"You're in the Pope's Country now."

Trip Start Jan 06, 2011
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Sunday, February 27, 2011

February 27 was the start of my Spring Break adventures with Rachel and a very long day for me.  I had been up till almost 1:00 a.m. packing for my Spring Break trip, but I had to wake up again at 3:15 a.m. so that I could get dressed and take a cab over to the train station to buy my ticket for a 4:20 a.m. train and meet my best friend Rachel in Rome around 8:30 or 9:00 once her flight got in.  I stumbled blearily down Via Garibaldi to meet my taxi at the UniversitÓ per Stranieri at 3:50.  My driver and I talked a little in broken English and broken Italian, and he asked me if I was taking the bus to Rome.  Although I had thought I was catching a train, it turned out that Trenitalia ran a shuttle bus to Foligno to catch the first train into Rome, since the station didn't open till later in Perugia.  Luckily my driver knew what was going on, or else I would have panicked at the closed station.  I rode the bus in the dark to Foligno with a few other travelers who I suppose needed to get to Rome early or were motivated by cheap red-eye ticket price.  In the Foligno station I purchased my train ticket for Rome and boarded a few minutes later. 

I arrived in Rome at around 7:40 and I was amazed at how huge the station was, since I hadn't been there before.  I think there are around 28 tracks, and the place is enormous.  I was exhausted so all I could think about was grabbing a cornetto (a breakfast pastry) and a cappuccino.  I went and sat in the Terra Cafe near the station, where you can catch buses to Ciampino Airport, Rome's budget airport.  I texted Rachel through my Kindle's very sad Internet and settled in to read my guidebook and await her arrival.  I found out a little later that she had made it to Rome and had gone to change money in the airport and was boarding the train from Fiumocino to Termini station.  But when Rachel got to Termini, confused, sleep-deprived, and on the tail-end of mono, she tried to ask for directions and make sure she was in the right place.  Someone misunderstood her and directed her to get back on the train, so before she realized what was happening, she ended up riding back to Fiumocino and had to take the train into Termini again!

I was really worried about Rachel since I knew she didn't speak any Italian, so I ended up waiting in Termini for her to get back for over an hour, which anyone who has visited the station knows is an interesting experience, since a lot of beggars spend their days there and there are travelers from all over the world coming and going.  At one point, I got asked in English if I knew how to mail a letter to Turkey, to which I said no, I had no idea.  I kept checking my Kindle to see if Rachel had sent me another message telling me when she would get to the station.

Finally, I heard someone shout, "Kirsten!" and Rachel ran to give me a hug.  Both of us were exhausted but very excited to see each other.  I bought us day-long metro passes (the way to go if you're visiting Rome) for 4 euros each, and we located the Termini metro station under the train station.  By then it was nearing lunchtime and we were both starving, but we decided to find our hostel first and see if we could check in or leave our bags.  It ended up being only one stop away on the metro, so we rode there and stored our luggage.  We headed back out on the streets with the intention of finding a restaurant near the Colosseum.  We were pleasantly surprised to see, immediately upon exiting the metro, the Colosseum literally right across the street and Ancient Rome spread out before us. 

We walked around a little, just taking everything in, but hunger got the best of us, so we decided to head back to our hostel and check in and then eat in a restaurant next door.  Both of us ordered pizzas.  After finishing, we were crashing hard, so we headed back to the hostel to rest for a little bit, then headed back over to ancient Rome.  One thing that I noticed and I wasn't a fan of was how much English I heard in this touristy area.  Immediately after exiting the metro, you're bombarded with shouts of "English, English?" or "Do you want a tour???"  Exacerbating the problem, it had started drizzling by the time we got there.  I had a small umbrella in my purse and Rachel had a rain jacket, but peddlers with umbrellas and ponchos stuck them in our faces, saying, "Umbrella, umbrella?"  The best thing to do with these kind of people in Italy (they're everywhere, just worse in Rome) is just to ignore them, refuse to make eye contact, and keep on walking.  Still, I found the constant bombardment distracting.

We walked through Ancient Rome, observing the Colosseum and Roman Forum from the outside, dropping in the Roman Forum museum for a bit and looking over the Imperial Forum, then continuing on Via dei Fori Imperiali.  We saw a huge museum devoted to the Risorgimento with a monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of Italy after its unification in the mid-1800s.  We kept walking around, exploring the city, and found a gelato shop for Rachel to try.  I tried mango gelato for the first time, and Rachel ordered a flavor that seemed like straight-up Nutella.  Afterward, we headed up toward the Trevi Fountain, where we each threw in a coin backwards for luck.  By then it was starting to get dark and tourist attractions were closing up, so we headed up to Piazza Barberini for some shopping and dinner.  We ate in an Italian restaurant on one of the streets off of the piazza.  I tried the Seafood Risotto, which was very good, and Rachel ordered Eggplant Parmesan, which is much lighter and cheesier than the Americanized version here.  We were exhausted after our long day and it had started raining really hard, so we headed back to the hostel for the night for some much-needed sleep.

The next morning, we woke up early and headed back to Ancient Rome.  We both really wanted to go into the Colosseum so we headed there first.  The Romans used the Colosseum for their as a 50,000-seat amphitheater for their gladiatorial battles.  Later after the fall of the Empire, the structure was also used as a church, a cemetery, and a quarry.  Rumors suggested that early Christians were martyred there, but there is no historical evidence. 

When we arrived, we were harassed by one of the "tour guides" outside as we got in line but made our getaway pretty quickly.  We were expecting a very long wait, but we breezed through the line in 20 minutes or so.  We went up into the upper level first, where archeological finds are displayed, and headed downstairs afterward.  It's amazing that people were able to build something like that 2000 years ago and that it has managed to avoid destruction all these years.

Since you can only purchase a combination for the Colosseum, we decided to make use of it and see the other parts of Ancient Rome.  The area is huge and includes not only Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum but many other ruins too.  By 1:00 it had started drizzling again, so we decided it was time to get lunch before heading over to Vatican City.  We had shrimp and crab sandwiches in a small cafe on Piazza Barberini and paid an arm and a leg for teeny cannoli.  Rachel also tried the hot chocolate, which tends to have more of a rich pudding texture here. 

We took the metro over to the Vatican where we saw some of the museum, including the amazing Sistine Chapel, the ceiling of which was painted by Michelangelo over the course of four years.  We also saw artwork, tapestries, and even papal carriages and vehicles, including a Toyota jeep-like car (no idea).  Then we headed over to St. Peter's Basilica, the huge cathedral in Vatican City.  The church is very beautiful and it is believed that St. Peter's burial site is beneath the structure.  Michelangelo and Bernini were instrumental in the church's design over the long course of its construction.  Rachel and I were able to climb to the top of the Duomo and see the Roman cityscape.  We rested in the piazza afterward and had a snack before heading over to the Spanish steps in the twilight.  The steps are named for the nearby Piazza di Spagna and Spanish Embassy.  The surrounding area includes all the posh boutiques you usually associate with Italian fashion and the first McDonald's in Italy, which triggered protests and the Slow Food movement (my topic for my Food & Culture paper)

While we were there, it started drizzling again, so we didn't stay very long, heading toward less expensive restaurants where I ordered a dish with beef tips and cheese spread over a salad and Rachel got ravioli.  We headed back to our hostel from the night before and grabbed our bags, which we had stored there during the day and got on the metro, riding the Red Line to the end where we planned on catching a bus into the Ciampino village so we could catch our red-eye flight the next morning.  We hadn't checked the times though, so the bus had already stopped running and we had to take a short cab ride to the hostel, where we got a few hours of sleep before heading off to Madrid.
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