Dec 29, 2006

Roma - Part 2

I'd be lying if I said that Friday morning was Vatican friendly. We knew that in order to make it inside at a decent time and be able to see everything, or to even make it in at all, we'd have to be there early. That being said, early did not happen Friday morning. Much to Trevor's dismay, we just couldn't get up. And then even after we got up, we had problems meeting up. We finally called the other hotel and agreed to meet at the Colosseum. How that was going to work... well, who knew. But we were ready to leave, so off we went.

We hop the metro and get off at the Colosseo stop which just happens to be the stop for the Colosseum. Who'd of thought? Anyway, you walk out from the metro and there it is. It brings new definition to up close and personal. The building is GINORMOUS. And of course, you are immediately mobbed by people trying to sell you a group tour for an extra fee so that you can "skip the line" and get in quicker. I swear we must have had "tourist" written across our foreheads. Anyway...

We consider this option, but first we all need some cash. Plus, we figure there's got to be a better way. We're also missing half our party and don't want to jump into a group tour without all of our group. We wander around the Colosseum to find an ATM and to admire it's enromity from all sides.

After grabbing some euros we walk back towards the main enterance and just happen to run into the rest of our group. Jen busts out the guidebook and we find out that we can buy tickets for the Colosseum at nearby Palatine Hill. What's more, all the people standing in line are just standing in line to buy tickets, not to get in. If we've already got a ticket, we cruise right by them. So we walk to Palatine Hill, buy our tickets that are good for both there and the Colosseum, and we make our way back over to the throng of people. This was definitely an instance of work smarter, not harder... and it was awesome. I can still see all the tourists standing in line nearly dying in the heat. And of course there's their looks that are a cross of admiration and hatred as you walk by them to the enterance.

Did I mention that there is no point showering in Italy in July? There is no point whatsoever. NONE. Sure you're nice and clean inside. But the second you step outside it is so hot and so humid that you sweat straight through your clothing in a matter of minutes. And then, in certain places like say, the Colosseum, or Palatine Hill, or the Roman Forum... you're walking on cobblestones and dirt. Lots of dirt. And it's dry, so it sticks to your sweaty legs and from the knees down you look like you've tanned about 30 shades in a matter of 20 minutes. It sounds funny now, but just wait til it happens to you. You'll want that shower so badly, but you know it'll all go to waste five minutes later.

But back to the Colosseum. I walked inside and basically just stopped. I'd seen pictures before, but no image has ever done it justice. I walked around the outside first before taking the stairs up to the second level.
The stairs to the second level were quite possibly the sketchiest and most difficult stairs I've ever walked in my life. They were huge, and they were angled downward so much so that you felt like you were hiking up a mountain instead of walking up a flight of stairs. Romans must have had calves of steel. They also must have fallen down those stairs a lot... I swore I was going to topple head over feet on the way back down.
Obviously I didn't climb those stairs, but you get the idea.
But the view from the second level made the climb totally worth it. They also had a statue exhibit and another giftshop up there as well.

I'm not sure at what point or why we decided to leave, but we left the Colosseum and went back up to Palatine Hill. We passed the Arch of Constantine as well as saw the Arch of Titus. See... look!
Above, the Arch of Constantine which is closer to the Colosseum. Below is the Arch of Titus which is closer to Palatine Hill and shows the sack of Jerusalem.
We kept walking and eventually were fortunate enough to find a fresh water spring to fill our empty water bottles with. Antony also decided to bathe in it, but we all knew how successful that would be.

The Palatine Hill walk led to the Roman Forum. Unfortunately, by this point numerous people were tired and or hungry, and we rushed through the Forum at an alarming pace. I was rather disappointed... but I did drag my feet enough to get a few shots.

Our walk through the Forum spit us out at the top of Capitoline Hill and into the middle of the Piazza del Campidoglio, complete with equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

We walked down the Cordonata and found a place to eat. All I remember is someone ordering straight lemon juice, and everyone deciding they wanted to try it...
After a bit of a break and some more gellato, we retraced our steps from the day before and saw the places Kat and Venise had yet to see. We went from the monument of Victor Emmanuel II to the Pantheon, to the Trevi Fountain, to the Spanish Steps.
Here's a clip: Blame Kat for the above, and below we have the interior of the Pantheon, occulus and all.

And then this is the tomb of Raphael. Yes, the painter.
Moving on to other famous landmarks we have Trevi from the right...

And Trevi from the left... Followed by the infamous coin toss. Our group shot was included in an earlier post, but this one is just too good for me to not throw it in. And this was when we knew it was time to leave.
Basically, we started to take more pictures of each other than we were of the fountain. But isn't it a beautiful candid?
Next stop, Spanish Steps.

Yep, still under construction.

Now, at some point we decided it was getting to be dinner time and we wanted to eat something. But what to eat and where to go?

Leave it to the college kids to come up with a great idea.

"Hey Antony, why don't you spin in circles, and whichever direction you're facing when you stop, that's the way we'll go."

I'm not joking...

Somehow, Antony ended in a fruitless direction so we tried something else. Hey, what about taking a horse drawn carriage to Campo di Fiori since we never made it back the night before. We ask, and the driver gives us some outrageous price like 100€ so we drop that idea and settle for petting the horses instead. Someone was afraid we'd be charged just for touching them, so we kept moving. Jen's handy guidebook told us about the fanciest McDonald's in Italy that was just down the street, where we got gelatto. But we wanted real dinner, so we found a little resturant along one of the nearby alleys.

We sit down, we order... but here comes the fun part. Both Antony and Kat order mimosas. Kat finishes hers rather quickly, and just before she's done, Antony excuses himself to the restroom. Jen decides it would be funny to act like she drank all of Antony's mimosa, so she puts his drink down on the bench next to her, and puts Kat's empty glass on the table in front of his seat. The glass barely hits the table and Antony shows up, but somehow he honestly believes that Jen just downed his drink. It was absolutely hilarious, see for yourself.

Before... And After... We laughed until we cried and our stomachs hurt. It was awesome.

Full from dinner we took off to find a bus stop that would get us all back to our respective hotels. We agreed to meet up early the next morning before heading off to the Vatican. As expected, day 3 was going to be a long one...

Dec 25, 2006

Roma - Part 1

We flew out of London on Wednesday, July 19th... the last day of class for the first summer session. I literally walked to class, which our tutor moved up an hour to accomodate our tight schedule, with packed bag in hand. Of course, being the last day of class, my paper was due. As I procrastinate and write my best work under pressure, I was up all night writing said paper. You'd expect nothing less, right? Which means I hadn't slept in more than 24 hours... keep this in mind for later.

Most of the people traveling with me hadn't slept either, or at least not much, so by the time we made it onto the train to travel to London, Antony pulls out his blow up neck pillow and passes out. We made fun of him at first, but by the end of the night, I was jealous of that pillow. It's one of those things I won't travel to a foreign country without in the future.

We also had a communication problem, and Jen didn't know we moved our timetable up an hour. We left without her, but called every once in a while to find out where she was, to make sure she was going to make it by check in time. Thankfully, we all made it to the counter, through security, and to the gate in time. I still don't understand why European airports are so spread out, but we learned to deal.

I'm pretty sure I slept on the flight, seeing as I don't remember much of it. We landed after 9pm or so at the Ciampino airport which is actually outside of Rome, and tried to make our way to our hotel. Tried being the operative word, because this is when our troubles began. We needed to take the train from the Ciampino station to the Anagnina metro station, where our hotel said it would have a shuttle to pick us up. Sounds easy, right?

Well as it turns out, the Ciampino station isn't actually at the Ciampino airport. I was confused too. We had to take a bus, that only left about once an hour, to the Ciampino station. That part we managed successfully. What we didn't know is that we'd already missed the last train leaving Ciampino for Anagnina. We get there, we try to buy our tickets, and we can't. The automated machine won't sell us a thing, so we find one of the guards who tries to help us, but can't because he obviously can't draw a train out of thin air. He finds a schedule for us, and we figure out we're screwed. But we're smart kids, so we try to problem solve.

We walk down the street to find a pay phone to call for a ride. Turns out we can't work a pay phone in Italian, so we use Christina's cell to contact our hotel. The woman at the front desk is a total sweetheart who graciously offers to send the shuttle to the Ciampino station to pick us up. They tell us they'll be able to get there by about 12:30, but it's the best option we've got so we accept. We're tired, but we're not done yet.

A few buses drive past, taunting us. We try to entertain ourselves and stay positive, but it's pretty obvious that we're in need of sleep. Finally a little red car pulls up and parks, and two gentlemen get out asking for Christina. There is only room in the car for two more people, and there are six of us. Turns out the shuttle had broken down, so they'd used a personal vehicle to pick us up. It was sweet, but the reality is it didn't help much. The other problem was that the hotel reservation was only for two people, so they didn't expect six of us. And when the two guys who had driven called the hotel to tell them of our problem, the sweetheart at the desk pulled a personality one-eighty. Christina told her that plans had changed last minuted, and that we were willing to pay extra just to sleep on the floor. The lady didn't buy it and wouldn't go for it. She told us they had no vacancies, and that only two people would even be allowed in the front door.

On to plan C....

We ask the gentlemen, who really were trying to help us out, if they knew of any hotels in the area where we could stay. They couldn't actually take us into Rome due to space constraints, and it was too expensive for us to take a taxi as it was about 20 minutes away. They wander around with us to try to find a place, but the only hotel we find is sketch and doesn't have enough space for four of us. We ultimately decide that two of us need to go to the hotel, and that the rest of us would cab it back to the airport to see if the last minute hotel desk could find us a place to stay for the night. We agree to meet up at the Anagnina station the next day at noon, and then we split up.

At this point, Antony, Jen, Trevor and I walk back to the train station and the nice guard that tried to help us before calls us a cab. We load up our luggage and go back to the airport where we'd been a few hours before. We walk into the arrivals terminal, the only part of the building that's open, to find all of the counters closed and the hotel kiosk empty. The floor is covered with numerous groups of people spending the night in the terminal. We look at each other and we all know what we're thinking, but no one wants to say it. I finally submit to the obvious, acknowledge the fact that it's 1 in the morning, and that we have no hotel and no way of finding one at this hour unless we take a taxi into Rome and drive around to find a place with an available room or two. At this point, we might as well sleep on the floor.

I haven't even finished my sentence when I hear Antony say "That's fine with me" and he's off to the floor with his blown up pillow in hand. We try to make the best of the situation and lay down towels to curl up on, using our bags as pillows. I clutch my purse with all my valuables to my chest and try to sleep. I think it's safe to say, it was the most uncomfortable sleep I have ever had, and probably the least restful. If there's one thing I never want to do again, it's that.
I woke up several times, but sometime around 5 I decide to get up for good. Jen follows me and we head to the bathroom to clean up. Around 6 we catch the bus into Rome and try to enjoy the fact that we're in Italy.

We take the bus all the way into the Anagnina metro station and buy € 4 tickets that suffice as all day passes. From there we hop the A line metro to the Termini station, the main station in the city. I've never heard of it, but Jen has an idea as well as a travel book, so she becomes our natural leader.

Across the street from the Termini station we eat for the first time since I don't remember when. We have a few hours before we need to meet the other two people in our group, so we decide to walk. We don't know where were going, we just wander. We come across a church and after a few pictures out front, we decide to go in.
I thought the door was really cool...

I took a few pictures inside, but by the time I'm done with this, well, you'll have had enough of churches. I do remember that it was made in the shape of a cross, which as the religious studies major Trevor told me, is highly significant. Hey, I'm just passing along the info.
And oh look, the first picture of Antony in Italy AWAKE! See... I told you we tried to maintain a sense of humor.

After leaving the church we make a left, and cross another one of those roundabout streets that circle a fountain. Spain and Italy have something in common. So does Paris as it turns out, but we'll save that for another entry. After getting through the Piaza, we see these statues of winged men with chariots of horses. They look pretty cool, so we decide to go see what they are. Like I said, we'd done no research whatsoever. And it looked like they were just down the street. Haha...

Our "just down the street" became a half hour walk. Where we ended up was the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. It houses a museum as well as the tomb of the unknown soldier, with an eternal flame. Turns out those winged men we saw were actually statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. Needless to say, the building is huge and offers some amazing views.

As a side note, I wish I could hyperlink a few of those official terms and names and such for you. Wikipedia is extremely helpfull. I didn't even know what a quadriga was until I did a little research. By the way, I don't advocate learning about a place AFTER you travel there. From now on, my escapades will be more researched and well planned. No more of this travel like a crazy college kid business. It was great once, but now I feel like I missed out. But it was all a great learning experience... for next time.

But back to the pictures.

Believe me when I say that these pictures make this amazing builing look absolutely tiny in comparison. To truly appreciate it's size, I would have needed to use a wide angle lens and stand across the street. It's that big. Let's put it this way, from one end we could see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, and from the other we could see the Coloseum. I just about fell over.

After wandering around for awhile we realize it's time to make our way back to the Anagnina station. We leave the monument and catch a bus back to Termini. From there we metro it to Anagnina and eventually meet Christina and Sarika. They want to know why we're still wearing the same clothes we were the night before. We tell them of our adventures, get on the metro, and try to find our next hotel. But not before taking a little nap...

Do you see that reflection of Antony off to the right? Here's why:

Now, once again I say "try to find our hotel" because it took us forever. It's not that we got lost per se, we just couldn't find the place. It was outside of the main city center, and it was quite a walk from the Cornelia metro stop. There were signs directing us to our hotel, but as we got closer they disappeared. We stop to try and figure out if we missed it based on the last sign, and we decide to ask someone in the area for help. And somewhere in all our turning around I run into a pole.

Ever embarassed yourself in a country where you don't even speak the language? Check.

A gentleman tried to help us and put us on a bus, told the bus driver where we needed to get off, and wished us luck. Unfortunately, he sent us too far and we had to ask for directions again. We stopped at another hotel that gave us a more detailed map of the area and told us that we had to go back to where we were before we got on the bus.


So we hop on the bus, head back to the intersection where I'd smacked my forehead about a half hour earlier, and we start walking. Eventually we find the place, a classy little place half hidden behind the wall separating the street from the entrance. No wonder we missed it. We realize that we're not going to be able to sneak in extra people, so four of us get checked in and settled, and the other two head off to find a different hotel. Everyone else went with them, but by the time I laid down I was done for. I was exhausted, and wasn't moving for a good long time.

We agree to take naps, get cleaned up, and meet up later for dinner. Our hotel recommends a nice local place and we enjoy our first real Italian meal.
Ladies and gentlement, I give you Lo Chef. With names like these, who needs to speak Italian?

Yes, I ate ravioli. And that would be Coca-Cola in that wine goblet. I definitely drank Coke in every country I visited, my Grandma would be so proud.

And most of the crew, well of the 6 of us that were there at least, waiting on our meal.

From the resturant we embarked on a night walk around Rome, with Jen's guidebook as our map.

But first, we stopped for gelatto. I'd had stuff in the states claiming to be gelatto, but it doesn't even come close. Gelatto is heavenly. It's like the cheesecake of ice cream, and for the record, I love cheesecake. We ate gelatto as much as we could, and we loved every minute of it. I took a picture of the sign outside the little shop where we ate that night, and I have every intention of going back. Perhaps it was psychological, but looking back on it, that was the best gelatto of the whole trip.

Sufficiently full and content we started our night tour. First was Campo de Fiori, a square surrounded by resturants. We got lost, and ended up walking in the exact opposite direction. I can still hear Antony saying "that building looks like this here on the map... huh, huh... who's good?" before leading us the wrong way. But it was funny and it gave us something to tease him about for a few days. We eventually made it and found ourselves in the middle of a loud and fun bustling place. We planned on going back for dinner, but it never happened.

Our next stop was Piazza Navona, complete with a fountain, artists selling their wares, and street performers dressed as everything from businessmen in slow motion to garden angels. The best part had to be running into Carly, a girl I'd gone to highschool with and hadn't seen since graduation. Of course we don't run into each other in our small hometown, we bump into each other in Italy. What are the odds?
We improvised a little and decided to take a detour and see the Pantheon before heading off to the Trevi Fountain.

Did I mention I should have taken my tripod?

I think we got lost on our way to the fountain, and made a bunch of people mad by walking down the street with our map open. Whoops. In fact, I know I have a picture of Trevor with a map.

The Trevi Fountain was packed with people and street vendors shoving roses and other small objects in your face in the hopes you'd accidentally accept the item and then be forced to pay for them. We stayed for a while, but didn't throw any coins in because we knew we'd be back when the other two people of our group arrived.
Our last stop was the Spanish Steps that sit at the base of Trinità dei Monti, a church under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France. Like most everything else in Europe, part of the church facade was under construction, pretty much ruining the view from the ground.
We decided it was time to head in for the night, so we walked to the Spagna metro station intending to take the metro back to our hotel. But what we didn't know was that the metro A line was under construction, so it stopped running by 10pm every night. There had been no signs to inform us of this, and the information wasn't on their website when I had checked earlier, so we were a little miffed with Roman public transportation. I mean how were we supposed to know?

One of the guards at the station tells that we need to take the bus that substitutes for the A line route. He assures us we can get to our stop, and that all we need to do is follow the metro station underground until it ends and it'll put us in the right spot to catch the bus. Sounds easy enough, right?

It wasn't.

As it turns out, the A line bus stops at almost every stop but the Spagna stop. So we end up running after the bus as it passes us trying to figure out where it stops. We ask someone in a resturant but they don't know and we're running out of time. The last bus stops running at midnight and it's already after 11. Antony backtracks, and 6 huge blocks later we find the bus stop.

The bus is overcrowded and jerky, but it gets us to our hotel. We had told Kat and Venice to take the metro to our hotel, and we're worried they won't make it. We try calling but there's no answer, but we know there isn't much we can do but wait. They got lucky, a nice older couple put them on a bus and told them where to go and they made it to the hotel before all public transporation stopped. We got them settled in and we all planned to meet early the next morning to see the Vatican. Of course, we all see how well the planning worked out on this trip.

Anyway, when I finally went to sleep, I think it was some of the best sleep I've ever gotten in my life. The bed was comfortable, the shower was phenomenal, and the room was nice and cool. It was some much needed medicine, and it was certainly the best way to prep for Day 2...

Aug 16, 2006

Italia - The Prologue

The day I bought my tickets to Italy I was in awe. Complete and total awe. I hadn't planned on going to Italy... I mean I wanted to obviously, but I didn't think it was going to happen. But Kat and Trevor kept pushing, and eventually we ended up with a group of 8 people heading off to Italy in split shifts because of class, with plans to see Rome and Venice over the spread of as many as five days depending on your schedule.

The problem was... the planning pretty much stopped after the flights were booked. The weekend before we left, every one was every where but campus. Hotels were booked late, and although we booked our train from Rome to Venice, not much more research was done. No one really knew what they wanted to see besides The Vatican and the Coloseum, so obviously we didn't know what to see when. This was a by the seat of our pants trip, and it's safe to say that we paid for it.

Although I apologize for the delay, I think it's best that I'm writing about this particular trip a long time afterwards. At this point I remember that it was rough, but I mostly remember the good stuff. I remember falling in love with San Marco Piazza in Venice, I remember gelatto, the beautiful views from St. Peter's Basilica, and being "pen pals with the Pope". Sure, I remember the look on Christina's face when we missed our flight home, but I can laugh about it now. We knew it would be better once we had some distance. Suffice it to say, close to five months is enough.

And so, without further ado...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Italy.

Aug 15, 2006

London with Moe

A few days later I spent my long weeked in London with my friend Moe. The weekend was awesome because not only did I have someone who knew the city and could show me around, but Moe's a wealth of photographic knowledge that he was more than willing to share. Plus he's always good for a laugh.

Aren't you Moe?

Ha! Revenge for all those photos you snapped of me. And just think, the first shot is even funnier. I showed mercy in posting this one...

Of course, like all things that seem to involve me this summer, the trip didn't quite go off without a hitch. Friday we were supposed to meet in Leicester Square close to noon. I didn't know how to get there so I got on the National Rail website, wrote down directions, and headed out on my way.

Well some how I ended up in the city of Leicester, an hour outside of London... instead of Leicester Square in London. Good thing I had a rail pass. The funny thing is when I asked people in Leicester how to get to Leicester Square, none of them knew what I was talking about. And this is supposedly a famous place in London.

Oh, and for the record... those crazy Brits pronounce it Lester, not Lie-kester. How they get Lester, I have no idea. Neither did Moe, which made me feel a little better. But still, Lester? Come on people.

Anyway, after a few questions and text messages, I figured out that although I was on time, I was not where I needed to be. An hour or more later I returned to London, found Moe, and we were on our way.

Oh look... it's the view out my window on the way back to London.

With our Oyster Cards we were able to travel around a large portion of the city by bus or underground, and so we tubed it pretty much every where. We saw Picadilly Circus twice the first day, during the day and at night. We also saw Leicester Square, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, before making our way to the Thames.
There was a concert going on in Trafalgar Square, and people filled the steps up towards the National Gallery.

This is looking back on Trafalgar Square. The statue, like most things in Europe, was under construction, and then you can see the National Gallery behind it. Throw in a few double deckers and a phone booth and voila!

Once across the Thames we passed County Hall which houses Dali Universe, and exhibit of some of Dali's works. A few were outside close to the London Eye, and I have to say, they were pretty cool.

Elephant on stilts anyone?I'm not sure why this looks so dark when posted here... it's not, I promise.

We walked past the Tate Modern and bought tickets to see Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre on Saturday night before crossing the river to walk past St. Peter's Basilica.

The day passed quickly, and as I hadn't seen anything but the buildings along the Thames and Greenwich Village, I basically followed Moe blind just taking it all in. I didn't have a place to stay in London so I had to take the train back to Brighton, and then get up the next morning to do it all over again.

Picadilly Circus, which for obvious reasons is far more impressive at night. And this place is so bright, I didn't even need a tripod for this shot. Totally crazy.

Saturday we spent quite a bit of time in Camden Town, a huge outdoor market with so many different vendors and shops it's insane. I'm pretty sure you could buy anything there. Well, anything other than a wind chime because I tried to find one and couldn't.

Like I said... almost anything.

We also went to Oxford Circus where there were several other shops, but by the time we made it there, most of them were closed. I think we also hit up Soho that night before heading back over to the Globe to see Antony and Cleopatra at midnight.

I know Shakespeare is supposed to be phenomenal live, but this play just wasn't. The theatre was really cool, but the acting was in need of... well, a lot. And Moe and I chose to stand, which gets a little annoying after three hours when you've been walking all day. I wanted to make it back to see A Comeday of Errors which got much better reviews, but it never happened.

It was a little after 3am when the play was done so I was stuck in London for the night. I say stuck like it's a bad thing. Even without a tripod I got some pretty cool night shots along the Thames before the sun started to come up around 4:30ish. And that image... totally copyrighted, so don't even think about it. Hahaha... yeah, right.

We went to his hostel but couldn't get in because security wasn't at the desk, so we wandered around the city before returning a few hours later. At about 7am I crashed on the couch in the lobby for a few hours and then we took off again.

Next on the list was China Town followed by The National Portrait Gallery which was really cool. Entrance into the museum is free, but there was a special exhibit of Angus McBean photographs that you had to pay to see. We willingly shelled out a few pounds and I'm glad we did. McBean photographed several famous people, but what was most impressive to me was his imagination and the settings he chose for his portraits. Google him, it's definitely worth it.

He also took the famous picture of the Beatles looking over the balcony that became the cover for a few of their albums. And since he has such famous clients, he kept a book for all those he photographed to sign. Needless to say, they had it on display, open next to the shots he took of the Beatles. I saw John Lennon's autograph, and although all four of them were there for some reason Lennon's, well... it was unreal. I stood there staring for a good few minutes. I mean John Lennon, really? Wow.

We hit up The Photographer's Gallery afterwards which had some really cool stuff, but unfortunately half of it was still in the process of being put up.

We also returned to The National Gallery in Trafalgar and actually went in this time. After a little over an hour we headed back to Leicester Square to meet a friend of Moe's, and then practically rushed to Oxford Circus to do some music shopping. I wanted to buy more than a few cds, but because the price was in pounds it would have cost me basically twice as much as if I bought it in the States. In the end I walked out empty handed, and Moe had quite a bit of new music.

Eventually both Moe and I had to catch our trains to get out of town. I headed back to Brighton and Moe took off to some fancy city that he called the English Riviera. Must be nice. But I enjoyed the weekend, saw some pretty cool stuff that I wouldn't have if not for Moe, and I got a few good shots in. Not that I got a lot of sleep, but when do I ever?

Gotta love exploring new cities with good friends.