Sunday, September 30, 2012

4 days in Rome - the journey home

24th September

Set the alarm for 4.30am as taxi due at 5.30am and we still had to check out.  Bill paid – roughly €15 each for tourist tax!  Taxi arrived early and we were at the airport before 6am which was a lot shorter than the 40 mins I was told it would take. 

Checked our bags in and queued for security – this took ages.  Once through I used the loos – disgusting!  Then we got coffee and brioche (like a pain au chocolat) (Mark had a filled roll) for breakfast.  The brioche wasn’t that filling and I didn’t get the water I ordered – it was a strange system.  Moving on to our gate we found that there were no seats for our gate, but there was another breakfast bar so I bought water and a couple of blueberry muffins and we sat in comfort in the café seating until our flight was called. 
Another full flight and it never ceases to amaze me what luggage people try to bring in the cabin.  After an uneventful flight we arrived at Heathrow – more security and finally we had access to a decent toilet!  We had brunch in Wetherspoons – Mark had the full English and I had pancakes and bacon.  I wandered round the departure lounge just trying to stretch my legs after having sat down for so long after being used to pounding pavements. 
The flight home was delayed and full and yet again someone had not made the flight so the luggage had to be located and removed!  The flight back to Glasgow was a bit bumpy – we hadn’t realised that there had been high winds for a couple of days.  Mark’s bag came through fairly quickly, but we had to wait for ages for mine – starting to worry that it hadn’t made it, but then to my relief it appeared.  Just as we got out of the airport we saw our transfer bus depart, so we had to wait in the wind and the rain.  When the next bus eventually arrived the queue was huge and a family with what seemed like an endless stream of bags and pushchairs took up all available space on the luggage racks.  The bus driver was trying to tell everyone to move down the bus, but there were bags in the aisles!  Eventually he suggested the rest of the people in the queue waited for the next bus.  When we got back to the car park it then took ages for the same family to find all their bags etc and get off the bus.  Luckily we were the next stop and got back to the car with a sigh of relief!  Next hurdle was getting the car park exit ticket.  I had my ticket and voucher number ready, but the family guys ahead of me didn’t have their voucher number, and one didn’t know his wife’s car registration number – all leading to more delays!  What a relief to finally leave the car park!  Got back to the village just before 5pm – totally exhausted.
It was a great 4 days away, just the right length of time for me as I am not a big city fan.  I would go back but would try to find a way of avoiding Heathrow.  The only direct flights were with Ryanair – which we didn’t fancy.

4 days in Rome - day 4

23rd September

A late start today as it had been such a late night and we knew that we had an early start tomorrow.  Caught an 881 into town and then walked to Piazza Navona where 2 coffees cost €14 (they do come with a tiny literally bite-sized cookie) service tax was 14%!!!   Our mistake was not going for the orange plastic chairs! 

We saw the Pantheon and wandered through many picturesque and busy streets – I am still amazed at how traffic negotiates the narrow streets!  
We had lunch in Papas located in a narrow street near via dei Portoghesi.  Pasta, a couple of beers and a bottle of water.  We were not rushed and felt comfortable sitting drinking our beer and reading our books.  Walked back to the 881 terminus and caught the bus back to the hotel for packing!
I am still surprised at how many of the toilets are unisex (and seatless); it was strange last night queuing for the loo at the restaurant only to find that Marco was in before me!  Even the hotel loo is the same – but at least those had seats!
Another 28 degree plus day again today!

4 days in Rome - day 3

22nd September

We took the 881 to the river, then caught the 116 to Barberini after a prolonged stop whilst the bus driver had a cigarette and read the paper, and walked to the Spanish Steps.  

We stopped for a coffee in a side street near via Della Croce which was good – bright orange plastic seats, but the coffee was €2.50 for an Americano. 
Next stop was the Trevi Fountain – this is absolutely amazing but very very crowded – no way could you get close enough to throw a coin in it!  
According to my map (and the bus stop) we should have been able to get a bus to the Colosseum from nearby, but after waiting for ages the bus did not arrive, so we decided to walk.  We were actually closer than we thought, but the heat and humidity was high so walking was slow!  We came out on via del fori imperiali which is the main road leading up to the Colosseum – and it was pedestrianised as it was Sunday!  
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant at the start of via cavour – we each had a pizza and I had water whilst Mark had water and 2 cokes – just under €25 Not bad. 

We walked round the outside of the Colosseum, but decided that it was too hot for us to really get the most out of a ticket which would allow us inside the Colosseum and the fort etc.  We were both happy to just see that area which was breathtaking – for a future visit it would probably be better to make an earlier start in the day when it was cooler.  

We decided to head back down to the river – on the way passing some more fantastic sights, including a memorial to the unknown soldier near the Musei Capitoline. 

We crossed the river at Isola Tiberia and had an expensive ice-cream (quoted at €10 each, but only got charged €8 each!) in Piazza in Piscinula.  We then caught the 280 bus which was to take us to where the 881 terminated, but it took a strange route via Piramide and a bus terminus where we had to change buses, but then the new bus had engine problems so we got back on the original bus.  It got us to the 881 eventually and we got back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes. 
We were then off out again, we hoped to get a bus to the Metro, but ended up getting a 881 to its terminus then caught a 40 to Republica where we got off early as it was so hot and sticky on the crowded bus, then caught Metro A to Termini, then Metro B to Colosseo.  
We waited for Nick and Phil (Mark’s pals) and then walked to a restaurant off via di S Giovani in Laterano where we met Marco, Fabrizio and Vincenzo.  We had missed our table booking as Phil and Nick were late, so we had to wait – but it was well worth the wait.  It turned out that Fabrizio lived in a flat above the restaurant and was very friendly with the staff.  We let Fabrizio order for us all.  3 beers, starter, main, tiramisu and grappa (they just put all the bottles of digestivs on the table for us to help ourselves) for €20 per head!  During the meal the waitresses moved the barriers further out into the road and set up 2 more tables next to us!  After the meal we walked across the road to a café/bar for coffee (and more drink for some).  We decided that we would try and catch a Metro before it shut, so said our goodbyes and made our way back.  Pleased to see that the Metro at Colosseo was still open so we could at least get to Termini where the two lines meet.  At Termini we managed to get another train on line A – phew!  Arrived at Cornelia and realised that it must have been the last train as they were cleaning the escalators, hosing down the floors and they locked the gates after us!  10 minute walk back to the hotel and straight up to bed.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

4 days in Rome - day 2

21st September

We found the stairs that went to the restaurant – the hotel is an “L” shape and the restaurant is on the other end of the “L”. 

We just missed a coach party so we had to wait for the tables to be set again.  Also, items like the fresh fruit was almost all gone and the staff were too busy laying tables to re-stock. 
Mark had a meeting today (the reason for our visit), so we walked up to the main road to try and buy bus or travel tickets.  Eventually we found the Metro and after a bit of bother with the ticket machine we managed to buy 3 day tourist passes for €16.50 each which covers all buses, trams, train and the metro – this will save us a lot of bother.  Metro travel was so much more comfortable than the bus, although the signage could be better (or exist!) – We just used instinct!  We got off at Flaminio and then Mark got a train to his meeting.  I walked up to the main road and looked around to get my bearings. 
There was an interesting gateway over the road, so I crossed and found the Piazza del Popolo and the church of Santa Maria del Popolo which was absolutely breathtaking.  According to legend the church occupies the spot where the hated emperor Nero was buried.  In 1099 Pope Paschal II built a chapel to dispel demons still believed to haunt the spot. In 1472 Pope Sixtus IV rebuilt the chapel as a church.  In the apse (designed by Bramante) are Rome’s first stained-glass windows (1509).  I took loads of pictures and then noticed that my battery was flashing red – after a day in the Vatican making the camera work hard compensating for not having flash I should have charged it up overnight. 

I then retraced my steps and saw another grand gateway leading up to the park of Villa Borghese – so off I walked glad to be out of the crowds. 

At the top of the climb up I found a wee boating lake with an island in the middle where there is a temple dedicated to Aesculapius. 

I stopped for a comfort break in probably the worst toilets ever – they were clean but no flush visible!  Weird.  I carried on wandering around taking in the sights of the park and stopped for a coffee at the cinecaffe next to the outdoor cinema.  This park is full of locals and visitors alike – there are bicycles to hire – both two wheeled and four wheeled four seaters with child seats on the front.  Balloon sellers, food vans and merry-go-rounds all adding to the family day out.   I sat with my coffee for at least an hour just watching the world go by.  I decided that I had probably stayed too long, so paid my bill €2.50 and carried on walking. 
I walked up past the Museo e Galleria Borghese and into what seemed to be used as an exercise area. I grabbed a folded pizza from a van outside the zoo, but decided not to go into the zoo as it wouldn’t be as much fun on my own. I took several photos on my mobile phone so that I could capture the essence of the park.  

In the centre of the park is a full-scale reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

I returned back to the boating lake and sat outside another café having yet another coffee and reading my book – this was very pleasant. 
I then found the bus stop for the 116 which would take me down to the Vatican area again so I could catch a bus back to the hotel.  After exiting the park the bus driver pulled over and we had to get onto another 116 – it must have been his break time.  The bus takes a route through really narrow streets (it is a short bus) with tight corners and parked cars!  It was a great way to see some of the historic centre of Rome without pounding the pavements, and I had the bus to myself for most of the journey!  I decided to take the bus to its terminus not realising that it terminated at the top level of a public car park which seemed to be built in a hill.  I walked down the hill and caught the 881 back to the hotel.  What I have noticed about the buses here is that the majority of the seats are in single rows with wide aisles, the seats are mainly plastic rather than fabric covered.  First thing I did was to charge the batteries in my camera and phone – not wanting to get caught out again.  I had a beer in the hotel bar then went back to the room to wait for Mark to return.  We had a two course meal in the hotel restaurant which was very nice, and then went to the bar for a coffee before returning to the room to read.

4 days in Rome - day1

20th September

We had pre-booked entry to the Vatican for 10.30am, so we had breakfast at 8am and then caught a bus (98) from outside the hotel into town.  Our room is on the 3rd floor and the restaurant is on the 4th floor (aka the roof), but the stairs went onto the roof but there was no access into the restaurant, so we had to use the lift! We had no idea of how the transport system ran or where we needed to get off.  Our first mistake is that you have to buy your ticket before you get on the bus (tickets can be bought in bars and at news-stands).  The journey wasn’t great as the bus was packed as it was rush hour and very hot and sticky.  When we saw the dome of St Peter’s we got off the bus vowing that we would make sure we got a ticket for the return journey.  It was great to get some air after the stuffiness of the bus.

  We had got off the bus at the opposite side of the Vatican to the entrance, so we had a long walk across the entrance to St Peters (which was stunning) and around the walls to the entrance.

There are lots of hawkers around, but to be fair if you said you were not interested they did leave you alone.  

We were about 30mins early for our meeting time, so we decided to get a coffee (and use the loo).  A young man who was touting for tours of the Vatican directed us to a coffee shop (even though he wasn’t going to get anything from us). The coffee was lovely, but the loo was not so nice!

We met the group organisers and got a coloured card in exchange for our booking voucher – we then followed the guide in to the Vatican – bypassing the queue and she then got our tickets and exchanged our coloured cards for entrance tickets.  Then we were left to our own devices.   We paid €26.50 each for this ticket as opposed to the €15 it would cost if we queued for hours – well worth the money.
Inside the Vatican we decided that we really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, so as we had been advised that if it got too busy they would shut the doors we decided to try and go straight there. 
Even the quickest route to the Sistine Chapel takes the visitor through the majority of the rooms and corridors, although we probably spent a lot less time in each section than most people, but we wanted to drink it all in and there was no way we would see everything in detail in the time we had.  There are miles of corridors each of them filled with wonderful paintings, tapestries, sculptures, gold and other objects of art.  Any photographs taken really cannot give a true representation of the wonder of it all. To study each area properly would probably take months!
Each room and corridor revealed more and more wonders – and lots of steps to tone the legs!  When we entered the Sistine Chapel – WOW!  No photos are allowed here and you were supposed to be quiet, but as usual people had other ideas and took flash photos (flash wasn’t even allowed in the rest of the Vatican!) and were quite noisy.  It was so stunning though – I wish we could spend longer in there, but all the seats and steps were occupied by people and it was uncomfortable standing and getting nudged along.

We had lunch in the pizzeria, opting for soft drinks although draught beer was available.  Very reasonable: €12.40 for 2 pizza slices and 2 cokes.  Although the guide books had said there were not many toilets or places to eat, in reality there were.  There is a café in one of the courtyards, a restaurant and the pizzeria, plus there are toilets in several locations – and I never had to queue!  Very clean too.
We left the Vatican, and dodging the hawkers (except for the ones giving away free Coke Zero!) we walked to the river at Ponte Vittorio Emanuelle II and wandered past the Castel Sant ‘Angelo, Plazza del Tribunall and Palazzo de Giustizia (Palace of Justice).

After a rest in the shade we headed back to the bus stop, stopping on the way for an ice cream (and a beer for Mark) in a very insalubrious setting.  We bought bus tickets at a newspaper kiosk and caught the 98 back to the hotel.
We had a rest, a shower and change then down to the bar for a Nastro Azzurro!  We went for a lovely meal at Ristorante da Arturo just 2 minutes walk downhill from the hotel.  We decided that this would be our “nice meal” of the holiday and went for the traditional meal structure – Antipasto (I had Parma Ham with Melon and Mark had preserved meats), Primo (first course – I had seafood pasta and Mark had risotto), Secondo (I had veal and Mark had steak), Contorno (vegetables with the main course – spinach for me and chips for Mark).  We decided we were too full for anything else and after finishing our wine we tried to get the waiter’s attention to get the bill.  Eventually we went in search of someone and the manager/owner was shocked that we had to do that (but probably more shocked that we didn’t just walk out!) and gave us a chocolate ice cream and glasses of limoncello – it would have been rude not to accept!  So effectively we had the Dolce (sweet) and Digestivo (digestives – such as grappa, amaro, limoncello, sambuca and nocino).  The food was delicious and although we probably went for the more expensive options it would have been possible to have a cheaper and smaller meal.  I would definitely go back if we were in the area again.
Back to the hotel and bed.

4 days in Rome - the outward journey

19th September

Flights:  Glasgow – London Heathrow – Rome (Fiumicino).

All the flights were late due to extra security at Heathrow.  The flight leaving Heathrow left without one passenger whose bag had made it to the plane but they hadn’t – so more delays in locating the bag from the hold and removing it.  When we arrived at Fiumicino we were much later than our due time, then there was a delay in getting the luggage back, so I think our taxi driver from was worried that we were not turning up.  Because we were now arriving at the hotel well after 11pm I expected the fee to increase by €8 but he only charged €50.
When we were waiting at Heathrow I decided not to have a meal thinking that as we were travelling British Airways there would be a meal on board – the meal was a filled roll with mayonnaise!  So, apart from a packet of Indian snacks on the flight from Glasgow and a couple of Mark’s chips at Heathrow I had not eaten since breakfast at 7am.  So arriving at the hotel I was quite hungry (especially as we had had a few red wines on the plane!).  The hotel’s restaurant was obviously closed at that late hour, but the barman gave us peanuts and his own roti which was most welcome.  Mark had a couple of pints and I had a bottle of water, and then to bed.