Cambridge and Rome - a short European Work Trip

It's been a pretty busy start to the year for me, from a work travel perspective. I've been averaging two trips a month, and have now been to Europe twice. This week, I was back to Europe, primarily to do some training with the European sales team, but also to go and visit with a new customer that was deploying one of my products. The interesting thing about this trip was that it took me to two new cities that I had never been to before - Cambridge in the UK and Rome Italy. So that was exciting!

I flew out from Vancouver to London on Sunday night, arriving into Heathrow around midday on Monday. One of my co-workers had flown in a bit earlier that day, so we met up and headed over to pick up a rental car. for the drive up to Cambridge. That ended up being a bit of a farce - Hertz screwed around with getting a car together, and it ended up taking more than an hour. should have been 15 minutes tops. The only good thing was that we ended up with an M series BMW, which was very nice, at no extra cost.

The view across to King's College Chapel in Cambridge

The car made the two hour drive north very nice indeed, and it was late afternoon by the time we got checked into the hotel. The hotel was nothing special - a Holiday Inn - but it was fine. After getting settled, Robert and I met up in the bar to get our next couple of day organized, and to make sure we had everything prepared.

We met up with the rest of the team a couple hours later, and we took a taxi into town (the hotel was at the far north end of the city) and had a nice meal at a gastro pub. The food, beer and company were all good, but having been up for close to 30 hours straight at that point I didn't last too long.

We did training all day Tuesday and a little more than half the day Wednesday, The usual busy days. Tuesday night we all went out again, with curry for dinner followed by a bit of a late night at a very funky local pub. The place was seriously cool - not a straight line in the whole place. We played pool upstairs, and it was close to midnight by the time we were back at the hotel.

Some of the crazy stuff inside the pub.

Another one of the crazy displays inside the pub.

As mentioned, we wrapped up early afternoon on Wednesday- some of the team had trains back- and I had a lengthy call with Vancover from 5-7 p.m. So that gave me a few hours the wander around Cambridge.

A nice view up the river Cam, as I wndered into the center of town.

Walking towards the entrance to the chapel.

It was a beautiful, sunny (if cool) day, and I enjoyed wondering quite a bit. Initially, I walk up and around King's College and famous chapel. It's very beautiful,and is one of the best examples of English Gothic architecture. I was able to walk around and see the exterior from a number of different angles, and would have liked to see the interior as well.

But they wanted £9 to get in, so I passed on that. Still, it was pretty amazing even from the outside. After leaving the chapel, I continued my walk into the main part of town. About a week or so prior, Stephen Hawking had tragically passed away. He had taught at Cambridge, and for a while held the title of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. With his passing a couple of weeks earlier, there was one spot where people were still laying flowers outside a church..

Another view of the exterior of the chapel.

I strolled through the market in the center of town, and then along the Mais street, just checking the sights. It's a very pretty town, and the flowers were just starting to boom. A couple of weeks later and all the cherry trees would have been in full colour. There was a small market set-up in the center of town, and I spent a little bit of time checking out the stalls, and seeing if there was anything interesting.

The market in the center of Cambridge.

A little further along I came to the Fitzwilliam Museum. It was free to enter (suggested donation) so I spent an hour or so checking out the collection. It wasn't large, but it had breadth! From Egyptian mummies to ancient Rome; Chinese and European pottery; and a great collection of paintings from the Renaissance to Impressionists. It was a bit of a whirlwind.

The Mathematical Bridge, a wooden footbridge over the River Cam connecting two parts of Queens' College. The bridge was built in 1749, and has been rebuilt on two occasions, in 1866 and in 1905, but has kept the same overall design.

From there I wanted back to the river and had a pint at a pub (where Pink Floyd formed apparently) overlooking the river, and the punts. It was quite nice, but I had to get back to the hotel for my call.

Watching the punts from the riverside pub.

My walk around Cambridge.

Thursday afternoon I had a flight to Rome. I left Cambridge around 9:30 a.m. to give myself lots of time. It worked out well, and I had a stress-free day. The flight to Rome was pretty easy, but that's where it all went wrong. My smallish plane from London landed at the same time as a flight from Beijing and Dubai. So getting through border control was a nightmare. It took an hour and a half, and was really painful.

However, the train to the center of town was really good - my timing was perfect, and so I was checked into the hotel pretty quick. The hotel was just outside the central train station, and was quite nice, a boutique hotel.

I met our Italian sales guy and two of our Partners for a very nice glass of wine, then we headed out for a late dinner. It was after 9:00 by the time we got to the restaurant. The food was really good- even if Daniele was not completely impressed. After dinner we grabbed a cab and Daniele was kind enough to play tour guide. we drove down to the Colosseum, and I had my first look at the ancient monument.

My first view of the Colosseum at night.

And all you can say is "wow". Words hardly do it justice. The size and scale of building for 2,000 years ago is just mind boggling. And seeing it all lit up, with almost no one around was fantastic.

We walked around the Colosseum, for a bit, taking in the view, and I was astounded by the size of it. I knew it was big, but didn't really expect what it is.

Amazingly, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, having an average audience of some 65,000; it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles (for only a short time as the hypogeum was soon filled in with mechanisms to support the other activities), animal hunts, executions, reenactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. I couldn't wait to get inside it later in the weekend.

Some details from within the Forum.

Daniele was right on form, and he took us up to a look out over the Roman Forum. Or at least the part you could see from the main street. While not as imposing, this was probably my favorite of the admittedly small collection of monuments I was able to see in my day and a half. The view over the ruins was simply amazing at night.

After gazing out on the ruins, Daniele took us up a set of large stairs, to an overlook of the Forum. The view was spectacular, and as well it took us past the famous statue of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The Capitoline Wolf is a bronze sculpture of the mythical she-wolf suckling the twins, Romulus and Remus, from the legend of the founding of Rome. The Capitoline Wolf has been housed since 1471 in the Capitoline Museums, so I assume this one outside is a copy.

We came out through another amazing plaza, the Piazza del Campidoglio, on top of the Capitoline Hill. The piazza follows a plan conceived by Michelangelo in 1536 and executed over a period of more than 400 years. The Capitoline Museums are on the hill, but I didn't get a chance to go in. There is a statue of of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, mounted on a horse in the center of the square. It is a copy, the original being housed on-site in the Capitoline museum.

From the plaza, we headed down a huge flight of stairs and walked around to a more modern (1800s) but equally impressive monument that is now a museum. The Altare della Patria is also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II ("National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II") or Il Vittoriano, and is a monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. The eclectic structure was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885; it was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1925. It also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, under the statue of goddess Roma, with the eternal flame.

The Altare della Patria

But that wasn't the end of it - from there we walked over to the Trevi Fountain, where again we had it almost all to ourselves. The Trevi Fountain was designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi and completed by Pietro Bracci. Standing 26.3 metres (86 ft) high and 49.15 metres (161.3 ft) wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

It was a pretty amazing couple of hours. It was midnight by the time we got back to the hotel, but totally worth it. Friday morning we had a three hour meeting with the customer. Their situation is a bit of a disaster, but hopefully we can salvage it.

After having lunch with Daniele and Stephano, I put on my walking shoes and set out to explore Rome. It was a clear, cold day, but it was busy! I basically retraced my steps from the day before. But this time it was a sea of people everywhere! Just to note, I've posted this with only photos from my iPhone. I haven't had a chance to go through the pics on my camera. I'll come back and post the best from that when I have a chance to go through them.

The Colosseum is no less impressive during the day.

My plan had been to see how to get inside the Colosseum and the Forum, but the lines were insane. So instead I figured out the opening time for Saturday, and planned to be there first thing.

The Altare della Patria, this time during the day.

The Trevi Fountain was much busier this time...

I think I did over 18,000 odd steps by the time I was tired out, and decided to head back to the hotel. I did some work, relaxed for a bit, then headed out for dinner. The hotel recommended a pizza place a short walk away, and it was excellent! It made for another somewhat late night, and I had an early start the next morning...

The sunset over the river was a great finish to my day.

My lengthy stroll around Rome.

The Colosseum and Forum opened at 8:30 a.m., so I was up, down there and in line by 8:00. It made me one of the first people there, and I was able to get inside the Colosseum, and experience it with minimal crowds. It was amazing.

The interior is even better...

Seeing the internal structure, the maze of passageways and rooms below the main floor, it was impressive. And from the inside the sense of scale of The sheer number of people - hard to imagine. But there would have been upwards of 80,000 people at its peak. It would have been something to behold.

I got in early enough that the crowds hadn't formed.

I spent a good hour in the Colosseum before the crowds got to be too much and I bolted. I headed across the plaza to the entrance to The Roman Forum. 

The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin name Forum Romanum, is a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

 A pano from up high - not sure what happened to the colour...

For centuries the Forum was the center of day-to-day life in Rome: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the nucleus of commercial affairs. Here statues and monuments commemorated the city's great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments and intermittent archaeological excavations attracting 4.5 million sightseers yearly. It felt like half of theme were there that day.

The Colosseum is the star attraction, but I think the Forum is far more interesting. The sheer scale of the ruins, and the fact that so much of it is still preserved in the center of the huge city. Incredible.

A map of my wandering arounf the Colluseum and the Forum. 

I ended up wandering around for a good 2- 3 hours, but eventually ran out of steam. I hopped back in a cab and headed back to the hotel, and started to get caught up on work. My last glimpse of the Colosseum was a fleeting one, through the back window of a taxi as I headed back to my hotel. Imposing in the streetlights, it is a sight to behold.  

Daniele had suggested a restaurant for dinner, so I jumped in a cab and headed there. sadly, it was booked solid, so it was a no-go. But not surprisingly, it was pretty easy to find something else, that was equally interesting (even if the food was likely not as good).

I had to be up at 5:00 a.m. (and deal with daylight savings again) so I had to make it an early night. Sunday was a long day - a flight to London, then back to Vancouver. It was a good trip.