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Trafalgar Square 2009

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From boarding gates to magic gates. Rome on a shoestring

(Written in 2007)

The tight security at London's Stansted Airport was causing significant delays, queues formed to join queues and my usual generous time allocation was being dangerously eroded. Ryanair is not known for its tolerance regarding late arrivals, closing the check-in precisely 40 minutes before the stated departure time. My perspiration appeared to be inversely proportional to the time remaining as I huffed and puffed my way to the boarding gate scattering the old and infirm in my haste.

Ryanair fly the ubiquitous 737 and in particular the 800 variant allowing Boeing's maximum seating configuration of 189 souls shoe-horned into its cabin. The leg room is restricted whilst the seat itself does a fair impersonation of an iron maiden; in order to remove anything from ones pocket requires the agility of a limbo dancer and the dexterity of a Dickensian pickpocket. One's nose is all but an inch away from the headrest in front. I felt if I were to sneeze my head would hit the seat in front causing that seat's occupant to bang his head and so on in a comical chain reaction up the length of the fuselage culminating in the pilot smacking his face on the cockpit's windscreen. But you get what you pay for! Will I ever learn?

I always worry in case budget airlines have budget pilots, ones who are not fully committed, but then we don't expect bus drivers to be in love with their buses so why should we expect pilots to be romantically attached to their aircraft.

I was on one of my usual shoestring excursions, flying a budget airline and using a low cost hotel, a mode of travel I had become used to over the years affording me some interesting anecdotes. You don't get collapsing beds, leaking bidets and shower heads that become autonomous spinning wildly whist soaking the whole bathroom and a good proportion of the bedroom at a Hilton or a Marriott. My destination this time was Rome's Ciampino Airport, a small facility catering for both military and commercial aviation some 18 miles south of the city centre. The scene on my arrival couldn't be any different from the sombre atmosphere at Stansted, at Ciampino if chaos didn't reign it certainly had a working majority, it was anarchy by comparison. People and cars, confusion and smiling faces, blue sky and Latin passion it was a different world, I was warming to Italy already.

My hotel was in the Monti area of Rome, located on the highest of the seven hills the Esquiline. During the days of empire this was an exclusive area patrician villas dominated whilst fruit orchards, olive groves and temples dotted the district. The ever increasing barbarian raids forced the inhabitants to move closer to the Tiber for safety in what is now the Centro Storico district leaving Monti virtually uninhabited until it became a battle ground for rival clans in the Middle Ages. It is now a multicultural area and home to most of Rome's budget hotels including mine the Hotel Giubileo in the Via Carlo Alberta.

Hotel Giubileo
Hotel Giubileo

Only about 100 yards from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore the Giubileo lurked almost apologetically between a barber's shop and, a couple doors away the four star Mecenate Palace Hotel. My room is on the fourth floor and there is no lift. At this point let me recap. I am overweight, middle aged, unfit and I have a weak ankle a result of an army injury. I have booked a hotel on a hill the Cispius
a sub peak of the highest hill in Rome the Esquiline, the area is the Monti (mountain in Italian) and I am on the fourth floor. I am really excelling myself this time.

I had read through the comments left by ex-clients of the Giubileo on the web site I booked through. They hadn't rated the place very highly; noisy and small rooms appeared to be the main concern. The hotel's web site itself was full of dead links and the photographs bore no resemblance to the hotel I stayed at, only the addresses matched. In the lounge for want of a better word there was a small wooden post box mounted on one wall, it was marked Complain, in the singular, perhaps wishful thinking rather than badly construed English. It did however seem rather full.

My fourth floor room was therefore a bit of a surprise it was quite large with a five wide bed and a adequate clean bathroom with all the necessary fixtures and fittings. Air-conditioning whirred away whilst a window looked out from the back of the building onto backs of the buildings opposite. The furniture was utilitarian but serviceable, footmarks above the bed-head did worry me a bit but when in Rome.

The only real problem was the four floor climb which made it imperative to keep water, beer or preferably oxygen handy. My initial climb with bags and camera had me running for the 'mini bar' as soon as I could persuade to door to open but to my surprise it was empty. The room description should have read 'with mini fridge' which I soon stocked. The Hotel boasts 38 rooms, most of which are embedded in the private flats surrounding the main entrance, a strange setup. But the staff were helpful and friendly replacing my faulty telephone within five minutes, they seem to be making the best of what they have.

I have several passions in my life and high on the list is my digestive system, so it was with some purpose that I set out to find restaurants within easy walking distance of the Hotel. La Vecchia ConcaAntico Caffè Santa Maria, whose waiter offered interesting snippets of information concerning the architectural merits of the Santa Maria Maggiore and the undoubted charms of Rome's young ladies, offered superb lunch time salads.
provided my evening meal and the

An after lunch stroll down the Via Carlo Alberta brought me to the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele II, two large screens had been erected for the Notti di Cinema showing American and Spanish films from nine in the evening until the early hours. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the square was the remains of Villa Palombara, built by the Marquis Massimiliano Palombara. Integral within its structure was the Alchemist's or Magic Door. The story revolves around one Francesco Giustiniani Bono who found grass straws capable of turning to gold in the garden of the Villa. The following day he was unfortunate enough to disappear through the door leaving behind gilded straws. The remains of the Villa are now home to a colony of feral cats who parade and preen themselves in the sunlit garden.

Magic Gate and al fresco cats' home
Magic Gate and al fresco cats' home

Although the Hotel had it shortcomings, it was a low cost establishment and convenient for the attractions of central Rome. For a short stay such as mine or a weekend break perhaps the Giubileo was perfectly adequate, before complaining one should remind oneself of the cost of staying there, 'cheap and cheerful' is the term which suits the Hotel. I would certainly stay there again but would try to avoid the fourth floor, mountaineering not being a strong point of mine.


A photo journey
through Spain


Written by:
John MacDonald
Patricia Díaz Pereda.

ISBN 978-1-909612-70-9
To order from Amazon.co.uk
Click here

by John MacDonald



Moving on a pavement artist. London. 2009



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