The Final Countdown: Europe, North America travel blog






Tomb of St Francis

At the top of the Spanish Steps, Rome

From the top of the Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Boat shaped fountain at the Spanish Steps

Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, fountain of four rivers, Piazza Navona

Motion sensors on this display activated the dragon heads

Cynthea gets serenaded at the restaurant

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

From the Colosseum

From the Colosseum, looking towards the Forum

Marching band, near the Colosseum

The Forum

The Forum

Caesar's body was cremated here, at the Forum

Tiber River, Rome

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (Victor Emmanuel Monument, also known as...

Mausoleum of Hadrian (aka Castle of the Holy Angel) from Ponte Vittorio...

Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II (Victor Emmanuel II Bridge),

Mausoleum of Hadrian (aka Castle of the Holy Angel) and Ponte Vittorio...

Mausoleum of Hadrian (aka Castle of the Holy Angel) and Ponte Vittorio...

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Dinner in Rome

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In Rome there be dragons

Link to photos, Rome and Assissi, copy and paste:

Saturday 22nd September

Day 7 Venice to Rome 535km

It is a 6am start and we are on the road by 7.30, these long days leave us too tired to enjoy a night out. We also tend to sleep a bit on the bus trying to catch up, so miss some of the sights. Tony’s back is still sore, and he finds that the coach seats are not very comfortable. Nor are they evenly spaced, some seats have lots more legroom than others. The mad drivers get worse the closer we get to Rome, Ciro our driver is no exception. We ask Mariella to translate, but she says she cannot, and jokes that Ciro is telling other drivers “your mother is nice, your sister is nice, your cousin in nice”, etc.

We visit Assisi around midday, but once again find there is not enough time to do the visit justice. We would have loved to have also had time to visit the village above the chapel. We are amazed by the work that has gone into the church.

The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor, commonly known as the Franciscan Order and is considered to be an important place of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. This is the city where St. Francis was born and died. The basilica is a distinctive landmark to those approaching Assisi, it is built into the side of a hill and comprises two churches known as the Upper Church and the Lower Church, and a crypt where the remains of St Francis are interred. Building began in 1228, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

We arrive in Rome around 5.30pm, the Hotel Princess is older hotel out of the central city, about 15-20 minutes drive (when the traffic is quiet). The room is a bit on the small side, and in need of a spruce up. The only spare power point is broken so we have to unplug the tv to charge batteries. The power socket wont take our travel adaptor and we figure that is why the other one is broken, someone must have forced it. We call reception, and they send someone up straight away, but he apologies that he cannot fix it tonight, and an electrician will sort it tomorrow. He offers to charge anything we want at reception, but Tony finds that the bathroom power outlet takes our adaptor, so it wont be necessary… or will it…?

We are too far from the city centre to walk, and the shop selling bus tickets has closed, so public transport is not an option, unless you take your chances like the locals and ride without one. As in Venice, you cannot buy a ticket on the bus. We decided to do an optional tour “Rome by night” EUR55 each, about $165 for the two of us.

We are taking a walking tour around the central city, followed by a meal. We are due to leave at 6.30pm, but there is no sign of the bus and the new driver. Ciro has left us for a couple of days, he has reached his maximum hours for the week, and has gone home to Naples, and will rejoin the tour when we leave Sorrento. Nearly hour later we are still waiting, and getting bloody hungry. It transpired that the new bus driver had been stopped by police to check that he had the correct documentation and permits. He was taken to the police station on some trumped up “charge”, a common practice in this corrupt force. The bus company challenged the charge, and refused to pay several hundred Euros to “make the charge go away”, so the driver was held in custody. The company had to get another bus and driver for us. We are well over an hour late when we are finally taken to the city, about 15 minutes away at this time of night.

It is a warm, pleasant night, just nice for our walking tour that started at the Spanish Steps. Mariella is guiding us, even though this is illegal as guides in Italy must be licensed, and tour leaders don’t count. She says it must not be obvious that she is guiding us, gives us directions to the next stop, and we can follow her as long as we don’t make it look like we are, which is a bit difficult seeing as we are all following her! At each stop Mariella gives a quick description and leaves us for a few moments to look around ourselves, before getting us together to direct us to the next place. She suggests we ask questions once we get to the restaurant, which is a bit pointless as by then we have forgotten what we wanted to ask… The steps are very crowded, full of locals and tourists. At the bottom of the steps is fountain shaped like a boat. We continue through the city to the Trevi fountain, completed in 1762. It is situated at the junction of three roads (tre vie), hence the name. At 26m high and 49m wide, the fountain is much bigger than we expected. Yes, we threw a coin in, so we are going back there. We are told that around EUR3,000 a day is thrown in to the fountain each day, the money has been used to subsidise a supermarket for Rome's needy.

Our next stop is Piazza di Pietra to view Templo Adiano, The Temple of Hadrian, built in 144 A.D. The original building had 8 columns at the front, and 13 along the side. In 1696 the surviving part of the temple was incorporated into a large building designed to house the central Customs. The temple was built on a 4m tall foundation which is now hidden by the higher level of the ground. Today only 11 of the 15m high side columns survive.

The Pantheon was originally built around 27 BC, it was destroyed along with other buildings in a huge fire in 80. The Pantheon was rebuilt and burned again in 110. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. Nearby is the marble Fontana del Pantheon, built in 1575. Modifications were made in 1711, and in 1886 the original marble figures were removed and replaced with copies. Today, the originals can be seen in the Museum of Rome.

Our last stop is Piazza Navona, where there is wonderful central fountain symbolising four river gods, and representing the big rivers in the four continents where the papal authority has spread. We heard people saying that this fountain represented the four winds, others were heard saying the represented the Amazon, Nile, Yangtze and one other river, so we ended up googling the answer. Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi means the fountain of four rivers, with the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Platte representing the Americas.

Everything looks wonderful by night; it is a pity we probably won’t have time to see this again by day. A couple of places we were not sure what we had been taken to see, and we have to look at a map later on. On the way to the restaurant we pass a window display with a seven-headed dragon that comes alive as motion sensors detect passers-by.

At 10pm we arrive at the restaurant tired and hungry, but thrilled with the experience so far. We do feel that a local guide would have made it more worthwhile, but we figure this would bump up the price a lot more. There is a great atmosphere at the restaurant, where we are warmly welcomed by the staff who show a wonderful sense of fun and humour while they work. It is a far cry from the like it or lump it attitude experienced at the dinners included in the tour. There is live music, the ladies are serenaded by a two musicians with guitar and flute, and we all join in singing Voltare, Mariella having coached us on the way to Rome today.

The meal is wonderful, five courses, with wine and beer included. At the end of it the ladies are all given a yellow rose, and Mariella is given a small bunch as well. Chris had been giving the head waiter a bit of cheek during the meal, and he brings out a single red rose for him, and plants a kiss on his lips.

It is a very late night, and is well after midnight by the time we get back to the hotel. Tony plugs the chargers into the bathroom socket, but the power flicks off and on, so as a charger it does not work well. He checks behind the tv again, and although the charger still wont fit, he finds that the connection cord for the tv is suitable – result! The laptop is plugged into the bathroom outlet, and power is flicking from ac to dc all the time. He closes the laptop and hopes for the best, but it fails to charge properly.

Sunday 23rd September

Day 8

Yet another early start to the day, being woken up at 6am. We are told this is to avoid the traffic, the crowds and also the heat of the day. By 7am we on the bus with a local tour guide. They are really strict with this silly local guide law, and we cannot even ask questions of our tour leader as only the licensed local guide can give out information. We are all given a radio so the local guide can talk to us without having to shout above all the other guides. It is a terrific idea. Normally Tony hates the damn things, but that is usually because the ear pieces don’t fit, or there is no cord to hang it around your neck, and it is a pain having to click on to the next section all the time. With these radios the commentary is live, interactive and feels far more relevant than the prerecorded guides.

We start with the Colosseum, but are waiting for ages for our tickets as we are there too early. There is already a long queue outside, and we are disappointed to see them go in, with still no sign of our guide. She finally appears and leads the way, where we see that the queue outside was to get in and queue to buy tickets. We get a guided tour and then are left to our own devices for the next half an hour. The steps up to the next level are very steep, and it is quite the workout. Tony’s back is still sore, and the steps are really painful and difficult for him.

The site is huge, and truly something to marvel at as one tries to imagine the construction of it that began around 70–72 AD under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian. The original Latin name was Amphitheatrum Flavium, as it was constructed by emperors of the Flavian dynasty.

The Colosseum had been completed up to the third story by the time of Vespasian's death in 79. The top level was finished and the building inaugurated by his son, Titus, in 80AD. It is recorded that over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games of the amphitheatre.

In 217, the Colosseum was badly damaged by a major fire, caused by lightning, which destroyed the wooden upper levels of the amphitheatre's interior. It was not fully repaired until about 240 and underwent further repairs around 252 and again in 320. An inscription records further restoration of various parts of the Colosseum possibly to repair damage caused by a major earthquake in 443. The arena continued to be used for contests well into the 6th century, with gladiatorial fights last mentioned around 435. Animal hunts continued until at least 523.

An earthquake in 1349 inflicted severe damage on the Colosseum, causing the outer south side to collapse. Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome. The interior of the amphitheatre was extensively stripped of stone, and the marble facade was burned to make quicklime. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks which still scar the building today.

The facade was reinforced with brick wedges in 1807 and 1827, and the interior was repaired in 1831, 1846 and in the 1930s.

The effects of pollution and general deterioration prompted a major restoration programme carried out 1993 - 2000, at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire ($19.3m at 2000 prices).

Back outside a group photo is taken in front of the arch, and we walk around to the Forum. It is getting very warm already, and as much as we detest the very early start, we are pleased the early start means we wont be doing this later in the day. A marching band is playing in the street as we make our way along the road.

The Roman Forum is a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the centre of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

For centuries it was the centre of Roman public life: the site of processions and elections, public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches, and centre of commercial affairs. Statues and monuments commemorated the city's great men. The heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history. The Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and archaeological excavations.

Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. That year two dramatic events were witnessed by the Forum: Marc Antony's funeral oration for Caesar (immortalised in Shakespeare's famous play) was delivered from the partially completed speaker's platform known as the New Rostra and the public burning of Caesar's body occurred on a site directly across from the Rostra. Almost two years later, Marc Antony added to the notoriety of the Rostra by publicly displaying the severed head and right hand of his enemy Cicero there.

After the Forum we are taken to St Peter’s Square, there are huge crowds here, and the line to enter the basilica stretches all the way around the square. In the square itself the place is heaving with people, waiting for the Pope’s blessing. As the Pope is away at his summer home the blessing will be delivered electronically via a massive screen in the square. Does he use Skype?

There are supposed to be two optional tours today, to the Catacombs and an evening meal to Castelli Romani. Both trips are canned, and if one was cynical one could say it was engineered by the tour guide to give her a break. She said that not enough people had booked either tour, a minimum of 12 was needed. Mariella did not make an announcement on the bus, or give others a chance to participate to make up the numbers, instead she told people individually. However a quick count later revealed that there should have been enough people booked for both to go ahead. Hmmm… We had not booked either of the trips.

We had two hours of free time after the Pope’s blessing to explore the central city, but it was very hot and humid. We are pleased not to have taken this tour in mid-summer. Tony left Cynthea to do some reading while he went on a walk nearby. There was the offer of a bus back to our hotel if we wanted it, and quite a few of us took that up. We were quite tired after all the late nights and early mornings, and needed to take a break.

We had planned to walk to the shopping centre for tea, about 10 minutes walk towards town, but as we passed the Chinese restaurant on the corner we saw a few others from the tour having a meal there. We had to go down to the ATM first to get some Euros to pay for the optional tours we were taking. It was a fun challenge trying to understand the instructions to get into the bank ATM foyer, let alone get our money out. There were several attempts at making a withdrawal, and in the end we figured that there was a EUR250 maximum per card at this bank. Not enough for what we needed, but it will have to do. And then a warning bell sounded, we figured we had overstayed a set time, but we pushed a few buttons next to the ATM and hoped they were not for an emergency!

Back at the restaurant we get a table next to the others – we didn’t join them as they had nearly finished by the time we got back. We had a lovely meal, cost about EUR26 for the two of us, but the staff said they could not accept our Visa card. Well, it was more like they would not. So we pointed to the sign on the door, said we had no cash, only visa, and stood our ground. In the end they reluctantly got the Visa machine out from under the desk.

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