05.09.2008 - 12.09.2008
Rome – Rome, Rome. What can I say. Nothing can prepare you for the grandeur of the place. Except when you check into a hotel that is described as being “a short distance from all the attractions” and you find yourself in the equivalent of Watford on the M25.
It turned out not so bad. Nice room, lovely pool. The transport in involved being driven to the station (Saxa Rubra), then a 15 minute tube to the outskirts of the centre (note, if you think vandalism and debris is bad on London transport, try Rome. The trains are 100% graffiti – Matt would love it – and the amount of litter and general decay on the sidings made us feel like we were back in Cambodia). Then on the return we had to catch a bus! Omg – soooo 3rd world!
Once we’d got over the back-to-basics of transport we were gob struck. The 1st thing we came across was the Victor Emmanuel Monument . It’s a sight that will never leave us. The scale was awe inspiring. You immediately knew this was a symbol of power.
(Crap picture but the sun was in a bad place – take my word for it – it’s huge and amazing)
(Nice fountain too!)
We did the unthinkable and paid for a tour bus with a headphone arrangement. A great way to get the sights in, and you hop on and off when you fancy.
(Should have done this back in London!)
We had a good walk around the outside, and inside, which was a war museum
(Sure I’ve seen this somewhere before…)
After being suitable blown away we wandered down to the Colloseum (rather hilariously, an American gent asked if we were at the “Colloseum stop” – I replied, “well, technically, no, but it’s just there in front mate…” – we were a 4 minute walk away and you can’t exactly miss it.
After dodging the million English tour-touts trying to sell you x2 price tickets to “jump” the 1 minute queue we get through security and went to grab our tickets. They didn’t’ take cards. Bah! So we headed off to the cash point, turning down an offer of drinks at the local gay bar.
Once we got back we paid our 31 Euros for entry and portable audio tour thingies. Excellent. Fascinating and good to look at, though we were both a little underwhelmed at the scale (and the level of detail on the audio tour). I think we are victims of the “Gladiator” film. We both expected it to be a whole lot bigger, plus you don’t get to go around the “basement” – the most interesting part in my opinion.
After that we carried on on our “happy fun bus”, as I called it. Saw lots of sights. Too cretinous to name them I’m afraid. Lots of fountains and statues. All very impressive, but being Londoners a lot of it is “same same” – at least with the lesser fountains and statues. Then we headed up to the Vatican City to “chance it”. You can’t go into the Cistine Chapel after 4pm and it was 3.10pm.
We queued and got to security to find only that, a) We were at the wrong place for the Cistine Chapel, and b) Kirstin, in the eyes of the holy, was dressed like a tart. No problem, we’ll do that tomorrow…
So next stop, St. Angel Castle . A huge place with 6 levels. Lots of learning and walking.
(A real one this time! – shoots through 4 people apparently)
(when you see the Victor Emmanuel Monument from this far you really appreciate how big it is and how they really meant to make an impression – it so does not come out on the pictures, but when you are there, you can really see it. Awesome, particularly with the winged horses and chariots – these guys were powerful!!)
By this stage we were totally knackered ( you have not seen the pictures of the other millions sights - Rome was not built in a day, and you can’t see it in a day). So we quit for a rest, swim, and drink. Followed by dinner at a lovely restaurant in the sticks.
The next morning (well, 10 am), we set off again, now fully experienced in the bus and train system. Top on our list was the Pantheon….
Then.. The Mouth of Truths (if you put your hand in and tell a lie you get your hand bitten off apparently)
(Her face tells a story…..in fact, I think she’s saying, “Rog, you’re such a dick”, hence she still has both hands… phew! – no need for me to wash the dishes yet)
Then we wandered (ok, walked about 3 miles) to find a “great example of Roman Baths”. Except they were closed for renovations. So we did this instead…
And finally went to check out the famous Trevi Fountain.
(The picture belies how many people come to see this fountain – clever framing ! )
I’ve glossed over Rome. It’s a few days later (we are currently on the Amalfi coast). But make no mistake. If someone were to ask me if Rome is worth visiting I’d not hesitate in saying that it is ESSENTIAL. The scale and quality of the architecture is unreal. It’s like being in a movie (thanks Gladiator!) . There is so much to see I think you’d need a 4 days at the minimum, and if you are religious, probably 2 weeks. To put it simply, you get put right in the middle of the Roman capital. Sounds obvious, but you have to experience it to understand. Pictures don’t do it justice. This is a city preserved. It makes London look young. And boy did the Romans make BIG statements. If you close your eyes (or blank your mind) for just a few moments, you are transported back 1000’s of years. It’s very easy to picture the Romans strolling up to the Forum in all their white garb, or down to the Colloseum, lives on the line, feasting, fighting, fornicating (well, most of the art and statues suggest that…). It really is a one-off.
We did intend to go back to the Vatican City the next day (Monday) but we’ve moved on. We’ll do it on the way back. We are now at…….well, near… Sorrento! 3 hours drive south.
I googled accommodation and booked a place called “villagio Neptuna” on the South coast of the Sorrento peninsular – just West of Positano . We are based here to go to Pompei, Salerno, and Sorrento. The website had lovely pictures of bungalows overlooking the sea etc.
When we arrived we were not disappointed, well, apart from the “bungalow” being tiny, and the sea being a long trek down. No worries though. The view is spectacular.
We settled in and decided to take the next day as a Chilling day”. With that in mind we drove back up the tortuously but fun winding road and grabbed loads of beer and prosseco (I bought rose by mistake – yeuch!), then headed down to the beach for a swim in the wonderfully clear and warm sea.
All was well in camp Nettuna , sitting on our balcony lapping up the sun, until 10pm. Then, without warning, a party started below us. No problem at 1st. Music, some Karaoke, and lots of cheering. Nice people we thought… The music carried on. Lots of speeches. Someone’s birthday we assumed. Then more music. Then it got loud. Really loud.
I’d spied the huge speaker stacks when we arrived, but being off-season now it was easy to think that they were for days gone by in August.
Cue – CHEESY music and SHOUTING by a crap DJ. Very European style. Very funny.
Midnight now. Not so funny, but still amusing.
2am now, not fracking funny. I wandered down to check the car was locked as there was a huge crowd down at the bar area, directly below us.
Now picture this. I’m walking down the stairs – like Cinderella entering the ballroom, disco lights everywhere, glitter ball, everyone dancing, many looking up to see who is arriving.
It’s all men.
That was the moment the penny dropped. I recalled the music from the night so far. BeeGees, Kylie, Queen, Justin Timberlake, “It’s raining men”…. GAAAAYYYYYYY!
Everyone was wearing large aviator sunglasses, tight white jeans and tiny t-shirts and either was hugging another man, or stroking their dog. No women whatsoever!
I tried to nonchalantly stroll to the car to check it was locked. That was the moment I realised we have the gayest car on earth. Mazda MX5.
The walk back was one of the toughest walks of my life. When I went up the stairs I cleared three at a time. That worried me. Was I making my butt look better by running???
Gayer than a handbag full of rainbows.
They quietened down at 6am.
9.30am – MUSICA! Grrrrr!
We asked the manager, “When does the party finish?”, bearing in mind it was Monday… his answer “Saturday”.
Ok, so we went out for a lovely anniversary dinner in the harbour , sitting over the sea – wonderful. Then on our return, we clocked the sign that we’d ignored for 24 hours…
Hmmm – seems we are booked for 5 nights in a gay resort.
Nothing wrong with that, but we’re not gay, and we like to sleep. Currently investigating alternative accommodation…
Update – Next day – They were having a cabaret last night. Much quieter, so we strolled down and grabbed two gay drinks (I had a Pina Colada).
If you can’t beat them…
Update: Next day!
We woke up this morning to the sound of constant helicopters overhead. It turned out the mountain above us was on fire! – The helis were flying a constant rota, diving down, dipping their buckets into the sea right below us, then flying over us to the mountain right above us, and dumping the water on the fire. Top entertainment.
We trundled off to Pompei today. When I say trundle, I mean “spanked it”. I’m really getting to enjoy the MX5 now. I’ve so far been a bit gentle with her as she’s got to last us and we can’t afford repairs on the go, but it’s Japanese built and all has been well so I’ve opened her up a bit. I have to say I’m very impressed, especially as it’s only the 1.6 model. I normally rev her to 4k rpm, but she red lines at 7k so I’ve been pushing on a bit and she really flies between 4 and 6k – a very “cammy” power surge. I managed to get the back end out properly today in Pompei going round a hair pin turn – hehe :- ) – I’m starting to understand why all the critics love the MX5.
Saying that, you have to be uber careful here. We’d been warned by two people in North Italy to be careful “down South”, and we’ve also be told no one stops at red lights. They were not kidding. The contrast between North and South is amazing. I no longer think the Northerners drive like Looney’s. The Southerners are totally insane. And don’t get me started on scooter drivers.
The red light thing is funny as hell. If you so much as slow down at a red light, everyone behind honks their horns. You just push on, checking you are not about to die. Seriously – I don’t know why they don’t just tear down the lights. The best way to describe South Italy driving is “Lawless”. That sums it up nicely. And the roads in Pompei – hmm – not roads – can’t describe them really. Just stone and rock.
Anyhows, getting back on subject – we didn’t actually go to Pompei to start with. On a recommendation from my Mother, we went to Herculaneum first – about 20 mins north of Pompei. We bought a ticket for both sites when we got there. Mum told me Herculaneum is far better than Pompei, being more “complete” – you get a better feeling for it all. We’ll see….
(Side note, TomTom GPS sent us up a road that was so narrow we had to fold our mirrors in, and another that was for pedestrians only – it loves doing that)
..Back on track… Herculaneum…. At first sight – from above – you are not overwhelmed with excitement, it looks small. Big mistake! We paid for 2 hours parking. We should have paid for 4 hours. The place is amazing! – For those that know nothing about Roman History, Pompei, Herculaneum, and a few other sites near by are archaeological sites where Roman towns/cities got buried in volcanic ash and hence preserved almost perfectly…. Moving on….. I’m no history teacher….
When I say “preserved almost perfectly” – don’t forget these are places dating around 79AD – that’s 79 years after the death of Christ if I’m not mistaken! – It’s all too easy to be in Italy, then Rome etc and take roman ruins for granted and assume they are not so old. This is MEGA old. And the condition of Herculaneum beggars belief. It really does. I’ll let the pictures do the talking….
(That’s a wooden door, scorched by the heat of the volcanic ash)
(Look at the wall paintings – 79 AD!!!!!!)
(Baths / Steam Room floor – perfect condition!)
(We thought they were toilets at first, but we think storage pots now, still – made a good opportunity for posing)
Roman life frozen in time. Utterly incredible. We were blown away (again!) – so many pictures , so little space! I think I missed out on a lot of photos as we were so absorbed in it all.
We had a right laugh too. I accidentally farted in a very echoey room just as a large crowd of people were behind me walking out. I thought I’d got away with it when I noticed Kirstin was choking on her bottle of water. Really gurgling and trying not to drown on her drink. She was in hysterics. We both fell about for some time. I couldn’t compose myself to take a still photo for five minutes :- )
Thoroughly impressed we shot down to Pompei. The Big one!
(That’s Vesuvious behind – the reason Pompie and Herculanium are still here today – and the same reason everyone died a very unpleasant death)
Pompei is VERY different to Herculanium. Herculanium is compact and almost perfectly intact. Balconies, roofs, stairs, decoration, everything is there. Pompei is HUGE! But less intact. This is mainly because it was the victim of many an earthquake, before and after the volcanic eruption (someone was listening to their audio guide ;- ) plus ear wigging other people’s guides).
When I say it is huge, well, we are both sitting drinking beer with aching feet now. It really is a whole city. It’s no less fascinating than Herculaneum, but it is fascinating in a different way. It’s more about scale, and the fact it’s a whole city, with amphitheatres, courts, forums, baths, sports fields, schools, you name it. You get the lot.
If you visit Pompei and skip Herculaneum, you have missed out big time. I reckon both are a must. And do Herculaneum first. If you don’t, you’ll be knackered and think, “nope , can’t do more of the same” – huge mistake.
Again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Exploring this place beams you back in time…….
(note how the floor is scarred from the constant passage of chariots and other carts – you can see the ruts where their wheels went. The stones are for crossing the road – which would frequently be covered in filthy water and animal crap)
(Come on! – really amazing – a shop (I think))
(Something nerdy for you. Take a look at this picture – nothing remarkable – a normal picture, now look at the one below – it’s an HDR version where I mixed three varying exposures to reveal the true colours and shadow detail that the human eye can normally see but a camera cannot capture easily)
(Incredible difference – you get the mountains back, and all the colour. It makes the original look almost like a black and white; the colours are so washed out by the bright sun)
(I said it was big!)
(Something Kirstin fashioned for me as it got hotter)
(HDR again – p.s. I’m really learning now how to make them look less “artificial” and more natural)
(Walls in a Roman bath)
(A cast of someone who died in the city at the moment of the volcano eruption)
Utterly fascinating. A real treat. No walking tomorrow. No way!!! :- )
Update – It’s tomorrow – didn’t’ do any walking but boy did we drive!. We decided to go along the Amalfi Coast and check out Selerno at the end.
Amalfi Coast – yep very pretty, but not very accessible. One long twisty road that is constantly clogged up with coaches and very small beaches that are miles down. It’s one of those scenarios where every bit of flat land is gold dust as the coast is really a long cliff. TomTom said an hour to get to Selerno. It took three. Three very hot hours. We stopped half way at Amalfi for a beer.
Amalfi is not bad, but it’s a tourist resort, and as such, just didn’t impress us. That and 5 Euros for a beer….
Salerno – what a dump! – we drove along the coast, turned round, filled up with gas, had a MacDonalds, and drove back!
Saturday we are going to get up at Dawn’s crack and drive to Sicily. It’s about an hour and 20 mins to get off this peninsular, then another four or 5 hours to the ferry at the very bottom. Then another hour and a half to our final destination – near Mount Etna. Going to be a long day!
Oh – something popped into my head – trust me on this – watch “Battlestar Galactica” – the series. You can download it all if you are cheeky like me. It is by far and away the best television I have ever watched. I know, it sounds like sci-fi nerdy stuff, but trust me, it’s not. The “space” element is just a carrier for a truly fantastic story. Kirstin loves it just as much – and she’s a bird! So it can’t be just for nerds like me. It is NOTHING like Star Trek. You need to get the order right – it can be a bit confusing. Start with the pilot mini series, about 6 episodes from memory. There may also be a 2 part mini-film. Then hit series 1. Then carry on through to 4 – the currently showing series. There is also a mini-film called “razor” which fits in after series 3 I think. Just google “Battlestar Galactica episode guide” – you’ll find a site called something like TV Listings, or Episode Guide.com – it lists all the episodes of everything you can think of, and lists them in order. By far and away the best TV – better than the Soppranos, better than Spaced (well, almost ;- ) ), better than 24 by a long way. And far better than Lost.
A guy who mended my PC in France noticed my “Lost” episodes on my computer and mentioned how cool the latest series is and when I told him Battlestar Galactica is beter he looked at me like I was a Trekky. So you’ve been told!!!