A Travellerspoint blog

Steps, Saints and Shopping

Our last day in Rome CBD

sunny 28 °C

12th September 2013

Its 830am when we finally rouse ourselves from bed. Nothing pressing today, just a quick visit o some parts of Rome that we have not seen, before we move further out of the city with Trafalgar this afternoon.

We have our last hearty breakfast at the Apollo Hotel rooftop dining area. They have great pastries and I have a couple of those, some tea and an apple. Its been a while since I had a crunchy fresh apple. We go back to our room and do the final pack up. We leave our cases at the hotel and begin walking.

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The Spanish Steps was our first destination today. This is the last of the big icons that we needed to see. We came in from the top so did not immediately recognise it at first. A few steps forward, a look over the edge and we see it is indeed the famous steps. We go down to the bottom, get the essential photo after navigating your way through everyone else's shot. Cameras are everywhere.

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We decide this morning to have a look through some shops and see if we can find any bargains. Most of the shops are designer labels and we just can't afford that at the moment.

We discover the map shows Saint Ignatius of Layola Basilica. Ethan goes to St.Ignatius school so we thought it would be cool to go and have a look and he can show his teacher when he gets back. It is one of the most beautiful churches we have been in, ever. (Some of the ones in Lima , Peru were fairly spectacular) The frescoes, ceilings, alter and walls are adorned with hand painted masterpieces, the likes i have seen only in pictures. We spend some time silently wandering inside until we have absorbed every facet of this holy place. Then we set off again, in search of more shops.

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As we keep walking we come across some great jeans shops and David finds some things he wants to look at. Call me impatient, but I did not want to mooch about waiting for David to finish shopping, so I gave him the map and left Ethan & him for some time on my own. We agreed to meet back at the hotel but didn't say a time. I walked for quite a long time retracing steps I'd been over in previous days and without a map I had to make a few guesses. Eventually I got back to the hotel and the boys came two minutes later. They have a few bargains under their arms but mostly they talk about the gelato they just had - I am wildly jealous.

We picked up our cases and hailed a taxi to our Trafalgar Hotel - Ergife Hotel. It was a long drive through the city of Rome past the Vatican City and about 10 minutes the other side in an area called Aurelia. The hotel is very swish and huge - 1000 rooms. The boys want to go and swim in the olympic size pool so I go poolside and catch up on email etc. I try twice to get served at the bar for a drink, to no avail. They serve everyone else before me and I think I will just save my money. For such a huge pool there are only 3 people swimming and 1 lifeguard full time - they have an ipod so I assume they are not bored.

There is a conference group who have an audience with the pope. About 500 of them are staying here and get bussed out daily under police escort. We met a couple of them and they are going to The Vatican each day for 4 days, one of those days spent in the Popes company. At night they all gather poolside and the hotel have a musician. In the Roman tradition, they don't go for dinner until after 830pm. The place is buzzing until well after midnight.

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We go to the tour meeting at 4.45pm. The optional tours are on every night but we cant afford to do everything. We decide that we will do The Vatican tour tomorrow. This is parcelled up with The Colosseum, which we have already done, but not with a guide so we will do it anyway.

A short walk away from the hotel we find an authentic family owned Italian restaurant. I have scotch fillet and salad. The boys have pizza and pasta. We follow it up with a dessert, Ethan's is best with the homemade profiteroles, I hate to say that they are better than my homemade ones!

Just a PS, My photo look blurry on my ipad and I hope they have come out as high res as I took them?? Wait and see I guess.

Posted by JenMF 07:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Crater Expectations

Vesuvius, Pompeii, Naples.

sunny 32 °C
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11th September 2013

We had a very early start this morning. Alarm off at 6.15am, but I have not really slept since 4am, dubious that the alarm is going to work at 6.15! We try and get breakfast before we leave for our tour but the rooftop dining area is not open so we miss out. We grab a taxi and are dropped off at Piazza Di Popolo where a nearby cafe allows us to buy few croissants before they open so that we can eat before we leave. We eat our custard filled pastries in the massive piazza surrounded by statues of angels and facades of official looking buildings with domes and belltowers.

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We meet up with our tour group Dark Rome and get our names crossed off. The bells toll on two of the buildings and it is time to get on the bus to Pompeii. We will be stopping at Casino, MtVesuvius, Naples and then Pompeii, a long day ahead.

We board the coach, very nice red leather & suede interior, and super comfortable. We start to leave the city behind us, passing Villa Borghese a park and gallery that is decorated with the ruins of Pompeii. About half an hour into our journey our tour guide tells us the story of Spartacus and we cross the Aurelian Line - a line of umbrella pines leading into Rome marking the massacre of Spartacus and his 6000 men.

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We reach Cassino for a short break and I have my first Roman Cioccolata Caldo (Hot Chocolate) for this trip so far. We buy some rolls called Pompeii ham and cheese, different from Roman, which is Prosciutto & cheese and eat them quickly before boarding the bus again.

A bit further down the track we arrive at Mount Vesuvius. It is a 25 minute hike to the crater and I make it, just! The descent is so steep but the views of Naples and the coast make it worth every step. In my minds eye I envisioned a volcano bubbling with lava and steam pouring from the top. I was not truly expecting to see that, but I was a little underwhelmed by seeing a crater filled with dirt. A tiny piece of steam was escaping from one crevice and I wonder how this docile mound of dirt and rock could have caused such havoc many centuries ago. They say that she is about to blow again, but with the lava 7 kilometres below all of that dirt I cant see it happening for a while. We make it safely away with no eruptions and head for Pompeii.

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A delicious pizza lunch - Naples style, awaits us when we enter the region of Pompeii. Naples style is very different to Roman. Naples thick crust, Roman thin crust. Our tour guide explained to us the way they came up with some pizza names. Margherita was named after a queen of same name, who asked the cook to bring her something different so he made dough and then added tomato base, cheese and basil and prayed that she liked it. She loved it and ever after it is known as the Margherita pizza.The Marinara is named after a mariner who came home with some colleagues and asked his wife to make something up for dinner and she put together what she had on hand. Marinara does not however include seafood like it does at home, but is like a Margherita with olives - at least that is what we are told.

After lunch we go to the city of Pompeii and we begin our tour. It is very hot and I had been pre-warned that it would be. It is as amazing as I thought with great stories abut each separate area we walked into. How they know some of the facts amazes me. We spent a couple of hours walking around the ruins and then had to head back to Rome. One last visit to the gelato stand for some gelato for the boys and a granita for me, all lemon flavoured because this area is famous for its lemons.

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After a long 3 hours we arrive back in Rome. We decide to walk and find something to eat, it is now 8.30pm. After walking for 30 minutes we just grabbed some takeaway burgers as nothing else really grabs us.

We take a taxi back to The Apollo and pack our bags ready to say goodbye, just to the central part of Rome, tomorrow.

Posted by JenMF 21:29 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Walking, walking, walking.

We packed in a few monuments.

sunny 31 °C
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10th September 2013

Wow what a great sleep. I woke up at 5.30 and couldn't sleep any longer so I went downstairs to check up on emails and the blog. At 7am the boys found me in the hotel sitting room and we went for breakfast. This was served in the rooftop dining room which was decked out in green and white checked cloths and lots of yummy items. Mostly bread, pastries, meat and cheese but there is also a glimpse of fruit. I have a very little of each - we have a big day ahead.

The morning started out a bit strained, with none of us knowing where we were going exactly and the map not very clear. You know how it is couples/family holidays bickering about maps! Ethan would not stop carrying on about a sword that he wanted and I was about to arrange to have him sent home! After a few deep breaths and a little chat we were back to happy families and were already on our way to The Trevi Fountain. We were following a walk in the lonely planet but just kept getting distracted and going up little lanes. Der - maybe that's why it took 10 hours instead of 1 - Haha.

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The Trevi was first major stop and was so busy. It was half in shade so I hope to return when I can get a really brilliant shot, but it was awe inspiring. We threw our coins, made our wishes and had a look at the market stalls nearby. From there we wound our way through back streets to The Pantheon.

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This brilliant piece of architecture has the largest concrete dome that is not reinforced, in the world. Inside the walls are inlaid with religious statues and an exquisite alter is the centrepiece. Once again as we exit we notice a fountain, something we see in almost every piazza.

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We notice a few stalls nearby and wander down a couple of streets. Eventually we come across Piazza Navona. This is a large square with 3 fountains. One in the centre and two smaller ones at each end. Lining the square on three sides are cafes each with their own style. We walk and, take many photos and then try to choose a cafe for some gelato. We do a complete circuit of the piazza and finally choose one that looks good. We each order gelato J - Amaretto/choc, E - Berry & Kiwi, D - Tartufo. A great experience sitting there for a while just taking it all in.

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From here we follow the plan and head towards Campo Di Fiori, a market mostly of fruits, herbs and oils; but also there are a few cheese, liqueur and truffle stalls. We buy some liqueur in 3 flavours Almond lemon, Choc chilli and Lemoncello. Everywhere we looked was colour. The fruits, flowers and chilli really lent itself to picture perfect photos.

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We wander around a few streets and end up staring the II Vittoriano. The size of this feature is astounding. I can hardly believe that there is any monument bigger in the world. It's whiteness gleams from every angle. Statues adorn every spare corner and it is so tall you need to strain your neck to see it as one. We spend at least an hour looking around this, and the Capitoline Museums. We decide to eat lunch at the cafe about half way up. There we found a delicious range of salads and it was a godsend, after eating bread everyday, to have something fresh.

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It's time to see the Colosseum. We have a ticket from yesterday and decide to do this as our last tour today. It is about 4pm and we walk from II Vittoriano about 100metres, we pass by The Forum again and join the queue for The Colosseum. The ticket sent us to the head of the line and we got in within a few minutes. You don't really understand the size of this place until you are inside and scanning across the vast stadium area. From the outside it looks like a fragile shell, but once inside you see that it is a mass of stone tiers. Ethan has a fascination with gladiators, so loves this place. We all just walk around absorbing the history. I would say that a guide would be better to learn more, but we have a book now and hopefully all of our questions will be answered. Both of our cameras are flat after a day of overuse! Look below for some photos.

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The man at the hotel suggested a place to eat, but we pass it on our way back and just get a gut feel that it isn't for us. It has been raining for a while now, but we want to find somewhere outside, it just feels right. We find a place not far from our hotel. I order lasagne, E - carbonara and D - pizza but with salad on top. Even though the place is very special and has the right ambience, the food was not so good. My lasagne had no meat and Ethan's spaghetti had lots of fatty bacon through it. Perhaps it is unmet expectations rather than the place being really bad? Not sure but probably wont go there again.

We walk the very short distance back to our hotel and get our stuff ready for the early start tomorrow. An all day bus trip to Pompeii, via Naples and Moutn Vesuvius. Having a great time in Rome and sad we only have a couple of days to go.

Posted by JenMF 06:20 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

A Day Of Firsts!

Roman ruins, pizza and gelato...

sunny 30 °C
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9th September 2013

I am writing this on the plane. It has so far been a smooth journey and we have about 3 hours to go. I hope it continues this well.

This morning we decide to set the alarm for 6am so that we have time for breakfast and getting to the airport for 7.15am. We wake and get dressed but realise we didn't spend much time on the packing last night and must sort some things out. We have a hasty breakfast and scoot off to the airport.
Checking in our baggage and the man says we have 2 minutes until they would have cut us off. Whoops we just made it. Had I not stopped for photos outside we would have been quite early. It was a comedy of errors from then on with David & Ethan splitting from me and arriving very late at the gate. Everyone was boarding and once again we made it by the skin of our teeth, loaded with duty free magazines, Vodka and chocolate!

The flight was very smooth, albeit a little bumpy descending into Rome. I am reaching across to see if I can get a glimpse of some iconic landmark in Rome but all I see are fields with delightful country homes. Before I know it we have landed and we are inside Rome airport.
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My first impression, very different to Dubai, is that it is quite filthy and everything from floors to bathrooms need a good clean. But it is more about the comparison to Dubai I think than the state of them being too bad. We were spoilt there.

Again we grab a train to our luggage. The passport control has very little control at all and simply waves us through with nary a glance at our passports.
We hail a shared taxi easily and head through the streets of Rome to our hotel. Luckily for us we are the last of 3 groups to get dropped off and have a chance to wind through the streets, the driver pointing out many significant areas to visit.

Our hotel - Apollo Hotel, is a quaint, old fashioned hotel, chosen by me because from the door I can see the Colosseum. For the first time I can really see excitement in the boys eyes, and I too have a surreal feeling that after months of planning that we are actually here.

We check in and go up to our room which is decorated in an old fashioned Italian way, with velvet wall paper, walnut furniture and green satin floral bedspreads. Its simple and perfect for us. After a quick rest we don our walking shoes and hit the streets. We decide to go down the street to view the Colosseum and have a good walk around it. We head towards The Forum and think we may like to do that area today.

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On the way there my breath is taken away and I am unsure where to look with all of the fascinating sites but we have to start somewhere so we go and buy a ticket, which includes entry to the Colosseum as well. We spent 2.5 hours wandering around The Forum and I took so many photos that my battery ran out. The views of the city from some of the higher points are amazing.
The Forum is the ruins of an ancient plaza, some parts from 7 & 8th century BC. It was surrounded by many official government buildings where political speeches, elections, criminal hearings and gladiatorial matches were held. Below are a few photos.

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Foot sore and hungry we head back to the hotel via another path of lane ways and see many quirky little locations. One of those was a cafe where we decide to have our first Roman pizza. Delicious! Such a lovely thin base and the sauce is to die for. The cafe is in a little piazza near our hotel and it is fun to be alfresco so that we can watch the kids running around the fountain. A strange lot of characters move through the square, some dressed to the nines and struggling in high heels on the cobblestone streets. Others are playing accordion or guitar and asking for some spare change. Families also perch on the fountain edge and you know this area is a meeting place for end of day socialising.

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After a very long day we need some sleep, but not before we try an authentic gelato. There is one near the hotel and we have a double each! I have black cherry and cassata; Ethan has strawberry and apple; and David has caramel and chocolate.

Well our first day in Rome has been unforgettable and I know we have only discovered 1% of the sites on our wish list. A good sleep and then a full day of site seeing t ourselves tomorrow.

Posted by JenMF 09:06 Archived in Italy Comments (2)

Atlantis

Water, waves and wealth.

sunny 44 °C
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8th September 2013 - Dubai

We start our first morning in Dubai with a great breakfast in our hotel - Suites Novotel Mall Of Emirates. It is a buffet but with one cooked option as well. Ethan & I chose the Banana nutella pancakes and David has an omelette. Followed by bircher museli and some fruit.

After checking with reception about options we learn that they have women only days on the beach from Sunday - Wednesday which means ladies with children, but strictly no men.

We decide with only one day left in Dubai, we will travel out to the waterpark and aquarium. We grab a taxi and head towards Atlantis at the head of the palm island. Aquaventure is a site to behold. Huge palms and a plethora of rides. We grab a locker - ladies only, and then get changed in the most elaborate changing rooms I've been in. We head to the main pool and float about in our tubes. Its hot already, probably 35-40 at 9.30am. We decide to grab our tubes and start with the calm Torrent ride - mainly my idea - nothing scary for me! After this lovely calm float around winding waterways we are back to the main pool and decide to go for the next scariest up - The Shark Attack.

We take a small waterway on our tubes and then get pushed up a conveyer - still in our tubes , a strange feeling. Then we need to get out and walk for a few metres to a dark tunnel opening.I am trepidacious and allow David to go first. He screams down the tunnel to me "don't do it" knowing that I don't like scary rides. I didn't hear him though and was pushed in my tube into a black tunnel. It was horrendous for the first few seconds of darkness and I prayed that it would be light soon. JUst as my long scream ended, I saw the light and was enveloped by stingrays and sharks surrounding me through the glass tunnel in which I was calmly floating. The tube of darkness was worth the amazing sensation of being inside an aquarium.
The rest of my morning was uneventful, as I intended! The boys however went on every waterslide and ride, graduating each time until they survived The Leap Of Faith - a 30 metre near vertical drop, finishing in a fast slide through a tube surrounded with sharks. See photo below. The park was excellent and after 4 hours it was time to grab a bite and then head to the aquarium - the second part of our day.

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The entrance to Aquaventure in through a very exclusive strip of shops. As we left Aquaventure for the shops, a blast of freezing cold air hit us. We have grown acustom to this, boiling outside, freezing inside. For lunch we stopped a restaurant called TBJ - The Burger Joint. The burgers and fries were delicious.

We headed to the aquarium after lunch and it was beautiful. The set up was spectacular with many different displays of fish, a diving show and ray feeding. It was called The Lost Chambers, and was a replica of Atlantis and the followed the story as we walked through.

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For our couple of days here we were relying on taxis to get everywhere. Just as well because I wouldnt want to drive here! Roads are very busy. They have Ferraris for undercover police cars and lots of Lambourghinis and Maseratis as car lovers we have enjoyed seeing these close up.

To finish our day we grabbed a taxi to Dubai Mall. This is a huge mall, mostly with designer shops. It has an indoor waterfall in several places, and indoor ice rink, and many, many food stores. It also has a fountain show that has the tourists flocking. We spent some time walking around the mall looking in some shops and at 6.30 we headed out to the water show. We found a great position atop a bridge and watched the show. Unfortunately it only lasted for one song. I think I was expecting slightly more but we will wait for Barcelona to see the fantastic water show they have there.

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This area also boasts the tallest building in the world. There is so much building going on over here that I guess it won't be long before another one knocks it off the the number one spot.

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After grabbing a quick bite of Nandos in the mall, we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and got packed up ready to go tomorrow morning.

Dubai has been very different. So hot outside that you almost can't breathe but then refreshingly cold inside. People have been amazing, polite and friendly. The service has been great. Shopping seems mostly for people that can afford designer items. I would say that if you have plenty of money to spend then go to the malls for clothes and shopping, but otherwise go there just for the food, coffee and people watching.

Posted by JenMF 21:45 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

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