A Travellerspoint blog

June 2003



Rome was a fantastic experience and a great way to finish our holiday. Unfortunately in Rome people speak Italian though, so any of the communication skills learned from Spain or France were lost here. The good news is that the Romans really don't seem to mind speaking English and, unlike the Parisians, seem to even prefer it over bad Italian.

Our trip from Madrid to Rome was rather tiring. The metro journey in Madrid to the airport involved several swapping of trains and because Janelle's ankle was still rather sore at that stage, it was a rather unpleasant experience. In the end we did make it though as you probably already guessed and booked into our hotel around 5 in the evening. The hotel's elevator was little more than a closet on a pulley and could barely fit us with our bags. The room was probably our nicest of the whole holidays, also the most expensive, but that was to be expected in Italy. Having checked in and refreshed ourselves somewhat, we felt the need to have some pizza and see some sights. A walking tour taking in the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Piazza Nuovo worked out well for us, being relatively close to our accommodation. The real highlight of the evening was on our walk back though, when we saw a rather large police escort driving right past us. Who do you think we saw but the POPE himself comfortably being whizzed off in the direction of the Vatican. Even more entertaining was the busfull of cardinals following right behind! Who would have thought we would get to see all this on our first night in town

The attractions in Rome are unrivalled by any of the other places we had visited. Essentially trying to cover 2500 years in 2.5 days is no mean feat! Naturally, we didn't try that and settled for the major attractions only. Our first full day we spent in the vicinity of the Vatican and St Peter's. St. Peter's Basilica was rather amusing to enter, as the Vatican is very strict about dress code. There are 'dress police' positioned at several points while entering and we saw many people getting turned back for wearing skimpy clothing like shorts, singlets and such. We knew of this beforehand so weren't caught out.. As you can imagine, there are stalls aplenty in the area selling very cheap long pants and shawls to cover up for the visit. Having passed the dress-police the Basilica was a rather enjoyable place to visit. For one it was nice and shady compared to the heat that was beginning to develop outside.

Next stop was the Sistine Chapel and the walk on the way there was quite draining indeed in the scorching sun! The staff letting people in to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel didn't seem to care so much about dress-code, although the sign still said such things weren't allowed. Visiting the Chapel is a rather tedious exercise of being guided through a cattle-grid of sorts from one room to the next in shuffle mode the whole way waiting as the cue progresses. As such, the whole thing does take quite a while. Fortunately, it was well worth it and seeing the beautiful ceiling was a remarkable experience.

After our visit there, we decided we would give the Colosseum a go as well the same day. We knew it would close an hour before sunset, so wouldn't have much time, but decided to give it a go anyway. We ended up having about 45 minutes to walk around, which proved more than enough really, considering all you can really do is walk around inside it! Unfortunately, we didn't realize until 3PM the next day that the Colosseum ticket also gave us entry to the Palatine Hill (which has a lot of ruins, etc.) till 12PM the next day.. grrr..

As a result we skipped the Palatine hill the next day completely and settled for the Roman Forum instead, where the ruins of temples and government buildings are located. Entry there was free, so nothing to grumble about really! One particularly nice feature of Rome is also the water fountains that are located in many parts of town. They are constantly flowing and the water coming out is beautiful to drink. Wandering around the Roman Forum, there are water fountains everywhere, which is rather fortunate considering how hot it gets among those ruins!

A lot of our second day was spent visiting old churches and some of the beautiful artworks within. A visit to the Spanish Steps was also squeezed in before lunch and after lunch we went to the Pantheon again to get a look inside. It is a remarkable building to be inside with the circular hole in the ceiling casting a beautiful ring of light on different parts of the wall at different times of the day. In the evening we wandered down to the Travastere area, which has a lot of restaurants scattered around. We ended up in a rather nice wine bar eating some foccaccia and antipasto - a great way to end the day.

On our last morning in Rome we had one more thing that we wanted to visit - the Santa Maria del Popolo church, which has a couple of rather remarkable Caravaggio paintings within. Because it was a Sunday, there was of course mass going on when we got there. After waiting around for 20 minutes or so though, we got a chance to wander around inside. Supposedly this church was built on the spot that Nero was buried. There used to be a grand oak tree growing over his grave and considering he was such a disliked emperor, no one really liked the error. Some saint then had a vision to fell the tree and build a church there, the result being Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Maria of the People).

After that visit, our holiday had come to an end.. nothing else left to do but pack our bags and head back to Melbourne, where the weather has been a true shock getting down to under 4 °C in the mornings.. brrrr.

Posted by Peter 00:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)



Madrid sure turned out to be an 'interesting' experience. Unfortunately not nearly as enjoyable as the rest of the places we visited. Of course, there were still plenty of great things that we saw and experienced.

Our trip from Toledo was easy and quite effortless. The train leaves every two hours from Toledo to Madrid and is the only trip out of Toledo as far as I could tell. Finding the hostel we had reserved was not a problem, but trying to find a way to enjoy the hostel was much harder! For starters it wasn't in a particularly good part of town. When we first walked up, Janelle noticed the sign on the outside saying 'no prostitution allowed in here' - not a good sign. We managed to count about 20 or so prostitutes on the street that evening! Of course, these things can be easily ignored, but unfortunately there were too many things wrong with this particular choice of accommodation! A rabbit warren of grimy looking hallways led us to our tiny room, with views of the piping and grime in the back alleyway and other people's open windows. I killed a huge cockroach while Janelle wasn't watching and waited till the next day to tell her. All these things I could usually get over, but for the fact that it fell through on the one thing that to me is essential, a place to SLEEP! There was very little sleeping that night, as wave after wave of people arrived drunk in their rooms shouting and giggling right outside our door kept waking us up. The morning was started by someone who decided he needed to knock on everyone's door to start wake everyone up for breakfast. It was all too much. We got up, but instead of having breakfast, we started looking for somewhere else to stay the other two nights. We found somewhere only a few blocks away which was only 4 euros extra a night and a far more enjoyable experience - it had hot water for one!

Okay, enough whining for now. The Puerta del Sol, the major square in Madrid wasn't far, so we took a stroll down there to get started. The place is throbbing with people at all hours (at least all hours we saw it). One time we walked down there we saw all the hawkers being raided by the police. People set up sheets on the ground and put all their goods for sale, like sunglasses, cds, belts, etc.. on the sheets. As we were walking past, someone let out a warning and all the sheets turned into bags within seconds and everyone was on the run! Quite amusing to watch really, although the police in Spain with their leather gloves do make for a scary sight! Strange though, we saw several other times when police cars would drive straight past without taking note at all.

Madrid is a rather 'new' city as we overheard a Madridian describing it. 'New' in this case means anything less than 500 years old! The city was chosen as capital when it was only a small village. As a result, the architecture and feel of the place is quite different to all the other places we visited. Nevertheless, it has its fair share of interesting things to do! There are several world-class and famous art galleries that we of course visited: The Prado, the city's most famoust museum, houses a large collection of older artwork, with some very famous pieces by the likes of Velazquez and Goya. The Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofia has a very enjoyable collection of modern art and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum has a chronological collection from about 500 AD to now, with all the rooms curated so that you progress through time - a very interesting experience. Each day we were in Madrid we visited another of these museums, which generally take up at least a few hours of slow shuffling.

In a lot of ways Madrid was very reminiscent of Melbourne. The general street culture seemed quite the same and it one thing in common which made it seem particularly similar - a festival! As much as Melbourne loves its festivals, so it seems Madrid does too. While we were there at least there was a photography/contemporary art exhibition going on. The beautiful thing about it was that there was a free show on one evening which we of course strolled down to see. It was basically a projection of some excellent photography and some not so excellent 'video art'. Something to keep us busy anyway. On that particular evening, we then went on to go and see some free jazz at Popular, a bar that has bands on every evening. The drink prices of course made up for the free entry, but the music by the jazz quartet was remarkable!

We spent a lot of time as usual walking around the city, having coffees, etc.. and enjoying the warmth. On the last of our three days when we planned to visit the Palace, we were stopped from doing any more of that though. Janelle sprained her ankle rather badly on a bit of uneven paving and basically couldn't walk anymore that day (and not very well for the rest of the holidays really). That pretty much was the end of Madrid. Time to move on to Rome!

Posted by Peter 00:00 Archived in Spain Comments (0)



Toledo turned out to be a beautiful town, as only was to be expected! We arrived there around midday on the 13th and checked into our first 'hostel', which turned out to be our nicest accommodation so far! The room was very nice and large and featured a rather pleasant balcony out on the street and a very friendly host.

We started with a visit to the Iglesia de Santo Tome, a fairly unsignificant church with an extremely significant painting inside by El Greco. We spent quite a while in there looking at the painting and managed to catch a tourguide explaining how this was one of the four most famous paintings in the world.. of course that sparked a discussion on whether or not it really was. His other three in the top 4 were Mona Lisa, the Nightwatch and a painting by Velazquez (which name has escaped me, as has the El greco one :)). Funny how two spanish artists managed to feature

There is a lot of El Greco to be seen in Toledo, including a house museum with a lot of his works which is what we visited next. One thing we have found on our trip is that our Youth Cards actually seem to be paying off as they did on this occassion again, gaining us free entry to the museum!

There are a lot of things to be seen in Toledo and a lot of people are trying to make money off of that.. One of the two synagogues, which is rather small, but still very beautiful inside, costs 1,50 to enter. The other is currently being renovated, so not hope of even entering there. Prices for food and drink seemed higher than Cordoba and Sevilla, which was a little unexpected, but not surprising considering the amount of tourists visiting the town.

The Cathedral was a rather pleasant and lengthy visit. Every little town in Spain has a big cathedral it seems, which is usually its prime attraction. The Cathedral in Toledo was quite worthwhile though, with some very nice artworks inside, from the likes of Breughel, El Greco, Goya, Velazquez and many other big names - undoubtedly not all peacefully obtained! There was also an exhibition of Cardinals' cloaks and treasury items which provided some more interest.

It seems that every night there is something going on in Toledo, probably partially because we were there on the weekend, but also because the Corpus Christi celebrations were starting to heat up. Last night as we were wandering from the river back up the (rather steep and tiring hill) we came across a procession on their way to the cathedral. No big pointy hats at this stage, probably saved for next week, but still an interesting thing to encounter and something we hadn't really expected. While the procession walked up the windy streets on their way to the cathedral, we caught the rather convenient, and very stylishly created, escalators on the side of the mountain! I tell you, there is nothing more handy than escalators on the side of a steep hill.
In the evening we wandered to the cathedral to see where they had ended up and found there was a public performance of traditional dance and music going on. We of course stayed there for a while to watch the singing and dancing that was being put on display for us.

All in all, Toledo has been a very enjoyable experience. Now on to Madrid.

Posted by Peter 00:00 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

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