I can’t shake the shivers. A cold internal feeling creeping across my back as I consume the horrific news in Nice. Yet another tragic terrorist attack but this one has hit me hard I think because the victims are mainly families, parents with their children watching a firework display. The type of event me and my husband would take our three children to, where you would be helpless stuck in a crowd with an impossible escape hurtling towards you. News reports have said parents were hurling their children to safety before meeting their fate. It is too much to bear the thought of being in that situation. I’ve visited many European cities but have never been to Nice but imagine it was (before yesterday evening) a vibrant family friendly place which has now been tarred with tradegy. I don’t want to feel unsafe in Europe but be proud of it. I don’t want to allow the hate of a few radicalised monsters to define the love that is needed to shower the survivors and families of the victims with. My hubby and I visited Rome earlier this year and I wrote the following blog about our trip which I’ve been meaning to share for a while. I feel it is right to do it today. I want to share my gratitude at a city steeped in history and the pride of its inhabitants and help stand firm against terrorists and not allow them to destroy our homes and communities and to drag us into their hate.
Our Italian 4 day break was my 40th present from hubby and was completely unexpected. Rome is amongst many places on my very long bucket list of destinations I would like to visit and it was everything I dreamt of and more.
We set off on a Thursday afternoon from Stansted airport and strolled (a type of walking that can only be achieved without our three children in tow) around the departure lounge. As it would be just us two, we decided to actually plan stuff to do whilst on our mini break and had already pre-booked the Colosseum and The Vatican tour and had even figured out the public transport situation so we could commute from the airport by bus and use the metro once there. ‘When in Rome’ as they say!
After a fairly stress free flight (thanks to Kalms, Heineken and a movie on hubby’s IPAD) we arrived on Italian soil. It was freezing and dark and we felt miles away from the centre of Rome and headed to our bus stop to begin the first leg of our journey to the outskirts of the capital where we picked up our (super cheap – London take note!) underground connection. We wedged onto the very bright and noisy tube which had a TV monitor hanging at equal sections throughout the carriages churning out Italian infomercials like a scene out of Blade Runner. Hubby had booked a hotel by The Vatican so when we reached our stop and ventured out onto the street the view that met us was breathtaking. The streets were perfectly symmetrical with ornate apartment block buildings above shops of varying type either side of wide streets bustling with cars, trams and mopeds. As we wheeled our mini cases down side streets, the buildings stayed the same in style but the streets became narrower and sleepier as we passed groups of well dressed Roman teenagers and adults walking their pampered pooches.
Rome is a city steeped in history and each corner you turn you feel like you could be in any era with its unspoilt appearances and ageless surroundings. Our accommodation was a room set within an apartment block full of local Romans. Our apartment owner met us in the dimly lid street and led us through two enormous doors into a marble decked courtyard with windows overlooking the square below. It was like a film set and I felt a million miles from home.
Rome is a beautiful place with an unbelievable amount of historical sites to visit that in a short break you have to be fairly ruthless with your itinerary. With so many monuments worth a look, there was also the added importance of ensuring we sampled plenty of Italian food and wine. My personal highlights were:
What an incredible experience and not just because of hubby’s numerous Russell Crowe impressions. This famous amphitheatre is enormous in size and has been so well protected and updated without losing its historical charm. We opted for a headphone tour rather than an actual person which meant we spent our time walking around the monument using sign language or shouting loudly to communicate with each other. To stand in the middle of the stadium and imagine the events that unfolded there was unbelievable. It is believed to have housed a staggering 80,000 audience members to watch the barbaric games that were held in the arena, with the seats allocated by class and your ranking in Roman society, meaning the cheap seats at the back were for the peasants. If you were a gravedigger, actor or a former gladiator you were bizarrely banned altogether!
The Vatican and St Peters
Our apartment building was a stones throw from the walled city known as The Vatican. Let me just labour that point – The Vatican is a country within a country! There is a 2 mile wall (which we pretty much walked the length of) that surrounds the Pope’s home and at one end is the breathtaking site of St Peters Square and St Peters Basilica. It is so momentous I cannot do it justice in words and although I do not consider myself to be that religious I felt a strange sentiment when I entered the cavernous walls of St Peters Basilica. We opted for a proper tour guide for The Vatican as neither of us really understand the art and the history of the religion within and thank goodness we did as our tour guide was a hilarious Roman lady with impeccable English. Her knowledge was incredible and as a born and bred Roman her pride of this historical site was very engaging. We spent four hours walking the vast corridors of the Pope’s palaces with its walls and ceilings covered in historic art as we weaved around centuries old statues and apart from my feet aching I was intrigued at every turn. When we came to the Sistine Chapel, our tour guide warned us not to speak and to walk slowly through the exhibition. The Vaticans are so concerned over this work of art being damaged that the room is decked out with security guards glaring at you menancingly whilst making shushing noises and ushering you past the priceless paintings.
The Trevi Fountain
This famous site was very impressive, so much bigger than I expected and the noise of the water gushing was mesmerising. What I particularly loved about this fountain though was the area in which it was set with its narrow cobbled streets and perfect apartments with their trademark scooters parked outside amid quaint restaurants and bars. My favourite meal of the weekend was in an amazing restaurant in a courtyard just metres from the fountain. The Spanish Steps were also just around the corner but were unfortunately closed for maintenance denying me the opportunity to perform my planned Audrey Hepburn scene from Roman Holiday.
The weekend seemed to fly by and we really did cram in so many sites, walked many miles and more than ate my body weight in pasta and red wine! I would urge everyone to put Rome on their bucket list. As the saying goes – Rome was not built in a day – and once you’ve walked its cobbled streets you can say how that is true. It may have taken many years to create its beauty and thankfully the Romans have decided to keep it how it was meant to last.