1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles Part 1

Above: Our Singapore Air A380 ready for boarding at Sydney Airport 22 May 2008

Above: From the vantage point of Row 62 in Economy (Main Deck) The new screens are bigger than previously, and it's great having the control set stored in the seat back...preferable to in the arm rest as in the Boeing 747, where it gets knocked accidentally, films change, disappear, call buttons get pushed and so on. The A380 seems roomier, even if its not. There is definitely more head room, if not leg room!

Above : The first drink and snack. I like the cup holders - another improvement over Boeing aircraft.

Above: The best meal I've eaten on a plane. The chicken tagine and cous cous out of Sydney. Ordered the diabetic meals (worth getting special meals; they come first, and then while everyone else is still chowing down the toilet is yours!)

Above: Some of the delights of Singapore Airport include free video games, free Internet.

Above: An altogether squeezier Boeing 777-200 from Singapore to Rome.Down the back again - row 46

It's a sad fact that, in the absence of teleportation or a Tardis, in order to get to Europe from Australia, you have to spend about 22hours in the air, plus a couple on the ground somewhere in-between (always an overlit shopping mall masquerading as an airport), not forgetting the 3 hours anticipating departure at your home aerodrome and the interminable age it takes to unload 500 bums from seats with their carry-on kitchen sinks and portmanteaus from the baggage belt.

Nevertheless, in the same way childbirth doesn't seem to deter some women from turning up for more of the same, and in the absence of an income stream more closely aligned to our desires and pretensions, we continue to fold ourselves in to knees-under-the-chin seats at the back of the bus and look forward to the next time. At least the entertainment system on Singapore Air is pretty good. I find it's when I've been able to travel every couple of years I've had a chance to catch up with all the movies missed since the last flight. This time I saw Atonement, Conversations With My Gardener and The Butterfly and the Diving Bell going over, and The Other Boleyn Girl, Roman Holiday, and Paris on the way back. (My record is an 8 movie marathon between Sydney and London. )

Unbelievably, there seem to be some people in the world who think anything over 5 hours is a long time to spend in a plane! Hah! I bet they also think they should arrive with a perfect coiffure and eyes not open only through the power of arrival-adrenaline.

Still, some things do change. When we first took off for Europe - Rome - in 1982, on a Qantas flight, it seemed to take the form of a milk train. After an interminable number of hours we were still in Australian airspace, having stopped in Melbourne and Perth, with stops in Bombay and Athens to come.

But the seat pitch 'leg room' seemed to be better in those days. Air New Zealand offered the best on its trans-Pacific flights, but nowadays, it's tray tables cutting you in half as the seat in front reclines, and DVT-grade cramps all the way.

Singapore Airlines' new A380 offers the unthought of luxury of private 'suites' up in the pointy end, but at $20 000+ that's unattainable for most of the rest of us. So while we dream of being told to turn left as we enter the plane, for most of us it's the long haul to the back of the bus.

Singapore Airport isn't a bad place for a swim, and the transit hotel is good for a few hours sleep if you've got hours to burn, and there are shower facilities at a reasonable cost if you have a limited time.

2. Rome - Piramide/Via Ostiense district

Above: The Pyramid of Cestius (Piramide di Caio Cestio) which gives the Piramide district its name. It was built c. 18-12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius Epulo, a Roman magistrate and member of one of the four great religious corporations of Rome. More at Wikipedia.

Above: Piramide metro station, on Line B of the metro system, and the most convenient way to move about the city. The Colosseum is two stations, Termini four.

Above: The street outside our apartment, Via Ostiense. It's one of Rome's ancient roads (heading towards Ostia Antica), and very busy. The apartment was double glazed and air conditioned, which meant street noise rarely bothered us. Lots of local shops along v Ostiense, including fruit & veg, gelato and bars. We shopped at local supermarkets in the vicinity.

Above: Ben sampling the Italian equivalent of Twisties.

Above: The living / dining room of the apartment - also sofa bed sleeping accommodation.

Above and Below: The extremely well-equipped kitchen.

Above: The main bedroom

Above: The bathroom, which also contained a very welcome washer/dryer.

Above and below: A couple of times we settled in to the cafe at Ostiense railway station for pizzas and coke! This included the morning of our arrival. Our flight arrived about 7am, and we were at the apartment about 9.30am....before the owner had a chance to clean and ready it from the previous guests. We dropped our bags and explored a little of the area. Amazing how you can keep going after a 24 hours with little sleep, with the excitment of "arrival adrenaline"

From 23 to 28 May we based ourselves in the Piramide district, at Via Ostiense 36. We booked an apartment through The B & B Association of Rome, which we found through Slow Travel Italy. It couldn't have been better. Everything went perfectly from the moment of first contact with the organisation and booking, through to the wonderful host contacting us afterwards to say we had left a couple of items, which we arranged to collect. The apartment owners have thought of EVERYTHING you could possibly need. It is one of the best equipped apartments we've ever stayed in.

We loved the feeling of staying in an authentically residential area of "un-tourist" Rome, yet so close to the hubub of more crowded, touristy sites. The gelato shop 3 paces from the apartment is sublime!

This was in sharp contrast to the UNREAL experience we had at the Hilton Cavalieri Hotel in Rome afew days later....

3. Rome - Circo Massimo, The Aventine and Protestant Cemetery

Above: The Circus Maximus - once Rome's largest stadium. It was begun in the 4th C BC, and the last races were held in AD 549. The grandstands held 300 000 spectators. It is located in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine Hills.

Above: I came across this shoe on the wall on the Via dei Cerchi side of the Circus Maximus. A few days later when near the Vatican, I spied these police and wondered whether a female copper had lost it when pursuing crooks??

Above (and detail below): Municipal police near the Vatican. Note the woman officer's shoes!

Below: The Palatine from across Circus Maximus.

I walked an enormous distance on Sunday 25 May - from Barberini Metro and Palazzo Babeini (to see Caravaggios), past the Quirinale to the Trevi Fountain, to Piaza Venezia and the Vittorio Emmanuele building, on to the Capitoline museums (more Caravaggios), then skirting the Forum and Palatine to Circo Massimo, up to San Gregorio (where the view of the Palatine was not as good as this), up to the Aventine, visited Santa Sabina and San Anselmo, and back home via Via Marmorata. Piero and Ben were at home; both were off-colour.
Below: Parco Savelli on the Aventine, with its view of St Peters from the terrace

Below: View across the Tevere (Tiber) from Parco Savelli

Below: View to the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument from Parco Savelli

Below: "It's forbidden to trample upon the meadows" . Obviously.

Below: The Cimitero Acattolic0 (Protestant Cemetery):

Below: "The Guardians of the Departed". There are many cats living in the cemetery. A woman named Matilde Talli finances the feeding, neutering and medical attention of the cats, many of which are abandoned kittens. A small group of volunteers assists every day between 2:30 and 5:00pm.
For more information about the cats of the cemetery and Piramide area, click here.

4. Rome - The Vatican (including one Caravaggio)

We've visited the Vatican and its museums, as well as St Peter's Basilica several times before. In 2003 we gave the museums a miss, but this time Ben was keen to see the Sistine Chapel. Photos are banned. But not in other parts.

This time we didn't bother with the long queue to go into St Peter's Basilica.

NB The pictures of the Caravaggios and other paintings were not ones taken by me; I found them on the Net.

Below: Dome of St Peter's and Vatican gardens from gallery within the museum

Below: ceiling of the Gallery of Maps

Below: Vatican Library. It wasn't open to the public, which it has been in the past.
Below: The spiral ramp by Guiseppe Momo (1932)
Below: The Basilica of St Peter's. Dome by Michelangelo, Bernini colonnade, facade by Carlo Maderno (1614):
I set myself the task of seeing every Caravaggio in Rome; didn't quite make it, but very nearly. The Vatican contains one Caravaggio painting - a spectacular Entombment, or Deposition, of Christ. Why the Vatican only has one is quite an interesting question, too detailed to go in to here. You'll find other Carvaggios elsewhere in this blog in other Rome and Naples entries.

5. Ancient Rome

Below: The eight surviving colums of the Temple of Saturn, and three from the Temple of Vespasian. Taken from the back of the Capitoline hill.

Below: Looking over the Forum and to Colosseum from the Vittorio Emmanuele II monument

Below: From the Vittorio Emmanuele monument - looking across the Roman Forum to Trajan's Market.

Below: The Pantheon. Nearly 2,000 years old, and magnificent - my favourite building of Ancient Rome. It faces Piazza della Rotonda.
Below: Piero and Ben take a breather at the side of the Pantheon

Below: Underneath the Tarpeian Rock, from whence traitors were thrown. It is the southern tip of the Capitoline Hill.

These days the area around the Tarpeian Rock is a much frequented gay beat. It is named after Tarpeia, the younge daughter of Spurius Tarpeius, defender of the Capitol in the 8th century BC Sabine War.

Below: The Colosseum, commissioned by Vespasian in AD 72

Below: The Arch of Constantine, dedicated in AD 315 to commemorate Constantine's victory in 312 over co-Emperor Maxentius.