Updated: Feb 3, 2019
We are back being travellers and the first city calling for us was Rome, home to the world renowned arena made famous by Russell Crowe.
We were initially not going to go to Rome due to our travel schedule / route. It was going to be fiddly, quite a bit more expensive and we had mixed reviews from people who have been - some suggesting it is very busy and touristy and not quite as impressive as they hoped. After chatting with our hosts they recommended we should go and kindly gave us early leave due to good behaviour.
We arrived late morning for a one day power tour, as we had to leave for Cinque Terre the next morning. We were greeted by some pretty impressive clouds with thunder and lightening, making our first stop at the Colosseum seem quite wild and powerful as we imagined all the gladiators in years gone by fighting to the death only yards from where we stood. Where we actually stood (in the queue) required some actual fighting for a space and there were some vicious cats that may well have scratched your eyes out. We were not put off. I raised my shield, map and turned to Lucy to discuss our battle plan - do we fight or take flight to another destination first. The sun had just come back out. I was sweating, getting flustered and made Lucy walk off with me. That Russell is a brave man I tell you.
We wondered only a few yards away to the Palantine Hill which is a large area that contains the ruins of several large villas that belonged to wealthy Roman families. You need a ticket for here too but, as we discovered from the ticket booth, it is free on the first Sunday of every month, as is the Colosseum. So from the entrance of Palantine Hill we collected our free tickets for both sites and cruised back to the Gladiators arena and pushed passed many of those hanging about by the entrance and went straight in.
The queue of people standing to purchase tickets at the Colosseum was about 100 metres long in the glorious sunshine. Plus, as it was free entry, staff have to monitor the number of people entering as they get full to capacity. So goodness knows how long some people wait. Once inside, we thought we would splash out and treat ourselves to a video walking tour. An ipod with screen was exchanged for a measly €6, with earphones to share. Still a bit hot and bothered, despite our obvious smugness from the success of getting straight in, it took a good 5 minutes to get ourselves sorted as we shared one set of earphones. After some elbow knocking, pulling the earpiece out from one another by accident and general faffing, we took a selfie to show our excitement about what we were about to see and learn of course.
You must go inside the Colosseum if you ever head to Rome. Entrance is normally only €12 which ain't too bad. We were very interested to hear tales of how the arena was built and designed in year 80! Years later they added the Hypogeum - a construction of corridors beneath the fighting circle which took into account all the cells where the gladiators (condemned) and animals were caged. The main purpose of building these corridors was to provide elevators beneath trapdoors whereby the animals could suddenly pop up on stage during an event.
They shipped in lions, tigers, hippos, bears etc. from across the world, which, alongside other many other animals, were used in the performances to fight against gladiators. Imagine, back in the day, you went along to watch a matinee performance never having seen anything larger in real life than horse (a placid one at that) and suddenly a giant bear runs out looking to destroy anything in its path after having his marmalade sandwiches stolen. Not that I agree with slaughtering humans or animals, but the brutality of it all really smacks you in the face when wandering above those dark and haunting corridors, and I couldn't help but be amazed and kinda wish I could be transported back in time to see it.
Remember when Russell is fighting that big chap after being quite successful and they trick him by chucking out tigers when he is not looking? Those tigers came out of trapdoors (as mentioned earlier) whilst being held on leashes. What an amazing contraption during those early years - animals and people were brought into the arena as if by magic. Those in the nose bleeds would not have had the foggiest what was going on. It would have been mindblowing. I tried to put myself in the position of one of the gladiators and imagine what it would have been like to run out into the madness. I feel I got a pretty good understanding.
We then trekked across to the Vatican to see the grandest and largest church in the world church - St. Peter's. We went past numerous sites along the way including the St Trivoli Fountain (under construction), Pantheon Building (not much to it) and Vittoriano Museum Complex (stunning design and a must see). Once we arrived to see the Pope, we were amazed at the beauty of St. Peter's Square. Once inside the Basilica, I was in awe of the stunning details within every painting, statue, plaque, floor tile etc. If you like these kind of attractions, you will no doubt love St. Peter's.
We couldn't go inside the Vatican City as they close the museums on Sundays (however we did wander aimlessly around the walls for a good hour before realising this) so we made our way back to our hotel and headed to a nearby restaurant famous for its Romana pizzas. We strolled along the river and there happened to be a vast array of pop up restaurants, clothes stalls, bars etc. each under a marquee as part of a culture festival. This may happen every summer, we didn't check up on it, but still it was very cool, quirky and an excellent spot for a Aperitivo.
We were shattered when we got back to our room around 9pm. We decided to finish off in style and downloaded the movie Gladiator featuring Russell Crowe. Lucy managed 20 minutes and I cheered him on to the final battle as he triumphed inside the most brutal arenas of all time. I may not be any good with a sword but I reckon I could now sidestep a chained tiger jumping out from a trapdoor.
The next day we were spending the chunk of it travelling to Cinque Terre but still managed to stop off at Pisa to see you know what. Apart from a quality few tourist snaps of the iconic tower there ain't much else. You can be the judge of whether you think it was worth it. We think it was!