Wise words from Stephen Hawking

I’ll be honest, I don’t know an awful lot about Stephen Hawking. I know that he was an incredibly intelligent man with a capacity for knowledge, analysis, understanding and comprehending the world and the universe that most people will never come close to. I know that he never allowed himself to be defined by his disability, and overcame physical limitations to be able to share his incredible brain power.

But, in the wake of his recent death, these are the things about Stephen Hawking that resonated and will stay with me.

Stephen Hawking quote

This. Always this. Never stop learning, questioning, reading and wanting to know more.

Stephen Hawking assisted dying

And this.

If one of the most intelligent men of our time can understand the need for assisted dying, and the need for the taboo and secrecy behind it to stop, then why can’t our government?

I would suggest that they adhere to the first quote and read more about the process, the people involved, public opinion, and the heartache of individuals and families denied the right to choose death instead of prolonged terminal suffering.

Read more about why I support UK charity Dignity in Dying and a change in the assisted dying law here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Day 3 in Rome – The Colosseum and Roman Forum

If you’re going to have to turn 40, there are worst ways to start your day than waking up in Rome with a visit to the Colosseum on the cards. Once again my pre-planning had come into it’s own, because I found through research that the Colosseum has bookable private tours of areas not open to the public. I wanted to get tickets for the undergound tour, which are are only released a few weeks in advance; I knew they were in high demand and unfortunately missed out. Fortuitously though, a new tour has just been launched – the Belvedere tour – which takes visitors up to the third and fourth tiers of the structure giving incredible views and a real feel of the size of the arena, so we still got to do something “extra” than most people have access to.

As we approached the Colosseum it was so strange to see the contrast of modern construction against such an old and important point of interest (a new underground rail line is being built to service this area of the city).

I underestimated the walking distance from our hotel (much to the chagrin of the husband and his aching bones) so we arrived just about in time to go through security and meet up with our tour guide. Everyone was given a headset to listen to the very interesting commentary as we walked around. The tour starts in the same entrance used by all visitors and then proceeds to the higher levels which are behind locked doors and only accessed by venue officials.

We learned that, despite depictions in films, gladiators fought other gladiators (highly trained fighter who went to “Gladiator School” in an attempt to gain fame and fortune) and not animals (that was reserved for criminals). We learned that it was not only lions that were shipped in for these fights, but also larger African animals like elephants and giraffes! We learned that, to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum in 80AD (known the as the Flavian Amphitheatre), a 100 day ceremony took place which saw events and fighting every day for the length of the opening ceremony. Tickets to attend events at the Colosseum were free, on a first come first served basis, and carved into a stone tablet, apart from upper class seats, right at the side of the arena, which were reserved for the ruling emperor, politicians and wealthy upper class members of society. We looked down from the highest possible point of the structure, looking at the tiered seating and the underground portion of the arena where you can still see evidence of the labyrinth of corridors which would have been hidden by the stage; where fighters and animals were kept until such time that they were due to perform, when they would be propelled up onto the stage by an elaborate (for the time) lift contraption and through a trapdoor.

Read some interesting facts about animal fights in the Colosseum.

After the tour we were free to wander around at will, looking at some of the permanent exhibitions and just feeling the sheer size of the space, marveling at the construction (it’s so symmetrical! And so well preserved!) And obviously taking all of the photos!

Me at the colosseum

After leaving the Colosseum, we headed across the cobbled courtyard to the entrance to the Forum and Palatine Hill, which is included in the costs of the standard Colosseum entry ticket. The ticket is valid for 2 days, so you could do one attraction on one day and the other the next, which is very useful if you’re pushed for time. It also represents really good value with everything you get to see for one price.

The Forum was the centre of ancient Rome, originally a marketplace and now surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government ruins. Shrines and temples, columns, both intact and in pieces, carved stone – it’s amazing to see the layout of the area still as it once was, even after all these years.

These doors are 2000 years old, and the lock still works! (that blew my mind)

2000 year old doors Roman Forum

The Arch of Titus was commissioned by Emperor Titian, in memory of his brother.

I wonder what this says?

Carvings on roman ruins

Upon leaving I took even more photos of the Colosseum because, honestly, it was just breathtaking and just incredible to see.

What a way to spend a birthday!

Did you see my previous posts, about my first day and second day?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Friday Feeling [28] – Guide dog for the…dog?

It’s not only blind and visually impaired people who can benefit from a guide dog; blind canines can too!

Golden Retriever Jake had to have both of his eyes removed following severe infections when he was a puppy and his owners were understandably worried about how he would manage without sight.

But their other, younger Golden Retriever Addie stepped in as Jake’s official guide; helping him to climb the stairs and get around on walks.

Blind Jake and Addie.PNG

The two have their own instagram account where they’re often pictured dressed the same, and Jake wears a bell on his collar so that guide Addie always knows where he is to be able to help him.

Read the full story here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Ever heard of women’s clothes retailer Tobi?

No? Me either…until they got in touch and asked if I’d like them to send me 3 items of clothes and style them my way. I thought about it for all of 0.3 milliseconds before snapping their hand off!

Tobi is based in the US but they offer free international delivery taking 8-9 working days. It does mean waiting a little longer for your order than you you may be used to when shopping online, but a bit of pre-planning should help to avoid any disappointment.

So, what did I go for?

Firstly these floral jersey flares.

I’m a big fan of easy to wear statement trousers and these definitely fall into that category. They’re pull on style with an elasticated waist and a pleasingly flarey flare! These trousers will work for year round wear (except on rainy days, no-one needs a soggy hem!); I’ll add wedges and a loose vest top in summer, and ankle boots and a jumper in winter. For in betweeny days, a denim jacket will be perfect too.

Tobi floral flares outfit

Clockwise, from left: Tobi floral flares, New Look crochet hem vest top, Matalan crochet shoulder bag, H&M denim jacket, New Look pink suedette wedges.

My second choice item is these leather look flared trousers (a bit of a theme here!) I have some faux leather trousers, and some coated leather look skinnies which I love, so I thought a different cut would be a good idea to add into my wardrobe. Unfortunately they’re not very long in the leg, so wearing super high heels (which would be my preference) is out of the question (I can’t stand to see a short flare with a high heel), but a pair of cuban heel western style boots and a print tee will also work well.

Tobi flared leather look trousers outfit

Clockwise, from left: Tobi leather look flares, H&M (men’s) skull print tee, eBay red fringed bag, Office ponyskin leopard print boots

The final item I was sent by Tobi is this gorgeous wine coloured flowing fabric dress. I was thinking this would be beautiful for summer holidays, but it’s unfortunately very short on me (and I’m not that tall, I’m 5ft 6 inches) so I’ll be wearing it as a tunic top instead. I’m thinking it would be great with a pair of wet look leggings and some statement heels for a night out, or maybe dressed down over battered denim shorts in summer.

Tobi cold shoulder dress outfit

Clockwise, from left: Tobi cold shoulder dress, River Island leather look leggings, ASOS embellished clutch, ASOS ankle strap sandals.

*These items were sent to me free of charge by Tobi, Opinions and styling ideas are my own.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

100 truths blogger tag

I love a tag post – even if it’s one I asked to be included in! (in my defence, Sophie at Wife Mother Life was asking for people who wanted to get involved).

I find these kind of tags quite self-enlightening and thought provoking too. I hope you enjoy reading, and if you want to get involved then please tag me in your post or leave your link in the comments so I can have a look.

With no further ado…!

First things first

1) What’s your name?

Kelly

2) Any nicknames or aliases?

A couple of friends call me Sue (it’s an in-joke). Nothing apart from that.

3) Your gender?

Female

4) Your star sign?

Sagittarius

5) How old are you?

Recently 40.

6) Your relationship status?

Married (10 years in September)

7) Any children?

Hell no!

8) Any pets?

Nope, my lifestyle isn’t conducive to looking after other living things.

9) Any tattoos or piercings?

Piercings: In my ears: lobe, upper lobe, tragus, auricle, helix and conch/orbital. Plus right nipple and belly button.

Tattoos: Lots across my lower back up my left hand side, onto my left shoulder and upper arm and and across the top of my back. They all kind of fit together to make one big piece. And I have a floral beaded cuff tattooed around my wrist.

10) What do you like about yourself?

My height and my legs (from a physical point of view). Personality wise I guess my sense of humour and my empathy.

11) What do you dislike about yourself?

Nose is probably the only thing I’d actively change (it’s wonky) – that doesn’t mean I love myself, just that I can accept all the other things that aren’t perfect because otherwise I’d drive myself crazy! Personality wise, I overthink things, and I’m a terrible procrastinator.

12) Righty or lefty?

Righty

Lasts

13) The last thing you drank:

Water

14) The last thing you ate:

A boiled egg

15) Your last phone call:

My husband after work last night (I missed other calls later as I was in bed by 9pm!)

16) Your last text message:

To my husband about some washing!

17) Your last email:

To my husband (there’s a theme here…I do have other people in my life)

18) The last song you listened to:

No idea, something on the radio on my way to work?

19) The last book you read:

I’m reading “Building a Story Brand” by Donald Miller for work, but for enjoyment it was Marching Powder by Rusty Young.

20) The last time you cried:

On Friday, about a homeless person in the snow.

21) The last blog you read:

Vintage Vixen – she’s this amazing lady who dresses solely in bright and funky vintage clothes. She’s not long got back from India and is sharing travel pics.

22) The last person you spoke to:

Work colleague

23) The last place you visited:

The toilet?!

24) Your last holiday abroad:

Rome, for my 40th.

Have you ever?

25) Have you ever gotten back with an ex?

No.

26) Have you ever been cheated on?

Yes.

27) Have you ever cheated on someone?

Yes.

28) Have you ever lost someone special to you?

Yes. My Dad’s death was the hardest thing I’ve ever faced.

29) Have you ever been so drunk you threw up?

Of course! Not these days though; I don’t even get hangovers, really (that’s due to luck, not alcohol abstinence)

30) Have you ever fallen out of love with someone?

Yes.

31) Have you ever met someone who changed you?

I don’t think so. Probably, but in a subtle way rather than a big change that I can think of.

32) Have you ever been in a situation where you found out who your real friends are?

Yes. When my Dad was ill and dying.

33) Have you ever kissed someone you probably shouldn’t have?

Totally. I kissed a lot of boys when I was younger.

34) Have you ever found out people were talking about you behind your back?

Not actively, but I don’t doubt it’s happened!

35) Have you ever broken someone’s heart?

I don’t know? I don’t think so.

36) Have you ever kissed a stranger?

Yes! See number 33!

37) Have you ever had your own heart broken?

I thought I’d been heartbroken at the end of previous relationships, but in retrospect it was no more than (sometimes very) severe hurt. Again my Dad’s death was the worse pain I’ve ever felt, which counts more than breaking up with exes (or being broken up with)

38) Have you ever had sex on the first date?

No. But I don’t judge people that do. If it feels right then go for it.

39) Have you ever been arrested?

No. I’ve been in a police car once following a drunken row outside a nightclub with a boyfriend – they wanted to drive me home and I begged them not to because my parents would have killed me!

40) Have you ever been attracted to someone that isn’t the gender you usually find attractive?

Yes. It’s more about appreciating attractiveness and personality than something sexual though; like a case of wanting to be them (rather than be with them)

41) Have you ever done something you regret?

Of course. Said things, done things, not said things and not done things. It’s part of life.

42) Have you ever had a threesome?

No.

43) Have you ever embarrassed yourself in public?

Welcome to my mid 20s!

44) Have you ever misjudged someone?

Regularly, when I was younger. And I’ve also been misjudged in return.

Beliefs and opinions

45) Do you believe in God?

No. If God exists then he’s one cruel motherfucker.

46) Do you believe in yourself?

Not really. Not in a pathetically weak way, just in that I don’t think “I’m capable of doing anything I want to”, you know? I guess I know my own limitations.

47) Do you believe in Santa Claus?

Yes, otherwise I won’t get any Christmas presents.

48) Do you believe in ghosts?

I believe in something. Spirits, maybe. A presence.

49) Do you believe in aliens?

Yes. There’s a lot of truths that are kept from the general public.

50) Do you believe in miracles?

No, but I do believe in powerful coincidences.

51) Do you believe in the power of positive thinking?

I’m not sure. I mean, if you think you’re going to fail, then you’ll fail, but I’m not sure the opposite really applies. I guess it helps though?

52) Do you believe in love at first sight?

No. I believe in lust at first sight, but love is made up of so much more than appearances, how can you possibly love someone so immediately?

53) Can money make you happy?

Not on it’s own but it sure can take the pressures of life off, and that contributes to happiness.

54) Would you describe yourself as a feminist?

No. I believe in equality, but I think feminism has gone too far the other way – the term “feminist” is too associated with man haters, and that’s not my bag at all.

55) Are you pro-life or pro-choice?

Pro-choice. 110%. Don’t butt in to a woman’s individual circumstances.

56) Do you have strong political beliefs?

Yes, I believe that politics causes trouble and that there are no legit politicians. Everyone has their own agenda rather than wanting the best for the people. And I believe that Trump and politics should not be connected in anyway.

57) Do you have strong religious beliefs?

Yes, I strongly believe that religion causes trouble. Most of the background and history of religion is way too bonkers to be taken seriously. Having said that, if it brings comfort to a person then good for them.

58) What do you think the most important thing you can give a child is?

Love, time and attention. And Calpol (spoken as a true non maternal being!)

Right Now

59) Are you eating anything right now?

No.

60) Are you drinking anything right now?

No.

61) What are you listening to right now?

Work colleagues typing..

62) What are you thinking about right now?

My lunch (food is never far from my mind!)

63) What are you waiting for right now?

My lunchbreak (I can have it whenever, but I’m prioritising these questions, lucky readers!)

64) What are you most excited about right now?

A long weekend away this weekend.

65) What’s your pet hate right now?

Winter. Just go away already. Oh, and my hair. I’m in fringe limbo – should it stay or should it go?

66) What’s your favourite thing right now?

Sleep. Early nights. I can’t get enough! (I’m so old)

67) If you weren’t answering these questions, what would you be doing right now?

Eating my lunch!

Firsts

68) Your first best friend?

Suzanne Churchill

69) Your first kiss?

Leigh Turner

70) Your first celebrity crush?

George Michael

71) Your first holiday?

Ibiza when I was 6 with my grandparents (my Mom and Dad couldn’t afford for all of us to go, so they paid for me instead).

72) Your first pet?

A goldfish

73) Your first regret?

Asking for the Barbie dollhouse instead of the Barbie caravan (my parents thought the same and changed it for me)

74) Your first job?

Saturday girl in a clothes shop

75) Your first childhood memory?

Sitting on the edge of the bath in the flat we lived in until I was 3, with my Dad wiping spilt milk off my face with a facecloth)

Which would you choose?

76) Love or money?

Love

77) Twitter or Facebook?

Facebook

78) Hook up or relationship?

Relationship. The idea of going back to dating now makes me shudder.

79) Dogs or cats?

Kittens and certain little dogs (like my Mom’s scruffy rescue terrier)

80) Coffee or tea?

Tea, although I do enjoy a morning espresso

81) Beer or wine?

Wine. Make it a large please.

82) Sweet or savoury?

Savoury. Crisps over cake every time.

83) Introvert or extrovert?

Extrovert. Mouthy and opinionated.

84) Vampires or werewolves?

Vampires.

85) Seaside or countryside?

Seaside.

86) Summer or winter?

Summer, no question (fuck off winter)

87) Books or movies?

Books. I’m not a big film fan, I have too short an attention span.

88) Horror or comedy?

Comedy. I hate horror films.

A few random questions to finish on

89) Do you wish you could change your past?

No. I think your past brings you to your present, and if you’re happy with where you are then you shouldn’t change things.

90) What’s your dream job?

Something travel related.

91) What’s your guilty pleasure?

Crappy games on my phone!

92) What are you afraid of?

Being alone. Not for a couple of hours, but longer term. Loss.

93) What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up?

A lawyer (I was an academic child!)

94) If you could have any super power, what would it be?

Eat as much as I wanted and never gain weight.

95) If you could change anything about your life what would it be?

I’d like to have more get up and go in everyday life. Be more dynamic.

96) Would you want immortality?

No. Imagine watching everyone around you die and being left alone?

97) If you could interview anyone alive or dead who would you choose?

I’d love a chat with my Nan. She died when I was 12. I would have loved to have an adult relationship with her. Famous people don’t bother me that much.

98) Would you say you are happy?

Yes.

99) What one piece of advice would you give to yourself at age eighteen?

Don’t put all your eggs in one boy basket!

100) Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

Happy. That’s all I ever crave to be.

************

Want to get involved? Copy and paste these questions onto your own blog post! Then answer as truthfully as you can.

1) What’s your name?

2) Any nicknames or aliases?

3) Your gender?

4) Your star sign?

5) How old are you?

6) Your relationship status?

7) Any children?

8) Any pets?

9) Any tattoos or piercings?

10) What do you like about yourself?

11) What do you dislike about yourself?

12) Righty or lefty?

13) The last thing you drank:

14) The last thing you ate:

15) Your last phone call:

16) Your last text message:

17) Your last email:

18) The last song you listened to:

19) The last book you read:

20) The last time you cried:

21) The last blog you read:

22) The last person you spoke to:

23) The last place you visited:

24) Your last holiday abroad:

25) Have you ever gotten back with an ex?

26) Have you ever been cheated on?

27) Have you ever cheated on someone?

28) Have you ever lost someone special to you?

29) Have you ever been so drunk you threw up?

30) Have you ever fallen out of love with someone?

31) Have you ever met someone who changed you?

32) Have you ever been in a situation where you found out who your real friends are?

33) Have you ever kissed someone you probably shouldn’t have?

34) Have you ever found out people were talking about you behind your back?

35) Have you ever broken someone’s heart?

36) Have you ever kissed a stranger?

37) Have you ever had your own heart broken?

38) Have you ever had sex on the first date?

39) Have you ever been arrested?

40) Have you ever been attracted to someone that isn’t the gender you usually find attractive?

41) Have you ever done something you regret?

42) Have you ever had a threesome?

43) Have you ever embarrassed yourself in public?

44) Have you ever misjudged someone?

45) Do you believe in God?

46) Do you believe in yourself?

47) Do you believe in Santa Claus?

48) Do you believe in ghosts?

49) Do you believe in aliens?

50) Do you believe in miracles?

51) Do you believe in the power of positive thinking?

52) Do you believe in love at first sight?

53) Can money make you happy?

54) Would you describe yourself as a feminist?

55) Are you pro-life or pro-choice?

56) Do you have strong political beliefs?

57) Do you have strong religious beliefs?

58) What do you think the most important thing you can give a child is?

59) Are you eating anything right now?

60) Are you drinking anything right now?

61) What are you listening to right now?

62) What are you thinking about right now?

63) What are you waiting for right now?

64) What are you most excited about right now?

65) What’s your pet hate right now?

66) What’s your favourite thing right now?

67) If you weren’t answering these questions, what would you be doing right now?

68) Your first best friend?

69) Your first kiss?

70) Your first celebrity crush?

71) Your first holiday?

72) Your first pet?

73) Your first regret?

74) Your first job?

75) Your first childhood memory?

76) Love or money?

77) Twitter or Facebook?

78) Hook up or relationship?

79) Dogs or cats?

80) Coffee or tea?

81) Beer or wine?

82) Sweet or savoury?

83) Introvert or extrovert?

84) Vampires or werewolves?

85) Seaside or countryside?

86) Summer or winter?

87) Books or movies?

88) Horror or comedy?

89) Do you wish you could change your past?

90) What’s your dream job?

91) What’s your guilty pleasure?

92) What are you afraid of?

93) What was the first thing you wanted to be when you grew up?

94) If you could have any super power, what would it be?

95) If you could change anything about your life what would it be?

96) Would you want immortality?

97) If you could interview anyone alive or dead who would you choose?

98) Would you say you are happy?

99) What one piece of advice would you give to yourself at age eighteen?

100) Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

Thanks, as always, for reading!

Friday Feeling [28] – gone but not forgotten

It’s easy to assume that little people get over loss sooner than grown ups, because their minds are still developing and constantly being filled with new information.

Not so for this little girl, who’s been using her Dad’s old mobile phone to send text messages to her Grandad “in heaven” – even though he died 5 years ago.

Text messages to Grandad

Adorable!

You can read the full story , including the Twitter reactions, here.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Who am I, really?

This isn’t a confession post, where I tell you that Ive been blogging under an alias or anything! But it may strike a chord with anyone who’s been on any hormone based contraception or anti depressants for any length of time.

I’ve been thinking recently, for a while actually, that I’ve been on “potentially mood altering” prescribed drugs for so long that I don’t know who I am without them, if that makes sense?

Let me explain.

I first started taking the pill – Microgynon – when I was 17. Far from an adult (certainly in mind), not experienced in the world and not really properly mature. I was living at home with my parents, still at school studying A levels, working a Saturday job in a clothes shop. Life was pretty easy.

I was lucky with my pill, it suited me from the off. No spotting or breakthrough bleeding, no bad skin or mood swings, or any noticeable change in me. Or so I thought. But what if the hormones changed the future me? What if they blocked something in me that would have become apparent as I matured, started working, became financially independent? What if the change was subtle enough for me not to notice it, but it did make a difference somehow?

I had to change my pill a while back, because of my age (urgh), so I’m now on the mini pill which I take daily, instead of having a 7 day break (you can read what I found out about hormone based contraception as you get older here). Again there was no discernible difference. But lately I feel tired and not interested in going out. What if I’m blaming that on winter, and getting older, but really it’s the effect of the pill and I just haven’t put two and two together?

Similarly, with my anti-depressants (read my depression story here). I have come off them a couple of times, without my doctor’s supervision (don’t do that, by the way), and at those times I’ve returned to Mrs Angry-with-Everything-and-Everyone but that makes me wonder then, is that the real me? Are the anti-depressants just masking my true aggressive nature? Or did the depression make me that way and the anti Ds just put me back to my normal level headed self?

What if my pill was the trigger for my depression? What if, had I never taken the pill, I’d never have had depression and almost 20 years of being on and off medication for it?

The point is, I’ve been putting hormones and SSRIs into my body for such a long time, and from such a young age, that I don’t know who the real me is. Stripped down, no medication or contraception, me. What would I be like? Would my personality change? Would I hate myself? Would other people hate me?

And in that respect, my thoughts start to run away with me, and at times I wonder if I’m living a lie. Which is crazy!

It’s too late for me to ever find out, obviously. But I know that there are thousands, probably millions of people out there, like me, who’ve followed their doctors advice for many years and now blindly, repetitively, habitually take what they’ve been prescribed “just because”. I’m not saying that doctors have acted irresponsibly. Just that it’s something worth thinking about.

I’m too scared to take myself off my anti-depressants to find out what would happen, but at some point as I get older I won’t need the pill anymore, and it will definitely be something I take note of, to see if there are any changes in reverse that I was too young and naive to notice at 17.

I’d love your thoughts on this! Am I overthinking things? Have you seen big changes from long term medication? Leave me your comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Friday Feeling [27] – you’re never (tat)too old

Considering that one of the straplines of this blog is tattoos (that’s what the “tatt” in my blog name means) I haven’t really posted much about them recently.

But I love this story of a pop up tattoo parlour, specifically aimed at over 70s, who are giving older people that real tattoo experience, without the lifelong commitment. Apparently, getting a tattoo is number 7 on the bucket lists of people over 70 so older ladies and gents queued up for the (albeit temporary) tattoo in London at an event launched by rapper Professor Green and his Nan.

Over 70s tattoos

Not so sweet is that it’s all a big marketing ploy by Coca-Cola to promote their Zero Sugar drink, but it’s still pretty cool to see Nans and Grandads pushing their boundaries!

Have a read!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Day 2 in Rome – Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica

Long ago, before Rome was even on my radar, I read a blog post which mentioned the Scavi tour, which is the underground necropolis at St Peters Basilica. It isn’t open to the general public – you have to send an email to the Vatican to ask about availability and, if there’s a space (only 250 people are allowed through each day, with a maximum of 12 per tour, compared to the 30,000 per day that visit the Vatican Museums), they will book it for you and send an invoice which you pay online. I kept this piece of knowledge in the travel portion of my brain (which is a lot bigger than, say, the common sense portion) to be used at a future date.

Fast forward then to September 2017, when plans for our trip were taking place, and I unearthed this memory and sent an email directly to the Vatican (I like to think the Pope himself opened and read it) who confirmed our booking in writing, with a request for payment of just 13 euros each. Although neither myself or the husband are of any religious persuasion, we do enjoy religious architecture and history and not missing out on ANYTHING (OK, the latter is just me) so this was a no brainer. We were booked for 1.30pm so it made sense to visit the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in the morning. Checking on the website I found that you can also book and pay for timed museum tickets in advance, which made sense as we knew our itinerary and I guessed that the queues may be quite long (more on that later).

It was another beautiful morning with bright blue sky so we set off on foot across the Ponte Umberto bridge to the other side of the River Tiber. St Peters Basilica is visible from quite a way away, its dome dominating the skyline as you walk down the long wide road towards it.

Approach to St Peters Basilica

We were approached a few times by people asking for money; old and disabled brandishing a paper cup towards us, which I found especially disturbing considering the location – isn’t the Church supposed to look after everyone? I was even more disturbed after our museum visit, because the amount of wealth is catch your breath obscene. Perhaps the Vatican City could rely less on harbouring so many priceless historical artefacts and more on looking after it’s own. But that’s a whole other post!

All around the area are ticket touts trying to sell tours, but also lots of tourist information people who are there to offer advice and directions, which was very helpful because, as expected, it’s incredibly busy with hundreds and thousands of people. As we rounded the corner to the street leading up to the museum entrance, our decision to prebook tickets really came into it’s own – the queue was 4 people wide and a good 300 metres long. We approached a tourist information person and showed him our booking, and he advised us to go right to the front, result!

Security is akin to going through an airport; you have to put your belongings in trays that go through an X Ray machine and then walk through a full body scanner (we felt safe everywhere in Rome; all the main attractions had armed police nearby, and the size of their guns would be a deterrent to anyone).

I’ll be honest here, I didn’t really know much about the Vatican Museums. OK, anything. I’m aware of the Sistine Chapel but hadn’t anticipated everything else that made up the attraction, and it was mind blowing, and somewhat overwhelming. We’re talking gallery upon gallery of priceless paintings, tapestries, sculptures, historical artefacts – even the ceilings are complete works of art. The amount of gold leaf was akin to nothing I’ve ever seen and we marveled at how so much of what was on display was completely priceless – how do you insure an Egyptian mummy?!

The sheer volume of stuff, for me, meant that I became a little bit complacent about what I was looking at. In a long narrow gallery full of sculpted busts and statues it became a little bit “oh look, there’s another centuries old piece!” which is bad but understandable, because its impossible to take it all in, and you find yourself drawn to the bigger pieces which means you could be missing out on something amazing next to it because it’s a bit smaller in size.

By selling off even 5% of the collection, the museum would still be an absolutely amazing place to visit but maybe, just maybe, the poor and needy begging outside would have homes to live in and food to eat.

Another thing I was surprised by – it’s a bloody long way to the Sistine Chapel! I’m talking thousands of steps on your FitBit! You keep following the signs, thinking it will be in the next room, or the next room, but instead there’s another gallery of statues, or more irreplaceable artwork and while it’s amazing, I started to think, just get me to the Chapel already! And then, when I got there, another honest admission, I was totally underwhelmed. Like severely “is that it?” Which is probably very heathen like of me and, if I believed in him, I’m sure God would strike me down but I’m not going to pretend I thought it was amazing when I didn’t. I expected it to be a wow moment, which I’m sure for religious people it is, and maybe it was because we’d already seen so much amazing stuff, but in contrast to the bright colours and intricate artwork of the galleries we’d already walked through it was a bit meh (there’s God, trying to strike me down again). For a start off it’s very dull and poorly lit (presumably to protect the paintings) and the ceiling – arguably the main attraction – isn’t at all what I expected it to be; I thought it comprised mainly of the Creation of Adam but actually it’s lots of different paintings in a collage. I know Michaelangelo and this ceiling are highly revered, but it didn’t tick any boxes for me.

I was much more impressed with everything that came before and afterwards.

Every ceiling was incredible!

The walls of this hall were lined with tapestries depicting the Italian coastline and dated back to the 16h century. Look at the ceiling as well!

Tapestry Hall Vatican Museums

I would recommend the museum to everyone visiting Rome because it really is quite something; even if you’re an atheist, critical, non arty heathen like me!

After a quick lunch it was time to join the aforementioned Scavi tour; again we were thankful of the tourist information guides as the location wasn’t immediately obvious. More security ensued and we joined our group of 12 people in a courtyard behind St Peters Basilica ready to embark on a part of the Vatican City that not many people get to see.

Our guide was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable, talking us through the history of how the excavated space came to be. The Vatican commissioned excavations to be carried out there before Pope Pius IX was set to be buried in the space, in the 1940s, expecting to find very little, but archaeologists found a burial ground (aka a necropolis) dating all the way back to the 4th century; the temple of Emperor Constantine who had ruled at that time, and a funerary monument with a casket engraved with wording that translated as Peter is here (Peter is believed to have been crucified upside down in Rome during first century AD and his remains were interred in a tomb on the Vatican Hill. Bone fragments proven to belong to St Peter have been found and are now kept in a shrine deep underground which you get to see on the tour. He’s important because he’s said to be one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and so to religious folk he’s quite a big deal – hence having a whole basilica built in his name).

The necropolis is basically a city of the dead, and was the part of the city where people built mausoleums for their bodies to be interred after death. You can still see the layout of the Roman streets and the decor on the walls of some of the mausoleums (it reminded me, in a way, of parts of Herculaneum which we visited a couple of years ago). It’s crazy to think how old it all is, and that you’re actually walking on centuries old ground. The reason it was built over is because there was a huge fire which destroyed parts of Rome, but because it didn’t cross the River Tiber, this area of the city wasn’t damaged. Emperor Constantine gave the order to build on top of the Necropolis, and it wasn’t disturbed for thousands of years.

It’s very warm in the necropolis (you’re quite a way below ground level) and a lot of the areas are quite small and cramped. The tour takes around an hour and I would wholeheartedly recommend it, even if you’re not a religious person. Strict rules apply – no large bags (they have to checked in at the entrance and collected later), shoulders, arms and legs covered (this is a very religious space, whatever your own beliefs or non beliefs) – this wasn’t a problem for us as we visited in Winter, but one to consider for summer; and no photographs. The pictures below are taken from official sources because, although I wanted my own photos, I also didn’t want to get chucked out for breaking the rules!

Scavi tour underneath St Peters Basilica

You exit the tour in the crypt where lots of previous popes are buried; many of them have their own altars, some were restricted public access and there’s a lot of marble. When you exit the crypt you can enter the Basilica without the need to queue, which was fantastic because by that time of day the queues were thousands of people deep. For that reason alone it’s worth booking the Scavi tour – queue jumping and a behind the scenes look at parts of the Vatican City very few people have ever seen.

Inside the basilica is less impressive than expected, if I’m honest, it’s certainly not up there with the most beautiful places of worship I’ve ever seen (or maybe I was still reeling from the amount of artwork in the Vatican Museums!)

I was much more impressed by the outside, which really is stunning, especially against the clear blue sky. The columns are immense!

The Swiss Guards, who are solely responsible for protecting the Pope and must be of Swiss birth, Roman Catholic and between 19 and 30 years of age, were the only burst of colour against the stone of the building, and very snazzy they looked too!

Swiss Guard at St Peters Basilica

Would I recommend visiting the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica? Absolutely. But more than the visit, I would wholeheartedly recommend prebooking tickets for the museum and Scavi tour, even more so in high season, to avoid the lengthy queues.

Did you see day 1 of my trip to Rome?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Single and moaning about Valentine’s Day?

I was thinking about this yesterday morning, and then in the afternoon someone shared this on Facebook:

Valentine's Day

And it’s so true! I don’t complain about Mothers Day because I don’t have children (purely through choice!) And I try really hard not to be cynical on Fathers Day too; I’m just happy for other people who’s Dads are still around and I encourage them to make the most of their time together.

If you haven’t got a Valentine, be your own. Spend some quality time, watch your favourite TV show, cook a treat meal or get a takeaway, maybe have a glass of wine. These are all the things the husband and I will be doing for Valentine’s Day anyway, and we’ve been together for almost 13 years! Everyone knows that Valentine’s Day is a crock of commercial shit, unless you’re in a new relationship and hoping your partner will express their love publicly so all your friends know it’s serious, so letting it define your mood and behaviour is a bit daft.

Besides, bitterness is really unattractive, so if you’re hoping to snag yourself an “other half”, moaning about people who have already found theirs is quite off putting.

I think Valentine’s Day should be for everybody. Love isn’t just for couples. It’s for family, friends, your favourite work colleague or even your dog! So, even if you’re single right now, why not show someone close to you that you love them with a card, some flowers or chocolates? I guarantee they’ll appreciate it, and you’ll feel warm and squishy inside too.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x