Sensational Baby Boomers

Friday, 7 January 2022

WHERE TO GO IN 2022???


Anne in Tropea

We all know what a miserable couple of years it's been due to COVID-19 and ever-changing travel restrictions.  But we hope 2022 travel is looking more promising as entry requirements change.  It helps that both of us are now triple jabbed, so maybe able to travel again.

While Anne H managed a quick trip to see elderly relatives in Italy (see a previous visit here) last year, Anne C hasn't been away for a couple of years.  And while we had some sunny days in the UK last summer, holidaying at home was incredibly expensive as resorts cashed in on international travel restrictions. 


A view from Tropea town

Planning this year's holidays

So it is with fingers crossed that we try and plan our much-needed and long overdue holidays for the coming year.  

Anne H will hopefully be heading to Italy again - this time to Verona as well as Tropea.  The Verona trip was due last year but was one of the trips which fell foul of Italy's restrictions.

Anne C has a bucket list holiday booked in the USA, which has been cancelled four times due to the pandemic, but also the back-story started in 2016.

If you've been a long-standing reader of our blog, Anne and Anne went off to New York with their respective daughters.  The plan was for Anne C and her daughter to spend five days with Anne H and her blogger daughter Lizzy, before continuing onto Las Vegas for a further five days. (Anne and Lizzy had previously been to Las Vegas and didn't plan to go again). 





That trip went badly wrong. As Anne C was getting out of a taxi, the driver suddenly accelerated away from the kerb.  She was thrown into the road and fractured her spine.  Instead of heading off to Nevada, she spent the night in hospital and was forced to travel back home to the UK laid out flat in business class, and subsequently spent nearly a month in a wheelchair. (Incidentally it was the first time she had ever flown first class and was so sleepy on diazepam that she doesn't remember any of the flight).



A subsequent visit back to New York in 2018 was to claim compensation, which fortunately was ultimately successful.  However, Anne is still often in severe pain, but thankfully can walk relatively normally again.





So it is with fingers crossed that in 2019 Anne and her daughter booked what to her would be the holiday of a lifetime, taking in Las Vegas, Hawaii and Los Angeles. Firstly due to mechanical issues with the ship they were due to cruise, followed by the pandemic, it has now been postponed four times, but hopefully it will go ahead this Spring.

The plan is to spend five days in Las Vegas, taking in the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam and all the bright lights - we also did try and get Adele tickets since we couldn't even get the UK ones, but that hasn't been successful either.  Then it's onto Honolulu for a few days, before boarding the Pride of America and setting sail for a tour of the Hawaiian Islands.  Finally, we will stop off in LA for a couple of days to relax.


It may well be the last major holiday Anne has, other than staying in Europe and visiting her favourite Greek island of Santorini (she's even been learning the Greek language!)  For our American readers, Europe is just a short hop for us from the UK, and flights are relatively inexpensive.  I say this because we were once criticised by our US followers who said our blog was unrealistic and that Greece was out of the question for most seniors.  Similarly of course, the same is true for us travelling to the United States.

Whether all of these plans will come to fruition is anyone's guess of course, since Covid is probably here to stay and we will have to learn to live with it for years to come. 

Sadly, the last time we managed to get away on holiday together was in autumn 2019 when we cruised Italy, Malta and Croatia



But I do know that we both need a little sunshine in our lives this year.  Fingers crossed.

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Friday, 10 December 2021

OUR FAVOURITE PLACES, PART TWO

 

You may remember that Anne C gave us her favourite places in the world a little while ago, and now it’s Anne H’s turn to give us the lowdown on her most memorable and enjoyable holidays.

First up for Anne has to be Vancouver and Vancouver Island, which she visited a few years ago with her daughter Lizzy.  As a city, Vancouver was manageable to navigate and easy to walk (increasingly important as we get a little older), and is such a beautiful location, situated on the waterfront, bounded by the ocean and its many inlets. Surrounded by mountains, this bustling seaport is a gateway between the great outdoors and a thriving and successful modern city. No wonder it is high on the index of best cities in the world – and for Anne at least, one of those places you could imagine living.  Further details about Anne’s previous trip can be found here. 



The same trip also encompassed Vancouver Island, which was probably her paradise on earth, with stunning scenery, a myriad of wildlife featuring birds, sea creatures and even bears. Fortunately the seals were not threatening and Anne and Lizzy didn’t encounter any bears (though there were some lurking in the woods). They were able to appreciate the stunning views of wild and unspoilt countryside, empty beaches and glorious sunsets.


They found Victoria to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with sea planes landing and taking off, hydrofoils heading to Seattle and lots to see and do.  More details here.

Next up on Anne’s list has to be Tropea in Italy, where she has family so is a regular visitor. One can’t visit Italy without mentioning the food, and Tropea has an abundance of fabulous restaurants dishing up the most amazing food. With its stunning hilltop setting, the beach is a bit of a trek down the steps, but offers crystal clear water and great beachside dining, a beautiful position, laid-back life style and sun, sun, sun! While Anne has family here and usually visits at least once a year, we have both holidayed there and absolutely love the laid back vibe. See previous visits here and here.

Staying with Italy, Rome is high on the list of favourite cities for both of us – though actually we have never visited there together.  What’s not to love about the amazing history, the stunning architecture and seeing for real all those fabulous landmarks you’ve only ever seen in the movies? And then of course there’s the wine, the food … and you can’t visit without mentioning Italian gelato which is to die for! And the shops – definitely la dolce vita! See previous visits here, here and here. Three visits - you can tell me love it there!



So where to next? There are so many different European cities which have such a lot to offer, that it’s difficult to choose where next to go… Madrid? Lisbon? Porto? Florence? Hamburg? Vienna? And back to France – where we have both previously enjoyed visits. 

For us Brits, Europe offers much closer destinations and it’s easier to get to as we get a little older (at least under normal circumstances and not during COVID restrictions).  Every city has a different vibe due to cultural differences and natural geography. It’s also nice to relax on a fabulous beach holiday from time to time, which gives us the opportunity to relax and recharge the batteries.

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Friday, 15 October 2021

DRIVING THE NORTH COAST 500

 


With foreign holidays still causing  some difficulties for UK residents, staycations have become the norm for 2021.  Winding back before the COVID-19 pandemic, Anne H took to the high roads (with another friend, not Anne C) to discover the stunning natural beauty of Scotland.

Beginning and finishing in Inverness, the North Coast 500 is a 516 mile drive around some of the most stunning countryside in the UK.  Anne undertook this epic drive during late 2019 before the pandemic and any restrictions on English travellers to Scotland, so any visitors this year may well have seen an increase in road traffic on what can only be described at best as rural roads.

And if you would like to undertake this mega driving holiday, we recommend buying The North Coast Journey by Brigid Benson, available on Amazon, before planning your trip.

Plan your holiday

For that reason, her first piece of advice would be to avoid high summer, since the roads are narrow in parts, with well-marked but limited passing places – not great if you meet a motor home head on coming from the opposite direction!  Her second piece of advice would be to carefully plan the journey beforehand and ensure accommodation is booked in advance since there are no large hotels, and accommodation is largely in B&Bs.  And finally – avoid your trip between May and September – those midges love warm, damp weather and migrate towards shorts and sleeveless tops! However, that might mean you miss out on the good weather. Be warned, Scotland is lush and green because it rains quite a lot and the winters are cold, so you'll need to take appropriate clothing and footwear! But if you're heading there in Autumn, what could be cosier than a roaring fire and a wee dram to ward of the chills? Or better still - take time to visit one of the many distilleries in Scotland

That said, the scenery is absolutely stunning and well worth the trip.The journey can take anything between five and 10 days – depending on what you want to see and where you make a detour. Travelling counter-clockwise, the journey will take you north-east and then west, taking in Dornoch, Wick, Tongue, Lochinver, Ullapool, Kinlochewe and back to Inverness.

Beautiful Scenery


Picture above: Achnasheen Laide and below:Achnasheen Poolwe

If you’re not in a rush, and your pace is leisurely, you can detour to Loch Ness – and maybe do a little Nessie Monster spotting.  Take the ferry from Scrabster near Thurso to Stromness and check out its Viking Heritage, along with the 5,000 year old stone circles.


Above and below: Applecross

For those brave outdoor types (not us!!) head to the Isle of Skye for wild swimming in the Fairy Pools.  For those who are not so brave, at least there are some fabulous Instagramable shots to be had. You can either drive over the 500m Skye bridge or take the ferry, and dine at the world famous Three Chimneys or the Michelin starred Loch Bay restaurant.

The Royal Connection

The Castle of Mey

Scotland is also famous for its castles, and the links with the royal family go back centuries.
  Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother owned the Castle of Mey as a holiday retreat, though this was later bequeathed to The Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust and The Prince's Foundation.  She renovated the castle with her own money – which delighted the residents of Caithness because it brought running water and reliable electricity to nearby residents.

Staying with the royal connection, Anne’s visit to Scotland coincided with the Braemar Gathering, traditionally attended by Her Majesty the Queen.  This includes traditional Highland Games, Scottish Dancing, bagpipes and caber tossing. Her Majesty spends the summer at her Scottish residence Balmoral, which is close by, while Prince Charles (who uses the title The Earl of Rothesay when in Scotland) stays at Birkhall which is also on the Balmoral Estate.

And when the Royal Family visit Balmoral, they worship at the small local village church - Craithie Kirk, pictured below:

Craithie Kirk

Both of us have previously spent time in Scotland, and there is much more to see than just the North Coast 500.  Edinburgh (where Anne C spent part of her honeymoon) and Glasgow, apart from having plenty to do and see, also have some fabulous shops where you can stock up on tartan and beautiful woollen goods.  During a previous holiday together we visited the amazing Royal Yacht Britannia.  Who doesn’t remember those iconic photographs of Prince Charles and Princess Diana aboard the yacht during happier times?

Sadly the yacht was taken out of service in 1997, and is now docked permanently in Leith, Edinburgh, and open to the public to view.  It isn’t as luxurious as you might imagine, but is well worth a visit! 

Anne's itinerary and her Bed and Breakfast recommendations:

Braemar - Cranford Guest House.  Very nice B & B Highly recommend   

Inverness - Jacobite Rose.  Basic B&B -  fine for one night

Applecross - Applecross Inn.  Lovely place to stay . Lovely food and views. 

Gairloch - Gairloch View Guesthouse, Lacked a bit of character but clean, and good views.

Ullapool - The Sheilling,Garve   Friendly and lovely place to stay 

Kylescu - Kylescu Hotel  Fabulous. 

Durness -Mackays Rooms  Highly recommended 


We found this was probably making trip one night longer than needed and would choose between this and Melvich 

Dornoch - Where we stayed no longer available but would recommend looking in centre - there are a few good B&Bs

Muir of Ord - Dower House.  Lovely place to stay, highly recommend. 


Lairg - Kylesku

Land's End

Lybster

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Friday, 19 February 2021

OUR FAVOURITE PLACES

 


We haven't been able to travel for more than a year, or meet up for around three months, (all due to COVID) so please accept our apologies for the lack of new content on our Sensational Baby Boomers blog.

However, it's high time to dust off the laptop, and although it's too early yet to plan our next holidays, we thought it would be a good idea to look back at some of our favourite places.

There are sometimes very specific reasons or times when holidays create extra special memories - a special birthday, an anniversary, or even exceptional hotels and bucket list places, and our travels have incorporated some of these.

ROME

We have both been to Rome, though not together, yet both of us have found this to be a very special place.

This is Anne C and I visited Rome for the first time in early 2020, before the virus took hold. The trip was to celebrate my daughter's birthday and had been on my bucket list for a while, not least because Anne H had been a couple of times and said how fabulous it was.

We were slightly apprehensive about the time of year - we went in January - but the temperature was pleasant and it was good to get away from the bitter cold in the UK.

We got off to a fabulous start when our pre-booked transport arrived - a rather comfortable Audi - and as we approached the centre of Rome with its beautifully lit and well preserved ruins, "Nessum Dorma" came on the car stereo and the trip became magical.

I have already covered the trip in detail here, and Anne has also written previously about it here and here, but I can honestly say it is one of my favourite cities in the world.  The history is everywhere - and beautifully preserved while still being very much on public display.  The food, of course, is amazing and we were incredibly lucky with the hotel, whose staff went out of their way to ensure my daughter had a fabulous holiday - even bringing her a gluten free birthday breakfast (complete with cake) in bed on the day!



SYDNEY

I visited Sydney in 2014, and although I had never particularly yearned to go there, it turned out to be a wonderful holiday.  In context - my daughter had been saving through university to go travelling, and finally set off in 2013 flying off to Thailand and spending months in the Far East.  She ended up working on a farm in Australia, and since I was on a cruise with Anne H in the Far East (more of that later), I flew on to Aussie to see her for the first time in six months.

There are times when you actually pinch yourself because of where you are, and Sydney was full of those moments.  The first time I spotted the Opera House from the Botanical Gardens, and of course when I set foot on Bondi Beach - I absolutely could not believe I was there!


Of course, the fact that I had missed my daughter terribly made it so extra special, but also that our accommodation was lovely, the weather was fantastic, and there was lots of interesting places to visit.  I loved the laid-back vibe, while the friendliness of the locals and the fact that everyone spoke English made it such a wonderful trip. See full details of the Sydney trip here.


SANTORINI

I couldn't not mention our annual holidays in Santorini, which has almost become a second home for me.  I've even been learning to speak and read in Greek - no mean feat for a 67 year old!

Having visited several of the Greek Islands, and loved the sunshine, the food and the wonderful Greek people, it was around the year 2002 that we headed off to Santorini for the first time and fell in love with the place.  We stayed in a small hotel, and the owners had two young children, slightly younger than our own daughter.  But they played together and we tried to chat to the owners in their broken English. We have returned almost every year since, occupying one of two of our favourite rooms on a wide balcony over the dining room.  We have also taken several of our friends to stay there over the years - including Anne H and her daughter too.

Although most of the photos you see of Greece are taken in the capital, Thira, with its stunning west-facing sunsets over the Caldera, we stayed on the south east coast, in the lovely friendly resort of Perissa.  Thira is a bustling, Instagram-worthy town, full of tourists and cocktail bars.  It's great for a shopping trip or watching the sun go down, but it is quite expensive for meals and drinks (and jewellery), and if you're staying in hotels with a view, the cost is eye-watering.



Having now been going back for the past 20 years (though sadly not last year for obvious reasons), we now know many of the locals, and are on kissing terms with the bar and restaurant owners!  




Perissa is a small resort, not particularly sophisticated - no nightclubs or rowdy bars - and mainly attracts couples. There are no pavements or street lights along the main road, yet it feels entirely safe. It is almost a throw-back to how Greece used to be before tourism really took off.  Most people walk along the coast road, which is forbidden to traffic in the evening - where there are a few shops and bars, though nothing  too fancy.  It's a place to go to chill out, relax and just enjoy good food and sunshine. Santorini trips here and here.


THE FAR EAST

Lastly, but by no means least, one of the best holidays we spent together was a cruise to the Far East with SilverSea Cruises.  This was a special treat a few years ago to celebrate my 60th birthday, although in fact we went some months after the special day because of sailings, and ended up celebrating Anne H's birthday on board,  We certainly pushed the boat out because the ship - The Silver Shadow - was fabulous.  Everything about the trip was amazing - from visiting Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong, to our fabulously comfortable - and spacious - cabin, to browsing the markets in Bangkok.  We had our own butler, a fridge stocked daily with champagne and fabulous toiletries stocked in the bathroom ( which also boasted a full sized bath). I had another "pinch myself" moment when we were sailing down the Mekong Delta - those faraway places we had only heard about on the news during the Vietnam war.  More on our far eastern trip here.



Well, these are my favourite holidays, but not exclusively those we have enjoyed, either together or separately.  Iceland was fabulous, and New York was amazing, despite having rather a bad accident there.  There are places I've seen where I would happily go back - Malta, Bruges, Croatia (and some of the above), France, and others I'm happy to have seen but have no desperate desire to return - Germany, Hungary  and Denmark, though never say never!

I still have a bucket list - Las Vegas, Hawaii, the Maldives, Canada and Niagara Falls, Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily.  I have booked Vegas five times and for various reasons it has been cancelled through no fault of my own (three times due to COVID) and was due to sail to Hawaii this year but that is now looking dubious too.

Next time, Anne H will take you through her favourite places and holidays.

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Friday, 13 March 2020

A WINTER TRIP TO COPENHAGEN



For my Christmas present last year, I was delighted to receive from my daughter plane tickets and a few days stay in Copenhagen.  However, when she told me we would be staying in a hostel, to say I was a little apprehensive was an understatement!  This from a girl who travelled around South East Asia, through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Australia - so hostels were no problem for her, but I prefer a little bit of luxury when I'm away from home.

However, I was so pleasantly surprised when we got to The Steelhouse, very close to Tivoli Gardens,  that I would even stay there again.  I pictured steel bunk beds and having to trot down the corridor to the loo in the middle of the night, so I was even thinking I would take a quick look then find a proper hotel!



The Steelhouse was far from that.  She had booked a private en suite room for two, although actually there were six beds (four unused of course), but instead of bunk beds, there were cosy pods which were actually bigger than a single bed.  Some of the rooms even have a balcony! There was even a hairdryer and shower gel provided.

The decor was distinctly urban chic - bare concrete walls and rustic tables and benches, but since we didn't eat there, it wasn't a problem, and the comfy chairs in the lounge were perfect for a delicious hot chocolate at the end of the evening.

Food was available - breakfast "bags" of sandwiches, and there were pastries and yummy yoghurts with compote and granola, but as my daughter is gluten intolerant (more of that later) we ate out every night.  There is a kitchen for those who want to cook, and even a swimming pool - but of course these cost extra. While it wasn't exactly luxury, it was adequate and certainly wasn't "roughing in" while the guests included people of all ages and young families. There are walking tours and there is entertainment provided too - perfect if you're on your own or just want to join in!

My tick list for Copenhagen was Tivoli Gardens, Nyhavn Harbour with the multi-coloured buildings and the Little Mermaid statue.  Tick, tick, tick.

Our first day saw us wander around the city centre to get our bearings and work out what we wanted to see.  First stop was the food hall attached to Tivoli Gardens, where there was every kind of food from salads to street food to sushi or burgers.  It was a perfect choice for my gluten free daughter, and the salads were delicious.

I had googled "gluten free restaurants" before we went and saw that there were around 170 offering gluten free food, however, most offered only one dish on their menus, so we did struggle.  Since I am ok with gluten, it was such a shame as there was an abundance of beautiful fresh vegetarian and vegan sandwiches - but my daughter couldn't eat any of the bread.  Fortunately we stumbled on Joe and the Juice, which became our go-to eatery for much of the holiday, as they served gluten free flatbreads, juices and salads.  I was even heartened to see that they have premises in the UK, though unfortunately not near us!

We had quite a walk to the Nyhavn Port, but it was so pretty, with traditional Danish houses painted in different colours, and boats moored along the water.  It is here that you can take a tourist boat along the river, though as it was freezing cold, we gave that a miss, but it must be very pleasant in the summer months.



This is a very touristy area and I can imagine that in summer it is very busy with pavements full of tables and chairs for the restaurants and bars spaced every few yards. Famous author Hans Christian Anderson lived at No 67, which now bears a plaque commemorating where he wrote many of this fairy tales, although actually, he wrote many more books which were not for children.

After a gluten-free dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (we always have to go in every city we see, since my daughter has to have "verified visits" (!).  I love the decor but the menu is not my personal favourite) we visited the Victorian fairground at Tivoli Gardens after dark.  Built in 1843, it is the second largest amusement park in the world, with the fairground featuring traditional rides, while the site was beautifully lit with vibrant colours.  Unfortunately since this was a cold, damp night in February, it was rather too chilly to take advantage of the rides, many of which were not running, though the ice skating rink was open for business. However, if you are planning a winter trip - check that it is open as it closed shortly after our visit and doesn't re-open until April!




We returned the following day to see the fairground in daylight, and it was a little busier, particularly with families, and there were more rides open. There are various ticket prices, meaning you can get a 24 hour pass, group or child discounts, or one with unlimited rides.

However, the weather took a turn for the worst, so as always we jumped onto a hop-on, hop-off red bus to see the city from the top deck.  To note there is more than one company, and for a few krona extra, you can include a boat trip with your ticket price.

One thing Denmark is also famous for - more for the residents than the tourists, is cycling!  Every road has a cycle track with its own traffic lights, and motorists don't view them as a nuisance as they do in the UK.  Having said that, the cyclists tend to be on traditional bikes, ridden sedately rather than the lycra-clad,helmeted cyclists on sports bikes we see on our roads.  The first cycle lane in Denmark was opened in the early 1900s and there are five bicycles to every four people! Many tourists take to cycles too, which is probably quite sensible as the city is very spread-out, and you can hire a bike or electric scooter almost on every street corner.  Just pick up a discarded bike, log in and leave your credit card details, and then log out when you get to your destination and leave the bike for the next person.

Finally we made it to the Little Mermaid statue - featured in Hans Christian Anderson's iconic tale.  The bronze statue is quite tiny, and was modelled on ballerina Ellen Price, though she did not pose in the nude - the body was actually based on Eline Erikson, wife of the scultor Edvard Erikson.  In her 100+ years, the mermaid has been decapitated twice although her head was returned both times.  She has also had her arm sawn off, she has been blown off her rock with explosives and doused in various paints as protesters made various political statements. 

Our red bus dropped us off while we took photographs, and waited until everyone was back on board to set off - for which I was eternally grateful since it was quite a schlep from the centre.


Having been fans of the Danish thriller "The Bridge" we were keen to see the fabulous Oresund Bridge which we had spied from the plane as we landed. Jumping on a train to Malmo, Sweden took us onto the bridge, although the rail track runs beneath the road surface.  Incidentally, the helpful staff at Copenhagen station told us to buy a family return ticket, which worked out cheaper than single tickets for the two of us. The bridge is partly underground as it departs Copenhagen, built so that it would not cause issues for planes landing at the Danish airport.  Once clear, the bridge travels across the water for five miles and is the longest combined rail/road bridge in Europe.



To be completely honest, Malmo was a bit of a disappointment.  We found the most unattractive castle which looked more like a prison, so wandered round the grounds and found a delightful old windmill and a park which is probably very pretty once the flowers bloom.


Back in Copenhagen, we got back back on the red bus since we had bought a 24 hour ticket, which was still valid. Tours are always helpful in relating the history of the city and some of the buildings which one would never know about.  The yellow Nyboder buildings had fascinated us the first time we saw them, so it was interesting to learn that they were built by King Christian IV in 1631 to house naval personnel.  The rows and rows of terraces housed families who had access to their own medical care, police and guardhouse, but in exchange, all boys born into those families had to complete military service.



We decided on our last afternoon, to wander around the shops "downtown".  There are a number of independent boutiques and bookshops, cafes, bars and restaurants. There are also some great tourist spots, including Amalienborg Palace, home of Denmark's Queen Margrethe II and her son Crown Prince Frederik, where you can watch the changing of the guard at 12 noon daily.  Tourists also make their way after dark to the Ice Bar.  Visitors can play games or quizzes or enjoy a cocktail or two if you can stand the cold!  This is a real bar with ice hewn and imported from Northern Sweden and kept at a frosty -5 degrees.  It was cold enough outside and we preferred a hot drink, thank you!


Nearby is Rosenburg Castle, now a museum housing the crown jewels and art treasures, the lovely King's Gardens and the imposing Gefion fountain

The Gefion is dedicated to the Norse Goddess Gefion, who plouged the island of Zealand from Sweden.  The story goes that Swedish King Gylfe offered her as much land as she could plough in a day and a night - so she changed her four sons into oxen and they ploughed so well that they pulled the land into the sea and created an island. So much for legends!





We found three days to be long enough if I'm honest, but maybe the inclement weather didn't help.  I would suggest if you are going to visit, then go when the weather is a bit warmer.  Everyone tells me there is a great atmosphere in the bars and restaurants during the warmer months, so it strikes me it would be quite a lively place to go.  There are also a number of museums and notable art galleries in Copenhagen, but these are scattered throughout the city and suburbs.

Worth visiting - yes, but go when it's a bit warmer!
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Friday, 21 February 2020

ROME - THE ETERNAL CITY



Rome became known as the Eternal City because is of its fierce history of achievements and conquering lands far and wide, so it is easy to see that Romans felt themselves invincible.  Their belief was such was that if Rome fell - then so would the rest of the world - hence it became known as The Eternal City!

And the saying that Rome wasn't built in a day? Well that's easy to see where that came from - during the great days of the Roman empire, their fabulous buildings were both architecturally beautiful and also built to last - with many still standing several centuries later.

This is Anne C and while my colleague Anne H has been to Rome many times (and wrote about it a couple of years ago here and here),  but this was my first visit. I have tried to approach it slightly differently to her blog, so I hope you're not bored!

My daughter and I flew to Rome in January to celebrate her birthday - and we both fell in love with the city! It is everything you read about, see in photos and watch in the movies - and much more.  

It is a vibrant, happy, beautiful, stunning and historic city with plenty to do and see.  Turn any street corner and you find remains of the magnificent buildings which once formed one of the most powerful civilisations in the world at the time.


Our hotel


We booked into a small Bed & Breakfast, the Domus Libera, in the centre of the city and obviously had no idea what it would actually be like.  My daughter made the arrangements, and when I saw the address, l was disappointed to see that it was in a back alley and we had a code to enter the door as there was no reception between 7pm and 7am. However, we did actually get in without any problem as the code worked perfectly.  The lift was so tiny that the two of us and two cases didn't fit it, so she gamely walked up the three flights to our room - which was opened with said code!




But what a surprise! The room was just lovely - a large king sized bed, huge bathroom with double sinks, loo and bidet and lovely toiletries. (See my daughter's Tripadvisor review here  for more information about the hotel). 


The Trevi Fountain


We ventured out to get something to eat, and just a few minutes later found ourselves next to the Trevi Fountain.  Tick one off the bucket list! Despite the fact that it was January, the fountain area was very very busy, so I dread to think what it is like in high season.  We visited both during the day and on our first evening, and I think it is probably my favourite place in Rome - it did not fail to inspire with its beauty and stunning turquoise waters.






After a good night's sleep, we went down to reception, which doubled as the breakfast area.  Again, we had a fabulous surprise.  Although small, there was plenty of continental fayre to eat, and they had catered especially for my daughter who is gluten intolerant.  The two reception staff, friendly Speranza and handsome Lorenzo, were absolutely lovely and totally made our stay enjoyable with their help, constant smiles and helpful suggestions.


The Colosseum and Roman Forum


A short 15 minute stroll took us straight to the Colosseum, which of course is stunning.  We had booked a full tour which wasn't cheap (there are several from which to choose), but our tour guide, Tiziana, spoke excellent English and had the most wonderful sense of humour (apparently ancient Romans were short and women were not allowed in the Colosseum, she told us - so imagine 6,000 Hobbit men in here....)

You will notice that only part of the Colosseum outer walls exist due to the great earthquake of 1349 - half of the structure was built on sandy terrain and the rest on more stable ground.  The damaged stones were later used to build palaces and churches throughout Rome - hence why there are many holes in the walls where the metal rods holding the stones were also removed.




Unfortunately because it was January, we were not able to go underneath the ground floor during winter months, but we could see into the Hypogeum (the underground), which was a disappointment. Currently the area is a building site, undergoing a $20million renovation to construct a new arena on the site, which will eventually be used to hold events and re-enactments.

The tour also included the adjoining Roman Forum - known as the heartbeat of ancient Rome and its Empire.  Historians believe the first meeting there was 500BC.  We saw where the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar took place, and the following day just happened along the Largo di Torre Argentina in the middle of a shopping district, which was where Brutus inflicted the fatal wound that killed him.  




This area was close to shops and our favourite gluten free restaurant, and was actually in part a cat sanctuary where you could "adopt" a kitty.  (It's a wonder we didn't come home with another one since we wanted to smuggle one home, they were so cute). We had found the restaurant, incidentally, when Lorenzo rang round on our behalf to local establishments near to the hotel to find one which served gluten free food.  Obviously when you're in Italy, you have to eat the most delicious pizza and pasta!


Vatican City


Our next tour was of the Vatican City, again, one which we pre-booked.  Our guide was an art historian so we certainly got chapter and verse about every painting, fresco and map,  since she was extremely knowledgeable about all the famous artists and sculptors.  

MichaelAngelo, famous for painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling was in fact a celebrated sculptor before he began one of the most famous tasks in the Western world!  Of course all were completely awe-inspiring and such stunningly beautiful works of art from the ceiling to even the floors - one of which was decorated in the luminous blue, ground from lapiz lazuli stone and which was used by many of the Renaissance artists - often for the Virgin's Mary's startling blue robes.




The Vatican is the smallest country in the world, and the Pope is the King.  It is easy to be confused by the number of popes and kings unless you have studied them, but each has left something of themselves behind in the Vatican, even including the scandalous Borgia family (Pope Alexander V1 was born Rodrigo de Borja and fathered several children by his mistresses).






Photographs are not allowed to be taken in the Sistine Chapel (so I've used this photo below which I found online), and in certain parts of the Chapel and St Peter's Basilica, there are signs requesting silence.  I was horrified, particularly at the gate of St Peter's tomb to hear a family loudly shouting and laughing at their young children who were running riot at the tomb.  While I am not particularly religious, it is a holy place and not an amusement park.  The kids were obviously bored - maybe they should have taken them to a playground.



St Peter's Basilica


Staying with the Basilica, we saw the world-famous statue, Pieta by Michaelangelo, depicting Mary holding the body of Jesus after his Crucifixion.  This sits behind gates and bullet-proof glass, since a  vandal attacked the priceless artifact, chopping off Mary's nose, arm and fingers with an axe.  He was never charged with an offence, but spent two years in an Italian sanatorium and then deported. The statue is one of the few ever to be repaired, since this can negate its authenticity, but it was felt this piece was too important to leave so severely damaged.

You can climb to the top of the dome, but there are more than 400 steps, and a lift which only goes part-way, so I knew I would never make it to the top.  Besides, I hate heights, and this is one scary drop!



If you do every venture to Rome, visit the Vatican on Wednesdays.  Unfortunately we did not know when we booked that Wednesday is the day the Pope appears on the balcony when he is in residence.  We went on Tuesday!


Rome by Night



We later returned to the Colliseum that evening to see the fabulous building at night - and it is just as stunning as during the daytime, although we couldn't actually go inside the walls.



In fact Rome is just as stunning at night as it is during the day.  Many of the old ancient stones are lit up and are even more impressive by moonlight.








Hop-on, Hop-off Bus


As always when we do a city tour, we do the hop-on hop-off bus tour.  However, because the streets are so narrow, the bus cannot drive through the centre - so it did a loop around the city, pointing out yet more fountain monuments (250 of them) and water drinking fountains (several hundred) but you couldn't actually see the main attractions because many are down side alleys and in pedestrian areas.


The Pantheon



We had seen the Pantheon on the first day - the circular church in the  Piazza della Rotunda (where we had the most delicious pasta lunch, though also the most expensive!) Originally a Roman Temple, it is now a Roman Catholic Church ( the Basilica de Santa Maria ad Martyres, or Church of St Mary and the Martyrs).  Despite its age - it was dedicated around 126 AD, it is still the world's largest unenforced concrete dome, despite being in constant use.






Our final day there was spent revisiting those places we loved the most - including the Trevi Fountain by day, which is stunning - and eating the most delicious ice creams.  The gelato shops sell so many delicious flavours that you just have to try as many as you can while you're there! We also paid a second visit to the Spanish Steps - again another place which was very busy so it was difficult to get good shot without hordes of tourists in the picture. It's also very close to all the designer shops -  a good place to go window shopping only!


The Spanish Steps






I hope I haven't bored you with the history - there is so much of it and so many churches. ruins, museums and fabulous buildings of such historic significance, that it was impossible to see in just a few days.

I have to admit there was a lot of walking - something which I find difficult after a while since a bad accident a couple of years ago fractured my spine.  I had to have frequent stops with either cappuccino or gelato to fortify me, but a tip for those not used to walking is to wear very thick rubber soled shoes, trainers or boots - there are lots of cobbled streets and after a while I could feel every piece of grit in my normal-soled patent leather boots!

It is one of the few places to which I hope to return - we had such a magical time.  The weather was kind to us, the people were friendly, the food was incredible and the place is just stunning.  It is also hard to imagine how far advanced a civilisation Rome was more than 2000 years ago, and how well it has stood the test of time.

Caio Rome - I'll be back!
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