Author: theangrypolemicist

Last day in Italy

Last day in Italy

It was a 2 hour drive plus checking in 2 hours before the flight plus I demanded 90 minutes extra for rush hour traffic around Rome and car hire return so it was a very early start.  We emptied the bins into the recycling bins in fear of losing a hefty deposit, took in the view from the mountain side one last time and said our final farewells to the cat club.

We didn’t get more than 500 meters down the road and, as we turned the corner, my two old lady friends jumped off their barrier and came running over to the car to say hello.  They stroked Titchy’s face and waved into the kids in the back of the car and smiled, waved and ‘bella’ was shouted more than a handful of times.   They then pulled out a gift bag from their shopping bag and handed it to me.  They had bought me a beautiful picture frame.  We said our good byes and waved them off.  I watched them in the mirror with my eyes filling up as they got smaller and we made our way home.  I was broken.  To have had such an impact in such a short frame of time with no common language, it was so moving.  As I type this I am welling up just thinking about it and when I sit on the Metro coming into work on a cold morning I think about those two lovely ladies sitting, chatting and laughing on the side of that mountain and everything is fine again.

 

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As we got to the outskirts of Rome, the traffic backed right up to a stop and I had never been so happy to have built in a buffer for travel times.  In true Italian fashion, some people decided that the hard shoulder would be a great alternative to waiting patiently.  Peak Italy.  Eventually, as suddenly as the traffic came to a stop, it all started again and off we went.  The directions from the sat nav were excellent and we got back no problem at all, the only problem being the total lack of petrol station for the 10 miles prior to the airport.  It was as if the airport car rental companies had a deal with the oil companies to stop cars being returned with full tanks and so they pick up the penalties. Literally 100 meters outside the airport was a petrol station, but I missed it on the way in so had to turn and go back and fill up on the way out and then drive to the next motorway junction and come back.  All the while the clock was ticking.

Once again, facing the right direction, we were back in the airport and looking for the right multi story car park for our hire company.  Helpfully we had nothing from the hire company to tell us which car park we should be in and the signs that they had outside the car parks has about 40 companies listed on them all in signs the size of a box of matches.  With a choice of two car parks to pick from yes, you’re right, we picked the wrong one and had to get out and do another lap.  I have never been happier to have a 90 minute buffer in my plans as we walked into the check in desks exactly, to the second, at the perfect time.

We checked the bags in only be told that the flight had been delayed for 1 hour 55 minutes due to technical difficulties.  Typical. I mentioned to the lady on the counter that that was a very precise delay time, very exact, and asked if we could get vouchers for food or drink for the delay.  ‘Oh no’ she said, ‘that only happens after two hours’.  It all made sense now.  We took our time getting through customs and security and then wandered through the shops and had a drink before playing the best airport game that there is.  Can you spend your loose change exactly without needing to carry any coins home?  I looked in the Vatican shop, I’m not even kidding, and there was nothing in there that you could buy with loose change.  It felt like the perfect mix of religion and capitalism.

Eventually we were allocated our gate and made our way to what seemed like the other side of Rome to get there.  As we walked through the terminal, I heard a weird noise from the bottom of the escalator, a yelp.  I looked up to see an old lady starting to overbalance backwards and, almost in slow motion, topple over.  The motion of the escalator going up and gravity pushing her down meant that she was starting to roll down the metal steps like a piece of dough in a food mixer.  I dropped my bag and rushed in to hold her up and stop the falling.  I was now about half way up the escalator and was reassuring her that I had hold of her and wouldn’t drop her while frantically trying to work out how the heck I would get her back on her feet before she got dragged into the steps at the top as I couldn’t lift her dead weight.

Luckily my brother was sharp enough to hit the emergency stop button and give us the chance to take a moment.  We got the lady up on her feet, I still have no idea what language she was speaking, but she was in tears and her shirt was covered in grease from the mechanism and blood was showing through the white fabric.  Nothing serious, but she was in a right state.  I helped her over to the seats and made sure that she was comfortable before leaving her in the hands of the security man that had been alerted by the emergency stop.  As the doors of our train to the next terminal closed, the lady looked up and I got a thumbs up from her.  It was only then that my little boy asked why she was carrying a large picture frame with her and does that mean that she was an art thief.

It was an exciting end to a perfect holiday.  I couldn’t recommend Italy highly enough for a family holiday, it was everything that we had hoped it would be and a little bit more.

Day 7 – Italy

Day 7 – Italy

This was it, already, our last full day.  It always feels like the hardest day of the holiday as you feel like you have to make the most of it whilst simultaneously preparing to pack up and go home!  I decided to start the day with a bang and went for a run before breakfast.  I did a slightly longer route around town and ran past my two old supporters who were there cheering me on.  When I saw how happy their little faces were I could have cried, they patted the concrete barrier at the side of the road they were sitting on and asked me to sit with them and chat.  Well, I think that’s what they meant any way, it was impossible to tell.  I showed them photographs of my family, my home, my cats, my life and they reacted with smiles and ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Bellissimo’ and pats on my knee and rubbed my cheeks.  I asked them to come and stay with me in Newcastle and they laughed and smiled.  Without being able to speak a word of Italian or them English, we had managed to connect and touch each other.  It was a wonderful feeling and a memory I will not easily forget.  I took a selfie and jogged off down the hill with them cheering and clapping my departure as if I was finishing in the Olympics.

The kids wanted another rest day but that wasn’t going to happen.  We agreed to swimming and relaxing but at the beach in Latino rather than our pool and so, once again, we headed down to the flatlands below.  It looked to be ‘just there’ as we looked off the veranda, but it was a good 30 minute drive.  As we looked from the veranda there was one building that stood out a mile as it must have been 40 floors high while everything else around it was no more than 4 or 5 even in the centre of town.  I couldn’t leave Italy and not know what this was!  It wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped, it was just a residential building called Torre Pontina.  Why they needed to build houses in the sky when there was so much land below that was untouched will forever be a mystery to me.

With a car full of confused faces, four wondering why we had stopped to take a look at the front door of a tower block and one because I couldn’t work out what they had built it for, we pressed on to the beach.  Before we dipped our toes we popped into what looked like a hotel canteen for a spot of lunch.  It was as bland as could be, after the good food we had enjoyed all week it felt like a microwave meal, but we were filled and that was all that mattered.  We headed on up the stony beach to find a quieter spot in view of the car and jumped in.  The sea was warm with gentle waves lapping on the shore.  You reached a deep spot about 10 meters out and then about 20 meters out you were back up to ankle depth on a sand bank before the sea slowly sloped off…the next land probably being Corsica which I had no intention of plodging out to.

As we came out of the sea a group of lads were playing football and acting like young men do, showing off, being loud and posing for any women that were on the beach giving them sideways glances to see if their efforts to look manly were paying off.  The only eye that these boys seemed to catch was that of an older gentleman that seemed to be suggesting they should move on and let people enjoy their day at the coast without being bothered.  At one point, one of the lads kicked a ball to his mate but it was flying at great pace towards us.  Instinct took over and I raised my foot up, took the pace off the ball and brought it under control perfectly at my feet. I am not sure who was more surprised, me that I had controlled a football or them that this old English guy had the moves still!

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We stopped for an ice cream and a coffee before heading home and the guy that owned the cafe had a son that owned a restaurant just outside of York so we chatted and I tried his own invention which was, effectively, a Mr Slushi laced with espresso coffee.  An ice cold slap followed by a caffeine bang and wallop.  I am not sure if it will take off or not but he can use that in his adverts if he likes.

We had an early start in the morning, with my desire for getting to airports and stations in good time we wouldn’t have any time to think never mind play in the pool.  We washed the sea salt off with chlorinated water and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing by the pool throwing fallen lemons at each other in the pool and letting the sun kiss us for one last time.WhatsApp Image 2018-10-27 at 22.10.26

The landlord had recommended a local restaurant called Chichibio which sat on the other side of town.  It had a terrace so you could eat your meal with a view of the mountains behind us and it was heaven.  Dressed in our finest we ate good food, drank, laughed, joked and watched the world go by and the sun drop out of view and the changing colours that come with it.  We would miss this place so much.  One last walk through town, one last ice cream in the piazza and one last meow from the cats outside the house and that was it, our last day was complete.

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Italy Day 4

Italy Day 4

After the previous days exertions, it was time for another rest day.  The plan was to potter around the pool for the morning and head out just after lunch to visit the castle at Sermoneta, a plan that we executed perfectly.  We dragged our pruned and rosy bodies up the cobbled streets, hopscotching between the bored cats stretching out in the intimidating midday sun, for a short walk to the castle gates.  Despite our obvious lack of Italian language skills, we worked out that we could only get in as part of a guided tour and that that guided tour was only going to be in Italian.

Again, we couldn’t come all the way to Sermoneta and not see the castle and so we paid our money and joined in the tour.  We were so fortunate that one of the other visitors was a Romanian lass who had married an Italian guy who worked for HP in England and so was fluent in English, Italian, Romanian and probably another half dozen languages on top.  At the end of each stop on the tour she translated for us and brought the place to life with the stories of the past.  She was incredibly kind to spend the time making the visit so much more enjoyable for us, what a difference to Pompeii the day before and a great warning that you have to make the most of opportunities as they come your way.


We spent around an hour listening to the stories and picking our way around the castle from the servant quarters and kitchen, through the master bedrooms and all the way through secret battlements and the super view from the roof.  By this time the kids were getting bored again and the tour was done.  They got their rewards/hush money of ice creams in the town square and then back to the villa for splashing and swimming.  Around the pool area were a number of citrus trees that were in full fruit.  We used the lemons and limes to bounce off each other’s heads and play piggy in the middle.  Simple fun, but a perfect way to relax.  As boy child helped to try and get the limes out of the pool using the pool cleaning net he, in a style that only he could have mastered, managed to loosen the net from the end of the pole and it shot off over the terrace and into the garden of the house below.  It was a task that you couldn’t get him repeat in a million years even if he tried his hardest, but that’s what he has in his locker, just like his dad!  I spoke to the landlord and explained what had happened and it was returned the next day without fuss.
With all the excitement of the pool winding down, we washed and showered and headed into town for dinner.  We ended up at the Trattoria de Elena.  It was another local restaurant that was not your basic pizza and pasta you would expect from an Italian restaurant in the UK.  There was a focus on local meats and products but no pizza or “spag-bol’ type meals.  I had the mixed grill and it was nothing short of lovely and at €106 for seven heads, not too shabby at all. We stopped for ice creams in the town square on the way back home and ticked off another successful and happy day.

Italy Day 3- Pompeii

Italy Day 3- Pompeii

After a relatively relaxing day around the pool we had built ourselves up for a long drive and a long hard day of walking around in the heat.

We set off toward Pompeii, around 2 and a half hours south of Sermoneta and 130 miles. It felt like most of those miles and minutes were spent getting from the top of our little hill to the motorway but, once we got there, the trip wasn’t too bad at all.  Saying that the trip was uneventful is only true in terms of Italian roads rather than British roads but we arrived safely none the less.  My strategy of blowing my horn every 10 minutes, no matter what was happening, seemed to be working.

We followed the route set out on the app of our phones and that got us most of the way there. Once we reached Napoli we didn’t need the app any more as the signposts took over and we could enjoy the view.  I say enjoy, but the view from the left hand side of the car was Vesuvius towering above us and dominating the skyline but out of the right hand side were the suburbs of Napoli.  This wasn’t so pretty.  Like a lot of port towns, you could tell that this was a bit rough. I wouldn’t like to have left the car unlocked anywhere in this area.  Even locked it would have been a chance.

As we got into Pompeii I started to get a feel for what the place was like very quickly.  This didn’t feel like it was going to be a serious historical day of interest. It was going to be an expensive tourist trap with chancers and vagabonds surrounding the area waiting to suck money from unexpected tourists wallets.  We drove past the main entrance to the historical site and parked up at one of the many car parks that lined the road.  Each one having a few old men waving you in as if driving past would be a terrible mistake and breaking some sort of law.  We drove past a few and picked one at random and parked up.  As we got out and applied our sun cream, it was clearly a very hot day and it was going to be hard work getting the kids to walk around in this heat looking at history in the making.

 


My mum and brother followed us down in their car and, as we waited for them to let us know where they had parked and arrange to meet them, we headed to the petrol station next to the car park and topped up on supplies and used their facilities.  The toilets smelt like they had been installed just after the Vesuvius eruption in AD 78 and not cleaned since.  I refused to enter as did my girl child so we bought water and mints instead.  Having been charged 3 EUR for a small bottle of water, I was getting the idea that this was going to be a long and miserable day for me!

We got the call from my mum and we met up at the collection of market stalls near the visitor centre.  We checked the first few stalls and realised that they all sold the same things, just displayed in a different order.  Lots of Roman stuff, lots of volcanic rock jewellery and a surprising amount of penis shaped items, all with Pompeii written on them.  I couldn’t think where we would display these items when we got home so, despite thinking that they were hilarious, I didn’t buy anything.

We decided it would be best to eat before we got into the centre itself and so, like the idiots that we are, decided to eat at the little cafe right outside the gates.  I was already worried about the potential cost/quality issues of eating right outside an international tourist trap and wasn’t made to feel any less relaxed when the menu arrived without prices on it.  We ordered sandwiches, a few salads, a couple of soft drinks and smoothies and it cost us more that €100.  I can’t give you the exact price as it was hidden from me to prevent me from ruining the rest of the day for me and anyone that met me.  As the bill was paid, I was whisked away from the cafe, we walked over to the gates and worked out how much this would cost us.

Again, I was jostled out of the way to prevent me feeling faint, but when Titchy came over to show me the tickets, I knew immediately that the tickets must have been reasonable!  At €15 per adult and the kids in for free, I was pretty happy and set off through the big fans with water spraying from them to cool us down with a skip in my step.

In my mind, Pompeii was going to be loads of little houses filled with history that you could walk around and be blown away by, as if history had been stopped by volcanic ash and then started again by Italian archaeologist peeling away the layers.  I was expecting each home to have contorted bodies and riddles to solve.  I have to say, I was very disappointed.  Maybe it was because we didn’t sign up to a guided tour, but it felt like a long walk in extreme dusty heat around some derelict houses.  It was hard work walking around, especially when we had tired and hot kids to chaperone.  Frankly, it was a bit boring.  There, I said it.

At one point I was excited to see a board that I assumed would have information on it and point out something to see or think about so I skipped over ready to be brought back into the swing of things. Turns out that the only display board that we had seen on our mile long walk was to explain what the three different coloured recycling bins were for.  Only when we got to the top end of the site did we find a handful of relics and casts, to take a good look at them all took us about 15 minutes.  A lot of walking in the sun for 15 minutes of interest.

One bright spot was when we listened in on an organised tour as the guide highlighted quite a sizable phallus on the pavement.  He removed the dust around it by pouring his water on the black stone member built into the pavement and explained it was giving directions to the ‘fun house’.  I will let you decide what sort of fun house it was pointing out, but it didn’t involve Pat Sharpe.   The laughs that the kids had looking at this 2,000 year old cock were priceless, but this soon wavered when we had to explain what it was there for.  I left at this point and scurried off for cover!

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Our plan had been to visit Pompeii in the morning and a trip to the crater of Vesuvius in the afternoon if time permitted.  We rounded the kids up and headed back to the car with the promise that we would head straight home and maybe have a half hour in the pool before dinner.  It was a long drive South and so we wouldn’t see the volcano on this trip.  It seemed a shame to be that close to Napoli and not see what it was like and so I made a sneaky detour to see if we could see anything exciting of the port town.  It very quickly became apparent that Napoli was very much like every other port town but with the added edge of a Mafia undertone.  We were heading through back streets and the graffiti was pretty ominous and dark so I skipped that idea and headed back North on the motorway.

After an hour on the road and a few traffic jams to hold us up, it became apparent that we wouldn’t get back in time to eat and swim.  As regular readers of the blog may know, I have a great interest in the second world war and I spotted signs for Monte Cassino.    Above the town of Monte Cassino, on top of a rocky hill, is a monastery which was the site of the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944.  We decided to head off the motorway and grab a meal in the town, just to say that I had been there.

We found a very local Pizza restaurant, well it was actually more of a takeaway really, but with seats outside and locals pottering about outside which is always a good sign.  We shared authentic pizza and some arancini, great big deep-fried balls of rice stuffed with cheese.  As we ate up and chatted and laughed, I realised that it would be years, if ever, before I would be back here and so I had to take the chance while I could.  There would be plenty of days for swimming to come.

 


We headed up the very windy road up the hill to the monastery and the views were stunning.  It was very clear why such a bloody price has been paid during the war for this land as the monastery has a perfect panoramic view of the flat expansive land below, the only route north to Rome.  We were not really appropriately dressed for a tour of a monastery and so we were not too upset when we got up to the gates to find them closing for the evening.  Instead, we headed a little way back down the mountain to visit the Polish cemetery.  I have been to many war cemeteries and they hold a very special place with me.  They are always immaculately clean and have their own special noise.  A special sort of quiet that seems to allow only birdsong and background traffic to penetrate it.

Heading back to the car, a little quieter and more sombre than when we arrived, we twisted and turned our way back down the side of the mountain as the warm evening sun started to drop for the day.  I felt very lucky to be there to see such amazing sights and share laughs with the people that I love in a time of such peace, thanks to the sacrifices of those that had trodden this bloody path so many years before.

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Italy – Day 2

Italy – Day 2

It’s funny when you wake up in an air-conditioned room, in your semi-conscious state, that you forget that you are on holiday and that the temperature is entirely man made.  As soon as I opened the back door and stepped out into the open air, it hit me.  It must have been eight o’clock but it was already very hot and humid but with the gentle breeze in your face blowing off the sea and hitting the elevated rock face we were perched on.  The view below was still amazing and the horseshoe of mountains seemed to hold and protect that farmland, villages and even the big town of Latina below us.

We had picked up provisions for breakfast the previous evening and spread out the bread, jam, fruit and cheese selection and ate breakfast and soaked in the sun.  No-one was keen on doing too much after the long slog of the day before so we agreed that it would be a rest and recuperation day.  My mum and brother set off to find a supermarket and explore the villages below as the rest of us stayed in the villa and played in the pool.

The kids introduced me to a new game called, rather fittingly, Marco Polo. Someone was picked as being ‘it’ and they had to stand in the middle of the pool with their eyes shut while everyone else ‘hid’ in the pool.  The ‘it’, with eyes still firmly shut then shouted ‘Marco’ and the hunted had to respond “Polo” and, using sound alone, they had to tag the hunted.  Simple, old fashioned fun, but it killed hours and didn’t involve any sort of electronic device so it was good for me!

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For lunch I wandered into the town square to pick up some more bread, crisps and drinks and took the opportunity to wander through some more of the cobbled streets and say hello to more of the locals.  It was obvious that the village was family focused and a lot of the people that lived there had lived there for generations.  I suspected that none of the front doors were locked and no one had any secrets.  Everyone was terribly friendly and very helpful, especially when it came to helping with my shopping when I had such a terrible grasp of Italian.

As the sun started to drop behind the far-off mountains off to the North it was time to get out of the pool and freshen up for our evening in town.  Our departure from the house was delayed somewhat by the neighbourhood cats and how bloody cute they were.  Hanging around their benefactor’s front door for their biscuits to be thrown out to them.  I say benefactor very carefully as it wasn’t their owner, they never seemed to get into the house, just hang around outside like it was a soup kitchen for homeless cats.

We wandered up the cobbled streets and stopped at the first restaurant we found.  A smart and friendly young chap looked after us and we sat inside the empty main room and ordered our meals.  It is amazing how tiring it can be to do absolutely nothing all day and we were all dropping tired as we had a meal that was far too nice for a family with three kids, two of whom were vegetarians, to appreciate. I think my little boy missed the subtle flavours of the locally sourced truffles and wild mushrooms in his pasta dish, but he pretty much ate every last mouthful none the less.

It was becoming a bit of a tradition, if you can have a tradition after two days, that on the walk home we stopped on the viewing platform next to the church and just watched the world go by for a little while.  I vividly remember holding onto my daughter, silently, and just watching the cars and scooters pottering along the roads and thinking how lucky we were to have found this spot.

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Day 6

Day 6

Another rest day was promised to our little intrepid travellers and this was a proper rest day, not even a bit of tourism.  I walked into town to pick up some lunch with my daughter and stopped and had a drink in the square.  I had always wanted to try an espresso in Italy and this was my moment.  I am glad I had tried it and ticked it off the list, but not something I would be trying again!  It was like a shot of burnt pencil shavings mixed with bitumen.  I am sure it was me at fault rather than the cafe, but it was way too much caffeine for me to take.

I had so much liquid energy that I couldn’t sit still and decided to go for a run in the afternoon.  I am preparing for a Half Marathon later in the year and wanted to try running in the heat to see what I could learn.  What I learnt is that it is bloody hard work!  I ran a lap of the town and was going to try for a second but, as I ran past a couple of old ladies sat on the wall chatting, I was sure that they had tried to stop me to talk.  I couldn’t be sure as I had my headphones in and as I ran away past them I was worried in case I offended them.  So, I turned and ran back towards them and home.  The lizards that were lazing at the side of the road scattered as I got close, I think they were trying to work out what the hurry was and why an idiot was running in the midday sun.

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As I got closer to the ladies, I was proved right, they had been trying to get me to stop and so I took off my headphones and chatted with them. Well, I say chatted, we didn’t have a clue what each other was saying but we used sign language, smiles and hand gestures to make our points.  I think they were saying that they lived locally and had been born in the valley below but I will never know that for sure.  It didn’t matter.  They were friendly and I was delighted that they wanted to chat with me, it felt like home.  As the sweat dripped into my eyes and burnt and stung them to distraction, the ladies were shouting ‘Giro, Giro’ which I have worked out meant that they wanted me to do another lap!  It was great having a fan club, but I couldn’t have done another lap if I had tried…..once you stop running for any length of time it’s hard to start again.

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As it got to early evening, we decided to head off the hill for dinner and head towards Latina, the main town below Sermoneta, to see if we could find a family restaurant.  We promised to stop at the first one we found.  We ended up driving, and driving and driving without passing anything that looked open or decent and we ended up in an area on the outskirts of Latina that looked remarkably like the scenery in video game Grand Theft Auto.  We hadn’t eaten pizza for a good half hour or so, so we piled into a place that was modern and bright and huge inside, opening up like a Tardis. Loads of Italian families were meeting up and the longest table must had had 30 people at it, and they seem to be sitting in age order from oldest at the top down to the kids at the other end.  I am sure that the older end of the table were looking at the kids with chips on their pizza, (Yes, ON their pizza, not WITH their pizza) and had a little internal ‘tut’. The seven of us ate like kings and it was only 57 EUR, off the tourist track was the place to be for a tight old bugger like me!

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Italy Day 5 – Rome

Italy Day 5 – Rome

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.
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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.

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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.