I went to Rome a few days ago.
It was absolutely marvellous, the best holiday I’ve ever had and totally lived up to my expectations. I’d always thought that if I had just one place I could visit before I die, I’d choose Rome.
We took a taxi to Belfast International airport and stayed at the hotel there on Tuesday, Neither of us slept well. I suppose we were too excited and I was worried about sleeping in. But we didn’t and at 5.30 we were checked in and enjoying good coffee and croissants in the airport. It was funny to see how European we are in Belfast now. No-one was having the traditional fried breakfast; we were all sipping our lattes and cappuccinos instead! The flight was fine and we reached our hotel just after midday. It was wonderful; clean, modern, comfortable and just a few minutes walk from the Colosseum.
We had our 1st Italian meal at a café near the hotel and it was lovely. Then we went exploring. We took the metro then walked and walked and walked. We wanted to go to St Peter’s Square but started off in the wrong direction and went a long way off course. I was wearing flat boots; I wear them all the time and never had any problems. But after a while, my feet were really hurting. We reached the Vatican eventually and it was amazing to find myself standing somewhere that was so familiar. It was beautiful. We were too late to go into the basilica or the Vatican museums though.
It’s impossible to describe Rome adequately. There are beautiful churches, monuments, statues, fountains and 2000 year old buildings scattered in a big, chaotic, messy city. I kept seeing things and saying ‘Oh, Lady would love this!’
I’d been told about driving in Rome but was still unprepared for the reality. It is crazy! There doesn’t seem to be any system in place. And cars are parked anywhere it seems. We saw a car parked perpendicular to the pavement on top of a pedestrian crossing!
We returned to the hotel and I soaked my poor feet and washed off the city dirt before collapsing, exhausted on the bed. Gordon said he was far too tired to go out and wanted room service. No way! We were in Rome and we were not staying in a hotel room all evening. We rested a while then dressed up and went out to a fantastic fish restaurant on the same street as our hotel. It was a really fancy place with well-healed customers and friendly, helpful waitresses. Our food was wonderful, the wine was excellent and it cost a lot less than we expected! I was totally tipsy as I tottered back to the hotel.
We’d planned to get up early on Wednesday but neither of us woke until 10.30. It was the day of our 10th anniversary! Thankfully, they were serving breakfast until 11.30. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that! Then we went straight to the Vatican Museum. This time, I wore trainers! We’d decided that the 2 things we most wanted to see that day were the Sistine Chapel and inside the Colosseum. I think we were so lucky in many ways. We had perfect spring weather, sunny and warm. We didn’t have to queue for the museum and were just in time to join a guided tour. Our guide was a lovely Italian woman who’d been giving tours for 30 years and who was keen to share her enthusiasm and knowledge with us. I had assumed that the museum would have only Christian paintings and artefacts. That is not the case. It is a wonderful collection containing many ancient Roman sculptures and artefacts. It was humbling to think we were looking at the work of people from nearly 2000 years ago. Before we entered the Sistine Chapel, our guide used posters to describe what we were about to see, since talking is forbidden in the Chapel. She explained that it took Michelangelo 4 years to paint the ceiling fresco and he virtually lived on the scaffolding he’d had erected for all that time. He stood up to paint and wouldn’t let anyone else see it, locking the chapel door whenever he did leave. He also painted ‘The Last Judgment’; a mighty fresco covering a complete wall in the chapel. She told us how one of the cardinals used to criticise him every day about the number of nudes in the painting. Unlike most people from Tuscany, Michelangelo never said a word back. But when the painting was complete, he had painted the charcter of Minos, the Judge of Souls, complete with ass’s ears and with the cardinal’s face. What a riposte! He was a tortured genius, living on a different plane from other ordinary people.
The Raphael Rooms were another highlight. Another interesting thing the guide pointed out; in Raphael’s fresco ‘The School of Athens’ he depicts Michelangelo (as Heraclitus) sitting wearing a pair of boots that he apparently insisted on always wearing.
The tour ended at the door of the Sistine Chapel. It was magical. We wandered around for half an hour drinking it in then sat on the cardinals' bench in awe. We went out again and back to St Peter’s Square where we hoped to go into the basilica. There was a huge queue by then though so we left it and went back to the Colosseum instead. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see the ‘Pieta’ but I probably would have cried if I had.
We joined the last guided tour of the evening in the Colosseum and again it was amazing, wonderful, and awesome. After, we returned to our hotel close by since I was feeling cold by then. We went out for a meal that evening in the piazza by the Pantheon. There were loads of people sitting outside the cafes enjoying themselves and there was a really lovely happy atmosphere. We ate in a nice place, with gorgeous well-dressed waiters and again, wonderful food and wine. We walked back to the hotel; we had plenty of time. It was a great way to see the city illuminated at night. The next day we only had time for a great breakfast before going to the airport. The drive out was totally crazy. Our driver, a dapper middle-aged man, drove like an egotistical maniac, cutting people up constantly and overtaking, even at junctions. Ah well, we got there safely (by magic or something) and flew home. My Dad had driven our car with all the children to meet us at the airport. It was so nice to see them again. Duncan immediately asked for ‘shiny Jack’, the train I’d bought (without his knowledge) before I left so I wouldn’t be searching in Rome for Thomas trains. Daddy told me that they had all been great and there hadn’t been a single problem. He had been so impressed with Duncan. The children were happy to see us too. It was the perfect way to end the perfect holiday.