A couple of weeks ago, in a rare break away from my computer monitor, I spent a week in Rome with my friend Nancy and her sister. It has only taken me 25 years to set foot on the continent, but boy was it an eye-opening experience.
This was my first trip to another country whose primary language isn’t English. In the UK, I think we are brought up with a sense of supremacy, and a belief that wherever you travel, everyone will speak our language. This totally put pay to that myth, and I felt like such an idiot, only knowing how to say ‘hello’, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’.
It put me so much on the back foot, that it made being conned by some dodgy Italians near the Spanish Steps far easier than it should have been—they got away with €90 the bastards! This has inspired me to, at least think about, learning another language. Not only useful, but it’s a pretty cool skill to have.
Most striking was the shear amount of graffiti throughout the city. It seemed everything was up for grabs—except for cars. Everything else, from walls, monuments, vans, bins, subway trains—you name it, it was vandalised. There was a general ‘dirty’ feel to the subway too (or Metro as it is called), and made the London Underground feel much cleaner on my return.
Whilst we were in Rome, the Italian football team beat Australia in their second round World Cup match, and Ukraine in their quarter final. Each time the team progressed onto the next stage, the streets would become full of supporters, chanting and singing their national anthem, flying their flags, and continually beeping their horns—a real sight to behold. “I dread to think what they would be like if they won the World Cup” we said…
The highlight of this trip for me however, was visiting Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, and climbing up the inside and standing on the top of Brunellechi’s Dome. It was one hell of a climb, but worth every cent of the €6 admission price. Having read up about this Renaissance landmark during my ‘A’ Levels, never in a million years did I think I would see it, let alone climb upon it. Inside the cathedral, the fresco on the underside depicting the last judgement, was an amazing sight also.
I wish the same could have been said for my visit to the Vatican, and in particular the Sistine Chapel. Whilst it was one of those moments you have to rub your eyes several times (as you realise you are standing directly below Michelangelo’s most celebrated work, the chapel’s ceiling and his famous scene from the Book of Genesis—The Creation of Adam), the fact that this chapel was full to the brim of tourists, flashing their cameras, chatting and generally showing no respect—guards shouting every so often ‘No Flash!’ and ‘Sssssh!’—really took the magic out of what should have been an otherwise fantastic experience.
Overall, I’m glad I made the short two-hour flight over to Rome. There are so many sights, attractions and experiences I haven’t touched on (there were many early morning’s and late nights). The city is just crammed full of ancient ruins, monuments and breathtaking cathedrals—the Colosseum too—again something you see and need to pinch yourself to believe you are right there inside it.
Would I return however? I doubt it. There is something about the city and it’s people that just didn’t sit right with me, and the heat was just unbearable. I also think there is just so many of these ruins, and landmarks, that you start to become a bit used to it all. This was a great little trip, but it was hard work, and certainly not something I would do again given I was looking to relax—I’m shattered just thinking about it all!