The Conquering of Rome

WARNING: LONG

That title is not to be misconstrued at all. This trip was literally an epic conquering of a massive city, and we did it under 48 hours. I remember hearing from my Uncle Ian that he saw all the sights in Rome in two hours, though he claimed this was at night with considerably less tourists around. I didn’t believe him.

Now I do.

After a night’s recuperation back in Florence, Danielle and I headed out the next morning to Rome. This train ride, four hours long, cost a measly 38€. Both ways. As in, we paid 17.50€ for a one-way ride to Rome. Venice screwed us. In any case, I managed to get some sleep on this one, proving once again that I can fall asleep in any moving vehicle (including water taxi, by the way), and we arrived at the Freedom Traveller Hostel around 5:30PM. I wasn’t quite as impressed with Freedom Traveller as I was with the Venice Fish. The atmosphere was definitely one of individual travel, lacking the mingle-y feel that we found over the New Years. We had a private room for the three nights we stayed, and while all we did was sleep there, I think we both were hoping for another experience similar to the Venice Fish.

In any case, we dropped our things in the room and promptly left for a rather sketchy pasta dinner at the restaurant across the street. The food was fine, but the drunk guys oggling our fellow females all over the creepy back room was not so nice. We headed out quickly enough to the Metro to purchase a three-day ticket. Wasting no time, Danielle shuffled us off to the first stop on her list, the Colosseum.

Taking photos at night is bleeding hard, you know? Everything comes out blurry.

We spent a bit of time just staring at it, munching on some proscuitto-mozzarella calzoni, before heading onwards to our next destination, the Pantheon. On foot. There’s no Metro to the Pantheon/Piazza Navona. It’s too close to the Spanish Steps. Close being like a twenty minute walk. Rome made up for the distance with plenty of lit streets and copious amounts of people. Unlike Florence, Rome seems to be alive at all hours of the day. It was somewhat refreshing to know that somebody else, more like a city full of somebody elses, actually stayed up late to go out to dinner.

We passed all sorts of ruins and modern buildings, a strange juxtaposition, and Rome seemed equally ancient and futuristic at the same time unlike Florence, which seems to ooze “I am Renaissance love me for I’m old.” Something like that. Our walk led us down the backstreets and the promenades, but we finally made it to the Pantheon, bypassing Piazza Navona for that night. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside, since we’d missed closing by three hours; however, the view from outside was just as good as the Colosseum. The next stop was the Trevi Fountain, predictably crowded with tourists and Italians both, and its surrounding cafés were full to bursting. Danielle and I obligingly threw our coins into the fountain (over our left shoulders), and I made yet another promise to return to Rome. That fountain will know if you don’t.

We then made our way to the Spanish Steps, where we ended our evening. Not as crowded as it usually is during the day, the Steps were still a sight to see, being the location of Rome’s haute couture shopping strip. Danielle and I made a pact to come back the next day and indulge in some McDonald’s like every other Italian person did on the Steps. I kept thinking about my Food Culture professor and what he would say to me. I’m definitely not telling him about that! After a few lingering looks at the frightening Prada prices, we trooped back onto the Metro and made our way back to the hostel for a good night’s rest. After all, we had to tackle the Vatican the next day!

Our first stop was the Vatican museums. Luckily we’d thought to buy tickets ahead of time and we got to skip the line going into the building. Even on an off-season, there were plenty of people eager to see the Vatican’s treasures. Unlike the last time my family and I went, we made it through the entirety of the museums, seeing every department and even stopping at the pizzeria for a taste of how the Vatican feeds its visitors. Apparently they save the best pizza for the pope. My favorite department was probably the Australian Aboriginal exhibit, photos and artifacts alike, but it was nice running through the Egyptian department again. Of course, we couldn’t skip through the Vatican without seeing the Sistine Chapel!

Post-Vatican saw us hunting through the city for all the sights we’d seen the previous night. By the time we’d actually left the museums and basilica, evening had fallen and we stumbled upon Piazza Navona in the throws of an outdoor market-fair complete with a merry-go-round and carnival games. Since the Pantheon was right next to the Piazza, we poked our heads in for a look-around before heading to a recommended café called, “Tazza d’Oro.”

That evening we decided to spend a nice evening at another recommended restaurant, Maccheroni. Without a reservation, though the manager put us on a time limit, wanting us out by nine for his reservation at 9PM. Danielle started with a cheesy prosciutto pasta and I chose a pasta-garbanzo soup. Our entrees were stuffed zucchinis and chicken cacciatora respectively. I realize you’re being bombed with photos so I won’t put dinner up, but you can see the entirety of my Rome and Venice albums on my Facebook page. Hope we’re friends!

Our last full day in Rome was spent at the Colosseum. We got up bright and early to arrive on the Metro around 10:00AM. The line was already massive and we were herded on all sides by tour guides attempting to sell their services for a “cheaper better price” than the official ones. Fool that I am, I forgot my British passport when we went to buy our legitimate tickets from the Palantino and had to pay full price, and for whatever reason they didn’t offer student prices, which was also unfortunate. However, for the 12€ we did pay, we say the Palantino, the Roman Forums, and skipped the line into the Colosseum as well. It was a pretty good deal. I forked out a little extra to get an electronic guide for the Colosseum itself, since the history of that was more of interest to us than the ruins just across the street.

The Colosseum was, of course, colossal and magnificent. I can only imagine how it looked in its prime with gladiators, wild beasts, and savage hunts on display for all the public to see. In honor of our visit, Danielle and I even watched “Gladiator” with Russell Crow once we returned to Florence. The CG version of the Colosseum didn’t measure up to its real-life splendor. Though it’s ultimately falling to pieces due to centuries of neglect, I’m glad that it’s been preserved as much as it has. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back at some point. My Ancient Rome class will probably land me there again in the coming months.

Danielle left back for Spain on the 7th, so I know that this blog post is coming very late. The semester is starting up soon and I’m working through orientation and brand-new roommates. This semester has so many new people and even a new building to get used to; I hope everything works out as planned and not like last semester. The group living with me seem good thus far. We’ll see how things progress as the time goes on. I’m sharing a room now so I’ll have to keep careful track of my things. It’ll be strange not being able to just drop my books and bags wherever I like. Again, we’ll see.

Updates on classes to come. I get my schedule tomorrow! Ciao!

Venetian New Years

A lot has happened since Christmas updates and admittedly I’ve been sleeping a lot recently, thereby neglecting my blogging duties. I’ll do my best to recall what we did (because we did a lot) before Danielle left for Spain again, and I’ve been scolded by my mother for not being very detailed in my recent postings. Seeing as most of my followers also follow my cousin, I felt like I was being redundant in my content, since we’re talking about the same events. Anyway, I’ll be as thorough as possible, but be prepared to read, okay?

For the New Years we stayed in a hostel called the Venice Fish. I’d heard mixed reviews about it from kids in my program last semester, citing the atmosphere in both positive and negative contexts, but the price ultimately won Danielle and I over. The same could not be said for the train tickets from Florence to Venice. Stupid us, thinking that we could purchase the reduced price tickets at the actual station. We ended up paying double what we thought for a one-way ticket to the city, which neither of us was particularly pleased with, but the ride was pleasant (in that I slept the entire way there). Roughly two hours later, we were in Venice.

I just have to say, I’m so glad that Danielle was there to get me to that damn hostel. I’m horrible with directions, and despite having been to Venice before in the past, I get lost so easily. The entire city structure is so convoluted, not to mention sinking. Anyway, we made it to the hostel without losing anything and promptly began mingling with our fellow hostelers. The Venice Fish was clearly English friendly, the staff manager Chris being from England, and we ran into two more girls from the States spending their last few days abroad in Italy before going home. There plenty of Australians about as well since this time is the middle of their summer holiday season.

Seeing as we arrived on New Years Eve, the drinking started almost immediately. Danielle and I visited the local grocery store with new friends Brenna (of San Fran Marin County) and Ed (of Newcastle, New South Wales) to fetch the booze and picked up two bottles of prosecco to celebrate with later in the evening. Everyone in the city had apparently decided to convene on that grocery store though, and even though Danielle and I had maybe four items between the two of us, it took us about half-an-hour to maneuver the store and pay for safe passage onto the street with our goods. Upon returning to the fish, we got drawn into a game of King’s Cup (my first time playing) with Rue and Drew (also of Australia), Cori and Ray of Harvey Mudd/UCLA respectively, and a whole slew of Brazilians, Mexicans, and Koreans. We all paid in for the communal 10 liters of sangria, and that puppy was drained by the time we all left for Piazza San Marco to watch the countdown.

Communal Pot of Sangria. Yeah, it existed.

Our new lot of friends.

We headed out to the Piazza with Ed, Brenna, Chandler, Cori, and Nick, joining the stream of people also on the way to the center of the action. There was general excitement in the air, people randomly bursting out into songs both foreign and unintelligible. The piazza was packed full to bursting, ever nook and cranny filled with kissing couples and empty wine bottles. We needed to form a sort of conga line to stick together. There was no way to get close to the front or center of the mob but once Ed and Nick put us up on their shoulders a few times we could get a good view of the concert deck and plasma screen showing the count down to midnight.

The countdown ended in an explosion of cheering and popping champagne/prosecco bottles. We’d brought one to share around the eight of us and it was so bubbly and sweet that I couldn’t handle much of it. The crowds definitely put me off any desire to go to Time’s Square for a New Years celebration. Once people started heading for the docks to watch the fireworks, the center of the Piazza turned into a dumping ground for broken bottles, exploding crackers, and fireworks. Of course, this didn’t stop some of the girls in our group from rushing out to dance! By the end of the night we all ended up beating off drunk old men in the middle of the impromptu dance party in front of the stage and finding our way back to the Fish for some well-earned rest.

New Years Day saw Danielle, Ed, and I making our way to the island of Murano, famous for its glass products.

The artists there are clearly very good at what they do. We spent most of the day looking through the various glass houses for a demonstration of glass blowing and we finally came upon it at the end of our trip when we were tired, cold, and hungry. The entirety of the showroom had been on sale and Danielle bought herself a beautiful yellow-orange spotted clock. Afterwards we watched the master glass artist blow a vase and sculpt the Ferrari horse in under a minute, and Danielle got the chance to blow a massive glass bubble. I caught it on video and I promise it’ll be up eventually! I think it’s already on my Facebook, so go take a look if we’re friends.

Taking a water taxi was almost as debilitating as the initial train ride. It didn’t cost as much but our first taxi broke down after two stops, leaving us stranded on a remote side of Venice for over an hour. The ride back was much easier, though, and the sunset was lovely, illuminating the cityscape of Venice in a bright orange haze.

 

Next: The Conquering of Rome!