How our histories interweave

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There wasn’t a campsite near to Dachau in Germany, so we booked into a hotel. It was called something like the Tulip Inn Alp Style, so we were expecting some sort of quaint Alpine-style lodge, but what we got was a concrete block overlooking a roundabout and a Burger King. But it was clean and modern inside, so it was fine with us.

I was a bit hot and sweaty from sitting in the car all day, so I decided that before I had a shower I may as well get myself even more sweaty by going for a run. I got to the main road, randomly picked a direction and set off. I hadn’t been running for very long when I saw a watchtower and barbed wire.

Our purpose for coming to this area of Germany was to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which I’ll admit is not a typical kind of holiday destination. As depicted in the Why We Fight episode of Band of Brothers, Easy Company liberated one of the satellite camps of Dachau, at Buchloe. There is nothing left of that site, so we decided to visit the main camp, which is now a memorial centre and museum. It’s a grim but important piece of Easy Company history.

Even though I’d done research into the location of the hotel, I had no idea it was quite so close to the camp, and it came as a bit of a shock to be jogging past it, it looked very eerie and imposing against the grey sky, which was by now promising rain.

It felt fitting that the weather stayed grey and cloudy the next day when we visited the camp. I expected it to be a very emotional experience, and it was, but not quite in the way I’d imagined. I cry easily, and I expected to be a blubbering wreck throughout our visit, but instead I just felt drained and exhausted.

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Dachau was the first Concentration Camp built by the Nazis, and it was in operation almost continually for the whole 12 years of Nazi rule. It was used as a template for the other camps, and also as a training facility for the SS. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was a product of Dachau’s training programme. The people imprisoned here were mostly political prisoners at first, but this was widened to include Jewish people, homosexuals, gypsies, beggars and criminals.

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I found it all very hard to process. The camp was enormous, especially the main yard where the prisoners were made to line up for hours for roll call. To think that this was one of a series of camps in the Dachau area, which was in turn part of the even bigger network of camps across the whole of the Nazi territory is mind-boggling to me. I have difficulty extrapolating the figures on that sort of scale.

I also found it difficult to process the horrors the prisoners were subjected to, which included sadistic experiments into infectious diseases and the effects of air pressure on the human body. The crematorium here is intact, as is the gas chamber, and although there is no evidence to suggest the gas chamber was ever put into large-scale operation, I still did not want to set foot in there. This was the part of the camp I found most affecting, there is a memorial trail behind the crematorium with markers placed at various points where there are mass graves, or where there were execution areas. My eyes welled with tears a few times and I felt physically sick, but on the whole I just felt too stunned to cry. I found it all so unfathomable.

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I think everyone should visit a place like this just once, to see the devastating effect that prejudice, hatred and ignorance has on the world. I left the camp feeling drained, exhausted, and with a real sense of despair at what humans are capable of.

 

We’d planned to go out for dinner, but neither of us were really in the mood, so we retreated to our concrete block hotel with supplies from the supermarket, and had a hotel room picnic. The following day we’d be heading to Austria.

 


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When we were in Normandy for the Band of Brothers actors’ reunion last year, we got chatting to Chris Langlois, who is the grandson of Eugene ‘Doc’ Roe, and we told him about our plans to take this trip. He mentioned a tour guide in Belgium called Reg Jans, who does WWII history tours around the Bastogne area, and said that nobody knew more about Easy Company’s part in the Battle of the Bulge than he did. So a tour with Reg was actually the first part of the holiday that we booked, the rest of the trip was planned around it.

We met at the Mardasson Memorial in Bastogne, which is next to the Bastogne War Museum. Reg took us to the aid station first, in the seminary school in Bastogne. This is the aid station which appears in Band of Brothers the TV show, although in reality the nurse Renee Lamaire wasn’t based at this station. Reg also told us about a Congolese nurse, Augusta Chiwy, who was based in Bastogne and who is alluded to in the series. I would really like to find out more about both Renee and Augusta.

We drove out to Halte Station, where there is a 101st memorial, paid for by various people including Tom Hanks. It’s very similar in design to the memorial at Brecourt Manor in Normandy, but there are some inaccuracies on the inscription, for instance Eugene Jackson was killed in Haguenau, yet his name appears on this memorial.

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As we entered the Bois Jacques, Reg showed us where the patrol led by Johnny Martin had started out, and the area where John Julian was tragically killed.

Reg showed us where Major Winters had pointed out to him that he’d positioned the Battalion CP, there is still a horseshoe-shaped configuration of trenches visible in the grass. The CP would normally have been a lot further back from the front line, but it’s typical of the kind of commander Winters was that he chose to make it so close. We walked into the woods and Reg showed us the area where Guarnere and Toye were wounded, then we went deeper, right up to the front lines, which overlooked a road. The other side of the road was where the front of the German lines were, and I was amazed by how close it was, it was shown as being much further away in the TV series.

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There were still some foxholes visible, and Reg thinks he is able to pinpoint which foxhole belonged to Smokey Gordon, as he was a machine gunner, and the machine gun trench was always a T-shape.

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An unofficial memorial has sprung up in the woods with sticks, crosses, candles and other objects which people have left. I found the woods very atmospheric, and it was quite easy to imagine it covered with snow in the winter of 1944-45.

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After we grabbed lunch, we drove to Foy, where Reg explained the assault on Foy, which was much longer and more complex than it is depicted in the TV series. We saw the building (below) from behind which Captain Speirs set off on his daring run across town to meet up with another company and exchange information on their positions to prevent friendly fire.

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We also saw the window where the German sniper was positioned, and the place Shifty Powers was standing when he took him out. The sniper was in the top window in the photo below.

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Above is the shot Shifty made, with the window just visible over the horizontal roof. Shifty really was one hell of a shot!

We moved on to Noville, where Lipton, Alley and Shames narrowly escaped being blown up by a tank, then on to Rachamps, which is a pretty little place with a nice church. There’s a tree which was planted near the church by Babe Heffron and Bill Guarnere

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This is also the location of the ‘convent’, actually a school, where Easy spent their first night indoors after moving out of the woods.

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The tour with Reg was excellent, he was so knowledgable and interesting, and I’d be willing to bet money on there being nothing about the military history of Bastogne that he doesn’t know. He really brought all the locations alive for us.

The following day we were back in Bastogne to visit the Bastogne War Museum and climb the Mardasson Memorial.

Bastogne War Museum is very interesting, and they have some great exhibits, including some of General Patton’s stars from his helmet. The museum gives a lot of information about the Battle of the Bulge, plus background information on WWII in general, and it always terrifies me that the lead up to the war has a lot of similarities with today’s politics – financial problems being blamed on minorities, the rise of far right politics, etc. It saddens and frustrates me that people just don’t seem to learn.

Outside the museum is the final beacon on the Liberty Road, which stretches all the way from Normandy. I’ve now visited the first and the last beacons.

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We drove all the way to the American Cemetery in Luxembourg in the rain, only to find it was closed, which was bad planning on my part, but the only itinerary fail we had throughout the whole trip. We returned the following morning, in glorious sunshine. There are five Easy Company soldiers buried here: Patrick Neill, Kenneth Webb, John Julian, Warren ‘Skip’ Muck, and Alex Penkala.

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We visited all the graves and left poppy crosses for Muck and Penkala. I was kind of sad they weren’t buried closer together.

General Patton is also buried here.

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As always, the cemetery was immaculately maintained. It’s so sad to see all the thousands of gravestones, but I like visiting these places to pay my respects and keep the men’s memories alive, and I’ve always had a weird thing about liking graveyards ever since I was a toddler. I’m a bit of a war graves nerd since I started volunteering for The War Graves Photographic Project, and I like to see war graves being preserved and maintained.

One of the relatives of Warren ‘Skip’ Muck actually saw Jo’s post on Facebook about visiting the cemetery, and sent her a message to say how much it meant to them that people went there. I wish I could have placed a poppy on every single grave.

After the cemetery, we got in the car and travelled to the next destination on our trip – Germany.

 

 

 


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Being huge Band of Brothers fans, me and my best friend Jo have been wanting to visit the locations where the real Easy Company fought for a while. Originally the plan was to do the whole thing from Normandy right through to Zell am See in Austria, but we soon realised that this was going to be too expensive. We did Normandy on its own in two trips, because there was just so much to see. If you click on the Normandy tag on the right, you’ll find my blog posts about those trips, and the Band of Brothers actors’ reunions.

This Band of Brothers trip was years in the planning, and the itinerary had to be scheduled very carefully, because we had such a limited time in each place to see everything. I spent ages researching the exact locations of all the key Easy Company history, as well as some other WWII stuff that would be interesting to see along the way. We decided the best way to do it was the way which made the most sense for us geographically, rather than following Easy Company’s route in the same order they did, but in the end, we did it in almost chronological order anyway. We were getting the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, driving to the Netherlands, then on to Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria, and then back into France, getting the ferry back home from Calais two weeks later.

We drove from Dunkirk to Hilvarenbeek in the Netherlands on our first day, arriving in scorching sunshine on our Eurocamp site. The campsite was enormous, part of a huge safari-themed complex with chalets, tents, mobile homes and amusingly named ‘jungalows’. The site is attached to an actual safari park, hence the safari theme. Once we were on the campsite, it took us about half an hour to find the Eurocamp section, and the signs said we had driven through Angola and Botswana. It felt like we’d driven through Mordor and Narnia by the time we found it. It turns out we just had to turn left at the signpost with the yak on it. Once we figured that out, it was pretty easy to navigate.

Our first day of Band of Brothers tourism was based in and around Nijmegen and Arnhem. The first place we stopped was Tor Schoonderlogt, which was a farm that acted as the 2nd Battalion Headquarters while they were based in the area. It’s where the famous photo of Major Winters was taken, under the archway on the drive, so of course we had to try to recreate it. This house is private property, so we felt a bit cheeky sneaking up their driveway to take photos, but nobody ran out and chased us away, so I think we got away with it!

This is the iconic photo of Winters, with Damian Lewis’ pretty accurate reconstruction on the left, and my not all that convincing attempt on the right.

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Those who have watched the series will remember the scene in the Crossroads episode where Easy Company are positioned along a dike, then they make a run across a field, and come face-to-face with a whole company of Germans at the crossroads. The crossroads was our next stop. There is a memorial to mark the battle, and also in memory of Sergeant Dukeman, who was killed there.

On a beautiful day like this, with people cycling along the dike in the sunshine, it’s difficult to imagine combat taking place here.

There is another memorial to the 101st a little further down the dike.

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Next we headed to the Island Museum. I’d looked it up online and found the location, but we were both very confused when our sat nav took us to a housing estate. After a little bit of driving around, I happened to turn my head and caught sight of a small plaque on the side of a house, which said it was the museum. We had to ring the doorbell and enter through the house’s kitchen to get to the museum, which was a remarkable collection of rare uniforms and equipment in a small outbuilding, all expertly cared for and preserved by Marcel, who lives there. He also has a very cute dog, which is something I wish all museums had.

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I liked Marcel’s garden, complete with bits of tank, artillery and helmets.

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Because of the size of the museum, we expected to be there for less than an hour, but we were actually there for over 90 minutes, as Marcel possesses an astonishing amount of knowledge about the military action in the area. He knew specific details about items and uniforms in the museum, and even knew which particular soldiers had owned a lot of the exhibits. My favourite item was this section of wooden boat. It had been made into an apple and pear selection table by a farmer, but was actually one of the boats used by Easy Company in Operation Pegasus, when they rescued British Airbourne troops who had been stranded after the fighting in Arnhem.

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After we left Marcel, we went to the Airborne Museum Hartenstein in Oosterbeek, which tells the story of the fighting in and around Arnhem. I found it particularly interesting to read about the effect the fighting had on the civilians, most of whom were forced to pack up what belongings they could and leave. I think the effect of war on regular people is something that gets overlooked a lot in military history.

They have some memorials in the grounds, plus some artillery and tanks.

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Our last destination for the day was the John Frost bridge at Arnhem – the famous ‘bridge too far’ from Operation Market Garden.

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Again, I think it’s tough to imagine combat taking place here, so this is a photo of the bridge from September 1944. I believe the bridge that stands today is a new one which was rebuilt after the fighting.

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The next morning, we made our final stops in the Netherlands, one of which was at the 101st Airborne Memorial in Eindhoven, placed in the spot where the men of the 101st entered the city to liberate Eindhoven. Private Robert Van Klinken is one of the names on the memorial.

Unfortunately, the liberation was not the end of the suffering for the people of Eindhoven and the surrounding areas, as they were bombed heavily the following day and suffered a large number of casualties. The men of the Allied forces were not the only people who paid a high price to liberate the Netherlands, the people endured huge hardship and suffering too.

The very last place we visited was the Wings of Liberation Museum, outside the city. It was only a small place, but had some interesting exhibits, and was where I bought my only souvenir of the trip – a 101st decorative plate. I’ve yet to decide whether to display it or use it for serving custard creams.

Our time in the Netherlands had been really fascinating, but it was time to move on to Belgium.


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I’ve been back from my holiday for two weeks, so I’m very tardy at writing a blog about it. I went to Florida for the fourth time with my bestest mate Jo. We booked it in August, so I have been looking forward to it, and saving up for it, for what seems like a very long time.

Our itinerary was very hectic for this trip, I don’t think we’ve ever attempted to pack in as much in one holiday before. Despite a few days of rain which cocked plans up somewhat, we managed to visit Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, Universal Islands of Adventure and Seaworld theme parks; plus Aquatica, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach water parks. On top of that we had about three shopping trips and drove to the middle of nowhere to swim with manatees.

The swimming with manatees was an incredible experience. Being the pessimist that I am, I was convinced that we wouldn’t actually get to see any. They’re wild manatees swimming in freshwater springs, you’re not guaranteed to find any who are willing to tolerate a load of tourists swimming by them. The first time our captain spotted a manatee, we got all togged up in our wetsuits and snorkels, got off the boat and swam around in the murky water to no avail, the manatee had gone. So by the time we got off the boat in the second location I’d given up hope. I was actually beginning to get very frustrated as other people could clearly see a manatee (Jo included), and I couldn’t see a thing. That’s when I felt something pretty substantial bump me from underneath. I was right above it! These things are monstrous, up to three metres long, but they are so serene and gentle. I feel really honoured to have patted one and swam beside one. There was another one later who came up for air right in front of me, and looked me square in the face as it went back down. It was a pretty spine-tingling moment. This is one of the cuties we swam with!Image

Here you can see Jo (with the red swimming noodle) trying to get a shot of one with our underwater camera.

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New experiences this time included the Cheetah Hunt rollercoaster at Busch Gardens, which has three high speed launches. It was OK, but the ride in between the launches was pretty slow. The Aquatica water park was also new, but it was nowhere as good as the Disney water parks. They make a massive fuss over the fact they have a flume that goes through the dolphin pool. I went on it, and I couldn’t see a thing.

Another new ride was Universal’s Hollywood Rip Rocket rollercoaster, which has a vertical lift. It. Is. Terrifying. The ride’s gimmick is that you choose a song to be played to you as you ride. I picked the Beastie Boys both times I rode. The second time I went on, I got put right on the front, which was awesome, but really scary. The first bit is the most terrifying. This video doesn’t even do it justice!

I’m not going to waffle on for hours and hours about my holiday in tedious detail. But here are some things I saw that are worth remarking on:

* a roadside stall selling “peachs” and gator jerky. Frankly, I’m not going to buy a meat product from someone with such a bad command of plurals.

* a man wearing a Florida (the “Sunshine State”) T-shirt that said, “Welcome to the Gunshine State”, and some charming slogan about shooting first and asking questions later. Mind-boggling.

* Denny’s diner’s new range of bacon desserts, including ice cream sundaes and milkshakes, all complete with bacon. *retches*

My favourite park by far is Universal islands of Adventure, especially the Marvel Super Hero Island. This year I was a sad loser and had my photo taken with all the characters. My favourites were Captain America and Wolverine.

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Next time we go (hopefully 2015) the new Transformers ride will be open, and the Harry Potter expansion will be complete. I can’t wait!


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I’m 33, but I unashamedly still refuse to grow up. I adore theme parks and rides, I love movies, and I love being able to act like I’m still a kid. So this is why I love Orlando, Florida, so much. I am going back to Orlando in 16 days, and I am so unspeakably excited that I cannot think about anything else.

My Florida holiday (or ‘Floriday’ for short) which I am going on with my bestest mate, has utterly consumed both of our brains. It’s all we can talk about. It’s all I’m thinking about. I’m even dreaming about it. Almost every shopping trip I’ve had in the past month has been to get something that I’m going to take with me, from new underwear (themed for the parks – to go to Hollywood Studios I have Muppets pants and for Universal I have Spider-Man ones) to very expensive new sunglasses. I have bought so many Floriday clothes that I don’t think I will be able to take them all.

I really don’t know why I’m this excited, since it’s our fourth visit. Yes, there are a few new things we haven’t done yet, and there are a few things we haven’t done since 2006 which we’re going to revist – but the rest of it is largely the same. I’ve never understood those people who go on holiday to the same resort every year, and keep going back to all the same places they’ve visted before, but perhaps I am turning into one of them. But, then, there is nowhere else on earth that’s quite like Orlando. Where else could we plan, on our lovingly illustrated and very packed itinerary, to go to eight theme parks and three water parks during our two week holiday? Where else could we go to play crazy golf and feed baby alligators, then swim with manatees?

A Floriday is exhausting. Our itinerary is so packed that we only have two free days where we’re not doing anything. On two days we’re doubling up on theme parks, and on a theme park day you can expect to walk about a half-marathon. But it’s FUN, and that is just so refreshing for a big kid like me.

The first time I visited The Magic Kingdom I expected to find it cheesy and childish. It’s mostly for little kids and there aren’t many of the big thrill rides that I enjoy at the other theme parks. But when I walked into the park and saw that castle, I was completely won over. I felt like I was 6 years old again. When they talk about ‘Disney magic’ it sounds dreadfully corny and hackneyed, but there really is a bit of magic in that park.

I never went to Florida as a kid, I was 26 the first time I went. But it was great, I got to do whatever I wanted. I could ride the same rollercoaster three times in a row without a grown-up telling me to steady down. I could demand to be driven to Baskin Robbins for breakfast. I could eat jelly beans and candyfloss for my tea while I watched the parade and cried at the fireworks. I could forget about all my responsibilities, like work and mortgages and all that adult crap, and pretend I was a kid again. Only as an adult, I think I appreciate it so much more. I absolutely cannot wait to experience that feeling again.

Bring. It. On.


Me hanging with a Roman

I went to Rome for a long weekend with my mum, or Mummy Pin, as I like to call her. We arrived at lunchtime on the Thursday and enjoyed an exhilarating ride through Roman traffic, with our minbus driver, who was so skilled at driving that he didn’t appear to need to put his hands on the wheel. We would soon learn the knack of getting around as a pedestrian in Rome, but from our lofty seat in the front of our minibus, venturing out without a lot of metal wrapped around us looked like a terrifying prospect.

Our hotel was a gorgeous old building which used to be a library, halfway between the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. Having been up since about 3am, both of us decided the most we could manage that afternoon was being driven around on one of those open top bus tours. After that we did manage to stumble along to the Trevi Fountain and throw in a coin over our shoulders, which means we will someday return to Rome. I also had the energy to buy my first ice cream.

Psst! We are not really throwing in a coin in this photo. We’d already done that. Here we are skillfully pretending.

Tiramisu flavour. Oh heck, yes.

The next day, I woke up to find my hotel bed had attempted in the night to swallow me. Every morning I woke up with my bum stuck between the two mattresses on my bed. I swear if we’d stayed any longer I would have eventually disappeared inside the bed, never to be seen again. It was like some sort of low-budget Doctor Who monster. After we’d eaten our tiny bowls of cereal and tiny pastries and drank orange juice from thimbles in the hotel (seriously though, why do they give you such tiny cups and bowls in hotels? All that happens is you have to fill them more than once. Just give me a regular-sized bowl and a normally proportioned pastry. I am an adult, I am adept at handling a fully grown pain-au-chocolat.), we headed out to the Vatican. We had a guided tour of the Vatican museums, mostly because we couldn’t be bothered to stand in a queue for two hours to get in. But our guide, Mattei, was well worth the money. Unlike all the other tour guides, who wave an umbrella so you can see them, Mattei holds aloft a bottle of Coke. He was extremely easy to spot in a crowd.

Inside the Vatican, following Mattei and his Holy Coke.

The Vatican Museums are incredible, the treasures they have in there are just awesome. By far my favourite was Nero’s marble bath, with space for him and his 11 concubines.

That would surely take a whole bottle of Matey to fill it with bubbles.

The last port of call in the museum was the Sistine Chapel. I’m probably going to sound dreadfully uncultured, but it didn’t really meet my expectations. When I was in Egypt, I went to see Tutankahmun’s death mask and I was utterly spellbound. It was breathtaking, and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. From the way people speak about the Sistine Chapel, I had expected the same sort of reaction, but I didn’t experience anything close. Yes, I can see the skill of the paintings, but it just didn’t have that wow factor. Maybe it’s because I don’t believe in god, maybe it’s because I know nothing about art, I don’t know, but I was a little underwhelmed. After the museum we headed into St Peter’s. It’s a beautiful church, but my photos were very dark, so I won’t bother to upload any. We spotted some of the Swiss Guard outside, though, which I was very excited about. One of them had a spear.

Those pyjamas slightly undermine that big spear.

There was a sign pointing to a museum of religious articles in St Peter’s Square. I asked Mummy Pin if she wanted to go in and she said no, pointed at some nuns and said “I can see some religious articles from here.” I’m amazed we didn’t get thrown out. On our way home, a very large lady from Gabon had a hat malfunction. It was blown off her head and right smack bang into my face, and she didn’t even notice it wasn’t on her head any more. I know she was from Gabon because it said so all over her T-shirt. Her hat had a little plastic Gabon flag on it, and it went up my nose.

We walked all the way home from the Vatican to our hotel, which was a long way. I was in need of a dip in Nero’s bathtub by that point. On the way, we found a newsagent kiosk selling a 2013 calendar featuring handsome (well, some, not all of them) Roman Catholic priests. I can’t begin to describe the laughter that this elicited from me and Mummy Pin. It was just so Father Ted, we even invented a whole storyline where Ted desperately wants to be in the calendar, only to be thwarted by Bishop Brennan, the punchline being that Dougal inadvertantly ends up as one of the stars.

On Saturday our first stop was at a Capuchin crypt beneath a church. If you ever go to Rome, this is one of my top must-sees. It’s an absolutely incredible place – a crypt made from the bones of 4000 monks. We weren’t allowed to take photos, so I bought some postcards and scanned them in.

Mummy Pin wasn’t even that keen on going, but she ended up being fascinated by it. She was busy spotting all the different bones. (“Ooh look, a coccyx!”)

The crypt is supposed to be a reminder that our physical form is transient. On the wall is an inscription that says something along the lines of “What you are, we once were. What we are, you will one day be.”

We visited the Spanish Steps. I don’t really get why they’re a tourist attraction, they’re just steps. Sorry, I might be missing the point and being uncultured again. Then we walked down Via Condotti and laughed at the prices of the designer clothes in all the shops. £1000 for some knitted legings? You can keep your knitted leggings, Mr Armani.

We stopped off at a famous ice cream parlour, Giolitti’s for an ice cream. I went for coffee and caramel.

They didn’t have a bigger wafer.

The heavens opened at this point, so we had lunch and then ducked into a museum for an hour. It was still raining on a biblical scale when we came out, so we went to the Pantheon and then went home. The Pantheon is very cool. The building is just beautiful, and the ceiling is wonderful. This had more of a wow factor than the Sistine Chapel for me.

The Pantheon’s ‘occulus’

The Pantheon

Sunday was my favourite day in Rome. The weather was beautiful, and we did The Palatine, The Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I just loved looking around all the ruins. It boggles my mind that there are still statues standing and columns remaining from 2000 or 3000 years ago. I love to think of all the people who have walked down the same paths and around the same buildings, I got quite excited imagining Julius Caesar and Brutus wafting around in their robes, especially if Brutus was as pretty as he was in the HBO series, Rome. I almost fell over in the Forum, the paths are very uneven. I made a very loud noise, but remained upright. I can’t imagine the paths would be easy to navigate in sandals and a robe. I took about a gazillion photos, but I’ll save your browsers and just upload a few of my favourites.

The stadium in the Palatine

The fountains in the Palatine

The House of the Vestal Virgins

The Roman Forum

Trampling all over ancient Rome

After I’d eaten my own body weight in prosciutto, we went to the Colosseum, which was pretty awesome. Poor Mummy Pin had to take about a million photos of me standing next to this, sitting on that, pretending to be an emperor, giving someone the thumbs down…

The Colosseum is just amazing. I was trying to imagine it full of Romans, all laughing and shouting and cheering on their favourite gladiators. Mummy Pin said it would be a bit like going to the match on a Saturday. I suppose it would be, and football is almost as barbaric as gladiatorial conflict, so I guess that’s a pretty accurate comparison. One of my favourite things was this grafitti of one ancient Roman’s favourite gladiator.

You can see the area which would have been underneath the floor, where all the animals were kept.

I’m glad there is no photo on me getting up on to that column, because it was very undignified.

We managed to get lost in the Colosseum. It’s round, so it’s extremely easy to get lost in there. At one point I thought we were going to end up spending the rest of our holiday doing laps, looking for an exit. Mummy Pin helpfully pointed out that there was a sign pointing to the right that said there was an exit. “Of course the exit is to the right!” I said. “The exit will be right at some point, and it will also be left at some point, the building is ROUND.” Anyway, after we walked around a while longer and posed for more photos, I made up a song about being trapped in the Colosseum, and then we eventually located the exit. It was to the right. But also to the left.

Having finally got out of the Colosseum, we trudged off home to pack our suitcases. We did a lot of trudging in Rome. I have honestly never walked so much on any holiday. Every night when we got back to the hotel, I was aching. I felt broken after the Vatican Museums! I’m so glad my hotel room had a bath because without a very hot, deep bath every night, I think my legs would actually have failed by Sunday. We had time for one last ice cream before we headed back to the hotel to pack.

Mmmm, cherry.

I adored Rome. I loved the monuments, the food, the hustle and bustle. I even came to love the scary traffic. A tip: to cross at a road crossing in Rome, you just have to walk. Grab a fellow pedestrian if possible, and preferably put them between the traffic and you, then just walk into the road, otherwise you will still be there three hours later. It’s actually quite exciting after a while.

I hope the legend of the Trevi Fountain is true and, by throwing a coin in, I’ve somehow guaranteed that I’ll go back, because there’s still so much to see. And after all, all that ice cream isn’t going to eat itself…