Italy has always been somewhere I’ve wanted to return, attracted by vague memories of towering columns in the Colosseum, and cats trying to steal my ice cream in narrow Roman streets from a childhood family holiday to Rome. So where better to go for your first getaway as a couple? But the relaxing sight-seeing jaunt I expected was far from the reality.
Rome: the Battle for Baggage
Forever a classics lover, the connection to the ancients was something I was particularly keen to see in Rome. The Colosseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill – they were all names reminiscent of the legends of Rome I’d read about as a child, and the romantic images of a 10 year old enticed me in to discover the reality a decade later.
But before we could entertain any such ideas like actually seeing the sights we’d travelled across Europe to enjoy, we had to deal with our lack of baggage. The first three days of our Italian week were bag-less, due to a joint screw-up between Gatwick and British Airways. Solid effort from both of them in not putting bags on the plan, and then not telling us when they were finally in Rome. But hey, at least it gave me an excuse to go shopping, as I thought it’d be fun to travel in full length black skinny jeans – totally appropriate clothing for 32 degree heat. Lesson learned: don’t trust baggage handleers, and dress for the weather you’re travelling to, not from.
After tracking down hopelessly over-priced deodorant and shampoo, we tried to make something of our first day by heading to the zoo in Bioparco di Roma, tucked behind Villa Borghese. Although not having a massive range of unusual animals, it was more interactive than most zoos I’ve been to, letting you get up close and personal with a lot of the animals, like pigs, guinea pigs, goats, horses, and cows. We even fed the pigs ourselves, along with a bunch of excited toddlers.
Ignoring the throngs of people attempting to sell us roses, bracelets, and guided tours, we escaped the heavy heat of the Italian sun into the cooling protection of the Colosseum’s ancient columns, still standing strong and tall after the toll of the ages. The enormity of the stadium was overwhelming, the crowds of tourists on the other side appearing like ants emerging from the crevices of the Roman ruins. Although slightly marred by the intrusion of countless selfie sticks, I let my imagination run away, being able to stand where the spectators once stood, stare down into the pits where gladiators once battled, and gaze up at the secluded box where the emperor decided the fates of men and beasts. It certainly lived up to the expectation.
The Forum and Palatine Hill waited just down the road, and whilst the walk through the greenery and shady trees was a welcome respite from the heat, the lack of signs made it difficult to work out what we were really looking at. We even spent 10 minutes wandering round a courtyard that we thought was the original forum before realising it wasn’t, although I’m not sure whether that says more about the forum or us. It at least let me put a witty CLC based caption on Instagram (any Latin students will get it, or you can look below to be blown away by my humour).
It isn’t only the huge structures or meaningful monuments that make Rome the wonder of a city that it is. Every street holds a treasure, whether it’s the modern troves of fashionable boutiques, the natural jewels of pink-blossomed trees lining the cobbled streets, or the historical gems peeking from every intricately sculpted corner. The Trevi Fountain is a fine example of beautiful architectural pop ups across the city. The wealth of statues create the illusion of a frozen play, with every marble actor an independent masterpiece in itself, surrounded by clear water splashing up in crystal streams.
The final box to be ticked off our cliche Roman tourists list: the Vatican. We went at sunset, avoiding the throngs of people to get inside. Although you can’t go in, we could still stroll around the outside, admiring the architecture and the fountains nestled within the Catholic cornerstone. The light playing off the semi-circle buildings created a dome of shifting shadows, like a cocoon of the remaining warmth of the setting sun. To add to the beauty, we’d managed to finally get our bags back, so I was able to wear make up and my own clothes for the first time. A fitting end to our stay in the Italian capital.
Florence: the War of Weirdness
Our travels around Italy took us through Florence, so we decide to stop off for a brief whirlwind tour of the city. Most of our knowledge of the city was based off Assassin’s Creed 2 – it certainly made getting lost down winding streets far more interesting. The cathedral was a spectacular sight, although even more spectacular was the length of the queue, making going inside an impossibility during our short visit.
Wandering down the length of the river Arno, we were chased by two street performers in creepy make up, seeking money for kisses forced upon tourists. Potentially the most surreal flight through a city I’ve ever made, and I’ve run erratically through many European cities – but that’s a tale for another time.
On top of all the other irregularities, where Rome had beautiful ancient fountains and statues, Florence had an enormous golden turtle. I still don’t know why, or for how long, but it is the sight that has truly stuck with me about the city.
Venice: the Havoc of Hospitals
One more train ride took us to my favourite city of the trio. I’ve always loved water, and as soon as we stepped out of the station, I fell in love with the city, so much so that I’m now determined to live there at some point. Our apartment was a short walk from Rialto bridge, which is where we ate most evenings. The lights shimmered on the surface of the river flowing past just inches from where we sat while the sunlight filtered away through the narrow streets.
Public transport in Venice is almost exclusively by boat, of course, and is quite expensive, so we walked most places, resulting in the inevitability of getting lost down dead-end streets and bridges that all look the same.
The Doge’s Palace was packed full of fascinating artefacts that looked like they were straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean, although huge rooms with deep political significance got a little draining after a while. The real sights to see were underground, in the old dungeons. The claustrophobic stone walls seemed to ache with the horrors of past events, and were almost exactly how they would have been centuries ago. The Palace’s optimum location on the edge of the city looking out to see also supplied fantastic views of the canals opening out to the broad expanse of sea, spotted with smaller islands.
As well as enjoying the quaintness of central Venice, we also ventured out to Sant’ Elena, another island on the edge of Venice with the reputation of having beautiful green spots. What isn’t mentioned in the guides is that the majority of the area is a militarised naval area, meaning you can’t go to many places on the island. The views are still fantastic though, and it’s very quiet, allowing you to enjoy the view of the Venice coastline uninterrupted.
But it wouldn’t be a true Rach holiday without a spell of disaster. Our second to last day in Venice, we thought we’d splash out and travel out of the city to a water park, to cool off in the water and enjoy some adrenaline-filled rides.However, I managed to fly out of the inflatable toboggan on our first ride, and ended up going to the hospital with a potentially broken rib. Stellar job from me all round. It turned out to be a muscle contusion but it did a great job if immobilising me for the rest of the trip. What’s a holiday without experiencing their emergency department?
All in all, the week was split in equal parts between disaster and discovery, but I would rank Venice as the highlight. Rome was fascinating, Florence exciting, but Venice was intoxicating. Living in such a unique environment is definitely on my traveller bucketlist.