So I'm guessing that some of y'all remember that around this time last year I went to Barcelona, Spain to celebrate my father's birthday. For this year, we decided to do the same kind of thing, but instead go to Rome, Italy (and not just because we've been watching a lot of Roman Holiday lately, promise). I've always wanted to go to Rome, and like most bucket-list-enthusiasts out there, the Colosseum has been on my top ten list of things to do before I die for a while. So you can imagine my joy at being told that I could finally tick that one off, as well as dining on authentic Italian cuisine, getting to try out a new language, and just exploring a new city for a while. Also, the euphoria of getting to stay in a hotel is still pretty darn strong. Also related, my last post gave y'all a mini guide on how to navigate this gorgeous city, so feel free to stalk.
So on the Tuesday, my family and I drove down to our local airport, Gatwick (although Heathrow, Stanstead and Luton are all pretty good choices), and embarked on a two-hour journey to the Leonardo Di Vinci airport in Italy. During which, I got stopped by a security guy at the gates, who held my passport photo up to my face, disbelieving that I was the same person in my image. He demanded that I take off my glasses and look neutral, before squinting and looking between my face and the mini photo of my face. After the guy commented on how much I must have changed since 2013, he let me through. Let me tell you, us pink-haired girls don't get it easy.
So we arrived at the airport, and saw a sign with our family name on being held up by a little Italian guy. We talked to him in broken Spanish, and he seemed to get the gist that we were the Williams'. Following him out to his cab, I was hit with the sweet smell of Italian cigars, which is always accompanied with that lovely seems-like-my-lungs-are-now-drenched-in-tar feeling. I kid you not, it was everywhere, all the time. As we got inside this guy's taxi and drove down to the hotel, we passed some of the most insanely beautiful buildings I have seen in a long time. Main cities such as Cardiff and London are naturally very architecturally-stunning anyway by right of passage, but god, Rome topped it all - and we'd only been in the city for five minutes. The radio was playing a bunch of popular English-speaking music, and on a sidenote, can I just say how jealous I am of how integrated Westernised culture is into other cultures like this? Seriously guys, being monolingual and being brought up with just English and a tad Spanish is so embarrassing.
So anyway, we arrived at our hotel, Deseo Home, which as it turns out, is just a bunch of shabby-chic Italian apartments, with a mere sprinkling of tourist board-rooms scattered among the mix (our room was called 'Funny', and other blatantly-tourist rooms were called things like 'Romance' and 'Happy'). At the front desk was a guy called Antonio, who came complete with a giant pad of maps which he ripped out and gave to us, circling the best Roman spots and telling us about the best times to go and whatnot. Antonio was pretty fab, tbh. Since the eve was fast approaching, we had a wander around the local Roman streets, and went to a little food place called Da Vincenzo's, which Antonio had recommended. The air was warm and the food was brilliant, and I had a little love affair with a chocolate panna cotta. The restaurant is family-run, and the food is freshly brought in from the ocean and allotments and whatnot, and the atmosphere of the place in general is pretty A*. In the evening, when we'd come back from the streets and restaurant, there was a tea tray waiting outside our room. My mother was like 'oh, that must be ours' because we didn't have a kettle in our room, so naturally she brought it in. However, the next morning when we asked the staff about it, it turned out that the tray definitely wasn't ours, and we'd just hijacked the tea from next door. Honestly, as a family, we're always super quick to make friends.
Anyway, the next day started with a little continental breakfast at the cafe room upstairs, which had a padded inside door like you'd expect at an asylum, which wasn't at all unnerving. From there, we started a proper exploration of the Roman roads, and this is when I first realised how many guards there are everywhere. Literally, you couldn't go down a single street without seeing a couple army-uniform-clad youngsters with rifles slung over their shoulder and big defence cars beside them. I was a bit like "oh god something awful is planned that the Roman people know about", but it turns out that it's just the norm. It did take a bit of getting used to though, as you might imagine.
|The churches were the most incredible things ever - beating even the detail you get in Greek churches, tbh.|
|Oh look it's me in Restaurant Bibo, featuring my father pulling possibly the weirdest, most impromptu photo face ever|
|(Totally no used on my previous post), me ft. me madre.|
We found our way to the metro, where my mother tried to converse with a member of staff there. I was standing beside her wearing a 'Universidad de Venezia' sweatshirt, so when he couldn't completely comprehend her broken Spanish, he looked at me expectantly, as if I were there to translate. When we later made our way to the tubes to go down to Vatican City, I noted just how goddam amazing I am at navigating the underground. I'm sorry, but I just had to throw in this anecdote, because I felt like one of those guides at Hogwarts that just drift from place to place, always aware of what they're doing, as I dragged my family from Rome down to the depths of the Pope's home. We climbed out of the metro, and went down to St. Peter's Basilica, which is big and beautiful and, of course, absolutely swarming with tourists. Literally, I just wanted to swat away their selfie sticks and suncream, before realising that I was basically one of them, with a big Nikon slung over my neck.
Anyway, the square was stunning, with two big structures either side, a basilica, fountains, and little statuey things dusted all over the roofs. My family and I wandered around for a while, stopping at a weird post office in the centre of all the bustling tourists and tourguides, where we sent ourselves postcards back home saying ironic things like "wish you were here" (which I don't actually suggest, because when we got home to our postcards we were like ????? what kind of smug kid would do this ????). I bought a Pope bobblehead for my boyfriend back in England, and I completely cracked up laughing - we were in the middle of on of the most religious sites in Europe, and I had a plastic Pope Francis with his head nodding like crazy. Can I hear 'sacrilegious'?
After we'd had a good old wander, we exited the basilica, passing a little security thing, the kind of set-up you'd see in airports. There were tourists everywhere, queueing up to go inside whatever the big machine led to, putting their coats and shoes into the trays that go through the mini computer xrays. My parents were like "okay that's cool, let's go somewhere else now", but I really, really wanted to go through the super exciting security ray. So we all put our belongings in the trays, waited until we got to the front of the queue, and then went thought the big xray. It beeped when I went through, so I had to do it all again, minus my camera, only to find that the big setup led to literally just a normal road, which we couldn't even go further up and so had to go back down the street. Honestly. There were cars and people milling about, and there was absolutely no need for us to have done that. The guards themselves were snickering, which just aided our embarrassment.
We stopped for a classic Italian pizza, cooked at hundreds of degrees for just a few minutes in order to get a thin, crispy bake, and then walked down to Castel San Angelo (which btw was one of the best things ever). The castle consisted of a bunch of regal rooms, winding staircases, and absolutely bloody fantastic views. We walked to the top to find that we could see the whole of Rome, all the way down to the Colosseum. The sun was shining, a slight breeze ruffled my pink hair, and we were here with a 360-degree bird's eye view of one of the greatest cities in the world. It was insanely amazing guys, I can't recommend it enough.
If you read my previous Italy post, you will know that once we'd taken it all in, we went back down, over the Ponte Alberto Bridge, past Mausoleum Agosto, and stopped at a cafe down a little side street, where I ordered hot chocolate just to be confronted with a cup full of melted chocolate. I kid you not. I was naturally a bit taken aback, and I'm sorry to say that even as a self-proclaimed chocoholic, the almost syrupy chocolate was way too sickly and rich. It sounds like it would be amazing, but it was very, very thick and creamy, and I couldn't deal. From there, we went to the Spanish Steps, which were all boarded up and thus a tad of a disappointment. My guess is that with all these tourists, the stairs have actually begun to wear away, so the city council has decided that no one can ever set foot on a Spanish Step ever again. Such a shame, really.
We took the metro back home and I did that classic Hogwarts-guide-drifter thing back to where we were staying, and I have to say that boy, is the Italian metro is drowning in graffiti - but then, kind of in a good way? Take London for example, when I take the underground I'm always surrounded by plain ol' tubes and walls with gum stuck to them. But in Italy, oh my, the graffiti brightens up everything, and has little illustrations embedded in it. Honestly, it's pretty cute. Even the trains are decorated, which makes me wonder how the artists get the chance to do that (maybe they don't run 24/7 like in the UK?). We ate back at Da Vincenzo's, because when a local recommends a restaurant that's both homely, serves amazing food, and of course, pretty well priced, you tend to want to go back more than once. Once again, I had panna cotta (a love affair of the truest kind), where a young Argentinian waiter commented on the resemblance of my hair to the raspberry pudding (GEE THANKS), and from there we went back to Deseo Home, which was filled with the quiet hush of locals and tourists getting some well-deserved city shut-eye.
|The view from Castel Agosto, ft. The Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier.|
|Can I hear, "get a tripod goddamit Amy"?|
|Gaudi-esque as hell.|
|THE SPANISH STEPS WERE SO DISAPPOINTING.|
Our third day started with an early start, heading straight for the metro to, you guessed it, the Roman Colosseum. Due to the fact that I knew about our trip to Italy much sooner than my father did, I got him and my mother a trip to the Colosseum, Palatine and Forum as a Christmas present - and boy am I good, the tickets were so much more valuable than anything else I could have gotten, as the queues we missed (well done, me) could have been brutal. We went through to this giant staple of the city, and wow, what a view. You can't get the whole impressiveness of the place from photographs alone, let me tell you. The place is grand and crumbling and filled with so much history and death that it was practically spilling from the seams. We walked around as tourists slowly filtered in, and read the tidbits placed around the walls. My mother made a comment about how psychics probably wouldn't be able to stand it in there with all the tortured souls, and I must agree that for such a beautiful place, it sure did cause a lot of pain and suffering.
We wandered for hours and hours as the sun rose further into the sky, before deciding that actually, food would be good. So after a brief stop for sustenance, we went to the Roman Forum. Okay, I say that, but really it took us three tries to actually get there, due to the two times we took wrong turns and ended at the top of hills, and into tiny little churches (one had an actual skeleton of a Saint inside, with the images that people leave of their loved ones before their deaths scattered along it, which I have never seen before). And on a related sidenote, Roman churches are insane. When they say that this country is renowned for it's religion, they're not wrong, if the gorgeousness of the churches is anything to go by. The ceiling are decorated with so much detail and precision, that I would expect every square inch to have taken hours to create. Honestly, they were kind of insane.
Finally, we made it to the Forum, which started as a little path at ground level before opening up into giant land consisting of miles and miles of ancient buildings shedding their structures and yet somehow increasing their nice aesthetics. Apparently, a crack in one of the grounds is a way of getting to the underground, and I'm sorry, but that it pretty cool if you ask me. The statues and podiums and monuments and buildings were so charming, and I spent a little time just sitting on a rock in the sun, imagining the Roman locals wandering around them hundreds upon hundreds of years ago, with rich men showing off their wealth, and soldiers wandering on horses, and mothers meeting up with long-lost children, and just, god, imagine the stories that have taken place there.
We went to the Palatine Museum (situated at the top of the Palatine Hill, strangely enough), and then hours after our arrival at the Forum, we went back down, passing the Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier as we wondered back East. The tomb, by the way, was stunning, consisting of brilliant white marble and beautiful architecture, and is, in my opinion, much more beautiful than that famous water hole thing (classic Trevi). It's sad, because it's never mentioned in tourist books or websites, and yet is absolutely incredible - even the Spanish Steps are nothing in comparison to the impressiveness of the tomb. From there we had food at a place called Bibo, which served me the most amazing meringue ice-cream, and had a cool decorated ceiling which is always a plus. Bibo then led down to the Trevi Fountain, which, yes, was beautiful, but also swarming with tourists (don't you just hate them?) and men clad in football shirts shouting sports songs. The sun had started to fall, and the air was soft and warm. We walked back past the tomb, and walked around some more (slightly random) Roman ruins. The sky was becoming subdued, and a guy was fingerpicking his acoustic guitar as we walked around these ancient architecture. We were in Italy, baby, and having the most amazing wander.
We made our way back to the Colosseum to see it when the sky grew dark and the lights went on, and sat literally like 20 feet away from the Colosseum at a little outdoor table at a cafe. We chatted and chilled and admired, and the German couple next to us talked about their hometowns - to which my mother commented on the woman's hometown, saying "oh, the place with all the bombs". The tact. A little while later, for a totally unknown reason, the couple left, and were replaced with a young Chinese/ Australian woman, maybe five years older than me, and a French/ Italian/ Australian man, maybe five years younger than my parents, who were travelling Italy together. We all chatted for literal hours at this little Colosseum cafe whilst the sky tumbled from blue to pink to black. At the end of the conversation, I had a new Facebook friend and apparently a place to stay in Australia.
We parted and wandered around the Colosseum, which was orange lit against the black backdrop of the sky and punctuated with the stunning white moon, and it was gorgeous (and yet the famous selfie-stick sellers were still milling about). For food, we took a metro back down to the East, and had a meal at a place called Industrial Eat, and honestly, I can't elaborate on how awful it was. Slow service, overpriced food, and get this, gelatine in their panna cotta. Can I just say that you don't put gelatine in a panna cotta. Ever. That's just insane.
Our forth day in Rome began with one of the members of our party falling ill, so my dad and I walked down to Villa Borghese by ourselves, stopping at various churches on the way just because they are so goddam (heh) beautiful. We walked around the gardens, and stopped at a little zoo. I mentioned this in my last post, but I'll just reiterate for all you new readers. I expected the zoo to be pretty small, made up of lizards and rabbits, but as it turns out they had lions and elephants, and it was horrendous. The elephants had less than 50 metres of enclosure to roam, and so one was continuously banging their head against the door whilst the other was swaying. There was faeces and urine in the little water reservoirs that they drank from. Animals from Namibia and the Himalayas were out in the same climate, leading to loss of fur and skin irritation. They weren't allowed to do what they loved - for example, one of them loved peeling bark off trees, so all the trees were covered in poisoned wood (WHAT THE HELL??). The animals were so horribly, desperately sad (especially the ones known to be social in prides and herds but were instead locked up along - again, what the hell??), that I felt disgusted at the fact that I'd actually gone in. I promise to never set foot in a zoo ever again, because they are the cruelest things ever, unless used for conservation purposes and the animals are actually treated properly.
|What do you mean, too many Colosseum photos?|
|At the garden bit in the zoo *shudders*, there was a collection of bamboo where tourists from all over the world had indented their name, and I'm sorry, but that's pretty cool.|
From that horrendous zoo experience that I will severely boycott from now on, we went to a little Italian supermarket, which replaced the isles of biscuits and chocolate you'd get in the UK with fresh fish, cheese, vegetables (gasp), you name it. I felt slightly intimidated due to the blatant language barrier - and the fact that I went searching for crisps to find that they didn't stock a single unhealthy potato chip. On the walk back to the hotel where we got pretty darn lost, I noticed just how many two-people-seater cars there are out in Rome, with all the cars any bigger than that being driven by tourists (sunburns? check. cameras around necks? check.) and taxi drivers. Can someone please enlighten me as to why this is? Anyway, after a very Italian lunch consisting of crackers and cheese and tomatoes and olives, we took our full party out walkabout. We went around churches and parks, and finally ended up at the famous Pantheon, which was just as big and imposing and impressive as all the photographs suggest. The only thing that sucked about it was the tourists taking flash photos inside, because that's one sure way to make sure that the artwork doesn't last another generation.
From there, we went to Piazza Navona and sat outdoors at a little cafe, drinking Italian coffees (woah to the strength) as the sun fell away and a Michael Jackson impersonator took up the square. The piazza lights lit up and the air was warm (twenty degrees - sucks to be three degrees in England) and it was brilliant. It was black on the walk back, and we passed two police-clad guys standing in the middle of the traffic, blowing whistles and doing elaborate hand signals to get the cars to go this way and that. I don't know about you guys, but I've only ever seen that in cartoons, so that was a weird sight.
After another meal at Da Vincenzo's, completely void of pink-hair comments, the evening enveloped the day. From there, the fifth day started with blue sky reflecting through the Italian-esque shutters over our hotel window, and it inspired us to get up early to make as much out of the day as possible. A brief food-stop later, we went back down to Villa Borghese, and we bought tickets to the famous and highly recommended (thanks, Antonio of Deseo Home) gallery for the afternoon. To pass the hours until then, we went walkabout, going past the fake Shakespeare's Globe, and then all the way down to the lake. There, they had a collection of little rowing boats that you could go on for half an hour or so, so we went on one, naturally. I, also naturally, kind of sucked at the whole paddling thing, resulting in us mainly going in circles for a bit. We rowed up to the little monument and the side bit, and the day was beautiful and it was fab.
After a while though, we got off and walked back through the gardens to the gallery. After a short refreshment-stop, our entry time at the famous gallery started. Now, I usually appreciate art, but don't usually spend centuries alone looking at one particular bust or painting - but at Galleria Borghese, a century wouldn't be long enough. Genuinely, I was completely enticed by every little thing they showed, from the intricate details on the ceiling to the sacrilegious paintings, even to the sculptures - with one in particular being the most incredible, where a man was holding up a woman and actually left soft indents on her leg where we was holding her as if it were real flesh pressing in (can I get a 'whaaaat'). Everything was brimming with depth and stories, and it was kind of incredible.
|LOOK AT THOSE FLESH DENTS|
At the airport, we went through security and customs and all that jazz, and then went up to where the airport shuttle train things are, so that we could go to our departure gate. As we arrived, the glass door holding the train to the right opened, and so we were quick to get on it (by we, I mean mainly me). However, my mum was not convinced that it was the right train, so she got off literally just as the doors closed, nearly clipping her. The doors whooshed shut, and my mum looked behind her at us, as we started to drive away. Turns out, we (*cough* I *cough*) were wrong. Oops. We had to go all the way back down on the shuttle, to find my mother still waiting for us. The security lady made us get off, so she actually had to get on the train and come back, just to meet us (as she had our documents and we were, in essence, trapped). She met us, we fell about laughing for a couple decades, and then went back around to go through security and customs and whatnot all over again.
Finally, we made it to the gate, and went onto one of the little bus things to our plane. We waited ages for them to load everyone onto the bus, and when we finally took off, we found that they were taking us to the aeroplane literally ten metres away, meaning that the whole ride itself took less than 30 seconds. Finally, we got on our plane, watched Simon's Cat reruns on the little television, and went back to England (le sigh).
|The Pantheon was also kind of insane.|
|A* traffic directing.|
|Rowing ft. padre.|
|The Roman sunsets were insane, literally no editing occurred to get the pinks and oranges of this photo, I kid you not.|
Italy was incredible and I would definitely go back again, but if I'm honest, probably not to Rome if I had the option of Sorrento or Pisa, just because there's so much more to see. Also, on a sidenote, could this be the longest post I've ever written on this blog? Because geez, we're nearing 5,000 words guys. Don't complain that I ever lack in detail.
Next stop, Florence?//