Rome. A bucket list item finally chalked off said list after all these years. I won’t bore you with all the photos (there are hundreds) as they mostly contain my family standing next to a useless pile of old rubble. There are a few I am not in however. Why Rome? Well that goes back over 30 years to my school days where, in my wisdom, I was the only pupil in a school of hundreds who actually chose to do Higher Latin. Chose to. I wasn’t very good at it but in our school when it came to second year you got to choose another language to study or you got to keep going to PE. Given that our PE teacher was a rugby fanatic and I weighed less than your carry on baggage allowance (seriously, I would have had no trouble fitting into the overhead compartment or under the seat in front) then it seemed only logical to take Latin instead. And I loved Latin – it was, at least, madly different from all the other subjects. I’d far rather be learning the best way to the forum instead of trying to figure out what Leiselotte and the rest of Die Familie Rheinhagen were up to. I also had a crazy teacher. Mr Clark aka Blinky. A man for whom the modern world (1983) was deeply unsatisfactory and whose response was just to keep his eyes closed most of the time even when he was talking to you. Seriously, unless he had to move around or write something he just kept his eyes closed and I tested whether they were fully closed or not one time in class. There were only the two of us and he was giving me pelters about how I had completely misunderstood a certain passage – Aeneas was not making a phone call apparently – when he closed his eyes to go off on a rant and I switched seats. When he opened his eyes again I had ‘blinked’ two seats down. He wasn’t happy. Anyway, I digress. He was a lovely chap really and his enthusiasm for Ancient Rome kinda rubbed off on me. Everyone else remembers Gladiator and the Colosseum but for me it was the forum and the Palatine Hill that I wanted to see. This is where the Caesars ruled. Where Julius and Augustus and Tiberius and, my favourite, Claudius reigned. If you have not read I, Claudius by Robert Graves incidentally then you should remedy that at once. I couldn’t wait to wander through their world. So, of course, we went everywhere else first. That’s the thing about Rome. It’s a nicely sized city. You can walk just about anywhere if you are feeling fit or if you have the time. The entire Metro system has about 20 stops in total and you are usually only about three stops from where you want to be in any case, but despite the small size it is absolutely packed with stuff. You can’t be the eternal city without accumulating some baggage along the way so there are countless museums, monuments, statues and piazzas to be seen in your immediate vicinity without traipsing all the way across town. Our apartment looked onto the dome of St Peter’s a few hundred metres away. We had left the house at four o’clock in the morning and so we were wandering around St Peter’s square a little before lunch. We’d already paid for a tour the next day and took a half a day just familiarising ourselves with the atmosphere of modern Rome. And what is there to say that has not been said before? Yes, it’s a modern European place – it has the obligatory statuary and monuments alongside the graffiti and the homelessness. The place is to cry for. I had already been in Rome for a couple of days when we took the compulsory hop-on hop-off bus tour. I don’t mind saying I cursed when we turned the corner and I saw the ‘wedding cake’ for the first time. The thing is enormous and to give you some idea of scale the guy on the horse in the middle is so big that his hat is taller than I am. And then that night I saw a guy in a wheel chair begging outside the Spagna metro station who had clearly suffered incredible burn damage to his face and body. He should have been in some kind of accommodation but he wasn’t, he was begging to live in a life that had treated him just about as badly as life can. I cursed again. Rome is the city of opposites. Based on an empire that almost invented the concept of being organised it is utterly chaotic. Yes, there are rules and systems but you get the feeling they made them up because they had to and then never bothered with them again. Crossing the road is a matter of trust when you step onto the black and white pedestrian crossing and hope that the cars will stop, but a matter of mistrust when you use an actual crossing. Sure, the countdown might say that you have 3 seconds left to get across the road, but the scooters bearing down on you can’t see the countdown and don’t care anyway. Move. In a city where space is at a premium and everyone lives on top of each other they have seemingly random areas of wide open space and splendour. And sometimes just wide open spaces… This thing you cannot see the end of is the Circus Maximus (you’ll remember Charlton Heston charging around here every Easter on BBC2) home of chariot racing and at its height a stadium that could accommodate 250,000 spectators. In Rome it is just left to be.