Rome - A Handful of Little Gems
A Roman shopping Mall
When Julius Caesar realised that the original forum was too small for trade, he set up a new one just opposite, the Fori Imperiali. Successive emperors added to it, including Trajan, whose innovation was to create market halls with three stories, providing stalls for rare and unusual goods. The first multi-storey shopping centre, perhaps?
You've done the Colosseum, you've stood in the Circus Maximum, but what was it really like be a gladiator? Find out by joining the Scuola Gladiatori Roma, who train you to use sword, net and trident to become one of four types of gladiator (for men), a "Mirmillon", "Secutor", "Retiarius" and "Trace", and for the women, the "Amazon". You are provided with a tunic, sandals, belt, protective glove and the all-important "rudis", the training wooden sword. You must be fit, active, have 112 Euros to spare, oh, and attend classes twice a week for two months. But hey, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Angels and Demons
Long before Dan Brown's professorial hero was breaking the Da Vinci code, he was running around Rome in his previous adventure, "Angels and Demons." You can, of course, read the book and visit the sites solo, but a guided tour will whisk you straight to the important bits, on the trail of the Illuminati. The "official" tour finishes with free entry to the Knights Templar exhibition at the Castel Sant'Angelo.
Talking of Which.
No-one could describe the massive fortress of the Castel San'Angelo as a little gem, but its rooms are packed with interesting exhibits on the castle's unusual history. The Castel started as a Roman Mausoleum, became part of he city walls, a papal fortress, a prison, army barracks and finally a museum. Opera fans will, of course, rush to the terrace to work out exactly where Puccini's operatic heroine Tosca might have leapt off the battlements at the end of the opera, always a tricky moment on stage.
Dead Poet's Society
It seems odd to find a museum dedicated to an English poet nestling on the Spanish Steps, but John Keats worked and died in lodgings in the same building in 1821. Keats arrived in September 1820, seeking sunshine to cure his consumption, but he only survived until the following February. The area also became home to other literary greats, including the poets Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, and the Brownings, novelists George Eliot, Henry James and Edith Wharton, plus playwrights Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.
The exterior of the house looks exactly as it did when Keats arrived, and inside the Keats-Shelley Museum has an extensive collection celebrating the lives of key poets Keats, Byron and Shelley. It also houses some unusual objects, including a lock of Milton and Elizabeth Barrett's hair, a poem by Oscar Wilde, and letters by Wordsworth, and Robert Browning.
For a taste of Roman dining with a difference, head for the Supperclub in Via de 'Nari. Housed in a third century mansion, you recline on large couches to eat and drink while DJs work their musical magic and waitresses massage you. The food is served at one sitting, with a sizable gap between courses, and while you eat, singers and some very odd performance artists will entertain you. Since you do share your couch/bed with other diners, you could find yourself snuggling up to a complete stranger.