Tag: sightseeing

#27 Complete

Over the August bank holiday weekend me and my rugby mates flew the hour journey up to Belfast for some sightseeing, beer, laughs, beer, rugby and more beer.

We landed and headed straight to a museum. Some of the group chose W5 a science museum the others the Titanic Experience.

I had previously done the Titanic Experience a few years back when I was working in Ireland. I would thoroughly recommend. Lots of information, interactive areas and even a tiddly ride for everyone. W5 is a ‘kids’ science museum. All interactive with lots of play things to do. Our ticket got us entry for the whole day and we could pop in and out as many times as we wanted. 6 young adults running around and being fascinated with the experiments must have been a sight for the staff. I thought my mates may have said it was a little too childish (I was group organiser) but we all loved it and had a massive game of jenga which lasted a good hour.

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After lunch we headed to our house provided by Airbnb. Everyone ran to claim a room and we settled in the evening. A home cooked meal and drinking games was just what we needed.

Next morning was the Women’s Rugby World Cup finals day! Our tickets gave us entry to all 3 games. So after cooked breakfast and getting 8 women ready for the day we made our way to the stadium. Belfast Council (I presume) put on spectator buses from the Europa Bus Station over to the Kingspan Stadium. This helped out a lot. That weekend Belfast had the rugby on, a music festival and some other event and according to our taxi man all the rooms in Belfast were booked with people paying up to £350 per night. So people were everywhere!

Just like when I went to Bournemouth 7s festival earlier this year (read #14 check! to find out more) we had sorted out some cheeky alcoholic pouches for our girly areas. The police were outside the stadium and being very helpful with directions and crowd control. But no body searches. Just bags. A massive buzz was in the air at the stadium. Everyone in their different kits and merchandise. I had designed our t-shirts (I wasn’t wanting to get my legit England shirt all messy – I’m a clumsy drunk) so we rocked up in these bad boys

But being big fans of this sport we wanted to grab ourselves some clothing from the official store. We set up camp at the front of the standing area near a try line and enjoyed the day. First game was Ireland vs. Wales. Good rugby and plenty of tries in front of our spot.

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Next up was USA vs. France. Very physical game but I didn’t see much of this one as I was waiting in line for my face to be painted lol. We look so pretty.

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But the final was the important game. The crowds became bigger and bigger and you start seeing people you know through the rugby community back home. The final was England vs. New Zealand. The previous RWC holders and the no. 1 team in the world.

A tough game for England. Lots of defensive play and tackles made to keep New Zealand at bay. However the opposition managed to break through the line a few times to score. One right in front of our spot. Awesome to witness but not so great regarding the team we were supporting.

In the second half Lydia Thompson made a huge break and ran down to us to score a try for England. We went crazy but alas we didn’t make it onto the TV. I was on edge all game as the score board was pretty close. Then I think England got tired and the points gap got bigger. Portia Woodman was an absolute machine. She broke through the line and scored numerous tries.

The final whistle blew and NZ were crowned the new Rugby World Cup champions. I was a tad disappointed with the result – naturally. However NZ earned their victory. We stayed to watch the presentation of medals and the cup plus we waited for the teams to do their walk round of the stadium. Getting to see and speak to Poppy Cleall (a member of our rugby club we play for currently) and just watching Vicki Cornborough ( I used to play rugby with her for Hampshire over 10 years ago!) was amazing. **I was jealous also that I wasn’t in their shoes**

The amount of coverage for games on the TV has improved since 2014 and more companies are beginning to support us women for funding etc. I’m pleased that women’s rugby is becoming more and more popular. Check out England’s stats for the tournament here;

http://www.rwcwomens.com/teams/2517/stats

A lot of people say “does it hurt playing rugby?”

I always reply with no.

Ok a small lie as I’ve broken my ankle, dislocated my little finger and managed to gain bruises and scars for life BUT you are coached and trained on how to tackle properly plus learn how to land a tackle too.

I believe its the amount of passion, brute force and determination then factors into how much you hurt. If you make all of your tackles and hit hard then yes you will feel these effects afterwards (by afterwards I mean the day after or the day after that).  But when playing the game you’ve got so much adrenaline rushing through your body you don’t know what day of the week it is sometimes. Rugby is a high tempo sport with many rules but I strongly suggest to go give it a try and see what you think. Tackle practise on the pads is always fun and lets out a lot of stress or anger.

Once you’re hooked you’ll be hooked for life. The socials that come with being part of a rugby club like end of year dinners, tours, watching men’s games every Saturday makes you feel part of a family. Plus beer is always involved. WINNING!! If that hasn’t sold you enough then I don’t know what will.

Anyway back to Belfast.

After queuing in the hoards of crowds for the bus back into town our group split off again. The hard core party animals and the not so hard core. I chose to jump in a taxi and head back as my legs were killing me from standing so much. If I had sorted out seated tickets I would have partied the night away. Dominos pizza for dinner / 1am breakfast and my head hit the pillow.

We still had two days to explore Belfast so I organised us to have tickets for the City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. It definitely cleared everyone’s head. We also went though all 4 seasons within the 2 hour journey. We were happily enjoying a little sun to torrential rain.

We saw the Peace Wall, Crumlin Road Gaol, Alpacas in Stormont Parliament Buildings and much more. We jumped off at Castle Place to do a bit of shopping. Lots of novelty presents were bought. I got myself a t-shirt and hoody. We then headed back as I had pre-booked an hour’s stint on a Wee Toast Tour. This is ‘bike bar’ where you pedal yourselves around the city whilst having your own bought booze served to you at the bar. If I haven’t described it well enough check out the photos below.

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Also check out their website too for more information.
https://www.weetoasttours.com/

Although we were late for our booking (taxi companies were extremely busy) they still crammed in a small tour and we had a blast!

Afterwards we headed to the nearest bar which coincidentally had karaoke. Now I like to sing in my car or in my house at the dog but I’m not a massive fan of audiences. However I was 4 shots and 3 ciders deep so very much had the ‘fuck it’ attitude. Once I started I was on a roll. Even had a local tell me how good of a singer I was. However I think he was just as pissed as me! There is a video of me absolutely bossing Shania Twain but who has I have no idea! We then moved onto Filthy McNastys a quirky pub that hosts live music and has a huge secret garden. They have nice cocktails in there in the fancy jars and fancy straws. The jar may have made its way home with me somehow?!? Drunken walk home and drunken food ended Sunday night.

Monday came and we all had a nice breakfast together in our house. Talking of events and making a plan for the day. Some people had earlier flights and others had a later one. The main aim was to get to the Ulster museum to see the Game of Thrones Tapestry. It is 77metres long and depicts all the episodes or major plot lines of Season 7. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who have not jumped aboard this band wagon. I’m not sure why. I’ve heard loads of people die so don’t get attached to the characters but that’s exactly what I do. Who knows I may try it out soon.
After that we explored the rest of the museum more with its natural history exhibitions etc. The gift shop had loads of good buys too.  It was then time to part ways and 4 of our group left us. The rest of us then headed back onto the Hop On Hop Off bus to take us to CS Lewis Square. One of my friends had been talking about how she really wanted to see this but suddenly changed her mind. But still I liked it and took many photos.

There isn’t too much to do there so timing it right with the next bus is probably you’re best bet. However there is a café that is nearby. A short taxi ride took us to Crazy Golf! A pirate themed outdoor course. I love a bit of competition and I love crazy golf. The weather did dampen us but we powered through and managed both courses.

This had killed a big chunk of our afternoon and we decided to head to the airport, get rid of bags and just chill out.

My time in Belfast was fun filled and I’ve still got reasons to go back there. I think next time I will check out more museums, find Belfast Cathedral and frequent more eateries and pubs.

 

 

 

 

 

Rome Top Tips

Rome Top Tips

If you had been reading a previous post (#17 Complete) here are my handy tips to travel Rome.

 

  1. Don’t book to go in the middle of August!
    Obviously we had a reason to be going on these dates but if you have no ties then go around May or September time. The temperatures are much cooler so more walking can be done in one day.
  2. If flying into Fiumicino Airport, grab the Leonardo Express train to Termini train station in the centre of Rome.
    Follow the signs in the airport, buy your ticket for 14euros and get it stamped. This is important.
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    Find one of these machines and pop it in. I have no idea what happens if you don’t stamp your ticket but better be safe than sorry. The train takes around 35 minutes and only stops at Termini. Plenty of luggage holders – although not stacked correctly by humans – and air conditioned carriages.
  3. Italian Metro
    Again very simple to use but its the tickets that I want to tell you about. You have a choice of many but we found that the 100 minute ticket for 1,50euros worked out the best. We did this because we would get the metro out to the furthest point and then walk back to our accommodation (ok we at least had this intention but the heat didn’t help). If you pay out for one of these tickets a day and you stay for a 4 day weekend you’d only spend 6euros. Its 7euros for a 24 hour ticket.
  4. Grab a free map
    This was our bible whilst sightseeing across the city. I got our free one from a guy in the train station terminal. He was rather helpful too. I did buy some maps for others and they cost 1euro each. But having this gives you an idea of how close everything is. A bit like London. You can take the underground from one place to another but you could walk it and see 3 other sights along your way. Don’t be afraid to deface it either. We had many lines, circles and crosses all over the place.
  5. Book Accommodation near a Metro
    This way it just seems so much easier going to and from places. See below the metro map.
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  6. Coliseum Tickets
    So in my post about my holiday I mentioned about all the different companies offering you to skip the line and have a tour guide. These could cost 40euros per person. Whereas getting up early and queuing yourself could cost you 12euros per adult. The arena opens at 0830. I was queued out of the metal barriers at the end of the big noticeboard and it took me 20 minutes to get inside the stadium. We must have got there at 0815. If you want to commit and get first in line then you’ll be experiencing gladiator history in no time.
    Also note that the first Sunday of every month the Coliseum open up its doors for free. Tim and I checked out the queue for that on the Sunday and it did seem to be a little longer than normal.
  7. Da Vinci Museum
    Fee to enter was 11euros and to hire a headset was 3euros. You had to leave a 20euro deposit for the headset at the ticket office. The headsets are not necessary as many plaques with text in English are by every exhibit. Some of the exhibits are interactive so you can touch them and move them – so it would keep your kids interested for a while whilst you found out all the boring facts. Surprisingly there isn’t too much in the terms of souvenirs.
  8. Ice Bar 
    With our free map was an advert about the Ice Bar including an offer to get a second drink free. It does cost 15euros to enter which gets you a drink and the use of their coats. Once you come out of the bar you can not go back in. If you dress in long sleeved clothing and had jeans on (compared to my summer dress) you would be able to last in there for 2-3 drinks. In comparison to other ice bars I hear it is relatively small. But the range of cocktails was vast and very tasty. If you can afford to go or have never been before then pop on in.
  9. Baths of Caracalla
    It is just ruins at the end of the day but there are some nice grounds to go with it. If it were a much much cooler day then taking a picnic would have been a lovely idea (it was 4euros for one bottle of Fanta on the cart outside). This way you would have spent enough time to warrant the 8euro entrance fee. There was a big stage being built when we visited so if you researched into what shows they put on, you can always coincide with that.
  10. Gladiator School
    To book yourself onto this activity I went through Viator. The cost is around £50 per adult for a 2 hour session. Where it is based can be reached by taxi for convenience or it is a 1.5 mile walk south of the Coliseum. Fun for all the family. I would highly recommend. Also if you sign up to Viator’s emails they give you a discount for your order. I’ve let it run until after we got back from Rome and have unsubscribed.
  11. Vatican Tour
    Dark Rome is the company I booked this tour with. But the company itself was called City Wonders. Click on this link to see all their tours on offer https://citywonders.com/vatican-tours
    It is a little more expensive but to skip the long queues (potentially in the burning sun) is definitely worth it. The more in depth the tour is the more you’re likely to pay.
    Clothing wise, make sure you cover your shoulders and your knees!
  12. Castle St Angelo
    I pre-booked these tickets as well. It doesn’t take too long for tickets in the morning but by the time we finished our visit the queue was being monitored and reaching the bridge. The most expensive ticket is 14,50euros. Follow this link to find out more
    https://www.ticketsrome.com/en/museum-reservations/castel-sant-angelo-tickets
  13. General Pointers
    Everything is in walking distance like London. You’ll be surprised by how much of the free activities you can see in a day.
    Beware of pickpockets on the Metro. Sometimes its just kids walking up and down the platform then not actually getting onto a train. There are also musicians playing and asking for money or just women and children beggars. Just wave them on.
    Around all of the main tourist attractions you’ll have people trying to sell you things like bracelets. They will ask you questions and be very complimentary towards you, just make sure you don’t accept anything from them. Tim jumped out of the way as guy said ‘catch’ when he threw a bracelet at him. Once you’ve got it, they expect you to pay whether you like it or not. The best line I had was ‘Are you from Africa?’ – yes I’m your white ass cousin. FUCK OFF. We even had the same man try it on with us for 3 days straight when we were getting on the Metro.
  14. Fountains
    Buy a thermos flask to take with you. Some of the fountains have drinkable water plus there are running taps around the city too. This saves you from buying water every few hours and downing it because its cold. This was a life saver whilst in the temperatures of 40+
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I think that’s all the serious stuff I have to share with you. If you are interested in finding out how my trip went then check out #17 Complete.

#17 Complete

#17 Complete

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.

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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!

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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.

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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…….

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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……..

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
Image result for wall paintings in sistine chapel

Image result for sistine chapel ceiling

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.

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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.

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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.