Rome

Jan Leeming

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Me looking brave before taking to the air (and the wing) of the plane. Wow, it was cold !! But the whole experience was totally exhilarating.

 

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.

ROME

Date: 27th August 2008

ROME

The long weekend in Rome was superb.  Having never been there before, the sights exceeded my expectations - and that's always so much better than the other way around.  I remember how far short of expectations fell Venice when I visited some 10 years ago.  It might have been the weather - wet and with the duck boards out in St. Mark's Square but I remember being so disappointed.

After settling into our hotel, and a lunch which was rather more than most of us required, we set off on our first Tour which was to encompass the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Piazza Navone and a few other noteworthy squares.  Our guide had an incredibly thick Italian accent and we struggled to keep up with her explanations.  However, that aside, I let out a gasp at my first sight of the Trevi Fountain. As was to be expected the square was thick with tourists packed into a relatively small square which makes the fountain look even more massive than it is.  But it is a huge and incredibly beautiful fountain.  Of course, we all threw our coins in with the right hand over the left shoulder.  I couldn't help remembering the film 'Roman Holiday' which starred Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn who happens to be one of my icons.  I'd love to see the fountain with no people around it, but I suppose one would have to visit at some ungodly hour of the morning - perhaps next time!

The Pantheon looks rather austere and unexciting from the outside but when you enter and have explained the marvels of the architectural design, you really do appreciate what a wonder it is.  And of course centuries ago, the walls would have been clad in marble with the inscriptions picked out in bronze.  It started life as a Pagan temple and then was modified to embrace the Christian Religion.

Dinner was held in a small and atmospheric square but, having arrived at 8.15 and not getting any food until 10.30 was a little past a joke. We were divided up into three tables and I can only say that on our table we had a tremendous amount of fun and laughter, much of it occasioned by a misunderstanding between one of the chaps and myself - he was talking about a Musical Group AC.DC  and I thought he meant something else.  I leave the rest to your imagination!

Next morning we took a coach to the Villa d-Este - built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este in the 1500s. You might know it better by the name - Tivoli Gardens with some of the most fantastic fountains and fountain displays I've ever encountered.    I won't even attempt to give you the historic background as it is all so complicated with the various popes and all their nepotism.  We had an absolutely superb guide - Shane Harnett - an Irish guy living, working and writing in Rome.  He was steeped in the history of the area and there was no question you could ask to which he didn't know the answer.  I think he said he had a degree in political science and then studied Art History.  He is now an aspiring writer and has already completed a Musical  called  Leo's Dead Elephant (well it's certainly an intriguing title) which he is valiantly trying to get staged.  It was a joy to be in his group as we didn't have to struggle to understand him and he seemed to be genuinely interested in sharing his knowledge with us.  

After lunch we visited the Villa Adriana or Hadrian's Villa - that is an understatement and a half - the remains demonstrated a small city - small but opulent.  But then the Romans once ruled the known world and were remarkably civilized.  The upper classes bathed but so did their servants and slaves at a time when we Brits were still in animal skins and wode. 

We had a slightly better and less pretentious dinner but  the prices were inflated and the wine prices were ridiculous.  We all know that restaurants load wine prices but when you multiply the original cost of a bottle by some six times the amount, I see that as highway robbery.   Some of the group went off to paint the town pink but I returned to the hotel.  Knowing my interest in both the World Wars, a friend lent me  a remarkable book written by Sebastian Faulks called 'Birdsong' much of which is set in the First World War.  I love reading at night and in bed so that's what I chose to do.  I think some of the group were a little the worse for wear the next morning.

Our next tour was of the Vatican (or a small part of it) and the Sistine Chapel.  Thank goodness we were booked on a tour. The queue extended all around the external walls of the Vatican City and we were told that the wait for entry was approximately three hours.  So, be warned, if you are in Rome and want to view the Vatican, it is best to pay the extra and book a guided tour.  Again we had an excellent guide Simone de Filippis (although the name is spelt with an 'e' which would denote someone of the feminine gender, Simone was definitely all male - an incredibly good looking Italian man.  His English was almost faultless and his knowledge extensive.  He also had a good sense of humour and told us quite a few amusing anecdotes.  One of which was about the male statuary, which during a puritanical period, had to have the genitalia covered by fig leaves.  Simone asked us why we thought one of the Statues appeared to be laughing - Why - because he had the biggest fig leaf!!!!!   The Sistine Chapel is a truly remarkable work of art but we were only allowed to stay in there for about five minutes and that simply is not enough time to truly appreciate it's splendour.  It doesn't help that the Chapel is jam-packed full of tourists which didn't add to one's  enjoyment - or, at least, that is how I felt.  We must have been on the tour for over two hours and we'd only scratched the surface of the Vatican treasures.  I think it is rather sad to see such opulence when one remembers not only all the poverty in the world but also the poverty in so many Catholic countries.

By an unfortunate oversight (or misunderstanding) the Basilica was not included on the itinerary although it was only a stone's throw away from the Sistine Chapel. Had we taken the Right exit instead of the Left we would have been on the Doorstep of the Basilica.  I think it had something to do with us being met by our coach.  Then, after getting into it and being driven for about ten minutes (purely because of the one-way circuits) we passed the Basilica and thought the queues would take a long time to clear, like those at the Vatican.  Those of us who don't like queuing took ourselves off to a café in a square close to the Coliseum and had a deliciously thin and tasty pizza with a decent glass of red wine at a very reasonable price.  We found out afterwards that in fact the Basilica queue was only for security and moved very fast.  Ah well! It will be an excuse to return to Rome for another visit.  At least from the coach we saw St. Peter's Square and the Basilica and very impressive they are too. 

The Coliseum and the surrounding ruins are simply awe-inspiring.  I hope it doesn't sound too gauche but, having seen 'Gladiator' the whole film came alive when we saw the Arena, the seating and the underground rooms in which the animals were kept and the Gladiators waited their turn to embrace either death or glory.

All in all we must have been on our feet for about five hours and it was extremely hot.  Touring the sites of Rome is not for the fainthearted.

That evening was our last so the whole group stayed together for 'The Last Supper' at the Radisson Hotel.  The venue was idyllic - on the roof of the hotel next to two swimming pools.  It was all beautifully lit and very romantic.  But the food and drink were ridiculously over-priced.  I like good food and wine but I also like 'value for money' which one gets a'plenty in Capetown where I spend a lot of time.  Both my starter and main course were little above tepid and the main course of my neighbour was a joke.  She'd chosen a Scallop dish boasting a bed of wild rice and the flavours of six curries.  When the dish arrived we laughed - I kid you not - there were five small cubes of scallop on a small bed of rice and we don't know where the advertised curry flavours were hiding.  I don't like big meals but this main meal was little more than starter size.  And again the wine prices were ridiculous. Still I suppose that is what one gets if you eat in an hotel.

Frankly, most of us agreed that we'd come to Rome for the architectural wonders and not for a gastronomic holiday.  The restaurants had not been chosen by our organizers who had put together a most enjoyable holiday - rather they had been picked by some tour guide. 

Funnily enough, a few of us declared that we'd enjoyed our simple pizza and glass of wine more than the pretentious food we'd been offered in the three 'posh' restaurants.  The other weird experience was not having a single cup of coffee which was anything above tepid.

However, I must say that this was my first outing with the Club and it was immensely enjoyable.  There were some very interesting people, friendships were made and Rome was simply HEAVENLY.  I do hope I can go back again before too long.

So, if you are thinking of going to Rome, I do strongly advise that you pay the extra and get a guide.

shaneharnett@hotmail.com  

and if Shane is busy try simonedf@virgilio.it

Must close now.  Take Care.  Jan

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