Rome in A Day (and pushchair, wheelchair accessibility)

So, unless you believe it was beamed here by aliens, most people can agree that Rome wasn’t built in a day, yada yada yada.

However, it can be visited in a day (although you will miss out on loads).  Here’s the 5 things to see/do if you only have one day in Rome, I’ve included accessibility information for wheelchairs and pushchairs because I know a few people who have been put off going to Rome due to a perceived lack of accessibility:

5. The Spanish Steps – I really liked them, and I used a network of back alleys to get to the top, just as it was going dark, then climbed down, because it was actually less touristy to do it that way around and we only got harassed by two flower sellers at the top, not the zillion or so at the bottom, because I realized I couldn’t get a good shot from the bottom so I bought a postcard instead.

Spanish Steps Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s a monumental staircase.  The back way isn’t totally wheelchair friendly, if you’re a solo wheelchair traveller you would be disappointed, but it’s one flight of stairs after a bit of a hill (see my first picture, that’s the back way not the actual Spanish steps, which are much less accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, particularly due to size and shape of the steps, as well as crowds), so if you’ve got a carer with you, you might be able to possibly get to the top (depending on your circumstances).  Personally, I would have flagged down a strong person to help me lift the wheelchair to get my mum up these steps if I’d taken her (if she’d wanted to see the top, and obviously at a time when I was still caring for her), but obviously it depends on how comfortable you are with doing that.  No way in hell I would have got an electric wheelchair up these steps or a scooter, unless it was a child’s.  This is also the way up that I’d recommend if you’ve got a pushchair, pram or buggy.  If you look at a map of Rome, just trace back from the top of the Spanish steps down some alleys (alleys are a bit hilly) to see how to get up here.

The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.
The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.  Note these aren’t the actual Spanish steps, this is a MUCH shorter, shallower staircase.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps.  My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps. My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.

4.  The Trevi Fountain would usually come here, but due to current renovations it’s actually empty and covered with scaffolding at the moment.

The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014
The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014

Instead, I’m going to bump up The Pantheon, which has had all its repairs completed and is fully open.  I first saw the Pantheon in 2007, when it was covered in indoor scaffolding, and I was very pleasantly surprised this time that it was restored to its stunning former glory with nary a builder in sight.  It’s well worth a visit and when you do, look up at the ceiling as well.

The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible.  Entry is free.
The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible. Entry is free.

Trevi Fountain Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s all flat ground to get to the Trevi Fountain, but you can’t actually get to it, usually at Easter and Summer there are huge crowds, so I’m not sure how you would get to the front to see anything, also the actual sides of the Trevi Fountain are quite high to stop people falling in, so you might need to either stand up (if you are able) or get someone to lift you to see all of it.  It’s 100% pushchair accessible, though.  With the current glass floor, if your wheelchair isn’t too wide, you could get to see the current renovations up close before they restore it to its former anarchic glory.

Pantheon Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

The Pantheon is totally accessible by wheelchair and inside is nice shiny flat floorage and wide thoroughfares.

3.  Eat At A Pavement Cafe – one of my most memorable experiences each time I go to Rome is the food.  Yeah, it’s somewhat overpriced, and yes, it’s just pasta/pizza at most eateries.  But when it’s 9pm, the heat of the day is still in the air, the twinkling fairy lights are on above you, and some guy with an accordion is busking up and down the street, eating a pizza at a pavement cafe, either with someone you care about or solo, is one of the finest eating experiences of my life.  “But you have a milk allergy!” I hear you declare (or if you know me less well, “but you’re vegan!” which has only been since January)  I found this awesome place where the owner was really helpful and did me a dairy free pizza with no cheese, and the base was dairy free anyway, so that was fantastic.  I was very excited to have a vegetable pizza.  Mine cost 7 Euros, my drink (Sprite) was 4 Euros.

This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza.  They didn't overcharge us, either.
This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza. They didn’t overcharge us, either.

Pavement Cafe Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility: 

Pretty much every pavement cafe is wheelchair accessible, you can just roll up and they’ll pull the chair away from the table if you don’t want it, and they will bring everything to you, like they do for everyone else, although there’s often a step or three to get inside and toilets (where they have one) are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, baby changing stations are also non-existent.

2.  The Coliseum – Being an archaeology graduate, Rome means Ancient Rome to me.  Getting to see the Coliseum (some nations spell it Colloseum, or Coloseo) and actually stand where thousands of people stood, watching the games that used to go on, wondering what they thought and how they responded when they saw such spectacles… that’s just tremendous for me.  While here, I bought a 7 Euro guidebook for the Forum and Palatine, because you get a combined ticket (which is easier to obtain from the forum with less queueing, but I did the coliseum first).

The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after (I think it was Caligula) renovated from the original dirt floor.
The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after Domitian (the original builder Vespasian’s son) renovated from the original dirt floor and added the top layer of seating, doing both in wood, which was later fire damaged around AD217.

Coliseum Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

There is a lift to get to the top stone floor where you can look at the actual arena, and the exhibition area, although once you’re up there, I don’t think the actual monument has wide enough walkways for a standard wheelchair plus hand clearance, so you’d have to go back to the lift to get back down again.  I’m not sure I’d pay full price for this, and I don’t know how wheelchair friendly the lower levels are, where only the guided tours are allowed, because I didn’t want to pay for a tour guide.  There were plenty of people with pushchairs at all levels of the coliseum.

1. The Roman Forum and palatine – There’s no decorum in the forum!  Depending which path you take from the entrance, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just a big hill with not a lot of interesting stuff on it, without any plaques etc to tell you what’s going on.  Go back to the entrance and either go right or straight on, rather than left, and you go round the hill to it’s foot, where you will see the most awesome remains, such as these, which made me wonder if I’d wandered onto the set of Xena, Warrior Princess:

I wish my house looked like this.
I wish my house looked like this.
This copper door is still keeping this building's contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built.  I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside...
This copper door is still keeping this building’s contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built. I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside…
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome.  This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome. This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.

Roman Forum and Palatine Wheelchair and Pushchair Accessibility:

The Forum’s accessibility is surprisingly good.  Another reason why it’s scored quite highly on this list.  There is a separate entrance for wheelchairs and pushchairs, with a lift to get to the correct level.  You can’t get to the Palatine at all as far as I can see but the Forum’s where all the best stuff is (all the above photos are of the Forum) and you can get around most of it that’s all on the same level.  If I was in a wheelchair or planning a trip for someone in a wheelchair, I’d have no worries about the Roman Forum.

Hat Tip:

And I also strongly recommend that you take a hat and plenty of water.  I had water (and there’s a hosepipe in the coliseum where you can refill although the water quality is not quite British tap water quality, something I gladly pay my water bills for back home) but I had no hat, and I still got heat exhaustion after 24 hours in Rome using factor 50 suncream because my head just got too hot during the heat of the day, from visiting so many outdoor monuments without ample breaks.

Toilet Tip:

The biggest issue facing disabled tourists in Rome will be the toilets, or lack of toilets.  I strongly recommend you find the McDonalds restaurants which are all over Rome because they have a standard design in Europe, which means EVERY McDonalds in Europe must have a ground level accessible disabled toilet.  They’re usually pretty easy to spot as well.  How do I know this?  I worked at McDonalds all over the UK for 2 years, full-time, and I always make use of their facilities when I’m on the road.  I am very conscientious and always buy something (cup of tea, large fries or even a garden salad if I’m not overly hungry, it’s part of my 5-a-day if nothing else), because some stores get really sick of tourists literally pooping on their facilities and not even buying anything, which means these people have no respect for the person who cleans those toilets (hi!), and I don’t want to see stores charging people to use the toilets or otherwise restricting access.  KFC and Burger King may also have accessible toilets, but I can’t personally recommend them since I’ve only ever had overcharged, bad food experiences at Burger King, and KFC’s food is excellent (love love LOVE their corn on the cob, fries and BBQ sauce) but I rarely use their toilets because their Drive Thrus tend to have short opening hours and they don’t have as many city locations.

Note on the Vatican:

You’ll notice that I didn’t include il Vaticano on this list.  The Vatican City is really a completely stunning experience, and very accessible, BUT you really need a full day, or at the very least, an entire half a day, to soak up everything.  I also recommend you getting an ISIC card (the European Student card) if you are possibly able to (I get mine from the amount of language courses I’m studying at my Uni – you don’t need to be a full time student to get one, just studying at a university that participates in NUS/ISIC) because it slashes prices for you at all the major sites, including the Vatican, and I wish I’d had it when I went to Italy last year because it’s accepted pretty much everywhere in Rome.

Travel Tuesday: Nice Pair of Tits, and a Dog Cafe

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Have you ever wondered what a dog cafe would be like?

People often wonder how I can be a dog person and a rabbit person.  It’s like my nationality: I’m eligible for dual British and Irish nationality and could have two passports if I wanted.  I just stick to British for now because it’s convenient and why spend money on 2 passports when I can only leave the country once at a time (there aren’t two of me, although if I ever went to Israel then took it into my head to go to Libya, I’d need to apply for my second passport because you can’t go to Libya if you’ve got an Israel stamp anywhere in your passport.  I think there are other countries where this happens as well, but I don’t know).  Being British doesn’t make me any less Irish.  If UKIP get voted in as the majority party at the next election, I would apply for my Irish citizenship and take my tax money to Eire and continue enjoying all the benefits of being a member of the EU and I would be proud to be part of such an awesome country.

It’s the same with dogs and rabbits.  I love rabbits when I have them, and I love dogs when I have them.  Very, VERY rarely, I meet a cat that I like; so far I’ve only met three, including the Maine Coon my mum found in a bin shortly before I was born, and that used to sleep in my cot and watch me when my mum was out.  Apparently this is not normal.  I’ve heard horror stories about this happening to other people’s siblings and they didn’t go well.  Any cat that has that level of responsibility over a newborn and doesn’t take the opportunity to kill the baby has to be a very special cat.

Sidenote: Cats are not babysitters.

So how good was the Loch Lomond area for dogs?  In the words of the Scottish Weather Forecasting Service, it was phenomenal!  First there was the National Park which would have been an awesome walk for dogs (we went up Ben Lomond in hailstones and 70 miles-per-hour wind).  Then there was the Loch itself, where you could clean the mud off your dog’s paws in the water.

The most surprising part was in the Loch Lomond Shopping Centre in Alexandria.  At the far end, up a flight of stairs was this:

Dug is the Scottish colloquialism for dog.
Dug is the Scottish colloquialism for dog.

It’s a cafe and boutique for dogs.  Owners are welcome too.

I didn’t have a dog (obviously) but I was wearing a dalmatian print fleece so they let me in.  Unlike the cat and rabbit cafes in Japan, they don’t have staff dogs to pet, but a nice couple let me pet their dog instead, which was a rare treat since we don’t know anyone with a dog back home.  There was this lovely photo booth where you could take a photo of your dog hiding amongst these cuddlies, too:

Can you spot the real one?
Can you spot the real one?
Spottydug!
Spottydug!

I enjoyed the decor, the feeling of being around people who were pro-dog, and the delightful lack of screaming children – there was a creche over the way.  The food was nice too – jacket potato, sandwich toastie type stuff that’s just what you need after climbing a mountain.  And a good pot of tea.

“But you said it was a cafe and boutique for dogs.”  Yes I did.  There was a dog menu on the chalkboard behind the dalmatian in the photo above, and at his paws there was a selection of dog collars and other nice doggy things.  In a little basket behind me, there was also a load of communal dog toys for visiting dogs to play with so they could stay occupied.  I would love to take a bouncy dog here and know they would be able to be themselves and run around and play instead of having to sit and stay.

There was also an awareness stand for the SSPCA.  Lots of English and Welsh people think that because the RSPCA covers their countries, that it’s a UK-wide charity.  This is not true, and as a result the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals gets woefully underfunded, with people sometimes even leaving legacies to the RSPCA by mistake because they didn’t know there was a difference!  Unfortunately, the RSPCA believes it needs every penny that it gets and seems to think its cause is more important than that of other animal charities (bear in mind a lot of their work is with farms despite what the adverts show you).  Know which one you want to give your money to because you can’t get it back once you’ve paid them.

Overall I had a great time at this cafe and it really made my day better and brighter to be able to come and eat and drink here and be in such a dog environment.

There were even more doggy accents to the cafe, but I’ll leave them for you to discover when you go there. 😉

Downstairs there was an RSPB shop (that’s the bird charity. They cover the whole UK).  I had been disappointed to not get to see puffins on this trip, because the road to Skye was closed with the snow, so I was delighted when I found this puffin which I was able to keep and take home:

Huffin and Puffin, my new puffin.
Huffin and Puffin, my new puffin.

And this lovely pair of tits:

Ooh er!
Ooh er!

When you squeeze the Bluetits or puffin, they make the same noise they would make in the wild.  They’re an excellent educational tool for children.  We have a trio of bluetits that frequent our garden at home, along with a robin and a couple of other birds.  Sometimes they even fly into the rabbit village to say hello to the bunnies. I couldn’t resist these two though because now I have a great pair of Blue Tits (as opposed to a blue pair of Great Tits, another species of bird, but not actually blue).

I don’t think there are enough people in the UK who can recognise birds either when looking at or listening to them.  It’s one of those skills like plant and tree recognition that seems to be more lost with every generation.  Maybe I’m just being curmudgeonly but when I have children it will be a high priority for them to recognise wildlife and have a good level of awareness of nature and our interactions with the environment, even if we live in a city.

We went onwards to Doune Castle after this.