So I went to Rome. It was a significant birthday of my Significant Aunt, and there was a gathering of the clan. I didn't think I'd be able to make it, as I was supposed to be going back to the Hot Place. But that got postponed (only till this time next week, however, when I will again be engaged with the information management side-effects of protracted instability), my passport came back from the Embassy, and I was good to go.
When I was 17, I went post A-level InterRailing with my friend R. We spent a few days in Milan, during which time we were harassed so relentlessly (the high point being when a traffic policeman touched me up while we were crossing the road) that we decided to hang out with three boys from Macclesfield who were staying in the same Youth Hostel. They weren't much better: we drank far, far too much, I was sick in a park, and even that didn't stop them trying to get off with us.
I refused to go any further into Italy, and I haven't been back since. I can hold a grudge for a very long time, but I admit it was time to reassess.
My very first impression was not great, but one should never judge a country by the men who try to get you into a taxi at the airport. I should also say that the combination of capital city prices and euro exhange rate make pretty much everything eyewateringly expensive.
But it's beyootiful, it really is, and the food is astonishingly good. It doesn't seem to matter where you eat or what you order, it was all totally delicious. They have the kind of restaurants that we just don't, I think -- little places doing local food all over the place. I had some artichoke ravioli that I think I will remember forever, and the best minestrone soup I have ever tasted. And the Chianti, well.
It wasn't all eating and drinking, of course, though I wouldn't have minded if it had been. We went on an open top bus to the Vatican, to marvel at the baroque wonders and sheer hugeness of St Peter's Basilica
. As a firmly lapsed Catholic, I wondered if I might be smote down by a giant sword, or at the very least feel an urge to get myself to a nunnery, but I am relieved to report that I emerged with nothing worse than a cricked neck and a sense of awe. Dometastic!
The Sistine Chapel was a different matter. To get there, you first have to walk for about a mile, then you have to part with quite a lot of cash, and then you have to walk another mile, but this one inside, through endless galleries and chambers and chapels and corridors plastered (often literally) with cherubs and saints and gilt and bleeding hearts (but no liberals, not even one). You can't just check out the bit you came all this way to see, oh no. You have to traipse past every last statue and frieze and tapestry and mosaic they've picked up in the last five centuries. It's like Ikea on acid.
I'm not sure why they make you do that, but it does mean that by the time you stare up at Michaelangelo's ceiling your feet have properly suffered and you have an appropriate sense of your own insignificance. And you've made a donation to the men who did this to you. They're not as green as they're cabbage looking, that's for damn sure.
There are a few photos here
, if you're interested (I'm waiting on the one with all of us and a gold sofa in it). And of course, it was great to see everyone. Jerusalem next time? (Just kidding).