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.

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[wellness] The False Concept of Cooking

I’ve always been a big fan of eating whole, unharassed, clean vegetables. I really love the simplicity of it. I think it’s one of the things I love most about my rabbits – we can pretty much eat the same food. However, I didn’t always know how to eat. My biggest mistake when I first became vegan was that I tried looking for foods in the supermarket that were beyond the fruit and veg aisle. I found myself frustrated with the conventional foods and convenience foods in the parts of the supermarket that I’d always bought food from, the fact that dietary staples such as Packet Pasta (an example would be Kraft Macaroni), vegetarian frozen food, vegetarian chilled ready meals, curry sauces, snacks and even drinks were full of animal products. I had many a meltdown in the supermarket where I would just walk out of the shop and sit in my car and cry, because I didn’t know what to do, I was certain I wasn’t going to eat that crap, but I didn’t know what to eat.

Something my aunt told me recently, when I told her a vegan friend has found out she’s gluten intolerant, was “she’s going to have to learn to cook then.”

This is the big myth that keeps us all subjugated and enslaved to a world of shit food.

You don’t have to learn to cook. You don’t need to learn to cook.

You need to learn to eat.

A lot of “so you want to be vegan” type books (apologies if this book is real, I’m categorizing a type of book here) tell you that you need to eat more whole foods, that you can get “meaty” foods like tofu, Facon (fake bacon), scheeze (fake cheese) and so on, to replace the meat in your food.

Meat loss is not the problem.

All these eating books have built up the idea that you need to replace the meat with a solid, meat-textured object, that you only need to check the ingredients are animal free, and that if you do, POP! You’re vegan.

This type of eating is unsustainable, and really it undermines the fundamental principles of veganism. Instead of trying to find foods that you used to eat which happen to be vegan, and attempting to subsist off those (beans on toast anyone), or trying to “veganize” foods which are not vegan, or imitate foods, here’s a staggering thought:
How about try eating totally different foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, and see where that takes you?

I’m only being slightly sarcastic here because it wasn’t until my mum died of cancer in December that I realised what I’d been doing wrong with my eating habits this entire time. We all do it. It’s so ingrained into us from birth that we must eat a particular way and when we question it we’re told it’s because of nutrition and when we get ill we’re told it’s because we’re not eating a particular way. On paper, I’ve always thought I understood this concept of “changing the way you eat” and thought it just meant, “stop eating animal products” and “move away from meat and two veg nonsense.” It’s so very much bigger than that.

What if the answer was to totally break free from all the things you think you know about cooking, all your kitchenware, all your dishes, steamers, microwave, etc etc? And then, once you’ve started listening to your body, identifying what it needs, and acting on it, you could maybe add some of those things back in?

After I got the news about my mum, I couldn’t eat anything other than raw vegetables for a week.

I didn’t understand why. My 22 year old sister, across the country, was spontaneously having the exact same problem. We both fundamentally knew, no matter what anyone told us was the cause of our mother’s death, that food was the key. In our house growing up, a meal would be chicken nuggets and chips, with maybe a tablespoon of tinned peas or sweetcorn. Snacks were crisps, biscuits and in summer, home-made ice lollies made from that stuff you dilute. We never had real fruit juice, fresh vegetables or fruit. Sometimes at Christmas there would be tangerines. When we went to clear her house, we found receipts for food shopping. Ready meals full of processed meat and other junk. I had changed the way I ate when I first left home at 18. Moving in with an Aunt while I finished school had been a culture shock. The idea of eating two freshly cooked vegetables with the evening meal literally astounded me. I felt so healthy. I didn’t even consider the possibility that this was only a moderately healthy meal. I still filled my face with chocolate and crisps, now adding biscuits and cakes to the list.

Sometimes, when I’m reading about nutrition and I come across some of the delicate balances of nutrients that we humans need, I wonder how it is that some people are still alive. I wonder how my sister and I didn’t grow up with some serious developmental disorders due to what we were eating.

I went to university. I became vegetarian. I felt like I’d never been healthier. I swapped sausages (which I’d always detested) for vegetarian sausages. Chicken nuggets became vegetarian nuggets. Chips (fries) were still chips. Pot noodles and spaghetti hoops were still the same too. Crisps (potato chips) were still a daily dietary staple. So was chocolate. I struggled with my weight, constantly fighting to get down to a 10 (US6). I exercised and didn’t understand why I was tired all the time. It literally didn’t occur to me that my poor diet was making me ill.

Fast forward two years. I became vegan. I took the “3 week vegan challenge” and, once the three weeks were up, I never really got round to eating eggs or dairy again. I felt healthier, stronger, happier, more outgoing, my grades soared and I was finally on track to get the degree classification I’d been obsessing over for the past two years. Never had I felt better. All my life, I’d been plagued by stomach pains, stomach cramps, trapped wind, bloating and a constant feeling of nausea. I had actually associated that nausea with feeling full. When I became vegan, after the first two weeks, all these problems went away. I realised that it wasn’t normal to feel like this, and that I had the power to avoid it. That was when I first started wondering if I was lactose intolerant. I had a few false starts in the first year; every time I slipped up, I felt the familiar nausea and pains in my stomach. It became a big decision-making factor in what I ate. And nothing vegan ever made me feel like that.

Two years later, I’d become quite ill. I’d been working at McDonalds and eating fries for lunch every day, or a hash brown if I was on the breakfast shift. Milkshakes started creeping their way in. And ice creams. Soon I was feeling sick all the time again, and I had forgotten why this happened. I thought it might be gluten, I was adamant that it couldn’t possibly be milk. After six months off gluten and feeling only slightly better (probably because my favourite food was pasta and cheese sauce), I had to concede that it was milk. I was being sick several times every day. I got very ill with a mobility problem and was in bed most days, with no money to buy good food. I finally cut out milk and, while some of my problems improved, others got worse.

I had cut out milk, but I hadn’t replaced it with anything. Yes, I was drinking soy milk instead of regular milk in my tea, but there was also the lasagna, mac and cheese, yoghurt; I had replaced them with totally different milk-free foods, but I hadn’t replaced the nutrients. Primarily, the protein.

I didn’t realise this until a fitness instructor was sat next to me at lunch one day and she looked at my food, tapped the plastic container and demanded “where is your protein?” in a particular tone that the written word cannot emulate. I looked at my food. I looked at her. Nettled at criticism of my food, I said, “I have protein with my evening meal.” She told me it wasn’t good enough. We never spoke much again, but in the back of my mind it got me thinking. Where was my protein?

I got wrapped up in other things such as teacher training, and my nutrient stores got even more depleted, until one day, early last year, I realised I couldn’t carry on. I was working 70 hours per week and not getting enough time to eat. I got diagnosed with anaemia and I knew it wasn’t the only problem. I looked at all my proteins in the cupboard and I could have cried. Quinoa, advertised as a complete protein, is one of the worst sources of protein of everything ever. White pasta has more protein. My Quorn, a vegetarian substitute for meat, which I was only eating for the protein because I hated the stuff, but it said on the label “good source of protein” was the second worst offender. In some cases, less than ten grams of protein per 100g. I believe, after years of false advertising, that they changed the labelling in the last 3 months because it’s a terrible source of protein. Nuts, textured vegetable protein and tofu all did a lot better. Nuts were the best. And lentils were really good as well. Mushrooms were another shocker, with hardly any protein in them. As a comparison, I looked at the meat that my boyfriend kept in a particular freezer drawer. The salmon, lamb, and chicken were all good sources of protein – but even the salmon was not as good as peanuts and pistachios.

I went around all the foods in my kitchen and I felt like my eyes had opened. I suddenly had a basis to found my dietary principles on. I was still eating a lot of processed and convenience foods, but I figured at the time that it was fine as long as I got my protein. However, I had noticed that I was struggling to get my five-a-day fruit and veg.

That was where I was at when my mum died.

Then my attitude to food was turned on its head even more.

Instead of eating for “taste” or “favourites” or “comfort” how about eating for nutrition? So, eat things that will enable you to get 45g of protein a day, eat enough things containing vitamins and minerals, get your 90g of carbs and 70g of fat. Ensure that the protein includes the right amounts of each amino acid, and that the fat contains essential fatty acids.

As long as you are doing that, it doesn’t matter how you eat. You can eat that as a meat eater, a vegetarian, a vegan, raw vegan, fruitarian or sproutarian (sorry, juicearians, if you even exist, it’s impossible to get all your nutrients from your specific diet).

When my mum died, and I was just eating vegetables, I began researching raw food diets because they have almost become fad diets. I did a series of articles on them, which explained what they all were and weighed up how easy it was to get each nutrient from each diet.

I then took that one step further and identified ten vegan sources for each nutrient, because I was sick of people saying that it was an unhealthy diet.

While I was researching all these different diets, I became very attracted to fruitarianism. I thought the ideals of the diet were beautiful, and reminded me of a renaissance garden of Eden type fantasy. Having researched it, though, I knew it wasn’t the healthiest diet to follow 100%. I know that some people do anyway, but on the other hand there are people who eat nothing but junk food – neither of these is optimal but it won’t kill you straight away, so people keep doing it. I felt myself changing inside. I felt that fruit was the answer. I had never really been interested in fruit before, so this was a revelation.

A typical fruitarian meal
A typical fruitarian meal that I ate.

So at the moment, I’m a 60% fruitarian, 40% vegan (cooked). For this reason, I eat breakfasts and lunches that are fruit and nuts. Some days, like proper fruitarians, I will graze throughout the day. Other days, I feel the need for a “conventional meal” so I prepare all my fruit and nuts and put it in a bowl to eat. It makes me feel like I’ve actually eaten, and is easier to keep track of what I’ve eaten.
Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve felt like I’m functioning at a much higher intellectual level than before – no, I don’t mean it’s made me smarter, I mean, I was struggling with processing power, my brain wasn’t processing things very quickly and was struggling to take in new information. Not only that, but I was feeling very tired through the day, pretty much four hours of tiredness, followed by four hours of wakefulness. Since I’ve been eating fruit for my daytime meals, these problems seem to have disappeared.

Another fruitarian meal
Another fruitarian meal that I’ve eaten

I’ve started eating fruits I never would have considered before – I always used to worry about buying fruit, because like many people, I would constantly buy it, eat a small amount, then it would go off, then I would throw it away. I got so mad at my wastefulness that I stopped buying fruit for years after a particularly bad incident with a bunch of bananas. Making a commitment to eat fruit during the day eliminates this problem because the fruit just gets eaten. I’ve gone from having no fruit in a week (just veg) to having four to six pieces in a “meal.” I enjoy food shopping a lot more and I finally feel like I’m getting enough of everything. I’ve also stopped skipping meals since I’ve been seeing fruit as a viable alternative to regular meals – before, I would often skip breakfast and lunch on the basis that I would look in the cupboard and feel like I just didn’t have the food I wanted to eat – but I didn’t know what food I was craving.

Another thing I really like, for why I skipped the raw vegan step entirely, is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment or cooking skills to be a fruitarian. Raw Vegans cheat a bit and use all sorts of weird and wonderful food processing techniques to make their food look and taste like “real food” whereas fruitarians just accept their food in the shape and size and flavour that it comes in, and eat it whole and unaltered. I really feel like it makes me connect with what I’m eating and where it came from in a way that raw veganism could never do for me.  I’ve found myself drinking a lot more water since I’ve started eating fruit, too, which generally improves my wellbeing.

I don’t think I am never going to be a full-time long term fruitarian, because I feel that other foods also have value, but I do enjoy a good fruit fest and think that if you’re having the same problems that I was, the addition of fruit and nuts to your balanced diet could be your answer.