Popes have too much time and money on their hands…

Yesterday was quite a day.  As usual, I was up and out by 07:00.  I was the only person in the bar for breakfast, so I ate quickly and headed over to the train station to catch the Metro.  I was on a mission to get to the Vatican at a decent hour, avoiding the colossal wait that I had been warned about.  I arrived around 8:20 and the Vatican doesn’t officially open until 09:00.  I thought I had made good time, until I realized I was waiting in line about a block from the entrance with hundreds of people before me.

I did have a great time chatting with Кармилла и Татяна (Carmilla and Tatyana), two very interesting ladies from Russia.  They had just finished at uni and were traveling through Europe. They very graciously helped me with my Russian and the wait went by quickly.  Then the line began to move.  The doors had opened and I was on my way in.  By 09:30, I had stored my backpack in the guardaropa, or cloakroom, and was beginning the long trek through the many corridors of the Musei Vaticani.

After the first hour, I began to get a bit jaded thinking, “This tapestry looks like that painting… Where’s the Sistine Chapel?” and so on.  Don’t get me wrong.  The many pieces contained within are quite amazing, but there is only so much the mind can handle at one time before getting burnt out.  But I trudged through the centuries of art to finally arrive at the Sistine Chapel.  It was phenomenal.  The famous ceiling, as many know, was painted by Michelangelo.  The walls, however, were painted by famous painters of the age, including Raphael. The main tiles of the ceiling depict the creation of the Earth, the creation and fall of Adam and Eve, and the story of Man’s continued fall. It culminates in a panel of drunken Noah.  Apparently, Ol’ Mickey meant for his work to be a warning to mankind and was well versed in biblical lore.  È mangifico, but would have been much better if the guards hadn’t needed to shush the crowd every few minutes.  You’re also not allowed to take photos inside the Chapel.  For once, I complied.

After leaving the Vatican via an awesome staircase, two and a half hours after entering, I encountered a massive entrance line.  Those poor souls had to wait in the heat and humidity. O well… the early bird gets the worm.  I headed around the corner to St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza.  It was a truly breathtaking sight.  To stand next to something so monumental, constructed so many years ago, is belittling.  But it also reminds me that the popes sold indulgences to pay for its construction… Shame on them!  Of all people, they should know that you can’t buy your way into heaven. The wealthy people they finagled money from were clearly not aware of this fact.

I entered the line to climb to the cupola – all 551 steps to the top.  It’s a good thing I’m not a smoker, or I never would have made it. My poor feet were already crying by the time I reached St. Peter’s, and then I put them through that?  I’m not sure when they’ll forgive me.  However, the view of the entire city of Rome in 360 was well worth the climb.  After climbing down, I wandered through the Basilica. Aside from papal tombs and impressive artwork, I found Michelangelo’s sculpture Pietà. It was even better than books could ever convey.

Having spent the entire morning in the Vatican City, I decided it was time to sally forth.  I grabbed some amazing pizza on my way to Castel Sant’Angelo. Originally Hadrian’s Tomb, it was turned into a Papal fortress with a covered corridor connecting it to St. Peter’s. It was also used as a prison for a period of time.  Going into Hadrian’s tomb was pretty cool, in both senses of the term.  The walls are so thick that they prevent most of the heat from entering and keeping the rooms within quite cool.  It was a nice retreat from the heat of the day.

I then proceeded to see the Mausoleum of Augustus, which was still pretty neat even though it was gated off. Having seen my fill for the day, I turned my weary feet in the direction of the nearest metro station. I made it back to the hostel and relaxed/charged my camera until just before 20:00 when I went just next door for dinner.

Let me just tell you – I would move to Rome for the food alone. I don’t know how I put it all away but I had the most excellent meal of my life.  It started with Bruschetta Pomodoro, which is toasted Italian bread topped with chopped tomatoes, minced onion, black olives and drizzled with olive oil. Then I had Insalata Caprese – slices of tomato and water buffalo mozzarella topped with basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This was followed by Ministre di Pasta, a vegetable soup with fresh penne boiled in the broth of the soup. Now to the first course – spaghetti all carbonara: spaghetti in a cream sauce tossed with bacon, parmesan cheese, and egg.  The bacon, what we call cured ham or Canadian bacon, added a smoky aftertaste that was fantastic. The second course was Pollo Arrosto – roasted chicken, but the best roasted chicken I’ve ever had.  I washed it all down with half a bottle of the delicious house white wine, made by the family owning the restaurant, and walked away extremely satisfied and quite tipsy.

I walked to the train station after dinner and hopped on the metro back to St. Peter’s, from which I began my night tour of the city.  I made it around to all of the monuments, taking some great photos, and made it back to the hostel by midnight to crash, recharging for the next day.

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Hot and Ruinous, Rome makes the scholars fall in love…

Today I was out the bed at 7:00. I would say that was when I woke up, but that would be a lie.  After travelling for so long, I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep.  I got a beer and a free slice of pizza from the bar downstairs and then crawled into bed, quite drunk, I might add. You see, I had not eaten anything since the previous night when Virgin Atlantic fed us an in-flight dinner.  Combining that with the fact that the beers here come in small and XXL (guess which one I had…), I put 2/3 of a liter of beer into an empty stomach, topped it off with a slice of pizza, and staggered upstairs.

The hostel serves continental breakfast in the morning as well as the free pizza at night. I love this place!  Toast and tea is all I need to get going in the morning and it was supplied.  I dressed and headed down to the bar to grab a bite before heading out.  Afterwards, I set out on a mission to find the elusive BNL d’Italia. They have a partnership with Bank of America which means when I withdraw money from their ATMs, I’m not charged. Yay!  I walked for about 20 minutes before I found a branch. However, today was a public holiday in Italy, and the bank was closed.  I was going a bit spare for moment. What was I going to do without money? Then I realized that ATMs do not close. I had a blonde moment… sue me.  Five minutes later, I was happily trotting down the streets of Rome, wondering what mischief I might achieve.

I looked at the map my wonderful hostel had so kindly provided and found the key landmarks that I wanted to see. Then I found the ones closest to me. So I headed off to the Piazza di Spagna and its famous stairs. You see, this staircase, numbering 138 steps, marks the largest baroque staircase in Europe.  They were quite spectacular. So much marble.  At the top of the staircase is the Piazza Trinita dei Monti and the stunning cathedral by the same name.  I walked into the cathedral and my ears were immediately soothed by the sound of voices singing.  The choir was singing hymns for a service (mass?) and they were incredible.  I only stayed for a bit, even though an attendant told me that I was most welcome. My shoes squeak a bit, you see, and walking around during a service felt wrong. So I left.

It was barely 8 a.m. Glancing at the map, I saw that the Trevi fountain was not far, so I thought I’d tackle it before the sun rose too high, drawing the hundreds of tourists out of their cozy hotels.  When I arrived, there were barely thirty people scattered around the fountain. It was perfect. Not yet hot enough to warrant thoughts of diving in, I took lots of photos from every angle, canvassing the sculptures from head to toe (or hoof).  Apparently, the legend states that a young virgin led the soldiers of Rome to the source of the water.  They built an aqueduct to carry the water into the city and the termination point was the Trevi fountain.

By the time I was finished drinking in the sight of such a beautiful fountain, I was getting a bit parched physically.  Luckily, there was a mom-and-pop grocery store a few yards down a side street. I bought a bottle of water and it will be the only one I buy. You see, Rome nifty little aqueduct means there are literally hundreds of fountains throughout the city, most of which have drinkable offshoots located nearby.  It’s fresh, clean, and a bit chilly so it makes the perfect companion on a hot day.

From there I headed to Il Colosseo where I purchased a Roma Pass and a Nutella to Go. Let me tell you just how amazing both of these are.  Sitting under the shade of a tree, I ate Nutella with little cookie sticks that are a mix between pretzels and sugar cookies. It was fantastic. To wash down this wonderful experience, there is a convenient juice box built into the container.  It was filled with a tea that was just sweet enough to complement the Nutella. I was in heaven for about five minutes, until I realized my snack was gone.

What followed this delicious afternoon delight was quite unpleasant. I had bought my Roma Pass and was filling out the information.  It’s a card that gives free entrance to two museums, a severely reduced rate on all the others, and free public transport for three days.  After doing all the paperwork, I read that an attendant may ask to see your documents.  I was fine with this until I realized I didn’t have my passport. I was freaking out. I walked as quickly as I could back to the hostel to see if I had left in in my duffel bag, all the while mentally plotting the route to the US Embassy. After tearing my bag apart, I found my passport and all was right with the world once more.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon walking through the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. Four and a half hours it took me to see it all, but worth every minute. I took the metro back to the Trevi Fountain to sit and eat some of the best gelato in the world. It came from this tiny shop to which I had to ask directions for fifteen minutes until I finally found it tucked safely away down a side street. By the way, it’s easy to ask for directions in Italian, but so much more difficult to understand the answer. I got a small container with stracciatella (cream with dark chocolate shavings) and raspberry: a perfect combination and a great way to cool off. The abundance of gelaterie is explained by the heat and humidity. Combine them with the sun bearing down on you and walking everywhere, it’s no wonder Italians are skinny and brown. I drank more than 3 liters of water today and have had no restroom breaks all day. It all sweats out. Even while you sleep!

After resting my weary feet, I realized it was already 19:30 and I had spent over twelve hours walking around. I have since doctored my feet. I am proud to say that I have acquired three blisters in the span of one day. I dragged myself back to the hostel, had a slice and a beer and rested.  It looks to be another early night and I’m off to the Vatican in the morning (very early in the morning…).

Ciao!

Mama said they was my magic shoes…

I have finally arrived in Rome.  My flight from JFK to London was delayed an hour in departing from the gate. Once everyone was finally settled on the plane, there was a young girl who refused to be consoled by her parents and they were removed from the flight.  However, we could not leave with their bags still in the cargo hold, so we had to wait for them to be removed.  By the time we finally taxied down the runway it was 9:30 and I knew that I was not going to make it in time to catch the coach to my next flight.

By the time I landed in Heathrow and made it through customs, 10 o’clock was fast approaching. I ran through the airport to the bus station, bought another coach ticket to Stansted airport, and boarded the bus just as it was about to leave. It seemed luck was on my side. We even arrived at the airport ten minutes early.  When I entered the terminal I had to check my bag on “Jalopy Air” as my mother calls it. The line was ridiculously long and my ticket said that my bag must be checked forty minutes before departure and that the gate would close ten minutes after. I was panicking. Luckily, there was a very kind (but very large) family from Spain waiting in front of me.  Using my extremely rusty Spanish skills, I told them that I was in a rush and asked if they would permit me to go before them. They very graciously allowed me to do so.

I checked my bag by 11:55 (my flight left at 12:45) and ran to security.  I placed my life in the bins to be scanned and proceeded through the metal detector.  I had forgotten my camera in my pocket and was thoroughly patted down as a result. But that’s not all… Because my life was and is in my backpack, it was quite full.  It was deemed a security hazard in the process of being scanned. A very helpful and patient woman went through my belongings, pulling everything out of my very carefully packed backpack.  She swabbed my phone and camera (testing it for what, I do not know…), and when my time seemed to be running out, she declared that I was clean and may leave.

I very hastily and unceremoniously shoved my life back into my backpack and ran, literally ran, through the airport, attracting many odd glances in the process. As fate or karma would have it, my gate was at the very end of the farthest concourse. Run, Forrest, run! It was now approximately 12:13 (I remember because I looked at my watch and thought, “Oh, shit!”).  So I kept running.  When I finally reached the gate I thought was correct, I discovered that, while I was running through the airport, Ryan Air was busy changing the gate that my flight would depart from.  The helpful, but confused, flight attendant pointed me in a new direction.  And I was running again.  The gate was close, but I was out of time. So I thought… but when I arrived at the new gate, there was a queue of 100+ people waiting to board.  Luck was on my side after all.

I boarded my flight and was on my way to L’Citta Eterna.  I was exhausted and there was no one sitting around me who spoke English, so I went to sleep and did not wake up until the pilot was announcing that we were beginning our descent into Rome.  The initial feeling of an airplane descending is wonderful.  For that one instant, you feel weightless and free. After being in airplane after airplane, that sensation was much welcome. Looking out the window, I could see that we were passing lakes and dormant volcanoes.  Even from that distance you can see the abundance of vineyards that dot the countryside. I must admit, I was pleased to see them, my surname being what it is…

After a rather bumpy landing, I was in Rome! I disembarked and made my way through customs, again… This round was much quicker, however, as the attendant simply stamped my passport and waved me through. Hey, I wasn’t complaining.  I picked up my bag, made my way through the fairly small airport to the bus terminal and caught my coach into the city.  Riding along (on the right side of the road, I might add), I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Rome, particularly the outskirts, and Mexico or the Southwest. And boy is it hot… and humid. I walked from the station to my hostel, about five minutes away. And here I am! In Rome!

There’s free pizza at the hostel bar from 8:30, so I’m going to grab a quick shower (it’s been a while and some 4,800 miles…) and hit up some free food.  Then I’ll see wander around the hostel area, get a map, and prepare for a day of adventure.

Ciao!

Sittin’, waitin’, wishin’

I am currently sittin’ in JFK airport.  My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 7:30 this evening, but it has been pushed to 7:55.  I have 3 hours and 42 minutes until departure. So now I’m waitin’. I have my Netflix instant watch and a Clif Bar to keep me company, so it shouldn’t be too terrible.  AND… There’s a Buffalo Wild Wings right around the corner from where I am currently sitting.  Dinner?  I think so.  As far as wishin’ is concerned, there’s not really much that I have to wish for.  I am perfectly content to be sitting and waiting in an airport.

My flight from Charlotte was fairly uneventful, if a bit turbulent.  I was afraid for a bit that I might be forced to strangle the woman sitting in front of me.  She was a ginger.  I have nothing against most gingers, but this one had to have the most annoying voice of anyone I have ever heard.  It was as though Sarah Palin had bred with your stereotypical Midwesterner and created a sound that should be recorded and used in warfare.  It would drive the enemy insane at the mere sound of the “Oh dear, where’s my cheese?”  Think New in Town, the RomCom with Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. and you might have an idea of how annoying this woman was.

It’s strange to think that this is literally the exact same seat in which I sat over a year ago as I waited to go to London for the first time.  My friend Emily joined me on that adventure and we had quite a memorable time catching each other up on our summer vacations up to that point. We then proceeded to carry on our conversation for the entire 7 and a half hour flight to London. Our co-passengers were not pleased, but we certainly had a good time.

Here’s to a new adventure!

Leavin’ on a jet plane

So the time has come.  The moment I’ve been waiting for all summer.  I have packed and re-packed my bag; printed my various tickets, e-tickets, confirmations, and boarding passes; the only thing remaining is to pack my toothbrush and head out the door. It’s funny that something so small is the last thing to pack.  It seems like such an insignificant thing, but if I were to leave it behind it would be an inconvenience and a slight hassle to replace it.

I’ve researched all the places I would like to visit in Rome (including where to get the best pizza and gelato).  There’s a lot to do but if I break it down to visit sights in specific areas of the city, I think my four days will be plenty of time. My camera is empty and waiting for the first snapshot of the trip. Hopefully, I won’t take more than 2400 photos because that’s all that my camera will hold and I don’t think Rosita (my computer) could handle much more. Her hard drive is on its last legs these days.

There’s still a bit to do, so I will bid you adieu (for now).  I will leave you with a new Italian word. For those of you who have seen Eat, Pray, Love, you may already know that “attraversiamo” means “Let’s cross over.”

Ciao!

The Joys of Packing

The day of departure draws ever closer.  I have packed my duffel bag with all manner of clothing, my backpack is filled with books and small necessaries and, in my fear of losing my bag, I have even packed a spare outfit in my backpack.  The weather even seems to have cleared in London; the grey, cold rain giving way to warmer, sunnier days.  I am very much looking forward to my journey and have been watching Merlin whilst I pack.

Roma.  La Citta Eterna.  With warm days and cool nights, it is the ideal summer getaway.  Ruins and gelato await me and I them with bated breath.  I am still compiling a list of things to do during my trip and it is becoming even more clear that Rome cannot be seen in a day. Luckily, I have four!  Of course, the Colosseum and the Vatican are on the list.  A professor of mine from last semester has informed me of a method which could provide several minutes alone in the Sistine Chapel. I will certainly take advantage of such an opportunity, if I am able.  Sadly, after my four days of frolicking through the eternal city, I will have to bid arrivederci to its ancient sites and make my way to London to begin my studies at King’s College.

I have a friend in London already, studying on the same program in which I participated last summer.  It’s great to see another experiencing all the joys that London has to offer and cultivating the same love for the city that I have.  She has seen the production of Much Ado About Nothing that I am so eager to see myself.  Doctor Who alumni David Tennant and Catherine Tate are the leads in the play and, having such great performers, the production can be nothing but spectacular.  Having searched for other productions currently gracing the West End stages, it would seem that much of my money will be spent attending such great shows.  I have yet to see Phantom of the Opera and it is high on my list of things to do, along with having afternoon tea at Harrod’s.  Perhaps I can make a reservation for my friend and I…

Well, it’s back to packing. Ciao!

 

Preparation…

Having travelled to England last summer, one would think that the second time around would be marginally easier.  Unfortunately, such is not the case.  I find myself worrying about what to pack, how to minimise the weight of my bag (Ryan Air is a cheap airline in all senses of the term…) and whether it will make it across the pond with me.  Maybe I’m over-analysing the situation, but hopefully my cautiousness will pay out in the end.

Due to the weight restrictions Ryan Air has in place, my checked baggage can exceed no more than 15 kilos (33 pounds a.k.a. not a lot).  Let’s just say I’m being forced to be resourceful with my clothing choices and London has not been exactly warm these past few weeks.  A high of 65° does not equal my ideal summer weather. Last summer, south-east England experienced a “heat wave” with temperatures reaching 79°. Coming from the South, it was hilarious to hear the health warnings about heat and drinking lots of water. Well, it looks like jeans are a must and no shorts. Europeans don’t wear shorts anyway, so I guess I’ll blend in more if I wear trousers and jeans.

My mother is not exactly pleased that her youngest son is flying away for the rest of the summer – again.  She’s forcing me to provide an itinerary before she will drive me to the airport…  I understand that it is safer to have someone know where you will be, but I would have preferred not to be forced into providing such information. Mums will be mums, I guess.