Thursday 18th October 2001

We woke up at 8:15am and the television was still on! Oops! I was really looking forward to exploring Rome today, and we were raring to go after a good night's sleep.

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First though we went down stairs for breakfast, although we shouldn't have bothered. All that we agreed upon as edible from their pitiful offering was a crusty roll and some sticky croissants, and when we ate them we were proven wrong! They were stale and sickly sweet respectively.

We tried some of the coffee and were disgusted with it. The taste bore no resemblance to anything that could be called coffee. I could imagine a cup of chicory made with dirty bathwater having a more pleasant flavour. It was the ultimate disappointment; we're in Italy for pope's sake!

The Italians are renowned for good coffee. This ranked as our worse hotel breakfast ever, but never mind.

Rucksack packed, we started our expedition by returning towards the Trevi via Piazza Quirnale, back down the steps we climbed yesterday.

We didn't visit the fountain today, turning instead left down a back street that led all the way down to near Piazza Venezia.

It was along here where we witnessed a very distraught driver cursing his luck when his load of plastic bottles spilled off the back of his little van and all over the road.

We tried our best not to point and laugh, nor stare at him.

We reached the piazza and saw the massive typewriter that is the Victor Emmanuel monument. It was undoubtedly a very imposing building, but apart from its size it had nothing attractive going for it. It stood out like Prince Charles' carbuncle! It certainly lacked any empathy with the rest of the beautiful architecture of Rome.

Walking alongside the piazza we passed Palazzo Venezia with the infamous Mussolini balcony. I imagined Il Duce standing there, waving his fist, puffing out his chest, preaching his fascist madness. The world doesn't change much does it? There's always a mad man in charge somewhere!

After braving a crazy dash across the multi-lane road we sat down at the foot of the Victor monument to regain our composure. It was fascinating to simply watch the world go by.

Watching mopeds whiz past carrying men in goggles still somehow looking cool, or seeing people drive those silly Smart cars but managing to make them look stylish!

We relaxed here for a good few minutes, browsing a small tourist stall selling trashy roman statues and crucifixes.

Just around the corner was the outstanding staircase called the 'cordonata', designed by Michelangelo.

Up we walked to the Piazza Campodiglo where three palaces frame the square. Two of them are museums and the other is a Presidential residence.

We went inside Palazzo Conservatori, which contained several items of interest to me.

The first thing I sought out was the amazing fragments of the colossal statue of Constantine.

His head, his pointing finger, his left foot and other bits were all wonderfully enigmatic. Fortunately, for the sake of taste, he wasn't a nude!

A six foot marble penis would have looked ridiculous! Still he must have been one hell of a sight when he was all together, standing tall.

The next item of interest was the bronze statue of Romulus and Remus suckling beneath a she-wolf.

Legend has it that the twins were raised by the wolf after being abandoned. Then the surviving brother founded the city Rome.

I think that Romulus killed his brother, which is why the city is called Rome and not Reme!

The third museum exhibit that caught my interest was a painting of St. John the Baptist by Carravaggio.

We spent ages searching for it, but couldn't find it anywhere. We stopped to ask a member of staff, and she directed towards a particular room. In front of us we saw a large pale square on the wall, where a missing painting once hung. Inside the tan line was a small note that said the painting had been taken away to another exhibition, and would be back tomorrow. Never mind, it's a reason to return.

On the second floor we stumbled across the cafe, and we ordered two coffees. I dithered between cafe latte or perhaps an americano, when the patience of the lady serving me visually snapped in front of me. She huffed, stormed off, blurted something Italian, and made both varieties, for both Julie and I. Being ever so polite I paid for and drank the four coffees!

The cafe had a fabulous roof top terrace with incredible views over Rome. We thought to ourselves what a perfectly romantic location this would be for a wedding reception.

I had no idea why we thought of a wedding reception in particular?!

After our coffee break we left the museum and headed towards the Forum. We caught a glimpse of it from the back of Piazza Campodiglio.

At first glance it looked just like a pile of rubble, and at second glance it still looked like a pile of rubble! But several temple columns remained erect, still standing tall; echoing proudly of it's glorious past. How awesome this place must have been two thousand years ago?

Now my imagination was rampant, I pictured myself as a centurion, complete with tunic, brass breast plate and red plumed helmet in hand as I stood proudly on my chariot swooping down via sacra to the adulation the crowd, for an audience with Caesar. Just call me Bigus Dicus!

It was beginning to get quite hot by now; perhaps I was suffering from the hallucinate effect of the sun? It was only about 11am and it was such a beautiful day but it wasn't sun stroke, just me being stupid.

We entered the forum from the entrance off Fori Imperiali and walked amongst the ruins. The area is still an active archaeological site with several digs taking place.

One such excavation sadly restricted the access to the House of the Vestal Virgins. So now there's another reason to return, so that I may walk amongst the statues of vestal virgins.

As we left the Forum a long row of artists were selling paintings of varying styles and qualities. We stopped at a stall which was by far the best and bought a wonderful watercolour of the coliseum.

From here we walked towards the coliseum, the most recognisable landmark synonymous with Rome. I didn't know what to expect, but I was quite literally taken aback by its size. It seemed larger than many a modern day football stadium.

It was even more amazing to think that it was built over two thousand years ago, when most inhabitants of Wales were still living in caves!

As we walked around we saw several Bigus Dicus, or men dressed as Roman centurions, asking everyone if they wanted to pose for a photograph. We somehow resisted the temptation!

We began to queue to get into the coliseum. Guided tours of the arena were accompanied by an archaeologist and I'm sure would have been very informative. Whilst it wasn't a particularly long queue it was painfully slow moving. After a couple of minutes we decided not to waste much more time.

And of course I'm sure I would have enjoyed another episode of imagining myself as a poor unfortunate Christian running away from the lions, or as a gladiatorial giant standing over my victim, looking up towards Caesar waiting for a thumb to turn downwards before plunging my sword for the kill.

But we decided that our time was best spent walking around more of the city!

We left the coliseum behind us and walked beneath the arc heading towards Circus Maximus. The area was nothing more than a dust bowl now, but you could still make out the outline of the race track and instantly images of Ben Hur and that chariot race filled my head!

The weather was pleasantly warm and we strolled slowly alongside the circus maximus heading towards the river where the Church of St. Maria in Cosmedin was located.

We entered the church and immediately, in the veranda for want of a better description, we saw the star attraction, namely the "Mouth of Truth". It's a large circular face carved of a god-like individual. According to legend, you should place your hand in his mouth and speak your mind, and if a lie is told your hand will be no more!

Julie placed her hand in the mouth and declared "My plane is not going to crash". The mouth did not shut, so it must be true!

It's strange that this myth exists as experts believe that it was originally nothing more than an ornamental drain cover!

The church itself was very dimly lit with only candles for light. It was quite atmospheric but too dark to appreciate any of the interior.

Following our brush with the roman lie detector we sat down on a bench outside the church for a rest. Out came our guide book as we planned our next destination.

Lunch was voted as number one choice. We walked alongside the Tiber, past the island in the middle, where a hospital is situated. Historically the island was used to care for lepers.

A little further we turned up and walked through some picturesque narrow streets until we popped out the other end in Campo de' Fiori.

This square was a vibrant hive of activity as the open air fruit and veg market was still buzzing. At its centre was a dark ominous statue of a hooded figure reminding you that public hangings once took place here!

We found a little restaurant on the square, and sat outside. Once again we found people watching fascinating.

We could see two labourers working on removing some rubble, but their work rate dramatically reduced when any female walked by, with the length of time occupied by their leering directly proportional to how glamorous the female. Now we could see why Rome wasn't built in a day!

The food was tasty, although Julie was disappointed that the chicken in her Pollo alla Romano were only drumsticks.

My vegetable pizza was perfect. We also shared a starter, described as Pumpkin Flowers, but they didn't taste like pumpkin nor look like flowers. Julie reckoned that they may have contained fish so I didn't eat anymore.

We sat here for quite some time, feeling very relaxed and calm.

With food in our stomachs, and having already walked for miles we weren't in any rush to move on! When we eventually made the effort to get up our limbs ached terribly. We decided to return to the hotel, via some other piazzas, for a siesta.

The first piazza we walked through was the most beautiful piazzas of all, Piazza Navona, the centrepiece fountain of Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi being exceptionally impressive.

Designed by Bernini, it had a large obelix in its middle, with four statues representing the four great rivers; the Ganges being the most striking.

There were many restaurants around this piazza, and we browsed menus with a view to find somewhere to eat out tonight. They all seemed far more expensive than last night's restaurant but I'm sure you pay for what you get.

We decided to return later, if our legs could carry us!

As we were nearing Piazza della Rotonda we passed a Gelateria. They had a wonderful choice of allsorts of flavours. Julie went for Strawberry ice cream and I decided to try the Lemon sorbet. In a bizarre coincidence, out of over twenty flavours on offer we chose two that the Gelateria were actually named after! It was called Fragolia a Limone, or Strawberries and Lemon!

Just around the corner we entered the piazza to see the Pantheon dominating the square. Its large granite columns showing exactly what the forum only hinted at.

This was a bona fide ancient temple. How amazing. We sat down at the fountain in the centre and ate our ice creams, which were sensuously delicious, intensely tasty. It's probably the pig gelatine that makes them that way! We people watched some more, then popped inside the Pantheon.

The interior dome was truly awe-inspiring. The sheer scale and the design of it was unbelievable.

Apparently built by Emperor Hadrian, he certainly had improved on his craft since building his little wall to keep out the Picts!

Although I didn't quite understand why he had left a large hole in the middle?

Surely it would get wet if it rained?

A few back streets and a piazza later and we came across the distinctive column of Marcus Aurelius but along the way we had walked through Piazza Montecitorio. Ceremonial soldiers were marching backwards and forwards guarding the entrance to a palazzo in this piazza. I think they were government buildings of some description. There was also a large presence of plain clothes policemen. They were hysterically stereotypical with their regulation sunglasses, oiled back black hair and the obligatory toothpick. It was as if we had stumbled onto a film set and were walking past Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Andy Garcia! Despite Julie seeing the humorous side I had some trouble catching up with her as she scuttled out of this square at some velocity!

We were now on the final furlong as we crossed via Corsa and headed up via Tritone. We were aching badly and very tired, so when we walked past a Delifrance cafe we had no choice but to step inside and sit down. Julie sat whilst I went to the counter to get a cappuccino and a diet coke. I later read that I was apparently being uncouth by drinking cappuccino in the afternoon. What a rebel!

I was then treated to an impromptu performance of shop opera when a young boy who was brushing the floor started to serenade the blushing object of his affection whilst she was busy making my coffee frothy! After our pit stop we had hope for some renewed vigour but it didn't materialise, and we staggered our way up the hill to our hotel.

We collected our keys from Anna Robinsonno, who must have been on happy pills or the sherry, (or both!) because I'm sure she was giving us the 'nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more' over our afternoon "siesta". (Was Monty Python ever popular in Italy?) Anyway no illicitness took place, despite it being only 3pm. We were totally shagged, um, I mean burnt out, dog tired, knackered!

Three hours later we awoke from our slumber feeling very hungry! As we were celebrating our 15th Anniversary we decided to push the boat out and not worry about the expense, so headed for via Veneto, THE place to be seen!

The road itself winds upwards and the higher up the street you go the more exclusive the restaurants.

So naturally we started our search at the bottom, just off Piazza Barberini!

We reached the third restaurant up; it had a similar set up to the others, with a small dining area inside but a large glass house outside on the pavement.

The staff were very friendly and jovial, and the menu was the more expensive of the three, so we decided to walk no further. It was called Alex Café.

I explained my infliction that is my vegetarianism and they were very accommodating saying "no problem" and in fact could make anything on request. I needn't have worried about the menu however as I had plenty of choice. Once again we went for a Caprese Salad, (mozzarella and tomato) which was much fresher than last night's salad. I then had Gnocchi a Pomodori, delightful potato dumplings in a rich tomato sauce; incredibly flavoursome. Julie had a fillet steak that was cooked to perfection. She prefers it cooked medium-rare and tender enough to cut it with a spoon, and that's exactly what she got!

We washed it all down with a bottle of quality Chianti and a Chardonnay. It must have gone straight to my head and affected my coordination, although Julie would argue that I would have done this stone cold sober! I was only flirtatiously twirling the glass by its stem, as you do when you vainly attempt to look sophisticated, when I lost my grip and the whole glass was about to topple over. Fortunately I manage to recover my hold of the stem but not before a tidal wave of red wine had burst over the rim and splashed onto their nice clean cream table cloth. I must have gone the shade of Burgundy I'm sure, but I don't think anybody noticed.

We were having a fantastic time; the food was fabulous, the wine was wonderful, the company was captivating; it was 'molto romantico'. The waiters also played their part in a wonderful evening. They were three 60 somethings, and they were very approachable and likeable. They had great sense of humour and were fascinating to watch. Up on the walls inside the restaurant they had many photographs of rugby teams and players in action, including one of Gareth Edwards, the famous Welsh scrum half. I asked one of the waiters why the rugby theme and apparently the owner use to play rugby in his youth. As we left the restaurant they all came over and shook our hands, and because of them we promised to return tomorrow for another meal.

With it only being 9:30pm the night was still young, so we walked down via Tritone looking for a bar. We took a few backstreets in the hope of finding that traditional bar but instead we stumbled across a good old British Pub!? It really wasn't what we were looking for, but due to our bulging bladders we reluctantly went in, bought a pint of Tetley's, and headed straight for the toilet! The place was awful though and reminded me of home for all the wrong reasons. Such as the sticky carpets and dark corners, with an Aussie serving a bad pint; having to push past the resident drunk propping up the bar; and a pool table and a dartboard in the smoke filled back room with nasty brewery mirrors, and graffiti all over the toilet walls. Quintessentially British! Once relieved we left, leaving some of our beer behind, and at £4 for a pint it was a very expensive piss stop!

A stone throws away from the pub was the Trevi fountain, so we decided to go for another visit, this time to see it all illuminated. It was equally as stunning at night, and was certainly less busy than yesterday afternoon. We sat down, facing the fountain, romantically sharing a litre bottle of Carlsberg lager, fending off the persistent rose sellers. We sat here for quite some time, and several litres of lager later must have mellowed our determination not to buy a rose as we eventually gave in and bought three!

To be fair he was the only seller to make a connection with me by striking up a conversation and recognising that the Welsh were famous for their rugby. Our trust however was immediately broken when I was very suspicious of the 5000 lire note he gave me as change. It did say Banco Italia on it but it didn't feel like proper paper. I questioned the dubious bank note with him, but he assured me that it was real. I accepted his word, even though I actually knew it was fake, but what could I have done? I did ask if he would pose for a photograph, and he did. So if you see this man, check your change!

Julie spotted another seller with a rare white rose amongst bunches of reds so we simply had to buy it! I used my Monopoly money to pay for it, and to no surprise he refused to accept the fake note. I pointed him in the direction of his colleague and told him that he said it was OK. They spoke some words to each other and agreed to take the fake note back. It was all good natured and quite funny!

By now we had accumulated six roses, and a little later another rose seller headed towards us but before he could say anything I stood up, held out three roses, and said "5000 lira … three roses". He found it hilarious that I was trying to sell some roses back to him!

As we left the Trevi we wanted to find a couple who we felt were deserving of our surplus roses. We'd all but given up hope when a loved up twosome arm in arm walked into the square. We tried to give them three red roses, but they refused them. I said "No, it's OK, they're free". They could not speak English, and they looked terribly confused and a little frightened of us!

I tried once more to explain that they can have the roses for nothing, but they were increasingly looking alarmed; and as I stumbled forward to try and hand them the flowers again, they stepped back with a look of horror as if they thought I was going to hit them! So before they fled for their lives away from this demented drunken rose seller, I gave up my sales pitch and threw the roses into the gutter behind them, then walked off. Well, the shock on their faces was a picture! It was just so funny! What must have gone through their minds heaven only knows, but I think I must have really scared them. Julie and I could hardly contain our laughter!

On our way back towards the hotel we walked past a tiny café bar, the kind of traditional bar that we were looking for earlier in the evening. They had a table and two chairs outside so we decided to sit down and share a bottle of Chianti. We watched the world go by, and despite being well past midnight, it was quite busy.

Julie had popped to the toilet, and when she came back she was chuckling to herself. When I asked her what was up, she explained that she had asked the waiter "where are the toilets?" He did not reply, but handed her an empty Evian bottle. She couldn't understand why? And for a brief moment she honestly thought that she had to urinate into it! She was hugely relieved to spot a key attached to the bottle which unlocked the toilet door! Well we laughed and tittered our way through another bottle!

The frivolity however was just a practice run for what was about to happen. We were ready to leave, so Julie returned to the toilet before the walk up the hill to our hotel. Some five minutes later she hadn't surfaced, which didn't concern me, despite hearing some loud banging noises, as it takes me that long sometimes. But then the waiter came up to me and pointed inside saying "tolletta". When the penny dropped that what he was trying to say was "Your wife is locked in the toilet" I started to laugh!

He led me towards the toilet door where a small crowd was gathering. The owners, the waiters, the cleaner with mop in hand, and the few other customers who had all got up to join in the circle facing the toilet door, were all showing their concern. With crude sign language the waiter got me to suggest to Julie to slide the key under the door, but her desperate response reminded me about the huge Evian bottle that was still stuck to it!

It then went very quiet, too quiet. I asked if she was alright, but I couldn't hear very well, especially with whispering crowd closing in on the scene. I leaned forward, placing my ear to the door, to try and hear what she was up to, then WHAM!! The door opened outwards, cracking me on the head. The crowd took a sharp intake of breath in unison, "Oooh!". Julie shot out of the traps, and said "Colin, just pay the bill, we're going."

We left before we exploded with laughter, but as soon as we got outside we blew up. We were crippled with hysterics! Quite literally bent double and unable to walk! We had lost control of ourselves, taking three steps forward before stopping and leaning on a wall or a post; unable to speak without it ascending into an farcical squeak. Our sides were split, our pants were pissed, and we had become wobbling jellies. We were now walking up behind Palazzo Quirinale, past the policemen in their booths. We tried desperately to compose ourselves like delinquent teenagers hoping to avoid a parent's detection of drunkenness!

We managed to reach the hotel without being arrested for disorderly behaviour. It was now 1:30am and our key was the only one not reclaimed. We escaped a scathing look from the school-teacher-like receptionist because she wasn't there. Only the old night watchman was on duty. We felt sorry for him and Julie gave him our last red rose. We got to bed and crashed out, still laughing.

A happy 15th wedding anniversary!

Friday 19th October >>

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