British Airways High Life



British Airways High Life
1,599 TWEETS,
*Based on two people sharing, for travel in September, including return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation with breakfast. *Avios earn amount estimated is based on the maximum
earning of a gold member, minimum earn is 2,694 as a blue member. Redemption amount is based on economy journeys with 1,500 Avios and may include taxes, fees and charges at the time of booking
You might not have heard of Paul Steele. But in Twitterland, Paul
is huge. If you were so inclined as to create a sliding scale of British
travel-orientated tweeters, first would come Stephen Fry (5,752,825),
because all Twitter lists start with him and he gets around a lot, next
would be Louis Theroux (555,429), and just after him, with 400,000
followers and counting, would be Paul, aka the Bald Hiker. Originally
from Oldham, near Manchester, and a former staff sergeant in the
army, Paul’s travel career started six years ago, when, having left the
army for an office job, he decided to hike up Mount Kilimanjaro to
lose four stone. It was such a success he gave up his day job to work
part-time as a delivery driver and spend the rest of his time travelling.
Paul is known as the Bald Hiker because he is both bald and likes to
hike, and when he tweets about travel, people take note. Apart from
today, when it is the other way around. For we are in Rome, hoping
to have the best possible city experience via the medium (or at the
mercy) of Twitter. The idea is that wherever the world tweets, Paul will
go. And I am with him to wade through all those tweets. (Somebody
has to – Paul is busy tweeting while Rome turns.)
In general my preference is for ‘lifestyle tourism’: the odd sight, a
little shopping, followed by coffee and people watching, a glass of wine
and some more people watching. And repeat. It turns out that the rest
of the world – or the rest of the world on Twitter – has other ideas.
But at 9am that morning all of this is ahead of us. Neither Paul nor
I have been to Rome before, and we have no guidebooks, no tour
guide and no smartphone apps (apart from Twitter, of course). I am
apprehensive. I don’t want to be sent bungee jumping (if that happens
in Rome?), and nor do I want to go to Rome’s Gladiator school.
We are looking for something a little unusual though – not, perhaps,
the best toilet in Europe (‘Jonathan’s Angels off the Piazza Navona’,
but thank you anyway @HelenEssien), or at the other extreme,
a proposal of marriage at the Trevi Fountain (congratulations
@SirTodwell and the future Mrs SirTodwell. And maybe next time...)
– but places that the guidebooks might not take us. The type of place
you stumble upon, and remember forever with a gentle, warm glow –
and that you probably don’t want to share with a million other people
on a social network. My biggest worry is what if nobody tweets anything
at all? What if the kindness of strangers doesn’t run to condensing
their favourite Rome spots into 140 characters and sending them our
way? What if the Bald Hiker doesn’t get to hike?
Just as I am beginning to contemplate buying a guidebook in
English, at 9.03am, suggestions start to trickle in. Followed by an
almost day-long torrent. Ideas range from the classical (the Vatican,
the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon), to the cute (the Torre Argentina cat
sanctuary, with some 250 cats living among the ruins, is particularly
popular) to the curious (a Dan Brown Angels and Demons-themed tour
– we decide to pass when we realise neither of us has read the book).
One of the very first suggestions however is Il Vittoriano, a
controversial wedding cake of a building built in memory of Victor
Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy. We make this our
first stop: Paul is keen because of the views from the very top, and
I’m happy because there’s a café. It makes for a great start. On this
beautiful, sunny day, Rome is at our feet. ‘As a hiker, I am used to
When in Rome…
getting my huge views from the tops
do as the Twitterati do.
of mountains,’ says Paul. ‘To be atop Il
On the advice of their
Vittoriano early in the morning, when
followers, Jo Hunter
the sun is low, with a 360° view of the city
and Paul Steele visited
is staggering.’
13 different places
Next up, we’re peering through the
in a day and glutted
Knights of Malta Keyhole (it’s allowed)
themselves on
for a glimpse of three countries – Italy,
antiquities, curiosities
Malta and the Vatican. ‘Quite surreal to
and fine food
see a queue of people in a quiet piazza
waiting to look through a... keyhole,’ Paul
points out, although when we get our
chance to squint through, it is very much worth the wait. Then we’re
on to the Piazza Navona, a Baroque square that used to be flooded for
mock naval battles, and which now hosts street artists – and is a great
spot for coffee. Refreshed, we head on to Campo de Fiori, formerly a
popular site for, well, burnings, and now, for the last 150 years or so, a
lively market. After that, naturally, it’s time for lunch.
In fact our Twitter followers are so generous with their suggestions
that we end up going to 13 different places in 12 hours – from St
Ignatius Church, with its incredible fake dome, to the top of the
Palatine Hill, to Freni e Frizione (literally, brakes and clutches), a very
cool bar in Trastevere, where, ever the intrepid explorers, we discover
draft Peroni is much darker and heavier than the bottled stuff we get
at home. Our selection is whittled down by geography and inclination
from the 1,599 tweets we receive from around the world during the
day. I also spend a lot of time looking at my phone.
But the really great thing about Rome is you can’t miss it. Even
though nobody actually sends us to the Forum or the Coliseum, they
both keep popping up on the horizon, and everywhere we turn there
is an awe-inducing antiquity, or another great little gelato place.
If we had to choose a highlight? For me, it was lunch at Hostaria
Costanza. Built inside the walls of the former Pompeii theatre (the
site where Julius Caesar was killed), and, as the head waiter tells us
in a conspiratorial stage whisper, popular with Italian politicians. It
may also be the site of the best lunch I’ve ever eaten. The ham! The
courgette flowers! The artichoke hearts! The tiramisu! ‘Absolutely
first class,’ as Paul says. Next time I’m booking out a whole day to eat
all four courses. And going back again the next day.
But for Paul, as you might expect, the biggest kick was the
serendipity that came through discovering the city through Twitter.
‘To think I got up this morning, having never been to Rome, and had
no idea what I was going to see. To be guided from place to place by
Twitter followers transformed a typical tourist trail day into a treasure
trove. There were secrets I would never have found out alone. It taught
me a real Rome. After each stop I got more excited as to where we
would be sent next. It was such a thrill. I have always wanted to have a
real cappuccino in Rome,’ he says. ‘Done! And loved it. None better!’
There is a pause. ‘And crikey, I can say the same for the pasta.’
Find Paul Steele at or on Twitter at @paul_steele.
British Airways offers two nights at the Oxford Hotel from £229pp.*
Visit or call +44 (0)844 493 0758.
British Airways flies seven times a
day to Rome from London
Heathrow. Flight time: about
two and a half hours.
As an Executive Club member you
can collect up to 4,490 Avios
when you fly Club Europe to
Rome return. Or redeem your
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there and back*.
For the full range of #PDRome
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