Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Chapter Three: Rome, Venice, Day 1 of Florence

Sunday, 10/23: Last day in Rome

The Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum were finally open!

Entrance to the Forum/Palatine Hill. I followed Rick's (as in my good travel buddy, Rick Steves) advice, and went to the Forum/Palatine Hill before the Colosseum, because the lines would be shorter, and I could use my Forum pass at the Colosseum and bypass the line. As usual, Rick was so right, but the line to get in was still one hour. A group of girls tried to cut in front of me right when I got to the front. All I could do was give them the "Asian girl staredown", but they were completely oblivious to it. Fortunately, a man behind me asked them if they were with me. They said they were looking for the back of the line, and he said "it's wayyyy back there." Thank you Mr. European Man.

This tree reminded me of the baobab tree from "The Little Prince."

Where Julius Caesar's funeral pyre was.

Inside the Colosseum. The cross marks where the emperor used to sit and watch the games.


On to the Trevi Fountain. So amazing and worth the hype and the crowds.

Gazillions of people, milling around the fountain.

I went to a nearby cafe and bided my time for about two hours, waiting for it to get dark, so that I could take a picture of the fountain with the streetlights lit. It was lovely to sit around and do nothing but read and people watch for two hours.

Arrivederci Rome. You aren't my favorite city in Europe, but you are beautiful and I'm glad I visited you.

Monday, 10/24: Venice

Met up with Lynda. Yay! No dramatic embrace at the bridge - it was more like, hey, we actually found each other!

View of Orvieto from the train, on the way to Venice.

The Grand Canal, from the Rialto Bridge

Tuesday, 10/25

All of the bridges and waterways in Venice were charming.

Per Rick's advice, instead of spending 90E on a gondola ride down the Grand Canal, we spent 6.50E to take a 45 minute water taxi ride. Again, great idea Rick!

View of the Rialto Bridge from the water taxi

I didn't take any pictures of the B&B we stayed at, but I really should have. Lynda described it this way - "It looks like my eemo's house!" And it really did look like an older Asian woman's home, even down to the random Asian knickknacks scattered around the place. It was small, pretty far from the center of town, and a little bit creepy, but it was clean and cheap and we were only there for a night.

Thoughts on Venice: beautiful, cold, damp, really confusing to navigate through the streets because there are 5000 alleyways and hardly any signage. But Jin - Lynda and I both agree that we're glad we came!

The most miserable part of the entire trip so far was lugging my 65-pound suitcase to the train station, through the cobblestoned streets of Venice, over 4 bridges in the pouring rain. Thankfully, a stranger took pity on me and carried my suitcase over one of the bridges for me. I've decided that if strangers offer to carry my suitcase for me while I'm here, I'm going to gladly take them up on the offer. If they try to steal it, they aren't going to get very far with it, so I'm safe.

On the two-hour train ride from Venice to Florence, I learned how to play Monopoly Deal. Really fun, but super frustrating. The ladies next to us kept staring at us while we were playing. Weirdos.

Wednesday, 10/26: Florence

Airbnb came through again - the flat in Florence is beautiful, clean and huge. It's also in a great area - 5 minutes to walk to the Accademia, 10 minutes to the Duomo and Mercato Market.

Lynda's room

My room

Living room



Living room ceiling

Lunch at Trattoria Mario. We had the spaghetti with meat sauce and a steak, but we both forgot to take a picture of it. It was excellent, and the restaurant has been written up about in a lot of blogs and sites for the quality and cheap prices.

The Duomo. These pictures do not do justice to the sheer amazingness of the building.

Interior of the dome

The floor of the Duomo

Piazza della Repubblica. We ate gelato while listening to a woman singing arias while a man was playing the accordion. It was like something out of a movie.

A 3D map of Florence that we stumbled across in the Piazza della Repubblica.

Next up, the Accademia to see...

David! No pictures are allowed in the Accademia, but I snuck one anyway, and this was the result. Obviously, I'm not meant to take illicit photos. Lynda and I were wandering around, and then we turned the corner, and we looked down a long hallway, and under the arch, there was David. I literally got goosebumps when I saw it. Lynda and I were both amazed at how David's expression looks one way when you look at him from the front, and then it looks completely different when you look at him from the side. That Michelangelo - what a genius.

For dinner, we tried to find a specific trattoria, but even though we were on the right street, the numbers just stopped! We were too tired to search for it, so instead, we got...

The fries weren't great because they weren't hot, but the filet o' fish was even more delicious than they are in America, because the Italians use a different tartar sauce.

And that wraps up day 1 of Florence. As everyone predicted, I love it here. It's urban, but not as frenetic and crazy as Rome. There are groups of tourists here as well, but not in the overwhelming doses that I ran across in Rome.

Our plans for the rest of our time here is the Uffizi, the outlet mall outside of the city, more eating, more shopping, more gelato and more sitting around in piazzas.

Location:Via Gino Capponi,Florence,Italy

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chapter Two: Rome Is Chaos

When my apartment lady picked me up from the train station on Tuesday, she said to me, "Rome is chaos. Once you understand that, everything is fine." Truer words were never spoken.

My general itinerary for my 5 days in Rome was as follows: the Forum and Colosseum, Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, window shop around Via Condotti/Via Frattina, wander around Trastevere. As of today, I have one full day left and I have accomplished less than half of the itinerary, due to no fault of my own (mostly).

Wednesday: I woke up at 9am, feeling pretty good after a 10 hour sleep. Wednesday was going to be my Forum/Colosseum day. I went online and looked up a few last minute things, and then somehow, managed to pass out for 12-13 hours, and woke up at around 9:30pm. Obviously, my very jet-lagged and sick body had different plans for my day.

Thursday: I got woken up at around 7am to what I thought was a garbage truck dropping trash cans over and over and over again, but was actually thunder. I look out the window, and it's a rainstorm of Biblical proportions. Due to luggage weight restrictions, I left my raincoat, umbrella and rainboots in Seattle. The only indoor thing that I had on my itinerary was the Vatican, but I had a ticket for Friday night pre-purchased. The idea of wandering around Rome in a Noah's Ark type of storm in my flats and jacket was completely unappealing, so I went right back to sleep and woke up some time in the afternoon. It was still pouring rain when I woke up, so I puttered around the apartment, did some reading, rented "The King's Speech" on iTunes, and ate some chocolate bread that my apartment lady left for me.

Clearly, I am not short on reading material. I also have the entire "Game of Thrones" series on my Kindle.

Friday: The sky looked ominous, but I was going stir crazy, so off I went to the Colosseum. As I was standing outside of it, I felt like an extra from "Gladiator."

I walked all around, looking for the line for the entrance, but all I saw were people milling around, but no line. Upon further inspection, I realized that there are gates set up everywhere - the Colosseum is closed!

So I walked to the Pantheon, and listened to Rick Steves' audioguide on it on my phone.

According to Rick, the U.S. Capitol Building's rotunda is based on the Pantheon.

Raphael's tomb.

Outside of the Pantheon. It looked burnt out and reminded me of the last scene of "Troy", after Troy had been sacked and they had build a funeral pyre for Achilles/Brad Pitt. (sad face)

I then proceeded to a restaurant around the corner that a foodie friend had recommended to me. It opened at 12:30, I got there at 12:45 and it was already full for lunch. (sad face again)

By this time, I hadn't had anything to eat besides chocolate bread and goldfish crackers from home in 60 hours (not a typo. 60 hours. Kimbahp on Tuesday night was my last meal) so I'm pretty hungry. I walked across the street and had my first meal in Rome.

Spaghetti carbonara. I am an anti-egg person. I decided to take baby steps towards being more egg-friendly by ordering this dish. It was really good. But my body completely rejected it a few hours later, so now I'm back to being anti-egg.

I had purchased my ticket online for the Vatican for Friday evening, but I noticed signage in the metro station about the metro shutting down at 9:30pm every night except for Saturdays, due to the construction of the third metro line. The Vatican is clear across town from my flat, and the idea of walking the entire length of the city at night was not appealing at all. So, I went home, Googled the Colosseum to see why it was closed, (flood damage from the torrential rainfall from the day before, and the Colosseum metro stop is closed indefinitely!) watched "The King's Speech" again and went to sleep early.

Saturday: Woke up at 4:30am and couldn't get back to sleep. It's Vatican day. I get to the museum and the line to get in is out of control. The very aggressive tour guide operators who are barking at us from the side keep saying that the wait will be an hour from where we're standing. The main reason I bought my ticket online was to bypass this line, but since my ticket was for Friday, I wasn't sure if I still got that perk, so I just waited in line. It was only a 30 minute wait anyway. Those Pinocchios. I manage to convince the customer service agent to let me into the museum with my Friday ticket, saving me from a $25 re-purchase. (Actually, there wasn't much convincing needed. I asked and he said okay.)

Courtyard inside the museum. Absolutely beautiful day today.

Ancient painted map. I love maps!

Hello Matisse and Chagall. You were a pleasant surprise to find in the museum.

The staircase at the end of the museum. It reminds me of the cover of my pre-calc textbook from high school.

The Sistine Chapel alone was worth the price of admission. I'm not a big fan of Renaissance art, but the Sistine Chapel was absolutely amazing. If it wasn't for the hundreds of people milling around that small space, I would have stayed for an hour, looking at everything. This was the only area where you weren't allowed to take pictures, and I didn't have Polly, my illegal photo-taker with me, so no pictures of the incredible ceiling.

I think the Vatican Museum is the most crowded place I've ever been to - even worse than the first time I went to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, which I thought was unbeatable. I had to listen to music the entire time I was in the Vatican, to drown out the chatter from the crowds and keep my claustrophobia at bay. (Thanks Hillsong United!)

On to St. Peter's Basilica.

Chairs set up for Mass tomorrow.

The front third of the line. The line to get into the Basilica wrapped around the entire length of the Square. It looked like two hours at the very least, so I took a few pictures and then left. I would have loved to have seen Peter's tomb, his crucification site, Raphael's "Transfiguration" and Michelangelo's Pieta, but I couldn't wait in that line.

So, on to shopping at Via Condotti and the Spanish Steps.

Joe, if your Nano watch doesn't end up working out..

There were quite a few shops that I wanted to go into, but I refuse to add even one more ounce into my already back-breakingly heavy suitcase. At least, not until I get to Venice, where I can make Lynda help me with it. With every squeeze of toothpaste, every dollop of moisturizer I put on my face, every cotton pad I use, I think to myself, I'm making my suitcase lighter!

Michelle was right - the Spanish Steps were underwhelming. Very crowded and underwhelming.

View from the very crowded and underwhelming Spanish Steps. I sat there for 30 minutes people-watching, until I saw a bird drop a bomb 2 feet from me.

The house where John Keats lived and died.

Last picture for this post: my hand drawn map of the area around my flat. This map is the fourth most important thing I have on me at all times, right behind my passport, phone and a real map. My flat is outside of the center of Rome, in the northeastern part of the city. When I first arrived, I thought that I should have rented a place closer to the action. But today after I stepped out from the metro station coming back home, the first thing I realized was how quiet and calm it was. No honking horns, no scooters whizzing by, and most importantly, no crowds. But the only bad part about this flat is that it's just outside of the boundaries of my real map, so I had to draw one. (The X is the metro stop, and I'm on Via dei Foscari.) I'm in a residential neighborhood, without any distinguishing buildings or landmarks, and all the streets look the same, so without this map, I would be hopelessly lost. I dropped the map today on the sidewalk and it almost blew away, which created a mild panic attack. If it came down to it, I could use my phone, but I'm determined to go phone data-less for the entirety of my trip. So instead of GPS and Google Maps, it's paper maps, hand drawn maps, and using the compass on my phone to check that I'm going in the right direction.

A few personal observations of Rome:
-it's really dirty
-it's really noisy
-there is an astonishing amount of human poo on the sidewalks throughout the city. Like, crazy amounts.

Although I was disappointed that I didn't see St. Peter's Basilica or the inside of the Colosseum, the disappointment was outweighed by the sense of freedom I felt with all of the extra unplanned time I had. It was lovely aimlessly wandering around the streets, spending an hour eating lunch while reading a book, and sitting in a random square and do nothing but people-watch. It's a far cry from my over-scheduled, guilt-ridden-if-I'm-not-being-productive, life back home.

Plan for tomorrow: Colosseum, if it's open. If not, St. Peter's Basilica. And then at night, a walk from Campo de Fiori to the Trevi Fountain, per Rick Steves' recommendation. And then do laundry, pack up my 65 pounds worth of stuff, and then Monday, I'm off to Venice to meet Lynda, on the north end of the Scalzi Bridge at 1pm. She wants me to run up to her screaming with my arms wide open, but that's obviously not happening.

I hope this very long post will appease those who have been hounding me about a) not keeping in touch enough and b) not posting often enough!

Location:Rome, Italy