Friday, June 07, 2013

When in Rome

In my seven years in Europe I've been to every country except five – Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Macedonia and Kosovo (the last two kind of being countries but not really). Well, make it six if you count Switzerland – although I did land there to catch a bus to go snowboarding in France.

But either way, the point is that I get around. So in all these travels, it’s astounding and shameful that I’ve never been to Rome. I’d like to say that I’ve been saving the best for last, but it’s more that I always knew I’d get there some day; all roads lead, etc, etc. 

Truth be told that my view of Rome has always been one that I've wanted to go to with someone special that I could enjoy it with. A place that you can go to lap up the culture, food, wine and general ambiance – not so much a travel destination but a holiday…so I went with 30 guys…and then went to see the Chemical Brothers.
Spanish step beverages?

We were off to Rome to play a game of Aussie Rules against an Italian team before I was shooting down to the Amalfi Coast for a bit of R and R; but first there were the sites and bars of one of the oldest cities in the world – and it didn't disappoint.

Armed with just a trusty pocket map and a few broken words of Italian, we ventured in to the night to fully hydrate and prepare ourselves for the next day’s game. After losing one man to a mugging, another to wayward taxi and a third to, well, we still have no idea where Charlie went, I vaguely recall a large square, what I think was an Irish pub and waking up with McDonalds in the room – not the food, wine and ambiance I was searching for.

Well maybe the wine.  

Day two was better spent exploring the city, where after two or three hours you get overawed with the amount of statues, plaques, monuments and general ‘look – old shit – take a photo’. There’s simply too much to see and do that you come up for air with what I would call the archaeological equivalent of the bends. If it wasn’t for the fact that we had to play a game of football the afternoon, I would still be wandering aimlessly around the Vatican laden down with plastic bobbing head Popes, Michelangelo’s David aprons and 17 memory cards full.

Now I’m going to skip past the football game as well as Chemical Brothers, because a) somethings you couldn’t be bothered knowing, b) somethings you need not know and c) somethings I don’t want to know.

With the weekend down Duffy was coming in to town for a few days in Rome before we headed down to the Amalfi Coast to soak up some sunshine and relaxation after a London winter that continues to go on like this blog. Sure, there’s a sunny spell here and there, but in general you simply suffer through it.

The rest of the time spent in Rome was a meandering tourist trail. However, given she had already visited a few years before and I’d been there for two days, it was a wander from site to site with visits to cafes, restaurants and bars. One may say that we ‘grazed our way around Rome’ – which is a very fitting way to do it. Which reminds me, if you are planning a trip to Rome: make sure you tell restaurant owners you know TripAdvisor - they damn well worship the thing. I even got hit up at a gellato store for a recommendation.

There are some cities in the world that offer themselves up for exploration. That you can just walk and walk and walk and never get sick of it. Prague is one, Berlin has it too. But I think Rome comes in to it's own. By the end of  the day I had blisters, Hobbit like feet and felt like I'd ingested 4 pounds of smog and dust, but I wanted to keep going. However there was more food and drink to be consumed and the night to explore - when in Rome!!

After a lengthy day and evening, we were basically being told to leave cafes and 'no - too much Limonchello for you' a good day was done. Besides, Duffy needed to teach the entire square around the corner from the Trevi Fountain 'Mr Blue Skies' at 1am, so no time to dawdle!

A couple of days of this and it was down to the Amalfi Coast on the Napoli fast train; and I did not know how excited one could get when a train approaches 250km per hour. Quite excited I found. Even more so when it does 300 on the way back. In joke.

Now the Amalfi Coast is a playground of the rich and famous. This is fine when it’s the off-season and things are less hectic, but the stigma is still there. For example, sitting at a hotel balcony bar perusing the extensive wine list, it’s with much embarrassment that you’re unsure if the large prices are bottle or glass and need to ask; but you push on. Or you end up buying 4 litres bottles of Chianti, limonchello and all accompanying processed meats and cheeses so you can eat them on your own balcony…

I'm unsure if seagulls needed to be tipped

I must also add, if you are heading to the Amalfi Coast, make sure you do some research in to your hotel. For example, I picked the hotel which had been listed as the one with the best gardens and pool. If I had read further I would have seen that the pool was shut until June!

So without a pool, you do get strange looks when lounging on the hotel patio in a bikini and swimming trunks, his and her obviously. Stranger still when there’s a sign above said balcony that clearly says ‘please wear appropriate clothes in public spaces’. I took it to mean no Speedoes.

Either way, if on does venture to the Amalfi coast, I’d suggest that Sorrento is by far the most interesting of the villages, with many of the others quite far out and not much happening. Plus, Sorrento is the base for going to two of the highlights for me: Pompeii and Capri.

I've personally wanted to go to Pompeii since I was 13 sitting in the back of Mr Neil’s Latin class giggling at the pictures of Roman women’s boobs in the text book, which was based around Pompeii. The streets, ruins, amphitheaters and even drains are so well preserved to can stand there and get an amazing sense of exactly how life would have looked in day to day Pompeii. 

The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern and was mostly destroyed and buried under 20 ft of ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The site was lost for about 1500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later. 
The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture and now provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the era. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person was in when they died.

And here you were thinking it was just a whiny song by Bastille.

Despite having a real passion for history and culture, as I said earlier…food and wine take over. So Capri for me was a great pick. Catching a ferry across to the island of Capri and navigating an uphill walk that one really should not indulge in on holiday, we arrives at the top of the Mediterranean paradise – to end up smack in the back of a pack of American tourists. Sensing my frustration (basically if I’m in a crowd or surrounded by slow people I get snappy) 

Duffy navigated us down some back streets until we hit the main shopping drag. Sensing this was a strange coincidence, it wasn't long until we stumbled upon the ‘celebrity hotel’ which Ryan Gosling surely has a room in, did I know I was duped. However, a short walk and we chanced – were pulled in to - the quintessential Italian restraint and served some of the most amazing food and wine, under a blazing sun. In all honesty, I can say that that lunch was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had. Not just the food, but the combination of everything made it, and Capri, the highlight of the trip. That and the carvings of women’s boobs in Pompeii which I giggled at.

And then there were these guys:

We found them on Trip Advisor of course....