Rome (inexcusably late)

Trip Start Oct 04, 2006
Trip End Oct 26, 2006

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Greetings to you all!

Firstly I have to apologise for the lateness of this blog, which is probably totally inexcusable as we spent 5 days in Rome and did use an internet cafe twice. However, I guess we were having such a cool chilled out time that for some reason there was always something to do next and so unfortunately we didn't add to our blog. But this way you get to hear all about Rome, rather than just a bit, and at least you know we survived our first mini gap year. Rome was a blast - not quite as event packed and sightseeing orientated as Florence, but unlike Florence, which had abysmal (but quite atmospheric - keep reading) weather whilst we were there, in Rome there was an Indian summer (palm trees still in bloom, 29C in the day) which we took full advantage of, walking around as much as possible, seeing the city and many sights, as my poor now overly blistered and bleeding feet will attest to. Firstly, Florence: when we left off last it was pouring it down and we were sitting sheltering in an internet cafe, hoping it would blow over so we could enjoy our picnic of greek salad and cheese - healthy, eh? Don't worry, it's all gone for me since returning home to wonderful rich home cooked delights - which we actually had, semi-sheltered in a piazza. However, that night afterwards was one of the most memorable of the mini-gap. Stumbling through the misty, drizzly city streets, as if appearing from the third man or something we saw an odeon cinema with its letters running down the side in wonderfully art-deco style (sorry, something of a love for me) at which point we ducked in and decided to see the English-language film they were playing that evening - M Night Shaylaman's "Lady in the Water", which we both enjoyed - but the spectacular thing was the cinema. So totally different from what we were expecting, and the British Odeons, this place was a beautiful, huge, one-screen classical theatre that had been converted, with a beautiful art-deco dome in the ceiling. The entire experience was virtually magical. It was such a beautiful evening, and wandering back over the river, in sight of Florence's baroque architecture, lit by the Victorian streetlights - it was honestly like walking into a Film Noir classic, and certainly, for me, at least, a highlight of our time, and it is in that way I will remember Florence. But anyway, enough about the non-touristy things, which I'm sure to others are totally uninteresting. The rest of Florence was as major as the Uffuzi - the next day we went to see Michelangelo's David in the Accedemia, which of course you really have to see if you're in Florence, and although undoubtedly a masterpiece is, quite close up, a little disturbing in its countenance and huge scale. Unfortunately, this also signalled the last of our tour of gothic altarpieces, and hence an end to the spot the ugly christ competition, but signalled the beginning of the spot crazy nuns competition. That afternoon, we visited the Medici residences at the Pitti Palace, which was incredibly grandiose, but unfortunately we missed the beautiful gardens due to yet another storm. That evening, we had a lovely and mercifully cheap dinner, and the next day headed out on our last pilgrimage in Europe, to Rome. Eleanor was excited, because on the train she got to sit near two nuns, but I wasn't overly jealous, as I was anticipating many at the Vatican. We had a bit of a scare when we first got to Rome - a man tried to unzip Eleanor's bag as we were standing around bewilderedly lost, looking for our hostel, but cleverly she had left nothing valuable in her front pockets and we became suspicious, and he took off without having taken anything. Oddly enough, we had our only two such experiences in Rome - the second time was on the penultimate night, when a small boy followed us and then jumped me and tried to undo my daypack. Luckily, Eleanor was there to yank him off, yell something like "No, you're not having that!" and cast him down onto the street. But overall, we were quite lucky in avoiding thieves on the trip, and enjoyed Rome in spite of this. Our hostel was not the nicest one we stayed in, but luckily, the good weather allowed for whole days out and dinner picnics. That said, we were proud to have produced two cooked meals during our 5 night stay in the hostel kitchen. Rome was beautiful, and on the first day after dumping our stuff we went out to the Spanish steps where we stumbled across the closing ceremony of Rome's first annual film festival - I know, we have such luck - so we were able to wait and get positions directly overlooking the Red carpet, and after a few hours the celebrities started to arrive. Don't get excited - the only one we had heard mentioned was Robert de Niro, who had helped organise the event, and all those that arrived were fairly minor Itallian semi-celebrities, but the atmosphere was great, and the only disappointment was that Robert de Niro descended from the Spanish Steps rather than taking the red carpet. But we saw the closing ceremony, and it was really great to witness the first of something. The next day we did the Roman Forum, which, having seen before, I was slightly blase about, but Eleanor felt that it was one of the highlights of Rome, and we did have a fascinating tour. The next day, we headed off to the Vatican, which is huge but stunning, and to our immense joy, after seeing the museums we saw the Pope presiding over a service in St Peter's, made all the more exciting by the fact that we missed him by a day in Verona. The next day we did some of the touristy stuff of the city, such as seeing the famous Piazza Navona, but it was really fun and provided and invaluable walking tour of the city, which is really the best way to see a city which is so epic and monumental and has the advantage of a Mediterranean climate. I should just say, on the topic of monuments, that on the Sunday, before visiting the forum, we had the only instance of properly losing each other, and it was on the Vittorio Emanuel Monument, a white marble structure so amazing and huge that the bronze equestrian statue of the man himself in the centre of the monument is reckoned to be the largest in the world, his moustache alone measuring 3m in length! Anyway, on the Tuesday we took this opportunity to walk around, as I said seeing the sights in the boiling weather and loving it. The Wednesday was our last day, but this was as hot if not hotter than the day before, and we spent a relaxing time wandering around the bohemian Trastavere region across the Tiber and the medieval centre looking for gifts for our families. In the evening, we had a wonderful meal at a famous but luckily inexpensive Pizzeria, Ivo, in Trastavere, which served us authentic, delicious and gargantuan (for me anyway) pizzas, and then walked back to the Trevi fountain, where we had found the nicest ice-cream place in Rome where, as a result our indecision and a quick typically English compliment about there being too many delicious flavours to choose, the vendour gave us each what can only be described as a mountain of ice cream each, somehow supported inexplicably by these medium sized cones, giving us each four scoops in what would usually be a two-scoop cone at no extra cost! Eaily the nicest place in Rome, with really authentic flavours, it was a great high to end on as we strolled back to our hostel. The next day, despite having to get up at 5am to catch a connecting train for our 8am flight, we were really happy, and on the plane were once again overloaded with food for breakfast. Although our luggage was mysteriously held up at Heathrow (a garbled and virtually incoherent announcement seemed to state that our bags may have been simply left on the runway) it was great to see my mum waiting in arrivals with a sign with our names on, and wonderful to get home, give presents to our families, and discover that the fragile venetian masks we'd been hauling around for 2 weeks had survived. Anyway, it was an incredible experience, at once a cultural education, a life lesson and a great rush, which left us feeling so much more confident about travelling and looking forward to our trip later in the year to southeast Asia. I would definitely advise anyone thinking of taking a gap your to take this sort of mini-gap or extended city tour, and we both really enjoyed ourselves. Thanks to everyone for following our adventures so far and I can only leave the least impression of how much I'm looking forward to travelling and writing to you all again come February. Now, to plan for Vietnam...

All our love,

Richard Elliott (and Eleanor Craddock in absentium)

P.S. I will now try to put some of our photos on to the blogs for the entries, if anyone feels like looking over them and seeing the beautiful cities and us making fools of ourselves.
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