So I'm in Rome...

A few mates asked me to send them the odd email as I've done from other trips. And a few people here asked me to post them if I did them. I started doing these emails to send my dad who married a misanthrope and didn't get to go anywhere. When he came down with pneumonia, I told myself that when he got better I would take him to Rome because I knew he would love it. He didn't get better.

It happened again. Lisa's packing. Her suitcase sat on the floor of the bedroom for months while she tossed into it stuff for the trip. As I watched it happen, I wondered whether she was planning a bigger trip than the rest of us. Or whether she was moving out. I saw a few packing lists come and go, too. When one list was all ticked off, she made another list. And when her bag was full, she got a bigger bag. Then that predictable self doubt crept in where she forgot exactly what was in the bag because of the superseded lists and had to dive into the case every now and then to make sure things she thought should be there actually were there. I imagined us being stopped at the airport in Rome and asked for paperwork to support the clothing export business she was clearly running. Or being quizzed on why it appeared we were immigrating without the right paperwork.
But when it came time to head to the airport at 4am the other day, her bag was strangely light. The kid's bags were even lighter - it turned out one of them only had 9 kilos. Our total at the airport was 69 kilos for the four of us. I kept waiting for someone to walk up behind me and say, 'Hey, you forgot these bags.' The check-in chick wasn't going to comment on how little our bags weighed so I felt I had to. She agreed when prompted that we had done well given our total available weight was 120 kilos. That's 51 unused kilos - an extra small person. I asked whether there was some sort of prize we might have won. Of course, I have a feeling by the time we head home in a month we might be closer to that 120 kilo limit and I won't be so smug.
It was my first time on an A380. Nice, but it felt more like an auditorium than a plane. There were rows and rows of people. And we were encouraged to keep the blinds down to stop light interfering with people's seat back screens. I've never watched so much telly. I think I got my whole year's ration on that first 15 hour flight - 30 Rock, Modern Family, Luther, Madmen. I can't imagine doing that flight like we used to in the old days when there were dodgy projectors showing a single film on a couple of screens hanging from the ceiling. Tell kids today that was what planes were like and they won't believe you. Remember how there was always at least one projector that didn't work? And that from half the seats you had the choice of watching the movie and buggering your neck, or sitting in the dark and listening to one of only 10 audio stations - all of them on a short rotation?
We had a quick changeover in Dubai - an airport I now know where a quick changeover isn't ideal. There was a long walk, followed by a short train trip, followed by a longer walk (that turned into a bit of a panicked family jog toward the end). The second flight was shorter - just six hours. And it was on a plane that was more like a plane, with plane food more like plane food.
We booked an apartment in Rome through Airbnb - google it. What a fantastic find. It's in Trastevere. Woody Allen set a movie here last year. You know how places always look better in movies than in real life? This one looks even better in real life - tiny cobbled lane ways full of bars and restaurants. There are more lane way bars in half a dozen streets here than there would be in the whole of Melbourne. And they have that effortless Italian style. The closest area we have to this one in Sydney might be the back streets of Potts Point, but it's really not all that close. Boy, it's noisy at night, though. And it's winter now - the quiet season. Things ramp up from around 10pm and there are still people wandering around at 3am. We are one lane back from the really busy ones, but there are half a dozen bars and restaurants within 40 meters of our place and the sound travels - that's all those stone walls and cobbled streets. On our second night, there were three guys and a girl just below our window at 3am having a chat. They weren't being especially loud, but loud enough. We could hear - but not understand - every word. I finally bit the bullet and opened the window (we're on the first floor) and leaned out to make the observation that they were being a tad loud. They all apologised and a couple of minutes later headed off. As I went back to bed, I thought to myself if this really was the back streets of Potts Point and they were Aussie youngsters, they would have tossed a bottle at the window, then pissed on the door, maybe vomited, too. And probably had a fight with eachother before keying a couple of cars.
random question...but since europe is winter now where do ya get winter clothes in aus now??? even online

That's a good point- and it may explain the half empty suitcases which Lisa took away. Italy, fashion, generous husband...
That's a good point- and it may explain the half empty suitcases which Lisa took away. Italy, fashion, generous husband...

Geoffw, when my relatives from Italy came out to Australia for vacation they fell in love with Target, they have nothing like this in Italy, they could not believe the prices and selection. They went nuts.

They exchanged their stylish clothes for Target stuff, it was great fun to watch.

Thanks for sharing. Italians never sleep, its crazy, they just keep partying, if you can't beat them... join them I say:p

Once again I am enthralled. These trips have to be published in to a book

The description of Lisa and the suitcase that grew then shrunk is very typical...that's me...I go away 6 to 8 times a year...the suitcase lives on the floor of the bedroom!! but there is always a spare bag in the suitcase that is large enough to bring back the extras I need when I am away.

How long in Rome and how long in Barcelona?

Your children will never forget this trip ... but its the quirky silly things they remember. I took my son many times as he grew up, the first time he was 4, he still remembers things we ate as we travelled around the UK!!!! plus he remembers spending lots of time with my parents, which is just wonderful.

Happy Travelling and keep up the fantastic writing

random question...but since europe is winter now where do ya get winter clothes in aus now??? even online

I saw a daughter off at the airport late last week. Destination Romania where the temperature is slightly above and below zero. She bought thermal underclothes and took a fur lined coat, gloves and hat from the wardrobe. According to emails the coat has saved her life as she posts pictures of herself on Facebook doing her first ever snow angel.
A week in Rome, Geoff. That's a good length of time here, I reckon. Long enough to reload my memories and plant a few in the kids' heads. Then it's a train to Venice for 5 days and a flight to Barcelona for 11 days. We wrap things up with 5 days in Vienna.
Chris, I think the world has enough travel books. I don't even keep copies of the stuff I write - Somersoft is probably the only place the jottings of those past trips exists. It's just something to pass the time - I find that it makes me more observant of what's happening around me.
I'll get onto the next instalment in a jiff. This little part of Rome we're staying in really is great.
While these are all fascinating cities, I'm quite surprised that you are going to these places.

Unless there's been substantial renovations, most of the depreciation in these places would have been used up hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.
While these are all fascinating cities, I'm quite surprised that you are going to these places.

Unless there's been substantial renovations, most of the depreciation in these places would have been used up hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.

Probably been reno'ed a fair bit.

The Y-man
Probably been reno'ed a fair bit.
Not quite sure about that. This is an after picture:
Nobody in Trastevere owns a garbage bin. They have no front yards or backyards to keep a bin in. Houses and flats have doors on the street and people just bag their rubbish and leave it outside. Every four hours, little garbage trucks scoot around and pick it up - mostly. Goodness knows how they do it, the lanes are so jam packed with tables and chairs, motor scooters and cars. And people. Lots of the lanes can only fit people and bikes, so the garbos must walk up them. A lot of the cars are those Smart cars - those ones that look like someone ran up the back of them at the lights. It's the only place I have seen them where they don't look just a little bit dumb. They are perfect for this place. They're jammed into all sorts of spaces, often perpendicular to other cars. Locals seem to abandon their cars more than park them. And the police aren't interested. They don't seem all that interested in what happens on the roads at all and it seems people regard road rules more as suggestions than directions. But it all works. And nobody gets cranky. There is stuff happening all the time on the roads that back home would end up in all sorts of ugliness - in the US, people would get shot. But here, they just get on with it.
There are at least five different police forces In Rome I learnt today. They all have specific responsibilities and some pretty flamboyant uniforms. They love those uniforms and when they're out and about they all swagger. I get the feeling that someone would have to do something pretty terrible for the police to break into a trot. I saw them pull over a car the other day, so clearly that guy had run over a nun or something like that.
The police do a sort of a dance with the street hawkers - especially the bag sellers. They're all from Senegal - impossibly dark and tall and thin. They carry half a dozen rip-off designer bags on each arm and put them down on the ground when they find a likely spot - not so much a 'pop-up shop' as a pop down one. I watched the dance they do with the police when we were near the Colosseum. The police wander near them and the bags sellers scoop up their dozen bags and edge away. They try to be inconspicuous and have a look on their face that says, 'Who me? What bags? Oh, these ones. I'm not selling them, I'm just delivering them. I always walk backwards slowly when I'm delivering them.' Then when the police have passed them, the bags go down again and it's back to business. The other hawkers selling tourist stuff are mostly young guys from Bangladesh. Like the Senegalese, they wouldn't be registered asylum seekers or anything like that. They're just here trying to live. An English speaking bloke told me the other day that if they annoy the police or draw to much attention to themselves they get a letter that tells them to go home. He knew a hawker who had a pretty big collection of letters.
The apartment we're staying in is about 300 years old. The little churches in this area are much older. Most of Rome is much older. It would be a burden to any government having this much history. Imagine an Italian historian coming to Sydney and someone showing him The Rocks. He would say, 'You're kidding, right? That's it?' There is a bit of an underground railway in Rome, but not much. I think they gave up. When they built the underground station near the Colosseum they ran into part of Nero's palace. How annoying would that have been. Most buildings in Rome are built on top of other buildings so no developer is going to want to excavate in case they find something special. And if they do accidentally find something, I bet they try and hide it. Our guide in the Colosseum pointed out a cafe across the road. They learnt somehow not too long ago that underneath it are the remains of the gladiator school that trained fighters for the Colosseum. They even found the tunnel that leads from the school to the Colosseum. That cafe owner will be nervous when the time comes to renew his lease.
Most of the Emperors lived on the Palatine Hill, but Nero wanted something a bit more flash. He burnt a big chunk of the city to build his Palace. Nobody would know whether he really did 'fiddle while Rome burned', but it's a nice story. He was pretty excessive, so if he was fiddling with something, it probably wasn't a musical instrument. The cleared ground covered 200 acres including a 5 acre lake - much of it under cover. At the entrance to the palace he had a 40 metre high bronze statue made of himself in a heroic pose. But putting Nero in perspective, Rome was a pretty heady place back then. There were apparently 800 hot water baths around the city. The largest could fit 3,000 people. Slaves heated the water by burning wood. But Nero probably went a bit over top by clearing a 200 acre patch in the middle of the city to build a house, so when he died the place was torn down. The Colosseum stands where the lake was.
We did an organised tour of the Colosseum. Did that last time, too. It really is the best way to do it - the main benefit is that you skip the entry queue (which even in the winter would have been close to a two hour queue). There is no need to go looking for a guide, they find you. They're the ones hassling you without an armful of bags. They're always Italian. And fast talking. You're only half certain you're not getting ripped off, but sometimes when you travel you need to loosen your guard. The touts get the punters, take them to a priority window to get the entry tickets, take them back to someone else lurking outside to hand over a guide fee, then they're delivered to the guide. It's all pretty chaotic, but slick. Our guide was Daniella. She was good - great English. Like all guides she had her little jokes that she trotted out. Daniella laughed a lot at her own jokes, which was impressive given she would trot them out half a dozen times a day. And they weren't very good.
The Colosseum is great. Completely buggered, but great. It's not just time that did the damage, but Italians. After the fall of the Empire when the dour hand of religion took hold of Rome, the story goes that there was a concerted effort to tear down the excesses of the Republic. The Colosseum was all marble. Floors, walls, seats, the whole thing. So what we see now is just the skeleton. The marble was all carted off to be used elsewhere - mostly in the hundreds of churches that sprung up. I'm not convinced the marble was all taken off through some sort of puritanical purging, I reckon it was just because it was there. And everybody likes free stuff. I bet there are recycled marble kitchen benches and steps in houses that would have been reused over and over for the last 2,000 years.
It only took eight years to build the Colosseum. That's only one year longer than my Annandale reno, but I didn't have 40,000 slaves helping me out. When it was finished, there was a 100 day party for everyone - except the slaves, I suspect. The Colosseum was a gift to the people to keep them happy and compliant - sort of a 'sorry' gift after the antics of Nero, I guess. The entertainment and food was free. There were different seating sections of course depending on social status - single women were seated right up the back. The best seats were down the front and the very best ones had holes in them so people could hitch up there tunics, sit down, and eat and drink as much as they liked without having to get up and go to the dunny. I wouldn't be surprised if there weren't slaves - short ones - scampering along under those particular seats wiping bums.
At the end of the Colosseum tour, there was a complimentary tour of the Palatine Hill and the Forum on offer. We were told to meet our next guide - Colin - in one hour at the Colosseum exit. I was pretty sure there had never been a Saint Colin, so I was guessing he wasn't Italian. Sure enough, Colin was from Essex. He was probably early 30s and had studied at Sydney uni and spent 7 years in Rome. He was going through the hoops to become an official guide. Being a guide is a respected profession over here and it takes years to get the nod. Colin walked us up the Palatine Hill, where some of the Emperors lived, and told us some stuff about The Forum while we looked over it. Then he did his spiel about the tour of the Vatican his company runs and what a great deal it is. We booked a spot the following day and put down a deposit. So Colin's freebie tour was sort of a loss leader to sell other tours. I reckon I would be a good guide. My jokes would be pretty good, too.
Thanks Scott...smiling here...I have been to Rome many times but never have I seen it through your eyes...You really do have a talent for picking up things others miss :)

Being originally from Essex, I had a giggle at Colin and can well imagine his Italian Accent with the Essex accent mixed in ...would not be pretty