All Roads - or in our case - the train led to Rome. We managed to get from Pisa to Rome fairly quickly but Rome Central to our apartment took a little longer due to a "general strike" complete with some banners, plenty of police, a marching crowd with slogans and large balloons, then a struggle with the public transport system, with buses avoiding the train terminal and us finding and using both bus and tram and asking every person in Rome where we were going ( not that they knew either) until in happy coincidence we finally stumbled upon Susie and Billy gate crashing a wedding at a local church. And so we entered sunny Rome - certainly not the conquering heroes, more the exhausted tourist trailing behind large bags packed with warm clothes for the cool weather expected earlier in France and some odd light fittings from Marrakech. After some catching up with Susie and Billy - as you do when paths differ for a few days- we went walking to the Vatican. And it was as we had never left each other as we ambled along cobbled roads between ancient buildings happily bickering about the general direction, the intelligence of men and when to eat. Whether due to Billy's oreintating ability or plain good luck we found the Vatican - not that you could miss it that easily. It's enormous. Powerful. The throngs of tourists outside look insignificant. A small man eased up beside us and with the talk born of long experience convinced us to take a "Skip the Line' tour. He was friendly and it was all very confusing. After pondering the situation over a gelato we went off with him. I think most of Europe was visiting the Vatican that afternoon. Although we didn't have to "wait" (too long) and were rigged up with guide to tourist head-sets it was a slow shuffle through out the entire place. Room to room, statue to tapestry we slowly squeezed between people and tried to keep a track of the guide, as he explained the mysteries of the Vatican. Which left me with more questions then he answered. There were many tours and most guides had an aerial of sorts with a gay identification hanging on the end- a scarf, a flower, a ribbon, a stuffed animal. Our guide was tall with a bald head and occasionally lifted his hand in a military style onward-soldiers salute. Really would have prefered the large yellow sunflower- it kept bobbing up everywhere - I kept losing our guide in the turmoil. It was hot, claustrophobic and certainly done for only one reason. To see the awesome Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted by Michelangelo. A ceiling of glory. When someone has a vision and is able to bring it to completion despite the obvisious technical difficulties there can only be appreciation of the talent and courage to complete it. Breathtaking especially the concept of the hand of God touching the hand of man. And really, in comparison, me shuffling along for 45mins complaining about the crowds makes me look very very shallow. St Peters Basilica (1506) - the centre piece of the Catholic church was feet-achingly huge. Its the place where Michelangelo and Raphael and Bramante and Dan Brown have stamped their mark in history. When I was young I had heard about "the fingers of God" which I imagined to be beams of sunshine entering into the shade of European churches in great strips of light. Something Ive always dreamt of seeing. And as we entered the Basilica there it was - the "finger of God" - the afternoon sun creating a beam of white-golden glory in the cool darkness of the sanctuary pooling on the marble floor. While we were there the bells were rung and a priest strode out to say mass, leaving a trail of exquisite sweet incense (and cameras clicking furiously) along his path. But our legs were tiring despite Susie commandeering an unused wheel chair (until a Vatican official removed it from her) so we wandered back to eat pizza outside the Pantheon. Wrap your head around that- I am eating rather delicious pizza in the shadow of a building built before Christ. The bucket list continued the next day, a morning enjoying the local markets, kilometres of everything and anything - Italian clothing, leather bags, antiques and 2ndhand chandeliers, cacti, glass bottles and furniture. All jumbled in and piled together under avenues of tall shady trees. Buskers playing their instruments, fresh orange juice being squeezed , Italian breads and coffee for sale. We found the iconic Colosseum and again did a "skip the line" tour. This time a more enjoyable experience. An hour spent imagining the gladiators of old, the roar of the crowds, the pain of the slaves, the fear of the wild animals the desperation of those who's lives were being used as sport. A tour guide took us through the ruins, including the Forum and Palantine Hill - brought it to life with knowledge and humour. The entire tour group were leaning forward, enthralled (and amused) as old-Rome came to life around us. The local people are mostly friendly - well, tolerant of tourists. We are a thick hoard of people wandering around clutching cameras, maps and handbags (all very aware of the pick pocket-ors) We walk out in the middle of traffic and ask for white coffee at the wrong time of day. We have no idea where we are and constantly ask for directions and many of the signs are in Italian - just in case the Italians get lost. For many of us I expect this is the "trip of the life time" saved up for years and to be enjoyed no matter what! One fellow was more than friendly - thought I was a bella spanish señorita (his words) and asked me out for coffee. By the time we had finished the confusing conversation he was probably glad I had refused. (Also a bit awkward as John was waiting for me! lol) We walked awestruck in the Pantheon, enjoyed the Trevi fountain startling in its clean bright water, took refuge in many a cool church filled with relics, candles, marbles and ornate beyond imagination. We ate pizza, pasta and gelato as people do when they savour something they may never have again. But we have passed Rome in a hurry. And Rome is not a place for hurry. The patinas of the buildings, the quaintness of the restaurants, the solemn churches (over 900 of them) the history of the Romans is still being made . Our guide said the ancient Romans built things to last an eternity for they saw life an eternal thing. (Westinghouse & LG take note) They planted trees along the roads to give future shade to the heavy load carrying Roman soldiers (marching armies) - and as it turns out many a weary tourist. They built roads and buildings and infrastructure still standing and usable. l Thats looking ahead in time seeing something beyond what is now. These are principles that I can use in my life really. And just a few tips for anyone visiting Rome - bring or buy a drink bottle and fill it from all the always-flowing fountains/pumps of water around the city. I was told it is checked regularly for cleanliness and its the best water around - free too! Alway drink coffee standing up. If you accidently order the local coffee (pretty much 3 sips of black strong rather delicious coffee) it doesn't take long to drink anyway and will only cost 1 or 2 euro. If you sit down while you drink it adds Euros+++ to your bill. Took me several days to work that out and start standing at the bar like a Roman local to save a eruo or two. Odd but good. Its also the law you can use any toilet in any restaurant or bar without making a purchase. And if you are not allowed you can call the police. Not that I put that to the test mind you! And I wish I had known about David's tours first as he had a tour group of 40 in the palm of his hand bringing ancient Rome to life. and turning history into interested laughter. (Who ever knew that the Romans made a jelly out of urine (yes - correct) to brush their teeth? (google David Battaglino Rome) And now the journey has come to an end - spending the next few days in airports and aeroplanes going from a culture that jostles antiquities with new-old problems of employment and tourism back to Brisbane. Where age is measured in decades not centuries. Even the age of the French Aircraft I am on is dubious - It has ash trays in the armrests. One of the enjoyable things about travelling is watching the people around. Doing their lives. Our flights were with Southern China Airlines In China we had our boarding passes checked 5 times as we were boarding. The Chinese lady next to me, juggling a baby and bags was obviously frustrated by the 5th boarding pass request from the small thin official as she was trying to climb the plane steps from the tarmac. "Hold the baby" she said and thrust the baby into the officials arms while she rummaged through her bag. The official did not like that at all but had no choice (other than drop the baby) and continued to check the boarding passes with a child awkwardly held in one arm. Frowning feriously all three of them. And so am uploading this blog from my sundrenched verandah in Brisbane. I am home - wishing I was still travelling. My bag on the other hand is still travelling somewhere - without me. I last saw it checking in at Rome's airport - 3 flights ago. Apparently my bag didnt want to stop holidaying either..........