Day 11 - Istanbul

Today, our friend Tuna, took us outside of Istanbul to the north of the Asian side. We caught a glimpse of the more rural side of Turkey and we went to a beautiful cafe in the hills, that is run by Tuna's sister. The food was amazing, Michelle had some real Turkish coffee and Che tried some Turkish tea.

Later we drove up to the Black Sea town of Riva and got to see our first real castle. More of an outpost than a castle, but a castle none the less! The number of ships heading out of the Bosphorus and into the Black Sea was incredible. 

In the evening, we went to the Gold medal and Bronze medal finals at the Women's World Championships. The Opals easily accounted for the home team, Turkey, with a 77-44 victory to claim the bronze. The USA defeated Spain 77-64 to take the gold. It was wonderful to be a part of the World's, although the organisation of the tournament was disappointing and left much to be desired. I did get to catch up with some old buddies and congratulate them on a fantastic tournament.

Feeling short, but super proud of these tall women :)

Tomorrow, we fly to Rome and the real holiday begins!

Day 12 - Istanbul & Rome

This morning was packing up and getting ready for our trip to the airport to fly to Rome.

We had a nice slow morning packing all our stuff, said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and jumped in the cab for the 75 minute trip to Ataturk Airport.

Despite hitting 140kms per hour on some stretches of the freeway and the bridge over the Bosphorus, we made it to the airport in one piece.

Final goodbye photo with our wonderful hosts.

We bid farewell to Istanbul and Turkey and flew 2 hours to Rome. We arrived just on sunset, and caught an airport transfer with a great old guy, original from Calabria, but he assured us, he was not Mafia! His English was pretty good, but I was able to teach him how to count from 10 to 20; basically all the teens. He decided I was an excellent teacher and I should change careers :)

We arrived at our apartment and met our host. She showed us inside and showed us the lay of the land and how all the appliances worked. She then asked what time we would be checking out on Wednesday. Whoa! We were booked to Friday! I opened up the receipt and it turns out there are 2 people named Fabianna in the building we are staying in and they both let out their apartments to travellers. We all saw the humour in it and we called 'our' Fabianna and moved our bags into our new apartment. Catastrophe averted!

We then set out into the Roman night and into the Trastevere district in search of pasta and pizza! We found both and they were excellent. 

By now it was almost 10.30 pm so we wandered back to our apartment and settled into our beds to dream of our upcoming adventures in the Eternal City. 

Day 13 - Rome

I was up at 5am, and excited to be out and about in Rome, so while my family slept, I snuck out and went down to greet the dawn on the Tiber River. This was a day I have dreamt of for 35 years and I still can't believe we are actually here. 

We ventured out, in search of breakfast at around 9am and headed for the Campo dè Fiori. We had breakfast at a little cafe on the piazza, and made a bee line to the Colosseum. Every 100 metres or so, I had my camera out. This city is a history nerds dream. I was gushing and didn't know where to turn. I'm sure my family wanted to kill me, as I dragged them on a 7.5 km, 5 hour tour of everything and anything vaguely historic throughout the city centre.

We visited Sant'Andrea della Valle, the Altare della Patria, the Capitoline Hill, the Arch of Septimius Severus, Trajan's Column, and then the highlight of my day, the Pantheon.

From there, we pushed on to Piazza Navona, where Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers lies at it's centre. We then went up to Ponte Sant'Angelo and looked upon Castel Sant'Angelo from the outside (We will go inside tomorrow). Then we finally headed home, but not without long views of St Peter's Basilica. We did stop for lunch, drinks and gelato, along the way.

We never made it to the Colosseum. The crowds were ridiculous by the time we got close, so we will go when it opens on Thursday morning.

And now, I must slumber, for tomorrow we take on the Vatican! There just simply isn't enough time to see all we would like to see. I think Michelle and I will have to come back, without the kids, to really soak in the glory of Rome. I really do feel at home here and am already planning to return.

Lo amo Roma

Xo

Day 14 - Rome

Vatican Museum

Today we walked over to visit the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. On the way past Saint Peter's Square, we were greeted with an absolute sea of people. By accident, we had stumbled across his holiness' Wednesday public mass. Kinda cool to sit and take it all in as Papa Francesco spoke in front of about 100,000 devotees!

We pushed on to the Vatican Museum. We had pre booked our tickets and got to 'jump the queue' (I'm sure Scott Morrison would be outraged), and made our way inside. Despite our queue-jumping, there were thousands inside. I must admit, that while the artwork and the building were amazing, the amount of people we had to contend with was absurd. So many rude, pushy idiots trying to take 'selfies' with their favourite piece of art. It really made it very hard to enjoy the experience. Having waited most of my life to see the Sistine Chapel, once inside, I couldn't wait to get out. It was the first disappointing experience of the trip.

Castel Sant'Angelo

After the ordeal of the Vatican Museum, we went home to rest for a couple of hours, before heading out to Castel Sant'Angelo.

This is an amazing building, once a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian, it has also been a papal fortress and prison. The view from the top is brilliant and we were fortunate to be there at sunset and we were able to grab some beautiful shots of Rome.

Palazzo Navona

After Castel Sant'Angelo, we found a park with outdoor Fussbal tables. Zoe and Che played an exciting 6-5 cliffhanger before we went into the city to find some dinner. We found a great little restaurant in Piazza Navona, right next to Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. Such an amazing work of art and lit up wonderfully at night. Dinner was great and we walked home with an obligatory gelato :)

Day 15 - Rome

Colosseum

Today we visited the Colosseum and again we were with the hordes, but at least we were outside and didn't feel as claustrophobic as we had at the Vatican Museum. It's a monumental structure and when you consider it's age, it becomes even more impressive. We booked our tickets too late to get the underground and top level tour, but the basic access was still amazing. I'm certain they have modelled the MCG on this place. They both bear striking structural similarities.

Foro Romana

The Roman Forum was the centre of the Roman Empire and Roman life for over 1200 years. I've heard and read so many reviews and opinions on the Forum over the years, as being 'just a pile of rocks and broken buildings', but I believe those people are missing the point. 

So much of the traditions and rituals of the modern western world began here, in the Forum. So much of our legal systems and our ideas and implementation of Western democracy started in this ancient city centre.

It was quite hot and kids could not be less interested, but I was in awe. I took over 600 photos here, but I won't subject you to all of them.

Saint Peter's Basilica

As if I wasn't awe struck enough by our visit to the Colosseum and the Forum this morning, we were in for more astonishment when we visited Saint Peter's Basilica. The sheer scale and majesty of this building is ridiculous. As with the Ayasofya and Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, I was again considering simple farmers or peasants of the middle ages, making treks to these incredible buildings, and leaving with no doubt in their minds, that some kind of higher power must exist! As magnificent as the building is, some of the artwork and sculpture inside is breath-taking. Simple photos cannot do justice, but here are some of my favourites from both inside and outside.

This ended our last day in Rome. Our 3 days were not even close to being enough time to see the wonder that Rome holds. We were left with mixed feelings of amazement and a little disappointment at the things we missed out on experiencing. We will definitely return to Roma and for a much longer time.

Tomorrow we head off, by car into the Italian country side to visit Orvieto, Siena and Tuscany.