“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

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling with a Camera.

A large part of traveling for me is about seeing new things and capturing it on my camera. Yet, as I sit down now and think about it, carrying around a large expensive DSLR seems an unnecessary and silly thing to do. So, rather than write a blog piece for you with tips on travel photography like intended, I’m going to write a stream of consciousness style discussion with myself trying to justify my decision to always have my camera as the first thing in the bag.

For anyone interested, this is the camera in question.

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For anyone that’s backpacked or hiked etc, you’ll know that you become a snail with your bag the all-important, all antagonising, centre of focus be it when you’re trying to cram everything in initially, to worrying about its security when on a train or in your bed at night or when you’re despising every thread of its being as you lug it around upon your sweaty, cramping, crippled-over-never-to-feel-the-same-again back. And therefore, having all these extra things to fit in there is a nightmare.

And, there’s the accompanying stress from the risk of theft or simply losing it. Without naming a price, it’s fair to say that the collective cost of this stuff is more than I’d care to lose and if you are traveling around a lot there’s an increased risk of theft. Take this terrifying opening para from Kathryn Walsh’s article in USATODAY for example:

“One second of inattention is all it takes to lose your camera to an opportunistic thief. Camera theft can happen anywhere, but it’s particularly common in many European cities. The European travel expert Rick Steves recalls the summer when four of his travel companions had their cameras stolen and warns that some Spanish thieves will even smash the windows of your car — while you’re in it — to grab a camera. Protecting your camera isn’t merely about holding onto the device itself, but keeping the photos of your European adventure safe.”

Walsh goes on to give a number of sensible suggestions on preventing such, so check it out if you’re intrigued. Looking back on my InterRailing ventures in my teens, I can safely say that I did none of these things. I didn’t have a protective sleeve for the camera, let alone a nondescript one, nor an anti-theft strap, it was simply in my side shoulder bag alongside half eaten bags of sweets, my wallet and leaking sun cream. No doubt a lot of luck came into me never having any issues with theft on any of my many travels and looking back now this is concerning. Especially when I think of all the times when I’ve had ‘even one second of inattention’. For example, recently over Christmas when I went to California I left my camera on a rock just off the path whilst I set it on a timer for a series of egotistical vanity shots of me sat in a tree. (The photos were rather striking though it must be said)

Then there’s the actual photos themselves. We probably all have a very decent quality camera on our phones and you can pick up a compact one for a decent price which is strong, good quality and slips into your pocket. Take our Instagram page for example (SHAMELESS PLUG: @budgetbudgie). Whilst many of the photos are taken by me with the Pentax, and I personally feel them to be far superior incredible images worthy of likes in the thousands, they rarely receive any more acclaim than those taken on phones or with a compact. So what’s the point of bothering lugging it around if the end result for me gets the same acclaim and same reward as ones taken on another device? Thinking about that now it is rather frustrating. Infuriating even.

So where’s that bring us so far? 1) Extra heavy things to lug around in the limited retail space available when traveling. 2) High risk of theft and/or simply losing it or it getting damaged. 3) The photos don’t get any more favorable attention on Instagram than those taken on phones or compacts. Negative. All negative. But, no doubt you see where this is going? After all, I said at the start that I always take the camera with me and I have no intention of stopping. So, now there must indeed be positives to justify why I do.

Well, the first of these exposes a vulnerability to you here dear readers, so please don’t use it as my undoing. My memory is god awful. Like, truly, truly bad. For example, I was a part of the InterRail travels J brilliantly wrote about in his two blog posts – check them out if you haven’t done so already – and more than that, I was more than a third (more than two thirds) responsible for the planning and organising of the trip, and yet I remembered nearly nothing of what he outlined to happen. The photos are therefore essential for me so that I know in the years that follow that I did actually go to these places and that I had a good time.

Next up, traveling is expensive and buying souvenirs is too. And, most of the time, they’re not actually that good – though can be fun to browse the shops for. Photos meanwhile make fantastic souvenirs and you can do whatever you want with them once home. For example, brag to others you’ve been by posting them on social media, get them printed in a nice photo book or print the odd one and blutack them around your room. Here are a few pics of my travels which hopefully shows their worth as souvenirs:

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(SF Port from a ferry. Swiss mountains with Al and J. Monarch Butterfly cluster in California. Yosemite National Park)

Finally, I just enjoy taking the damn photos! And having fun on your travels is the main goal and main point. So, in a lovely hippy conclusion:

Do what makes you happy my friends. Do what makes you happy x