the hoofindex - rewind to the previous trip (All Black's in Cardiff) - fast forward to the following trip (christmas in Holland)

 

On Thursday the 7th of December it was the Hoof'ess 30th birthday - HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOOF'ESS - and the next day we were off to Rome for a long weekend.

So it was Friday the 8th of December, suddenly a rude cellphone started blaring, waking us up at a ridiculous hour. We had an early morning flight out to Rome, and flying Ryan Air was going to be a new experience. We'd been told that Ryan Air was cheap but plastic, and it really was. Climbing into the plane the colour scheme was bright yellow and white with a little royal blue, no pockets in the back of the seats and the crash instructions stuck on the back of the seat in front, the seats don't recline, and everything felt like Ryan Air had taken the cheapest budget options from Boeing. And then there were the "eastern european" air hostesses. At Easyjet they are quite light hearted friendly folk who are more like Contiki tourbus hosts than serious hostesses, but at Ryan Air they were very serious... no jokes here, especially Irish jokes.

After the 1 hour 40 minute flight we landed at the budget airline airport of Ciampino. It was relatively quiet so even though the airport was pretty ramshackle we were through very quickly, and out into the carpark searching for the bus to the local metro. The one thing we hadn't anticipated was the fact that it was actually a public holiday in Rome, so the metro was on reduced trains which seemed to wait at each station for 5 minutes before moving on. It took an absolute age to get to the central station.

So then we had to hike it to the B & B, which was apparently near the Colosseum. Heading down one of the roads we eventually came to a large intersection where we needed to turn left. The Hoof'ess started to march down the road and then turn around wondering why I wasn't following her. She hadn't seen the awesome sight of the Colosseum at the end of the street - I was busy admiring the building while the Hoof'ess was busy watching her feet so she wouldn't face plant it into the uneven cobblestones. I told her to look down the road, needless to say she needed a moment.

A short walk from the Metro station on our way to the accommodation, and what do we stubble upon, why its an old amphitheater colloquially called The Colosseum. This being the North side...

... and the south side.

 

The residents of this city just fly past in their cars and scooters almost oblivious to the amazing Roman building. The tourists on the other hand were everywhere gorking at it (including us).

Cause the Hoof'ess wanted to blend in with the locals, she stood in front of the Colosseum on her phone talking to a recruitment consultant - pity her Lyn of Tawa accent gave her kiwi roots away.

Finally get her off the phone so its time for a team photo - and check out Team Hoof in t shirts for the first time in weeks. Rome definitely warmer than the UK!

So after we'd hung out by the Colosseum for half an hour we continued to our B & B where we were staying. Being distracted by the scenery we got somewhat lost... so after a small detour we finally found our B & B, which ended up being only 2 blocks away from the Colosseum. Great location in a sweet as residential building.

After quickly dumping our bags and chatting to our photographer host we headed out to enjoy the sun and sights. First cab off the rank was back to the Colosseum....enjoyed a slice of pizza and a Coke at the base of it before heading towards the massive queue at the entrance. On our way there we were accosted by a tout who offered us a tour of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palentine which we decided to take since it wasnt too expensive and would get us around the line! We headed in with our very informative guide who absolutely swamped us with information.....so much so that we didn't feel like we had had a good look around so decided to pass on joining the next group for the Forum and stayed at the Colosseum for a bit longer. We did a full lap around the inside and headed upstairs too...was amazing to think that we were standing on the second story of a structure that had been there since AD70 and held as many people as Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for its gladiator fights!

Inside the Colosseum was amazing. Originally the entire Colosseum was clad in marble, and we're not talking just the outside, but every square inch of the Colosseum was marble - even the seats. However when Constantine left Rome the remaining Christian population nicked all the marble to make their own houses look good, and some went into St Peters. There is still some marble left at the Colosseum, but they stuck it on the top walls to stop people nicking it.

And then there is the floor. At the end you can see where the floor was, and then two stories of corridors which were under the floor from where the gladiators, lions and slaves were introduced into the arena. Also there is supposedly a canal underneith which the Romans used to create mock sea battles within the Coloseum. Why not!

 

Right beside The Colosseum is Constantine's Arch - his final hurrah before he moved his empires capital to Constantinople, essentially freeing the Christians who were persecuted by the empire, freeing them up to nick the marble.

In case they lost the larger arch, they've got a spare around the corner, Arch of Titus which provides the main entrance into the Roman Forum.

And then there was the Roman Forum, a mix of different building remnants, pillars and tunnels.

There was even a few traditional romans hanging around. One may wonder if Caesar and the Roman's are preparing to build a new empire, they're even recruiting warriors and gladiators at an early age.

As we headed off to check out more of central Rome we got a great shot of the sun starting to set on the Colosseum and Roman Forum. A gorgeous December evening to go find some Pasta.

Then we headed past the information center to see what time the Vatican Museum opened in the morning before carrying on on our walking tour past the Roman Forum and the building that people in Rome hate called the Monument of Vittorio Emmanuel (its not Roman style despite its location and its very large and was built to celebrate the unification of Italy in 1895) - the book even described it as a "grandiose ugliness of white marble".

We then headed to the Pantheon which wasn't open since it was a public holiday but it is another amazing building, built to all the Roman gods in AD125....the Hoof'ess said she just couldn't understand how they built such a structure back then! But it is in remarkable repair because it was consecrated as a church (so the Catholics didn't pillage all of the marble and bronze out of it like they did the Colosseum).

Then we headed across the river to the trendy suburb of Trastevere and found ourselves a traditional little trattoria with the red checked table clothes and everything for dinner. Decided on a full Italian meal - started with prosciutto and mozzarella followed by a pasta dish each and then mains....needless to say by the end of that we were stuffed so no room for dessert. But it was one wicked meal!

Sunday morning we had the alarm set early but ended up snoozing for quite a while, listening to the rain bucketing down outside. Given the weather we decided to disregard the tourist offices advice to get to the Vatican at 7.30. It was raining and winter after all....who could possibly want to be standing in a line in the pouring rain? So we got to the Vatican at 8am for the 8.45 opening and the queue was massive...it snaked around three walls of the city!

Where's Hoof gone amongst all these lunatics queuing for absolutely yonks to get into a fancy chapel. Even the Hoof'ess dedication to see the Sistene Chapel was severely tested by the rain poured down and we got very well acquainted with the people we were crammed in the line with.

Everyone had their own umbrella and were jostling for position while the rain poured and it was completely miserable. We stood in the line for over two hours!

 

After finally getting into the vatican museum, up the stairs and then through some relatively nondescript doors. And then you're in a small empty hallway with a few paintings on the ceiling.

Anyway after our wait we decided not to spend too long looking at the rooms full of creepy holy artwork but headed as quickly as we though appropriate in a house of god towards the Sistene Chapel. While it wasn't quite what we were expecting it was very impressive - the mere fact that it took Michelangelo 10 years to paint it was pretty impressive....and may have been more so if it wasn't full of about 500 people all taking photos and talking! The guards got quite angry and one stage and started telling people off.

The Sistine Chapel, and some of Michelangelo's work. Called "The Last Judgment" it took him 6 years.

After he'd spent 4 years painting the roof - a little fresco called "Creation". Getting these photo's were fun, there is a ban on photography within the Sistine Chapel... so Pope, if you're looking at these photo's... it was the Hoof'ess that did it, not me!

From the Sistene Chapel we walked around to St Peters Square. wicked! The sun had come out (somebody had obviously listened to the little request the Hoof'ess made in the Sistene Chapel). The square was absolutely full of people and the queue to get inside St Peters snaked all the way around the entire square! So we flagged going inside as it would have taken the rest of the day. Instead we took photos (although there was scaffolding up around the obelisk in the center...seems to be a similar theme starting for us!).

Inside the Vatican, out with the rest of the tourists in front of St Peter's Cathedral. It felt like a human zoo.

The Hoof'ess in front of the Incognito Popemobile and St Peter's.

We then walked to Romes only castle, Castle Sant Angelo. It was originally Hadrians Mausoleum and many other Roman emperors remains were also placed here before it was turned into a military fortress and castle in AD401.

We went inside and climbed to the top - it was extremely creepy and the Hoof'ess didnt enjoy it much, but it provided a great view of the whole city!

Back towards St Peter's and the Vatican, at one stage the Pope lived in this castle - so from here the Pope could keep an eye on his domain.

And a panoramic view south over the river towards the central Rome district including the Pantheon just left of centre. If you look closely you can even spot the marble monstrosity Il Vittoriano!

Then it was on with our walking tour again....heading first to Piazza del Popolo with the northern gate to the old city wall.

The Hoof'ess in the Piazza del Popolo.

And the Hoof in the piazza.

From Piazza del Popolo we headed to the Hard Rock Cafe to pick up the obligatory shot glass (Hoof'ess is getting quite a collection) and then to the area around the Spanish steps for lunch. We had fantastic, authentic pizza at a table on the footpath! Then we were overwhelmed by the people and the shops on the way to the Spanish Steps....Christmas shopping was in full swing and every designer brand in the world was represented.

When we got to the Spanish Steps you couldn't see the actual steps for the sea of people - it was that busy! Don't really get what the attraction was except for the fact it was interesting people watching. While the wind was cold, the sun was out and can only imagine what sort of human zoo it would be in summer! We didn't hang around long... but long enough to be offered a rose by a dodgy Indian vendor and have him chase the Hoof for money. He failed.

What a zoo, just a huge mess of people around the stairs... especially with the two grinning chimps in the foreground.

Then it was more walking towards Trevi Fountain. What an amazing place that it was....if you ignore the human zoo going on there too.

With Hoofy out of action at fat camp, Sean the Sheep was given photo responsibility at Trevi Fountain. We managed to muscle our way to the front and center of the fountain and took turns throwing a coin over our shoulder cos one thing is for sure....the Hoof'ess really, really wants to return to Rome!

Once again the Hoof'ess got roses thrust in her hand by another dodgy Indian/Italian vendor and he refused to take them back from her. My cunning plan was to bail quickly so he couldn't demand money off me... so she ended up putting the roses on the step for the dodgy vendor to pick up.

From Trevi Fountain it was a walk through some amazing little streets back to the Pantheon to see inside before closing time. Unfortunately there was mass going on inside so they had temporarily closed it, but since we had walked our little legs off we found a freezing piece of marble to perch on for the 45 minutes we had to wait. And again it was worth the wait....it was truly beautiful inside! (Even with the 500 people that streamed in behind us).

Sean in front of the Pantheon, the best preserved Roman building constructed in AD125.

Dinner was at a trattoria restaurant that was on our way home....we couldn't possibly have walked any further! We sat outside on the pavement again, but under a patio heater and had lovely pasta and dessert this time....amazing profiteroles!

Heading back toward Colosseum and the B + B we were staying in. The roads are never quiet with hoards of tourists wandering around with cameras flashing constantly.

Sunday morning our flight wasn't until 11.10 so we decided that we couldn't leave Rome without seeing inside St Peters and since it opened at 7am we thought we would at least have a chance! So the alarm went off at 6am and we hauled our tired legs out of bed and headed out at 6.30. For Sunday they must have had the reserve trains on - saving the sparkly clean ones for the weekday commuters.

Arriving at St Peters square we were very pleased to see no queue and we were straight through security and inside by 7.15. Wow, I have never seen anything quite like it and it was totally worth the early morning....very, very moving to be inside the most important church to the Roman Catholic faith. There were only another 20 or 30 people there and they were doing communion at one of the small altars so there was a choirboy singing which filled the entire place....very, very moving and tranquil! The monuments to all the past popes were slightly creepy though and didn't see one for Pope John Paul II but part of the church was closed as they set up for the Popes mornings service.

Inside St Peters at 7am. Its an amazing feeling to be in St Peter's so early in the morning before the huge crowds of tourists turn this magical building into a human zoo.

Another view within St Peters... and a couple of small people.

And look, no people. Apparently people don't get up that early to go to church on a Sunday morning.

So then our time in Rome was up and we had to head back to the dodgy airport for our cheap as chips flight back to Luton. On the way back the pilot updated us with the weather in Luton....four degrees. The Hoof'ess wanted the plane to turn around!

Now we are looking forward to Christmas and Hogmanay.