April 30, 2006

Europe Trip: Part One

Europe Trip - Part one

Promised I'd tell more about the trip! Here's a bit about it, I think I'll give it in pieces.

We started in Rome; landing in a somewhat turbulent ride that started the entire front half of the plane yelling "Ahh!" like you would excitedly on a rollercoaster at the drops at every bump, and then sparking spontaneous applause when we actually landed. It was pretty funny. Anyway, we got off the plane, took a bus to the train station, then walked about a block to our hostel. We walk through a somewhat shady area, lots of graffiti and people who look like they are waiting around for a drug deal, then walk up to this door that says "Eden b&b" (our hostel is called Hostel Eden) with a door and lots of buttons on the side with names next to them. We look at them confusedly for a second as there are about three buttons that all say hostel eden with a random number next to the words, and finally decide just to press a random one and see what happens. The door opens, we walk in, are immediately greeted from a tiny kitchen area by a guy blowing smoke out of his nose!

After some initial apprehension, it turns out that the guy is named Salvadore and he's actually extremely nice and helpful; he pulls out a map and circles the areas that tourists usually like to visit, and even circles, with a different color, grocery stores and internet points, then takes us up a TINY elevator (called by mary the wonka-vator, as it bears a strange resemblance to the tiny little elevator they all go into at first in the original movie) to a surprisingly nice, flat-like area that bears a kitchen, a bathroom, some security lockers, and our bedroom. We happily rid ourselves of our backpacks and then begin the excitingness of the trip - we take a nap.

We wake up refreshed and hungry, we go and each have a pizza at a nearby restaurant...at the end, we get our bill, there is a random 3 euro charge for we don't know what; as we try to decipher the bill we strike up a conversation with a random British couple whose table is right next to us. We determine that the charge is for having a table outside (stupid random charges without prior warning), and proceed to have a good thirty minute long discussion with the couple. They turn out to be really cool people; they've travelled all over the world and they're taking a stop on their way to visit their son and daughter in law who live in Venice for Easter, and they give us advice on various places in Italy. Eventaully we say goodbye and thank them for their help, its about 10:30 or so by theis point, and given the area of our hostel, we decide to return and save exploring for the next day.

The next morning we find Andrew on the front steps of our hostel; hellos are exchanged and then we set off to explore. The first stop is the Colloseum; we take a minute to be completely awed by the fact that we're actually standing in front of the colloseum, then walk over to figure out how to go inside. There's a ridiculously long line, but we pay an extra few Euros for a tour of the place and of Palatine hill, which has the satisfying result of jumping the line, and are educated and entertained by an Italian guy with a slightly crude sense of humor, but it was still nice to actually learn things about the Colloseum and Rome in general as our first activity there. Unfortunately, as Mary and I were so excited about the warmness of the morning, we both neglected to wear coats, and as it gets cloudy and drizzly it gets somewhat COLD so I spent most of the tour shivering, but ah well. Sun started coming out, for which we were grateful, and we took our tour of Palatine Hill and the forums, which was extremely cool. Its so weird to look down on this area that has existed far longer than anything in the US, and to think about Romans meeting there so long ago, and realize that this is it, its the real thing, not a movie, not a recreation. I had a lot of those moments on the trip in general. After hearing about places in school and just in general, and always having them seem so far away, both in distance and in history, its incredibly strange to suddenly be confronted by them in reality.

Explored Rome more, went to Trevi fountain, which is an amazing fountain that also happens to have an amazing gelato place nearby...Italian ice cream is amazing, by the way. It's soooo good. I think we had gelato every single day that we were in Italy. There were one or two days we had it twice. I don't think I've ever had ice cream that tasted THAT good. After sitting by Trevi fountain for awhile, we bought some food for a picnic, and walk to this area called Pinchot. Somewhere along the lines we also spent some time sitting on the Spanish steps. Here's where I begin to realize the drawbacks of visiting an extremely touristy city. There are people EVERYWHERE trying to sell you things in Rome. Roses, random weird balloon things, sunglasses, you name it, I'm sure theres some guy, somewhere, in Rome chasing people around trying to sell it to them. Anyawy, we finally get to Pinchot, which is really cool...it overlooks a piazza and, if you look out further, basically all of Rome. It was soooo pretty. We found a random bench in the park and enjoyed our sandwiches and the view.

Next day we went to the Vatican relatively early, as on Wednesdays at the Vatican the pope has a general audience. We got seats and heard the pope, who gave a blessing in about five different languages, which was kind of cool. Everything in the Vatican is...immense. I'm not sure how I felt about it to be honest. Here is the seat of Catholicism, the center of it, and it's just so...elaborate and ornate and showy. I don't know. I had the same conflicting feelings every time I looked at one of the insanely detailed and expensive cathedrals. I think about all the money and time that went into these buildings, and I'm not sure how to feel. On the one hand, it's amazing that people spent that much time and money and dedicated it to God, but on the other, it seems to me that it could all be better spent on the people who the church says it helps? Not to mention, I don't know...buildings don't make me feel closer to God. It's a building. It can be a very very beautiful building, and I'll look at it and even be awed by it because of its beauty and detail, but I just can't connect elaborate, ornate buildings with spirituality in my mind. Again, I can't figure out how to feel about it. Maybe I'll figure it out with time, but something tells me it might just be something I'm eternally baffled by.

After seeing the pope, we wandered around for awhile and then went into the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum is...enormous. It would take...weeks to see everything in there and even then its somewhat mazelike so you might end up missing something. We had been advised by one of the people in our hostel that if you want to see the Sistine Chapel its a good idea to head straight to it or you'll be so overwhelmed by the time you get there you won't be able to appreciate it, so we did, and discovered it was good advice. There's a loooonnng amount of hallways and rooms on the way to the Sistine Chapel, so admired the art along the way, and then finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel really is all everyone says it is, it was amazing, I can't imagine the time and attention to detail it must have taken to finish it. The atmosphere was spoiled a bit by insane amounts of people and an ineffective security guard who every ten minutes said "Shhhh!!!! No pictures! No talking!" which I found kind of humorous, but we spent quite a bit of time just...looking.

We reached our limit of intakes of art and left, feeling slightly overwhelmed with even the amount we had seen. Went back, seeing the Pantheon on the way, and bought some pasta for dinner. Andrew did most of the work on the pasta cooking (and did an amazing job, may I add) as our kitchen was kind of small and it's somewhat difficult to figure out what the other two people should do once the process of cooking is started, and then we wrapped in up with insane amounts of plastic wrap and proceeded to walk around various sections of rome for about two hours looking for a park on the map we had decided would make a good picnic spot. By the time we go there, it was dark, and looked like a decidedly shady place for a picnic in the nighttime, so instead at by this balcony area that had an awesome view of rome and a beautiful fountain, but also happened to be right next to a main road so we had quite a few cars going past at all times. We ate the (amazing) pasta (props, Andrew), and then set to work on the bottle of wine we had brought with a key, as we realized none of us had a bottle opener. A few minutes later and some drilling, we enjoyed some cheap (but good) Roman wine, and then were on our way back to our respective hostels.

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