I don't know if it was delayed jet lag, the change in weather, or just my brain slowly trying to switch from Italian to Austrian (I don't want to admit how many times I responded 'si' out of habit). Whatever the reason, I found myself quite disoriented when I first got to Vienna. I'd planned a walk through the city, but after blinking at my notes for a full two minutes, I gave up and just joined a walking tour. It felt pretty good having someone else decide where I was going, for a change! 

I spent the rest of my time in Vienna creating some of the experiences that the city's known for. My top three:

1. Whiling away a few hours at one of the old coffee shops. Did you know Starbucks had plans to majorly enter Vienna, given the Viennese seemed so fond of their coffee houses - but had to stop after just 30 odd shops because the locals just weren't interested? Looking at the naturally elegant crowd around me, I could quite understand.

2. Walking through the Vienna Woods, a branch of the foothills of the Alps. Vienna's divided into districts - which reminds me of Hunger Games - and you get a nice view of the city and the wine gardens in Grinzing below + an easy entryway into the woods from Kahlenberg in District 19. I was fascinated by the fact that we weren't really that far from the city, and yet it was a whole other world. Actually, the same can be said for Austria in general - it's like suddenly stepping into a whole other century.

3. I stood/sat in line for five hours to get tickets to Nabucco at the Vienna State Opera. It's the work which established Verdi's international reputation as a composer and I was thrilled to recognize the chorus of the Hebrew slaves. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it was worth the wait. I also listened to the Vienna Symphonic play Beethoven, Gershwin and more at a concert arranged by the Mauthausen Committee to celebrate the anniversary of liberation. Let's just say it was aptly called the Festival of Joy. There's something really special about college kids in suits and old people holding burgers all sitting around waiting for the music to begin. A child who couldn't have been more than 10 played Brahms on his ipod! Music is clearly respected here; whether it's played at the Staatsoper or on the subway. 

I have no idea how a city this posh gets away with not being snooty, but it isn't. Vienna is majestic, and secure with its place in the world. I'd move here in a heartbeat, it's the calmest big city I've come across... and I love the bike lanes and the very informative digital displays in the trams. The latter probably tells you all you need to know about Vienna - it doesn't rest on its laurels; there isn't just a has-been sense of grandeur here. Vienna's glory-day is still very much in progress!

Far more detailed notes are here; photos are here. 

Food Round-Up: Italy

Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto - eat well, laugh often, love a lot. It's a great motto for any vacation, especially one in Italy. Emphatic body language aside, one of the reasons why I found it so easy to communicate with Italians was undoubtedly because of our shared love of food. Eyes glazed over, heads nodding, big smiles taking over faces - no translation required. 

It breaks my heart to only talk about five of the dishes which I'll always remember, but in the interest of brevity:

Cacio e pepe: Rome isn't associated with good food in the way that other Italian cities are, but it's the city that came up with the genius idea of cacio e pepe: homemade bucatini (a thick spaghetti like pasta, with a hollow center) tossed in ground black pepper and pecorino cheese. Roma Sparita, located in the beautiful Trastevere neighborhood, ups the ante by serving cacio e pepe in a cup fashioned out of Parmesan. This dish totally vindicated my belief that cheese by itself is nice and light, it's cream that's the stomach filling villain.

Margharita: I went straight from the train station in Naples to Da Michelle, where Julia Roberts drooled over the pizza in Eat, Pray, Love; and was rewarded by snagging prime real estate in front of the wood burning oven. Naples is known for inventing the original margharita pizza but the classic one I tried was like nothing I've eaten before or since. Imagine a thick Pakistani style naan with soupy tomato sauce making the middle completely wet - this is not something to attempt without cutlery.

Rustici: This pastry-appetizer originated in Puglia but on the day that I ate it, I wasn't looking for authenticity as much as just following the siren call that this dish sent out. It was a rainy, stormy afternoon in Amalfi and the melty smell wafting off the rustici spinaci in a bakery knocked me off my feet. I floated over to the bakery, paid for it, and was halfway through it before I realized I may want to capture something of the dish that had overthrown all my powers of reasoning. I estimate at least half a stick of butter went into making it but I'm with the French on this one - butter makes everything better. 
Trofie with pesto: Pesto's believed to have originated in the Italian Riviera. Sampled at a small restaurant in Cinque Terre (I just followed the crowd), trofie is the pasta designed specifically to highlight pesto: the tight little corkscrew twists of pasta neatly trap the oily pesto in their folds. Served with fresh cheese, this meal felt like hearty, rustic perfection.

Ribollita & Pappa al Pomodoro: 'Soup' is a very loose definition for the dishes I wolfed down in Tuscany. The ribollita ('reboiled') is a thick medley of leftover bread, cannellini beans, and vegetables, said to have originated from servants gathering up the remains of feudal banquets and boiling them up for their own meals. Pappa al pomodoro is a tomato soup which is, again, more bread than either tomato or soup. No neat croutons here either, it's filled with hearty pieces of soppy bread soaking up the juices from the tomato. Suffice to say there was no need for a big main course. Special props to Ristorante Oltre il Giardino in Panzano for the phenomenal views over Tuscany which inspired me to have the longest meal I've ever eaten.

Special mentions for oooh-inspiring food moments also go to Pizzeria da Felice in Lucca for their cecina, a chickpea-flour based disc that reminded me of adais (right); a small bakery in Pisa for the tramezzino that made me, finally, acknowledge that olive oil could actually enhance a dish rather than just be decoration; and the freshly-baked focaccia at It Massimo della Focaccia in Monterosso which reinforced my belief that the early bird gets the best breakfast.

Have I mentioned I'm a vegetarian? It doesn't often come up in conversation because I don't think anyone's dietary choices define them, and it definitely doesn't limit my sampling local dishes wherever I travel. If you're the kind that also plans their sightseeing schedule around food (don't knock it, they say you only truly understand a culture by sampling their cuisine), then my notes for authentic vegetarian specialties in each of the cities I visited are here.


I was prepared to either love Venice (a lot of people whom I really like liked it) or hate it (it seemed logical to suppose a touristy, expensive place where you couldn't get too far away without needing a boat would start to get irksome). To be on the safe side, I decided to spend only a couple of days here, and made no plans at all. I decided to just go and get lost. If you're ever in Venice, I can't tell you what a great plan this is, especially near Dorsodaro. 

The Grand Canal's impressive, and has plenty of photo ops, but the real spirit of Venice lies in the side streets and back allies, each tucking comfortably into another until you're hopelessly lost - at which point you come to a dead end, turn around, and realize there's a whole new set of streets if you just turn in a different direction. I imagine it's what a house or an apartment complex must have seemed like when I was still figuring out the world, as a child. 

Funny story - I saw a spinach and ricotta pastry one evening, but decided I was too full to eat it just then. So I figured I'd come back. Which would be cool, except that I didn't bother noting the shop's name, or the street's name, or anything at all to identify it. The next day, I was hell bent on tracking it down. I took the vaporetto to Rialto market, and started searching a 6km radius. I finally found it an hour later, and it was as good as expected. Everyone whom I talk to about the trip tells me how well I planned it and how incredibly detailed my notes are - all I can say is this, this story right here, is me

I was asking an obliging shopkeeper for directions along the way, when he suddenly leaped up and ran, leaving his shop behind. I looked around, and saw a policeman in hot pursuit. Heh. Venice. You've to love it. And after that, I just started buying stuff if I felt like it, and carrying it along if I was too full to eat right away.

Another time, I walked through the Jewish ghetto - the word itself comes from the Venetian getto - and started talking to a local woman, whom I asked for directions. She asked if I didn't mind walking, and offered to show me a long, but picturesque route back to a vaporetto stop much further down the canal, since she lived there. So we walked together for about 3km, and she showed me random back alleys and shops. It was the kind of thing I'd never have been able to do if I'd relied on Maps. It's funny how language never actually impedes communication, as long as you don't assume everyone has to speak a language you know.

There are actually stories like that about all the places I went to, but in my other blog posts, I get distracted detailing places and the things. Venice was all about the people and the joy of having nowhere to go in a hurry. I went to Lido Beach and read a book. The whole book. I stopped and talked to shopkeepers. I spent half an hour on a tiramisu (it deserved my undivided attention) and another 15 minutes telling the shop owner how much I liked it. Time stands still in Venice.

Another word of advice: don't even think about day tripping and not spending the night, to save on hotel costs. The city's completely different in the lights, and it's a sight worth seeing. No other city is as pretty in the dark. If you want to cost cut, skip the gondola ride. I've never seen anyone look anything but awks and self conscious in one of those, and usually they're busy snapping pics while being snapped pictures of, while some poor fellow tries to sing soulfully in the background, and no one listens over the clicks and flashes. Ghastly. Take the vaporetto, it's the same view without being put under the magnifying glass, and at a teensy fraction of the cost, especially if you're buying a pass.

I also visisted the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. Murano had some interesting glass blowing demos, and Torcello seemed like it'd be a nice place for a picnic, but Burano was the one that captured my heart - more so, perhaps, than Venice itself. It's an island where houses often share walls, so each is painted a different colour to demarcate them for postmen etc. Who knew that many colours existed? It's a crayon company's dream come true. And the people, like in Panzano, are amongst the friendliest and warmest I met. I'm sure they laugh at people coming to take pictures of their colourful houses (there really is nothing else to see on the island), but they're so nice about it all.

If you're going to Venice and aren't sure how long to stay - I actually felt two days was pretty perfect. I stayed just long enough not to start resenting the bill I paid for staying near St. Marks, in the center of the city. Do 3-4 if you've an actual agenda, or you want to visit museums or churches, and more than that only if you've company and just want to gaze into each other's eyes against a pretty backdrop.  Planning notes (not that I have any really) are here. Photos are here.

And with Veneto, it was finito as far as Italy was concerned. Next up: Austria.


Has anyone else ever read a book/watched a movie and absolutely wanted to go to the place described? There are so many inspirations behind my wander-lust for Tuscany, but the one that clearly stands out is Letters to Juliet. Literature, food, and quiet countryside - no wonder I fell in love with the proposition. Some day I'll come back and drive through Tuscany (like, when they allow self-driving cars on the roads), but for now, I found that public transport worked just fine to see quite a few places. I based myself in Pisa & Florence, and did day trips to lesser-known Tuscan towns, including one in Chianti. I was a little sad to skip Verona, but there wasn't a compelling enough reason to put up with the travel time and logistics of fitting it in.

Pisa: I expected to dislike Pisa, and I couldn't be more happy to be so wrong. Yes, I don't really know because I used it as a base, and walked over to the Leaning Tower in the morning, before anyone else was there. But to me, Pisa's about more than just the Tower - or the entire Field of Miracles, for that matter. I loved walking by the Arno river, checking out the 16th century graffiti on the walls of St. Michael's, shopping at the historic market square, and imagining Galileo lecturing at the University of Pisa, one of Europe's oldest. The town center's really small, you can walk it in less than an hour, and you'll be very surprised how quiet it is (everyone's over at the Tower all the time). 

Lucca: A small Tuscan town which has had a wall from 2,000 years ago - a Roman one, then a Medieval one, and the final one built over the Renaissance period. 1/3rd of the city's income went into building the latest walls to defend themselves from potential attack - it's kind of funny that the only time it was under attack was from floods in 1812. In 1799, when Napoleon came to Italy, he liked Lucca so much that he gave it to his sister as a gift. It later passed on to his widow, who's credited with turning the walls into the walk-able parks that are there today. Apparently, even before this, the military had a hard time getting people to respect the walls as being strategic; people kept wanting to bike & picnic there. Unfortunately, the day that I went, it kept raining, and so the trip was a literal washout. I dutifully tried seeing the sights, but I think the real draw is in the walls.

Florence: Everybody loves Florence. I can't comment, since I was only using it as a base, and spent about a day sightseeing. That said, it's sad that the churches/public spaces have reproductions rather than original works... pollution's the cause, apparently, but can it really be that much worse than Rome which does have originals in most places? It irks me to see things outside where they naturally belong, stuck behind glass cases. I was also annoyed that restaurants and bakeries all had clearly inflated prices, regardless of how far they were from a tourist attraction. I can find cheaper food close to the Colosseum than I can three km from the Vecchio.

Panzano in Chianti: Have you ever watched Gilmore Girls, or just any show featuring a fictitious small town where everyone knows everyone? Hello, Panzano. I swear, in the day that I spent there, I met the same people and by mid-afternoon, they all knew my name, what I was doing there, and what my travel plans were next. I knew about some of their children and grandchildren, their careers, their lives.

And I was one of about ten tourists there that day. I've no idea why they all flock to Greve, but I'm so glad they do. I stopped at Greve briefly (you can walk to Panzano from there, it's about an hour uphill), but for the views, the charm, and the complete incomparableness of it all, you can't really beat Panzano. It was easily my favourite day through my entire Europe trip.

Tips & planning info are here and here. Photos + stories are here.

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre - five lands - is on the northern coast of Italy, on the French Riviera. I was told the weather between this and the Amalfi Coast varies, and that CT's a safer bet in April. It was rainy on the AC and hot here, but it turned out that was just a coincidence, as it started raining in CT the day after I visited. It's quite a different experience though - unlike the AC, where towns are very far away from each other, you can hike between the villages in CT, with fantastic views along the way. Unfortunately, after floods a few years ago, most of the easy trails have been shut, and only the longer, slightly more arduous ones remain. They're still not exactly difficult for people with reasonable fitness, but they do take a lot longer to do. So if you're visiting CT for just a day, you invariably have to pick between lounging around in the villages, enjoying their beaches; or hiking through the majority of the day. 

It wasn't a particularly difficult dilemma for me, as my priority was (shamefaced, but not really) food. The Italian Riviera is where focaccia and pesto are said to have originated. So, of course, I bought the day pass which let me take trains/buses if I needed to. I hiked some, lazed some, and took the vehicle whenever it felt too hot, carefully planning my day around where I wanted to eat (more on that later). My moment of nirvana for the day happened at Monterosso, the highest village, as I waited eagerly for the best bakery in town to start producing their focaccia. I got the first batch, literally hot from the oven, after a short wait while it baked. Best start to the day ever. 

Oh, and the views were pretty cool too. The is-this-real-life? blue of the water is the same as on the Amalfi Coast, and there are painted houses hugging mountainous shores, but the two are very unlike each other in ways that are apparent in person, but hard to describe in words. For that matter, each village is so different from the other, despite being about 10 minutes apart by train. Quick summary: Monterosso was the best place to sit and sunbathe. Vernazza's the fishing village with the most photographed laundry in the world. Corniglia has more terraces/vineyards and no direct views of the sea, as it's on top of a promontory. Manarola is the one I wouldn't mind missing if I went back - a bit uncharitable, I know, but I say that to be practical rather than because I disliked it. Riomaggiore has the postcard views and, therefore, the biggest crowds, but is unmissable. My favourite view was from Volestra, where I hiked from Manarola. 

I will say this: if you feel bad about missing out on the hiking to do the arguably more touristy lounging - the people I know who hiked have pictures that they caption 'I think this was xyz village', but if you walk in and spend time in each, you can't possibly mistake one for the other. 

That said, Rick Steves is largely responsible for the popularity of Cinque Terre. It's within a national park, and is a very man-made attraction, unlike some of the rustic places you may find if you were driving down the coast line. For me, the villages themselves lacked the raw charm of the Amalfi Coast, but the real magic lay when I walked off the beaten path. That's certainly where I met the most interesting people. So I'd recommend hiking at least a little if you start to feel overly touristy when you're in the villages. 

If you're trying to figure out how to optimally day-trip to CT, I'm rather pleased with my hack, described here, along with my food reccos and other notes. And pictures are here.

The Amalfi Coast

As I've mentioned before, planned sightseeing isn't really my thing. When I made my bookings, I decided to reward myself with interludes at beaches and villages after every stint in a big city. The Amalfi Coast was my first vacation within a vacation, and a welcome foil to the busyness of Rome, much as I'd enjoyed it.

Most people have heard of Capri and the other rich-people vacay spots in this area. I stayed away from those, and spent my time in Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello; places with official 'Slow City' status. In order to achieve this, the city needs to have less than 55,000 people, no chains, and local ingredients in all the restaurants, among other things. Out of a storybook or what? That totally captured my romantic imagination, Pinterest images fueled it, and reality was absolutely as advertised, in spite of the non-stop rain.
The Amalfi Coast has picture-perfect views - it's just as impossible to take a bad picture here as it is to take one that fully captures what you see. It's gorgeous.

I based myself in Sorrento, a coastal resort town 1.5 hours away from Naples (I did stop by Naples for the margharita pizza which was invented there, though). I'd heard horror stories about the local trains from Naples to Sorrento, and I'll admit the crowd was amusingly colourful, but it was comfortable enough during off-peak hours. The bus ride between villages was as harrowing as described - hairpin curves, frenetic honking, some swearing... but the views, my God. I fought against motion sickness and kept one eye open; it was so completely worth it. If you're ever considering going - do! Here's a quick summary of what you can expect where.

Sorrento: Views of hills and oceans, and, in the distance, Naples, as well as Mount Vesuvius, the volcano which erupted and wiped out the city of Pompeii. Sorrento is the ideal base for non-drivers, since the train/bus station have easy access to all the day trips you could want. Sorrento is probably big city compared to the other towns, but it's so charming, and you can walk through the entire city in about an hour (when you're walking slowly, stopping at bakeries and shopping along the way, as you should). 

Pompeii: The upcoming Hollywood movie will tell you all about the volcano eruption that froze an entire city in place. Archaeologists recreated molds of the bodies making it even more eerily haunting. You can walk through the old city and see life that's been, ironically, better preserved than if nothing had happened. 

Positano: Should be listed as a synonym of 'honeymoon' in the OED. Ridiculously pretty, has little shops and galleries tucked into steps as you walk down the hill to the beach, and boasts those quintessential postcard views you're probably hunting for if you're trying to find what you saw on Pinterest. The town was the first in Italy to import bikinis from France... the beach was a little too pebbly to be ideal sun-bathing locale, but I can see why you'd want to be at your best dressed here. My favourite shop was a shoe store where they hand-tailored customized shoes for you in half an hour. This was really the Amalfi town I fell in love with, though I may have been bored if I'd stayed just here for more than a couple of days.

Amalfi: Once a maritime superpower, now just a sleepy town after most of the old city and its population slid into the ocean during an earthquake in 1343. The city only houses 5,000 people right now. It was storming on the day I went, and looking at the black water and the dark skies, the tragedy was clearly imaginable. Head away from the sea though, and it has one of the most inviting looking churches I've seen. The marketplace feels like it belongs in Morocco! It also has the most scrumptiously buttery rustici I've ever tasted, which you'll be reading a lot more about when I do my food round-up later on. (Surely you didn't think I went all the way to Italy to look at the sights & rhapsodize over the views? I'm a glutton through & through).

Ravello: Considered to have the most beautiful view in the world by Gore Vidal, Ravello really is closer to the sky than the sea. I'd bought a pass, so I went to a couple of places I probably wouldn't have otherwise bothered with... thank God. Villa Rufolo is pretty nice, but Villa Cimbrone is the one you absolutely do not want to miss. It's an uphill walk, and the signs are confusing, to say the least, but you'll forget about all that when you see this view. I later discovered that the Belvedere of Infinity was what Vidal was referring to, and I couldn't agree more. It's hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins, and both seem within touching reach. Take a step forward, and you'll be walking in the clouds.

Fair warning: all these places are idyllic, but they're also frighteningly expensive. I guess you could call them special-occasion destinations. That said, life's kind of a special occasion, and it's nice to be impractically romantic some times. Here's some photographic inspiration, and here are my notes if you decide to go. 

Vatican City

If Rome's like Mumbai commuter traffic on a weekday morning, Vatican City's the Kumbh mela. The sheer magnitude of people made me long for the relative calm of Tirupati. I first went by at about 8am on a weekday, just to grab V.C. stamps from the post office as a souvenir (they have a different postal system from Rome), and there was already an hour's wait to get into St Peter's. 

I planned to visit the Vatican on Sunday, which coincidentally, was the day two popes were being canonized by Pope Francis, and also the day that the Vatican Museum (housing the Sistine Chapel) would have free entry. Obviously I expected it to be crowded, so I woke up at my usual god-forsaken hour and headed to the train station. There were police holding back crowds at the stairs, and staggering people's entry onto the platforms so that we didn't all push each other onto the tracks, which tells you all you need to know. The displays at the stations rarely make sense. They show different times between platforms; they'll indicate a train's arriving in 1 minuto, and even that it's arrived, all with no train in sight. This becomes a lot less amusing when there are 500 people on the platform. The train itself was like a session of hot yoga. And all of that was still the relaxed part compared to actually getting off at the Vatican stop. All of Rome, and most of the neighbouring cities' populations seemed to have descended on the place! 

So many things didn't make any sense to me. There were a few guards around, but no one was frisked, not even by a metal detector. Some of us got within touching distance of the Pope. And forget him, there were so many people around that anyone could have shot/bombed/done damage to anyone. I counted four people being shoved through the crowd on stretchers and into waiting ambulances in ten minutes. Then I stopped counting. I'm not sure why everyone gathered around there for five-six hours, during which St Peter's, and the museum, and everything else was closed; all for a potential glimpse of the Pope. Personally, I was there because I had a book, and a sandwich, and a comfortable doorstep on which to sit and observe the madness. I should have left, but I was riveted by the show. There were fist fights and tears (not all from children), a dog was trampled underfoot, and I watched some people fall over like dominoes. 

The piece of trivia that kept running through my head was that St Peter's was originally the site of Nero's circus, a chariot racing track where Christians were hurt and killed as half-time entertainment. 

It was religion at its most frustrating - you have all this blind faith and mass adulation in the face of ritualistic traditions that could clearly use some practical tweaks to be more compassionate and meaningful (surely the purpose of any God?). Look at the population of the Vatican today + the population of Rome + the number of tourists, and obviously having an open invitation to saunter into the square during these ceremonies is a recipe for disaster. Limit the audience. Project everything onto several screens in several different locations. Have the ceremonies happen earlier in the morning. Do something, just not necessarily the same thing you did five hundred years ago. It's not merely ineffecient but also, evidently, damaging. 

Through some hefty shoving, not all my own, I found myself in the second row of people, and the Pope waved at us. I was also the fifth in line to get into St. Peter's, so I saved myself a couple of hours' wait there, at least. The church is huge, and, I heard, was funded by 'indulgences' from wealthy repentants (this inspired the Protestant reformation). There are adult-sized marble babies, markings on the floor where other big churches would have ended (St. Paul's in London, the Duomo in Florence), and golden grates galore. After the madness of the morning, it all felt a bit surreal, and I stared around shell-shocked before shuffling out again. To be fair, I can't think of anything that would have made all that worth it. 

I was mostly there to see Michaelangelo's Pieta ('pity'). He was 24 when he completed this, his first major commission from the French ambassador; a statue of Mary with the body of Christ. It's a pity that the piece is kept behind glass - a madman walked in and started hacking away at it in 1972, so it's been safely imprisoned since. It's so fluid though, the glass just barely contains it.

So, in conclusion, I don't regret going. I think I even got to see the essence of Vatican City. But I doubt I'll be persuaded to go back, not even for Pieta. 


The first thing I learned in Rome was that developing-nation smugness ('Ah, you think Toronto has traffic jams, that's cute.') is completely misplaced here. When they say the city's crowded, they really do mean it's like a Mumbai commuter train on a weekday morning... and that's in April, when it isn't even peak tourist season yet! The average person really will at least witness a robbery, if not be victim to one, when using public transit. Rome is noisy and hot and busy and overwhelming, and everyone talks with their full face and both hands, occasionally throwing in their hips and feet to really make their point. Believe me, you don't need to know Italian to communicate here, knowing body language will do just fine. 

So here's my pro tip for the city, especially if you dislike chaos: wake up early. You will not regret it. First of all, many of Rome's busiest attractions are outdoors - all the fountains, most notably the Trevi; the Spanish steps; the grand columns. I woke up at 5:!5am and fell in love. It's indescribably awe-inspiring to have the whole city belong to just you. Obviously it's majestic at all hours, but when you're one of about 25 people walking around these imposing structures, and the only sound is of water echoing powerfully through the aqueducts under your feet, it's otherworldly. I'm convinced that this is the way the fountains were meant to be seen. I've never felt so small. 

And if you don't have the Tam-Brahm gene that makes waking up that early second nature, then I can assure you that there were still less than 50 people around when I headed back to the hostel at 7:45. But in case romanticism alone isn't enough to convince you, here's the train station before and after 8:30am. Seriously. I think I may have hated the city if I hadn't already fallen in love with it.

Here's some of my favourite trivia about some Roman sights. These aren't my best photos, or even the most well known sights, just the stuff that's a bit more eclectic... I suppose, this tells you as much about me as about Rome. For the more pragmatic, who are actually looking for usable information - the full list of places I went to, opening hours & prices are here; pictures + stories are here; and my FAQ doc is here. It seemed like a pity to let all my compulsive researching go to waste. 

Via del Corso: Once a racetrack for unmanned horse races (abolished after an accident in front of Princess Margharita), it became a butcher’s lane (so much better). When it became one of the first gas lit roads in Rome, the butchers were replaced by high end shops. It's one of the most expensive shopping roads in Rome today.

The Trevi fountain: If you want to come back to Rome - throw in a coin over your shoulder. Over 700,000EU is fished out from here each year, and given to charity. Stealing coins from the fountain is illegal.

Bernini's Fountain of Four Rivers: This grand fountain represents rivers from the 4 countries known in 1650 – Nile, Ganges, Danube, and… Uruguay. No wonder Uruguay looks so stunned. I loved seeing how the world 'changed' in different works of art & architecture through Europe.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva: The only Gothic church in Rome, the altar particularly fascinated me as it's where Galileo, aged 70, knelt and declared the earth didn't revolve around the sun after all, on his way to trial.

The Colosseum: I wasn't expecting to be so awestruck given only a third of the original structure remains.. but it struly is stupendous. I don't condone violence, but I particularly enjoyed seeing remnants of the 'elevator shafts' which were used to mysteriously make animals and props appear & disappear - apparently several gladiators were killed without ever knowing what attacked them. And so many facts about this place that I love. Such as the fact that they pioneered the use of concrete with the Colosseum. And the word 'vomit' comes from vomitarium, the name of the hallways leading to seats, which would 'vomit' people out at exit time.

Arch of Titus: This arch commemorates Roman victory over Israel in AD 70, and was built by 50,000 Jewish slaves who were forced to work on this & the Colosseum. It shows Titus being crowned by Victory, and depicts the spoils of the war. One thing that blew my mind was that post this, and another war 60 years later, there was no more Jewish Israel till after World War 2. 

It's hard to cut myself off, I think Rome has some of the best stories - all amazing because they're so clearly true.

Next: Vatican City.