I, apparently, never posted the travel update for my Rome trip abut 11 months ago or so. Anyway, here it is. I wrote it in August.
I know that I have failed in my duty to write up a post about my trip to Rome. It seems that I put off this duty long past when writing the update would have been reasonable. Rome was our last trip, and so it seems that I was fixated, after Rome, on returning to the United States. I have had, in the back of my mind, every intention of writing an entry for my Rome trip, but I confess that it is the fear of not receiving cookies from Gran this next semester (she was my financial backer for the Rome trip) that is prompting the travel update to appear now. Since I am writing this entry several months after the trip occurred, I will be relying heavily on the pictures that I (and others) took while in Rome as well an itinerary I sketched out before going. It is possible that this post will be less than historically accurate as to what happened on which day, but I hope that I do successfully convey all of the important things that happened.
April 14 was a Wednesday. We went to German class, headed to the train station, ate lunch, and waited for the train. Going on the trip to Rome was I, Kyle, Drew, Laura, Trey, and our German friend Christin. We ended German class and rejoiced in the fact that we had a week before we had to even think about German again. At the train station we met up with Christin and her parents. The plan was to take a train to Berlin and from Berlin fly to Rome. It was about ten minutes until the departure time and a train pulled into the correct platform and it said Berlin on the electronic marquee at the top of the train. So, I got on the train and found my seat. I sat down and waited for my journey to begin. Two things gave me hesitation. First, I couldn’t find any of the others and second, the electronic display listing the cities through we would be travelling listed cities south of Leipzig, not north. It gradually grew on me that I was on a train headed away from Berlin, not towards. The train was actually beginning to move as I jumped off with my luggage onto the platform. And waiting for me, next to the train, were Trey and the others who were relieved to see me. The correct train showed up a few minutes later. We boarded, got off in Berlin, and caught a tram from the train station to the airport. Now, this airport is not the large intercontinental airport. No, this is the airport that only two airlines fly out of. More to the point, the two discount airlines: EasyJet and RyanAir. Remember my comments about RyanAir from the London trip? Well, EasyJet is very similar. They are a discount airline, just like RyanAir, and their only motivation is to make a buck (or a Euro). We went through security, though there was no passport control since Germany and Italy are both members of the Eurozone, and boarded the plane. Our flight left around 6 that evening and arrived in Rome around 8.
The Rome airport that we flew into was also the discount airport. We stood around for a while wondering if there was any sort of customs we were supposed to go through. We eventually decided to just leave, were not stopped, and made it out to where the bus was that would take us to the train station in the center of Rome. As we went outside toward the buses we started to gag because everyone who had been on our plane rushed outside for a smoke break. The joke here is that this is because our plane was full of Germans. Hahahaha. Ok, enough hilarity. We boarded the Terravision bus, just like we did when we flew to London. About forty-five minutes later we ended up at the main train station of Rome. Remembering our poor luck in London with getting to the hostel by using the underground, and our bad experience with a taxi in Paris, I had brought with me a map of the location to which we were heading. The taxi driver spoke far better English than his French counterpart, and he was far friendlier. It was earlier in the evening, and we had a much shorter distance to go. It was also cheaper, something like a total of ten Euros. We made it to the hostel around 9:30 and checked in. This was, by far, the best hostel we stayed at in terms of ease of access to the city and helpfulness of the staff. It was not the nicest in terms of accommodations, but that was ok since we weren’t planning on being in the hostel very often. Drew, Kyle, and I were staying in this hostel, while the girls and Trey were staying in another far nicer hostel a few miles away. We just didn’t have the funds to join them. After checking in, we went across the street and got some cheap pizza, ate it in the hostel, and then went to bed. Our plan was to meet up with the other group at the Colosseum at eleven o’clock the next morning.
The next morning we consulted the very detailed map that the hostel had and discovered where the closest metro stop was. We proceeded there; it was about a twenty minute walk, and we headed for the underground entrance nearest the Colosseum. Something about Rome is that, unlike any of the other large cities we had visited, the underground system is not very developed. There are only two lines. The good news is that between these two lines most of the big tourist spots are hit. We made it to the Colosseum, found our compatriots, and wandered around looking at it. We decided that since the Colosseum was extremely crowded, we ought to wander off somewhere else. We settled on going to the Spanish Steps. We took the underground to the correct stop, got off, and found the Spanish Steps. The steps were built with the funds donated by a diplomat representing the Bourbon monarchy of Spain, which also controlled the monarchy of France. It is a visible monument to the link between the monarchy and the Holy See. At the top of the Steps is the Church of the Holy Trinity. It is under the patronage of the Bourbon monarchy of France. We hung out there for awhile before deciding that we needed to find some lunch. We found lunch at this little street cafe where we all had spaghetti with bolonaise sauce. There are, up and down all of the streets of Rome, these little cafes which have mostly all the same food. Mostly that food is pizza or pasta. We next headed for the Trevi Fountain. There was, in Roman practice, a fountain built at the end of each aqueduct. This was revived when the Renaissance swept through Italy. The fountain was so named because it is at the intersection of three roads (tre vie). The initial fountain was built in the late 1400’s. In the 1700’s the pope decided that the fountain was not dramatic enough, and so he commissioned the building of a new more glorious fountain. This is the modern Trevi Fountain. In the center of the fountain is the Roman god, Oceanus, god of the water. It is an extremely impressive site. There is a tradition of, while facing away from the fountain, throwing a coin over your shoulder. We all did so. We then headed towards the pantheon. The pantheon was a temple to the Roman gods before it was converted into a church. It is circular in design and contains, around the edge of the inside of the building, a number of tombs. Raphael is one of the people buried there. It was truly a marvelous site marred only by the huge scaffolding of the restoration going on. By this time we were excessively thirsty. We looked around for a place to buy a drink and discovered a McDonalds right across the square from the pantheon. I found this extremely disheartening, since the pantheon is this wonderful thing of historical significance and the McDonalds is representative of American consumerism, but I also knew that I would be able to slake my thirst. We got drinks and chilled out for a bit, and then decided to split up and head to our hostels and meet back up for dinner.
The next day, Friday, we met up with the others at ten o’clock at the Colosseum. We discovered the night before that it was history week in Italy. This meant that all of the historical sites or museums controlled by the government would be open for free. So, we decided to just walk into the Colosseum. The site was extremely impressive. I always thought that the reason that the Colosseum looked ruined and had chunks torn out of it was because it had stood for well over a thousand years. It turns out that it had taken on this ruined appearance only because it was much easier to steal stone to build other stuff from the Colosseum than to dig the stone out of a quarry. This is how St. Peter’s was built. We agreed to meet back at the entrance and we all left to wander around. The floor of the colosseum was completely removed; I could see all the passageways that had run underneath the floor. These passageways were primarily used by gladiators and animals before they “performed” on stage. There were tons of tourists there, especially American tourists, and I even got into a conversation with an American Catholic Priest from Indiana. By this time in the year, the weather in Germany had warmed slightly, but the whether in Rome was actually warm. This resulted in me wearing flip flops everywhere, which I discovered was not a very good thing to do when walking long distances. My feet grew blisters pretty quickly. The Colosseum is huge. Absolutely huge. Around noon we grabbed a quick lunch and then headed off towards the Roman Forum. The Forum was, during ancient times, the seat of Roman government. It contained all of major temples, a couple of imperial palaces, and the main economic district of Rome. Think of Wall Street, Capitol Hill, and the Vatican all in the same place. We wandered around this place for several hours. We saw tons of ruins and marveled at the magnificent buildings. Above the forum, up a gigantic set of steps, were the imperial gardens. These gardens were off limits to anyone except the rulers of Rome and those they chose to allow there. The gardens are vast, ranging from an orange orchard to beautiful flowers. From the gardens there was also a terrific view of the Colosseum and the Roman skyline. We got stuck up in the gardens looking for a way out and were eventually successful. Once more we agreed to go back to our respective hostels and then meet up for dinner.
After dinner on Friday, we agreed to meet up at the subway entrance nearest the Vatican the next morning at ten o’clock. So far in Rome we had been able to avoid the peddlers trying to sell us touristy nonsense. Well, walking down the street the St. Peter’s square more than made up for not having really encountered the problem yet. This was compounded by the fact that Kyle and I had to wait for about fifteen minutes for Christin, Laura, and Trey to show up. Since our agreed upon spot was the subway entrance, we had to stand there next to this man who constantly attempted to offer a tour of the Vatican Museum (for 25 Euros). We had to keep telling him to leave us alone. Finally our compatriots showed up, and we were on our way. Up until now our visits to famous touristy spots in places like London or Paris or Berlin had been done in the tourist off season. Well, it was the beginning of the tourist on season in Rome, and we were crowded out of our minds. We made it down the street to St. Peter’s square (which is where the Pope sometimes says mass and addresses lots of people at once). It was very impressive, surrounded on all sides by gargantuan buildings and pillars and such. While wandering around the square we saw some of the Swiss Guard guarding a door. When a nun came up to the entrance, they banged their sticks on the ground and let her in. Back in the early renaissance time, and even before than in the middle ages, Switzerland was a poor country whose people often made their fortunes abroad. One way in which this was accomplished was by being hired as mercenaries. The skill at arms of many of these mercenaries became legendary and the swiss were in high demand not only to form parts of armies, but also to be body guards in even the highest courts. Back in the day, there were many swiss guards, including the guard for the French monarchy, but the only one still in existence is the Pontifical Swiss Guard, whose duty is to guard the pope. We next wandered into St. Peter’s Basilica. It was completely open to the public and astoundingly beautiful. There were paintings and statues and epitaphs and other beautiful things everywhere. Again, the place was extremely crowded, but we were still able to appreciate the beauty. They just don’t build stuff like that anymore. Once we were finished in the Church, we decided to get some lunch before going to the Vatican Museum. We found lunch in another of these tiny cafes, but this time I decided to branch out and order carbonara. Carbonara is basically spaghetti made with an egg yolk sauce and mixed with bacon. It’s essentially breakfast pasta, though the Italians don’t really see it that way. I have, since returning to the US, attempted to make Carbonara. My failure was epic. Perhaps I ought to give a little more respect to the difficulty in making Italian food. After lunch we headed to the Vatican museum which was, unfortunately, not free. After paying fifteen euros, we entered the museum and proceeded to look around. Realizing that we would soon get separated, we set a time and place for dinner and went our separate ways. The museum was seriously huge. The largest museum in the world in the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., though that’s cheating since it is in several buildings. The second largest museum is the Louvre in Paris. It is all under one roof, but it is carefully divided so that you can pick a section of the museum to visit. The Vatican museum, however, is the third largest museum in the world and, in order to leave the museum, you have to walk it in its entirety. I didn’t run, nor did I crawl, but I walked at a normal pace. It took me five hours to walk through the museum. I didn’t stop and gaze at paintings as I went (ok, I did some) but mostly I just enjoyed my journey through the museum. I saw some beautiful paintings and sculptures, and I took plenty of pictures. The Vatican museum is housed in several papal palaces that have been joined together. I, for one, am glad that the opulence that has long been part of the Church’s history has been given over (somewhat) to the public good. The final destination in the Vatican museum is the fabled Sistine Chapel. It was very pretty, but a lot of things about it disappointed me. It was very dark in the room, so it was hard to see. It was also very crowded and filled with body odor. Finally, the very famous painting of God the Father giving life to Adam was only a tiny portion of the painting. I thought, for some reason, that the entire painting was a single scene that covered the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. No, it was a bunch of isolated scenes, but it was still very pretty. After I left the Vatican museum I headed back to the hostel and eventually met up with my compatriots for dinner.
At dinner on Saturday night we decided that Sunday ought to be a day of rest and relaxation. We decided to meet up around noon at the Spanish Steps so that we could go to a nearby park and have a picnic. It was very peaceful and relaxing. We sat on this beautiful field of grass and ate sandwiches and fruit. We finished eating and got up to start exploring. There was a place that you could rent these golf cart like things, only in order to make them go you had to pedal them like a bike. Kyle and I opted out, and we wandered around the park for a while while the others drove themselves around. The park we were in had been the private gardens of the Meddicci family, a prominent Italian family that had been involved in politics for centuries. Around dinner time we left, found dinner, and made it back to the hostel.
By Monday morning we were seriously worried about the ash cloud. The day after we left for Rome, the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland erupted sending a cloud of ash slowly over Britain and then the continent. Most airports were closed, and even the airports in northern Italy were starting to close. The Berlin airport was closed and did not look like it would re-open soon. Kyle and I decided to take a chance and we headed to the train station to see if we could get a train ticket for the journey from Rome to Leipzig. The answer was yes, if you wanted to pay $287 and wait until Saturday night. This was because the ash cloud had forced tons of travelers who would ordinarily use planes to use trains, and so the next available seats were on a train on Saturday. We decided to go for it, not knowing how long the ash cloud would be around and knowing that we needed to make it back to Leipzig. The others chose to gamble. We spent the next few days keeping an eye on the news. After visiting the train station, Kyle and I decided to return to the Roman Forum, but this time we were accompanied by an audio tour that we had on our iPods. I learned a little bit more about the Roman Forum and it was certainly an edifying experience. We started eating cheaper that night because we thought we were going to have to make our money last until Saturday, and we still had to pay the hostel for the extra nights. That night we were talking to the British lady who ran the hostel and she told us that if we wanted to insure that we had beds available, then we would go ahead and pay for the rooms, which we did. The others were still operating under the premise that the flight would come through, so they were still spending money at the same rate. Instead of going with us to the Forum and doing an audio tour, they bought bus tickets and went to the catacombs. I really wish now that I had done so as well.
By Tuesday the others were starting to become a bit antsy as well. We all decided to not spend much money that day and to see what developed. We ended up staying at the hostel for a good part of the day. Actually, if I was actually going to be back in Leipzig in time for class on Thursday, then I needed to have a book read that I had yet to start. So I sat in the hostel, checked the internet for flight information, and read my book. We did decide to return to the Meddicci gardens in the middle of the day and Drew, myself, and Laura rented bikes and rode around. We returned to the hostel and the waiting continued. By midnight there was still no change in our flight information. It was still listed as leaving at the scheduled time. We went to bed with plans to wake up around five in the morning, take the metro to the train station, get our bus to the airport, and fly back to Germany. We were successful. In fact, we were the first flight with passengers on it that the German authorities permitted to land at the Berlin airport. We took a tram back to the train station and from there we took a train back to Leipzig. We made it back and lived happily ever after.