Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Italian Job: Rome

They say that all roads lead to Rome.  Well, that is, until you get lost.  And then it’s all a bit hopeless as cars veer in front of you, double park with their hazard lights on whilst the driver saunters over to the coffee shop; motorbikes weave precariously in  and out of the cars knocking off wing mirrors as they go, and which side of the road, and how much of it you use, is negotiable.  And if you are in a car with GB plates it becomes a little game for the Romans – we were even cut up gladiator style by a sweet smiling teenage girl in a Smart car… 

So this is when one has to adopt another saying – When in Rome, do as the Romans.  G became proficient at charging into non moving traffic, me at deciphering the mood of the drivers and the general direction in which we were going, and the boys at buttoning it as we swerved this way and that with all the passion (if not finesse) of the Italian drivers.

Luckily our hotel, the Ca’ Selva Candida, was a little oasis of a hotel on the outskirts of Rome, to which we would return daily, sinking into the chairs at the bar with the sighs of the seasoned traveler. This has been a little gem of a find, the rooms are big and spacious, the staff friendly and exceedingly helpful – all have got to know us – and although we only stayed 3 nights, we felt very welcome. Stefano at Reception recommended a car park in town whilst we caught the Metro into the city centre. And so we did.  (After a couple of wrong turns in which we ended up in a small alleyway with no turning circle and all the Italians came out to watch and suck their teeth and debate amongst themselves as to which bit of the car we would hit on the bulging brick walls).

Catching the Metro was easy – again once you had worked out what type of ticket you needed and how long for.  And once we were in Rome we took the advice of Liz, a reader of the blog, and got on one of the open top tour buses.  There are several companies that offer this service, and after looking at the routes that they offer, we decided to go for the blue bus, as that covered the parts of the city that we wanted to see.  It’s a great idea for getting a general layout of a city, you can get on and off where you please, and simply catch the next one when you’ve finished sight seeing.  It also has an audio guide – ours was in 13 languages which pleased the boys no end as they messed around with the settings.  Mine seemed to be permanently stuck with Italian in one ear and English in the other, but I got the general idea.

The Colosseum
It was fabulous.  Coming from the UK, we get a bit blasé about antiquities and ruins and ancient history. But Rome is simply breathtaking.  Even the oldest smallest pillars had intricate carvings, there were thousands of statues from those framing St Peters to those above shop doorways.  The Pantheon with its open air domed ceiling was a marvel.  The Circus Maximus, now a dust bowl, still evocative of days gone past.  The Colosseum, and small Roman ruins, open for all to walk by and stop, and look.  Paintings, glorious in their size and colour. Great mansions like the Villa Borghese, and gardens, and hundreds and hundreds of shops and restaurants.

Trevi Fountain, under scaffolding
A few of you have been asking how my ankle has been faring.  I tore my Achilles tendon over a year ago and have subsequently developed acute tendonitis in my right ankle.  This manifests itself as a large painful lump, with swelling which goes up and down, depending on how much exercise I have done.  I have had a number of physio sessions, and two saline injections under local anaesthetic to break down the scar tissue, which seems to have alleviated the pain.  But there is no doubt that the travelling and walking is paying its toll.
Strapped up for Day 1

The night we arrived in Rome, I was slightly alarmed to see that my good ankle had developed a small painful lump on the tendon.  This was clearly the result of a year of over compensation, but did not bode well.  Hence our decision to do the bus tour.  Underneath my well padded leather British Knights trainers were heel inserts and both feet were strapped up in support bandages.  But that evening it was clear that I was in trouble.  And what was worse was that the next day we had booked to see the Vatican Museum and the thing that was on my bucket list, the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum is vast, our rather enthusiastic receptionist told us it was roughly 7km of walking (unverified) and I needed my hiking feet.  So G and the boys brought back two buckets of ice from the bar and we wrapped my ankles in ice and towels, and I slept in ice all night, waking up to a slightly soggy bed, but no lump on the good ankle.

The Vatican City was simply astounding. Every room in the Vatican Museum assuaged your senses in a way that is incomparable – from the Egypt room, to the Animal room, to the painted frescos on the ceilings in the Geographic room or the carvings on the walls, there was simply a brain overload everywhere you looked. And after a long walk, through corridors, up and down stairs, I drew a deep breath before I entered the Sistine Chapel.
Egypt Room - mummified woman from Phebes
Adam and Eve in their Earthly Paradise (Wenzel) - Middle Son's favourite of the day

The stunning ceiling in the Geographic room 
Three little cherubs (not mine)
As an art student at A level, I studied Michelangelo, and one of my favourite books to date is The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone.  The Sistine Chapel was worth it – the agony of getting there was worth the ecstasy of being there.  That’s all I can say really. It is not often that I can’t put into words what I felt, but this is one of those times!

My three little cherubs outside St Peters
Our last night in Rome before setting off to Naples was spent in a restaurant local to the hotel and the boys let off steam from all the culture in the play park and enjoyed showing  their ‘jumping off the swings mid air’ skills to some local kids who were there for a birthday party. Amazing how they managed to converse – Little Man using exaggerated mime, and the younger kids using broken English, whilst the teenage girls giggled coyly at our elder boys.
G and I sat and watched them as we washed down our pesce alla griglia with grappa and limoncello.

 As I said, when in Rome, do as the Romans.  And so we did.