Rosie saved up for a holiday, which she needed to take to fit in with other workers, and none of her friends were free to accompany her. So I fell on my sword and volunteered.
Martin kindly drove us to Heathrow early Monday morning, which turned out to be extra-good for us as the traffic was terrible and we ended up arriving very late for our 9.25am check-in cut-off. Happily he had also upgraded us with airmiles to Business Class, the main advantage of which at this point was that we were fast-tracked through baggage, and were the subject of a stand-off between BA employees as one fought for us to jump huge queues at security.
But we made it! We had great seats, with Rosie at the window and an empty seat between us, so loads of room for wriggling and bags. I ordered a G&T with my meal, and Rosie a Bloody Mary, by way of celebration, and when the air hostess found out it was our first trip to Rome she brought delicious champagne for us. So we had a most enjoyable and relaxing flight.
That's the Colosseum at the end!The owner met us and showed us around his flat, which had a twin room, kitchen, bathroom and hallway, all furnished with attractive old furniture and very cosy. We found two little shops a few steps away so stocked up on cereals and milk for breakfast, then after a quick cuppa set off to explore the neighbourhood.
That's the Colosseum, down through the trees.
In the Palatine Museum
From Palatine Hill to Forum
SO tempted to pluck lemons everywhereWe finally spent some time wandering around the Forum, full of tumbled columns, chunks of engraved text and enough towering relics to give a clear idea of just how tightly the Romans packed their competitive statues and buildings, each seeking to outdo the other and garner greater respect. Rosie was the perfect tour guide, able to give me a bit of history as we went, explaining who and why and giving me a much more vivid picture of a living, breathing society than any number of written plaques.
What a seat!
Proving I was there... also sitting on something ancient.
Every time we went down smaller roads we found beautiful cobbled streets bordered by ochre-washed Mediterranean style buildings, gently co-ordinating shutters and zebra crossings that went nowhere. Taking one turn Rosie thought she spotted Trajan's Column, so we set off downhill and indeed she was right: it was brilliant to see the original of the cast she had taken me to see in London's V&A a few months ago, and to realise that amongst all the other tall structures at the time, people would have been able to read the wrap of historical scenes with ease.
More happy wandering found us tracking down some huge metal statues that appeared over the rooftops and turned out to be atop an enormous white building. Climbing the steps we read it held the tomb of the unknown soldier, and a pair of guards changed duty as we watched. Neither Rosie nor I were impressed, though, with the building itself, which seemed too huge and bright.
During our entire stay we kept walking through doors and discovering amazing churches, all free to enter and with the most amazing statuary and art. Many were heavily gilded and seemed very overdone, but with beautiful mosaics and if we checked we found that paintings or statues we had walked past were in fact by Caravaggio or Michealangelo. It is hard to believe so very many places of worship can exist within such a small area, and yet one day we came across a priest conducting an outdoor service on some steps in a park!
Remembering to cover up for Catholic sensibilities
Just up from the Pantheon
The Galleria is a perfectly-formed, small museum, purpose-built to show off artworks and achieving its aim. The Borghese family went out of their way to encourage visitors to make full use of the pleasure gardens and enjoy the art, with a beautifully-worded welcoming tablet pointing out that those behaving themselves had nothing to fear.
Hades grabbing Prosepina, full of movement and emotion. I loved the sculptures thanks to my excellent guide, though we were both less interested in the upper gallery full of Madonna and Child paintings by equally famous artists.
We then walked more cobbled streets to find Augustus's tomb and the Ara Pacis, the text of which has been etched afresh on the walls of a new museum housing the rebuilt altar, and treated ourselves to a stracchiatella at a gelateria for dessert as we wandered past tiny antique shops stuffed with art and came upon even more fantastic churches, plus what appeared to be a whole series of embassies, all sporting flags and armed guards.
Just a few shops were decorated for Christmas
And so our holiday finished. We went for a final pizza lunch at the splendid local trattoria, sitting outside next to a voluble couple and enjoying listening to their sing-song Italian.
all decked out in lemons and bay leavesThe airport was virtually empty, so we sped through the checks and spent a relaxing hour in the BA lounge drinking and eating.
And so now we are back, two footsore but delighted travellers who feel we have wrung the most out of our few days in a beautiful city, to which we would both happily return.
Thank you so much Rosie, it was a wonderful holiday which I shall always remember!