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.

Joy.

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...

1 comment:

Katherine Ping said...

I don't think any captures the pleasures and pains (emphasis on pains) than your pictures. It takes me back. ;)