When In Rome


Well, it’s been a few months since we returned to the UK and Rome now just seems like a two-week holiday that I enjoyed over the summer.  And, just like a holiday, apart from the occasional, ‘How was Rome?’ from acquaintances I bump into in Waitrose [Ed: what the hell are you doing in Waitrose?  You haven’t got a job, you daft bint.  Off to Lidl with you], nobody’s interested and I don’t really think about it, unless a TV show has the hero driving around the Colosseum on a scooter and I suddenly blurt out, ‘Bloody hell, I used to live there!’

But then the lovely Elaine from I Used To Be Indecisive asked me for my insider tips for a weekend in Rome and I remembered how much I loved it and decided that I really should reminisce more.  So here are my suggestions for a great visit:

DO NOT go in the summer.   It’s ridiculously hot and sweaty, there are thousands of tourists everywhere you turn and it’s ridiculously hot and sweaty.  September or October are the best times to visit, followed by April or May.   Roman autumns are just beautiful with warm, sunny days and cool evenings.

Unless you’re HWW or Lewis Hamilton, DO NOT attempt to drive.  Or cross the road.

If you decide to speak Italian while you’re there, Romans (yes, they are called that!) WILL laugh at you.  Possibly not to your face, but the waiter will be sniggering when he walks away from the table.  My coffee shop Italian spoken with a strong West Country accent was a particular source of amusement for pretty much every Italian I ever met.  I don’t have this accent when I speak English, only Italian…

WATCH OUT for the dog poo.  Italians are far too cool and lacking in a well developed sense of community spirit to worry about picking up cacca from the pavement.

Drink cappuccino after 11am just to annoy the locals. If you avoid the real touristy places, you shouldn’t have to pay more than €2 for a cappuccino. I can honestly say I never had a bad cappuccino but they are always served luke warm so if you like it hot (as I do), you have to ask for ‘bollente’ or ‘molto caldo’.

Ok, where to go.  Obviously all the usual places first:

The Colosseum, Forum and Palentine Hill.  Yep, definitely worth seeing, even after my sixth visit (tour guide duty for various sets of visitors).  The Colosseum often has long queues but you can get tickets online, or at the Palentine Hill ticket office (the ticket is for all three sites) which has smaller queues.

Trevi Fountain (once all the scaffolding is off).  Throw those coins in.

Vatican City.  St Peter’s Square and the Basilica are free to get into but the Basilica usually has huge queues. Tickets for the Sistine Chapel can be bought online if you fancy this, but it might take a long chunk out of a weekend visit.  Once you’re in the vicinity of St Peter’s Square, you immediately get hassled by tour guides who promise that you will skip the queues if you buy a tour with them.   I never did it but could be worth it if you’re time poor but cash rich.  I have to confess that I was underwhelmed by the Sistine Chapel.  Yes, I’m an uncultured oaf.  I did however, adore the spiral staircase that you sweep down to exit the Vatican museums!

HWW’s favourite place to visit is the Pantheon, with its amazing concrete dome and oculus open to the elements.  Stunning to look at and totally free to get into, it has been in continuous use since it was built almost 2,000 years ago. It’s still a working church so expect to be ‘shhhhhh’ed every five minutes.

Now some of the less well known spots.  One of my favourite places to visit is the Aventine Hill, not far from Circus Maximus. It’s a lovely place to walk around, with great views over the city (from the gardens) and the most wonderful view through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta doorway.  Not far away is the Bocca della Verità (Mouth of Truth), made famous in the film Roman Holiday and now a popular photo-opportunity for Japanese tourists.

Trastevere is a lovely area to visit with lots of shops, bars and restaurants, especially in the evening when they all appear from behind shuttered doors.

The Vittorio Emmanuel Monument (or The Wedding Cake as the locals call it) has stunning views over the city, along with information boards so you know what you’re looking at.  Most importantly, it has a lovely roof top cafe with reasonable prices.

I will let you in on my secret bar where you can get a cappuccino for 90c. Go up the right hand set of stairs to the right of the Vittorio Emmanuel monument, through the statues of Castor & Pollox then across the Capitoline Museum Square.  Keep to the right and head through a small lane where there is a locals’ bar with the 90c cappuccino.  Not bad for the centre of Rome.  If you walk to the end of the lane, there is a fabulous view over the forum (almost better than going into the forum!)

Piazza del Popolo is up past the Spanish Steps and worth a visit.  There are two cafes at either side which are Roman institutions. Pricey but we had the best spag bol we had in Rome at the one on the right hand side looking back towards the Spanish Steps. From the piazza, you can walk up to Villa Borghese (more great views), where the Romans go for a stroll on Sunday afternoons whilst the tourists ride around on Segways.

Piazza Navona is a stunning square and has lots of touristy places to eat or grab a coffee.   There’s an excellent gelato shop, Grom, which offers natural, traditionally made (and delicious) ice-creams.

The Island in the Tiber is beautiful, it’s joined by two bridges so you can walk across the river and stop for a coffee halfway (well, it is a strenuous two minute walk…) In the summer, the usually neglected banks of the river are full of pop-up bars, restaurants and shops and the island is also alive with music and people.

I can’t help with many places to eat as we had two fussy-ish kids with us, so usually just got a plate of pasta which is much the same everywhere, or we went to La Boccaccio in Trastevere.  It’s just a tiny shop, with a few bar stools inside and three tables outside, but it does amazing pizza by the slice with a wonderful ever-changing selection of toppings, anything from pizza bianca (totally plain) or margarita, through to bacon and potato (the best!), peppers, courgette and aubergine or rocket and mushroom.   Sadly, no pineapple.  When will Italians learn that adding pineapple to a pizza takes it to a whole new level of yumminess??   You pay by the weight so a couple of slices of pizza and a beer would cost around €5/6.  Not bad for a lunch in the centre of Rome.

I’m sure I’ve missed off loads of my favourite places and I’ll update if I remember any more so that this becomes my tribute to my time in Rome.

I'm pretty sure David Tennant would stop for a Spritz so that fully justifies a random picture...
I’m pretty sure David Tennant would stop for a Spritz so that fully justifies a random picture…

But my biggest tip is just to take it easy.  Don’t try to pack too much in.  Enjoy a cappuccino at Caffe Greco and admire all the fashionistas tripping along, with their Dolci & Gabanni handbags in one hand and mini sausage dogs in the other.  Go into a church (they’re all lovely and individual) and contemplate the meaning of life…or just rest your feet.  Get lost in all the little lanes around Campo de’Fiori and stop for a Spritz and antipasti at 6pm.  Think of me back in England drinking tea and wondering why it’s so bloody cold.

PS And for god’s sake, whatever you do, please pack a guide book so you’re not relying on me and my half-arsed recollections.


Don’t Leave Me This Way

Don’t Leave Me This Way

One of the conditions of my WordPress Least Prolific Blogger (Overseas) award is that I’m only allowed to blog twice a year.  So here is my bi-annual update.

Unbelievably, we leave Italy in just over a week.  Three years have flown by and, despite all my bitching about Italian drivers, Italian shoppers, Italian rudeness, Italian lack of awareness, mossies, unbearably hot weather, bland food, graffiti, rubbish strewn across the streets…etc etc, I’m going to miss Rome more than I ever thought possible.

View from my apartment towards Tivoli.
View from my apartment towards Tivoli.

I’m going to miss:

The hot weather (I finally got used to it just as we’re leaving!)

Cheap prosecco.  Cheap wine.  Cheap beer.

Perfect cappuccinos served in a proper sized cup, rather than a bucket.

My apartment, which is bigger and nicer than any house I’ve ever lived in. We’ve actually played tennis in the living room.  It’s ten minutes away from the centre of Rome but it looks towards the mountains on one side and over a nature reserve on the other.

Walking through Rome whenever I like and being surrounded by history and beautiful sights.

But most of all, I’m going to miss the wonderful friends we made here.  Both Italian and other nationalities have been so welcoming, generous and sociable.  I’m not overly emotional but there will be tears when I say goodbye to everyone.   I’m half-inclined to tell everyone I leave a week later so I can just sneak off and not have any blubbering farewells (red and blotchy is not a good look on me).

I won’t miss:

Conversations like the one HWW had in his canteen at work a few weeks ago –

HWW: Tre caffè (three coffees)

Lady behind counter: Eh?


Lady behind counter: EH?

HWW (very slowly and loudly): TRE CAFFÈ

Lady behind counter (getting very flustered): SCUSI SIGNORE, NON PARLO INGLESE… (EXCUSE ME SIR, I DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH…)

Yeah, maybe it is time to go home :)

Big Girls Don’t Cry…Unless They’re Waxing Their Bikini Line


Exciting news! I’ve just been nominated for a WordPress Award in the Least Prolific Blogger (Overseas) category…but as I was hoping to win the Funniest and Best Written Blog (Those Three Streets Between The Football Stadium and The River in North-West Rome) category, I thought it was about time I got off my arse and wrote another post.

Last week a ‘friend’ invited me to go swimming at her gym later that afternoon. I’m not an enthusiastic swimmer, mainly because it requires revealing my body to the general public, but as I’m on (yet another) health-kick, I agreed.

I couldn’t lose two stone in three hours but, as I was rocking the winter look, I thought I ought to spruce myself up a tad with a last minute bikini wax.

I found a supermarket own brand waxing kit which, despite being €5 cheaper than the well-known brands, had 500% greater adhesive qualities. When I attempted to remove the first wax-strip from my nether regions, it refused to come off, instead clinging to my skin like a very determined leech.

Obviously, a tougher approach was called for so I braced myself and, with a Maori war cry, yanked for all I was worth. The wax-strip successfully ripped away in my hand, bringing both unwanted hair and the top layer of my skin. Beads of sweat glazed my forehead and a solitary tear dripped down my face as I tried to remember the meditation techniques I’d been taught to cope with the pain of childbirth. Unfortunately, even tantric sex with Sting couldn’t begin to lessen the agony of waxing one’s short and curlies with strips coated in Sticks Like Sh*t and I didn’t have gas and air to hand.

I was due at the pool in forty minutes and I had a choice to make. I was looking rather askew: one side hair free, although rather battered and bruised; the other side still ‘70s porn star. I wasn’t sure if I could face the pain of waxing again. Should I get busy with a razor (which is fast and easy but brings its own problems of 5 o’clock shadow and subsequent crotch itch) or just go as I was and tell my friend that it was the latest bikini fashion?

The wax won. I applied a new piece and, took a deep breath, ready to wrench off the strip – just as the doorbell rang. Oh cacca. It would be the caretaker, Yoda, who delivers the post. If I didn’t answer the door, he would go, along with any post which I would probably never see again and, as I was waiting for a parcel from Amazon (this in itself shows that my optimism has never ending reserves. I keep ordering them…they keep not turning up. I live in hope), I needed to get to him before he disappeared. I grabbed my dressing gown and hobbled carefully to the door, where Yoda greeted me and began a protracted story about…who the hell knows? He doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak molto Italiano so all our (surprisingly long) conversations are a total mystery to me. We may be in a long-term relationship for all I know. I finally managed to say arrivaderci and shut the door on him before waddling back to the bathroom.

The wax strip was now stuck so firmly to my skin that not much short of a Black & Decker electric sander was going to remove it. I downed a medicinal shot of grappa, grasped the strip firmly in both hands and, exercising muscles that hadn’t been used since participating in my primary school’s annual tug-of war contest, ripped it off. The world went black as I waited for the grappa to take the edge off the pain.

Looking down, I let out a sob as I saw that the wax-strip had torn in two and only half had been removed; the other half was marooned in the midst of my lady garden like a backpacker lost in the bush. The handy non-waxed portion of the strip provided for removal was on the piece I’d already removed so there was nothing to take hold of. With a pair of tweezers, I gently began to lift up the edges of the wax-strip. Rather than an immensely painful but mercifully swift removal, this time each hair was plucked out individually, each accompanied by an ever increasing wail of pain, ‘Ow.   Owww.   OWWWWWWW!!!’

Finally, the strip was off. I used the rest of the grappa to remove the residue wax and took a look in the mirror. To be honest, it wasn’t looking good (unless a freshly plucked sunburnt chicken turns you on) and I was thinking that next time I’ll leave hair-removal to the professionals,* but at least I was ready to hit the pool.

I was digging out my seldom-used Speedo cossie (circa 1994) when I got a text: Something’s come up, not going to make it to the pool. Maybe next week? Sorry!


*This does not mean Bodie and Doyle…

Teenage Dreams – So Hard To Beat

As a child, I was mad on the All Creatures Great and Small books and TV series. Thinking being a vet would be a great career, I tried to practise my techniques on my cat. Unfortunately, unlike my friend’s dog who was perfectly happy to be wrapped in bandages from head to tail and prescribed Smarties for medicinal purposes, my cat was made of sterner stuff. Any attempts to put his paw into a sling would be met with a firm claws-bared whack.

Then I became a teenager and realised that a vet’s life would be a lot harder than it appeared on the telly, especially without Tristan, with his jolly japes and drunken pranks to make it more fun, and getting up in the middle of a cold winter’s night to stick my hand up a sheep’s backside was not something that really appealed.

Instead I found a new obsession in music magazines such as NME, Kerrang! and Record Mirror. Yes, of course, Smash Hits too but that didn’t fit into my hip image so I didn’t carry that one around, waiting for strangers to notice and nod appreciatively, ‘Look, she reads NME. She’s so cool’.

I would wait impatiently for the next issue, eagerly stopping off on my way home from school to pick up my ordered copy, having previously completed and cut out the little subscription form – y’know, Dear Mr Newsagent, please reserve me a copy of Britain’s hottest pop mag – that means SMASH HITS – every fortnight until further notice from the next issue.

I mentioned doing this to my teenage daughter.

‘What, you went and handed in a form at Waitrose like a saddo?’

‘No, not Waitrose, a newsagent. A little shop that just sold newspapers and magazines and sweets. And it wasn’t sad.’

‘Why didn’t you just do an online subscription and get it delivered?’

‘Because, FOR THE MILLIONTH TIME, the internet didn’t exist.’

Muttered under breath as walking away: ‘Loser.’

Rushing home with my coveted mag, I would read it feverishly from cover to cover, devouring it as completely as the packet of Breakaways I had snuck up to my room. Ah, what joyful days before we learnt about healthy eating. Children today might have iPad’s and Play Stations but I’d never heard of saturated fat or bad carbohydrates and could munch guilt-free on endless Penguin bars or packets of Skips. That beats Instagram hands down.

Ooh, Simon, you saucy minx
Ooh, Simon, you saucy minx

Lying on my bed, gazing up at my poster of Simon le Bon Bon, I would fantasise about bands playing gigs in glamorous places like New York, Sydney or Milton Keynes. For some reason, I didn’t picture myself actually in a band. Instead my dream was to work as a music journalist: travelling the world, reviewing records (Daughter: ‘What’s a record?’ Me: ‘A round thing you would play to get music to come out. Like a big black CD’. Daughter: ‘CD???’), attending concerts and interviewing bands.   Naturally, all the stars would all fall madly in love with me and try to win me, but I would be a free spirit who couldn’t be tamed by a mere rock god, and would be known for my beauty and mystery throughout the music world. I spent an inordinate amount of time getting this fantasy just right. It sure beat reading Silas Marner.

During Careers Week, I revealed this ambition to my form teacher, Miss Smith, (obviously leaving out the part about being worshipped by rock stars), hoping for some encouragement and assistance. Miss Smith had white hair that she’d started having shampooed and set twice a week in the 1950s and saw no reason to stop now, a different coloured twin-set for each day of the week, and (we were convinced) a sexual obsession with Shakespeare. This being a Monday, she was wearing the pastel blue combo, her hair freshly teased into a candy-floss helmet. Staring at me incredulously, her lip curled with contempt, she spat out, ‘A music journalist? YOU? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course you can’t do that.’

If this was some reverse psychology method of motivating me to reach my full potential, it didn’t work.

Was trying to find a nice pic of Harry Styles but I’d much rather have Dave Grohl and, anyway, Dave’s a great example of doing what you love so here he is.

At the grammar school I attended, if you didn’t fall into the academic, jolly hockey sticks mould, they didn’t really know what to do with you. Except ask you to leave as soon as they possibly could. Information about courses, jobs and opportunities was a lot harder to find in the 1980s.  A quick Google search in 2014 brings up hundreds of hits for music journalism, from NVQs and degree courses to level-entry jobs, internships and the best ways to break into the business. Compare that to the ‘Careers Section’ of my school library: half a shelf, tucked between Biology and Chemistry, with a few dusty university prospectuses and not much else.

Nowadays, if I were a 15 year old with music business ambitions who received poor advice from a teacher, I’d think, ‘Up yours, you ugly crone’, start a music blog (BarbedBands? Barb & the Bands?? You get the idea), review a few gigs, make an online music programme on Youtube before being discovered and getting my own MTV show, marrying Harry Styles and taking to the celeb lifestyle like Jesse Pinkman to meth.

However, back in 1985, lacking the foresight to invent the Internet and have all this available to me, I pretty much just gave up on my dream. I wasn’t someone who hung out with bands, writers or creative sorts and didn’t have the confidence or daring to just make things happen. My ‘guidance’ from my teacher left me pretty crushed and I went on to spectacularly fail my O levels and leave school at 16, spending several years travelling and working in a series of crappy jobs before finally going to uni at 24. (And getting a first. Suck it, teacher biatch.)

Sadly, by then I’d forgotten about my dream and opted to study business and marketing, then enter the corporate world – the complete antithesis of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

So, without sounding like a Degrassi Street after-school special, when my children say that they want to be an astronaut or an actress, I always tell them to go for it.  It doesn’t even matter if they reach their dream or change their goals on the way. As long as they’re having fun and following a passion, not working in a Dilbert cubicle staring at a monitor for eight hours a day. Been there, my friends. Not fun. Although, in hindsight, having The Verve line You’re a slave to money then you die as my screen saver probably didn’t make it any better.

Ok, I’m off to finish editing my book so I never have to care about the WENUS*.


*Friends joke – please tell me you get it, or I’m not sure if we can still be friends…

Under Pressure

savage chickensI’ve been a bad blogger.  I haven’t posted for three months, which in the world of blog is a real no-no. On any list of top tips for bloggers, writing posts is pretty much number one. Mind you, on checking my site stats, I’d actually had a couple of days during my hiatus when I got my highest ever number of views. It appears that the way for me to be a successful blogger is not to post at all. Result.

So how have I been filling my time if I haven’t been blogging? Well, mainly by stressing, which takes a lot of hard work and commitment to really do it properly.  We’re due to return back to the UK next summer and, at the moment, I don’t know the answers to the following questions:

Where will we live/work/kids go to school/buy cheap prosecco?
Will I have lost two stone by then? [Ed: I think we all know the answer to that one…]  

And not knowing any of that is making me just a tad anxious. Until HWW (as the stereotypical main bread/prosecco winner in the family) confirms where he’ll be working, it’s a bit hard to plan the rest.

I could probably relax into it and just go with the flow if it wasn’t for the fact that my youngest is due to start secondary school next September, along with every other 11 year old in the UK, and applications had to be in last week. My stress levels were amplified greatly by being told something different depending on whom I spoke to at the county council: You can’t apply from abroad…You can apply but it won’t be processed until you return to the UK…We won’t accept your application …We will but you’ll be at the back of the queue…Have you considered home-schooling? 

And so on and so forth until I finally found a muppet customer service advisor who seemed to know what they were talking about and directed me to the relevant section on their website which proved I did have to put in an application.  However, another problem is that some of the catchment areas for schools in the UK are tiny; you’ve no chance of getting in if you live more than a mile away. Our application had to be based on our Rome address, which is approximately 1,200 miles away from our chosen schools. Fortunately, I haven’t actually got the energy left to fret about that so will just bury my head in the sand instead.


Anyway, after finally getting the application in, I thought I’d relax with a cappuccino and a read of the English news. Only to discover that my tax return was due in that day. And I hadn’t even taken it out of its envelope since receiving it in April.  At that point, I had a panic attack and passed out for the rest of the day which at least gave me a nice break from worrying…

The Books of Love

I’ve been a bit quiet on the old blog front recently but I have managed to do some nice colouring…

I read an article about the work of Tom Phillips, an artist who uses pages from one particular book to create an ongoing story, called A Humument, which is a ‘meditation on unrequited love and the struggle to create and appreciate art’ (apparently).  He began it in the 1960s and is still producing updated editions of the same book.  Lots of other artists do similar works, which is often called Found Poetry, to create poems or an entirely new story.

The basic idea is to take an old book, circle all the words that take your fancy and do some nice pictures over the words you don’t like.  I remember doing something similar as a child, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  It goes without saying that I endured much artistic angst and suffering during the creative process and, obviously, there is an underlying deep meaning behind each piece of work.  Plus, it’s something nice to do with your hands in front of the telly if, like me, you’ve got five seasons of Breaking Bad to catch up on.

I call this piece Love & Meth in Miami in homage to Walter White
I call this piece Love & Meth in Miami in homage to Walter White
Coffee for an Angel is a political comment on the lack of refreshment opportunities for heavenly beings
Coffee for an Angel makes a political comment on the appalling lack of refreshment opportunities for heavenly beings
United Love examines the correlation between the decline in sales of traditional tea-bags such as PG tips and rising divorce rates in the UK
Cheer Up Missus is an ironic work on the futility of life and ironing
Cheer Up Missus is an ironic statement on the futility of life and ironing

You CAN Always Get What You Want

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of gratitude and kindness on our health, happiness and getting what you want out of life.  I used to be a bit of a Cynical Cynthia and poo-poo any hippy dippy ideas about the power of positive thinking or the law of attraction.  It was all too Oprah for me.   But, gradually I’ve come to see the light and, like a Cyberman, I’ve been converted and now I’m Barb the Believer.   So, as part of my commitment to happiness, I am attempting to speak more (barbed) words of kindness and be grateful for all the wonderful things in life.  Here’s my thanks for the weekend:

Thank you…to the bar in central Rome that allowed us to take a welcome break from the heat of the day.  It was so good of you to allow us to sit undisturbed for twenty minutes, without hassling us about ordering drinks or food.  In fact, you were so determined to make us feel comfortable that you firmly ignored all our attempts to catch your attention.  What a pain it was when we were rested enough to move to another bar where the waiter greeted us warmly within 30 seconds of taking a seat.  What’s his problem??

Thank you…to the Rolling Stones for an amazing show at Circus Maximus last night.  I am seriously in awe of Mick’s fitness; he hardly stood still for two hours.  I don’t know where he gets the energy.  Also, I don’t know where he gets his hair – surely it can’t be real??

Thank you…to the audience, who not only smoked incessantly but also filmed the entire concert on their iPhones/iPads, thus obscuring what would have been an awesome view of the main stage.  Fortunately, we were next to the bridge and mini stage so, despite the sea of technology, I was able to get a close up look at ol’ craggy face Mick.

Thank you…to the lovely group of Italians next to us, who told us how much they disliked English people and that, ‘You fucking English break my balls’. Really? Why have you just forked out €100 to watch a fucking English band then?

Thank you…to the lax parking rules in Rome which enabled us to park directly in front of the venue.  Usually I complain about the ‘Park anywhere you like/don’t worry if you’re blocking another car or driveway/double parking is fine, why not try triple parking for a change?’ attitude but last night, as we drove off ten minutes after the concert had finished, I was all for it.

Thank you…to the builders who are scaffolding our apartment block in preparation for repairs to the building.  I particularly appreciated the scaffolding being delivered by tossing it from the lorry onto the road at 7am this morning, thus waking me up on one of the very rare mornings when both my children were at sleepovers so I didn’t have to be up early.  Mind you, I should probably be more concerned that half the building is now being held up with steel supports, which makes me a tad nervous to step onto my balcony.

Not sure if I’ve quite got the hang of this gratitude thing…I’ll try harder next time.  Will I become too annoying if I become too grateful for everything?? Anyway, thank you…to you for reading my blog and just, y’know, being you :)