We planned this trip over a period of 2 years having bought the tickets during lockdown. Now at the end , how has it gone ? As with any trip it has its ups and downs.
But first Rome. So glad we ended here otherwise for me everything else would have been an anti climax . It has been an amazing visit and it is to do with the scale of the sights that dominate the city. We arrived Saturday late afternoon and got sorted in our apartment and did some shopping, as we planned to eat breakfast and have some evening meals in our place. We were tired from the journey but went first to an expensive wine bar , Chris' final birthday treat. Drinks from me and Adam. One of the wines was 10€ a glass ! We opted for a nearby Eritrean restaurant. What a treat to have some spicy food!
Sunday was one of our non-ticketed days so we set off to have a wander and got the bus to Trevi fountain. As you can imagine it was really busy but just as I remember it. Chris threw a coin in the fountain, legend has
it he will be back! We found a small back street cafe for coffee then walked to the Spanish steps. Seeing the flag made me yearn for my adopted home. From the top of the steps we walked along the ridge towards the Borgia palace and back down into Piazza Popolo. A bus back to the apartment before an afternoon visit to the Diocletian Baths. Our first experience of the scale of Rome. These baths were big enough for 3,500 people and were a great start to the trip. It was also free ! I made a simple tuna fish salad for our evening meal -a treat ! Some of you are probably thinking we are mad but , our trip was 37 days and for 34 of them we have eaten out. Trust me you get fed up ! I love cooking and miss it too !
Monday was the Coliseum and our apartment was a 5 minute walk to the metro. I had booked this well in advance with a 2 day full experience ticket allowing one day at the Coliseum and day two at the Palatine Hill and Forum. The enormity of it is breath-taking but
as with everywhere else it was incredibly busy as the world opens up after COVID-19 . Tour groups with up to 40 people block walkways, stairs etc. oblivious to anyone else. Thankfully my least favourite tourists are still confined. We were able to first go down into the arena and look up to where the emperor would have sat. Later we were on the first tier but you could see how high the plebs had to climb, they must have been watching ants fighting. We were shattered and Chris's calf muscle wasn't getting any rest. We ate in a Peruvian restaurant in the evening reminiscing about our 5 month South American trip in 2012.
Day 2 of our ticket was for the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum, part of which you can see from the Coliseum entrance. What you can't see is the huge expanse of the palace complex on the hill. For me it was more interesting than the Coliseum as it started as small mud huts as Rome was created, expanded by a house built by Augustus until finally a series of palaces with each Emperor trying to make it bigger and better. Our ticket allowed us
in the hidden corner of Augustus house and it was worth it. Wandering down towards the forum felt a bit of an anti climax , I think it was a bit of overload and tiredness. We ended the visit at Trajan's column and set outside a cafe on the steps looking down on it eating our freshly made sandwiches. A busy day but worth every euro.
Our fourth day in Rome was reserved for the Vatican museum. I'd booked the tickets on line ages ago but right until the last minute wasn't sure if Chris would make it. Using ibuprofen gel and strapping his leg he set off to walk to the metro at Termini, about 15 minutes. The deal being if he made it there he would continue on. He is pretty determined, some might say stubborn, but we got to the Vatican. Once you arrive you are swept up into the lane for pre-booked visitors, you swop your voucher for a ticket then pick up an audio guide. We spotted the sign for the cafe so used the lift for a welcome coffee and croissant, we only do leisurely these days. The audio guide was 7€ and
although the commentary was fine the devices were old and unreliable, we had to swop one in the first 5 minutes. The museum and gallery staff in the big cities in Italy seem to have been chosen for their lack of warmth and charm.
I had visited the Vatican museum previously, but only really legged it to see the Sistine chapel. There is too much to see in one visit and the rooms themselves are as magnificent as some of the exhibits. What stuck me was the volume of treasures owned by the Vatican, stolen, bought, gifted from all over the world. Better Egyptian artefacts than Cairo and more Greek urns than Athens. It was busy on a level greater than anywhere else, making some parts ( Raphael section) impossible to appreciate. Chris did a shortcut to the Chapel after we persuaded one of the staff to let him use the lift. His first response was “He’s not in a wheelchair!” – well spotted mate but eventually reluctantly he let him use the shortcut. These big sites are not for the fainthearted and most of them are not adapted, I had a laugh with another English woman at the Forum where I used the disabled toilet as there was the usual queue at the Ladies. The toilets were on a level piece of ground with three flights of stairs down and four up and a very narrow entrance, with a wheelchair access sign!!
The chapel was magnificent and Chris was glad he made it but I could see he was in pain. So no visit to St Peter's square for him. He went back on the metro and I had a wander down towards the Tiber, it looked pretty murky. I got on the metro too but soon got off a stop early and walked back through Piazza Republica and its stunning fountain. We chatted about our final day and Chris decided just to rest, even though there was still so much to see. I looked at various options and fancied Villa Borghese but it was fully booked. In the end I found an Airbnb experience going to Mercado Trionfale. We chose a restaurant for Roman food but first had drinks in the garden of the Hotel Astoria, so peaceful sitting amongst the trees, including a banana one which was in fruit. The restaurant was a bit soulless and the food average, but you pay your money and take your chance.
Our final day both in Rome and of the whole trip and I set off on the bus to the Vatican market to meet Sabrina. What an amazing time I had with her. We wandered around looking at products, she knows everyone. She talked about where things came from and then we started eating ! WOW. First stop an antipasto called suppli, a Roman version of arrancini absolutely delicious, stuffed with stringy mozzarella. Next a slice of Roman pizza, which is just flat bread with a crispy bottom. Next two thinly sliced pieces of mortadella with pistachios. We stopped at a wine stall, out came the tea towel I opened the bread, popped in the mortadella- breakfast-with a glass of white wine. A great start. Next stop an old guy with a stall with charcuterie and cheese, here there was prosciutto, mortadella, dried pork, brawn and 2 types of parmesan. Next the vegetable stall run by the producer for some new season broad beans. Finally we stopped at another family stall for porchetta and bread. The owner got us a table , the tea towel was retrieved from the previous spot and the final tastes. Raw beans with pecorino and the final one the porchetta. What a taste sensation and at each one there was too much so I had tasters for Chris! We ended at a coffee stall and I wanted to buy food for our last meal so Sabrina came with me and I bought strawberries, wild asparagus, a type of broccoli with leafy stalks and fabulous steak and Umbrian wine. She was a really interesting person who had been a couch surfing host and now offers Airbnb accommodation and food experiences.
Chris had had a restful day so in the evening we went back to the posh wine place then our local corner bar before I made our last meal. The remains of my food tour made an antipasto then the steak with the vegetables followed by the strawberries. Washed down with the lovely wine. A fitting end to the trip.
We are now sat on the aircraft ready to leave for Spain and as with every trip time for a bit of reflection. I realise many of you may have been to some or all of the places we visited. I have no real desire to return again to any of the cites but both Slovenia and Croatia could be on the list for visits to the rural parts in our new motorhome. There is always more that could be done and seen but we had to make choices.
Overall it has been a good trip but very safe, not like some of our more exotic trips. Safe in the sense everywhere people spoke some English but we did try and learn a few words in Croatian, which thankfully is very like Slovenian. Also safe in the sense most trains were clean and well maintained, I remember the dodgy trains in Egypt, the buses in Turkey.
We met some lovely people, using Airbnb to find local walking guides and food experiences. Our a accommodation was mainly good but more apartments might have been better. We ticked off a large number of things on our bucket lists some a joy others a bit disappointing. Travel by train worked well, you arrive in the centre of the city. Zagreb, Ljubljana and Vienna are beer drinkers paradise while wine is king in Italy. I haven't added up everything we spent but it is probably equal to two trips to SE Asia or India, we thought Italy in particular was so expensive for often poor service and average food. However that is because Spain is cheap, a girl from London said she thought it was comparable to London.
On the negative side there is a staggering amount of mindless graffiti in many of the cities, Zagreb possibly the worst. Big tour groups abound and crowd out individuals. In Vienna, Zagreb,Ljubljana and Florence people on bikes delivering food were a constant source of danger as they rarely used the roads. I also feel people seemed focussed on themselves, unaware of others around them , glued to their phones screens or chatting using buds, no ‘excuse me ‘ just either barging through or occupying the whole of a pavement or walkway. Also the fascination with selfies with major sights in the background is beyond me but then I am a fully paid up grumpy old woman! Rome was so dirty, overflowing bins and rubbish in the streets everywhere, except near City Hall!
Venice is unlike any other city I have ever seen, an absolute rabbit warren. The food was pretty average and expensive and service pretty grudgingly given. Vienna was clean, very German and an excellent transport system. Cafes and restaurants were organised and food was good quality and very efficiently served. Zagreb is very like Vienna architecturally ( they were both part of the same empire) but they have the same efficiency but with Croatian warmth and charm. Ljubljana is stunning and I absolutely loved it, very walkable with a lovely river in the centre and some gorgeous art Nouveau buildings. The Slovenians were even more friendly than the people in Croatia. Our little spot in Miramare was an excellent place to stop and regroup, Trieste was probably worth a visit on its own. I loved the fabulous architecture in Florence but it was hard to enjoy given the volume of visitors. Sorrento was a good choice for Pompeii and Herculaneum, everyone said Naples was edgy.
Finally Rome. I had visited very briefly with my friend Vicki, but we didn't stay in the city just going in on the train and using our hire car to visit Tivoli etc. This time we were central, near the main railway station and well placed for our itinerary. The scale and size of everything shouts this is the capital city look at me.
Big thanks to Chris for the photos!
So that is it ........till next time ......still plenty of places on the list !
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