“When in Rome…

…see the sights, and then write a blog about it.”

By Al

Rome is a fantastic short-break idea for Europeans, and perhaps my favourite city in Europe (thus far). This article explores some of the reasons why I hold Rome in high regard, but also some of the less good things. Every silver lining has a cloud. Perhaps.

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The Roman Stuff

Rome has lots to offer, and if you’re a history aficionado, then you must visit Rome. The Colosseum, for a reasonable fee of €10 (make sure you buy in advance to avoid LONG queues), is breath-taking. Literally breath-taking, there’s quite a few steps.

You can buy entry to the Colosseum, and then explore the stadium at your own leisure. Walking out into the stands, looking down into the arena, you begin to truly appreciate the spectacles which took place here almost 2000 years ago.  The steep banks of the stands filled to the rim with up to 80,000 blood thirsty Romans, watching as men fought animals and each other. Modern day entertainment is positively tame in comparison. Unlike many pieces of historic architecture, you can get very close and personal with the structure of the Coliseum. Touching the walls, I felt a charge of excitement knowing that people for almost 2000 years have touched this structure. I wondered about these people, who they were, and how they lived. You can truly live and breath history within the  Coliseum.

Also check out the Roman Forum, and The Pantheon.

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The Religious Stuff: The Vatican City

I’m not religious. I’m not arty. I’m not particularly cultural. So, visiting the Vatican for a second time didn’t particularly fill me with much joy – particularly when I had to part with €30. Not budget friendly, but necessary to appease my girlfriend. Small price to pay for an easy life!

I’ll be careful here to avoid upsetting those readers who may be religious. So, I’ll review it from my girlfriend’s perspective. As a non-practising Catholic, she loved it. She loved the art, the history, the sculptures, the tour guide, the buildings. Everything. Like a love-struck puppy, she stood there doughy-eyed, lapping up the knowledge being shared by the rude – but in an endearing kind of way – tour guide.

I have no doubt that the Vatican is an amazing place, but I have visited once before. The art is very beautiful, so much so, and so plentiful, that you begin to take it for granted by the end of the tour. “Oh yes, another marble sculpture of a well built, but not particularly well-endowed man, interesting hmm hmmm”.

We ended the tour in the Sistene Chapel – the room tightly packed with people looking at the ceiling. Again, the art is pretty good. The atmosphere wasn’t very serene though. Police officers in the corners ‘shush’ the crowd every couple of minutes, others patrol the floor looking for people attempting to take photographs, before being swiftly expelled. I presume they’re taken to the Pope’s office, before being given a verbal reprimand. Perhaps detention after school too.

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Other Stuff

Fontana di Trevi – the famous fountain is ruined by all the people, selfie-sticks and dictatorial Fountain Police*. Fancy a seat on the fountain wall? Want to stick your hand in the inviting blue water? You’ll have to be quick, because the fountain police are watching YOU. The Fountain Police don’t allow you to do these things, and to show their disapproval, they will BLOW THEIR WHISTLE at you. Fancy a risky game? Do some stretches, throw your loose change in to lighten your load, and take a seat on the wall. The Fountain Police will come for you from both directions – how long can you last? Before they get to you, flee into the crowds. Forever gone, like a true Machiavellian.

*They aren’t really called Fountain Police, I think. Just Police.

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Palace of Justice – the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation – the highest court in the land – this is an impressive building. The building screams money and power, rather than ‘the rule of law’.

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Summary

Rome (including the Vatican) is the 3rd most visited city in Europe. It is clear why. The city is teeming with things to see and do. Avoid July-August if you don’t like crowds, but you won’t go wrong if you take the plunge and come on a short break here.

BB Rating

4.5/5

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam: The Sleazy City

I believe Amsterdam has the potential of being appealing to anybody: to the historians, the artists and the culturists. However, on my third visit to the city, I feel these qualities are all overshadowed by the city’s sleazy underbelly.

I do honestly believe that people should have freedom of choice to explore new ‘horizons’ and sample new ‘experiences’. However, after a couple of days in Amsterdam I longed for a cleaner, purer, environment. I’m pretty sure the city’s atmosphere is along the lines of: 50% nitrogen, 25% cannabis, 15% oxygen, 8% guilt, and 2% other gases.

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The city can be quite eye opening for the first-time visitor. Take a stroll down the old-town canals, and your nostrils will flare with the earthy sweet smell you’ll quickly become accustomed to. FACT: Cannabis is in fact illegal in The Netherlands. Whilst law enforcement is pretty relaxed when it comes to personal use, there are strict restrictions on the amount coffee shops can have in stock at any one time.

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The Red Light District is arguably Amsterdam’s biggest tourist attraction. At night, the narrow alleyways flanking the city’s canals emit a sultry red glow. In a world in which women now command the same social standing and respect as their male counterparts, you might feel shock, disappointment and disgust that sex is still used for subsistence.  Whilst it may not be fully apparent how many of these women act with total autonomy, for those who do, The Netherlands’ approach is refreshingly liberal. High income, combined with excellent healthcare, union support and tight security are  appealing factors in any line of work.

Walking down the narrow alleyways with scantily clad women pressing their bosoms against their ‘office’ windows evokes a bashful curiosity. Whilst groups of ‘lads’ prowl the streets, egging their mates to take the plunge, you will also find families and kids wandering around. You might be mistaken in thinking that you were at a zoo. I saw a child with an ice-cream in one hand asking her mother why the lady behind the glass in front of her looked so sad. Personally, I am not convinced this is an appropriate environment for children.

The RLD is the place to go for a night out in Amsterdam. Hit the canals, and you’ll find an abundance of bars, clubs, strip clubs, and sex-shows on offer, all willing to take your hard-earned cash.  Sadly however, I felt rather unsafe. Packs of young men charged about like hyenas on heat. No-nonsense bouncers filled doorways, making nowhere look particularly inviting. Miserable prostitutes stared at you as you pass, with glassy dead-eyes and pained smiles. I didn’t want to stay long.

Things to See and Do

1. Canal cruise – a must-do in my opinion when visiting Amsterdam. For a reasonable fee you can enjoy an interesting insight into the city’s history whilst your boat navigates the narrow canals. The city is very charming from its waters, away from the hustle and bustle of the crowds. Warning: in high summer it is like sitting in a greenhouse, as the boats are approximately 95% glass!

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2. Heineken Museum – this was a really enjoyable experience. You get to see how the beer is made, with a self-guided tour and numerous interactive sections. A personal favourite was the machine which tries to teach you how to pour the perfect pint. Safe to say that I will not make a good barman. Finish the tour in spectacular fashion with a pint on the roof top terrace with panoramic views of the city.

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3. Sex Museum – right in the centre of the city, 500 meters from Central station, you’ll find the Sex Museum. Offering a crude insight into sexual activities past and present, from the relatively tame to the damn right gruesome. Thankfully scatology and necrophilia are not referenced. However, if you want to see pornography from the 1800s, bizarre sex toys and photographs of the largest penis in the world, then pop along for €5.

4. Walking Tour – we took part in a 3h walking tour which took you to all of the city’s hotspots. The tour was free, but donations are expected. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about the city’s history and see some of the city’s lesser known attractions. A personal highlight was sampling goat’s cheese on a bridge adjacent to the city’s narrowest house. My girlfriend unfortunately did not agree with me, as she appeared to suffer an allergic reaction to the cheese resulting in red blotches appearing on her arms. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?

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5. The iconic ‘IAMSTERDAM’ sign – if you like taking photographs of big letters, then grab a photo here.

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Summary

I’m not a huge fan of Amsterdam. Once you’ve gotten over the novelty of the Red Light District, the cannabis, and the brazen attitude to sex, the city seems dirty and rather sleazy. The city’s residents quite clearly despise its tourists, and who blames them? A large number are drunk, high, loud-mouthed youths on heat, away from controlling mummy and daddy for the first time in their lives. Whilst undoubtedly the tourism is excellent for the city’s economy, I can’t help but feel that outlawing prostitution, and stamping down on the use of drugs would do wonders for the city’s dignity, respect and international image.

Budget Budgie Rating: 2.5/5