Thursday, October 10, 2013

Catch up part 2: Ciao Bella!

Apparently I went to Rome. But it's so long ago that I've almost forgotten I was there. It's not actually that long ago, it was 3 weeks. But given work and other stuff it feels a million years since I went. I do find that though, I can do something great, have an amazing time, and within a few days of being back to normality (or something that calls itself normality) in work, and it feels like I'd never been anywhere in my life! 

But, the joys of blogging will allow me to put myself back in wonderful, stunning, interesting, historical (and knackering) Rome. Fancy coming along for the ride? Ah go on. 

I first went to Rome when I was 5. I don't really remember it. I think it was the same holiday in which we went to Pisa, but I'm not sure. I remember Pisa as I was too scared to go up to the top of the Leaning Tower so I stayed on the lower level bit with mum. But I don't really remember Rome, I vaguely remember looking round in The Colosseum and thinking "This is big!" but beyond that, nothing. 

Fast forward 11 years and I'm 16, choosing my A-Levels. I'd done Latin at GCSE, and that class was shared with the Classics class. So during GCSE Latin I'd learnt a bit about Greek and Roman civilisation and mythology, purely by osmosis really. I chose to do Classics at A-Level, or to give it its proper moniker, Classical Civilisations. This encompassed quite a lot, and we covered Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, along with Greek tragedies, Roman satire, Roman annals and various bits of propaganda. We touched a bit on architecture etc but not to an in depth degree. I loved the subject and it was my highest grade at A-level. When the time came to look at universities I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life career wise. I had notions of being a teacher but I don't think I was ever serious about it. But, for various reasons I wanted to leave home, and I genuinely wanted to study Classics further. So I chose to do Classics & English, and after looking at a few institutions  decided upon University of Wales, Lampeter. Never heard of it? Not surprised, but here's a more in depth look at it for you!
So I spent 3 years studying Classics to a fair depth, including Greek and Roman Architecture, Roman Egypt, Roman Emperors and a whole raft of other stuff

All this story telling serves a purpose, it puts into context my interest in Rome, and why I've been dying to go back as an adult. 
Earlier this year, after Jo and I had planned our Spain trip, she mentioned that she was going to Rome in September with Blakey. Blakey is a friend of Jo's, who I've met a few times and we get on great. He's a total mentaller, which would explain why we all get on so well! Cue me inviting myself along on the trip, finding a cheap flight, sorting out accomodation, building an itinerary with the others and counting down the weeks until the trip. 
But, as is my norm, time ran away with me, and about ten days before we were due to leave, it dawned on me we were actually going to Rome. Although we'd built a rough itinerary back in the spring, and we'd booked certain things like the Segway tour and the Vatican tour, we'd not fully planned anything else. This may sound like overkill. We were only going for 4 days, did we really need to plan it so much? Yes. Yes we did. We wanted to see everything we could in those 4 days and that meant having an idea of stuff for each day. 

Jo was a star, she gathered info from Blakey and I, but she ultimately put the trip together in terms of stuff to do. We all had the bits we wanted to see and Jo included them all, in a very logical order, along with some other little bits that she'd unearthed. 

The trip arrived and we headed off. Jo and I were there for a day on our own before Blakey arrived. We didn't waste a second. We literally dumped our stuff in the accommodation and went off wandering. On that first day we left the apartment at 4pm, and got back about 10.30pm I think. 
We wandered round Santa Maria Maggiore, a stones throw from where we were staying. 
Santa Maria Maggiore
Then we pretty much mooched, we had a rough idea of where we wanted to end up, Campo Di Fiori. Our accomodation dude had recommended it for food as somewhere that we could get nice food and not get ripped off. 
As we mooched we fell across stuff. Jo had said she wanted to see Trajan's column. At the end of a street we came out into a little square, and ahead of us was "The Wedding Cake", the Vittorio Emanuele monument. But, right in front of us was a ruin of what looked like a forum. Looking on the map we realised it was Trajan's forum. Jo got excited and exclaimed "Trajan's column must be nearby!". I smiled and said "Erm, Jo, is that it?!, pointing to the huge column right in front of us. Sometimes you can't see for looking....
Vittorio Emanuele monument

Trajan's Column
After a bit more mooching we got to The Pantheon. I have to admit I was a bit underwhelmed by this. I'm not sure what I was expecting, and don't get me wrong, it's a stunning building both inside and out architecturally. But, it's no longer a temple, it's a church, and is decorated as such internally, which to me, removes some of the mystique of it. The outside is obviously old, you can imagine how magnificent it looked in its hey day. But the inside is modern and, well, frankly quite gaudy. The inside doesn't match with the outside and I struggled to equate the two. 
The Pantheon
Inside The Pantheon
After the Pantheon we headed to Piazza Navona for a look at the amazing fountains there and to have a drink. It was our first drink in Rome and we paid a higher price because of where we were, in a touristy area, but it was worth it to soak up the atmosphere and take stock of the fact that we were in Rome. in Rome! A place we'd both wanted to go to for years, and it felt very surreal to be there. 

Dinner that night was lovely and we practically rolled home. Well, no, we didn't. We got a taxi because we were so full, and tired. We drove close to the Colosseum and both got rather excited in the cab so see it from a distance all lit up, knowing we'd be seeing it in its full glory the next day. 

Getting up early on the Saturday we jumped on the metro getting off with everyone heading to The Vatican, but we branched off and went to Castel St Angelo, the old Papal Fortress. Almost directly opposite Vatican City and an incredible building. We spent a good few hours in here, it's a bit like a maze and offers some incredible views of the city from the top. As well as some fabulous views of St Peter's Basilica from various points around the building. 
Panorama from the top of Castel St Angelo, hopefully you can zoom into this and see the detail!

View of St Peter's from the top of Castel St Angelo
Saturday afternoon hailed the arrival of Blakey and a trip to the Colosseum and the Forum. I loved the Colosseum, it's incredible. It's quite breathtaking really, the sheer scale of it. And it was only when on the second level that I realised just how magnificent the building is. From the second level you really get a view across the whole building and it's just, well, wow! This experience was marred slightly, or may well have been enhanced, by some American dude saying to his wife "A lot of men died here. A lot of animals slaughtered". Much to the amusement of Jo and Blakey. I unfortunately missed the comment, but it's still funny, and it became our catchphrase for the holiday. 

I must add at this point that it was warm in Rome. It was 32degrees on the day we were in the Colosseum. And there's no shelter. There's also no shelter in the Forum, which is where we headed afterwards. Immediately afterwards. The Forum is quite interesting. I'm sure that it is. But I honestly couldn't tell you much about it, other than that it's hilly. And it points you towards an exit where there isn't an exit. Resulting in a mini breakdown from me that prompted Jo and Blakey to walk off and leave me. 
We trudged round the Forum, barely speaking to each other, not because we were annoyed with one another, but because we were all hot, tired and thirsty. 
The Forum
What happened next none of us are particularly proud of. We headed in the direction of the Pantheon (so Blakey could see it), and fell into the nearest watering hole we could find. Which happened to be an Irish bar. Talk about a cliche. We paid through the nose for 2 pints of lemonade each but after an hour of sitting and rehydration we headed off. 
The rest of the day was lovely, but we walked A LOT. We visited the Trevi Fountain, which is stunning but oh, oh so busy during the day. We managed to throw a coin in the fountain though. Despite being no where near the water. Just lob it over your shoulder and hope you hit the water and not a Japanese tourist. 
Just chuck the coin and hope for the best!

Trevi Fountain

Jo and I both have pedometers on our phones, and during lunch that day we set them. When we got home mine read 25,000 steps, which equated to about 21km. Now, allow for a certain degree of error here as my phone was predominantly in my bag and swung a bit. Having said that though, this was just the afternoon, and didn't take into account the walking that Jo and I had done that morning around Castel St Angelo. I'd say that 21km was probably about right for the day we had. I'm not complaining at all, I might have been a little at the time as my feet were on fire, but it just highlights how much there is to see in the city. The transport in the city is excellent but if you wander around you will see so much without even really trying!

Sunday hailed the Segway tour. Ever been on a Segway? I urge you to. It's like real life Mario Kart. It's a hell of a lot of fun. Jo and I did a tour around Phoenix Park last year, and she'd done one in Berlin too.
4 hours on a Segway, up the ancient Appian way, which is predominantly closed to traffic on a Sunday. We were the only ones on the tour and our guide was great fun. We stopped by the Circus Maximus, and went up to see the Knights of Malta keyhole. Which is as it sounds, it's a keyhole. A keyhole in a doorway, that when looked through frames the dome of St Peters perfectly. It's a lovely sight. Close by is an orange grove that offers great views across the city, looking up the Tiber towards Vatican City. 
The afternoon took us to The Spanish Steps and a bit more wandering. We had to be up early the next morning for our Vatican tour so we deliberately took it easy on Saturday night. 
Selfie on The Spanish Steps
Bright and early Monday morning we were up and heading to The Vatican for our private tour. We needed to be there for 9 and although I'd heard about the queues I was surprised at how long the queue was at 8.30 in the morning! We skipped all that though, met our guide and headed inside.
I'll be honest, I was the least bothered of the 3 of us about The Vatican. I'm not a religious person and I didn't have a lot of interest in going. But I realised I was being quite narrow minded and I'd be mad to visit Rome and not go to The Vatican. And the fact we had booked a private tour meant we'd get a personal touch. 
I wouldn't say it blew me away, I have distinctly mixed feelings about The Vatican. On one hand it's great to see all the artifacts in there, the statues and the artwork are incredible. But, on the other hand, a lot of the items in there, have been brought from other countries and civilizations. There have been 266 Popes and each one has added something to The Vatican, be it architecturally, through artwork or through additional artifacts. And the museum is jam packed with all this. Our guide told us it would take 15 years to see everything. That sounds unfathomable, but if you ever go you'll understand. We probably only saw 1 or 2% of the museum in the 3 hours we were there. I did walk around a lot of the time with my mouth open, being amazed at the stuff I was seeing. 
Papal apartment artwork
The artwork is simply incredible, and I've never been into art. The decorations on the walls of the Papal apartments, done by Raphael, are so bright and vivid, it almost doesn't seem real. It was great to see a lot of the statues and various artifacts from all over, although a lot of them seemed to be European in their style; Greek and Roman goddesses and mythological style statues, but there was a slight bittersweet nature to it. Knowing these items were no longer in their original homes. 
Cartography Hall. Stunning ceiling
Maybe I'm being overly sentimental here, there is something to be said for their preservation in the Vatican museum. And it's highly possible my own feelings about the Roman Catholic religion are causing me to think like this. However, it is the way I feel. 
Having said all that though, I did enjoy the Vatican. I'd love to go back without all the crowds (yeah, ok then!) and spend more time wandering round of my own volition. But I've seen it, and I'm glad I have.

Our last evening was spent having another wander, not too far from our apartment, close to the Colosseum. I'd not slept brilliantly most nights so had a nap in the afternoon as Jo and Blakey had a mooch. I met them early evening and we walked round little back streets filled with boutiques and shops full of character. It was like a little Camden. It was lovely and a perfect way to end our trip. We found an amazing pizza place for dinner before walking up to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night. The last walk back to the apartment was a quiet one. We were all exhausted after a great few days, but were all happy with our trip. 
Colosseum at night
In short, I loved Rome. I will go back one day. It's one of my favourite places and was one of my best holidays. There is so much to see, it's not possible to see it all in 4 days. We did a lot, we did a hell of a lot, and saw pretty much everything we wanted to see. Next time I'd like to go without a real agenda, and with a bit more time. Not that I didn't enjoy our agenda, not at all, it was needed and I was glad of the structure. But it was jam packed! It took me a week to get back to normal, but I wouldn't change it for the world. 

In other bits of news, I've recently found out I have an egg intolerance, and a sensitivity to gluten, corn and wheat. I'll expand on how this came about another time, but needless to say my eating habits have changed a fair bit and will continue as such until the new year. I am quite enjoying it though!

I was volunteering last weekend for Open House Dublin, at the only Greek Orthodox Church in Ireland, my first real volunteering 'assignment' and one I'll do again.

Greek Orthodox Church, Stoneybatter

One of the decorative domes in the church

Tomorrow I'm off to Manchester for the weekend for one of my best mate's 40th birthday celebrations. I've known Dan for just over 7 years and he's like a big brother to me. He'll probably hate me describing him like that, but he is. I see him as a male version of me in a way.  Jo (not Rome and Spain Jo!), Dan and I all worked together in 2006 and have stayed close. We're all together this weekend, along with Jo's fiance Chris(a new development that, and guess who's bridesmaid?!), Jo's sister Vikki and her husband Gareth. Carnage will ensue. It always does when we get together! 

As always, until next time, much love!


Sara Louise said...

Love, love, love Rome! I'd go back again in a heartbeat! And if/ when I do get back there, I'm touring it on a segway! :)

Sandra Lewis said...

Do, it's SO much fun!!

Aisling McCabe said...

Thanks for my lunchtime visit to Rome. I've never been and it looks wonderful. Great pics too. xx

Sandra Lewis said...

Glad to be of service Miss McCabe! x