Friday, June 4, 2010

A Very Belated Spring Break Travel Post: Rome, Part 1

Okay, ROME. I feel as though I've already recounted this story to everyone, but I have to remind myself that unless I've seen you in person, I haven't had a chance to do so! This is going to be split into multiple parts because it is so epic.

Last time: PARIS. We turned our taxi around and backtracked through Montmartre at 4:45 in the morning to pick up Monica’s cell phone, which she had accidentally left under the pillow of our hostel (Luckily for Monica, she is completely charming and impossible to be upset at).

The taxi pulled up back to Le Village hostel and Jackie & I stayed in the car to practice our French with the driver (correction, Jackie practiced our French; I stayed silent while worrying that maybe we were supposed to have reserved a spot of the airport bus ahead of time and that if that was the case, all of our Spring Breaks were going to be ruined and would be my fault). Candy and Monica came back more than a few minutes later, out of breath and telling us that when they got back to the lobby to ask for the key to our room, our already-disgruntled receptionist ignored them for a few minutes because he was slow dancing with another guest. France.

We re-zoomed through the streets, and not long after ended up near La Defense and Port Maillot, where we were supposed to catch the bus. We found it after wandering around for a while (it was dark). We were fine on time, LUCKILY, and hopped on the next available bus where we each fell asleep promptly and woke up an hour later when we reached the Beauvais Airport.

Let me tell you something about European airports: Unlike American airports, who have caught on to the fact that its captive audiences MUST pay three times as much for the things they are selling, European airports seem to think that they should charge LESS than the normal price for things. It’s very bizarre and I like it. Except maybe that was just a sign that Bordeaux was an expensive city to be living in the first place, hmmmm….

Our Ryan Air flight was fine, and Jackie and I caught the bus to our hostel while Monica and Candy waited for Monica’s aunt. The Tiber Hostel and Camping was an excellent choice.

The rooms were nice (I chose to ignore the suspiciously large bloodstain on the underside of the mattress above me that I had to look at from my own bunk), there was an (underpriced!) store with everything we would ever have needed, and the LARGE cappuccino in the restaurant was only 1 Euro 80! (i.e. 2 Euros LESS than anywhere in France). Our hostel was outside of the main part of the city, however, but it was easy enough (and cheap) to get into town. After settling in, Jackie and I took the Metro and ended up near Santa Maria Del Poppolo, which I was super excited about because we had talked about it in the Baroque Rome Art History class I had taken my sophomore year. And it was nice being in that area because I hadn’t made it there when I visited Rome with my family last time.

Jackie and I had our first hint of how amazing Rome was going to be when we ordered sandwiches at a little restaurant and the people there were actually nice to us (like, they were smiling and everything!). It was amazing how fast my mood changed once Jackie and I started walking around. It was like I was mistaken about loving France -- because the happiness I felt as soon as we reached Rome was unlike anything I had felt for the previous four months...kind of like even though I thought that I loved France, I was actually mistaken. Obviously, I DID love France, and I wouldn't trade my experiences there for the world, but I can't deny that I simply felt more at home in Rome in those four days than I had in my entire stay in France. To say it more simply, I was definitely glad I had made it to Rome during my Spring Break travels.

A few hours later we found Jackie and Monica at Piazza Navona. It was a really great day, even though it was miserably humid. We went to the Pantheon and ate gelato, threw coins in the Trevi, etc. We had already decided to save some things to do for when Valerie would be with us the next day, but around 5:30 we ended up at the Colossuem. Our goal was to (obviously) pay as little as possible for everything during our trip, especially because we were the lucky owners of student IDs for a school in the European Union (which makes all the difference). I was doubtful about being able to save money in Rome, however, because my research hadn’t turned up any evidence of free entry for students (i.e. at the Vatican, even if you have proof that you’re a legitimate Catholic priest you only get a small discount). So when we reached the oddly empty ticket line at the Coliseum and Jackie turned back to us to tell us it was free, I definitely did NOT believe it. It turns out that our Rome trip magically landed on the last two days of Rome’s Cultural Week, so entrance to all of the important stuff was free! I still can’t explain the fact that nothing we tried to see during the week had a line…..

So that was pretty cool. We ran around the coliseum for a while and had gelato, and then Jackie and I caught the train and the shuttle back to Tiber Camping, where I was unable to buy a towel from the store because it was closed (to my disappointment. I wasn’t going to have time to shower in the morning, and I was feeling all of the effects of having been traveling since 4AM that morning in extreme humidity). But Jackie and I ordered cheap hot chocolates which partially made up for how disgusting I felt and probably smelled.

Valerie arrived around 1AM that night from Paris, and in the morning the three of us took the Rome Nord train to the end of it’s line, and then took another train to meet Monica and Candy at the Piazza Navona. Monica and Candy were staying with Monica’s aunt, who, according to Monica “works for the government”. Except that Monica is SUPER modest, and it turned out that her aunt is the Egyptian CONSUL in Italy (i.e. second to the AMBASSADOR). Her aunt was amazing and set us up with a very generous private tour, led by an amazing Italian woman named something that sounded like Illyria, and a driver named Roberto. Our first stop was the Castel Sante Angeleo, where Illria flashed her official tour guide badge and whisked us past the line…….

Gelato Number 3: Melon, Orange & Coconut :)

Next time: Important Catholics, even more gelato, and real Italians....

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