Have the Rome tour of your life!

Rome is a city full of surprises, a living museum with great weather, food, sites and above all people.  It’s the perfect holiday destination on many levels.  Visiting sites such as the Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps are just as pleasurable as enjoying a superb meal in the Ghetto, or taking a stroll amongst the cobbled streets of Trastevere while eating a delicious ice cream.  Either way, you will need to do some planning so that you don’t waste time queueing for tickets or wandering around the city with your nose in a map trying to find Piazza Navona!

Some places, the Vatican and Colosseum especially, have queues to overcome and can be skipped by booking a fully qualified licensed guide.  It’s worth doing not only as a way to jump the queue, but also a good guide has a wealth of knowledge and many stories to tell that will make your visit all the more interesting and worthwhile. In a group tour each person is issued with a headset so nobody will have to strain there ears above the noisy crowds in order to hear what the guide is explaining.

Many of the sites of course don’t need tickets or a guide, places like the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Spanish Steps and the many piazzas of Rome can be seen whenever you want, a guide isn’t really necessary for these, but having someone who knows the history is always recommended, having someone who is passionate about the city and who is able to tell you stories and facts that you won’t find in any guide book, really makes a difference.

Planning your holiday makes it a much less stressful experience.  Booking ahead will save you time, and money, and by booking a guided tour you will be able to see all of what this city has to offer and still have time to relax.  Remember, Rome also has many restaurants, bars, shops and parks to see!  If you have time, why not book a trip to the island of Capri, Castel Gandolfo( the summer residence of the Pope) or even Pompeii?

Whatever you end up doing in the Eternal City, a professional tour will make your experience and unforgettable one.  This city is a treasure when it comes to architecture, history, artists and food, make sure you make the most of your time by planning ahead.  If you are not sure what to see, book a general tour of the city so that you can see the main points of interest and then you can choose where you would like to spend more time.  Whatever you see or do, one this is guaranteed, you won’t be disappointed.


What the Butler Saw

Joe Orton. Circumstances surrounding his brutal murder apart, and that I watched ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ at Manchester Royal Exchange in 1984 when Adam Ant played the lead, the plot of ‘What the Butler Saw’ never really grabbed my attention, a veiled parody of British sexuality in the sixties with a twist at every turn, a Carry On on any other rainy day.

So what did the butler see? Too much, according to Vatican authorities who have incarcerated their nemesis for leaking sensitive documents. ‘Sensitive’ meaning evidence of collusion between the Vatican and Italian politicians, vast amounts of money, policy on sex scandals in the Catholic Church, and other matters of a disconcerting nature.

Paolo Gabriele, known as ‘Angel Gabriel’ to the godly good, is currently detained at His Holiness’ Pleasure in cells somewhere beneath Saint Peter’s Square. Paolo is permitted to attend Mass once a week, but his future looks somewhat bleak according to the Swiss Guard who offer him blessed bread and the blood of Christ when the cock crows thrice round about noon each day. Gabriele’s ‘aggravated theft’ (lifting papers from the Pope’s desk) was an act of faith, committed to promote honesty and integrity in the church. If he is sentenced, he’ll serve time in a Roman jail with common criminals.

Pope Benedict XVI has the authority to pardon ‘little Paul’ at any time, but for now, under the watchful eyes of a commission of cardinals, insider sources report that he’s biding his time until a September hearing at the earliest. The official line suggests a 2013 trial, if at all. Worst case scenario for Gabriele is 8 years behind bars for stealing state secrets, but a lifetime of smear and scapegoating is more realistic.

Meanwhile, Vatican tourism carries on regardless, a few hundred metres away from the mouth of truth.

Nuns on the run? Almost!

‘Socially active’ nuns in Iowa, USA hit the headlines this week. Ladies working beyond the call of duty, something which the Vatican disapproves of, have been doing their utmost to help the downtrodden in the wake of hard line Republican social policy. The rallying call to arms came courtesy of an organisation which goes by the somewhat sinister cyberpunk name of ‘Network’, and there was no holding back the battling nuns at the fight for the rights of the poor sign up desk. However, before battle lines could be drawn, the Vatican made it known that they would rather see the poor continue to suffer for the sake of ‘doctrinal values’, ergo their teachings on abortion and same sex marriage.

Network is a catholic group seeking social equality, and their plan was to send a bus load of goodly nuns across the not insignificant matter of nine states to protest and educate, timed to interfere with budget cuts by Congress. Not a slap across godly chops, nor a swipe at stateside bishops, whatever you have been instructed to believe from on high. Rather an act of goodwill, pure and simple.

Support for 14 doughty nuns who are working ‘kindness shifts’ from their technicolor ‘God Squad’ coach is growing, despite the mandate thrown across the pond to three servile bishops. The Vatican has given them five years to bring similar society ‘The Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ into line, and quell any further displays of kindness.

Equality in it’s many forms is perhaps purge priority #1, but whatever the Vatican elite decide, there’ll always be millions of Catholics out there who disagree.

Hyper Smash

Vatican Tourism

The Vatican City is the main destination of pilgrimage and religious tourist attraction in Italy. It was officially born on 11 February 1929, after the signing of ‘Lateran Pacts’ between the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy and the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri. The long standing dispute between the State and the Church came to an end with the creation of the autonomous government of the Vatican City.

The Vatican City is the smallest independent sovereign state in the world with a government, statutes and head of state of its own (the Pontiff of the Catholic Church). It covers an area of just 0.44 square kilometers, is located inside Rome, and as an autonomous State keeps its own laws, public institutions, coins and official press. Despite it’s size, it holds within it’s boundaries the residence of the Pope, the site of St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

The core of the Vatican City is St Peter’s Square and Basilica, where it’s possible to admire the ‘Palace of Governorship’ and the Vatican Gardens. Built in 1506 over St Peter’s tomb, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the world’s largest. 
In 1547 Michelangelo took over and simplified Bramante’s previous plan, increasing the scale. At his death in 1564, one of Michelangelo’s students, Giacomo della Porta, looked after the erection of the Dome following the master’s design. The beating heart of the Vatican City, St Peter’s square gathers thousands of believers and tourists, all fascinated by it’s powerful artistic and religious scenography.

The Vatican City is a popular destination for tourists, especially Christians wishing to see the Pope or practice their faith. Pilgrims will most often visit Vatican City at special moments in the liturgical year, such as Christmas, Easter or during important periods such as the proclamation of a holy year or the funeral and election of a pope. The business of Vatican Tours is one of the main sources of revenue in the economy of the Vatican City. Although less than a quarter of a square mile in area, in 2007, some 4.3 million people visited the Vatican Museums.

The practice of pilgrimage has ancient origins. It is deeply rooted in Christianity and holds a  profound spiritual value for believers who travel (by tradition on foot) from their homes to holy places. The term itself means ‘journey to join the sacred’, done for devotion or as a sign of penance, but also a simple and ancient version of modern tourism, or more precisely, religious tourism. The positive trend and number of pilgrims of the last few years prove that it’s popularity is increasing.


Vatican ticket prices may increase… again!

All recent talk of the Vatican has revolved around the new anti-money laundering unit, set up internally after the Guardia di Finanza seized anywhere between 20 and 30 million euros to really set the cat amongst the pigeons. Head of Vatican Bank and Santander (Italy) chairman, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, is under investigation. Attempts to drag l’Istituto per le Opere di Religione into line with Italian financial laws need look no further than Vatican Bank ATM’s which are in Latin. An innocent cash withdrawal will spell out ‘deductio ex pecunia’. Yes, very peculiar. And that’s not all. Rumours abound of at least one account with Mafia connections and what with a huge list of clients the Vatican Bank wants to keep private, God really does only know the details of dearly departed millions, the last batch of which was heading for Germany and a high street bank here in Italy called ‘Fucino’.

The possibility of hundreds of millions of euros having gone astray from the Vatican Bank is a fascinating prospect. It would highlight the relevance of tax police patrols, which are highly visible on the way to St Peter’s Square from every direction every God given day, reassuring visitors that tour guides and gatherers in the area have the necessary permits to work in Italy. They issue occasional fines for a few hundred euros to those who don’t.

So how will this affect tourists and indeed anyone else intent on seeing the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel? It may be used as an excuse for yet another increase in Vatican ticket prices, which is something we have done our level best to keep in check, by lowering the cost of all our Vatican tours for everyone.

It’s a pity that the Vatican seems to be embroiled in one scandal after another, mirroring the hapless misadventures of Silvio Berlusconi, whose outrageous antics have made Italy a laughing stock for as long as anyone can care to remember. Who knows, at some future time a Berlusconi tour, perhaps visiting the many places in Rome where his legendary misdemeanours made headline news, could rival the historical scandals of the papacy.