You can tell we were approaching Manchester.. The gusts of high wind, the blustery rain, the dark skies... 'Manchester weather' was there to welcome us back!.. As the plane landed in Manchester Airport, we all felt that we were coming back to Earth... in more sense than one..
We had a wonderful time in Rome.. Uninterrupted sunshine, to start with.. It was quite cold in the evenings, but there were times during the day when I was in short sleeves.. (It was quite a refreshing change from the bad weather my wife and I faced when we went to Istanbul in November.. then we had blustery showers, thunderstorms, and even snow!..)
We arrived late on Christmas Day, and spent the evening looking for a place to eat!.. (My son needs to be fed at very regular intervals, or he becomes very irritable!..)
Next day, we went out exploring.. Very quickly, we got our brains round the public transport system in Rome, and soon afterwards, we became the proud holders of weekly tickets that allowed us to use the 'Metroplitana' (Rome's Underground Rail System), buses, and trams for a whole week... and from there on, there was no stopping us!.. Armed with a map, and Roma Pass (a ticket that allows you free, or reduced-rate access to museums and archaeological sites), we managed to do most of the obligatory touristic landmarks of this incredible City.. In addition, we have managed to get a real feel of the City, by strolling along its elegant streets and beautiful squares.. The girls did some shopping.. from the ultra-exclusive shops along the Via Dei Condotti and Via Del Corso (where they did mostly 'window-shopping', I am relieved to say!..) to the delightful Christmas markets and street stalls in Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori, where they managed to pick up quite a few bargains.. (You see, my wife is a professional haggler.. I mean, World-Class.. I am talking Olympic standards!.. If she doesn't get these stall-keepers to go down to a tiny fraction of the asking price, she would not be satisfied..)..
Three lost and confused tourists..
(expertly led by the Syrian Brit)
We even came across Sha3ban Abdul Raheem (or was it his twin brother?..) manning a market stall on Via Sannio near Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano.. (In fact, this guy is half-Egyptian, half-Indian, living in Rome, as my ever-inquisitive wife found out.. Talk about a 'Global Village'!..)
I loved the laid-back attitude of the Italians.. I mean, they take a two-hour lunch break, when everything stops!.. Civilized or what!..
And when the Sunday strollers decide to walk in the street (rather than on the pavement), cars just meander slowly, and wait for people to get out of the way!.. and not a horn ever sounds... (However, I did get a bit worried about their laid-back approach to health and safety, when, on New Year's Eve, people started setting off fireworks in the midst of the packed square!..)The streets, the Metro stations, and the Metro trains, were steaming with buskers of all kinds, origins, and persuasions.. And not to be outdone, there was a young boy (probably of Arab origin) playing 'Derbakkeh'!!...
Pan-pipe 'one-man' band ... and a 'Derbakkeh'-playing busker
Another thing I loved about Rome, in addition to the delightful food, fantastic coffes, and yummy ice-cream (and don't get me started on Italian ice-cream!..), I loved the street sellers, selling roasted chestnuts.. I love roasted chestnuts, not just for the taste, but also for the smell and the beautiful childhood memories it evokes.. (Before my parents moved to a house with central heating, we used to roast chestnuts on the top of sobet el mazote.. or even better, at Grandma's house, we used to do that on top of sobet el hatab.. Happy days...)..
Most Italian women, as far as I could see, come in one of two models.. They are either, slim, tall, and delightfully elegant, or short, plump, and still delightfully elegant.. Of course, there are vartiations on these themes!.. (I could not take any pictures.. I feared for my life.. My wife would have either strangled me, or made me eat the camera, with fatal results either way!..)..
I was really struck by how much the Italians looked similar to us Levantines... I could have sworn that I have seen several friends, neighbours, and family members!.. In fact, on two or three occasions, I almost found myself wrapping my arms around some beautiful girl, thinking she was one of my daughters!.. (Well, that was my excuse, anyway.. and I am sticking to it!!..)
Rome can be described as one large open-air museum.. In every street, and in every little square, there are fantastic works of art.. You would be walking down a tiny narrow street, and suddenly, the space opens up, and you are in the middle of some amazing piece of art.. Just look how the Fontana di Trevi suddenly explodes into life as you approach it from the tiny narrow streets surrounding it..
We found out that you really need to visit each place at least twice.. once in daylight, and once at night.. The view is vastly different, as is the ambiance of these places.. The pictures of Il Vittoriano (derisively nicknamed 'Rome's false teeth'!..) are an example of what I mean..The same also applies to the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican.. The daylight view is quite different from the night view, although equally awesome.. (I really believe the word 'Awesome' must have been created simply to describe the Basilica..')..
The Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and the Basilica of St. Peter, were simply amazing.. After we went around the inside, we went up to see the Dome.. Soon we found out that we will have to go up 551 steps (and , of course, down again..).. Not only that, but we also had to pay for the pleasure!... I tell you, though, it was absolutely worth it.. At the end of the narrow (and I mean, really narrow!..) stairs, we were rewarded by a panoramic view of Rome from the top of the Dome.. and that was just dazzling...
Between us, we took more than 2300 pictures.. some 2.85 GB of files!.. The above are only a tiny sample... but I will not bore you with pictures you can get in any holiday brochure.. I also took some 6 hours of digital video, which I still have to edit and sort... That will take me some time, considering I am back at work on Monday..
Rome was delightful.. We walked anything between 10 and 14 hours every day.. We did in one week what many people would do in three.. I strongly recommend it, particulary with young enthusiastic company, who made it all so much fun, so lively, and so enjoyable.. I loved this holiday, not just because of the beautiful City we visited, but also because it gave me an opportunity to spend a great time with my kids, whom I miss immensely since they went off to build their own lives..
Nevertheless, next time, we will do it the romantic way.. just me and my lovely wife...
(All photos by SB, or other members of the Syrian Brit Clan)