After the rest day, it was time for another trip day! We were heading to Rome and, if we had learnt one thing in the last 4 days, it was that trying to take a car into the centre of an Italian village was hard, town a nightmare but a major city was tantamount to suicide in a hire car. We drove down to Latina train station and bought our tickets for the big train to Rome which were only €2 each way for the kids and €4 for the adults. It wasn’t like a British train station where there is always a pretty decent drop down to the tracks from the platform, just enough to put off pretty much everyone apart from sprightly types from running over the tracks. The drop was no more than twenty centimetres and it was most tempting if you found yourself on the wrong platform to just run for it.
One thing that was more like a British train experience was that no one seemed to know where the train was coming from and which platform we had to be on to get it when it did. My brother played a blinder though and tracked down the train on a totally different platform to the one that was being displayed on the boards and we ran like the Brummy family on the Fast Show to get on board just in time before it left. It was air conditioned, spacious and clean and we sped through the Italian countryside and arrived in what seemed like no time at all.
As we made our way off the platform and onto the concourse, we were accosted by a man trying to sell us hop on hop off bus tours. I made the mistake of talking to him nicely and telling him that we would think about his offer and that was it, he was on to me. I managed to get the price cut massively from his starting point but it was still a huge amount of money for a day saver ticket. We ran off and left him behind and started walking towards the colosseum. It soon became apparent that the cost saving idea of walking was not the best plan in the heat and bustle of the city centre. We were going to spend the rest of the day walking and topping up with bottles of water at this rate so we jumped onto the underground instead.
For €7 per day per person we could travel all day and this turned out to be the best decision of the week! We got off just next to the Colosseum and made our way towards the throbbing lump of humanity that had gathered outside. It was carnage and trying to keep a group of seven together while making your way through the crowd was tricky. Essentially, you had three options;
1) Pay on the door as general punters without a tour guide and wait for 90 minutes in the queue.
2) Pay for a tour guide and jump the queue.
3) Go home.
Three wasn’t an option, we had tried one at Pompeii and had learnt our lesson and so we went for option two. The only problem was picking the next option of tours. We chatted to a guy who assured us that they were going inside in the next 5 minutes, so we had to hurry and make a decision. We were still bartering 10 minutes later and having agreed a price, we still waited another 15 minutes. While we waited, we had many people offering to sell us ice cold water (essential), some sun hats (not so essential), selfie sticks (not needed at all, ever) and parasols. I made friends with a guy selling water, offering to sell him my empty bottle of water and my portable charging unit, it was way better than the ones he was selling, but he wasn’t having any of it, but it was good banter none the less.
Eventually, they had sold enough tickets for our little group and so we made our way inside and it was everything that I hoped it would be. The guide talked over the history and explained the architecture and history came alive in front of us. The scalewas amazing and the detail and thought behind the structure was incredible. It was hard to believe that so much effort had been put into putting on such huge productions with moving scenery coming up and down from the bowels of the stadium on trap doors using pulleys and hoists. The ingenuity mixed with the brutality and bloodlust for the animals and humans being slaughtered was quite a contrast.
We (Titchy and Itchy) had an amazing time and the tickets covered a tour of the Forum outside later in the day. The instructions on where to pick up that tour guide were so complex and we were so hungry by this stage that we skipped it and decided to head for lunch instead. We walked just over the road to the Via dei Santi Quattro and walked into a pizza place that had the feel of a Bavarian beer cellar. The kids were very excited at the prospect of a Nutella pizza and so they were massively disappointed when they got exactly what that said it would be and were not remotely fulfilled. As we walked back towards the centre, around the edge of the Colosseum, there was a bit of a commotion. Someone had obviously spotted undercover police were making their way to check the street vendors and there were a series of whistles followed by about a dozen guys sprinting while holding a collection of hats and cheap electric tat that would catch fire if used more than once. Despite most of the guys being about 50 but looking 60, I don’t think the police caught one of them as they were too busy trying to look cool!
Fed and watered we walked back into Rome and wandered through the streets looking for the next amazing thing to see. We made our way to the Trevi fountain and I was more conscious than ever of bag theft and pick pockets. There was a lot of people crammed into a very small area all focused on getting the best view and a photo. The two youngest members of our clan, both lads, decided that standing NEXT to the Trevi fountain wasn’t going to do it for them and so they decided to hang off the side of it which brought a lot of whistle blowing and hand waving from the best dressed security man I had ever seen. I think it was a Gucci hat and tie combination but I may have been mistaken.
We were making great progress ticking off the must see things and the next spot, essential for an 11 year old boy, was the AS Roma club shop. He loved the home strip and was about to buy it when the lady assistant pointed out that he was buying the adult female strip. Bright red and shamed, he was handed the boys version and admitted that it did fit a little better! It was astronomically expensive but he hasn’t taken it off since so using the €-per-wears co-efficient, it has turned out to be great value.
Drained of cash, we made our way to the Pantheon and wandered straight in to marvel at the building and the number of idiots with selfie sticks, or vanity poles as I like to call them. Someone had upset someone by standing in the wrong area or carrying the wrong things and they were forcibly ejected by security. All exciting times. Having looked at the big hole in the ceiling (it was meant to be there, it wasn’t a dodgy plasterer), we were starving so headed out to find somewhere for tea.
We walked through the Piazza Navona and spent some time looking in a toy shop that had a weird combination of hideously expensive soft toys and figures of military dictators from around the globe. Possibly the most niche shop I have ever been in, but all part of the fun.
We couldn’t take any more pizza and pasta and asked the kids what they fancied to eat. Before they could answer, as we walked around the corner we were right outside of a McDonalds and that was it, deal done. That’s right. We went all the way to Rome and ate McDonalds. Classy. The food was exactly as it was everywhere else on the planet but the Wi-Fi was useful and the kids were happy and that’s all that matters after another day of culture for them to endure.
It was getting towards early evening by this stage and we wanted to tick off one more thing, the Spanish Steps. My mum and brother headed off straight there but we took a detour to take in a view from the Pinto Umberto. A huge building on the other side of the river, which turned out to be the Bar Association of Rome, was a fantastic back drop and, as we watched the sun setting over the horizon we could see the Vatican City off in the background. We just stood on that bridge and watched life pass us by for a few minutes and it was quite perfect, in our own piece of heaven for just that moment.
It was a straight walk along the Via dei Condotti to the Spanish steps and it was obvious that we were not in the rough end of town. There were some seriously impressive apartments, expensive cars and every luxury brand shop that you could imagine. Some very serious looking people were walking about, dressed up to the nines and, more often than not, walking very angry looking tiny show dogs with them. I’m not sure I am cut out to be rich and serious, it looks like a lot of hard work.
I think the Spanish steps were my favourite spot in Rome. There are 135 steps, I counted them, leading up to a church at the top. I would say that 70% of these steps can’t be stepped on as people just sit on them and watch the world go by in the late evening warmth. Street vendors were trying to sell laser pens by shining them onto the crotches of oblivious passing tourists to the mirth of everyone on the steps.
As we were settling down a street vendor came over to Titchy and gave her a handful of roses which she accepted with a smile and blush as she assumed that she was taking part in an Italian romance as if there was a perfume advert being filmed in the area. The guy then turned to me and asked me for €40. What sort of man would ask his lady to hand back roses that made her so happy in such a beautiful place? It was very nearly me, but I managed to barter him down to €20 and we had a deal. The result was a happy partner, a happy mum and a happy daughter who each got a rose out of the deal.
A Gucci clad security guard blew his whistle and waved his pristine, pressed white gloves at anyone daring to eat or drink on the steps or sit on the decorated stone carvings alongside the steps.
I am pretty sure that British tourists that had been tooted at would have turned a deep shade of red and wandered off with their tail between their legs, but the Italians seemed to get a second wind out of it and sat with great indignity the second the security man turned his back, only to get a second toot on the whistle. This went on for two or three rounds before everyone got bored with it and moved on. People watching is great!
By this stage we were tired and decided to head for the underground and then to the train station to head home. We must have passed about four separate street performers as we made the journey to the train, each of them playing Despacito on whatever it was that they were playing. We jumped on the train, which was clean, cool and perfectly comfortable and chatted all the way home (those that were still awake). It had been great, like a walk through history but such great memories were made. We picked up the cars and made the short drive up the side of our mountain home where we had just enough energy to give the cats a tiny cuddle before we fell into our beds exhausted.