Friday, 3 June 2016

Roman Holiday!

Well, what else could I call it?! Not only am I a lifelong admirer of Audrey Hepburn but recently I saw the fine film, Trumbo, about Hollywood scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted by the McCarthy anti-American hearings but went on to write Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck under an assumed name. He won an Oscar which he couldn't collect but which his widow accepted on his behalf in 1993, some 40 years or so after it had originally been awarded. So obviously I packed my Audrey Hepburn print skirt and included a visit to the Trevi Fountain on our latest trip to The Eternal City - some things just have to be done.

So after that long off-piste ramble, yes! we have just been to Rome for a post-wedding short break. Not our wedding, of course, though that would surprise the children. No, number 1's amazing and extraordinary wedding which has taken a full week to clear up and even when we left on Thursday morning, parts of the marquee were still awaiting collection and there are still a few items which need returning to kind friends and neighbours. 

After number 2's fabulous wedding in November I had ignored advice that I would need a holiday and had ploughed on wearily to Christmas with an extra dog on board and a houseful of family. Not wanting to be caught out twice, I booked our four day trip to Rome well in advance and timed it to fit in with the Rome Masters 1000 event so a bit of top class tennis-watching as well as all the other delights which Rome has to offer. Then my dear friend and tennis buddy who will shortly be heading off to live in Cyprus with her husband decided that that they would join us. Great timing because I will really miss my buddy so we could have some quality fun in Rome with them too.

An early flight from Leeds meant a very antisocial wake-up call but by 12.45 we're on the Court Centrale watching Roger looking rather lacklustre against Dominic Thiem. The ladies match that followed was the perfect time for some very nice antipasti and pink fizz in a smart bar for, Wimbledon organisers please note, not stupid money. Then back to court side for the crackerjack that is Nick Kyrgios against Rafa. Great tennis, plenty of drama - could Nick keep his head? Would Rafa's body hold out? Then on what is effectively an outside court ie with no pre booked seats, just a ground pass required, where Andy Murray demolished Jeremy Chardy in an inch-perfect couple of sets of tennis.

Dinner on night 1 was booked by the lovely Nige and we had some traditional fare in a restaurant which was largely populated by locals.  Great food with a waiter who did a passing impression of Lurch (not intentionally of course!). We had had just thirty minutes between returning from the tennis and heading out to dinner to check into our hotel. Situated by the Termini in the centre of Rome the Palazzo Montemartini is a classic Roman mansion which houses a modern, funky hotel. It has only been open a couple of years and is immaculate. The staff were attentive and charming and everything from the rainwater shower in our bathroom to the beautifully presented breakfast buffet was spot on. Well done, Fern Hodges from Spear Travels who booked it for us and is rightly shortlisted for Young Travel Agent of the Year - good luck, Fern! 

On Friday, having been to Rome a few times before, we chose a relaxing trundle round the cobbled streets, happy to admire the Colosseum from the outside, sipping a cappuccino in the dappled sunshine whilst others were shepherded round in crocodiles. I love the Colosseum - it speaks to me. Yes, I did say that to my beloved who thought it hilarious and worthy of repeating on several occasions. It does though. The thought that thousands of slaves entered its magnificent portals in the certain knowledge that they wouldn't come out alive. That even if they defeated their opponent in battle, weren't ripped to shreds or gored by any number of wild animals, they might yet have their fate decided by the thumbs up or down of the partisan crowd. "We who are about to die salute you!" Now I have to watch Gladiator again!

Then we navigated our way though narrow streets teeming with selfie-wielding Japanese tourists and teenagers too busy on their mobile phones to look where they were going (didn't have a sense of humour failure - just mild disappointment in my fellow man) to the Piazza Farnese where we had eaten four years ago with other friends on a 40th birthday trip. Lovely traditional food sitting on the pavement in the midst of a bustling food market. People-watching, with a glass of pink wine and ricotta served with walnuts, rocket and honey - that's definitely something I can store in my memory to relive on a cold, winter's day in Yorkshire. We lingered over wine and coffee and watched the world go by. 

I have developed a yen for including a Cosmopolitan in a rooftop cocktail bar as part of any city break and Rome certainly had a challenge to improve on the one I had in Barcelona at the Majestic. Our own hotel's rooftop bar was closed because the weather was turning a bit iffy but we knew there was one at the nearby Exedra (though at a price). So we headed there to be joined by our tennis chums on what was their last night. The view wasn't as spectacular as it might have been but the Cosmopolitan hit the spot and we were only a little late at the funky Culinaria. Cutting-edge, inventive cooking and really delicious and we were last to leave - again. Special times with good friends.

The weather on Saturday had been forecast as wet so we needed some indoor stuff to do so we headed next door to the Baths of Diocletian which had originally been a vast Roman baths. Sometimes I wonder why it took the museum curators of the world so long to realise that you can make history come to life. There was so much to see  in this wonderful museum that by the time I was nearing the end, I had had a text from my beloved asking me if I was still in Italy?! 

I am fully aware that I am lucky to be married to a man who loves to shop. I am almost always shopped-out before he is. The shops in Rome vary from some well-tailored and chic bargains to some seriously expensive designer shops. Me? I think I've lived in Yorkshire so long that I have developed a Northern sense of what represents value for money. I knew what was lacking from my summer wardrobe and two pairs of trousers and a stripy top later and I'm done - with not too much damage. The men's shops are a bit more of a challenge and in one shop we went in, the salesman looked my beloved's fine figure up and down and told him that nothing would fit him. In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman - "Big mistake. Huge!"

We stopped for what we had intended to be a light lunch at a street bar snugly situated between Christian Laboutin and Yves St Laurent. The mozzarella served with my bresaola turned out to be somewhat larger than a tennis ball. Eventually I had to admit defeat but there were plenty of very smart Italian shoppers to watch in the meantime. Now I realise that I don't live in the fashionable metropolis but surely there can't be as many women in London with the Botox-injected 'trout pout'? Actually once you've seen a few in Rome, you find you're spotting them everywhere! 

Back at the hotel, having tried and failed to get on the night tour of the Colosseum (note to self: next time we go, book this well in advance) my beloved had a cunning plan for dinner on the busy Via Urbana which is lined with bars and restaurants. The first two we tried (having been on a very circuitous route!) dismissed us with waits of at least an hour but the third, Suburro fitted us in with just a few minutes wait (time for another Cosmopolitan) and served us delicious beef and pasta vognole. The staff were charming and it was only when we checked on TripAdvisor the next morning that we discovered that we had chanced upon one of their top rated restaurants in Rome. Lucky us! Then we made our way back to the Colosseum to see it framed against the night sky - such an incredible feat of architecture, truly stunning.

Final day and as it was a Sunday, not everything is open in Rome - apart from the numerous churches of course. Our first choice was the special sensory exhibition of the work of Caravaggio. At the Caravaggio Experience his works were projected on to the walls of the extraordinary space of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni constantly moving accompanied by a sound track with different scents of bergamot and other perfumes. The whole was a totally absorbing experience. Then, with the sun out and, it would seem all the locals outside enjoying the weather, we climbed steadily uphill to the park at the Villa Borghese. The views across the city are second to none over terracotta roofs and towering cypresses all the way to Vatican City and St Peters. A little light lunch (every holiday with my beloved is a gastronomic tour, as you know!) and we walked back through the park and back to our hotel, stopping to marvel at the wealth and beauty of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and then to sit in the quiet gardens of the Baths of Diocletian.

So now we're now sitting on our Jet2 plane heading back to Leeds. We may not be physically rested - our feet have done some serious mileage - but mentally we are refreshed. Perhaps I should learn to mix a Cosmopolitan..? 

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