Monday, February 28, 2011


In the footsteps of Caesar

Day 1 in Rome and no better place to start than the Colosseum. There's a train station about 200 metres from the hotel and it just happens to be the same line that stops at the Colosseum. 1 euro and 20 minutes later I was there. As you come out of the station the Colosseum is right there across the road. I mean, right there! It's an amazing sight to be greeted with: quite possibly more impressive than the Pyramids because you can see them coming for miles and have time to get used to the idea that you're really there. The Colosseum just hits you.
12 euros gets you entry to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Palatine. The queue is a mile long so I recommend pre-booking a ticket. I must get myself a Roma Pass as that's better value: free transport, free entry to two attractions and reduced prices thereafter, plus you get to jump the queues. I think it's valid for 3 days.
The Flavian Amphitheatre: aka the Colosseum.
It's in remarkably good nick considering its age, although one side is badly pockmarked. I'm not sure if that's age, pollution or war damage. Possibly all of the above. It was inaugurated in 80 A.D. and is named for the three Flavian emperors; Vespasian (69-79), Titus (79-81) and Domitian (81-96). It's an oval shape, not circular: 188 by 156 metres. The arena inside was, in case you don't know, used to stage games and shows – “bread and circuses” being the Roman way of keeping the masses entertained, especially when they showed signs of rebelliousness. The flooring of the arena, originally wooden, is long gone. Back in the day the arena was covered with sand and 'arena' is the Roman (Latin, I suppose) word for 'sand'. So there you go. Today, of course, the areas under the wooden floor are visible, although not accessible. The Romans were very clever engineers, architects, builders. I doubt if any of our modern arenas will be still standing after 2000 years. Maybe the MCG. :)
Next door to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. It's all fenced off but is still very impressive.
Forum Romanum.
Just a short walk from the Colosseum is the Forum: the central communal area/meeting place/whatever of Ancient Rome. The first thing that struck me was the enormous quantity of stone and marble just lying around in piles of what looks like rubble. It's not rubble of course, just the remains of what once was. The Forum must have really been something to see in its day. The buildings (temples, basilica, etc) are mostly gone and all that remains are a few sections of wall and columns. The dominant feature for me are the three columns, with a bit of roof, that remain from the Temple of Castor. They can be seen from everywhere in the Forum and kept drawing my eye. The Arch of Titus is not bad either.
I think some of the flagstones and cobbles might be original – you need to watch your step a lot in order not to break an ankle or two, especially after some rain which can make it all a bit slick underfoot.
Up the Palatine Hill are several goodies to marvel at.
The house of Augustus (the first emperor of Rome), the atrium and house of the Vestal Virgins (where Julius Caesar lived when he was Pontifex Maximus), the Stadia, Romulan huts, etc. These are mostly ruins but there's enough left to give an idea of how it must have been.
I'm not sure if the original Senate building still exists. If it does then I missed it. This time. I'm not sure, now, where it actually was. I should know that. Tsk!

I know I've only seen a tiny bit of what Rome has to offer but, so far, I'm impressed. Of course I've gone straight to old (ie., ancient) Rome. It's always fascinated me and, now..... I've seen it. Bits of it anyway. Plenty more to see over the next few days, though most will not be as old as today's viewings. I have to admit to not knowing much about Medieval and Renaissance Rome. Hopefully I'll learn something over the next few days.

Meanwhile, the hotel appears to have been invaded by a bus load of German (I think) student types. They seem to be congregating in the room two doors down from me. Hope it doesn't get too messy as I've decided to stay in tonight – 'cos I'm old and tired after a day out. Plus it's raining again.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

On the road (again)

Well here I am in Roma. Flew from Manchester to Zurich, then Zurich to Rome. Non direct flights are a pain but it does mean you get fed twice. Swiss Air do a reasonable cheese roll :) (Much better than the soggy bacon butty that British Airways provide.) The second leg of the journey was a bit nerve wracking though. Up close and personal with a thunder storm. Storm clouds are quite impressive from above but I wasn't so happy to fly through them, especially with lightning flashing all around. Heavy rain and turbulence too. I was happy to land!
I have a nice little Fiat to drive around for the next month. TimTamTom (my satnav/GPS) knows his way around Rome so I found the hotel without too much drama. Clean and tidy but...... no wireless signal in the bedroom. Major drawback. Clearly it works in other areas of the hotel - just as well.
So... Rome. I've had mixed reports about the city: some people love it, others have been not so glowing. I'll reserve my judgement till I've had a look around for myself, starting tomorrow.


Saturday, February 19, 2011


From York I headed north east to the little village of Goathland. It's the setting of the recently deceased TV series Heartbeat. Many of the shops still carry the fictional name of Aidensfield but the pub has reverted to the Goathland name already. The place is right in the Yorkshire Moors area - bleak. Very bleak.


From there I headed to Whitby on the coast. Even bleaker! The wind is freezing. Whitby is a harbour town, so lots of fishing boats on the water. It's also the place where Captain James Cook first learned to sail and joined the merchant navy. In case you don't know, he's the bloke that discovered the east coast of Australia and claimed it for England.

Bark Endeavour Whitby

I wandered up the hill to Whitby Abbey only to find it was closed. How one can close an open ruin is a mystery, but closed it was. By then I was freezing - you know that sort of cold that is painful - mainly from the wind. So I got back in the warm car and headed for Scarborough, another popular coastal town. Got up this morning to find it's even colder and raining. Snowing in some parts apparently. I might just head back to Liverpool because it's no fun being out and about in this miserable weather.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

York #2

And now for something completely different: the National Railway Museum. Haha, I took about 200 photos of trains. What was I thinking?
From there I made my way to 16 Bridge Street: Burnsie's cafe. My cousin's establishment. Free coffee :)
Then Jorvik. It was over almost before it started. Basically, you sit in a contraption - a bit like something from a fairground ride - and get taken through the exhibit: a reconstruction of what Coppergate (a street in York, the street of cup makers) looked like in the days before the Normans arrived in 1066. The models are very lifelike and some even speak (Danish though). I swear one of the models looked like Robert Plant.

We come from the land of the ice and snow

(Not the best pic - but photography isn't allowed so I didn't really have the chance to fiddle with settings.)
The weird thing about the ride is that the smells change to suit the exhibit you're passing. Passing the butcher and the guy on the loo weren't too pleasant!
After about 10 or 15 minutes the ride is over. From there you go through the archaeological finds exhibited behind glass cases. I think I'd prefer to walk through the ride area and stop and examine things more closely. I can see why that's not an option though - people would wreck it.
Oh yeah... Railway Museum is free entry for as long as you like, Jorvik is 8.95 (pounds) for a quick visit.
Now I'm off to have dinner (and watch the Liverpool match) with yet more long lost family. Come on you Reds!



There is so much history in this town - Romans, Vikings, medieval and churches everywhere. Too much to see in a couple of days.
Yorkminster, the cathedral, is impressive. Very light and airy compared to some others I've seen. Its stained glass isn't so impressive though. 9 quid to get in too! But, the ticket is valid for 12 months... just in case I come back! It's the largest gothic cathedral north of the Alps apparently.


The Shambles is a famous street and is very cute, narrow and cobbled. The name comes from "Shamels" which were the stalls that butchers, who originally inhabited the street, used to display their produce. There's still one butcher shop there but most are now more geared towards tourists. There's a very cute sandwich shop about halfway along, not much bigger than a sandwich!


The streets of the old parts of York are not much wider than the Shambles and some are pedestrian zones only - makes for a very pleasant wander. Lots of shops and plenty of pubs.

Mad Alice Lane

I took a cruise along the River Ouse (pronounced ooze). It lasts about 45 minutes and isn't particularly exciting. There's not a lot to be seen along the short distance the boat travels.
I was going to do the Jorvik tour but there were too many schoolkids in the queue for my liking. Maybe today. Can't really come to York and not see some of its Viking history.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Free at last

Except for the week I spent in Paris I've been stuck in Liverpool since Christmas. My 75 year old aunty, who lives alone, had a minor stroke and has been in hospital since Dec 30th. The poor dear was lying on the floor for 5 days as she couldn't get up after she fell. Lucky I was here and went and checked on her or she might still be lying there. She finally came home yesterday. So I've been doing hospital visits, visits to her house to feed the cat, meeting with doctors, physios and social workers for the last 6 weeks. Sadly, there's no-one else able to do all that.
Healthwise she's fine now, though a bit doddery. She now has a walker frame to help her get around, twice daily care visits and a new bed downstairs - no more climbing the stairs for her. She'll also have a lifeline alarm to wear around her neck so that if she does have another fall she can push the button and someone will be there to help asap.
So, I now feel free to start travelling again with a relatively clear conscience. I'm going over to York next week for a few days. I want to check out Jorvik, the Viking village that's been reconstructed from an archaeological dig. Yorkminster, the Shambles, etc - lots to see over there. For the whole of March I'll be in Italy. Cannot wait for that!! I fly into Rome and will stay there for a week, then off to Florence, Venice and parts in between. I've hired a car for the duration so should be able to see a fair bit of the countryside as well. Can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it!