The Colosseum

One of the reasons why our holiday this year is in Europe was because of me. Italy’s always held a special allure, and with European travel (potentially) becoming a bit of a minefield starting next year (cheers Brexit) it seemed like a good idea to push for this trip before that happened. The fact Rome became a Bond location in SPECTRE is an added bonus (*cough* Florence and Lake Como on the way back *cough*) but this belittles a very important part of my real reasoning for being here. I’m a massive history nut, and the home of the Roman Empire’s been on the To Do list since I first learnt what a Gladiator was, and we’re not talking about the spandex clad athletes on ITV who used to battle with giant cotton buds.


Our farmhouse is on the end of the Metro line which deposits tourists literally outside the front door: this was Nero’s grand plan, to transform the existing structure on the site to a massive stadium. Begun in AD 69, it became the Empire’s centre for entertainment and spectacle and, most importantly, one of the most famous examples of religious persecution in History. For a city that remains deeply Christian, this serves as the permanent reminder of how intolerance must take place for acceptance to flourish. I’ve never been religious but the multiple significances at play continue to fuel interesting and challenging moral dilemma.


It is also a RIDICULOUSLY photogenic landmark, which has detail and depth that I suspect most tourists don’t even consider. The regulation in brickwork is frankly staggering, and the skill in construction means that it has survived several major earthquakes (and attempts to recycle its structure) to surprising effect. I will be poring over the books I’ve bought in the next few weeks, and the pictures taken are more than likely to end up in a collage in my working space at home. The place is a testament not only to the people who built the structure, but those who perished within it for their beliefs. This was entertainment, pure and simple, and there are still parallels we can draw from within the walls that mirror our own modern existence.

There are those who will maintain that history is only useful if it provides the means to make good the mistakes that took place, but monuments like this are the exception to that rule. Here is a structure that mirrors the continuation of religious persecution for entertainment: these guys stuck believers in with lions, we vilify opposition via a global arena. When all is said and done, very little has changed in 2000 years. This monument however has survived attempts to destroy it, reminding us that sometimes, it isn’t about the memories of a place, but the place itself which defines an experience.

Once we’d done here, it was time for a change of clothes and then off to the institution that grew from their humble beginnings as cat-food to utterly dominate the same city that once considered them as heretics…

Day Four :: Rome

As I’m writing this, my son and husband are out exploring Rome after dark. My daughter is still recovering from her dodgy ankle, with me here largely in the background, but tomorrow she should be well enough to go out too.

Today therefore has been writing whilst my husband sorted out patching up the van, and our first group meal in the Villa (apart from breakfast.)

Expect some pictures in the morning

Day Three :: Genoa to Rome

The plan was simple enough, we’d be taking a trip to Pisa, with plenty of time for my daughter to limp about, before arriving in Rome really late. Except, as is often the case, that was not what circumstances dictated.

We were five minutes from destination when it happened: a sickening crash and bang and off drove the coach driver, clearly with no intention of stopping. All those Bond movies have not been lost on my husband, who gave chase and successfully got the guy to stop. Needless to say, this has put a crimp in the rest of the stay. Right now Mr Alt is at an Italian Ford dealership working out whether it is possible to get the windscreen repaired at all. Joint wisdom, after checking the damage last night, is the poor van (which is less than three months old) will need not simply a complete new tailgate but probably rear bumper too.

However, we are here and safe, which is all that really matters.

This apartment is one of four in the building, converted from a farmhouse a decade ago, which has seen the rest of this Rome suburb effectively built around it. If I had to find an appreciable British equivalent, it is probably not unlike the eastern part of London that I cycled through a couple of weeks ago: the place itself owes a lot to Ikea in furnishing, but is all bare floors and wooden beams, which will be extensively photographed today. It’s also extremely hot with only one working AC unit at present, which should become two at some point today. To be honest, I’m not that fussed about the heat. This is an incredibly convivial location to write, and that’s what we’ll do today.

I am also hoping to have my first proper lunch since Sunday. If nothing else, I’m pretty confident stepping on the scales once returning to the UK there’s gonna be some weight lost…

Day Two :: Dijon to Genoa

This was not an auspicious start, all told.

Daughter has badly sprained her ankle, but we wanted to be sure it wasn’t broken in a country where at least one of us spoke the language, so a minor diversion was worth the couple of hours to accommodate. Then it was the same time again to hit Switzerland, where the kids got to understand that not all of Europe is the same financially (40 quid for 2 burgers, a quid to go to the bathroom) before we hacked it up the Alps. I’m not one normally to be staggered by road trips, but the pictures I have are frankly mesmerising. Gimme a day here to sort my shit out, and I’ll upload a bunch to Flickr.

Italy was as bonkers road-wise as everybody told us it would be, and we made it Genoa as the sun went down, to a hotel which was early 20th Century splendour incarnate (even down to a classic glass elevator in the middle of the staircase). I wish now I’d taken pictures, but Tuesday was utterly exhausting. In fact, the journey down was one of the most mentally taxing experiences for a while, added to the physical exhaustion of the Ride London 46, and by Tuesday night the plot had been summarily lost.

As it transpired, things were only going to get more stupid on Wednesday.

Day One :: Essex to Dijon

I’ve never driven across Europe before. When my husband suggested a trip (in his newly bought van) with the kids, it seemed like a good idea. On reflection it might have been smarter to wait a day after having completed a bike race, but you live and learn. Today was the ‘get miles between us and the UK’ section of proceedings: ferry from Dover, and then a drag across the eastern part of France heading south to Dijon.

France is one huge place, and there are wind farms everywhere. The road signs celebrate amazing places that you never see at the roadside: they’re hidden behind hills, or stuck on mountains. Parts of the drive today reminded me of California, except there’s no palm trees. It is incredibly hot at present, and sitting here in a hotel room (US President Wilson may have slept here, I need to check the validity of the statement) with no air conditioning, I wonder if this is normal.

This would be a fantastic place to visit, but we’re simply passing though, and that now seems like a bit of a shame. I’d love to explore the mix of ancient and modern, and spend some time poking around this part of the world, but tomorrow we’ll be gone, as we have 600 km to cover to make it into Italy by Tuesday evening. Sometimes, you need to turn down the small victories to get to the big prize. That’s in two days, and that makes this stop worth just passing through.