As a kid our house was under what I assume was/is the flight path for Heathrow and I used to look up with envy at all the planes going overhead and wishing that I was on one of them. I hadn’t given any thought to where I wanted to go to or even cared too much who I went with, but I remember pestering my Mum and Dad to take me on an airplane and the sooner being the better. The closest I had ever been was a trip to Duxford airfield where we got to sit in Concorde and although it was, and still is, one of the most beautiful aircraft ever built, I remember thinking how cramped it was and that I couldn’t understand why this was regarded as the best plane ever. Then the great day came when my parents told me that my dreams were being answered and that we were soon to fly to Rome and at that moment the countdown to my first flight began. I can remember that when the day arrived my dad put his best jacket and tie on and my mum wore a smart new dress as even though it was only 30 odd years ago, it was then considered the done thing to dress up smartly before flying. The fact that flying used to have its own dress code seems strange in this budget airline world that we now live in, but stranger still was the fact that once we were airborne my dad lit up a cigarette. And now every time I fly and I see the no smoking signs it reminds of those days. Don’t get me wrong going on holidays with mum and dad was great and we had really great times but having the freedom to chose where and when you go, along with the places to visit when you get there is infinitely better and so with 30 years having elapsed since that first visit to Rome, the time had come to go again. Those semi halcyon days of air travel have now been replaced by the large scale,industrial process of the mass transportation of humans in a style that make the sheep involved in live animal exports look well catered for. From the moment of being herded into the coaches to get from the car park to the terminal, to the funnelling into the security section,and then on to the holding pen of airside, it’s become nothing more than a highly organised and impersonal filtration system before finally getting wedged into an aircraft which is staffed by crews that have spent months in training learning how to operate a seatbelt and how to maintain a stepford wives style smile. Having said all of that, I actually love the whole excitement of travelling and would love to do it more and more.
So with the mass transit system having spewed us out at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, we quickly found a coach to take us to the city centre for €5 and went on to enjoy being driven around one of the worlds most car dense cities,by a driver who had clearly watched two many Jason Statham movies. We shot through junctions when the lights were on red, sent pedestrians scrambling as we went over zebra crossings and caused scooter riders to swerve as we sped our way through to the main train terminal in the city centre, only to end up being upstaged by a pair of nuns driving a mini bus at the same speed in the opposite direction. We therefore arrived in the city centre a little bewildered and now totally reliant on the apps we had downloaded to guide us to our hotel. I had downloaded the Ulman Rome travel app before leaving which not only offers offline mapping but also acts as a guide book to all the usual tourist sights and although I found the mapping was a little slow to load it certainly does it’s job well. We found our way to the hotel where the guy on reception gave us another map followed by a detailed explanation of how best to get around the city which by all accounts would be on foot. And so with all the information at our disposal and a whole city in front of us to visit we went to get lunch followed by chilling out in our room.
Our hotel was ok without being anything special but it was also located just outside of the city centre with all of the places we wanted to visit being quite a distance away and annoyingly the metro station was about a miles walk away in the opposite direction, so as this was our first day and with money preservation being a top priority we decided to walk to the Trevi fountains which judging by the map was about 1km away. It was at the fountains that we first came across two of the most annoying aspects of this city, the first being other tourists and the second being the seemingly unending supply of looky looky men coming up trying to sell umbrellas. Having previously holidayed in Luxor I’ve become adept at ignoring these pests but Rome’s ones are especially tenacious. Standing at the fountains holding an umbrella wasn’t enough to deter one particular guy who came up to me and said “umbrella?” When I pointed out that I already had one he then said ” have another one?” When I told him to go away he did but only to return 2 minutes later clutching a load of multi coloured poncho’s instead. Assuming he didn’t know any English I gestured to him to go away only for him to appear yet again offering to take my photo! The fountains at Trevi are indeed beautiful and we did the traditional act of tossing a coin over our shoulders in the hope that the superstition would come true and we would one day return.
From the fountains we made our way to the Spanish steps which were just a short walk away where we were greeted by more looky looky men and yet more annoying tourists managing to photo bomb every picture we took. Ranking very highly in my all time list of top 10 holiday aggravations are moronic idiots who walk across your subject matter just at the point of pressing the shutter button. There should be a law passed where it becomes perfectly legal to chase these A holes down and kick them in the balls. I came home with 200 photos on this trip and must have deleted the same amount where I’d managed to capture the precise moment when some idiot had wandered in front of me picking his nose or scratching his bum. After we managed to get some nice pictures we decided it was time to eat. Now one of the things we were worried about before travelling was the reputation that Rome has for being an expensive place to eat and drink in, but the reality proved to be different. Sure, if you really want a beer or a glass of wine with dinner it will set you back between €6 and €10 depending on where you eat but we had lasagne and pizza with a soft drink each and spend less than €20. Later in the trip we found an Irish bar where we had a few Guinness’s as well as food and spent less than €25. After eating we made our way back to the hotel which was about 2 miles away and I won’t lie, my feet were beginning to ache after a day on the move and every single uphill step was a nightmare.
Day 2 saw us make the first visit of the trip to the colosseum. The memories I have of this place 30 years ago were that it was in the middle of a roundabout and that there were very few people around when I went in and I don’t even remember going in with anybody else. I remember standing at the viewing point looking at the ruins in front of me looking down into what were the cells where the prisoners were held before being thrown to the lions in front of the 50,000 strong crowd. I remember seeing cats roaming free and there being an overwhelming sense of what this place use to be. I think it must have been the first time I’d been somewhere that I’d learned about at school and subsequently visited, that had struck a chord with me. I remember standing there for what felt like ages while my childhood imagination saw all the seats full of people and all the action in the middle of the arena in what is now a ruined stadium, as well as hearing all the noises and sensing the atmosphere that would once have been so overwhelming. 30 years later I’m standing on the very same spot as I did then and although that youthful imagination has long gone, the same senses are still present. Few football stadiums in the the UK are able to hold the quantity of people that this place did and even though the colosseum has been standing there for the best part of 2000 years, it still has as much atmosphere as the Bernabau or Anfield. I’m lucky enough to have stood at the foot at the Pyramids of Giza but where as just out of view of the pyramids,where the idiot Egyptians have built a Pizza Hut and KFC, the good folk of Rome have almost de-comercialised their historical sites and I commend them thoroughly for having done so. Not only that, but entry to this place is a mere €12 which is about £10/$16 which is a refreshing change to some of the rip off lunatic prices that exist elsewhere in the world.For example it’s half the price of entry to the Tower of London and the same price as entry to the worlds dullest tourist spot which is Stonehenge. It’s worth coming to Rome just to come to the colosseum. If you’re in two minds then don’t be. Just do it.
Last on the list of places to go was St.Peters which Like St.Paul’s in London is the defining image of this city. Presented with a half mile long queue to get inside the basilica, we needed to persuade each other to join it and with virtually every second of deliberation the line got longer and longer and so we decided to join it and see how long it took. Luckily it passed quite quickly and before long we were paying the €7 to get the lift up to the top. Yes that’s right the lift. And yes that’s right just the £5 or so required here compared to the £15 needed to visit St.Paul’s in London.In the time it took to climb the final 300 steps to the top of the dome the weather had closed in and it was pouring with rain when we got there but that soon passed and we got an amazing view out over this fabulous city. After going down the same narrow winding spiral staircase back to the ground level it was a nice surprise to find that our entry ticket allowed us to gain access to the church itself so we were able to mingle with the visitors and pilgrims who were also here to soak up the atmosphere. And what an atmosphere it is too. There is a quiet serenity about the whole place, from the outside of the church in the queue to the viewing gantry both in and outside as well as the dome itself, all the visitors conduct themselves appropriately and afford the place the solemnity that is deserves. Having been raised in a catholic household many of the names inscribed on the many tombs are familiar and this gives the history of the place a great deal more meaning than it would do somebody that wasn’t aware of many of the significant items in front of them.
Our recent trips have all been very different in so far as all the destinations have had something new to offer, for example Dubai was ultra modern and futuristic while Paris was a day trip tagged on to a gig we went to,but Rome was the first city break we have done since Budapest 18 months ago. I’m a massive fan of the city break as it gives us the chance to fly in, see it, photograph it and fly out while getting a taste for perhaps a longer trip at a later time, and Rome is the first of these places that could well do the job of providing a base for a longer trip. While the metro in Rome is pretty rubbish at linking up the tourist trail it does seem possible to use the termini train station to easily link up other destinations such as Naples, Pompeii and Pisa so it would be possible to go back there and travel further afield while using it as a base for those travels. The bits of Rome that I have seen suggest that it is a city that is selling itself on its past historical importance which is by no means a bad thing as from experience some cities try to be all things to all people and end up failing to deliver. There doesn’t seem to be a modern new city being built alongside the ancient one which has preserved the importance of the old one for all to see and soak up. Despite its reputation for being expensive we found that actually it has been one of the cheaper breaks that we have done as when we returned to Gatwick we still had a third of our spending money on us needing to be changed back to sterling. We saw no seedy underbelly to this city and other than the annoying looky looky men, we got no agro from anybody and in fact far from it, all the Romans we encountered on our trip were welcoming, helpful and keen to allow us to make the most of our time there. I hope that the myth of throwing the coin into the Trevi fountains does come true as I would love the chance of going back there one day and would have no issue if it were sooner rather than later. So far this year we have managed to get some time away in Amsterdam, Paris, Edinburgh and we still have a trip to Barcelona to come which does lead some people to ask how we do it and afford it but like I’ve said to them, for less than the price of a family day pass to Chessington we have been able to travel, experience new things and have something to tell people about, so roll on Barcelona and if you have any doubts about going to Rome… Don’t. I loved it and you will too.