This month, by me on Bea
I’ll share some photos from the most beautiful city of Dresden here soon. I’m sure you just can’t wait.
This month, by me on Bea
I’ll share some photos from the most beautiful city of Dresden here soon. I’m sure you just can’t wait.
Alternative title: So many people!
Here’s a top tip from me to you. If you want to avoid crowds, don’t go to Rome. If you’re realistic about crowds when sightseeing but want to avoid the worst of them, don’t go to Rome between Christmas and New Year. I had some stupid idea in my head that Rome would be quiet-ish over the silly season. “Surely,” thought I, “the Romans will all be busy with family…” Oh no, in fact, and the fantastic weather probably had a lot to do with this, Rome was busier than I have ever seen it. Not only was it filled with tourists (tourists, grrr!), it was doubly filled with Romans on Christmas break making the most of their beautiful city. Seriously, Rome between Christmas and New Year is mad busy. I certainly learned my lesson.
But anyway… Day 3 in Rome and I had planned to visit St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums. We hopped on a fairly early tourist bus (the Ciao Roma one which is to be avoided at all costs) straight to the Vatican. It took about an hour on the bus, quite a nice ride through the city, past the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Castel Sant’Angelo etc, to get to just outside the Vatican City walls. When we actually made it to St Peter’s Square, I suggested to Mr Mac and his parents that we visit the Vatican Museums first, since the queue to get into the museums is notoriously long. Well, that morning we waited about two whole hours in line to get in, all the while being accosted by tour guides every three minutes or so, promising to get us in faster if we took one of their tours. My advice? Buy your tickets online before you go to Rome. (The worst part was that when we walked past later on in the afternoon, after our visit, the queue was about one third of the length of the one we waited in. So just pay me no attention, I’m useless.)
A visit to the Vatican Museums really isn’t for the easily tired. You could easily spend a whole day looking at all the exhibits individually. Visitors are given a map with a list of all the different museums and displays but the short-cut to the Sistine Chapel, easily the most eagerly anticipated part of a tour for any visitor, is displayed via signs throughout the museum. There’s a serious lack of seating or places to take a break while walking through the museum and some of the rooms can be uncomfortably stuffy, especially the Raphael Stanze. But there are some wonderful, wonderful galleries- the map room and the tapestries for example- to gawp at on the way to the Sistine Chapel. Of course, the Sistine Chapel is one of the most brilliant, beautiful rooms in the whole world and I would put up with all the discomfort, annoying other tourists, waiting, and shoving to see it again and again.
Once you’ve been through the Sistine Chapel, there’s a restaurant in the Vatican Museums for your comfort. You can also visit it before you head on your Odyssey through the Vatican treasures; it’s just not very easy to get to halfway through a tour. At the end of your visit, you walk down a marvellous double helix staircase to the exit and the sweet, fresh air (of a busy, vehicle and pedestrian-crowded road).
I’m wondering now though, what happens when there’s a conclave of cardinals sequestered in the Sistine Chapel, trying to vote for a new pope? Surely they don’t shut down the museums completely, do they? Anyone know?
After we visited the Vatican Museums, we were all already tired. We sat down to a bit of lunch (all pizzas €6 at one of the pizza restos across the road from the Vatican walls) and decided none of us wanted to wait in the massive queue to see the inside of St Peter’s Basilica. Instead we decided to make our way out through the throng and back to the tour bus where we would take it to the nearest stop to the Spanish Steps.
I confess, I’ve never really seen the big appeal of the Spanish Steps. Whenever I’ve been there (three times, *flicks hair*) it’s been so busy you could hardly move and always in Winter so the flowers are never out. This particular day, the tour bus stopped very close to the Ara Pacis (still on my list of “Things in Rome to see”) and we walked the rest of the way to the Spanish Steps, across the Via del Corso and up the Via Condotti which was so heaving with people, we could hardly move. By the time we had pushed and shoved our way to the actual Spanish Steps, my mother-in-law and I had had enough for the day and plonked ourselves down for a spot of tourist-watching until Mr Mac and his dad caught up with us; they had been waylaid, watching a street artist perform artful magic with spray paints.
But catch up to us they did…
Mr Mac decided he was going to head to the top of the steps while we sat down and soaked up the Italiano atmos. Then, when he got back, we found a taxi back to our hotel and had a lie down before dinner- our last night in Rome.
Alt title: All Russian, All the Time
You may or may not know, Mr Mac has been spending quite a bit of his business time in Ukraine of late. Somehow it has coincided with me coming across a tv show on BBC iPlayer called Russia: a Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby (Jonathan Dimbleby’s Russia). After I watched the first show in the series, in which, amongst other things, he explored St Petersburg and took us through a building, the likes of which Dostoevsky wrote about in Crime and Punishment, I found myself downloading that very book on my Kindle and read it. (Interesting read, very fast-paced in parts, but very slow in others, glad I read it.)
When I finished Crime and Punishment, I watched the second episode in the series which took Mr Dimbleby to Yasnaya Polyana, where Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina. When that episode was finished, I downloaded Anna Karenina to my Kindle. I’m currently halfway through reading that. I am so suggestible. I’m enjoying Anna Karenina but it’s about a bajillion pages long so it’ll be a long time before I make it onto episode three of Jonathan’s Russian odyssey. But I do wonder what I’ll be reading next.
And to my lovely little Matryoshka doll which Mr Mac brought home from Ukraine for me. Isn’t it cute? I’ve wanted one of these since I can remember so it was a lovely little surprise when I picked Mr Mac up from the airport on Thursday night. I think it’s the colours I love so much about them; so much red and gold. And the shape and the glossiness. I confess, I did stroke it to my face when I saw it for the first time. What? Shut up. I’m going now.
How am I supposed to keep anyone interested in reading this blog if I never bother to write anything in it? I don’t know. I’ve still got photos from Rome to show you as well as photos I took from some gorgeous Swiss towns we visited while my in-laws were here. I have an excuse for not updating, as weak as it is. I’ve been knitting like a mad woman. After I finished knitting the blanket/throw rug for myself (which has been commandeered by Mr Mac), I had a bit of wool (yarn, I think is the correct term, if you’re a proper knitter. But when I grew up, it was always just wool, whether or not it had even seen the back of a sheep.) left over so I started on a new project for Ewan; a black and white blanket, made longer for a single bed, and with blue edging. I’m not going to lie, knitting in only two colours made it seem like I was knitting it for evah, but I think the geometric (is it geometric? It might be.) effect of the black and white works quite well. Anyway, Ewan loves it and I love that he loves it.So, there’s another new thing that I love too. I had a quick crochet lesson from my pal (Hi, India!) one afternoon when we were out having prosecco in town (it’s a good life). My friend’s main task in teaching me some crochet was to show me how to get started on a crocheted edging. Well, she might have created a monster. Once I had the hang of some fancy stitches, I found myself an easy tutorial for some good, old-fashioned granny squares and have started to crochet some of those too, in my spare time (ie. when I should be cleaning, cooking and the various other tasks which come with the position of Professional Hausfrau). Pretty, aren’t they? They’re fairly sizeable so I plan to meander along, making one every now and then, while the knitting, photo-editing and updating of this blog is coming along, until I have twenty-five of them and will fashion them into a pretty blanket for myself. I don’t think I’ll be venturing far from crafting flat, square-oid things. They’re easy, functional and one size usually fits all. That’ll do for me.
In other news, I got word yesterday that our landlord wants to sell our apartment. The call came from the real estate agent yesterday afternoon to let me know that I should be expecting a call from someone who will have to come and give the flat a once-over. Since I put the phone down, my stomach has been in knots and my nerves have been shot to pieces. You know, you think that you’re settled, your children are doing well, life is smoothing out after ten years of finding your place in a foreign land and then this happens. I don’t want to move from this flat, from the Village of the Damned (even though I still call it that and we have real, proper, reasons for having to stay here). I don’t want to move at all. Please keep your fingers crossed for us that another investor buys and we can stay here until I am completely grey and Mr Mac is completely bald (only another five years or so, I reckon so we’re not asking too much). Or, just buy the apartment for us. We’re great tenants, honest. More news on that as it comes to hand.
This month by me on Bea,
While we were in Rome, my mother-in-law wanted to see one church in particular, St John Lateran which she’d been told by a friend was a particularly beautiful church. And you can’t go to Rome without having a look at the Colosseum, can you? The Colosseum and St John Lateran are within walking distance of one another so that’s what we had planned for Day 2 in Rome.
We made some enquiries about one of Rome’s many touristy, hop-on-hop-off, open-top buses which you see driving around the city all day long. Our hotel recommended the Ciao Roma bus tour. I, however, do not. The first bus we took was filthy, the earbuds they give for you for the running commentary aren’t long enough for the passenger on the aisle seat, the running commentary works only intermittently. All of these bus tour tickets are fairly expensive, I think we paid about €40 each for a 48 hour ticket. Considering everything that was wrong with this operator, I feel we were ripped off entirely. Beware the blue open-topped bus, don’t bother with it. Phew! That’s off my chest now.
But anyway, we took the Ciao Roma bus from Piazza Barberini to the Colosseum. From the bus we could see about a bajillion people milling around and the queue to get into the Colosseum appeared to be days long. We were approached by about six thousand different tour guide reps who wanted to sell us a guided tour around the Colosseum, the big selling point being that you could skip the queues. After some discussion, we decided that we would shell out the extra euros and take the tour.
We’re actually glad we took the guide because our guide, Oriana, was very entertaining and gave lots and lots of information about the Colosseum. The only trouble was, by the time she had walked us around the inside for a bit, given us a little info on the ground floor on the inside and we were about to head upstairs, there were only ten minutes left before we had to leave to go onto the next part of the tour to the Circus Maximus. We decided not to bother with the rest of the tour. It was a shame but really, we wanted more time to look around the Colosseum in depth.
After we’d decided we’d had enough Roman architecture for the moment, we decided to head down to St John Lateran. It was a straight route from the Colosseum down the Via St Giovanni in Laterano but a fairly lengthy one. The church was not on the bus route so we walked, stopping in for a spot of lunch on the way there.
The Basilica of St John Lateran is actually the seat of the Bishop of Rome, aka Il Papa. At the top of the long walk up the hill to the basilica, you end up at a piazza with a large, ancient obelisk (what else?) at the back of the church. You enter from this side though, through the Loggia del Benedizione. Once inside, the church itself is gorgeous.
Outside the front of the basilica, there was a Christmas market which we had a wander along. Mr Mac found the best pork sandwich he’d ever tasted. And then we were exhausted and took a taxi back to the hotel to have a wee rest before heading out to dinner that night.
End of Day 2.
I’ve finished my first knitting project of 2013/my life! A blanket/throw rug. I’m very pleased with myself and have already started another for Ewan who has been encouraging me all along whilst asking, “Is that going to be for me? can I have it when you’re finished?” all along. I even bought myself a crochet hook and taught myself how to crochet the panels together (it’s made up of 12 panels and two edges crocheted together). And best of all, I’m not even embarrassed by the back of it; normally the reverse side of any of my handicrafts is an absolute disgrace but this time I’ve even learned to pay attention to detail.
OK, so, go me! *pats self on back*
When we were booking our fights, we had a choice between leaving super-early and arriving mid-morning or leaving in the evening and arriving super-late. Well, there’s no point in getting anywhere super-late, is there? So, we all crawled out of bed and were ready to leave the house by 5:45. We arrived in Rome on Boxing day around 10am, too early to check in to our hotel but with enough time to get in a few hours’ exploring before dinner. Our hotel, (srsly, I can’t recommend this hotel enough- Hotel Ranieri. Good value, clean, friendly and helpful staff, adequate breakfast with good coffee, in a great location for walking and using public transport) took our luggage from us and we set out for the day. Here are some pics from day 1.
First of all, we strolled to the Trevi Fountain…
Another short walk from the Trevi Fountain, you cross the Via del Corso and go down some narrow streets filled with restaurants, souvenir shops and stalls and past the Temple of Hadrian, soon you’ll find yourself in the Piazza della Rotunda, facing the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is also where you’ll find the tomb of Raphael.
A couple of streets away is the Caffe Sant Eustachio…
Mr Mac’s Roman colleagues told us the first time we went to Rome that this is where the Romans find the best coffee in the city, hence the world. The coffee is made in secret, with the back of a vast coffee machine facing the eager customers. There’s just something about the way the barista(/o?) whips up the sugar with the crema layer on the coffee. Back when I first visited in 2007, the cafe was busy but not so busy we weren’t able to grab one of the half-dozen tables outside of the shop. Since then, the word must have been more widespread because you could barely move and the queue to pay for the coffee was out the door. The best way to enjoy your coffee (espresso) is to stand at the bar, like the Romans do. Be prepared to be jostled something shocking as you do though.
We all started to flag, having been up since the crack of sparrow’s. But before we made a start back to the hotel for a snooze, I dragged everyone to see the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva where we found the famous elephant statue.
A strange looking church from the inside. It’s said to be Rome’s only Gothic church. Not that you could tell at first glance. It’s so ornately decorated that one can barely see the Gothic features. Pretty though. St Catherine of Siena‘s sarcophagus is at the front of the high altar. St Catherine is credited with bring the papacy back to Rome and, along with St Francis of Assisi, is one of Italy’s two patron saints.
But really, I wanted to go inside to see this…
A Michelangelo sculpture of Christ the Redeemer. This sculpture has fallen foul of the period when the Catholic church deemed nudity to be a grave sin and the loin cloth has been added later for the sake of Jesus’s modesty and to save us from temptation.
And then we went back to the hotel where we rested before heading out for dinner.
End of day 1