So anyway, I'll go through what we looked at, as quickly and as (hopefully) humorously as possible:
You can tell this was built in a time before the tourist was invented. The fountain, which is huge, is in a really small square. Because of this, you end up shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists, beggars, pickpockets and tat peddlers, and there's loads of them.
The beggars are odd. In most other places, they invade your personal space and ask you for money. Sometimes they tell you their story. Sometimes they stumble over, pissed up, and swear at you until you give them a couple of quid to go away. Maybe that's just Birmingham beggars. Not so much in Rome, as most of the beggars I saw tend to lie prostate on the floor, as if praying, with a tin can in front of them in which you're supposed to put any spare euros you might have.
We didn't even get to chuck any coins in the fountain either, as is the tradition, because it was so bloody crowded there, but I did get shat on by a pigeon, so it's swings and roundabouts.
It is a bloody impressive thing, though. An awesome piece of sculpture. We didn't see Anita Ekberg dancing in it though, but that's probably a good thing these days as she's nearly eighty, bless her.
This place was originally a temple for all the Roman gods, built by Agrippa, but it burned down and was rebuilt by Hadrian. In the sixth century, it was given to Pope Boniface IV who converted it into a Christian church, and it's also the site of Raphael's coffin. It was the biggest dome ever built before the invention of reinforced concrete, and at the top of the dome is a big circular hole, called the Oculus.
This place is amazing. You walk in, and you notice how much cooler it is in there, you're no longer baking hot. As I mentioned, Raphael is interred there, and you can see his coffin through a glass window. I don't know where the rest of the ninja turtles are buried, though. It is an amazing piece of architecture, especially when you consider it was built in the early second century.
Generally, though, all this religion stuff leaves me cold. I can appreciate the beauty of the buildings, but they won't convert me to God-bothering. What pissed me off about this place was when I heard it used to be covered in marble, but them pesky Catholics took it to build St. Peter's with. By this point on the holiday, I'd heard this a few times at different ancient Roman buildings (the Forum and the Colosseum, amongst others) mainly because I'd have liked to see it in all its original splendour. But then again, how many ancient buildings can you see in their original form, anyway?
Apparently, the best time to see this place is when it's raining, as seeing the rain come in through the oculus is supposed to be amazing, but there was no chance of that at the time we went.
The day we went here was my birthday. We tried at first to get into St. Peter's Basilica, but there was some hold-up and we were stuck in a queue that was going nowhere for the best part of an hour, baking in the ferocious sun, until we thought 'fuck this' and left to get a beer and something to eat, but not far from the Vatican is this castle, and I loved this place. My glamorous other half wasn't so keen, though.
It was originally Hadrian's mausoleum, but it was later fortified and turned into a castle. It's a big, round building, with lots of spiral staircases. The main courtyard has a sculpture of St. Michael by Raphael in it (left) , and a lot of the other courtyards have cannons and other military ephemera in there. Also in there was a mini art gallery, which, whilst we were there, had a collection of the creepiest paintings I've ever seen. You know, kinda like Heironymous Bosch, but shit. Also in there was a museum of old military uniforms and swords and pistols and stuff (luckily, no Mussolini-era fascist togs; that would've given out the wrong message), I love looking at stuff like that, as I'm fascinated by wars. Wouldn't like to be in one, however. As you go up the castle, you get great views of Rome, and the view from the very top of the place is supposed to be amazing, but I didn't get to see it as my girlfriend got an attack of vertigo, so we had to get lower down fairly sharpish. I did get to see the top of the castle when we went to see Angels And Demons with Heather's parents, as the castle featured fairly prominently in the movie. Luckily, there weren't any antimatter bombs there when we were there, or any of the other far-fetched shite from that ridiculous movie. I mean, a bloody parachuting priest jumping out of an antimatter-induced exploding helicopter. What a load of old bollocks. Still more believable than Ewan McGregor's Oirish accent, though.
Basilica di San Pietro
Or St. Peter's, to you and me. Like I've said, I'm not religious at all, but this place is impressive. The Piazza outside, with all the columns and the statues of the saints and the obelisk is an amazing spectacle.
We went inside and it was heaving. A big chunk of the basilica was cordoned off. Marching through it was lots of Germans in lederhosen and other traditional dress blowing trombones and tubas and playing various musical instruments and waving the German tricolour flag about with lots of other banners all with very long words and lots of umlauts. I thought it might be a world record attempt for the biggest oompah-oompah band, because it went on for ages, but then I thought that was a stupid idea, as St. Peter's isn't really the place for that kind of thing. But then, it also seems odd that Germany, probably the most Protestant country in the world, had a delegation marching through the Vatican. Maybe I wonder about these things too much. Anyway, because of this event, a lot of the basilica was off-limits, but a lot of what I did see was beautiful. Like Michaelangelo's Pieta, for example. It's behind glass, so you can't look at it properly, but it is a beautiful sculpture, and apparently, it's the only work of his that he signed, and that was only because people refused to believe that an artist that young could achieve such a masterpiece. I still had a cob on with the Catholic church for nicking all that marble, though.
All around St. Pete's are loads of monuments to different saints and prominent churchmen and martyrs and suchlike. I got into a little bit of trouble when I asked my girlfriend 'where's the monument for all the buggered schoolboys?' she told me this wasn't the time or place for such crude humour. I argued that all those poor boys who martyred their bumholes for the Catholic church should get some kind of recognition, especially since the current Pope has done his best to sweep all reports of abuse under the carpet. But I got that look that means 'shut up' and I stayed quiet until I saw an american lad walking around with a T-shirt on that said 'I AM AN ATHEIST' on it in big letters. I want one of those. I thought I was being a bit cool wearing a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt (seeing as the band is named after the things they stuck Jesus to the cross with) but that shirt was ace. Anyway, after having a good mooch, we decided not to go further into the Vatican, as it would've cost us something like ninety quid to go and have a look around, and as it was near the end of our holiday, we didn't have much money to spend. It's a shame, I would have liked to have seen the Sistine chapel and the crypt and all the other stuff, but it wasn't to be. Maybe next time.
What was weird was all the stalls just outside. There tends to be more stuff for sale with the last Pope, John Paul II, on than there is with the new one. I wanted to get my kids the lollipops they were selling. You should've seen them, they were brilliant. They had lollipops with photos of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI on them. If you ever wanted to know what it was like to lick a dead Pope's face, then this is how you find out. I was talked out of buying my kids the lollies by my girlfriend, who said they were in bad taste, and at seven euros each, they were expensive. After I got back and I told my daughters about it, they told me they would've loved the lollies, as they've inherited my sick sense of humour. Maybe next time.
Bioparco is a zoo. It's inside the Villa Borghese park, which is a lovely park, a little oasis of calm in the chaos that is the city of Rome. It has little paths in it all named after the world's famous authors, and these paths have statues of the titular authors by the side of them. It's so big you can hire pushbikes or segways, or them mad tandem things with roofs on that they had in The Prisoner to get around it in. (At one point, when we'd stopped for a breather, we saw a dwarf hunchback get off one of these tandems to have a look at Victor Hugo's statue. I thought it was strange, anyway.) We went to the Villa Borghese to have a look at the Museo e Galleria Borghese, which is an art gallery housed in a 17th-century villa, but when we got there, we found out that you had to book tickets in advance, and we hadn't, so that was the end of that. Just down the road from the museum was the Bioparco, so we decided to go in. I wish we hadn't. It was extremely busy, with seemingly thousands of children screaming in it, and because it was so hot, all the animals were either hiding or just lying there, asleep. Heather was particularly disappointed by the so-called 'Valley Of The Bears', which should have been renamed 'A Ditch With One Comatose Bear In It'. The best bit, however was the seals. Not because of the animals, as they were mostly just clinging to the bottom of their pools because it was so hot and coming up for a breath or two every five minutes or so. It was because the Italian for seal is 'foca' and that sounds rude in English. It is funny, though, seeing an Italian dad pointing out the seals to his kids and shouting 'fucker'. It livened up a horrible afternoon, anyway.
This place was supposed to be all bohemian and a cool place to hang out. It wasn't. It was a shithole.
Piazza di Spagna
We didn't really see the Spanish steps. They were there, and so were we, but every available step was occupied by a sitting tourist. I couldn't really see what the fuss was about. We did however, buy some tacky gifts from there, for a laugh. I bought my brothers some penis-shaped pasta and we bought Heather's Mom and Dad some tastefully rude kitchen aprons. Oh, and I was coerced into buying a rose for my girlfriend by a street peddler.
That's pretty much it. I could tell you about some of the restaurants we went to and all that shit, but I can't be arsed. I'm fed up of typing about Italy now. I'd love to go there again one day, but I've had enough of writing about it! I'll soon get back to writing about bodily functions, comics, football and all the usual shite soon.