Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tragedy and Triumph in Rome

My trip abroad took me and a few friends to Rome, Italy where we hoped to exchange some cultural ideas, share a common European heritage and view some of the antiquities which abound the Eternal City, oh, and watch a game of rugby.

No great plans were made as my friends and I are free spirited individuals and would feel hampered by a rigid schedule. As it happened a firm plan would have been difficult to maintain as life follows a different path in the Italian Republic.

Day one saw us traverse Europe from Edinburgh, Scotland via Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Fiumicino Airport just outside Rome, Italy courtesy of KLM airline. KLM did a good job as our baggage arrived in partnership with us which is a first for our Roman trips.

Our hotel was at the southern end of the city and only a five minute walk from the Marconi metro station. A 7 day metro ticket cost only 16 Euro and we were soon hopping on and off metros, trams and buses as we travelled around the city.

Day two took us around some of the historical parts which I won't go into great detail about but they included the Pyramid of Cestius, the Baths at Caracalla, the Circus Maximus, the Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

The Pyramid of Cestius and the local traffic.

After the Goths sacked the city in 6th Century and turned off the water the baths reverted to the above form.


A mosaic being restored.

Some intrepid travellers in need of restoration.

The restoration procedure.

Over the few days we were there we found that most meals were about 20-30 Euro's. The establishment above was an exception, being across the road from the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum to most) it was somewhat expensive.

Day three saw us set off in search of some military museums, namely the Infantry Museum and the Grenadiers of Sardinia Museum which we believed were adjacent to each other. Our earlier travels had encouraged us to avoid the metro during the morning rush hour so we were a little bit late crossing the city to the street where we expected to find the museums.

We had also discovered earlier that the rush hour(s) are when pick pockets make their plays as one of my friends lost his wallet, cash and credit cards. Fortunately we had sufficient funds between us to continue.

Our search for the museums continued, as it happened that we came across the Museum of the Liberation of Rome so we explored it for a short while.

The museum itself was a little bit dismal which was not a surprise as the building was a museum to itself and the activities it enclosed during then Second World War. None of the exhibits were labelled in English but were generally easy to surmise. A museum guide gave us a brief talk in broken english which helped a little.

The film 'Massacre in Rome' starring Richard Burton recounts the period but isn't 100% accurate by all accounts.

A street battle scene from nearby give us a little challenge in identifying the tank in the foreground. Tiger 1 is our best answer although the picture is very dark. There are a couple of Shermans farther down the street.

The intrepid travellers journeyed on, baking a little (quite a lot actually) in the midday sun in search of the two museums.

We found the Grenadiers of Sardinia first, it was shut and only opened in the mornings. The Infantry Museum was also shut and operated to the same timetable.

Undaunted by the preceding events we had a pleasant diversion across the road.

Our next journey took us across the Tiber to the foot of the Vatican Hill.

There we found this magnicent fortification which defies description. It is topped by a gigantic statue of Saint Michael. If you are planning a visit then please be aware it shuts on a Monday. It does have a bar/cafeteria though.'Angelo

The steps are a tough climb but the views from any of the levels, the top in particular are amazing.  We met an elderly married couple from Northumberland who recognised our accents. They had come to see us at the rugby. Well done Northumberland.

Here's me with my friends Dave and Dave, both are wargamers. Many of my friends are called Dave. Many of my friends are wargamers. Was it Harry Pearson who said that half of all wargamers are called Dave? I cannot argue.

Here's another friend of mine called Malcolm, (an old (younger than me though) colleague who I haven't seen since the day I retired). I have several friends called Malcolm. Many of them are wargamers. Maybe half of all wargamers are called Dave and half the rest are called Malcolm.

My name is Jim, I am a wargamer, many of my wargaming friends are called Jim. I think there are flaws in Harry Pearsons theory. For a more detailed look at Harry Pearsons theories you should read:

Day four was D-Day for us.

The Scots line up in support.

We won ----- (the wooden spoon) ----- for once we could not blame the referee or the opponents nefarious tactics. Now the only way is 'up'.

Did I keep the hat? No I gave it to a granny from Minnesota in the pub afterwards. They don't get hats like that in Minnesota.

Wearing the kilt is a camera magnet. We were stopped several times asking if we could have our photographs taken with other tourists from here, there and everywhere.

Day five took us on a train journey well south of Rome to a little place called Cassino.

Here's the view from platform one of the monastery above the town.

I was expecting Cassino to be a sleepy little village or perhaps a few hamlets clumped together. It is actually a large thriving town that seems to appreciate a day of peacefulness on a Sunday. Our intended destination was the aformentioned monastery on top of the nearby hill. Walking to it was obviously not a realistic prospect. The above map shows the extent of the built up area.

There was a bus service to the monastery, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The morning had long since gone but we could have caught the afternoon run if we gave up the visit to the local military museum and the local Commonwealth War Cemetary.

There was a Taxi stance. Here it is in the picture above. No, I can't see the taxi either!!

We visited the museum at the link above but we were not allowed to take photographs. I did photograph their sign as a gesture of defiance.

We were guided round a multimedia display by an Italian guide whose English was blurred by her Italian accent. I am not a good hearer at the best of times and I picked up very little from her words. The display itself was not particularly focussed on the fighting around Cassino although it was covered. One main theme was the extent of the destruction of Italian property, the monastery was a prime example, and the attendant loss of life amongst military personnel and civilians alike. I wouldn't want to discuss this in any depth as this is what war is like and war never changes.

The staff at the museum tried to find us a taxi but failed again. Future travellers please note that a successful trip around the Cassino historic sites would best require a local hotel and a hired car.

My feelings took a pleasanter turn as we visited the local Commonwealth Cemetary.

I know that war cemetaries are the last resting place of those who died in conflict but I was cheered by the peacefulness of the area, the tidyness of the gardens and the obviousness of the compassion displayed in the graves layout. The overwhelming beauty of the surrounding hills gathered the whole scene into one of sacrifice and serenity.

As we were preparing for the walk back into town we became increasingly aware of aircraft tracking to and fro the hills beyond the monastery and distant hills far to the south. Closer inspection revealed these aircraft to be water bombers, Bombardier (Canadair) 415. There were two of them repeatedly flying overhead.

There was certainly a strong hint of smoke in the hills to the North. A wildfire we thinks!

Funnily enough, we saw one of the very same aircraft (number 26) on TV back in the hotel in a program about the Italian Airshow in 2007.

Our final full day saw us tramp around the inner parts of Roma again starting at the Vatican.

It dared to rain on us for a short while. It certainly wasn't an off course water bomber. Dave being Dave put a coat on but I resisted the urge (I had left it back in the hotel!). Scotsmen don't dissolve easily.

I spotted a horse and carriage and took the opportunity to record the coat colour and markings. This simple brown merging to black cuddy scheme is already in my painting repertoire.

Our final peek at an antiquity dragged us to Trajans Column. It is an absolute wealth of detail and we could have spent hours peering at it via my binoculars. The antiquity is the column behind me before anyone pops in a joke comment!!'s_Column

There are many references to the details of the column online. This is one of many:

We explored a little sidestreet restaurant and made a pleasant discovery of the above beverage. I can strongly recommend it. It was excellent.

We made our way home the following day retracing our steps via Schipol. Long, boring and uneventful.

Once home I traded emails with my old colleague Malcolm. His group of friends had also suffered at the hands of the pick pockets and they had spoken to other travellers who had done so also. I might wear my kilt the whole time next time as I believe money kept in a sporran to be quite secure.

So, all in all it was a trip of Tragedies and Triumphs.


  1. Jim,

    A great travelogue blog entry!

    You found things to see in Rome that missed on my last two visits.

    A very enjoyable read. Many thanks for sharing it with us.

    All the best,


  2. Thanks Bob

    I'm a great believer in things being what they are. 'Live with it' as they say these days. A little planning does help though.

    When you are with your friends you tend to enjoy yourself anyway!

    What things did we find that you had missed?


    1. Jim,

      I did not find any military museums. I suspect that there were not near the places my wife wanted to visit!

      All the best,


    2. The two museums I mentioned are next door to the Museum of Historical Musical Instruments. Is that any help Bob?


  3. Looks like you had a geat time, despite the rugby. Rome hasn't been a happy hunting ground for the Scots Rugby team over the last few years so I wasn't optimistic before Saturday's game. Alas, my pessimism was well founded.

  4. Hi Kingsley

    The Italians are rising as fast as the Scots are falling.

    Trends often reverse themselves.


  5. jim wearing a kilt might not stop the pick pockets but if they did try at least you might enjoy it

    1. Thank you Anonymous, whoever you are!

  6. Excellent write-up of an epic adventure, Jim. My boys and I went to Pisa, Livorno, Rome and Venice in February and wore shirts with breast pockets with snaps under our winter coats. One pocket for the passport and one for the wallet. It worked.
    A crewman from the Carnival Destiny was pick-pocketed to the tune of 160 Euros whilst visiting the leaning tower of Pisa with a very large group of his shipmates.
    Venice seemed fairly quiet and law-abiding, with no issues reported.

    Cheers, Tumbleweed - Richmond, Virginia

    1. Tumbleweed and Boys: I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves in the Eternal City and that your precautions worked a treat!

      It's a pity you had to wear winter coats though, Rome is so much nicer in the Spring and the Autumn. It can get too hot in the Summer though!