We went from Florence to Rome by Eurostar train: very smooth and very fast, and found our way quite easily to our apartment, not far from the Spanish Steps, using the metro. It took a while to get in contact with the agents, but eventually Constanza turned up (on her scooter, of course) and let us into a little third floor apartment with the smallest bathroom in the world. From there we made our excursions into bustling Rome, returning in the late afternoons for antipasti and a drink, and to catch the arrivo of the day's stage of the Giro d'Italia.
Although there were huge numbers of tourists we got more of an impression of being in a working city than we did in Florence. The drivers hurtling down the streets were clearly locals and it took us a while to brave a road crossing at anywhere else but the lights. Ordinary pedestrian crossings are generally faintly marked, and that reflects the attitude of drivers to them. One guide book said that the safest way to cross was with a group of nuns, but we learned to walk boldly, face down the oncoming drivers, never stop and get used to their very short stopping distances.
I saved my coins for more gelato.
Built in the 1st century AD. That's a hole in the top, not a window.
Popular, but the scene of an awful lot of human misery.
Six days didn't give us nearly enough time to see and do all that Rome has to offer. You could spend all that time in the Vatican Museum for a start. We spent a full day there, getting in after an hour and half of queuing. There are several potential routes through the vast collection, all leading to the Sistine Chapel eventually, but we saw many beautiful things en route, such as a collection the Faberge Easter eggs that the Romanov family gave each other; exquisite is the appropriate word. We also wanted to see the Etruscan collection, having been poking around in their tombs back in Tuscany, and there were the unexpected surprises such as a lovely little pieta by Van Gogh that I have never seen reproduced anywhere. But for me the day's highlight was next door in St Peters: Michaelangelo's pieta that portrays Mary as a young girl.
Some distance away, and behind glass, but still most affecting.
And then there were all the antiquities. The forums and the Coliseum were much as expected (and when you think about it, the Coliseum is really rather nasty), but the Pantheon was magnificent. And a real surprise was the archaeological site at Ostia Antica, the old port at what was once the mouth of the Tiber. The town was abandoned in the Third Century and became covered in river silt until it began to be excavated in the 1800s. Now it is comparable with Pompeii and Herculaneum for its preservation as an intact Roman town. It was fascinating to walk down the streets and to be able to identify shops, warehouses, a bar, an amphitheatre, underground Mithraic temple etc, in a site that covers more than 30 hectares. And it wasn't very busy, apart from numerous local school groups; it would have been a perfect day out but for the steady stream of aircraft flying low overhead to land at Fiumicino.
The lower seats still have their marble covering.
The Mithraic cult was widespread in Roman times.
Wonderfully preserved: marble bar and counters, wall paintings of food.
Gastronomically, we did better in Florence than in Rome, mostly because it was hard to get out of Tourist Land in the latter. But on our last night we finally took up Costanza's suggestion of a place in Trastevere, across the river, and had a fine meal. We were squeezed in at 8.00 when it opened, and when we left there were 20 people waiting for a table. The food was simple but delicious, and I wish I had tried the deep-fried artichokes that our neighbour had, and described as "spectacular".
And so we left Italy. Our trip wasn't quite over, however. We had a few days with Jean's sister in Suffolk and finished up with a couple more days chasing birds in north Norfolk, where we ran into a couple who had been with us on the Morocco tour. The weather had been very good throughout the trip (rainjackets twice in 10 weeks), but as we drove to Heathrow there was heavy rain, which at least meant that we could leave with a little less regret.