2nd February to 6th February 2003
£79 for the flight 286 euros for the hotel plus spending money [euros and credit card] meant plastic bending par excellence! Plus airport parking totting up the bill… but I evidently needed to treat myself.
Booked flight a week before departure via special offer in Sunday Times then frantically surfed the internet for a reasonable hotel. Over concern with reports of muggings and pickpockets made me choose a quiet place near the Vatican. The Pope and Sts Peter and Paul could keep an eye on me I figured.
Sunday 2nd Feb
Arrived early at Gatwick Airport and went for Mass in North Terminal chapel. First time in ages. Beautiful spring sunshine for my birthday made me feel very optimistic and I felt like sharing it with God. Sunshine and lots of compliments re my age from women and men, definitely good start. One of the girls who thought I looked “wonderful” even gave me a gratis bottle of Opium as a gift. Thought counting and all that.
Even the plane being delayed didn’t faze me. Cosmopolitan Italians are very easy on the eye. The men especially seem to have a freshness and vigour which probably comes from all that curiosity towards attractive women.
On the flight over I was seated next to a lively and charming young man with very little English who wanted to chat despite the difficulties.
Arrived at Fiumicino late but the taxi driver was waiting patiently. He was immaculate, his car even more so. Didn’t get to see much of the drive though as it had got quite dark by now.
Hotel Amalia, via Germanico – ten minutes walk from the Vatican. An odd little hotel. It looked like a city apartment block with an old-fashioned three-door wire-box lift, and a “restaurant” that only opened for the two hours of breakfast. No chance of a swift verre of something pleasant in the bar. But it was clean and the staff were professional.
Pity fatties in the shower though – my size eight felt quite cramped in it!
Before I’d even taken my bags upstairs, the chap in reception had booked me on some tours with the 3rd Feb a free day to get my bearings and explore. And boy did I explore! My feet were killing me at the end of the day and I had a five o’clock alarm call to get on the tour to Naples and Pompei.
But still on day one, the 2nd, I was starving and with no restaurant, it meant I had to brave the streets in the dark for a meal. The hotel chap suggested Insalata Ricci on via Ottaviono. Translation came through a Bangladeshi waiter, but it triggered off curiosity from an old gentleman sitting on my left. He was an American professor of astronomy on a six month study tour or something like that. A pleasant enough way to round off the day and the meal was okay.
Monday 3rd Feb
Started early with peculiar breakfast and then walk down to Vatican. Sun sharp and bright although cold. Stood in St Peter’ Square saying hello to all the holy chaps etched against the blue sky. It felt so comfortable that I must have stood there for fifteen minutes before walking into the Vatican – firstly the wrong way and then having to walk all the way to the other side to be frisked before being allowed entry.
Had a few brief minutes of spiritual peace and “inner weeping with divine pleasure” before hordes of Japanese descended. It must be awful visiting the Vatican at the height of the tourist season if spiritual connection is what you seek.
Luckily I did manage to get to some places on my own – like the Museum Treasury. Highly recommended. Amazing amounts of gold, jewels, fantastically ornate candelabra with highly-decorated stems like those images on the sides of Indian temples, except not pornographic. Except of course the Bernini columns on the High Altar with Julia Farnese’s face in repose to orgasm and back and the Barbieri bees as her naughty bits. Peter whatever-his-name told us this when we went to Rome in the 70s. Then, the guards kept us away from the columns. This time, I could touch them unhindered if I wished. I didn’t.
Anyway more of the Museum Treasury – papal rings the size of my bracelets. God they must have been real porkers for those to fit. Massive crystals on equally massive crucifixes and yet more frippery. It probably all weighs a ton so no wonder it is all stored in a very darkened series of rooms. 5 euros entry by the way.
Didn’t do Sistine Chapel or other museums.
Really felt JP2’s vibes. Or God saying hello through him. I have never felt anything from Il Papa before even though I think he’s a lovely, kindly old chap and radiates goodness. Today, though, it was as if he was with me.
Eating in Rome is annoying. Even without the no-no of wheat and dairy, restuarants in that quarter at least didn’t open till 13:00 hours with only standing cafes or eating on the hoof available before. As my feet were sore even by lunchtime, I wanted to sit. Anyway the standing cafes only sold things like pizza. Finally found one after one o’clock that did “English Breakfast” which I had a vegeterian version of, but was so hungry I ate the toast and butter too. And suffered with bloat and poor bowel movements for the rest of the trip.
Explaining my fingers/hand, don’t like Italian word for broken. Sounds like rotten.
Took the Metro to Colosseo. Said never again to Roman tube travel. Filthy and cramped with graffiti everywhere.
The Colisseum – what a disappointment. Saw only one cat but the place had no atmosphere despite the maze of passageways below [which we couldn’t wander down into].
I like the stones to talk to me – Christian martyrs…. gladiatorial combat…. but nothing. Perhaps the spirits of all those lost souls had disappeared into the feral cats who in turn had pissed off somewhere more appetising to them. I was so disappointed, I left quite early despite paying my 8 euros to stay all day if I wished.
Walked up the via del Corso – freebie Rome – with stones that DID talk on both sides of the road. Remains of Imperial Rome with the Foro Imperiali, Foro Romano, Piazza Colonna, the Trevi [didn’t like that either].
Pitstop for aching feet at Cafe Canova [yes the 3 Graces chap]. Had a salad and a glass of wine. Moved on when young English couple came and sat next to me [in empty restaurant] and started talking v loudly and the woman ate even louder. Yes I glared but the dopey bird didn’t notice.
Those four small meals meant I skipped dinner and retired to bed with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water – and some half-cooked chestnuts.
Beggars here are more dramatic, kneeling in prayer, arms outstretched for alms. I prayed that God would give them drive and light for something a little more soul-enhancing.
Italian men have a wondrous curiosity towards females. It was pleasantly charming to see them stop mid-conversation and look, absorb the face with a smile and then simply move on. Nothing threatening. [BTW I wore the scar plaster on my nose the entire trip – so that might have had something to do with it!]
Sleepy now. Up at 5am for Naples.
8:30pm awake again. Don’t know how I slept so soundly last night as it was freezing and presumably as noisy as it is right now. Chattering voices, traffic and trams. The trams sound like Vesuvius rumbling. All loud. Very loud. And now I’m hungry-ish too. However, after affects of walking all day means I am not shifting from prone in this warm bed.
Surprised by total lack of vibes with Colosseum – especially after Gladiator. Lower corridors v impressive in detail but zero atmosphere. Said prayer for repose of souls of martyrs et al.
Amazing how many body parts can ache from several hours of walking. Think Inner God must be tired too as can’t feel any great spiritual stirrings.
Been thinking of T. and praying that the power of the Vatican’s energy will make me right…… Australia? Farmer?
Miss the Mother. Well ringing and haranguing her probably. Hope and pray she’s alright.
Difficult to work out what God’s Will is for me in a foreign place while in tourist mode.
Tuesday 4th Feb (writing en route)
7:15am on coach ready for Naples/Pompeii day trip. Horribly early start with alarm call at 5am. Irritation at no coffee facilities in room but nice man preparing the room made me one.
Perilous descent downstairs (the stairs were marble and rather steep and winding with no handrail).
Interim minibus takes us to Greenline where we change coaches and get two guides. Hordes of young Japanese girls but they are off to Capri, changing at Naples where we pick up another, local, guide.
Couple smoking heavily on coach south. Don’t fancy three hours of polluted atmosphere so ask Monika, the main guide, if they would kindly stop. They do and we speak a little later. They are Brazilians who have checked their daughter into university in Switzerland and are touring Europe before returning home. They are charming but total chain smokers so the coachtrips must be hell.
Still immensely tired in part because I haven’t eaten anything since 6pm last night. Three quarters of an hour till coffee break. Evidently breatharianism isn’t for me!
I’m also not cut out to be a travel writer! The scenery for the last gazillion hours has been mind-numbingly boring. Motorways spliced through not particularly life-enhancing scenery. Same the world over. And it’s pissing down with rain. Okay in the UK. Mark you these snapshots aren’t meant to be travel writing. Just a log of the holiday predominantly for Ma as she likes to know these things.
Monica – the coach guide – keeps telling us of all these special places as if we are about to be within spitting distance and invariably they are unviewable and hidden behind some particularly nasty looking industrial site. For example Caserta some large and famous palace. You’d need infrared specs and bionic vision to spot it on a sunny day let alone through storm clouds.
But then suddenly the rain eases and there is space. Lots of it. Piedmont to the right, snow-covered mountains. Olive trees. And SUN! And this space. Yet all these bods want to come to cramped, crowded England. South East England at that. So many of them are country workers anyway… Would I stay to try and rebuild a poverty-stricken England? I hope so. I believe so. Mark you the way this Government(?) is carrying on we may well have an imploded benefits system and then what would happen?
Nearly half way there. Middle of nowhere-ish and old fridges and tyres are littered by the roadside. I wish I had stuck to my teen ambition of being multi-lingual. Of course it’s not too late to learn but without regularity of conversation it would be difficult.
A very exotic garden centre. More bare olive trees looking like they are doing Imelda’s spider dance en masse. Capua 1km. Isn’t that some saint’s territory? Italy has so many works of art in the wild as opposed to being in a museum. I find that remarkably civilising.
Sleeping dragons on left as we approach Caserta. Largest palace next to Versailles and now a museum. No, I can’t see it. The Japanese guide, Yoshika, is giving me brain ache with her high-pitched and VERY fast gabbling.
Odd to have a big palace in such an ugly place. Looks like a mix of industrial estate, council housing and building works.
Pitstop. I have eaten (some unhealthy chocolate wafers), the sun is shining and the Brazilians are friendly. What is it with eating in non-UK places which creates such malodorous bowel movements? And their loos have such strange positioning you are practically sitting on your own stool. Gross.
A glimpse of the ancient Appian Way. Now that looks more like it. Rome to Capua and Brindisi. Just the words conjure up the apostles on their travels. Wonderful biblical resonance. She’s telling us now of Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. We can see Naples now. Nice vibes but not a pretty place. Stepped green hills a small bright spot under the original cluttered spaghetti junction and a half.
Italians like their fur coats. I’m wearing my best La Redoute fake fur.
Ah the nice vibes were because of the tropicality of the location. Must remind me of baby years in Ceylon or something. But it is all STILL ugly although even ugliness can be attractive. Masses and masses of apartment blocks and blocks is the operative word. She’s harping on about Vesuvius again so I think we are almost peeking into the crater but in all the time there I saw nothing at all.
Grey sea and photo stop for bay of Naples. Everyone hikes out to capture it on film but I’ve seen better at Littlehampton – alright not quite. This is on the hill and perhaps if it weren’t so grey it would look spectacular. Unfortunate for the bods who own the houses below. Not much privacy.
10:50am VERY out of breath local guide, Gennaro, arrives. Traffic accident held him up. He valiantly ploughs into his pitch, gasping for breath so we don’t miss his little tidbits. Such as they are.
We head into the flashier part of Napoli where Caruso used to hang out. “Egg” castle built by Normans. Palace in front, red, looks like Dartmoor prison.
New style me deciding to be relaxed and see what happens with the day. If I like Pompeii a lot I can always come back. Gennaro is locked into boring detail and I am fascinated with a motorcyclist watching his leather gloves blowing away in the wind and the carabinieri copping another motorcyclist. Gennaro still struggling to tell us anything interesting about Naples (“here is the oldest coffee shop” “here is a covered meeting place or arcade”, “next castle, beautiful marble arch of Alphonse of Aragon”). Maybe it’s him, or the route he is taking because my guide book is quite interesting.
I think if you really want to see or experience a place you have to do it by yourself. So far, it has been a drive by coach and a below par lunch with even less spectacular guiding. Actually Monica’s guiding skills stimulated the imagination. We just couldn’t actually SEE anything.
Wanted a glass of wine to lift the meal but it came by bottle. The American couple who had been asking me questions about Rome ordered one but did not even offer a taste. The Japanese girls were also asking me questions but were very sweet.
16:49 Nearly two and a half hours later and I am STILL soaked. Tunisia all over again. Cold winds and hailstones terminated the visit to Pompeii although I did manage to see what I wanted. It was peaceful and enjoyable, and definitely worth a trip in sunshine, but now I’m cold and starving and taking a long time to dry out. To make matters worse a creep has joined the trip back and keeps staring at me, but as I write this he has thankfully gone to sleep.
Although there were some delightful surprises at Pompeii like the groves and large private houses I felt antiqued-out after about an hour. Anyway the “spirits” were quiet. Obviously all at peace. Gennaro told me I was a romantic and an idealist because I didn’t want to follow the tour.
Before the hailstones crashed down, I spotted a coral shop where I wanted to buy something for Sarah and Richard. Coral is a symbol for a long and happy marriage. But it was enormously expensive. Even something practically invisible was nearly £30.
Hope Ostia tomorrow is dry – and not cold!
All I seem to think about is food. Unsurprisingly since it has been vile so far. Tonight I am planning to have a chinese.
Wednesday 5th Feb
9o/c in bed scrubbed clean but still aching from all that walking around. Unfortunately also very bloated from eating wrong things. Example: utterly delicious poached salmon with brandy sauce at lunch. I now look pregnant and feel constipated waiting for it to swim to pastures new. Despite thanking it (the salmon) for the oils and proteins it was giving to my hands!
Yesterday it was “see Naples and die” – and it very nearly took me off with boredom. Pompeii started well but finished with a wet battering from golfball sized hailstones. Even this morning my hat and coat were still wet.
I was so fed up with the poor guiding and horrible coach trip that I cancelled todays two trips to Ostia and the catacombs. I slept heavily and then decided to do my own tour of the catacombs despite Antonio in reception telling me I wouldn’t be able to.
Got on the nearest Metro to hotel but made mistake of getting off at Re di Roma and found neither buses nor taxis. Trambus guy said to get back on Metro and then off at Colli Albino(?) and take bus. But when I couldn’t get the ticket the Metro lady came out to help me and in best English said to get off at St Giovanni and then take the 218 bus direct to Sts Callisto and Domitilla. This was confirmed by another chap on the Metro who also spoke good English. They all seemed to think I was mad. But I found it. The 218 bus stop was opposite a rather splendid church – there are LOADS of them in Rome but they all seem rather wonderful with massive statues peering over the ramparts.
The only pressure point was that the ticket I bought worked for tube and bus WITHIN 75 minutes of purchase. So if the transport was anything like in the UK you’d be stuck.
The bus drive was more as I like it, traversing the Roman end of the via Appia Antico and once again it felt historical and biblical and transported me out of the 21st century. Actually I almost missed getting off.
Arrived at St Callisto to find it closed (on Wednesdays) and crossed my fingers as I walked half a mile up to road to St Domitilla’s. Thank God it was open. I skipped her house and went into the labyrinthe below – with a guide. Very spooky and moving. Even though it was unlikely that Christians sheltered there, there were fish mosaics and Christ symbols to be found. As one descended, there was a reasonably-sized chapel where Mass is held. Further into the catacombs were more altars where services apparently are held as well. I was lucky having the guide all to myself and we chatted about all sorts of things which gave me a fuller picture.
I would definitely recommend both the Vatican and the Catacombs as individual day trips to chill and absorb the atmosphere. I couldn’t get round to all the sights around the Appian Way like the Quo Vadis church because there just wasn’t the time.
Decided on a taxi back into the centre and fortuitously a taxi was just dropping off some chap. The route he took me back along was also wonderful and I was severely miffed with myself for the wet day in Pompeii when I could have explored so much more of Rome. Unfortunately the Catacombs is the complete opposite end from the Vatican. However should I go back I will probably stay in a hotel nearer to the via Appia Antico next time.
Taxi dropped me off at the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps). Not at all sure what the charm is, and I exited almost as quickly as I arrived. Ditto Fontana di Trevi the other day. Yet leaving the Piazza, I walked past a most beautiful fountain set into a private courtyard – except I didn’t know and wandered in to admire it. The guards came out to warn me off but then changed their minds and said to please browse. I told them I thought it was very beautiful and – oh those Italians – he said I was the beautiful one.
I came out to Rome on the spur of the moment for a cultural and spiritual lift but have had the added benefit of feeling very attractive.
Pootled round shopping, leather gloves for my battered hand, mint tea in the Grand Plaza something or other, then that wonderful salmon lunch at a charming place in della Croce.
Then headed back over Cavour, along the Castel Sant’Angelo and back to the Vatican to say hello again. As I walked into St Peter’s Square, I tried to tune into the Pope to say sorry for missing his blessing that morning but that I took it anyway… and I swear to God I got an instant reply in my gut and in the immediate tears in my eyes as I said “Hello Pope-y”. I know it doesn’t sound dignified but evidently he or God flowing through him didn’t mind at all.
Went into the private prayer chapel for a quiet word or two and Benediction was starting half an hour later, so I waited and joined in. More Catholic ritual in three days than in the last 37 years! But enjoyable.
And that Motherkins is all I wrote of Rome.