Posts tagged ‘Rome’

December 29, 2012

My 2012: the year in review

It’s been a while since I wrote a post. My blogging timetable has gone completely out of the window and I barely know what day of the week it is. I blame that period in between Christmas and New Year – perfectly named ‘The Lull’ by a Twitter friend of mine. I don’t enjoy The Lull, I find these days to be an utterly frustrating combination of post-Christmas comedown and impatiently waiting for the new year to begin. Anyway, enough of my whining. I hope that those of you who celebrated Christmas had a lovely time. I’ll probably be starting the new year with a carefully-scheduled post about plans and resolutions and all my usual self-challenging kind of behaviour, but for today, I thought I’d look back at 2012.

It’s been an interesting year, one that I was really looking forward to, and I can’t quite believe it’s over bar the New Year’s Eve rendition of Auld Lang’s Syne. I suspect that most British reviews of the year will talk about the London Olympics, although I think that Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour De France was my own favourite sporting event of the year, and I’m utterly thrilled that Leeds will host the Grand Depart of the Tour in 2014.

My review will be a bit more self-centred than everyone else’s because I’m going to have a look at my own personal highlights of the year.

Luckily, it’s easy for me to look back on these, because this blog is a good record of what I’ve done. It’s amazing to look back and think that I did all these things this year. The trip to Rome in the spring was a wonderful highlight. It’s an incredible city and I’m glad to have visited. It didn’t quite capture my heart the way that Paris has though, so I suspect that I’ll be back in Paris before I return to Rome, but the hotel we stayed in was a unique experience, and one I’ll always remember.

Other highlights included my kayaking trip, despite the near-death experience of falling into freezing water twice. Ok, that’s a touch over-dramatic, I know. Anyway, it’s not been enough to put me off wanting to have another go if I get the chance, even though I have a feeling that I’m never going to be great at watersports. I’m planning to go surfing in 2013, which feels even more ridiculous than kayaking as far as the potential for doing myself some damage is concerned. What the hell, you only live once, right?

Earlier in the year I wrote a post about why Twitter has changed my life, and that remains as true as ever. Over the past year, I’ve met some people through Twitter who have become incredibly important to me in a very short space of time. They know who they are. The ever-increasing number of people I count as friends from Twitter is a wonderful thing. Basically, if we’ve ever had some kind of beverage together, then you’re on my list! This has only happened in 2012, and yet in many cases, it feels like I’ve known people far longer, particularly the ones who are responsible for the dramatic increase in my coffee consumption because of our regular lunchtime meet-ups.

As far as this blog is concerned, the absolute highlight has to be my commendation from the Blog North Awards, which simultaneously reduced me to tears and boosted my confidence in what I write so very much. It was completely unexpected and I will always be grateful for being nominated.

Of course, some things didn’t go quite according to plan. I didn’t manage to do 35 new things in my 35th year, which ended in June. Partly because, as always, I forget that I don’t have endless amounts of spare time and bags of cash to do things with. Not sure I’ll ever really learn that lesson though. I do regret that I didn’t manage to do Cycletta again on my new Pashley, but I might have a go at riding it next year. The other thing I regret is that I’m very, very unlikely to complete my Goodreads Challenge to read 52 books in the year. I’m still about ten books away from completing it, with only days of the year left. Having decided to read children’s books in order to complete it, I’ve found myself reading Michael Chabon’s ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’ instead. A good book, but not a particularly quick read. Still, I have learnt that quality is more important to me when it comes to my choice of reading than quantity, so it’s not been a complete failure of an exercise.

The things I did complete during my challenge were all good in their own ways – from pop-up tea-rooms to drumming lessons – and I loved doing my challenge. After that finished, I’ve managed to do most of the things I wanted to get done in the latter half of this year, which has mostly revolved around my allotment and setting up Sage and Thrift with the most important person I’ve met in a long time, the wonderful and remarkable Josephine Borg.

So, a good year. As I’d hoped. They do seem to get faster and faster though, which is a little terrifying. Once it gets to this point in December, I never really want to bother with New Year’s Eve. I want to tidy up the Christmas decorations and get cracking with the next year. I know, I shouldn’t wish my own life away  but there is lots to look forward to in 2013 and I’m impatient for it to arrive…

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May 11, 2012

Coffee in Rome and in Leeds

I used to think that I didn’t like coffee. I’m a tea drinker, and although I love the smell of coffee, the taste has always disappointed, often bitter and with a lingering aftertaste that I hated.  It turns out that what I dislike is bad coffee. In Rome, I was presented with a giant bowl of latte as part of breakfast every day and I loved it. Spurred on by this, we hunted down several espresso bars during our trip to try them out.

One of my favourites was right next door to the Pantheon. Called Caffe Tazza D’Oro, this bar was full of burnished wood, brass fittings and regular local customers alongside us tourists. It’s a well known place and was bustling with customers on our visit, so had a great atmosphere. You paid at the till, then took your ticket to the bar where your coffee was made fresh to order. I loved it, especially watching how the coffee was made and it’s given me something of a taste for espresso as well as a curiosity about how great coffee is made.

Luckily, the city I live in is undergoing something of a coffee renaissance. Several independent coffee places have opened up in recent months and years and they’re serving great coffee. I had my first coffee back in Leeds after my Rome trip at Brewbar Espresso and it was made with obvious care, beautifully presented and lovely to drink, without any hint of the bitter aftertaste that has put me off coffee in the past. Each coffee place in Leeds has their own unique twist and I’m going to do a proper review of them all in another post, after I’ve been on a coffee crawl! In the meantime, you could read this great review from Mondomulia, who went on the first Leeds Coffee Crawl, here.

I’m always going to be a tea drinker, but now coffee has turned into another option, rather than something I would completely avoid. Having never, ever had coffee from a chain like Starbucks (something I’m actually a bit proud of, considering their dominance over the market) I am very happy that Leeds now has an independent option, where coffee is made and served by people who have a passion for what they are doing and want to spend time chatting with you about the coffee they are serving. It’s the start of an education for me, and I’m looking forward to learning more.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hunt down the prices for a coffee making master class and a machine for my kitchen…

April 25, 2012

Rome: Art, tourism and really seeing what you’re looking at…

Rome is a city overrun with riches. So much so, that it is tempting as a visitor to arrive with a giant list of things to see and tick off a list. To ‘do’ the city. I hate that phrase. ‘Doing’ a place, as though it can be summarised in a few frantic days of dashing around, never to be re-visited. We’re all a bit guilty of it, and I certainly arrived in Rome armed with a list of things I wanted to see in my time there.

However, I also wanted to see and experience the rest of the city. Which meant taking time to slow down and really watch it unfold before me, instead of charging from one ‘must-see’ place to another, without appreciating those little things that make a place really interesting. The wisteria on the honey-coloured houses. The coffee bars where local folk lined up for their espresso, with me alongside, using one of my three sentences of Italian to order my jolt of caffeine. The little gelato stores, with a rainbow of flavour combinations that were open until 1am. These things were as exciting to me as the Renaissance masterpieces, and given that religious art often leaves me cold, sometimes they were more exciting.

See how exhausted I look after the Vatican museum and  St Peter’s Basilica…

With all the new technologies available to us, not only are people tempted into rushing from place to place on their trip, but often, they are looking at everything through the artificial eye of a camera lens. I distinctly remember being in New York in September of 2006 and being on a boat that went out past the Statue of Liberty. Surrounded by other tourists, I sat towards the centre of the boat in my waterproof as we approached the (smaller than I was expecting, but nonetheless iconic) statue. Watching the other people around me, I realised that no-one was really looking at it. Everyone had some kind of camera pointed at it. They all took a few shots (or filmed a piece of video) and then turned away. No-one had really seen the statue with their own eyes!

Are we so used to seeing images of the world that upon being presented with the real thing, it no longer holds any true fascination? I mean, if people are not willing to slow down and really see the thing that they’ve come all this way to see, what is the point in travelling to see it in the first place? Purely to capture an image to share on Facebook? It doesn’t seem like a very happy way to experience things to me.

In Rome, there is a very famous statue, Pietà, by Michelangelo, of Jesus being held by Mary. The original is in St Peter’s Basilica, covered by glass. There is also an authorised copy in the Vatican Museum, which whilst being as beautiful, was made in the Twentieth Century. During my visit, I wandered over to the copy and read the inscription below, as did a few other people. We then realised we were being tutted at, by someone who came up to the sculpture in a huge rush, took a photo and then moved on. Without reading the inscription. During my visit, I noticed the same person doing that same thing all the way through the Museum. Going up to an exhibit, taking a photo and then moving on, without taking any time to really see what they were photographing. Now, it may not matter. The copy of the sculpture is as beautiful as the original, and not behind glass. They say it would take twelve years to get around the Vatican museums if you looked at each exhibit for a minute, and perhaps she was just keen to get around as fast as possible. However, I do wonder how well she will recall the things she photographed; if she even realised she hadn’t photographed the original piece of sculpture; what answers she might give if asked questions about the artworks. Overall, how fond her memories about that particular trip will be.

I took very few photos. Like I said, religious art leaves me a bit cold and the riches of the Vatican City were sometimes a bit overwhelming, even when I put to one side any feelings I might have about the wealth of the Church. I need to really love a painting or artwork before taking a photo of it, rather than merely capturing it to ‘tick a box’ in my travel history. I did take a photo of one painting I really and truly loved in Rome, but that will be the subject of another of my Rome posts…

April 20, 2012

Rome: Moses Fountain Hotel review.

We stayed in a fountain in Rome. Not in the watery bit, obviously, but in the Moses Fountain Hotel. It’s a monument with a fountain in it, built in 1585-1587 (under the guidance of Pope Sixtus the Fifth) as the terminus of the new Felix Aqueduct (Acquedotto Felice)  to lengthen and older III Century Roman aqueduct.

The rooms are built into the top areas, originally the fountain keeper’s workshop and apartment. The aqueduct still works and the noise is a dim, comforting hum in the evening. The main Fountain is divided into three arches, with a sculpture placed in each. In the central space is a sculpture of Moses by Leonardo Sormani and Prospero Antichi, showing to his people the water that miraculously sprang out from the rocks in Sinai desert during the Exodus.

It’s  the first time I’ve ever stayed in a building that other tourists were taking photographs of! Can you see the little balcony on the left? That’s one of the rooms! Ours was on the other side…

Located quite close to Piazza Barberini, and a short walk from the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, the hotel is in a district that, although busy during the day, especially because of its proximity to several Government buildings, is pretty quiet at night. Perfect for us, as we were after rest as much as sight-seeing. I love waking up in a city when I’m on holiday there, and so the morning sounds of people going about their everyday business in the morning were a great pleasure to me after a long, quiet night of sleep in a gorgeously comfortable king sized bed.

Our room, named the Velvet room, was beautiful. Lots of space, contemporary, comfortable fixtures and fittings, and that giant bed made for equally giant smiles of happiness the minute we set foot into it. Add to that the Etro toiletries, complementary mini-bar, dressing gowns, Nespresso machine and flat screen tv and we were in hotel heaven.

With only six rooms, and no standard concierge or reception desk, the Moses Fountain is a little like staying in the home of a great friend. After you’re initially met and shown around by the lovely staff, you’re given a key to the main door and left to your own devices. I appreciate that this not be the best option for everyone, but for us it was great. We don’t need lots of concierge services anyway and are happy to to let ourselves in and out.  It’s possibly a good point to note that there is no lift, so you need to be happy and fit enough to climb a good few stairs.

Breakfast was served on a tray in our room each morning. We had giant bowls of cafe latte, freshly squeezed juice, a variety of different breads and salads. Each day there was also as a little bag containing various biscuits and crackers to take away with us for elevenses, should we need them!

I loved our stay at Moses Fountain. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a spot of quiet luxury amid a busy city, who doesn’t mind not having some of the ‘traditional’ hotel services and who enjoys having a unique experience when they travel!

April 16, 2012

Rome: Instagram images

I’ve got a few Rome-based posts lined up but first I thought I’d share some of my photos with you. As I don’t have a big DSLR, I’ve used my trusty iPhone to take a few Instagram pictures. I hope they’ll give you a nice overview of my trip – see how many of the places you recognise!