I was very impressed by how close we actually were to this monument. But also happy to sleep so the next day would come even quicker.
The next morning we were in touch with our friends to plan to meet up. They offered us to go over to their camping village to use their pool. Thank fuck! As it was the bastard heat wave that’s been all over the news recently!
After a quick walk around our local area and some food shopping for the apartment we shot over to Roma Camping Village. We had to take the metro and then a taxi but it was well worth it to get ourselves in the pool for 4 hours. Some of you may know that I don’t do well in heat. Like at all. So this was my worst nightmare! Having to have sun cream on for a start – I hate my skin being sticky – plus just sweating from skin pores I didn’t even know existed, I was rather dazed when we finally made it there.
We had taken our Go Pro (definitely an impulse buy around Black Friday) and this would be the first time we had actually used it. But I can safely say it turned out to be rather handy in the water. After showers, beer and pizza it was time for us to head back into the city for some sleep.
Friday 4th August saw all 10 of us venture around Rome doing as many free touristy sights possible. IN 44 DEGREE HEAT!!!!!! Celsius by the way – us Brits work in Celsius. Please see photographic evidence below…….
We started off at the Coliseum to get photos for the Rome 2 Home families wearing their supporting polo shirts (us included). I was glad for a light colour in the heat but by 10am and maybe 10 minutes of standing, my shirt was drenched in sweat. The fact I could see many other people with their clothing items in the same state as mine made me feel much better. We then mooched on to the Roman Forum, Alter of the Fatherland, Trajan’s Column, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and the Spanish Steps. With many stops for water, ice cream, lunch, slushies and crisps.
We had four children with us who were becoming tired, irritable and generally not coping with the heat. I nearly joined in with Charlie when he cried as he was just so hot! I didn’t blame him for his little meltdown at all. But as a group of 10 you seemed to spur each other on to the next corner or monument. We parted ways at the Spanish Steps as I had hit a wall with walking and the heat plus the Rome 2 Home families were planning on heading back to their pool (bastards) as well. A quick metro ride back to our apartment and I could have hugged the air con unit for being a life saver. A home cooked meal of BBQ chicken with some kind of melon risotto (it was in Italian so who knew what it was) a few good luck messages to the families with the cycle ride and a power cut later, took us to the end of day 2.
Saturday’s temperatures were just as high as the previous days and we were planning to do more touristy things! How British! So by 8am Tim and I were out the door and queuing to go in to see around the Coliseum. You have everyone walking up to you and asking if ‘you speak English?’ or ‘are you going to the Coliseum today?’ IGNORE THE BASTARDS. These guys are selling tickets for other tour companies to show you around the stadium for a more expensive price and the all important queue jump. Just try and not swear or punch them like I really wanted to. You also have men shoving bottles of cold water in your face too. Good if you’re in desperate need of something but there are many other ways around it. Please see my Rome Top Tips entry to find out details.
We got into the Coliseum within 20 minutes. This was through security checks – please don’t be like the guy at the airport who has to unpack their WHOLE BASTARD bag to get their laptop out and then walks through to still set the alarms off because they forgot to take their belt off – Jeez! Take the least amount of stuff as possible. We wanted to originally do the third level tour and the underground tour. But the first available time was midday. This was going to break up our day and our plans so we decided just a normal ticket would suffice.
We managed to get a lot of photos of the arena and there are plaques that you can read for snippets of information. As I was still adjusting to the hottest temperatures of the year my mind was not in the mood for reading. However everyone knows what happened here though so I felt paying a tour guide to tell me specific numbers of gladiators who won or died here was a little unnecessary. Call me cynical but I can also Google it for my scrapbook.
On to the Roman Forum next! The ticket they give you will make the turnstiles unlock for the amount of people in your party. So I wasn’t quick enough to get through the second turnstile from our ticket being scanned and ended up with the turnstile spearing into my thigh. There are many ruins in this area from different buildings for different people blah blah blah. Again I was hot and didn’t want to read many signs. We got ourselves to the top of Palantine Hill where there are beautiful views over Rome. I then shot a video of me doing my tae kwon do pattern on top of the hill with the Coliseum in the background. I did this because my instructor shot a video of him and his daughter doing some set sparring whilst away for a weekend in Devon. So I thought I’d join in and practise whilst in Rome and share with my club. I could have done it with more power but again to pass out in this heat it just wasn’t worth it.
Next stop was Altar of the Fatherland again but this time to go inside and explore. This parliament building took me by surprise. I didn’t know what it was before going but seeing it in person it was beautiful. Clean, crisp shapes and many statue to impress. We got to take the lift to the top and again see more views over the lovely City of Rome.
After a cool down back at the apartment for lunch and a nap – yes I’m still like a toddler. We caught the Metro up to visit the Piazza del Popolo. One of the many scenes from the film Angels & Demons.
A quick de-tour to see what the River Tiber was like and back into the bustle of Roman streets to the Spanish Steps. This time we climbed them to the top and visited the church.
A walk off to the right of the church took us to see Bernini’s triton fountain and then onto the Four Fountains (each at a corner of a crossroad junction) where Tim and I hid in the shade and dipped our wrists into the water to help cool off. Water may have gone over our heads and across the backs of our necks too. I tell you it was necessary.
By walking through the streets you see many different sized shops selling a variety of produce. By chance we found a cheaper area of the city. Water was 50cents per bottle rather than 2 euros! So coming across a supermarket meant we did a bit more shopping for the apartment for more homemade dinners. Plus we were drinking twice as much as normal too so juice and fizzy were already running low. We took our shopping to the Piazza della Repubblica to see the Naiadi fountain where we spotted this church.
The Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli de Martiri. Or as I like to call it the church with the BIG ASS NAME.
It looks like nothing but we thought as we were here, tick it off the list of things we’ve seen. Inside was HUGE. It took me by surprise. There was a massive domed atrium first then it went into the cross shaped church. You could have fit tens of thousands of people in there. Just look at how big the organ has to be for people to hear the tune to the hymn they would sing on a Sunday.
I also spotted this man above drawing one of the statues – rather well I may add. I wanted to talk to him and tell him his work was great but my confidence got the better of me and plus the language barrier. In my head I was imaging a Humans of New York Instagram moment. But boy am I glad to have been intrigued by this church. Another quick metro back to put our groceries away, another meal in and a few games of travel Connect 4 whilst watching a film in Italian, our Saturday came to an end.
Sunday bought us more sunshine so we opted for shade. We took to exploring the Villa Borghese park. We never actually made it to the villa itself – whoops. Walking through the tree lined paths we found the National Gallery of Modern & Contemporary Art and Villa Giulia. We then came across a lake known as the Laghetto where you could row boats. I jumped at the chance!
I don’t think Tim liked that the man had to steer the boat but I definitely didn’t make too much effort to swap with him. Within the water are turtles who get fed by locals and tourists plus some seagulls. Another Go Pro opportunity here so I videoed our adventure around the Temple of Aesculapius and even dipped the camera underwater to see what was there. I still haven’t checked out that footage yet! You pay for a 20 minute stint. It doesn’t take you that long to circumnavigate the lake. Unless you suck at rowing. I’m sure if there were queues of people waiting then they would call you back to shore but today the staff didn’t really seem to mind.
After that we headed back to Piazza del Popolo, went into the church and visited the Leonardo Da Vinci Musuem. What a clever man! He managed to be so many things in one lifetime—painter, engineer, architect and scientist. Back in the 1400’s! These days kids get medals for taking part in things. This was the first time where Tim and I paid for headsets. It meant I didn’t have to concentrate on reading plus I didn’t know too much about the man. It turns out he has over 6,000 pages of work (known as codices) all in his own mirror script. He also dissected humans (once passed away) to make detailed drawings of the human body. To the church this practise of dissembling the human body were seen to be a sin. But without this man we would be living a different life now hundreds of years on.
Pizza stop for lunch with the view of the Piazza before heading over the river Tiber. We came across another beautiful church – Scared Heart of Suffrage. With its high gothic nature I naturally wanted to go inside and explore more. However due to it being a Sunday, it was all locked up. So we moved swiftly onto the Palace of Justice.
This was magnificent. Just the detailing of the sculptures, the symmetry of everything and the grandeur place of where it stood at the mouth of a bridge was great. Next was Piazza Navona; another place featured in the film Angels and Demons, plus the famous Fiumi fountain.
As you can see from the pictures above, the piazza looks almost deserted. This is only because everyone was taking shelter in the shade. I was hot and bothered by this point again so my enthusiasm to get different pictures was rather low due to having to stand out in the sun. Tim and I discussed that we shall catch a taxi back again sometime soon. Before finding the taxi rank we visited another church (mostly because I knew it would be cool inside) and found the ‘City of Cats’ but I think it was even too hot for the cats as I never caught a glimpse of any.
I proclaimed my love to the air con unit once again, rehydrated, ate some snacks, had a nap, showered and started to feel normal once again. On our free map from a stranger by the train station, there was an advert for the Ice Bar. Tim and I had never been to one and we were a minutes walk away so we thought why not. Going from +40 degree heat to -15 was bliss to start with. Even with the coats provided, after about 20 minutes I was cold (not that I wanted to admit it). Obviously everything is made out of ice – Tim had to touch a wall just to be sure. The sculptures in there were great and the barman very friendly and good banter. After many photos and finishing off our drinks we went for dinner.
Last year whilst driving around France myself and Tim decided to have a posh romantic evening out in Monaco. I got all dressed up in a black dress with heels and found ourselves sitting in a restaurant with views of the open ocean. Again we had problems with our French and couldn’t really understand the menu. I ordered steak tartare and Tim some fish. I thought it a little weird that I wasn’t asked how I liked my steak cooked. Low and behold it was raw minced meat. I had mistaken steak tartare with steak Rossini (steak with pate) so it was safe to say I didn’t eat too much of it and had to lie to the waiter that I was full up when ask what was wrong. So that night ended up with me walking home barefoot and grabbing a takeaway pizza to eat in my hotel bed.
Sorry I digress, the point to that story is that we don’t do posh. Its just not in our nature. We decided as we had showered and dressed up that tonight would be a good night to eat out. Conveniently the restaurant opposite the Ice Bar had plenty of tables. We sat down and looked through the menu. I think Italian is possibly the best cuisine for me as I like the most variety in this category (no steak tartare in sight). This time is was Tim that was turning his nose up at things and ended up ordering a burger. *insert monkey see no evil emoticon here*
I ordered the traditional suppli (rice ball stuffed with tomato sauce) for starter (which Tim then ate half of!!!!) and then a duck gnocchi for main. It was delicious. All the other couples were there ordering wine and looking romantically at each other whereas we were there taking pictures like this……..
After a good nights sleep we set off walking towards our gladiator school lesson! We chose a path through some shaded gardens south of the Coliseum. We found two more churches on our way – one we didn’t enter due to lots of singing – knowing our luck we would have just ruined a wedding or something. We eventually made it to the ruined Baths of Caracalla. This place was mostly deserted due to the raging heat but anyone who were there were scurrying towards the next bit of shade as quick as they could. I enjoyed the grandeur of these ruins. The original mosaic floor was nice and you had diagrams showing you where some original rooms were. I was just wishing that they would fill with cool water at any second. Alas I left dry and sweaty.
Next a shaded walk to Piramide and Porta San Paolo, mostly for pictures as our time to get to our gladiator lesson crept closer. A short taxi ride away and we ad made it. Some plonker *points finger at herself* booked the lesson at 1pm. When the sun is at its most hottest. Even our instructor said that we must be mad. In my defence how was I supposed to know that it was going to be hotter than hell when I booked this activity? Plus I was thinking we would want a lie in on holiday so not to book the activities too early. Never mind. We ate some lunch and tried to hydrate whilst waiting for more people to join us. No one came. Mostly backing up my silly decision but it did mean that we had our instructor all to ourselves.
First off was the Roman Gladiator Museum. This was just some outhouses put together with lots of memorabilia that I presume the family / staff had collected. Our bloke knew his stuff. I was hooked. He was engaging, told jokes and even allowed us to try on old helmets…..
Next was learning how to fight. Well after the warm up! Safe to say I didn’t need to do it too many times as I was already rather warm. We were given wooden swords and he took us through defensive skills step by step. I felt rather natural due to my martial arts experience. He would show us counterattacks if we did it wrong which I found rather funny – due to the sound effects he put with them. However even at tae kwon do I laugh every time I spar and get hit. I need to teach myself to become more serious. He left us to practise on each other for a while so we set up our Go Pro to catch some of our moves. See results below.
It then turned into point scoring. Naturally our competitive sides came out and a few hits may have been illegal. We had been given softer swords and shields by this point though. I tried my best but Tim won. We got our certificates which I will treasure forever. I had a blast.
Talking to Mr Gladiator man (I never caught his name) we found out that the premises that they have is rented. The local council are not interested in teaching this history to their children and nor do they want to fund it. He also organises proper staged fights in the Roman Forum every year with thousands of people participating and watching. He encouraged us to go, which I would if we could. He also told us about the after school clubs he does with kids who train the old techniques and they get given old style armour too. I thoroughly enjoyed his company, knowledge and laughter. I would highly recommend to all age ranges to check it out.
**Don’t forget to read through my Rome Top Tips to find out more**
A walk back to the apartment through the Aurelian walls and past the Coliseum meant it was time to cool off and chill out for the rest of the day. We had a home cooked meal and an early night ready for the last adventure tomorrow.
0545 wake up call this morning. Safe to say we had gotten used to naturally waking up this week. But we had a tour booked in Vatican City of the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica and the underground Crypts at 0720. Once we had found our meeting point, been given stickers and headsets (to amplify our guides voice) we queued to get into the smallest country in the world. There are lots of turnstiles and security to go through – so again don’t be annoying and bring everything with you there’s no need. We walk up some steps and out into a courtyard where you have a view of St Peter’s dome.
Our guide (whose name I cant remember – I need to work on this skill) was telling us all about Michelangelo and his works. Also a leaflet we were given showed the breakdown of each segment of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and the wall with his painting of the Last Judgement. I found it rather interesting as I knew nothing about the Vatican, only snippets like the white smoke to elect a Pope and watching Angels and Demons. We then moved on to a whistle stop tour of the Vatican Museum Halls. We saw the gallery of tapestries and the hall of maps. These in itself were impressive, the ceiling designs, the original tapestries and the paintings of the maps themselves.
Following our guide down and around some steps we entered the Sistine Chapel, the piece de resistance, through the door of hell of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement wall. HOLY COW. What a place! I think my neck ached from looking up so much. I can see why millions of people visit this every year. Its definitely worth seeing once in your lifetime.
I have used pictures off the internet here because you aren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the chapel. In the museums beforehand you could but with no flash so the paintings and tapestries were not ruined. I did sneakily take some using the forwarded facing camera and pointed it upwards but the quality isn’t that great.
I took a religion quiz the other day. Possibly not the most legitimate way of finding out what category I am under the religion umbrella but my result was pretty accurate. I am an agnostic atheist. The definition from Wikipedia is as follows;
Agnostic atheism is a philosophical position that encompasses both atheism and agnosticism.
Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not hold a belief in the existence of any deity and agnostic because they claim that the existence of a deity is either unknowable in principle or currently unknown in fact.
The agnostic atheist may be contrasted with the agnostic theist, who believes that one or more deities exist but claims that the existence or nonexistence of such is unknown or cannot be known.
So I believe there could be some ultimate being but I need proof plus I don’t think the world was made in 7 days I believe more in Charles Darwin’s evolution theory. I know religion is the probably the worst subject to talk about along with politics but I ask people not to judge.
BUT being in that small chapel just sitting and looking at all the stories on every inch of the walls and ceiling its hard to not re-think. Due to its beauty I think it engulfs people into their own belief system especially because of the silence, I feel it adds to the experience. I think if I was younger, brought up in a very religious Roman Catholic family that attended church and I was questioning my belief, this would seal it.
After our allotted time in the chapel our tour group split. Some went off to do the rest of the museum rooms within the Vatican and others moved on to St Peter’s Basilica. We were part of the latter group. We walked down the same staircase as the Pope does through to a courtyard. Our tour guide stopped us and she talked now about the history of St Peter’s. Catholic tradition states that the church is the burial site of St Peter, one of Christ’s Apostles and also the first Pope. This church is also the biggest in the world! Second largest is St Paul’s Cathedral in London. We made our way around to the entrance after being told flashes on cameras were allowed again and that only priests can talk within the church. I think this is due to how early we entered our tour. Once normal entrances open is when tour guides can talk and give facts. Again my neck hurt from looking skywards so much. There is just minute details everywhere you look. First item of interest is the sculpture of Pieta, it depicts the body of Jesus on his mother Mary’s lap after the crucifixion. It is the only thing that Michelangelo signed. Due to a man attacking the statue with a hammer in the 1970s was it then placed behind bullet proof glass. There is a bronze statue of St Peter himself but his feet have been worn down. This is due to pilgrim’s kissing or rubbing his feet for protection.
You can see the orange glow from the Dove of the Holy Spirit at the back of the basilica. Due to it still be early, other barriers had been put up for tourists to not go too near as nuns and clergymen were still praying. St Peter’s Baldachin is a very prominent feature this is over the top of the Apostles’ tomb. We spotted our guide and she told us why we could now use our flashes on cameras – all the paintings were mosaics. You had to look really closely but you could see the teeny tiny squares composing the full portraits. We then descended down into the crypts underneath the church floor. This is where many pope’s tombs are kept. For protection St Peter’s is kept away from tourists with bullet proof glass and strictly no pictures in this part whatsoever. We were directed to the front of the church with the view of St Peter’s Square where our tour came to an end. All done by 0930.
The square is huge. Plus directly in the sun. The queues for normal entry was miles long and all those poor buggers didn’t have any shade. I was glad to have spent that extra money on this excursion. A pit stop to buy some postcards and stamps for my scrapbook then we headed towards the obelisk to see the wind rose – another recognisable item from Angels and Demons. We left Vatican country and heading back into Rome towards the castle.
Tim and I love a castle. This one hasn’t got many fancy turrets but what you pay for was well worth the visit. There is a kind of one way system which takes you up the castle and exploring different floors until you reach the roof. Again spectacular views of the city – just so darn hot in the direct sun! You then work your way down to an air conditioned museum. Definitely took the edge off. You exit the castle to the side of the main entrance over looking the bridge of angels. So we headed back over to look at the bridge and to take plenty of photos.
Everywhere I travel to I get a tattoo to commemorate the trip. I’ve got about a three quarter sleeve. I kind of cheated and researched what to have before I went over there – you know to definitely say I’ve seen it. One of the Angels is my next idea. I already have a St Christopher on my shoulder and I didn’t want to be too predictable and have the Coliseum. However a fountain on the outside of the Altar of the Fatherland is appealing to me now too. Help me decide!!!
Anyway after seeing the bridge of Angels I was done. I had had enough with the sun and wanted to sit down. Tim agreed so we shot back to our apartment before midday. We grabbed some refreshments to rehydrate and told ourselves we would wait a little while until we went out for some lunch. We discussed how bad we were getting everyday regarding our tolerance to the heat. It must have been really draining us. Next thing I know I’m running to the toilet to bring up my cool drink I had just inhaled. Oh Joy. So that meant I spent the next hour in bed trying to recover and making sure I could keep food or drink down. After some salted crisps making me feel better we headed out for our last lunch. We only walked 500 yards. I think we were determined to spend the least amount of time out as possible. We hurried back and stayed out of the sun until 1800. Thinking it would be cooler (more fool us) we headed out for an evening stroll to the Capitoline Museum and across Tiber Island. A drink and small ice cream stop later, we made it to our desired restaurant, an American Diner. Yes look how cultural we were being! I didn’t care I had a great steak with jacket potato and I was fully satisfied afterwards. *burps*
Wednesday came and it meant we were heading home.
I felt relieved to be leaving the heat but not the City. It is very quirky and had plenty on offer to see. If I ever go back it would only be for a couple of days just to relive the ambiance.
Don’t forget to check my Rome Top Tips for more detailed information on activities.