Riccardo and I met four years ago today. (Big thanks to Jody-chan for dragging my ass out that fateful night.)
Is it weird that we've also been married over a year and a half?
How quickly time flies.
How are we celebrating? We made Beef Stroganoff together; drank red wine; now Riki is watching football and I'm reading, cuddled up beside him, interupted only when he jumps up and starts shouting about a goal.
My Christmas pressie to Riki this past year was concert tickets. I love giving tickets for presents - it's so unexpected... most of the time. Of course, I also love it because usually that means I get to go, too. Which isn't so presumptuous, since my Christmas/birthday Rome trip also included Riccardo. That's what being part of a couple is, right? (Thanks for taking me, Honey!) So this past weekend, we went to Manchester to see 30 Seconds to Mars. Jared Leto. Awesome.
Did you know Jared Leto (aka Jordan Catalano from 'My So-Called Life' and some other 'lesser-known' roles - hahaha!) fronts a really cool rock band? Well, we quite like them anyway, and they're quite popular here in the UK.
Hits you might know: - 'A Beautiful Lie' - from album, 'A Beautiful Lie (2005)- 'From Yesterday' - above album - 'The Kill' - above album and Rock Band for Guitar Hero - 'Kings and Queens' - from album, 'This is War' (2009)
Anyway, I took about 30 minutes worth of video on my little camera. Pretty awful footage, even if you don't factor in Riccardo and my off-key 'singing' in the background! I tried to upload some footage, but the thingy was taking hours. Literally.
The absolute BEST part (and the thing that catapulted this into my 'best concert ever' books) was when Jared snuck into the audience to do an acoustic set, and then dooped his bodyguards to climb over the backs of the seats through the audience. By the end of this (very dangerous) escapade, he was about 10 feet away from us - rad mohawk and all...
That's right, ladies: just days before the concert Jared shaved his hair into a killer mohawk. So bad-ass!
Anyway, if you have the chance to see this band live, do so. They rock. Also, buy their CDs - they have three, the second is arguably the best, though the third is defo growing on me.
In my opinion, the best thing we did on our Rome trip was go to Pompeii. Strange, because we were warned against going. Actually, I can absolutely see why we were warned against it because the tour we took was AWFUL...
We were picked up at our hotel at 7:00am for our Naples and Pompeii trip. Our coach took us on the motorway to Naples where we arrived at about noon. Let me tell you, I have never been in an uglier, more unappealing city than Naples in my life! Worse than the slums in Mumbai, Naples is a run-down collection of graffitied apartments with nothing positive about it. Apparently the city is riddled with poverty (illegal immigrants from its huge port) and crime (being the mafia capital of the world and all) and these 'features' are proclaimed from one street to the next. I would be happy to never ever go there again.
Another negative feature of our tour is that the coach stopped at numerous tourist-traps with the sole intent on exploiting our wallets. As if we hadn't paid enough to begin with, we were forced to visit a cameo 'factory' where it was thought we would splash out tens of thousands of euros on coral cameo jewellery (which was hideous, btw). They pulled out the displays of merchandise before we arrived and couldn't stop themselves from packing them away before our coach even left the parking lot! This was repeated at several 'supermarkets' which were stocked with quadruple-priced italian fare. Does it say 'stupid' on my forehead?
Don't answer that.
Anyway, by 2:00pm, when we pulled up to Pompeii, Riccardo and I were both thinking, 'God, this better be worth it!' - actually it was!
Pompeii was amazing. Such a trip through time. In case you don't know, Pompeii is what remains of an ancient city that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. It wasn't the lava as such that destroyed the city, but rather the ash that unexpectedly fell on the city due to a change in the wind. Metres of ash covered houses, streets, shops, animals and people, asphixiating them almost instantly, and in doing so, preserved the city for more than 2,000 years.
Walking through Pompeii is like a time warp because of how visible their lifestyle was back then - it was remarkably similar to our own. They had proper streets with elevated crosswalks (so the chariots could pass), sewage systems, running water, a high street (like downtown) with all manner of shops, various sized houses with bathrooms, second floors, wall decorations, mosaic tiling, government buildings, a theatre for watching plays, and so much more. And it's all more or less intact. And huge. It was mind-blowing.
There are even several petrified people and a dog that they've found and been able to inject plaster into in order to preserve (though the ash fossilised their outsides the organic matter within had decomposed).
A couple hundred years ago, when Pompeii was rediscovered so to speak, the pillaging began; therefore many artifacts have been stolen and of course the elements have begun to take their toll. But, excavation in Pompeii is on-going, so who knows what else they'll find.
So my advice: if at all possible, arrange your own transfers to and from Pompeii (either by renting a car or, possibly by shuttle), but even if you have to take a tour, GO!
That night we had an amazing dinner (our best while there, which is saying a lot because the food is worth going to Italy on its own!) at a restaurant in the Ponte called Macherroni. Go there, too - ask for Stephano! (I can give you the exact address if you ask.)
Our last day in Rome was spent meandering around the city. We saw the Capitolium, Bocca della Veritas, Piazza Navona (where chariot racing once took place), a museum and much more. Posting these four entries about Rome have taken me 4.5 hours, and I still have to tell you all about our Manchester trip to see 30 Seconds to Mars! So if I get time I'll post a slideshow of the highlights of our last day. Until then,
Tuesday, or day three, we visited the Vatican properly.The tour we took through the Colosseum and Palatine Hill also offered a package through the Vatican.This was also a good idea: we were given radio earpieces so the guide didn’t have to shout and managed to see all the main sights within 2.5 hours.Apparently if you were to stop for 1 minute before every sight in the Vatican, you’d be there for 15 days straight, so I was happy to have the condensed version.
To be honest, it was good that we received some tidbits of information about the Sistine Chapel, because without that, I may have been rather unimpressed.The paintings aren’t really all that spectacular in my opinion, at least not compared to similar al frescos in other churches, but the fact that Michelangelo painted the whole damn thing entirely himself did make me appreciate it all the more.
The tombs, or sarcophagi, under the Vatican were also cool: they hold the remains of all the former popes – quite the sacred place.
Funny anecdote: something you might not know about Riccardo is that he was raised Catholic. He's not practising, but still values the beliefs. I try to support this and abide by his dislike for saying the Lord's name in vain and such. One thing that I'm not so good at avoiding saying is, 'Holy crap!' - he doesn't like that much and gives me shit for it. Anyway, when we were visiting the Vatican, of course there were plentitudes of hawkers selling rosaries, crucifixes, mini-bibles, figurines of the Virgin Mary, etc. etc. etc. Riccardo had to admit, in this particular instance, I was fully correct in using the term: Holy Crap! ;D
We spent Tuesday evening sorting out the last-minute details for our day trip to Pompeii before finally heading to bed.
Note: again, I don't remember what everything we saw at the Vatican was called or know the significance of it all - but if you want more details, ask Riki.
On day two we visited the Colosseum, where we paid a little extra to jump the queue and have an English guided tour. This proved to be an excellent idea, as there are very few sign placards, particularly in English, in Roman sights. Not to mention the guide was very knowledgable and charismatic. Our tour also included a guide through Palatine Hill, which added a further 2.5 hours to our 45 minute tour of the Colosseum. Actually, I thought Palatine Hill was more interesting than the Colosseum, probably because I knew less about it to start off with: it is literally the birth place of both Rome and our modern day civilisation and comes complete with a plethora of fantastic folklore. We also had a chance to wander through the Roman Forum, which was absolutely massive. We ended our day with another stroll through Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps.
Note: Riccardo knows and remembers the many sights we saw much better than I, so please take my photo notes with a grain of salt, and ask him if there are discrepancies.
This Christmas/birthday just passed was a big one. Not only did Riccardo and I have our first experience ever of hosting both our families over the holiday season (see past posts), but it was also my big 3-0 on the 7th of January. And to commemorate this special turning point, Riccardo, his family and some of mine, pitched in to send us to Rome over my half-term break in February.
And so, we've just returned from an amazing 5-day holiday!!
Our flight was from London Stansted at 6:30 on Sunday morning; we decided to stay in an airport hotel so we could get a few hours sleep before take-off. Because we were already on a tight travel budget, I was choosey when it came to booking this accommodation. I decided paying around $130 for the night, including 6 days' parking and airport transfers was enough... unfortunately, $130 only gets you a 2* hotel... and boy was it ever!
The hotel was about 20 minutes from the airport, and looked promising from the outside. It was once a quaint pub inn in a lovely country village. Upon entering, however, we found the 'pub' to be deserted, and for good reason. 'Breakfast' (also included in the room rate) was still laid out for the morning's guests, though it was 6:00pm when we arrived, and this consisted of a box of Cornflakes. Just that and some souring milk. Uh-oh.
Our room was motel style. Warning lights there, too. The musty air hit us on the way in, a result of the heating not in working order. The proprietor was, however, kind enough to turn on for us a small electric heater (which looked to have been thrown up on at some point). The bed, though clean, was made with totally mismatched bedding which only further clashed with the curtains which hung precariously from the window. The bathroom was just shy of clean, and worst of all, the tea service sitting on the desk had clearly been used. Good thing neither of us had time for tea.
Thinking we'd have a nice evening and wanting to start our holiday off right, I had packed a bottle of bubbly. Riccardo was a little less than enthused that I had accidentally picked one of our better bottles (we still have a few from the wedding and various Christmas/birthday presents) considering the conditions in which it needed to be enjoyed. We couldn't bring it with us as our checked luggage was already at breaking point for the weight limit. We didn't even have glasses to drink it out of - so classy! It certainly made for a laugh, and a good sleep... and at 3:30am we awoke and readied ourselves for the journey. There was no way we were chancing various skin infections from that shower, so it was a quick process and then into the taxi and off to bigger and better things!
Despite travelling via our most hated airline, Ryanair, the flight was totally fine. We landed in Rome just after 9:00am. The second glitch of our holiday commenced here: getting to our hotel from the airport, which is located about 45 minutes outside of the city - not something we felt necessary to plan in advance. We ended up getting help from a local who informed us to take the coach to Termini Station, and then the Metropolitana (subway) from there. The coach part worked fine. But do you think a native Italian speaker could figure out the damn Metro? Uh, no. Pity those without a Riccardo because the Metro was definitely NOT clearly marked, nor were any maps/instructions in English. Annoying. When we finally got to our station, Spagna, we were further irritated to learn that the 5-minute walk promised by our hotel was actually about 25 minutes (hoofing it, with luggage in-tow). So we finally arrived at about 1:00, it having taken over 3 hours to get from the bloody airport!
Tired but excited, we dumped our luggage at the hotel and set out. Our first stop: pizza! Our hotel was in a poshish neighbourhood (we only found this out on our walk passed numerous designer shops from the Metro) jam-packed with ristorantes, so we were spoiled for choice when it came to eateries. Our first pizzas in Rome were delicious, of course. Mmmmm, Quattro Formaggi!
We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening trapsing through Rome, seeing the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps (handily located at our closest Metro station, Spagna). We also had a magical night-time look at the Vatican and its nearby skating rink (!).
Finally, it was off to bed in our very respectable hotel room: Hotel Adriano was very well located and clean (particularly for Roman standards, I'm told).