06 February 2012

In the land of sunflowers and wine: Part 1

Girl meets boy. They're workmates first and friends for five months before they realise they've actually  fallen for each other. To make it worse, they realise this only two weeks before he has to fly back home half way around the world.

Boy leaves. Girl is brokenhearted. Truly brokenhearted. Lies sobbing her heart out on her bed and calls her parents who realise that this is not just any boy and reaffirm her by asking 'So when are you leaving?' 

She works hard and saves all her pennies. In nine months time she has just enough and leaves the country she loves and all she knows, to be with this boy on the other side of the world.

He has one more year of study, so she makes a new life for herself in London. Despite being desperately lonely at times, she lives for the weekends when he or she make the train journey for 2 hours to be with each other. A year goes by. He finishes his study and they have two more years of living the London life together. Seeing the big wide world, with trips to Paris, Amsterdam, Switzerland, the Greek Islands (Kos and Kefallonia), Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

As always anticipated, their time in London draws to a close. A new life in NZ is calling. But there is time for just one more trip before they leave for their new life Down Under.

A month long trip is planned around Europe, seeing the best this vast continent has to offer. But then a snag. Some loser breaks into their car in London (and not for the first time either) to steal the very cheap 10 pound stereo speakers fixed into the parcel tray. This wouldn't be so bad, except in using a crowbar to break in, the thief nearly writes off the car. The same car they wanted to sell to raise more funds for their Europe adventure and their trip home.

So they compromise with just two weeks in Italy instead. During this trip (April 2002 - nearly ten years ago!) they write a trip journal, excerpts of which appear here:

Day 1 ROME
Landed Rome  Airport 16:30 and our biggest mission of the day started from there. Managed to get tickets to the city on a cheaper (but slower) train at half the price – good spotting Meggie! At the same time purchased our Kilometric Tickets (allowing up to 2,000km of train travel in 2 weeks, good preparation research done there!) – happy to have that out of the way although remains to be seen how easy it is to try and use them.

Also got a weekly ticket for Rome transport (bus, tube, train) as we are intending to use it through till next Monday – very funny watching Mark stick the wrong end in the validation machine. Had to change tubes twice then got on an overland train to Prima Porta which is a good 20 minute train journey north of Rome – had to buy a phone card to call the campsite to see about the free shuttle bus which had been promised - working the phone card wasn’t the easiest, it took an Italian to have pity on us and show us you had to tear one corner off before sticking it in the phone before using it, otherwise we would have been there all day!

The 10 minute wait for the shuttle turned into about 25 minutes and the bus was full to overflowing on the 5 minute ride there (including us with our massive backpacks only trying to take up 2 seats!) Our little cabin is just that – little – 2 very creaky camp beds which we are about to try out – a shelf, and a heater and that’s it! Well what more can you expect for £8 a night I guess! 

Just missed the supermarket – it closed at 8pm so will have to wait till the morning for loo roll, fruit and any other bits! Ate our 12-hour old sandwiches for dinner – not bad considering – and would you believe the guy behind the bar at the campsite is a Kiwi – you can’t escape them anywhere. We’ve only got one towel which could prove interesting the next few days – either alternate days for showering or a very wet towel (and no doubt a bit of a fight over who gets to go first!) Already sent some text messages and had replies so don’t feel too away from it all. Haven’t fully planned tomorrow – depends a bit on the weather – if fine will head to the Colosseum, if not probably the Vatican – off to bed, dreading my bladder’s wake up call which is bound to be in the coldest part of the night between 3-5am – can’t wait! 

Day 2 ROME
Got up pretty early as desperate for a wee – had held on all night which is amazing for me. It also got a bit cold in the night so had to switch the heating on – after that was toasty! Was very chilly having a shower & hopping from one foot to the other trying to put clothes on without getting feet wet again. Finally got to the market this morning and purchased some loo roll – yay! Got the 8:30am shuttle to the station and were in central Rome staring in utter amazement at the Colosseum by 9:15. Went to the Roman Forum first – which was free – nice one! Load of different kinds of building all partially or fully in ruins. Had a breakfast break – soup and rolls – worked quite well and meant we didn’t have to carry the full thermos round all day. After that was on to the Palatine – Mark got a ½ price ticket as he was 18-24 and had his passport – mine is being held at the campsite in case we skip out without paying!

The Palatine is where all the rich hobnobs of Rome lived in the early days (i.e. Romulus and Remus’ time), and is right on top of one of Rome’s seven hills – with great views all the way to St Peter’s Basilica.

We bought a combined ticket for the Palatine & Colosseum which meant we skipped all the queues at the Colosseum entrance – yippee! Once inside, we rented an audio guide, well worth the 4 euros as it makes the place come alive.

Considering the scores of people inside while we were there, you hardly noticed the crowds as it could hold 50,000 people in its heyday 2000 years ago. Saw the cellars where the wild beasts used to be kept and the areas where the emperors & senators used to sit – they were all down at floor level, i.e. the most important people, while the plebs had to sit right up on the top tier – way up in the sky. They have recreated part of the wooden arena floor so you can stand on it and gaze up imagining yourself as a gladiator – Mark was right in his element. 

The Colosseum only took 8 years to build – I would have expected a lot more, and then they had the inauguration which lasted for 100 days during which time they killed over 5000 wild beasts! The best view of the Colosseum is from the upper deck – it  really gives you a better sense of the scale of the place which you can’t quite get to grips with on the ground level looking up. 

After this it was time to go, but not before queueing for 15 minutes for a toilet – not what you want to spend your precious sightseeing time doing!

We then walked up the road to the Vittorio Emmanuel II Monument – how impressive – it was built in 1885 to commemorate the aforementioned bloke who was the first King to rule over a unified Italy – took 25 years to build and that I can believe as it is immense – again the views are well worth the climb – we reckon between 100-150 stairs.

We had heard via friends that Piazza Navona was a nice place to eat – so we navigated a few streets and after a quick look at the 3 fountains in the square stopped for a pizza & hot chocolate – just what the doctor ordered to revive us as we were slightly flagging by this stage – another 15 minute wait for a toilet – don’t ever wait until you are bursting to go in Rome – I hate to think what would happen! 

This time it was because of building work in the toilet of the restaurant we had eaten at! It was then onto the Pantheon – one of the oldest Roman buildings, and all still intact. Each of the massive columns outside is made from one stone – how?!! It boggles the mind – inside are various tombs & in the very centre of the dome which at 43 metres is awe-inspiring is a 9m round oculus (basically a hole in the roof which lets in light). In a way, we wish we had been there to see it in the rain as it would be weird to see rain falling in just one spot of such as massive room. Have to say that of all the things we saw today, the outside of the Pantheon and the Colosseum were my favourite! We were a bit snap happy at the Colosseum & only had 2 shots left at the end of the day (2012 Meg interjects here - oh how quickly you forget the good old days of limited film in the camera!) – luckily that meant one picture each for the Trevi Fountain & Spanish steps.

From the Pantheon it was a short hop to the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – loads of chapels along the side of the church and an amazing bright blue/gold ceiling with various paintings on it – all the more amazing because the church is incredibly dull from the outside – if you didn’t go in you would miss a treasure. Just a short walk away to the Trevi Fountain – probably the most crowded place of the day. Not what you would expect from a fountain, the word fountain doesn’t really do it justice as it is about 4-5 storeys high and about 20 metres wide – amazing statues of Neptune and 2 Tritons taming seahorses. Did the obligatory throw of coin over shoulder into fountain – this should ensure we return to Rome one day!

Feeling like we could manage ‘just one more’ big sight, we headed off to the Spanish Steps – again quite crowded – both with people and azalea plants.

Apparently these are supposed to flower in April but there weren’t many out so we have to assume that later in the month is when they all come out in all their glory. After 9 hours of solid sightseeing we headed back to Camp Tiber and now its time to put the feet up after a packed and very interesting day!

Day 3 ROME
Today shall be furthermore be known as WET, WET, WET. It was just spitting when we got up today, but by the time we got to Central Rome it was pouring. We had hoped to do soup/rolls for lunch again but didn’t get a chance to fill the flask up as the shuttle to the station nearly left without us. Got to St Peters fairly quickly – in the pouring rain – and went on in. Very impressive church – can hold up to 60,000 people and has some amazing statues and mosaics by all the famous artists – Bernini, Michaelangelo, Raphael. Tagged along to the end of Father Michael’s free guided tour (a very Irish priest) and caught some interesting titbits. You can’t quite believe your eyes inside, it is a feast and almost too much to take in! Decided that as the day was so drab we would climb the dome of St Peters (well as we were still on total empty stomachs at this stage we decided to pay 5 euros instead of 4 and took the lift halfway up, saving us half the walk (which is a total of 530 steps).

The view from the top, well in a word…… breathtaking. All of Rome on show – still a very grey day & chilly too – the view down to the Vatican gardens (the Pope’s private gardens) and St Peter’s Square were the most memorable. Came back down, after which our legs were like jelly & we were feeling a wee bit weak (still no food in our bellies) so downed ½ a chocolate bar each and then found a tiny café where we had paninis.

Then it was on to the Vatican Museums – or so we thought. Rounded the corner and there was a queue for Africa (or Italy as the case may be). I got in the queue while Mark went to check out the size of it – while he was gone I decided that I was not up for queuing for any length of time especially as the sky was getting blacker and blacker – decided to go for a wander instead – BAD MOVE! The skies opened – we sought refuge in an alcove for what seemed like forever – also trying to look in the guidebook to find things to do indoors – lots of churches but came up with a blank as they were all closed between lunch-time and mid-afternoon & it was about midday! Found a bus stop and spend another lifetime waiting for bus No. 62, every other bus went past about 3 times but no No. 62, so in the end we got on No. 23 which we knew would take us to a Metro station. 

Mark was pretty nervous about getting on a bus full-stop as its always hard to know where to get off unless you know exactly where you’re going, meanwhile I was saying ‘Don’t be such a wimp, we’ll be fine!’ Famous last words! 

We were keeping an eye on the stops as they went past and were counting down to where we had to get off. The bus was quite packed & I was standing closer to the door than Mark, so when it got to our stop I got off, turned around and Mark wasn’t behind me – turned around again and still couldn’t see him. First of all, I thought he was playing a trick and was hiding (see what happens when you’re a practical joker, Markie!), and then I realised he must not have got off. Firstly I thought he had seen that we had got off one stop too soon and had stayed on. So I calmly started walking down the road in the direction that the bus had moved off in. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I had no money, no passport, not even a Metro ticket and was pretty much up &*@# creek! The bus stopped at some traffic lights about 100 metres away and a very flustered Markie jumped out and came running back to me. Relief! 

What I didn’t know was that Mark had been behind 2 people waiting for them to get off the bus (being his usual polite English self), but the people didn’t move, the doors closed and the bus started moving  - at which point Mark started screaming ‘Stop the bus’ (in English) and tried to pull the doors open, and then everyone on the bus started shouting in Italian back at him (he had no idea what they were saying). I think quite a few things flashed through this mind at that point ‘Oh no, Meghan’s all on her own with no money, nothing’, ‘I’ll call her from my mobile – oh no we didn’t bring her mobile today’ etc. Needless to say we were relieved that it all ended happily but we didn’t let go of each other for the next 5 minutes at least! I found it all extremely funny for some reason (nervous laughter I think) whereas Mark came over all shaky & said the adrenalin was still running 15 minutes later!

We then went to a café for a much-needed sit down – ordered what we thought were hot chocolates but were more like hot bleumange (sure I’ve spelt that wrong!) – very thick and strong – mind you the bloke probably saw the state of us and knew that was just what we needed after our ordeal.

All this time it had continued pouring and we were both thoroughly soaked – my feet were sloshing round quite happily in my trainers – and we decided that we may as well do some more outside stuff as we didn’t feel we could get more wet than we were already! Went to the Terme di Caracella – massive Roman bath complex – still with the original mosaics on the floor – apparently the complex used to hold 1500 people in the various bath rooms – hot water rooms, cold water rooms, tepid water rooms, and even had a gymnasium, library and shops. I tell you, the Romans were well ahead of their times! Very worthwhile visit – after this went back to the main train station (Termini) to try and find out about baggage deposit and to get hold of a national train timetable. Had a Coke/coffee in McD’s to thaw out/dry out – don’t think it got above 11 degrees today – not at all springlike!

Made it back to the cabin by 4:30pm and have been working out our train journeys – and drying my shoes – thank goodness for a heater in the room, it has come in well handy!

Well an early start is planned for the morning – catch the 1st shuttle bus at 8am and drop our stuff off in baggage deposit while we try and get to the Vatican Museums before the crowds and then its off to Naples, we’re hoping that using our kilometric ticket won’t be too much of a hassle to use either!

Oh yeah, we’ve had 2 nights with no-one next door – very lucky as it turns out since tonight we apparently have a German couple, and after hearing every word they say (not that we understand any of it it) and their footsteps making the cabin literally shake, we’re very wary about how much sleep we’re gonna get, just imagine a portacabin with a thin wall between the rooms and that’s us!

Stay tuned for more adventures in Italia in Part 2 coming soon....


Gail said...

I love this!!young love lots of adventures - and you wrote themall down. Old skool blogging!! Really would love to visit Rome. One day!!

Brigitte said...

Oh this is GREAT! So cool to read your experiences before married life and children - the good old days huh? ;) I look forward to Part 2 already! xx

Ange (Tall, Short and Tiny) said...

Oh, Rome! I love Rome! Great story so far...can't wait for Part 2 :)

About Last Weekend said...

Wow - what an incredible trip. and fantastic photos. Have not been to Rome yet - and this really makes me want to go

PaisleyJade said...

Amazing adventures - I'd love to go to Rome one day!


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