Foux du fafa

France

I think I had the inkling that I would fall in love with France from the first glimpse of the French Riviera through the train window. This was despite the fact that our initial train from Ventimiglia was cancelled, delaying us an hour to meet our apartment owner in Cannes.

Fortunately when we arrived she was very forgiving, and showed us all the ins and outs of what would be one of the top accommodation picks of the trip – and only confirmed two days prior. It was close to the beach and main street, and came with balcony, comfy living space, great bed, two bathrooms, washing machine and fully equipped kitchen – right down to a Nespresso machine. Not to mention the wireless sound system for playing music from our numerous Apple devices. We were set.

I managed to pick up a cold in Rome which seemed to hit its peak once the pace slowed in Cannes. With a little time up our sleeves, we took a couple of days at the apartment to catch up on some admin (multiple loads of washing and research) and get healthy again. Unfortunately those sorts of days take you away from potential exploring. We made ourselves familiar with the nearby supermarket and did some (I have to say) awesome home cooked dinners. Not very French, but burgers made on baguette were damn tasty and took us right back home for the night. Another home cooked highlight came after a visit to the excellent Cannes produce market. From that we made a wicked ratatouille from great fresh veges costing a mere €3. I thought it was pretty up there with the French restaurant version.

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Boats & trains

Italy

The length of the train journey from Rome to Cannes was a little daunting. Luckily, our long haul plans were adjusted when we were contacted by Mack and Anne (parents of Ben) who were in Genoa planning their sailing adventure and kindly invited us to stay with them. It was great to see some familiar faces, celebrate our engagement, see Genoa and the famed International Boat Show, and break up the train journey to Cannes.

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When in Rome

Italy

Rome was one of those great experiences in which you go with your expectations contained and get the pleasant surprise of having them totally exceeded. Being a big city, enjoyment can be colored by so many factors, which always makes the outcome all the more subjective (i.e. our experiences in Prague – perhaps if we gave it another chance we would see it in a different light?) Having heard hints at it being busy, dirty, crazy and the like, we were pretty pleased to find it easy and relatively clean from the get-go. The time of year likely helped – we have both decided that avoiding Europe in July and August is definitely key. Heat and crowds don’t mix, and the heat at the beginning of October was enough.

We used the excellent articles on the revealedrome.com blog to find a place to stay, as well as to guide us away from the tourist traps of average, overpriced food and run of the mill haunts. It was a really excellent source which lead to no-fail meals and finding some of the less frequented spots. Definitely recommend it. It made for a much better experience, and meant we carried on our trend of food enjoyment – including a truffle pizza for Alex and even a good steak which he was stoked with.

Our accommodation was a funny ‘retro’ styled place, which called itself a B&B but was really a semi-hotel with breakfast around the corner at a local cafe. You cannot fault the Italians for there coffee, when even the bad stuff is good, but they could learn a thing or two about breakfast. Writing this in retrospect (yes, we got a bit behind!), if you combined the Italian coffee with the French breakfast, you’d be well set for the day.

The best thing about where we were staying was that to get to all the places we wanted to see, we had to walk around the Colosseum. Having studied Classics at school, in which I had to rote learn facts about such as the Colosseum, I was pretty excited to see such buildings in front of me. I hadn’t expected that such a well-marketed/photographed tourist site would still have quite the jaw-dropping impression that it did when we first cast our eyes on it. It is undoubtedly deserving of the hoards of tourists and it’s well-photographed status. With online tickets and guided tour purchased, we avoided any queuing and really enjoyed our time inside it soaking up the shear size, architectural genius and historical significance of it all.

20121029-084805.jpgA recently constructed platform shows how the floor of the arena would have looked

After having a look at the Arch of Constantine just next door to the Colosseum we walked the 100 meters to the next sight of interest, the Roman Forum. So many square meters of history within one area was pretty baffling – for those who don’t know, it was basically the centre of Roman life, and has the ruins of numerous government buildings. After all the history and ruins in the heat, Almo was falling asleep on our perch overlooking the Forum, so it was time to head off and find somewhere for dinner.

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The only place we were bothered by hoards of tourists was the Vatican Museums – which unfortunately meant the intended peace of the Sistine Chapel was unattainable, and the loud “shhhhhhh” from the guards was met by around 10 seconds of bustled quiet, and the “no photo, no photo” was met by ‘yeah sure, I’ll just subtly hold my camera at my waist and blatantly flout your rules’. Tourists are nothing if not obedient… I think we were possibly both a little disappointed by the experience. It was interesting and the place is pretty bizarre existing as its own little world, but it didn’t really cut the tourist highlight mustard so to speak. The Basilica and St Peter’s square were a bit better, though the whole thing was all a bit baffling, you could say.

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We had a look at the Trevi Fountain on our travels through the streets. It was completely surrounded by tourists, and I think we accidentally spent more time watching people get hit by coins intended to reach the water than we did looking at the fountain itself! The other highlight was the Pantheon, with it’s amazing unsupported dome ceiling and open oculus. Such an architectural feat.

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Being in a city where it’s history is evident at every corner was really something. Be it an arch, column or area of ruins, it was truly remarkable to see it preserved to what ever extent possible (one only wishes the protection had started prior to the days of marble and material pilfering), while the bustle of the city operates around it. There’s so much to see, and we really only glazed the surface. The few days were a great highlight.