Rome: we came, we saw, we cycled off

Wednesday 24th June

What better way to spend our first day in Rome than sitting in our apartment, waiting for our new bike tyres to be delivered? 

I tried to do some useful things, but I think I probably spent quite a large amount of time scrolling down the Facebook feed in a zombie-like Facebook mode. 

The parcel could be delivered any time between 9 and 6.30. We waited. And waited. At 3.45 it still hadn’t arrived, so I gave the couriers a ring to see how things were going. I was told by someone who didn’t speak much English that the parcel would be delivered tomorrow. 

Once I got off the phone I wrote a Very Angry email, telling the courier company that we were on holiday and they had Wasted Our Time. 

At 4PM we finally got out of the house, feeling so angry that our day stuck indoors had been for nothing. 

The walk into the centre of Rome calmed us down. And then we started seeing some awesome stuff and feeling happy again. 

Look… Rome has a castle (I didn’t know that!):

We had a gelato outside of St Peter’s Basilica. 

… and then it was pretty much time to begin the hour and a half walk back again! 

When we returned the couriers had replied, saying that they had been to deliver our parcel at 11. It was then that we realised through some experimentation with the intercom buzzers that our host had given us the wrong intercom address! So in a startling twist it turned out that our host had inadvertently messed up our delivery, not the couriers (and I feel a bit bad saying that to be honest as our host has been very helpful).

I… er… stopped being Very Angry with the couriers (red face!) but felt quite glad that my Very Angry email hadn’t been rude, just, you know, sort of direct. 

Anyway, we weren’t willing to spend another day sitting indoors waiting for the parcel to be delivered yet again, so we returned to sender and requested our money back (which Amazon agreed to. Thanks Amazon), rendering the entire day basically useless… not that I’m bitter or anything.

Thursday 25th June

Right. Time to see some old stuff. 

We took the tram into the centre of Rome in the morning. I had visions of trams being a somehow romantic form of travel, but this was just like an underground train that happened to not be underground (crowded, jerky, definitely not romantic – though some body contact was involved).

We had a quick look at the Pantheon (big temple, impressive dome).

We went to see the Roman Forum. 

Basically, it’s a bewildering sprawl of ruins, that from what I could gather was sort of like Rome’s old city centre.

I had copied and pasted some information on the Forum onto the iPad for a bit of context, but I quickly lost where I was and had no idea what any of the notes were referring to. Eric was in heaven… I was a little bit bored by the end to be completely honest. I just didn’t know what any of it was. I kept sidling up to tour guides, hoping to overhear something to make sense of it all.  

Anyway, the Forum included Palantine Hill, which is where Romulus is meant to have founded Rome.

Some arches of triumph (those Romans, always triumphing):

Lots of temples, columns… er… bricks… other significant artifacts…

Old stuff. Lots of old stuff.

Then it was lunch time, and we went to a fast food lasagna restaurant.

After lunch it was on to the Colosseum. Lucky for us we skipped the enormous queue, having purchased a joint Forum/Colosseum ticket from the Forum ticket office.

We wandered around. I read out some more Colosseum facts that I had copied and pasted. We took lots of pictures. 

I really think there’s a reality TV show concept waiting to happen here. Celebrities fight to the death?

Here are a few interesting things I learned from the internet, and from nonchalantly standing close to a tour guide for a few minutes:

  • It’s thought that about 10% of gladiators died from combat
  • They sometimes used red sand to disguise the sight of the blood
  • Thumbs down meant that the gladiator lived, thumbs up meant that the gladiator died

I can’t remember for sure, but after this it’s pretty safe to assume that we had some gelato. Then we made our way through the hot and crowded streets, back to the apartment. 

That evening we continued the highbrow culture-fest by watching Russell Crowe, husband to a murdered wife, father to a murdered son, killing a lot of people, including a creepy Frodo-esque Joaquim Phoenix. Yes we were entertained. 

Friday 26th June

Day two of serious sightseeing, and it was time to visit the attractions of Vatican City, the smallest state in the world with the most aged population, and the only place in the world with 100% literacy (I hear the nightlife’s pretty wild too).

Determined to beat the queue, we left the apartment by 8.30 – for anyone who doesn’t know us, this is kind of a big deal. A long walk later, we arrived outside St Peter’s Basilica by 9.45. Not super early, but not too shoddy. 

Then we saw this queue.

Hm. We got into line with a large group of Chinese tourists. Eric spent the whole queue trying not to let some middle aged Chinese ladies sneak past him (I told him to just let it go. He wouldn’t). 

The queue moved surprisingly fast considering its size, and we were in within 40 minutes. To my relief the subtle feud between Eric and the half a dozen middle aged women was now over and done with. Who had won, and thereby saved themselves 20 seconds? The answer is: who cares? 

I donned a fetching green tea towel over my shoulders, we went in and wow wow wow wow wow… 

We were at the heart of a religion that to be honest is not my cup of tea in some respects. But I have to hand it to them, their interior design is top notch. 

It’s so massive. The pillars were the size of houses! 

It was very beautiful and very impressive.   

 The Swiss Guard, in their best Swiss camouflage. 

After an early lunch we were back to see the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. 

The display of wealth in these museums is quite mind-blowing.

You just walk through room after room of statues and tapestries and paintings and more statues…

And every wall, ceiling and floor is covered in beautiful intricate artwork.

The museum was super crowded, we had to dodge a lot of tour guide groups. It was definitely worth seeing, but what with the crowds and the constant feelings of awe it was all a little bit tiring. 

No photos were allowed in the Sistine Chapel. We and a group of people were ushered in by 5 policeman saying ‘Keep moving please’. As we gawped up at the ceiling we could hear them saying ‘Ssssshh!’ to the crowd and ‘No photos!’ to naughty tourists trying to take a cheeky shot. I was caught in between thinking that these policeman had to do a really irritating job, and thinking that the experience was a little let down when you were treated like a herd animal. 

Me and Eric had both seen the Sistine Chapel before, and we were both in agreement that it didn’t really live up to our memories. The mural on the wall kind of clashes with the ceiling. The people are drawn all wrong – their musculature doesn’t make sense. The women are men with breasts stuck onto their chests. It was still great, just not as great as we thought it was going to be. 

We had a little wander around Vatican City after that, and then we said ‘Ciao’ to the Pope and were on our way. 

On the way back we stopped at the Piazza Gianicolo, where there’s a good view of the city.

We visited the bike shop, where Geoffrey had fixed our brake, realigned our back wheel and given us some brand new Schwalbe marathon tyres. Yes!! All for the not unreasonable but still hefty bill of 190 euros. I don’t think we’ll be eating out tomorrow…

Saturday 27th June

We had three things that we wanted to do today. 

1. See the Borghese art gallery

2. See the Trevi fountains

3. Visit a vintage market 

We had a relaxed morning, and then walked to Pinciano Park, where the gallery is. This park was so beautiful, and blissfully quiet compared to the streets of central Rome. We had a bit of fun hiring out a boat which we rowed around a small pond.

We bought a sandwich for lunch and sat on a shady bench, watching a lot of these very delightful vehicles going by:

Then we found the gallery. We went inside and waited in line, watching the couple in front of us getting a bit shirty with the man at the desk. Naturally, we did a bit of the old rubbernecking, and found out that you could only book tickets online for this art gallery, and no more would be available until Wednesday. How could we be so silly as to think that we could just turn up, buy a ticket and go in? As we left, we overheard another couple who weren’t being allowed in because they had booked online tickets and had them up on their smartphone but hadn’t printed them off. More bizarre, unnecessary bureaucracy. 

Never mind. We’d seen a lot of museums and art galleries recently anyway. 

On we want to item 2, the Trevi fountains. 

We got there and… 

You wouldn’t think it was possible for a fountain to be closed, but yes it was.

As you may know there’s a tradition that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi fountains you will return to Rome. This tradition apparently results in 3000 euros being tossed into the fountain per day! There was a little pool of water left for people to chuck their coins into. So that’s what me and Eric did. We contributed a very stingy 2 cents. Some other tourists will have to make up the 2999.98 euros.

Item 2 had not gone to plan. 

Filling up our water bottle by the Spanish Steps – Rome knows how to make a classy water fountain:

Finally, with what in hindsight seems like an intuitive knowledge of what was about to happen, we made the hot, weary walk across the centre to the location of the vintage market. 

It turned out that it wasn’t running this weekend. 

We sat on a curb with a consolatory gelato each. Today had not really gone to plan. Despite this, we were both feeling surprisingly happy. We’d had quite a nice time wandering around Rome all day. 

Our final stop was at a bike shop where we’d been told by Geoffrey (the guy fixing our bike) we could find ourselves some Brooks saddles. This is a purchase I’ve been looking forward to a lot. I’ve slowly come to realise that I have a terrible saddle, the kind of saddle that is not worthy to lick the dirt from a cycle tourist’s clip-on shoes. It is really, really time for an upgrade.

We found the shop and forked out 190 euros (eek!) for two Brooks saddles, and then went back to the park, sat on a bench and fawned over our purchases. 

Who needs an art gallery when you’re staring at the object which is going to magic away your butt pain? Nothing has ever looked so beautiful…


Sunday 28th June

Today was our last day in Rome. Having seen the main sights that we wanted to, we decided to set aside this day to take the gelato consumption to a new level. 

We identified some good gelaterias via online reviews and toured Rome’s city centre, basically doing a gelato crawl. I’m writing a separate account of this to give the experience full justice – I’ll post soon. 

In between one gelato and another we also stopped at the place where Julius Caesar was murdered. It has now been turned into a cat sanctuary, which I’m sure is what Julius would have wanted. 

We stroked some cats, took some pictures and donated some money.

A couple of other pictures from today:

Fluffy pigeons.

Nice fountain in Piazza Navona.

Very full of high quality gelato, we waddled back to our apartment, where we spent the evening packing, sewing cycling shorts back together and fitting our new saddles onto our bicycles. 

And that was it for our visit to Rome! We endured the pushy salespeople, crowded streets and smelly bins, and enjoyed the beautiful buildings/statues, historical stuff, pizza and gelato and the endless supply of free fresh, cold water.

There is nothing left to say but arrivederci Roma! 


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