When in Rome…

Yesterday, a fun little hashtag was doing the rounds on Twitter. #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinions saw such things as ‘I didn’t think Avengers was all that great’ or ‘Game of Thrones is over-rated’ or ‘I don’t like Christian Bale as Batman’ fly past on the Twitter feed. It was kind of amusing whilst at the same time encouraging to see that other people agreed with what you were thinking.

One of the things I put up was ‘I don’t see the point in holidays that revolve around lying by the pool/on the beach’. So that’s the subject of today’s blog. Holidays.

When I was young, which was an event that took place in another century – literal truth – we used to have a week in August when my dad was off work. We would always spend a week at a Pontin’s holiday camp. We split between three camps, really: Tower Beach (near Prestatyn in North Wales), Brean Sands in Somerset and Camber Sands down in Sussex. These weeks away would be filled with such wonders as the amusement arcade, or the ‘spot the new car registration’ game… or marvelling at how it was that milk came in plastic bags and you put it in a jug… or inter-house games between the two ‘houses’ – Embassy and Castella (named for big cigar manufacturers, how politically incorrect that must seem now).

My mum and dad would leave my brother and I pretty much to our own devices for a week and we engaged in all sorts of activities. They were fun, those holidays. As I got older, I suddenly realised the inordinate amount of snobbery that came my way when I said where we had been. But I genuinely pity that. I had some of the best holidays of my life. It was what my parents could afford and manage and I enjoyed every single one of them. The time they all went off site for the day and left me to my own devices and I came second in the talent contest sticks out in my mind. Not the coming second thing particularly, even though that was awesome, but the fact that I genuinely had the confidence to put myself forward – something I’d never done before.

Every year I inevitably ended up with a crush on one of the Bluecoats, too. There was also a guy called Peter who I met at Tower Beach one year. We shared the same birthday and we spent the entire week together, squabbling like an old married couple. I wonder whatever became of him?

I did not go abroad (not counting day trips to Calais) properly until I was eighteen years old. My first ever flight was a long-haul to Florida on a DC10. I had never flown before that day (16th July 1989 – I remember it that clearly) and it was the most amazing experience of my life. Mind you, I also noted for future reference, that I would never go to Florida in July ever again. I am about as British as it comes and that means that the heat and sun combo leaves me wanting to curl up and whimper in a corner. I burn through Factor 50 suncream. I don’t mind sun and warmth, as long as there’s an indoors somewhere for me to go.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in terms of holidays. I’ve been to some of the most beautiful and incredible places. Orlando. Las Vegas. Los Angeles. San Francisco. Rome. St. Lucia. Santorini. Vienna. Prague. Strasbourg. I feel privileged every single time I go anywhere. But for me, it’s still the holidays where we get out and do stuff that are the most memorable. Mind you, having said that, since I started my Girly Weekends with the wonderful Nik Vincent-Abnett, I’ve discovered that there’s a lot to be said for just chilling out and chatting with a good friend.

Our last trip away was Rome, nearly seven years ago. We went there for a long weekend as our belated honeymoon and it remains, to my mind, the most incredible few days I can remember. Rome is a strange city; it’s easy to get around, there’s graffiti everywhere and every other car is a Smart car. I went there for one reason alone. The Colosseum.

For years I had – and still have – a recurring dream about the Colosseum. Naturally it left an ingrained urge to go see it. I remember that evening absolutely vividly. We’d arrived mid afternoon, found the hotel, had a drink… and decided we’d just take a walk. We let our feet do the guiding and were just wandering. We found the Circus Maximus purely by chance and it was about then that I started to realise just what a remarkable place we had come to.

We kept on walking, rounded the corner and bang. There it was. Just… there. Sitting at the end of the street on which we stood, the weirdest centrepiece to a roundabout you’ll ever see. And I cried. I cried Actual Tears. Because it was just so darned incredible to see it.

My other overriding memory of Rome was the sheer determination of the street vendors. There was a day when we were sitting having lunch in the Campo de’ Fiori, watching them hock their wares. Sunglasses. Hats. ‘I Luff Rome’ type souvenirs. You know. Tat. And then it rained. Boy, did it rain. The rain was bouncing off the pavements. It was utterly wonderful to sit there with a glass of Rioja watching this rain and watching the street vendors scurry away… only to return five minutes later selling umbrellas.


Rome, it may come as no surprise to learn, is pretty high up on my list of places I want to go back to.

So how about yourselves, gentle reader(s)? What are the most memorable places you’ve visited?

3 thoughts on “When in Rome…

  1. Darren Sandford says:

    When I was small, we always used to go to Camber Sands for holidays and weekends. My parents had a caravan there for a while, until they had to get rid of it when things became tight. I miss those weekends away to this day. I loved it down there.

    The other memorable holidays must be the ones where things get interesting. One year we went to Pennsylvania to spend a week at the house of a friend who we met in an online game. However, the flights were booked incorrectly (by the airline itself) and we arrived at Schipol only to be told that there was no way we could have ever made the connection. We were rather upset, as this really was our first ever overseas holiday, but they eventually got us another flight and upgraded us to business class! And the time we spent there was magical.

  2. Brother Richard says:

    When I was working for the military, I had the great pleasure to enjoy a little vacation in Central America (Hondura, Nicaragiua, Panama, Columbia). The people where very charming, the dirt roads, quaint towns, and beautiful beaches. I am so grateful that I never have to go back.

    What I do miss about my current location is the wonderful food I found in New York City. A whole in the wall deli with no place to sit would pile fresh ingrediants onto a roll. The resulting sandwhich would comfortably feed a family of four for a week.

  3. LMF says:

    Growing up in the 70’s my family usually made the “arduous” trek from Buckingham to Burnham-On-Sea for a week of fun at a holdiay camp. The highlight was that I always got to play golf with my dad.

    After we moved to the US in 1978 I went to Disneyland and I remember that my uncle flew us in his own Cessna from Oregon to Anaheim. I have since been all over the US and Canada. I cannot say enough good things about Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia. I love Mexico and the mexican people as well as Costa Rica, Cuba and Puerto Rico. Hawaii was a huge disappointment as was China and Thailand..

    I happen to live in one fo the most beautiful areas of the world (Portland, Oregon) and so I can have a great holiday without going more than 100 miles. I can go fishing in the Pacific or kayaking in the Columbia Gorge or snowboarding in the mountains or hunting and hiking ,,, the world is my oyster here.

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