Published: January 25th 2009November 22nd 2008
And figuring it was about time I followed one there, I convinced Neil it was time for a weekend in Rome you know, doing what the Romans do (luckily they no longer dress in skirts and silly hats). So, if what the Romans do is eat pizza and pasta, drink lots of coffee, wander around marveling at 'old stuff' and fail miserably at speaking Italian (although I kind of doubt it), we managed it.
We love Rome. It's just so full of old stuff (definitely not built in a day). I know that this sounds ridiculous, but is is truly amazing how every time you round a corner there is some new old thing to see.
We had a true touristy weekend, starting with a Vatican Tour. The tour was with myvaticontour.com (I don't usually give plugs, but the tour was fantastic). Just the right mix of trivia, facts, artspeak and humour. Having read the guidebook, which says that there are so many items in the Vatican museum that if you looked at each one for one minute, it would take you 12 years to see them all, we were pretty glad to have someone show us the highlights.
One thing we were not that keen on was all the 'shushing' in the Sistine Chapel. (Not by our guide, by the the guards. Very frequently.) Only stopping for the 'Be quiet' announcement over the speakers). I can understand the need to show respect in a church, but I think it is a bit rich of them to use it as a massive moneygaining exercise, cram you in there and then try and play the 'sacred site' card. I know we did not have it as bad as some - in the summer, the lack of air-con can lead to heat exhaustion but, still, the shushing was louder than the talking. However, they do make an effort to reduce the crowding by setting up billboards in one of the courtyards with pictures of the ceiling, so the guides can do their 'blurb' outside, where there is more space. It makes it easier to enjoy the chapel itself as at least all of the tour groups (of which I admit I was one) are not clustered in groups and impossible to get around.
It certainly is an impressive sight. Amazingly, Michelangelo preferred sculpting to painting and tried to turn
down the job ... imagine what could have been lost! Still he must have cursed the need to do it (you could not really say no to the Pope!) - it took him 4 years, all the time standing on a scaffold, painting staring at the ceiling with his arm above his head (imagine the crick in his neck!).
There is, of course, lots of other amazing stuff in the Vatican museums, but special mention goes to the optical illusions and a monk in the background in one of the pics who is a dead ringer for Sly Stallone.
We then headed to St Paul's cathedral - it's massive (and proud of it, with the length of all of the other famous churches/cathedrals on the floor, so you can see exactly how much longer it is). We climbed to the top of the dome, through the slanty walled staircase for great views of the city. As you know - I love 'high points'. It was pretty funny to look down on St Peter's square and see it as a car park for tour busses. Later, in St Peter's square (for old times sake only I promise) I leap
frogged one of the bollards (not even sure if that is the right word) to get a repeat of a pic of me from when I was about 9 years old.
We then wandered the streets of Rome, past the Trevi Fountain (yes - of course we did the coin thing), to the Pantheon (it's amazing that such an old building can be in such good condition (I know some people think it is a bit plain, but I kind of like that about it)) and found a pizza place for dinner - yum!! We then had the world's most expensive coffee (nearly as much as our dinner) in the Piazza Navonna. The people watching made it worth it though.
One disappointing thing is that you can't really walk the banks of the river at night. This is because the riversides are tree-lined sidewalks. Lovely, you think at first. At night the birds roost in the trees. Not only are they incredibly noisy but they seem to be constantly pooing. Or maybe they just each poo once, but there are enough of them that it seems constant. Whatever, it is gross.
Bright and early the next morning,
we were back on those Roman Roads and off to the Colosseum and the Forum, which was just amazing. Neil almost didn't go in (being tired and unwell) but once inside (for a quick look only) could not help but be fascinated, finding himself drawn further and further in. We ended up staying until we were herded out by the guards at closing time! I can't really give any worthy description, and so am not going to try, but instead simply to recommend it to you if you ever get the chance.
For something different, we tried the morning flight back to London. Verdict? Not unless essential. Whilst it is lovely to have a relaxed Sunday night, still officially 'on hols', getting up at 4.30 to make the flight home and heading straight to work makes Monday very, very tough!
There are more photos below