My final day in Rome arrived and so I packed up my meagre possessions, left the appalling hostel I had been staying in and headed straight for Mauro’s bar to say my goodbyes.
I would have liked to have done the whole trip without resorting to air travel but time was pressing and it would just have taken too long so I had done something I swore I would never do again and booked on a Lyingair (Ryanair) flight home. In light of subsequent events I am surprised I am not still sitting in Rome as they apparently think nothing of wrecking the travel plans of well over half a million people due to their incompetence and greed but that is another story. Surprisingly for them, the flight was at a pretty reasonable hour in mid afternoon as they usually fly at the most inconvenient hours to get cheaper airport slots.
A leisurely lunch of Aperol and beer was followed by a strange request from Alicia the delightful young waitress who asked me to autograph her arm! Eh? What is all that about? Pub musicians of my calibre never get asked for autographs. Mauro joked that she was going to get it tattooed over and I sincerely hope it was a joke as her existing tattoo of Alice in Wonderland which you can just see in the image was very good and my scrawl, well, enough said.
There was then a round of genuinely emotional farewells with Mauro, Angela, Alicia and Mauro’s charming Mother whose name I still remarkably don’t know. When I had asked Mauro he always just said “The Boss” and that is what I used to call her which she seemed to find amusing. I really did love those people.
I was planning to get the bus to the airport and managed to keep my wits about me enough to get to the stop in good time, having previously checked the timetable, but there was a huge queue in the oppressive heat and I just could not face it so I bit the bullet and hailed one of the numerous taxis in that area. The ride was certainly an experience as I have mentioned Roman traffic before and it is manic. The driver spoke no English and my Italian was still rudimentary at best despite my best efforts so I spent the time watching the Roman cityscape speeding by and occasionally my life flashing before my eyes as we hurtled towards what looked like another certain catastrophe.
Miraculously we did not die and arrived at Ciampino airport in one piece. Ciampino is not the main airport for Rome but it is the one used by the cheapo airlines. Apparently it used to be the military strip for Rome and whilst the building has obviously had a bit of a spruce up it is not exactly what you would call world class. Still, it served it’s purpose and Ryanair unbelievably got me back to London not too far behind schedule.
If the reader has had a look at another of my blogs here entitled “Back where I belong” they can probably guess what happened next. One of my greatest problems in getting home is that public transport takes me to about 200 yards from my local pub so it was like a moth to a flame that I headed straight there for a quick one but no chance. Being lateish in the evening of a weekday there was only one of my mates there but I had not seen him for literally months and so we were there until closing time catching up.
I reckon I should technically start another entry for this day as it was well into it when I eventually collapsed in my own home again, wherever home may before me.
Having been away for so long, I was going to share an image which showed what awaited me when I finally made it through my front door and it was not a pretty sight although marginally more pleasant than the milk I had forgotten to take out of my fridge before I left. Thank Heavens for sealed plastic containers is all I can say. I stupidly took an image with my name and address on the mail (it had been a long day) and whilst I am not the smartest man, I have enough wit not to publish that! You’ll just have to take my word for the amount of rainforest that had been wasted on my mat and which was attempting to trip me and my poor little suitcase up. It was a very tired but happy Fergy that crashed out that night, the mail could wait until the morning.
I suppose that brings me on now to a bit of a summing up as I believe is customary. This is the first blog of the many I have to transfer here that I have completed start to finish and I must admit it brings me a certain degree of satisfaction to have done so.
That only leaves three trips to Canada, three to Sri Lanka, Malta, the London Loop and Capital Ring and………………………… Looks like Fergy is going to be a busy boy one way and another. At least I have finished my West country and Lundy Island exploit which was another great trip and which you can find here. They will all be published in due course if I live long enough!
So what were my impressions and thoughts after almost three and a half months away through eight countries? They are many and varied as you might imagine so I shall try and make them as vaguely coherent as I can.
As the late Dave Swarbrick once wrote in the lyric of a wonderful Fairport Convention song, “The more I learn it’s the less I seem to know” and this was certainly true of this journey.
Despite the relative proximity of all the countries I visited, there were some I had not even visited before despite considering myself a bit of a traveller. I think nothing of trekking off half way round the world and yet I had never been to Luxembourg which might perhaps seem odd to some.
I certainly learned so much in the conventional sense about history specifically but even my schoolboy French came back to a degree and I picked up a word or two in other languages as well albeit I usually struggle with them.
On a practical level I learned just how sparsely I can still actually travel. I did a lot of backpacking in my younger day and whilst my bad back precludes that now I always travel pretty light but this took it to another level. I have never done that length of a trip on so little kit and this brings me onto another couple of observations.
My backpacking days often revolved around youth hostels and I stayed in plenty this time round which proved to me that I could still cut it in that environment. I have always done that using hostels in Europe and cheap B&B’s in Asia but communal living has never bothered me which may well be due to my time in the Forces where it is often the norm.
By definition this style of travelling brings me into contact predominantly with people much younger than myself although that is rapidly changing. Thankfully the rigid age limits on hostels that I remember from my youth are all but gone and with facilities in hostels now improved beyond all recognition from what they were in my heyday it is becoming more and more common to see other “grey travellers” like myself. I have read numerous articles about the phenomenon and will not re-rehearse them here but this trip certainly reinforced the truth of it to me and indeed led to some wonderful experiences.
Far from being regarded as an object of curiosity as would have been the case in days past I was interacting quite happily with people mostly young enough to be my children and on some occasions even technically my grandchildren. Some of my very fondest memories of this trip are of sitting round a common room late at night drinking cheap supermarket booze (often very good), chatting in whatever mutual languages we could muster, sharing food and maybe knocking out a tune or two on an ancient guitar without a full complement of strings. Truly magical times that will live with me a long time and I hope I have been able to convey in some form in these entries.
Of course the other advantage to the hostelling style of travelling is that it keeps the costs down which brings me rather neatly to the vulgar subject of money but I know it is a consideration for travellers. Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU the £ has taken somewhat of a hammering against the € and I was prepared for that. I have a moderate travel budget and a few travellers tricks helped me to make it last to the extent that when I arrived home and did the accounting I found that I had lived marginally cheaper than I do in London which is notoriously expensive anyway. I certainly wasn’t out of pocket.
Apart from staying in hostels which is a huge money saver things like travelling by bus overnight saved a fortune although it is not something I would do regularly. The shared ride car system was a revelation to me and I would certainly do that again. I don’t eat much and catered for myself quite a bit or else just ate in local little cafes and bars which is much more my style of travelling than eating in posh touristy places which are often rubbish anyway. Apart from being infinitely more authentic it is a chance to meet local people in their own environment, not waiters in tourist hotels or backpackers working in hostels and which moves me nicely onto my last point. I promise you it is the last as this is rapidly turning into War and Peace.
It is one of my several travel mantras that I travel to meet people and I know I have mentioned it often enough in this series of journals or blogs or whatever they are properly called. Certainly it is wonderful to see historic sites and beautiful scenery and fantastic flora and fauna and whatever else but it is really all about people for me and this trip merely reinforced that. I had a wonderful time and could count on the fingers of one hand any vaguely negative experiences I had with people with none of them very serious whilst the positives would take me a week to relate. That is why I love to travel and that is quite enough philosophising from me for one entry!
A heartfelt word of thanks to anyone who read and / or commented on some, any or all of this little effort, it is genuinely appreciated.
There is so much more to come so, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.
After my somewhat epic trek of the 16th of July (see previous entry for full details) the 17th and 18th were spent in my usual pursuit of hanging out in Mauro’s wonderful little cafe and there are only a couple of things of note to record here. Having booked my flight home for the 19th I was effectively kicking my heels and trying to make the most of my last few days in the wonderful atmosphere of Rome amongst new found friends without the hassle of trudging round endless tourist attractions in the increasingly oppressive heat.
I’ll deal briefly with the 17th as it only throws up a couple of images of note.
The first, almost inevitably, deals with the disgusting (there is no other word) parking and driving in Rome. I think the image says it all really.
The second image from this day (below) indicates the complete lack of respect some people, mostly young it has to be said, have for others especially in a situation of communal living. In the rather crappy hostel I was staying in, this was the sole table for a dorm of eight or ten people, I forget exactly how many now. They had not just popped out for a quick smoke, they had gone out for the night and left it like this.
OK, they did clean it up later, much later, i.e. about four in the morning amidst much girlish giggling, drunken shrieking having already having woken everyone else up by putting on the light when even night owls like myself had managed to drop off to sleep. Appalling and, no, I am not going to launch into a diatribe here about modern youth. I have spoken warmly about some of the wonderful hostels I stayed in on this and other trips and I really don’t have a problem with young people as I met so many great ones but, as with much else in life, the inconsiderate few spoil it for the many. On then to the next day.
So what is the title of this journal entry all about then? Well, the discovery wasn’t so much of a discovery as you cannot really miss Aperol in Italy, it is ubiquitous. The Italians are fond of an aperitivo (sp?) in the late afternoon / early evening and this often consists of a mildly alcoholic drink called Aperol which I was told was made of bitter oranges and which the Italians like to enliven with prosecco. Certainly I had seen it but had somehow never got round to trying it which I happened to mention to Mauro and in about no time flat he knocked me up one, refused to take payment for it and decided I should try a Campari for good measure, although I have had that before. I must say, the Aperol was most agreeable and I see now whilst editing this over a year later in the UK that it is becoming very popular, not to mention lucrative for publicans! A baby bottle of prosecco and an Aperol in the pub I am sitting in now (which is very reasonably priced) would be the best part of £10. I should mention that this was all to accompany the rather fine salad you see below which, as usual, he refused to take money for. Contrary to perceived wisdom, there is such a thing as a free lunch, you just need to know where to be.
I told you I was turning Roman when I was there but “when in Rome” and all that kind of stuff. Inevitably, with that madman Mauro and I, there was no way that one was going to be enough and it soon degenerated into a bit of a session with the front door locked. Honestly, I do not know how things like this happen to me all the time but I certainly am not complaining. I live a charmed life and I know it.
As for the ambition realised well that was an easy one. In these days where there is a coffee bar every 50 yards (literally) in London and even the pubs sell it, I was obviously fully conversant with the concept of the “proper” coffee machine. In my flat (apartment) a coffee is a spoonful of instant, some boiling water and a spot of milk if it hasn’t gone off in the fridge. It certainly doesn’t involve hazelnut syrup, frothy milk, cinnamon and silly designs on the top. However, in keeping with my Romanization as mentioned above, I had found myself drinking more and more of the stuff but only espresso as the locals do and none of your capuccinos and lattes and the like. Honestly, can anyone please tell me what the Hell a flat white is?
I had long wanted to have a go at making a coffee on one of these things so I asked Mauro and naturally he agreed. He walked me through it and I don’t know what all the fuss is about as the machine does all the work. He didn’t look overly impressed at the result but I drank it anyway and it tasted all right to me so I suppose I can now technically add Fergy the barista to my somewhat eclectic CV.
My last couple of days passed pleasantly but all too quickly as the last few always do on any trip and soon it was the 19th which I’ll deal with in my next and final entry on this blog.
We are almost at the end of this rather crazy journey so you might as well stick around one more day for the endgame. Stay tuned and spread the word.
My last entry dealt with my first foray into proper sightseeing in the Eternal City and I was pretty fired up to do a bit more. Not only that but I had resolved myself to walk as I am a firm believer that this is the best way to see any city. The previous day I had singularly failed to take an image of the Vatican due to equipment failure. OK, to be perfectly honest I had forgotten to charge the battery of my camera which had given up the ghost at the crucial moment and so I thought I would have an early start on the hop on – hop off bus as my 24 hour ticket ran to 1100 and then walk the rest of the way. Well, that was the plan anyway!
It all started off so well on a glorious Roman summer day which was to pass through being a complete navigational cock-up into one of the best days of the whole trip. I had my little free map from the hostel which was frankly about as much use as a lawnmower on a submarine but I had a rough idea at least. I knew I had to walk across the Tiber and there are plenty of bridges at least, which is handy, so I picked one which looked particularly attractive and for some inexplicable reason I actually felt quite emotional. I have no idea why, perhaps it was just that I was walking across this hugely famous river in the heart of one of the most iconic cities in the world and I had never been there before, it was just one of those “travel moments” that I have from time to time.
I have a feeling the bridge I used was the Ponte Vittorio Emmanuele II but I would not swear to it. At this point I decided to deliberately go the “wrong” way as I fancied getting an image of the river but I knew that if I retraced my steps I would be back at my “launchpad” for the Vatican.
Naturally, with me being me, I was taking random pictures of anything and everything and the image above shows a piece of “graffiti, if that is not too crude a word for it, that my untutored eye would not have found out of place in a fine art gallery. Shame the local thugs had not demonstrated the same artistic ability in their crude daubs adjacent.
I wandered along the riverbank, noting the many little riverside bars and restaurants set up in marquees but none of which was apparently open much to my annoyance. With the photo duly taken, it was back to where I had started and what should have been a fifteen minute or so walk up the hill to the Vatican. This is where things started to unravel.
I had a quick beer in a little local bar and I stress that it was a quick one and one only and then I took off along what I was quite sure was the uphill and very short walk to the Holy See. Wrong and I had a feeling it was wrong. I was certainly going uphill in what had by now becoming fairly blazing hot sun but whilst I should have returned to the bridge and regrouped I just kept ploughing on. Where was the problem? I was having one of my little adventures and I knew that if worst came to worst I could blag a taxi somewhere to take me home.
Onwards and upwards as they say but nothing is ever simple for me. I had worked out where I was and a route back down to the river but the entire road, including the pavements was blocked off for works and I mean completely blocked off. OK, resort to Plan B (I had not even had too much of a plan A) so I thought I would go the long way round via the park and perhaps I could find a path that would lead me back up to the Vatican City.
Find a path? Not a chance. Beautiful as the Parco del Giancolo undoubtedly is (it affords some beautiful views over the city as you can see above, even on a hazy day) paths are in pretty short supply so I just kept walking and what treasures were to be discovered and there proved to be quite a number.
First up in this ancient city was a not so very ancient monument at all but nonetheless impressive. It was, would you believe, a lighthouse in a city I had never associated with seafaring to a great extent. It merely dates to 1911 when all four of my grandparents were still alive but it is impressive nonetheless and is undoubtedly situated in the right place, namely just about the highest point in the city. It was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Italy, which I shall come to in a moment, and was funded by donations from Argentinians which is not as odd as it may initially sounds when you read on about Guiseppi Garibaldi and his rather daring and tragic wife Anita, herself a South American.
I found a wonderful memorial to Giuseppe Garibaldi who, as well as being credited as the unifier of what is modern Italy, had many adventures and military campaigns in the Americas and of whom I knew remarkably little.
It is very true to say that I constantly learn whilst travelling which I suppose is one of the major reasons I do it. If I may quote here from an excellent old Fairport Convention song, “For the more I learn it’s the less I seem to know” which was written by the late and much missed Dave Swarbrick, a fine musician who I had the pleasure of meeting. Such it was with Garibaldi on my trip to Rome.
Despite going to a good school, Italian history past the Romans just was not on the agenda. Yes, I had some sort of vague idea which I had read somewhere long after I left that seat of learning that he was an important personage without whom modern day Italy would not exist and that there was a biscuit named after him which may be true or purely another historical myth. Disregarding the biscuit (to which I am quite partial) I managed to find out, on this day of getting lost in Rome, quite a bit about this remarkable character. I have researched a little further since and found out more and I intend to continue that line of enquiry. Such is the joy of travelling, I never stop learning and hope I never will.
I could go on now to regale the reader with a full history of this fascinating man but I shall not as it is all available online and undoubtedly done better than I could. What I will speak of is this rather magnificent monument to the man which is sited on the highest point of the Janiculum Hill, one of the seven upon which the city is so famously built. It is an appropriate site as it is where he had a fairly famous “last stand” (although it turned out not to be his last) against Roman Catholic troops called in from places like Austria and France by Pope Pius IX who he had already effectively banished from Rome, if the reader can imagine that. A Pope banished from Rome?
The monument itself is very impressive and well worth seeking out, albeit that I had found it completely by accident but a quick word of warning here. I had fancied getting up close to it for a few images on my pretty basic compact camera but the antics of the Roman traffic precluded this as the effigy is effectively in the middle of a traffic roundabout and you really do take your life in your hands trying to get near it.
It is to the design of Emilio Gallori but was not unveiled until 1895, some 13 years after his death.
Anita Garibaldi Monument.
I found the magnificent memorial to his wife Anita, apparently a formidable woman who fought alongside Garibaldi and died tragically young of malaria. She is quite revered in Brazil as an agent of independence and the memorial also serves as her final resting place after her first hurried burial near Ravenna where she died.
If I knew little about Garibaldi, I knew absolutely nothing of his wife who has transpired to be an equally fascinating character if not, indeed, even moreso and yet again gives further credence to the old cliché about travelling broadening the mind. Like most clichés it has a sound basis in truth. Had I not managed to completely lose myself I would have probably gone to my grave never having heard of this incredible woman.
For a woman who played such a prominent role in the founding of modern Italy, it is a little surprising that she was not even Italian, whatever that meant at the time of her birth in 1821 as Italy was essentially a group of principalities. She was Brazilian and of very humble Azorean stock who had earlier relocated to South America. She met Garibaldi (himself from what is now France) in 1839 and they became lovers, comrades in arms and eventually national heroes.
Her wonderful memorial atop Janiculum Hill close to that of Garibaldi himself and I actually found hers the more aesthetically pleasing, not to mention historically accurate of the two and the central image of her riding away from potential danger with a weapon in one hand and clutching an infant child in the other I found to be hugely emotive somehow. Given the social mores of the time she really is a fine example of feminism which I suspect some of the more extreme of that movement in the 21st century might do well to study.
Her memorial is made all the more poignant in that it is her final resting place although this is in itself contentious. Having died of malaria in 1849 Anita’s remains were hastily buried near Ravenna where she had died. There is some suggestion that dogs dug up and desecrated the remains after which they were moved and it was not until 1932 that the Fascist leader Mussolini had the remains removed from the alleged second resting place in Genoa to be placed in the base of the current monument which is the work of Mario Rutelli. Hopefully it is the poor woman’s final resting place and I must say that when I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil I can think of many worse places for my ashes to lie.
Again, this monument is not on the standard tourist Roman tour but is well worth seeking out and the reader may even try doing it deliberately and not by getting as lost as I was!
They came from all corners of the globe.
So there I was on Janiculum Hill, apparently so named for the Roman god Janus (from where we get our English word January) and I had seen the monuments to Guiseppi Garibaldi and his redoubtable wife Anita which you have already read about. This was all well and good, I was admittedly lost but having a great time even if it was stinking hot, but there was something that was puzzling me.
All over the hillside, which is where Garibaldi made a famous stand against the French as sent by the Pope (Pius IX) who wanted nothing to do with self-determination for the Roman people, I found fairly uniform sized busts of generally bearded or at least mustachioed 19th century looking chaps atop plinths with dates of birth and death (if my appalling Italian serves me here).
It appears that Garibaldi was joined as brothers in arms by many men from all over the globe, including my own country, the UK, who shared his political ideals and these are the men commemorated here. Many of his comrades were South American as he had certainly had a few exploits there and his wife was Brazilian of Portuguese Azorean extraction.
Somehow I found these memorials to long dead men stangely affecting and I could not help myself quietly singing a song called “Viva la Quinza Brigada” (sp?) which I learned from the singing of Christy Moore and which was written about the International Brigade fighting against Franco’s Fascists in Spain in the 30’s. It was just the concept of idealists, be they right or wrong, travelling half way across the world to take up arms that had worked it’s way into my skull. Whatever the rights or wrongs of their cause, they died here and that makes it a place worth visiting.
I have been told before that I think far too much all the time, especially when I travel, and this is very probably true. However, I make no apology for this and I was glad I saw these memorials, albeit accidentally. I would recommend any traveller to Rome with a day or two spare to go up Janiculum Hill and view this, not to mention the many other attractions and superb views. It is arguably my favourite place in Rome and these monuments are well worth seeking out.
Another slightly unexpected building I passed was what turned out to be the Finnish Embassy, not that it was unusual in itself but the location has to be one of the most pleasant diplomatic postings in the world with that stunning view over Rome. A whole lot better than, say, Kabul for sure. I noticed they also advertised classes in the Finnish language (amongst other regular cultural activities) and I wish them much luck with that as Finnish is a ludicrously difficult language unless you are Hungarian. Go on, I’ll bet I have piqued your interest now and you’ll look it up. I’ll give you a clue, do a search on Finno-Ugric languages as it would take me forever to explain here. Personally, in several weeks in that lovely country I learned the word for breakfast which has more vowels than I have ever seen, how to order a beer (obviously) and please and thank you and so I wish polyglot Italians “in bocca al lupo” with that.
On and on past the gates of the park and I eventually came upon what could just about be described as a hamlet where I stopped in a tiny locals bar for much-needed refreshment.
Directly opposite this excellent hostelry was a small museum to Garibaldi which I visited before heading back towards town. I only found out it was a museum by chance as I had thought it was just a very ornate old city gate, which it also is. There was not a vast array of artefacts but what there were proved interesting and there was a particularly harrowing audio-visual piece (pictured and available in English) about a man whose young sons were all executed before his eyes during the “Battle of Rome” or whatever it is officially called. Definitely not one for the youngsters but very well done.
I thought I had already had a pretty good day’s sightseeing and learning considering I had only the vaguest idea where I was but I had thoroughly enjoyed myself and done what I love doing on the road, just wandering at random and hoping for the best.
I eventually managed to get to the Tiber again by way of some ludicrously steep steps and a very well-tended war memorial and then cross the river by way of a small island which I did not even know existed.
My knowledge of Rome was indeed lamentable. The island is really pretty tiny yet it boasts no less than a basilica (pictured) and three hospitals which I can only surmise is some sort of historical quirk for keeping infection out of the main city, I really have no idea. Hot as the sun was I was still thankfully not in need of hospitalisation but I could have murdered a drink which proved to be no problem as there were a few little bars dotted about from which I chose the Tiberino which was a pleasant if expensive choice with just a word of warning which I suppose still proves I have not quite shaken off my habit of reviewing as I did for Virtual Tourist. The “facilities” are down some rather steep steps as I suppose is normal in an old building like this and I did not see an accessible toilet (although there may be one) so if mobility is an issue for you it may be a problem. Actually, I do not see a problem with reporting things like this, it is my site and if I care to share what I believe to be helpful information, so be it. As I have said many times before I still have not quite worked out what form this site is to take which I know is not a good way to run it but I rather like my scattergun approach.
Pausing to look at the impressive 1,000 year old basilica which was regrettably shut. I wandered across the delightful pedestrian “Ponte Quattro Capi” aka “Pons Fabricius”, which I discovered is the oldest bridge in Rome in it’s original state and dates to 62B.C. Not only does it speak volumes for the standards of Roman construction but it was a bit of a thrill to think I was walking across a bridge that perhaps legionnaries, centurions, senators, gladiators, slaves and all the rest may have walked over. This day was just going from good to out the far side of brilliant. How I love getting lost.
I eventually regained “my” side of the river, so I was in with half a shout of getting home in one piece, all good.
Once there, I had a reasonable idea of where I was heading but that did not stop me going a bit crazy again. Read on.
Despite my pretty dodgy back and advancing years coupled with the still fairly stifling heat of the late afternoon I reckoned I had a bit of walking left in me and so I kept going. Probably more by good luck than good judgement I found an area I vaguely recognised from the previous day’s bus trip and by dint of following the route of the tour buses I knew I was getting back to more or less where I wanted to be. Naturally with me being me, there were a few diversions on the way and, as long as I was still vaguely orientated I reckoned I was still ahead of the game. Some of the diversions are pictured above but don’t ask me what they were, impressive as they seemed to be.
These diversions included the not very Italian sounding “Public Bar” which I would normally have given a large swerve but it turned out to be great and eventually, more by good luck than good judgement I suppose, I ended back up in the hostel, utterly exhausted but very happy.
It is a strange dichotomy in that I can read maps pretty well and yet can manage to get myself completely lost somewhere like Rome yet I can always find my way home even after visiting numerous purveyors of liquid refreshment which is what happened this evening and I can tell you that after the exertions of a very warm day my head had hardly hit the pillow before I was fast asleep.
This rather extended journey is approaching a conclusion but there is still a little more to come so stay tuned and spread the word.
I knew I was going to have to make a move towards home sooner rather than later due to the Canada and whilst people here will know that I am not an inveterate sightseer by any means I thought it would be a shame not to at least make a small effort to see something and to that end I thought my best option would be to get one of the literally hundreds of open topped “hop-on, hop-off” tourist buses that seem to almost drive in convoy as there are so many of them.
I must admit that I was one of those who used to slightly sneer at people using them on the principle that if you just buy a day rover ticket on local public transport and plan properly you can do exactly the same thing for yourself at a fraction of the cost. I know this is true where I live in London (when I am ever there!) and I am sure it is the same everywhere in the world.
I actually enjoyed myself to the extent that I went round again to sit on the other side of the bus to get different images. In truth a lot of my images are not much good for various reasons (bright sunlight, a scratched lens on my little compact etc.) but I shall put a few of them up to give something of an impression of the complete glory that is Rome on a scorching summer day. They even gave me a pair of little earphones which I still use for my computer and on ‘planes where they ridiculously charge you to hire them so that was a little added bonus. I have to say that the commentary (available in numerous languages) was very informative and easily audible even above the traffic noise from the top of an open top bus in the manic Roman traffic. I have played gigs where I could hear less clearly onstage!
Having thoroughly enjoyed just messing about a limited area close to where I stayed I yet again found myself wondering (as I had in France) why the Hell it had taken me so long to get here. I was literally just rolling from one incredible travel experience to another. A month on Rome for many people would be the trip of a lifetime, and rightly so, but to randomly tack that onto the end of all I had already done on this run was really something special. I’ not quite sure how I ever go this lucky.
My mate Mauro in the gastronomia (snack bar) I have mentioned before shuts up shop at 1900 every evening and I don’t blame him as he gets up at 0430 to open for 0630, he works very hard and so I knew that would not be an option for a beer by the time I got back so I decided to go to another little place I know called Twins Bar which is up opposite the Termini railway station. It is a decent little bar and does some excellent bar snacks of the type I spoke about before.
That night it was a fairly tired but content Fergy that crawled into his bunk content in the knowledge that at least he had made the effort.
More sightseeing in the next episode and an epic directional failure so stay tuned.
In my last entry I said that I was breaking off as this entry took me into July 2017 and the previous submission was getting rather unwieldy as it spanned quite a time period and so I thought it made sense.
July in Rome and it was just getting hotter and hotter, peaking at about 35 degrees some days. Still, I wasn’t complaining as I had headed this far South specifically for the sun but there was a problem. The season had definitely started in Canada by about now and I was due to head there but I was so mired in my complete travel inertia that one day just seemed to roll into another. On the rare occasions I could get an internet connection touted so loudly on the website of the utterly appalling hostel I was staying in (M&J Hostel if you have not read the previous entries) I was looking at flying there directly from Rome, a fairly major hub even if the national airline had gone bankrupt and entered into administration a couple of months before. Well, other airlines still flew. I knew I should really go back to London if for no other reason than to check my mail but I had got stuck in such a rut (not too bad a thing in one of the greatest cities in the world) that I just couldn’t move myself. I reasoned that the Canadian “season” for going out in RV;s (campervans) would go until about the end of September when most of the campsites shut so I reckoned that Lynne and I could still have a decent trip.
Back now to a few days of random images and a few accompanying words as per the previous entry.
The third started in the usual fashion in Mauro’s and I do appear to have gone on a bit of a Kodak frenzy in there but I hope the images below indicate a) the quality of his food, b) how spotless the place is and c) how much he was trying to feed me up by forcing food on me left right and centre. It seemed churlish to refuse and I did try my best although I rarely finished the gargantuan portions he would put in front of me. Honestly, I really do not eat a lot Mauro, my dear friend, but thanks all the same. Incidentally, how you manage to stack that many pieces of crockery without breaking them is still a mystery to me!
I suspect it may have been something to do with trying to walk off the rather large and tasty lunch that Mauro had forced on me but I thought I would go for a walk round just by way of a post-prandial peregrination (I do so love “fancy” words, I just wish I could use them to write something of note) and I ended up, no more than about 500 yards from the cafe door, at the Church of Sacre Cuore di Gesu (Sacred Heart of Jesus) which is designated as a basilica and which I had passed many times as it was just round the corner from where I was staying. I had marvelled at the gold statue of Christ that surmounted the building and had several attempts at getting an image of it at night when it is beautifully illuminated, but all without success. Whilst I would have loved to have shared that with you, I think you will agree that it is still fairly impressive in daylight, especially bathed in a searingly bright Roman summer sun.
Again, apologies for the image but the little compact really was on it’s last legs lens-wise.
Without wishing to bore my 14 (I checked the stats) regular readers, and purely for the benefit of anyone who may find this page inadvertently, I am an atheist but I have a fascination for places of worship of whatever stripe. I had to have a look at this Church.
In I went and was confronted with a most wonderful building and yet again at the risk of boring people I found out something fascinating about it. It is relatively recent, having only been constructed in 1887 which, to put it in historical context, was only six years before my maternal grandmother was born, but there is a much longer history than that. I have mentioned often that I love military history of all periods and it was only whilst researching this that I found out that the Church is situated on the former site of the barracks of the Praetorian Guard, who were the personal bodyguards to Roman rulers and considered the military elite of their day, picked for their ferocity and military prowess albeit they were not averse to turning against their Masters for the right amount of gold. In some ways I wish I had known that at the time and yet in others I am glad I didn’t as I just took the place for what it was i.e. a charming 19th century basilica which was fine. The ancient Roman military connection was merely a later little bonus and, as one who has taken up arms for his country, at least I can say I have been there.
No, it is not he most impressive place of worship I have ever been in although I would be hard pushed to say what was. No, it is probably not one of the most visited sites in this hugely visited ancient city. Yes, I am bloody glad I visited it, not only for itself but for the connections I later discovered.
As I keep going on about here, never a wasted day. Travel is never wasted even if you only find out the number of the bus you have to get from point A to point B. At least you know that for again and possibly for the benefit of others and that can only be a good thing. As always, all feedback is warmly welcomed so please tell me if I appear to be over-complicating things. Given the new-found freedom I have in writing my own blog and not being constrained by the rules of commercial sites I am very conscious I may be going a bit wild with my “thoughts on things” and I am still unsure as to how to “pitch this blog. Please do let me know how you feel.
Let’s be honest, people have made themselves famous and even rich talking garbage online although that is not my aim. I just want to put down as honestly as I can my travels and daily life (which are fairly well interchangeable as I always seem to be on the road) and hopefully the few that read it will enjoy it and, dare I say, possibly even learn something.
Anyway, enough of this and back to the 3rd of July, 2017. Much as I had enjoyed the Church, that was quite enough sightseeing for me for the one day and so I headed back to Mauro’s, a journey that, even given the parlous state of Roman pavements, took all of five minutes tops.
When I returned Mauro decided that all that strenuous sightseeing must have taken it’s toll on me and insisted on feeding me yet again (as always, free of charge) and, as you can see, it was not a shabby snack that he served. If only I could have got it into his head that I do not really eat during the day. Still, I made a game attempt and got most of it finished.
Time was starting to run now but I still reckoned I had about two and a half months of Canadian “summer” to play with so that would be OK. My friend is on a military pension and so it was not dependent on her getting specific dates off. I reckoned I still had it sorted.
Mauro closed up fairly well on time (obviously under orders from the lovely Angela) and I went for a bit of a wander which consisted of a couple of beers in another little backstreet bar which was not nearly as expensive as most places locally but still knew how to charge and a sight that gladdened my heart considerably.
I have raved on considerably about the criminal and totally morally reprehensible travel website whose CEO is basically Hell-bent on making his useless and perjured site the only available travel site online. I do not wish to re-rehearse the issue yet again here but I was overjoyed to see a door decked out with a number of the useless stickers including those that constitute the business model of that awful organisation. The premises waere closed and I did not even try to suppress a smile. I would be prepared to bet that no real traveller or local had ever written a review of that place. These images are of no interest to the reader but I just take such delight in publishing them after what those scum did to me and hundreds of thousands of other people after stealing our product on dubious legal grounds because they were so big that nobody could take them on. Don’t you just love the American legal system?
What a glorious sight, an establishment recommended by that vile organisation and shut down. Just shows how much you can depend on their recommendations. Sure, places close all the time but I am prepared to bet any reviews were written by staffers in Minnesota.
I did find another half-decent little bar without one of the reviled stickers that provided a few more beers before heading home where I had another of my mad ideas and, believe me, I am full of them. I was thinking of doing a piece for the website I was writing for at the time along the lines of “What’s in your pockets”? I think it is interesting the things people carry around and so I took the image below which was genuinely everything I had in my pockets that day. I was going to start a bit of a piece on the website I was then writing for called something like, “what’s in your pockets today”? Obviously that option was removed from me so I thought I might give it a run here if anybody even reads this.
Send me an image of the contents of your pockets (OK, you can leave out any really embarrassing things) and I’ll include them in here. Just one of the silly notions I have for things to put up here and I promise you there are some utterly mad ideas flying around my disordered brain at the minute. Anyone for a daily limerick challenge? There are plenty more where that came from.
My images show that I went home for my usual supper of very cheap and yet remarkably palatable supermarket beer and some of the wonderful Gorgonzola cheese from the same emporium to which I was becoming inordinately fond. I love cheese and the riper the better. i deliberately leave cheeses in my fridge long past there sell-by date, there is nothing quit like having to wrestle an aged Camembert or Stilton onto the plate before you eat it. OK, this stuff did not have the time to get in that condition but it was pretty flavoursome in it’s original state, I did eat rather a lot of it. I did actually look up Croce Piccante and it meant, as I thought with my smattering of Italian, “Spicy Cross”. I have no idea why as spice came nowhere near it but it was damned tasty.
Off then to an uncomfortable room in a stinkingly hot room with huge road noise outside to try to sleep. I still really do not understand why I stayed there so long.
Nothing to report here so move along quickly, folks. Apparently, I managed an image of young Alice’s lovely tattoo, an image of the supermarket that sells the lovely cheese and the very cheap beer and that was about that. The tattoo will become relevant later in this story.
I could not resist a further image of the fish counter in the supermarket which was not overly expensive and I just wished that I had some means of cooking some of it. I really cannot believe that I insisted on staying in a tip like M&J after having been on such good hostels before. Had I had access to this place in, say, Rotterdam or Lyon, I would have been a veritable Rick Stein in those wonderful hostel kitchens and, if you have not read about them, then please go back a few entries in this series and you’ll see just what wonderful kitchens they had.
Another day of doing very little. I wandered up to the Termini station to get my daily English paper as I still had not mastered Italian enough to get through La Repubblica every day although I was getting better.
On the way back I stopped of into a reasonably sized cafe / gelateria / supermarket called Trombetta which I had seen many times on my rambles. I believe it translates as the trumpet and it is directly opposite on of the entrances to the Termini station on a busy main road which makes it absolutely ideal for people watching which is one of my favourite occupations, I could do it for ours. Like so many places in this area it is ruinously expensive and so not the venue for a hard drinking session. Sitting outside requires table service which is average to put it kindly but it is yet another case of location, location, location.
I have included the image above as yet another indication of how appalling the driving and parking standards are in Rome. I had previously thought that Athens was the worst I had ever seen, and it was but, like their military counterparts of two millenia previously, the Romans had the Athenians beaten all ends up. I really could not believe my eyes some days.
Back to Mauro’s (no surprise there) and a supper in my usual little Chinese where they were getting to know me and being very friendly, lovely people so I shall pass quickly on.
The 7th of July followed an all too predictable pattern according to my images and starts, almost inevitably with another parking nightmare. How, or indeed why, the drive managed to do this, is a complete mystery to me and how (s)he ever intended to get out is way beyond my understanding.
After another lovely day in Mauro’s it was back to my little Chinese hideaway which I was becoming very fond of. Dirt cheap, friendly, great food and I rarely saw another Caucasian in there, it suited me nicely although I am still amazed that I seemed to be eating huge feeds on a daily basis which is most unlike me.
On the way home I could not resist taking the above image as I just love odd looking things like this. I wonder how long it had been there. In the very unlikely event of this blog becoming more widely read, this is another one of my mad notions for it. Post up a random image like this and invite people to construct a short story, poem or whatever else about it, I think that might be quite fun. As I said before, I have loads of oddball ideas for this site. If any of the few of you that do read this want to have a go, please do and I’ll publish them here, it might be a bit of fun.
Nothing much today except to share an couple of images of the many shared use small vehicles I saw round central Rome, most of which were electric powered. Given the lunacy that is Roman traffic and parking of which I have spoken often this has to be a good idea on so many levels. Smaller vehicles, many less of them, less (zero?) emissions, it all seems to add up. My only slight qualm about the whole “drive electric, go green” agenda espoused by the tree-huggers is that they never seem to address the issue of where the electric comes from. Fossil fuel burning power plants belching out masses of waste themselves or else nuclear power (anyone remember Cehrnobyl or Three Mile Island?) so I am not sure how “green” it all really is but I suspect it is a step in the right direction.
It is much the same thinking as with the car-pooling which I wrote about earlier in this series and which I used so successfully in France, Germany and Austria. Why have four people in four cars when toy can have four people in one car. Although I know little or nothing about sustainable energy etc. at least that makes sense to me.
Anyway, enough of my rambling and on to the next day.
Another day of nothing to report other than I seem to have gone all Italian and had taken to coffee, water and doughnuts for breakfast with not a beer in sight. Unheard of behaviour but I thought I should record it here as nobody I know will believe it because I don’t “do” breakfast.
Next day and guess what, it was back to Mauro’s where I received a lovely gift.
One of the many street artists that seem to be everywhere in the city came into the gastronomia hawking his wares which looked to be very good. Along with his business card he gave Mauro the little sample you can see in the image above. The only reason the cigarette packet is there is to provide a sense of scale. I think you’ll agree it is rather good. As soon as he left, Mauro said he had no use for it and promptly gave it to me. Remarkably, I managed to get it home undamaged and still have it. What a lovely souvenir especially as I rarely buy them.
I do not want to get too overblown about all this but I do often wonder why such lovely things happen to me so often. Yes, I am lucky enough to travel a lot. Yes, I meet a lot of people. No, I am not exactly the shy, retiring type but these little apparently insignificant things just keep happening to me and I genuinely don’t know why.
If you look at the image below you will note that I am still wearing the lovely ring that had been given to me by a young French actress in her home country a few weeks before and the story of which is recounted in an earlier episode of what was by now becoming something of a saga in both the doing of it and the subsequent writing about it. I’d better stop before I do get all philosophical about it although even that poses a question. What do philosophers do all day? Just sit quietly and think about things? Hell, I’d like a job like that. Get paid for coming out with the odd comment that nobody really understands? I do that all the time.
Anyway, enough of this and back to an oppressively hot day in Rome. Much as I loved the little Chinese restaurant mentioned above, I fancied a change and so took myself off to find a pizza. When in Rome and all that. I went to a little place a couple of streets up from Mauro’s which I had seen before. Pizza and beer before heading home, what could be better?
Given the ludicrous food and drink prices in the area which I have spoken of this, like the Chinese, was remarkably reasonably priced. It is actually possible to eat well for not too much money round there if you are prepared to walk down a few back streets and look around a bit.
I have to say at this point that I have the oddest tastes in pizza and when I told Mauro of my favourite pizza combination (my own invention obviously) I thought he was going to punch me as any right-thinking Italian would have done. OK, it is tuna, banana and garlic and, yes, you read that correctly. Please don’t hate me, pizza lovers, give it a try, it is really good. Anyway, that was never going to be an option in Rome and so i opted for a fairly simple offering but less is so often more and such was indeed the case here. It was utterly beautiful with an obviously freshly produced sauce and the mozzarella was as good as I have ever had. A few anchovies, which I adore, completed the meal and I really am going to have to add them to my own odd concoction. Anchovies and tuna, yes please. All washed down with a bottle of the Moretti that I was getting rather fond of and it could not have been a more Italian evening if I had been falling off a Venetian gondola into an open sewer whist clutching a bottle of Chianti.
The place was quiet and I was chatting to the waiter a bit but I am not sure which one of us instigated the image of me at my supper. I suspect it was him as I do not like having my photo taken but I do quite like this one. It shows me doing about the only thing I was ever any good at i.e. travelling, finding little backstreet places, hanging out with the locals, eating authentic regional food and generally being at peace with the world. What a far cry from the fairly embittered and unhappy man who had effectively given up on travel that had left home three months before to spend a few days with a friend in Southern Holland. Isn’t it funny how travel gets you that way?
I know you will find this hard to believe that I was eating on an almost daily basis but such is the case, mostly instigated by the mighty Mauro. He did appear to be on a mission to fatten me up which I suppose is understandable given that I have a build like a whippet. I am not sure if a constant diet of pasta, pizza and Chinese is really what a dietician would recommend but there you go. Better than nothing I suppose. It started off with another of Mauro’s offerings given to me with the implied threat that anything less than an empty plate might result in a fit of Roman violence and he was a big guy as you shall see in a future instalment here. I really would not have liked him to have hit me.
During the course of the day I did get an inkling as to why the parking in Rome is so appalling. The Council parking attendants seem more at home sitting in cafes than they are doing what they are paid to do.
Mauro obviously decided I had not eaten enough for the day and hit me at closing time with a plate of chips / wedges or whatever they are called in Italian. Man, I could hardly walk by the time I left. I cannot remember when I last ate so much. Off to the pit then with a very full belly and a very happy heart. Everything was looking good but I really had to think about getting to Canada but with half of July to go I reckoned I had two and a half months of viable weather there and I knew we could have a really good trip in that time.
The 12th of July arrived although I did not really know it was the 12th until I started reading the newspaper in, guess where, Mauro’s. As you can see from the image, I had taken to reading the local paper by choice and was getting a little less than utterly incompetent at understanding Italian. As always, the forthcoming elections and the appalling crisis of uncontrolled economic migrants were hogging the headlines.
For those not au fait with the politics of Northern Ireland, the 12th of July is a big day and is actually a public / bank holiday there. It is a day when the various lodges of the Orange Order exercise their right to parade on the streets of Northern Ireland (and even beyond). I am not going to go on about it here but it is a source of great contention amongst the two diametrically opposed communities in the land of my birth. Look it up if you are interested.
After duly pressing “breakfast” on me (looks great, doesn’t it? It was), I happened to look around the bar and what did I see?
I saw what is displayed in the image above and it, yet again, almost reduced me to tears. For a man that didn’t ever cry for several decades, this trip was becoming a bit emotional. Does your propensity to exercise your lachrymal glands increase with age? I have no idea nor do I have any problem with men crying. One way and another I have known some seriously hard men in my life and I have seen them crying like babies. What is perhaps more telling is that other equally hard men never batted an eyelid.
It is stupid little boys that contend that “real men don’t cry”. My response to that is, “grow up, do something of value that exposes you to horror and then tell me that real men don’t cry”. OK, here endeth the lesson and I really had no intention of starting down this road when I began writing today’s entry but as I have previously stated here, I can only write one way. I am an old man now and, with my lifestyle, may not be here too much longer so what you are getting is going to be real, if sometimes uncomfortably real. I really am quite revelling in having my own site where I control what I publish, it is hugely liberating in a way.
This just touched a nerve in me somewhere, he had obviously been planning it, waiting for the right letters to turn up in his beer delivery. To clear up any possible confusion, this is my proper forename, Fergy (which everyone has called me for years) is merely a contraction. How beautiful is that gesture? Even or one as verbose as me, I am running out of words to describe how I felt. Why do such simple things manage to choke me up so much?
Again, little to report here but I want to get this particular entry concluded before I get to the hard work of writing about the “proper” sightseeing trip I took the next day. My two images for the day show that Mauro was still on his mission to fatten me up (I do hope it was not for slaughter!) and I must have ended up drinking something I would not normally look at. I can only assume I was given it as I do not drink spirits, much less cocktails but, as they say, the camera doesn’t lie and I promised you absolute reality on this site.
Well, that is the end of another marathon episode of this rather marathon adventure.
I’ll go and do some proper sightseeing in the next episode so tray tuned and spread the word.
This entry is not a mistake as much as it may appear to be one. It is deliberately dated about a month after the last entry and the simple fact is that I did precious little of note during that time and yet achieved so much.
I spent most of my days hanging about in Mauro’s lovely little gastronomia, drinking beer, chatting to the sports journalists of the Gazetta della Sport which was just round the corner and whose employees used to frequent there a lot. I did get some very tasty information about breaking sporting news that way. Amazing what you can find out if you are in the right place and know the right people.
I shall just trawl through the images and post whatever I think may be of interest with a small explanatory note and the date.
From the image above, which was the only one I took on this day, it appears that I was still living on a diet consisting primarily of bar snacks provided in Guiliani’s but I do have to say that they were every but as good as they looked and just kept coming as long as you were drinking. The ingredients were brilliant, just look at the mozzarella in the further roll.
I went for a bit of a walk on the 16th and came upon the Yellow Hostel which was no more than ten minutes walk from my hostel and which looked infinitely better with a superb old-fashioned bar (expensive for a hostel but most everything was in that area) and which seemed to have some form of entertainment on just about every night. I really should have moved there. As is the way with hostels, the staff were nearly all backpackers themselves getting a bit of money together to pay for their next move and were very friendly.
With my wallet groaning in protest at the appalling prices in what is supposedly a hostel bar, I retired back round the corner to Mauro’s which I include a couple of images of here and I also note that he carried on with what he seemed to have made his life’s mission which was to fatten me up. I am not even sure what this plate of loveliness was but all I can tell you is that it was delicious and I say this by virtue of the fact that I did not eat a single thing in there that wasn’t. Again, he refused all offers of payment and I did not pay for a single item of food I either ate in there or took back to the hostel. I don’t know how the guy makes a profit. I suppose he must have seen me as a charity case or something.
Precious little must have happened on the 17th and 18th as I do not have a single image which is unusual for me and why, you may justifiably ask, have I chosen one of a manhole cover as the sole offering for the 19th? I was walking along a backstreet near where I was staying and trying to avoid the numerous vehicles parked on the pavement and keeping my eyes down so I didn’t break my ankle on the appalling pavement surfaces there when I spotted this.
As one of a certain age when we were taught about the Roman Empire at school and subsequently through the novels of such addictive writers as the excellent Simon Scarrow and others like Manda Scott I know that it was the initials of something that the Romans had emblazoned just about everywhere when they were what was then the mightiest Empire the world had ever seen. I have no doubt that what it stood for was drilled into my thick skull at the time although I must confess I had to look it up whilst writing this piece. It stands for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus or “The Roman Senate and People”. I am not sure if Italian politics still includes a Senate but I am sure that Caesar, Nero, Caligula et al, not to mention Romulus and Remus would be rotating in their graves at the thought of people walking daily over the acronym that once terrorized the Western world.
The images for the 20th show that I spent the day back in Mauro’s so no surprise there then.
They also show that I had taken to shopping at the local supermarket which sold not only the cheapest beer around (even cheaper than Mauro’s at about 90c. a can) but also some excellent cheese which I seem to have overdosed on a bit.
Guess what, the 21st was spent in Mauro’s so I will not bore you with yet another image of that excellent establishment so let’s move on to the 22nd.
Despite my apparently doing nothing of note, I did still keep my eyes open on my daily peregrinations around the local area and amongst the dross of hideous modern shop fronts etc. I did manage to find the rather pleasant door you can see here.
After that? Guess what. You’ve got it, back to Mauro’s.
At the end of the day he would load me up to the gunwales with all the food he had not sold during the day like beautiful sandwiches (often made on fairly psychedelic looking bread as you can see in one of the images), cold pasta salads and a myriad other things. He buys in fresh every morning and it would have been in the bin otherwise. The amounts of food he was giving me would have fed a regiment and that is almost what it did. Every evening I would eventually wander back to the hostel and distribute it amongst the supposedly impecunious backpackers of the place. Strange how they all seemed to have mobile ‘phones (which they were never off) that would have cost me a month’s pension to buy. The days of spending your last pennies on a local loaf and a tin of the cheapest meat paste available are apparently long gone.
On the 24th I decided to walk up around the main station and the Piazza della Repubblica which is very much the Trafalgar Square / Times Square or whatever in Rome. It was not far and made for a pleasant amble although the heat was really starting to mount by this point. I must say that I do rather like Terminii station which has a fascinating history.
The heat of the day was making me thirsty (doesn’t everything?) and so I decided on a beer overlooking the square. I knew it was going to be expensive and so it proved to be as the image of the bill attests.
Service was abysmal (table service only as usual) and I was constantly being hassled by beggars and African sellers of complete tat.
It was a most unpleasant experience at the Re Artu (King Arthur if I have got it right although what relevance that had to Rome I have no idea) and moved on sharpish. Despite the stifling heat I did quite enjoy walking around there as there is some superb architecture in the area.
I headed for the Twins Bar which I have mentioned before and which is right opposite the station. OK, it is not cheap but it is not quite as ludicrously expensive as some other places in the area and at least I knew it was friendly and the beer was well-kept. Apart from that, I also know that they did an excellent selection of the wonderful beer snacks I have mentioned above and even serve them up on a little wooden platter. Again, these were extremely tasty and free, gratis and for nothing!
Somewhat knocked out of my rather idle routine by my admittedly limited ramble the previous day I decided to repeat the process, again nothing too strenuous bit I fancied a look round the Piazza dei Cinquecento where I had seen an interesting looking park area.
I have since found out that the Piazza is named not for the diminutive Fiat car currently so popular amongst the urban chattering classes but for the 500 Italian soldiers who perished in battle in 1887 in the Battle of Dogali which was one of many attempts by the Italians to occupy Ethiopia, a country they seem to have somewhat of an obsession with. Mussolini had a go at prior to the Second World War and managed it briefly in 1936 before he got kicked out by the locals backed up by the British.
Again, I have learned so much whilst researching my little pieces here. The gardens were part of the area surrounding the historic site of the Baths of Di
Diocletian, named for the Emperor of that name who is chiefly remembered for his persecution of Christians, many of whom died as forced labour in the building of the baths. Today it is a delightful and peaceful space and remarkably quiet given it’s proximity to several of central Rome’s busier thoroughfares.
I know they are not in situ but there is a very impressive collection of tombstones gathered from various sites around ancient Rome. Interestingly, many of them give the dimensions of the graves which must have been some indication of status, I suppose. Here are a small selection.
Apart from the tombstones there is an equally impressive collection of sarcophagi which I have only recently discovered literally translates as “flesh-eating”, how very gruesome. ow ever gruesome the translation may be, I did find them very attractive.
The 26th June yields nothing more interesting from my meagre photographic attempts than what had become a fairly standard breakfast for me – coffee, water, beer and cigarettes. I know, hardly what the Chief Panicking (sorry, Medical) Officer would recommend but at least there is liquid other than beer being taken on board. In the same way as I had become “Frenchified” (if that is even a word), I was coming over all Italian now.
If the 26th had provided what was for me a pretty normal Roman breakfast the 27th turned up something completely different on the culinary radar and at the opposite end of the day. I can only assume I did nothing of interest as I have no images to support such a suggestion but in the evening I found myself hungry.
OK, I know what is going to follow is going to have the self-proclaimed epicureans weeping into their caviar froth decorated bluefin tuna but I fancied a Chinese, probably because I had seen what looked like a decent little place just round the corner from where I was staying and, best of all, anyone I had seen dining in there was obviously Asian. Good sign for me. I believe it is called “Risorgimento” but the main signage is all in Chinese, another good sign. Do not be put off by the hideously vandalised (i.e. grafittied) exterior as it is really pleasant inside and the welcome could not be warmer. Despite struggling for a common language there were English translations on the menu so it was a matter of “point and press”.
As I tend to do in Chinese restaurants I over-ordered but what was put in front of me was excellent and turned out to be insanely cheap for such an expensive area. I paid far less than I would have done for an equivalent takeaway in suburban London. Needless to say, this was going to be my haunt if Mauro did not manage to fatten me up with his excellent offerings.
Again, apologies for some of the images but I really do not like firing off flash when people are eating their food. It is fairly obvious from the images above what I had and I must have ordered a set meal as I certainly would not have ordered a sweet after singularly failing to finish the previous courses but it was apple fritter for dessert. That is fine by me as I love fruit fritters in the Chinese style and was expecting a couple of peeled and cored slices battered and deep-fried.
Not a chance as the image above shows. It was nothing less than a complete apple cooked in the appropriate manner and, despite all the odds, I managed to finish it off, it was just that tasty. I am not quite sure how I managed to walk home I was so full but it was not far and I did it. Straight to bed to sleep it off.
This must have been another day hanging out in Mauro’s as I have only two images and the only reason I am bothering to include them is that one of them shows that I had taken to reading the La Repubblica newspaper in addition to whatever English language paper Mauro used to so thoughtfully provide me with. I find reading newspapers to be a great way at making a start on a language as you can put things in context by the associated images. When the gastronomia was quiet in the afternoon I would try to struggle my way through some of the headline stories, asking Mauro for help with the difficult words. Bless him, he was so very patient and I did start to amass a little vocabulary even if I had no sense of grammar, sentence structure or anything else.
Apart from trying to learn a little basic Italian I did get some sort of an idea of what was interesting ordinary Romans and which again brings me back to my much discussed notion that sitting in a random backstreet bar, even in one of the tourist centres of the world, is not wasted time. Nothing is wasted time if you are prepared to learn.
It quickly became evident that the main topics of journalism and discussion (outside the usual sport about which Italians are passionate) were interlinked as they were immigration and politics. Being the summer it was prime season for the influx of economic migrants and some genuine refugees travelling from North Africa to the Southernmost outposts of Europe with Lampedusa being a magnet for such people as it is very close to the Tunisian coast although it is Italian. Get there and you have reached the “promised land” of Europe and it was driving the Italians mad. I am not talking about rabid xenophobes here but people who apparently were just fed up with being a dumping ground for every scrounger not fleeing any persecution but merely seeking a better economic situation through means legal or illegal. There were almost daily in the media very distressing images of police officers pulling bodies off beaches, coastguard boats picking up dozens of migrants who had been deserted by the traffickers (often not even putting enough fuel in the unseaworthy craft for the journey knowing the Italians or some of the well-meaning “charity” boats patrolling locally and thus encouraging this vile trade in human misery, would step in.
I mentioned that there were two interlinked themes of great interest and I do not think it is any coincidence that the far-Right were rising rapidly in the political spectrum in Italy on the back of a manifesto promise (amongst others) to clamp down on immigration. I mentioned in a previous entry in this series that when I passed through from Austria to Italy, there was a presence of border guards at Brennero station but withing a few weeks of me being in Italy the Austrian government (at time of writing in September 2018 controlled by the far right on the back of an anti immigration policy) had closed that border off and manned it with troops n armoured vehicles.
Whilst I undoubtedly should have done more sightseeing and much earlier I would never have had such an insight into the thinking of ordinary Romans had I been trekking around the Colisseum in the wake of a thousand other tourists.
OK, enough of all this and let’s pass on.
The 29th apparently yielded nothing of interest as I have not a single image for it and the 30th frankly is not much better except for a slightly amusing little aside. When I was in Rome, Birra Moretti were running a promotion which featured a large capital letter on the front label. Mauro had decided that he wanted to spell out his name and that of his girlfriend in the bottles which he eventually achieved with a little help from your humble narrator. He was dependent on what bottles the supplier sent and which were totally random in what letters they bore. He was missing one (the G as I recall) and one day I was walking to the Terminii station to get the papers as he had been running late that morning and I had seen the missing consonant (consonant please, Carol, a reference that only us Brits will get!) on a little wheeled refrigerated stall on the way. The problem was that it was right at the front of the display i.e. furthest away from the vendor and there was no way I could have explained that I wanted the particular bottle of beer with the letter G on it so I went back, papers in hand and told him the happy news. He immediately handed Alicia, the utterly charming young waitress, a few € and dispatcehd us back to get the elusive letter. I am not sure what the conversation was but the guy on the stall looked at the two of us were completely barmy (reasonable assumption I thought) before digging out the necessary bottle and we returned in triumph (imagine Roman triumphs in the Imperial days) where Mauro completed his mission with a grin n him that would have made a Cheshire cat look like a sourpuss (OK, I know that was poor, I’ll try harder).
You can see the results of my diligence above, and there is a further twist in the story of the bottles to come so look out for that.
Later that evening it was back to my favourite little Chinese.
Yet again it was every bit as good as it looked although it appears the fritters were the more traditional banana on this occasion. I suppose I should tell you where the restaurant is in case you ever want to visit which I suggest you do. It is at 6, Via Vicenza which is literally five minutes walk from Terminii station and I do recommend it. A quick scan on the internet as I was writing this shows some pretty negative reviews but a lot of them appear to have been written by the same person which always rings alarm bells with me. Over a period of writing travel reviews spanning nearly 15 years
As always, the huge Chinese meal finished me and so it was back to my appalling hostel to try and catch what sleep I could in that awful place.
I am conscious that this particular entry has gone on a bit and so I shall break here as the next entry goes into another month. I know I am a bit mad when it comes to travelling but July in Rome on the back of a four-day trip in April to Southern Netherlands was a bit lunatic even by my crazy standards.
More of Rome to come so stay tuned and spread the word.
The 11th of June technically arrived at midnight as it does and with me sitting at the bar of an Irish pub on the Via Nazionale which is the large and very grand “main street” of Rome and runs down the Quirinale hill. The pub is called the Flann O’Brien and I shall deal with it later when I find the images. The reason I was there was that it seemed to be the only gig in town as the Byron across the road had already shut and it wasn’t even half past midnight yet.
I certainly wasn’t going to go off in search of a nightclub as I did not even do that when I was a young man. I did know a bar called Twins just round the corner that was a great little place during the day and weekday evenings and stayed open until all hours but at the weekends they took into his thump-thump-thump noise which passes for music these days and so that was not an option. Then I had a completely lunatic idea, of which I am frequently capable.
I skulled my pint, bade the barman who actually was a genuine Irishman remarkably, wandered straight across the road to Macdonalds and bought a bag of their appalling food. My feelings about that particular bunch of health bandits are well-known but I has just taken it into my disordered little brain that it would be a fun think to do, eat that garbage in such a high-class hotel with 24 hour room service.
I also made sure the night porter could clearly see it as I bid him a cheery “Ciao” and the look in his face was priceless. It tickled me somehow, sad as that probably is. I also thought it would make a great photo and it was duly taken and displayed for your hopeful amusement here. Obviously, I could not finish it so I binned the remainder and off to my big comfy bed. Lest anyone should ask, no I am not going to write a full review on a Macdonalds!
What happened next was almost inevitable. I arose, performed my ablutions and went straight across the road to the George Byron pub. On the way, I did manage a few more imges of the really rather swanky Quirinale Hotel as displayed above. In my defence I should point out that it was nearly 1400 by that time although that was merely because I had slept in after the night before’s performance! What in the name of everything under the sun was a scruffy yob like me doing here?
According to my trusty little camera I even ate twice that day, a plate of sandwiches that were given to me in the pub whilst watching the football and what looks like a Pizza Romana to me and is a great favourite. I obviously had my “when in Rome” hat on. It looks very nice although I was damned if I can remember eating it when first I wrote this piece. Still it saved the poor cleaners having to fumigate my smelly fast food emporium on the first floor again for which I am sure they were grateful.
If you count the Macdonalds from the previous evening that means I had eaten three times in 24 hours which is more often than I do in a week sometimes.
Nothing much to do today except shift myself to my new place of abode and have a few beers. The former was not going to be a problem as I was inadvertently travelling so light and the little rollalong case, although by now pretty sick, was struggling on manfully. Even if I had to carry it manually I could still do it in temperatures that were getting hotter by the day. Still, I could not complain as I had come South for the heat. The latter task will never be a problem for me!
I did achieve one thing though, whilst looking through the day’s images to compose this piece. I solved the great pizza mysterymentioned above! For anyone just landing on this page there is indeed a better than evens chance that I am crazy but allow me to explain. in the entry for the previous day (remember I am re-hashing this from pieces I wrote for another website over a year ago) I mentioned that I could not remember where I had eaten pizza the night before but when writing this subsequent entry it all came back. It was a place called Restaurant Zeus which was literally bang opposite my hotel and no more than five minutes stumble from any of the three local bars I used to infest. I use the word advisedly!
The walk from one location to the other was no more than ten minutes but it did allow me a glimpse into the sheer beauty that is a sunny day in Rome. I had a feeling I was going to fall in love with the city and so it was to prove.
I had booked into a place called M&J hostel which is very centrally located about five minutes walk from Terminii station which was one of the reasons I chose it. I’ll not go into the ins and outs of it just yet as I like to “keep my powder dry” as they say. I’ll tell you all about it later. Suffice for now to say that I could not check in but the manager / owner or whatever he is and who proved to be a surly bugger at the best of times eventually very graciously agreed even adknowledge my presence (apparently he was training new staff) and to let me leave my small case behind the reception desk so I did not have to sit there all day waiting for him to deign to deal with me..
The images on which I am so reliant when writing blog entries indicate that I appear to have taken myself into a swanky hotel for a drink and probably just to cool off in the air-con. I don’t even recognise it but I do recognise the next place, Guiliani’s which is somewhat of an institution here.
It is rather flash and a place to see and be seen, with prices to match which is why I was very shocked at the absolutely abysmal state of the toilet facilities as I trust the mages show. I have seen tidier in hard rock / bikers bars in the roughest ends of many towns. Utterly disgraceful. On the upside they just keep feeding you the most amaing “bar nibbles” which more than sufficed for lunch for me which offset the inordinate prices somewhat.
After another session of sitting outside another bar I really have no recollection, not because I was drunk but because I didn’t take any images and consequently have no visual frame of reference for the rest of the day so I’ll sign off here.
After moving to the hostel I was going to chill out and do a bit of “light” sightseeing not like the groups of usually unhappy looking Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Americans (mostly) being hustled along the Roman streets by some idiot waving a flag or an umbrella. It would drive me mad. After that I was going to decide the next move as I knew that time was running and I needed to get to Canada, not yet imperative but I was aiming for later that month or early July as I thought that was when the Canadian “season” started weatherwise.
Everything changed dramatically when I met Mauro!
One day in mid June I was walking past his little gastronomia and fancied a coffee so in I went and ordered one (in Italian, it is only two words of two syllables each which is about all I can master) and he immediately said to me in very good English, “are you English?” and I explained that I wasn’t but I lived there whereupon we took to chatting. He had sussed me that quickly. He speaks excellent English as he lived in London for a couple of years and within a few days we had become friends. He really is a lovely bloke and I’ll go further into details in the next journal entry.
The upshot of the whole thing was that I got into one of my travel ruts. It was just so pleasant to sit there all day drinking Moretti beer, reading the newspaper and chatting that I quickly lost all impetus to move so I didn’t. I refer to it as travel inertia as I have mentioned before. Napoli and Sicilia will just have to wait for another time.
Much more of Rome to come so stay tuned and spread the word.