Rome- Day three. Pope, Pantheon, Pacis.

I saw the Pope!!

It was early morning on Easter Sunday, so we made our way to the centre of the Roman Catholic Church: the Vatican. The queues were immense, as you’d imagine, but we only had to wait half an hour before we were headed into the courtyard with another 20,000 onlookers. The rain (saint) petered down.. (sorry not sorry)… so the umbrellas were up and out which blocked the view a bit but I saw him!! Parked at the front, giving service, he had his arms held out ready to bless the crowd. Now I wouldn’t count myself as religious but suddenly I felt so peaceful being there. I think it might of had something to do with the collected faith in the courtyard that literally buzzed from the crowd as they watched their shepherd.

We had to move because of our tight schedule so we ran off to the Mausoleum of Augustus; by this point my jeans had turned into a couple of waterfalls, but I just embraced it. Because of the weather, Dani thought it would be a good idea to grab an ice cream (?) and we stopped off at the Magnum store where she got a crazy good personalised Magnum.

ara pacis

Walking on, we found the Ara Pacis, which was so much bigger than I thought it would be. It was a dedicatory altar to Pax which was commissioned after Augustus’ triumphs in Gaul and Hispania. Notes made, me and Anya spent the rest of the time running around the altar trying to find the hidden lizards, carved as signs of a good harvest (I found four). Next we stumbled to the Pantheon, where the rain fell through the middle creating an indoor puddle which was cordoned off. Every time I see the Pantheon I always think of how much effort they put into constructing something beautiful, all in the name of faith

pantheon

Later that night, Dani and I decided to take a late night stroll to grab some pizza, but we took a detour to the Colosseum and it was all lit up and looked so pretty! After dinner we grabbed some gelato and headed back to the Colosseum and took a couple snaps . The view was fantastic, but even at that time (11pm) there were still selfie-stick men lurking about- go home!

night colosseum

It rained all day, but we did so much- we went to bed on a belly full of pizza (again)

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Rome- Day two. Selfie sticks in the Colosseum.

We set off for the Forum Romanum, Palatine Hill and Colosseum with no breakfast and we didn’t eat until 2pm, so I think we lasted pretty well.

Cheeky tip- If you want to get the day pass for these three places, get your ticket from the Palatine Hill ticket booth- minimal queues! yay.

forum romanum

So, unknowingly, we started the day at the Forum Romanum- I have no idea how they managed to fit in so many temples and Domus’s and still have room for grassy areas. Despite all of the crowds it was easy to imagine walking around the Forum thousands of years ago weaving in and out of temples and relaxing in the sun. What really stood out for me was the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, placed near the centre of the Forum. This was where the Hearth of Rome was to be kept burning as long as the cult lived- a strong sign of commitment and faith.

As we move around, poor Dani kept getting new blisters on her feet because we walked A LOT and she wore the worst shoes: gold cross-strapped sandals from Primarni. We moved upwards to the Palatine Hill- no queues as the Forum is connected :D. We tried to grab some oranges from the trees in the gardens but all the good low-hanging ones were taken and our human ladder was a failure- note to self get there in early orange season. While trying to get a good pano of the Forum a seagull attacked me out of nowhere and apparently this was hilarious to hundreds of onlookers; red faced we moved on.

evil seagul

We left for lunch and let me tell you it is VERY expensive near the Colosseum, we did not stop walking up the main restaurant street till we reached an Italian Frankie and Bennies which had bruschetta which was bella. The rain hit us hard when we had finished, so seeing a new queue form near the Colosseum, we ran to it. Turns out it wasn’t a proper queue, whoops, but we got into the epic amphitheatre in just under 15 minutes! (We’ll just forget about the other angry tourists in the hour long queue). Walking around the Colosseum was an epic experience, I know that I visited it when I was 12, but I never really appreciated it- now I did. The marble steps for the Senate and the open roof made the place look surreal and touring the inside makes you realise the sheer amount of bodies would have filled up the basic stone steps. It was funny to think that a building so majestic was filled with thousands of tourists with modern selfie sticks- I was surprised that I didn’t see any fall into the ‘dressing rooms’ of the gladiators beneath.

colosseum queue

Going home, we stopped off at the supermarket so I could buy some and have a decent cuppa after a long day of being in awe.

Rome- Day one. Italians are so lovely.

I woke up at 3am to get ready and make my way to the airport.. the excitement was building!!

Me and Dani caught a taxi (thank you Dani’s mum for organising that) to the airport and two hours later we landed in Roma. Our next job was to make our way to the apartment in the outskirts of Rome via several trains. Now, this was not an easy task considering we both had 23KG suitcases in tow (mine about to burst) and it was understandable when Dani got stuck between the ticket barrier.. and then so did I two seconds later. The barriers clearly thought my suitcase was another full grown human being and just would NOT let it through! Despite this setback, it actually made us realise a very true fact: Italians are so bloody helpful. An old man saw me struggle with the barriers and he immediately rushed to help me and tried to pull the barriers back with his bare hands so I could fit through. When this didn’t work, another man came over and tried to swipe his own train pass to let me through (to no avail) before the older man managed to pull the barriers apart one final time, which worked!! Italians are so lovely.

The sun beat down while myself and Dani were winding through the streets of Rome, attempting to find our home for the next 10 days, following directions of many different Italians who we met along the way (Grazie!) We thought our journey was over when we finally reached the apartment, but no, we waited outside for an hour and a half for the landlord to drop the keys off, who had forgotten we were there- for god’s sake Claudio. I’ll add that we waited there so long that a local vender took pity on us and offered us his only chair so we could sit down. Italians are so lovely. It seemed like years later when Antonio (Claudio’s brother) arrived with the keys and told us he hadn’t yet cleaned the apartment- me and Dani did not care, we just wanted to lie down and take a nap. Antonio was so apologetic that he took us down to the local pizza shop and bought us a slice while he made the apartment presentable- after that me and Dani forgave him. Antonio also taught us some important phrases for when we were out and about: “boner ragazza” = “hot girl”. ps that pizza was bloody amazing, and our first taste of Rome!

With that sorted, me and Dani went out to explore our little part of town by touring the local ice cream shops and finding places to eat that night (obsessed with food much?). We found a small family run restaurant around the corner from our apartment where we ate dinner and shared a bottle of wine WHICH WE DESERVED after our ordeals that day. Heading back to the apartment the rest of our group had arrived and were waiting on the doorstep ready for me and Dani to let them in. They complained about waiting for 10 minutes- oh hell no, they did not know the pain.

Fed and content, we got into bed (a gorgeous antique style room by the way) and slept for about 10 years.

1st day

Skis, Spag Bol and Spiritual Scarring.

I was thirteen years old when I went on my first skiing trip. It was great, but it caused me to seriously question my mum’s cooking skills and from then on I have been very wary of spaghetti Bolognese (can’t even write those two words without gipping).

My mum, sister and step-dad all took a trip to Val d’Isere in the French alps. Before the trip my sister and I had taken only one skiing lesson where we learnt the basics. As soon as we arrived at the cabin we bought our rentals and swished onto the lift which would take us to the top of the mountain.

Now for this story to have any impact I’ll have to explain the slope difficulty key:

  • green- easy
  • blue- moderate
  • red- difficult
  • black- expert
  • off piste- uber brilliant, break you leg if you don’t know what you’re doing, slope

All four of us made our way to starting point and without knowing, my sister and I had been taken onto the blue slope. This might not seem like an issue, but imagine looking down to see a plain white vertical drop of death which we were told to battle our way down with hardly any skills to contend it with.. terrifying, right?

My mum and stepdad (skilled skiers) raced down and looked at us, daring us to make our move. We began; swerving and using snow-plough basically all the way down. By half-way I had managed to manoeuvre without much help but I noticed my sister was far behind. This moment, (I will never forget and even typing it down makes me laugh so much my stomach hurts) was the moment I can never let my sister forget and will always be my favourite anecdote. I couldn’t see my sister, but I could hear a far off whine which eventually became closer. As I listened, I suddenly saw a blur which raced past me and flew all the way to the bottom of the slope. When I realised it was my sister who had lost control, I was concerned.. for all of two seconds.. before thinking this was her finest moment. Don’t worry, she was fine, when she reached the bottom several fences caught her and there were no (major) injuries. When I reached her she was flustered and began to blame mum for not helping her much, but you have to admit the best parenting is by throwing you into the deep end. (Needless to say, my sister never came on another skiing holiday).

After two days, my sister and I had managed to find our extended feet (skis) and even began to embrace the challenge of a red run. By the third night in, we decided (as a family) to eat in and had spaghetti bolognese- delicious- and the right fuel for another long day on the slopes. The fourth night in (oh that fateful night) left us in the cabin again. Leftover spag bol was on the menu, and whilst mum and Damian wanted it with chillies in, me and my sister decided to have it plain. Heating our version in the microwave and cooking theirs in a pan meant two different cooking methods (the key to where this all went wrong). Filled with a decent dinner we headed to bed. A few hours later, something didn’t feel right… I managed to aim it in the toilet but my sister decided to make things a little more dramatic by creating a flowing waterfall down the stairs. Out of this I did manage to bagsie the double bed to ‘make me feel better’, meaning my mum and stepdad were banished to the single beds on the top floor (healthy people made me sick).

The next morning it was clear that me and my sister would not be joining in with the activities of the fifth day, and unbeknown to us we could only join in on the last (7th) day of the holiday. Those two days left me and my sister searching for anything to entertain us whilst our guardians were doing as the Romans do on our ‘family’ ski holiday. Looking through the dvd selection the cabin owners had left, my sister picked out Donnie Darko, a supposedly terrifying film about a rabbit ( I think). As a thirteen year old I didn’t really understand it but I knew when to act scared in front of my sister, as the music cued me in. After my sister was thouroughly scared ( I wasn’t ’cause I’m hard like that), she raced to the window as there was a cloud passing by. She immediately stuck her hand out and copying my sister, as I always did, I stuck mine out too. There was something great about that moment, even though I can’t pin down exactly what was so great about it. It was like me and my sister had gone through an ordeal together (yes I know sickness isn’t so bad, shut up), and out of it came a moment that was simple yet unique on our holiday.

The last day left us weak but I was determined not to waste my allotted time left at the resort. My sister branched off with my mum, leaving me and Damian, who told me about a great spot he’d found whilst me and Becky were up at the cabin. After a little hard work on a red route we veered to the right of the path and found ourselves surrounded by fir trees towering above us. The route was flat so all we could do was appreciate the scenery. Skiing on, we found a small waterfall which we jumped over, but when I tried to show off I lost control and fell which, apparently, was hilarious. After we had travelled halfway down the mountain we stopped off for some hot chocolate (for me) and gluvein (for the rents) and not forgetting Becky who probably had a cold drink (on a ski holiday? The weirdo).

It can be said that the holiday had its ups and downs (mainly down the stairs), but at least I now know to endlessly ask the mother ‘is it ok’ when she presents me with food- because that is the safest option.

Agen

dance

It almost feels effortless to soak up the culture in this small niche of a French town; everything from the wooden shutters to the local boulangerie screams rural paradise. I knew from the first morning that I could ease up here, by just collecting pastries and baguettes and stuttering whatever French I could to the baker. It seemed everyone in this town moved at a pace that they dictated, which was usually slow, that swept me along like the turtle current in Finding Nemo (children’s movie reference? I feel no shame). All I wanted to do was sit by the pool, try the fresh produce and let the sun do its work.

This desire soon wore off when I remembered the stacks of bikes which lined the walls of the out-house. The ride began with a big task; an uphill battle with none other than THE hill. It seemed a little daunting with rows of cows judging me as I struggled so obviously to reach the top. I can tell you that the moment I squeezed the brakes on at the summit gave me a feeling which I’d liken to winning the 100m race at the Olympics (because I definitely know what that’s like). After the hill of hell I felt I could relax, all that was in front of me was field after field probably growing whatever I had for breakfast that morning. The pleasant ride was soon met with what I can only describe as the smell of all of France’s sewers combined; I counted this as a good time to get fitter and peddle faster. I came up to a bridge which was shaded under giant trees and took a rest. Out in front I could see a cross roads so dusty and gravely it looked like it was a route was rarely taken. Back on my bike I crossed a deer farm and watched the new-borns either clumsily return to their mothers or curiously come closer to the two-legged viewer attached to two wheels. Arriving back at the house it took all I could to not jump straight into the alluringly cool pool without changing first.

pool

I’d heard of the weekly street parties which took place right outside of the town so I decided to take a look. I entered through a small alleyway to find it opened to a crowd of people who surrounded marquees of the local tastes; crepes, roast chicken and fresh vegetables to name a few. The atmosphere was very chilled with live music softly playing from behind the stone church. Wooden tables were lined together in a haphazard fashion with mix-matched chairs of all sizes. Everything and nothing seemed planned: it was a perfect example of rural life in its element. Beside me were paper plates filled to the edges with all sorts of food, and of course I had my own to account for. This was followed by a steady stream of people gathering inside of a small three-walled ‘shed’ to dance along to the music which was still going strong. One of my favourite moments of the trip was when a young French boy about 5 years old asked me to dance to which of course I said ‘oui’!

french dance

The next night my family and I had dinner on the top of the highest hill in sight at a quaint pizzeria. Fairy lights clung to the canopy which hung over the single wooden table made for twelve which dominated the back space outside. The pizza was good- stone baked with tomatoes that tasted like the sun- and eaten quickly. The night took a turn when we witnessed an amazing thunderstorm that seemed to appear from nowhere; at one point I could swear I saw 5 bolts shoot across the sky.

damian and mum

I was promised a typical rural French town and it did not disappoint.