Rome 2013

Ciao Roma, well it’s been hectic, painful and eventful! The trip starts with a car journey this time, with brother driving from my house in Merthyr Tydfil to Luton Airport (said in best Lorraine Chase accent, … come on your NOT THAT YOUNG!).

Actually one stop back at the Luton Airparks Slip End Car Park, I must say a very well run establishment (if you can call a car park an establishment) you arrive, park your car in a marked row walk to a glass building and are faced with three proto-daleks, luckily with human handlers on site to assist. They scan your confirmation letter and it prints some tags for you, you then head to the Dalek’s little brother outside and deposit your keys. When you’ve left (busses laid on every twenty minutes) your car is moved to safe CCTV monitored storage for the duration of your trip, the return procedure is outlined at the end of the review. You can also chose to have your car dropped to the airport for you, and or have it valet cleaned while you’re on your hols.

We are then onto a bus where I noticed something for the first time, our suitcases and assorted bags were placed in properly designed enclosures, fastened in behind screens and even “seat-belted” into place, the passengers  however are left to bounce around like pin balls for the duration of the mercifully short journey time. Never mind I managed to get to know (almost in the biblical sense) a young lady attempting to apply her lip balm during the journey and after retrieving it from my left ear she apologised and hung on for dear life for the remaining few minutes of the ride.

So Luton airport, never flown from here before but to be honest once inside you could practically be in any airport in the world, you have shops, bars, waiting areas and public conveniences. We partake of a pint or three, well this is a Rugby trip after all, then head for the plane.

We are flying with Monarch Airlines, with their direct flight from Luton to Fiumicino Airport on the outskirts of Rome, oh and No I’m not even gonna try and pronounce it, been there twice not got a CLUE!

Okay the flight; well it must be them it couldn’t possibly be me no way. … Oh sorry, I’m sure they’re making the seats smaller! We get to our seats and to dull the pain from my circulation inhibited legs I break out my tablet (PC not Medicine) and watch a movie,  “This Means War” if you’re interested, good movie and killed an hour and a half of the just over 2 hour journey time. We land at the airport and then appear to drive half way to Rome to get to the Terminal, have I mentioned I really don’t like that choice of name for airport buildings, well I digress and you know how dangerous that can be!

We get to the place where we are reunited with our luggage, well I’ll rephrase that , we get to the place where EVERYONE ELSE is reunited with their luggage, and I, as appears to be my want whenever I travel, have an anxious few minutes playing “hide the suitcase” with the baggage handlers. I won, the little tykes must have been hiding and moving it as I walked around the carousel, as I KNOW it was not where I found it the first six times I walked passed that point … okay it was upside down and I didn’t recognise it but I’m not going to admit to that now am I …Oh.

So we head outside grab a Taxi and I re-find my religion, saying 3 Hail Mary’s in the first 5 minutes of the journey. Oh and I DON’T EVEN KNOW THE HAIL MARY’S. The Drivers ARE MAD, Stark Raving Bonkers, Loopy… they drive by RADAR! I mean they just keep going no matter what or who is in front of them till the screaming (either from inside the car or outside) gets too loud! I am NEVER EVER driving there!


So we make it to our hotel for the trip, the Antica Romaabout a five minute walk from the Trevi Fountain. This hotel is great. I have no hesitation in

recommending it. We were met at the Reception by a very helpful member of staff who took our details and handed out the keys. Okay I will admit at first I thought he’d reached into the wrong drawer and given me his tin opener, as I’ve never seen a key like it. About a 2 inch long piece of plastic with a bent over piece at the top that you place next to a small round symbol on the door handle and you can actually hear the lock opening, but it worked and we were greeted with this…

Elegant, functional with on-suite facilities, including two toilets next to each other. Now there’s sharing and SHARING …. I know I know bidet ;-),  free Wi-Fi, continental breakfast included, and in our case a shared balcony area.  My only complaint was it appears at least in room 22 of the second floor to have the only hairdryer in the world that is scared of hair! Well it seemed that way to me, I try it, it works, I wash my hair move the dryer near it and NOTHING.

It has five storeys, oh and apparently on-site Nuns! Well I saw one, my brother saw one, and they seemed to be heading to the first floor, Hotel rooms appearing to start on the second. The Hotel I believe dates from 1914 although the reception told us the building is 500 years old. Roughly how old I felt by the time I was due to come home but more of that later.

So we venture out, check out the Trevi fountain at night, spectacular!

We come across the first of many Irish bars in Rome this one the Trinity College bar, where we had a drink, Peroni in my case, Guinness in some of the others, and stumbled across a lady from Merthyr (my home town, always happens doesn’t it!) and a group of very happy Germans celebrating (I believe) a win at some sport or another, who challenged us to a singing contest, let’s just say we made our excuses and left.  Good bar though and a definite “recommended” from me.

Later we look for a place to have a meal. We settle upon the Al Picchio Restaurant.

Getting there 10 minutes before the kitchen was due to close, however the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, we ordered and sampled a varied selection of their fare for me grilled chicken with potatoes, (I’m allergic to cheese… Yea great to visit the home of the Pizza I know!) For two of our number a traditional Italian Pizza, the rest deciding pasta was the way to go. The six meals including six drinks came to €92.   

We did notice this was a more expensive trip than our last one to Ireland but to be honest I think this is the case the world over.

We return to our hotel to sleep and to various degrees of nasal resonance, as we discovered the next morning over breakfast that to some degree or another we almost all snore!

Saturday … Match Day … and “I Was There” (script credit to Max Boyce) well about to be anyway.

We got up headed out and went for a wander taking in some of the sights of this magnificent city, including the Pantheon.

Wow what a place, I mean when these places were built there was no health and safety, no government interfering, no planning department, and … they’re … still … standing, oh I’m starting to see a pattern here.

Anyway we wandered in the rain, taking in the Trevi fountain.

Our consensus best seen / photographed at night, impressive, striking, remarkable, imposing in the day but prettier at night

The Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti or Spanish Steps

Also an advisory learnt here, the traffic lights and crossings ARE FOR SCENIC VALUE ONLY, I mean they LOOK pretty enough all lighting and guiding and such but they mean NOTHING to the drivers! Also it appears that couples have priority when walking too, I mean you see them coming, you think they’re gonna move especially when greeted by someone my size coming towards them but hell no they keep going two abreast and Rob ends up in the road!

We find a bar called the Abbey Theatre Bar,

(recommended by a friend on Facebook who used to work there, thanks Gareth) a small central Irish bar with a brilliant atmosphere, a great welcome and excellent food. The sort of place you want to wrap up and carry with you everywhere you travel to know you can go there whenever you want. We had the Full Irish Breakfast,

Well we need the sustenance for the day ahead.

Oh yes you did just read “in the rain” above, it was a little wet when we were there … how wet? Well let me copy a text I received from a colleague, a regular visitor to this great city, who was on a different trip to Rome at the same time    

You must be a jinx never seen rain like this in Rome

Nice! Probably factually correct but nice!

So we find ourselves next at the Scholars Lounge another Irish Bar we had visited the night before.

This was deliberate, as one it’s a great bar, but two one of our number knew that they lay on a free bus to and from the match. So we have a few there and then the cry goes up “those going to the match the bus is outside the door”

Okay well if where the bus was, was outside the door then the Door must be ¼ of a Feckin Mile high. It was like they were trying to recreate the Pied Pipers kidnapping of the children replacing the minor’s with a variety of Red bedecked Rugby fans of all shapes and sizes! We walked up a street, across at least three, down another two passed somewhere I would swear we’d seen 5 minutes before, till we go to the Spanish Steps where a  selection of busses were waiting.

After a few tense moments when the one phrase no soaking, heavy breathing, first time rugby fan wants to hear:

“Your names are not on the list”

But we get on and head to Stadio Olimpico the new home of Italian Rugby

and to Rob’s first ever international rugby match. I remember thinking as we headed from the bus to the stadium that I really hope this wasn’t an omen … what wasn’t? Well as we headed up the thoroughfare a Welsh fan was launching a rugby ball at various un-suspecting passersby AND NOT ONE OF THEM CAUGHT IT! ;-)

I get to the entry point ticket in hand

To be greeted by a scanner and turnstile, the scanner is no problem but a request from my part, IF you’re gonna make a turnstile my height PLEASE make it MY WIDTH too! Almost didn’t make it. (mental note diet starts tomorrow)

What can I say about the match ….  WE WON! No the atmosphere was great, the seats and view excellent, and for a first match it was a dream result. Oh and for those that saw the match we were just high enough up to be covered by the roof! Win Win

So we get back on the bus to head back to Scholars, now this is where the wheels came off, thankfully not literally. Well the bus got us back and we headed to the bar, only to find we couldn’t get in the door! Now you would think that the reason for the bus would be to get people in there before and after the match, thus raising revenue, only slight problem is the bar is SO popular most of the people couldn’t get in. So thanks for laying it on anyway.

So being six very happy Welshmen abroad after a match what could we do … we gave it a lot of thought … then headed for the nearest pub!

Oh and here-in lies the rub, one of very few complaints about this great city, and I know there is nothing they can do about it, as all the buildings are so old and architecturally important. But the interiors weren’t really designed to hold pubs / bars etc. so there are many bars but they’re all small, so finding one you could get into was one of the main challenges of the trip.

We eventually settle on a small Pizza place which had a telly and was showing the England Ireland match and had a nice meal there, including tiramisu, which I’m only now discovering had cheese in it! Thanks guys for the heads up. Well it goes to prove something I sort of almost knew. I am allergic to “cheese” cheese but not the type that’s in Cheesecake.  So a great day, great company, a new experience, one hell of a lot of walking and food, wine (replace with beer) and unbelievable sights.

Sunday – So we head for breakfast, up the three additional flights of stairs

and are greeted with this

Here we were lucky, the main sightseeing day and the weather was kind it remained fine all day.  We head out at about 9:45am (returning at about 10:30pm) and wander … what seemed like most of the city. Of course we are greeted with one more spectacular view after another

By about 11:00am we find ourselves near St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican.

Well it would be rude not to drop into “Benny’s going away party” now wouldn’t it? So we hang around with thousands of others and see the Pope’s final Sunday blessing, a historic moment and one I will never forget.  

Oh quick question do you think I’m going to hell? I mean there was I standing on one of the most holy of places and half the time being more admiring of the ladies around me than the architecture, as there are some STUNNING ladies in Rome.

One thing I do know is if I’m not going to hell one of my neighbours in this crowd would be, why? Well it seems popular to carry flags representing your country, and one of these flag carriers was from Chile, and well let’s just say the flag did what flags do … wave … and this wave resulted in this poor unfortunate soul being smacked about the head numerous times, you could just hear him thinking after about the 5th time “Carry a flag represent your country great, but if that smacks me ONE MORE TIME it’s going up your a**”

After navigating our way out of the square, and realising that no matter how devout the crowd even old ladies are not above “doing your ankles” to get ahead in a queue! It is more sights:

The Circus Maximus, slightly disappointed not a Hephalump, Trapeze or clown in sight.

La Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth) after writing THIS review … no chance!

We then stumble across one of the gems of our trip. The Trattoria Polese

Together with the incomparable “Benny”. We were actually looking at another restaurant nearer the road, but were told they didn’t have room, so the waiter from there went into the one next door, but no one even bothers to come out even though there we were a group of 6 hungry/thirsty Welshmen. So Benny gesticulating like a good ‘un at the back of the “square” beckons us over and we had one of the best meals of the trip. The welcome was friendly with banter going both ways, the food exceptional, and the beer went down a treat after the tour we had undertaken. We ate outside under cover with heaters and it was a brilliant interlude on this longest of days.

After another few hours of walking including taking in one of the MOST spectacular sights of the whole trip

NO NOT The Coliseum…the young lady in front of us wearing “Daisy Dukes” and a short coat which hid them, nearly resulting in two car crashes, three heart attacks and a stroke (but he wasn’t close enough to reach!) sorry couldn’t resist that one.  ;-)

Later we find ourselves back at the Scholars Lounge to watch Swansea play football. Yes you read that right me who doesn’t support or for that matter watch any sport at home, was stood in Italy in an Irish sports bar watching a Welsh Team play an English team for a cup that apparently hadn’t left England since the Pantheon was under construction.

This bar polarised a couple of things I’d sort of noticed but not registered: The Italians don’t (seem to) like taps, almost all public sinks having a section of copper pipe bent downwards and operated by a foot peddle. They also LOVE Westerns … well they must, as all the gents I went to had those swinging doors you see in Westerns, oh and while I’m on the subject those contraptions ARE NOT easy to get through. Firstly they’re narrow, they have a mind of their own and attack your fingers at every given opportunity! And they can also be petty, if they don’t get you, and I discovered the only way to protect your digits is to barge through it using your body to open it whilst hiding your hands, the little **** retaliate by attempting to knockout the poor unsuspecting soul behind you.

So after all this sport we were in need of sustenance, so upon heading from the Scholars one of our number was heard to cry “I know where there is a Chinese” so we head off (this individual shall remain nameless to spare his blushes). So we wander, we walk, we stroll, we amble, at this point two of our number only able to “walk” from the knees down, we stride, pace, amble



Consensus rules apply, we abandon the search for the Chinese before we end up IN CHINA and it just so happens by this point we were near The Trattoria Polese So we head back to the warm welcome of “Benny” and a restaurant with food drink and facilities!

End of our last full day and we submit to the welcome of Morpheus.

Monday, it’s raining, and we’re walking, again. This is where the pain I mentioned at the start of the review REALLY kicks in, I mean I was struggling from mid morning Sunday, but all this walking meant by this point we didn’t have a working knee joint between the five of us, the other member of our little band walks for fun …so we don’t talk to him!

During this last day we also realise another cunning plan to reduce the number of tourists in the centre of Rome, not only do the drivers take their tests at the “Death Race 2000” school of Driving, but the Powers that be in Rome have now decreed that there are little electric busses, so you can’t even hear the b*ggers coming!

After a few more hours of walking we return to the hotel, our taxi arrives and we head to the airport, I follow the now tried and trusted routine for this type of journey, sit down, buckle up, close my eyes tightly and kiss my a** goodbye. Only this time with the added bonus that the taxi sounded just like my tumble dryer at home so I had very little confidence that we would make the end of the street let alone the airport.

On the flight back it was even tighter in the seats so I surrendered some of my remaining Euros to upgrade to an extra leg room seat. The flight was uneventful, the journey from the pane to baggage reclaim not so much. My fault, in my wisdom I had decided to “check” my coat to make the journey through customs easier, not realising at Luton you decamp to a bus for the journey to the airport buildings. So not only was I at the front of the plane with my co-travellers and “carry-on” at the rear, but I had to wait on the tarmac till they joined me, it was 2 degrees resulting in me having nipples so hard I could have suckled a piranha!  (Script credit to @WelshDalaiLama)

We get our bags, I get my coat, get on the bus and within 15 minutes are back to the car park, we scan the tag on our keys, are given directions to where our car is and start the journey home. Which unfortunately was the worst part of the trip, with the M4 closed at at least 6 points between London and Cardiff, a true nightmare of a end to what was a brilliant trip.

I must thank Rob (no not me another one) for organising these trips, I look forward to them, enjoy them, and will remember them for years to come.

Well folks if you made it this far, this is the end and you deserve a MEDAL! I know I’m not known for my brevity, but these reviews for me are in place of the one thing I don’t have, a working memory. So I record everything in the hope that you find it amusing, enjoyable, informative, and so I do or don’t (depending on the experience) visit the same places again!

So till my next trip this is Rob (this one not the other one) signing out to walk the dog and make a sandwich.

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