S.P.Q.R.

This week’s blog is going to be exclusively dedicated to my trip to Rome.  Backlogged stories will appear in next week’s edition.  Since I have a monumental amount of pictures and video footage, along with a plethora of thoughts on my journey, I felt it best to just make this an exclusive post.  That way, not only will it be more focused, but I can properly give ample word space towards everything that I saw.  As far as format goes it won’t be a story by story read like the other blogs.  Instead, I am going to write this on as best a chronological setup as I can make it, with pictures, videos, and bits from my notes being placed appropriately.  [side note: since I have been relatively busy all day I am starting to write this just before 10 p.m. Wednesday evening … here’s hoping I can meet my deadline!]  “***” will denote a transcribed section from my notes.  Without further ado then, I present to you my account of having a brief holiday in the one, the only, city of Rome.

Day 1 – Arrival

It was 7 a.m. when my alarm went off.  Though my flight wasn’t until 1:35 I figured that it would be a smart decision to get to Edinburgh airport rather early to check-in and get through security in a timely manner so as to avoid any stress that might be caused by rushing to the plane.  My bags were packed, and I had already picked out a set of clothes to wear for the day.  All I had to do was hit the shower, grab some breakfast, and gather my chargers.  At roughly 8 o’clock or so, Lawson and I left for the Airlink bus, which departed from Waverley Bridge.

Public transport in Edinburgh is awesome.  Not only do they have a staggering amount of buses, but they all run relatively on time and are very efficient at navigating the city at a fast pace.  This includes the Airlink service, which while costing a bit more does take you right to the departure terminal at Edinburgh Airport.  £7.50 is a small price for an open return ticket considering it provides you peace of mind that you are on a direct route to your destination.

Once at the Airport, Lawson and I realized that we were, quite simply, stupidly early for our flight.  We got there around 10, and the posting for where to check-in wasn’t even on the board yet and wouldn’t be until 11.  We passed the time by withdrawing some euros from the local atm, and twiddled our thumbs until the Vueling site opened up.

I was a bit concerned that my duffel bag that I packed would have exceeded the 7 kg carry on weight amount, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the scale come in at 3.8.  Oh yes, I was traveling light.  Besides my electronics and my L.O.A. book, I had 4 days worth of clothing (only one extra pair of pants), a towel, and my toiletries.  It would prove to be more than enough, but still, I had no intention of checking my luggage.  Thankfully, the Vueling folks were incredibly quick about their job, and before I knew it I had my boarding pass and was on my way to security.

Like a fool, I took off my shoes for security, not realizing that I did not have to.  That was the only hiccup, however, as we glided through the metal detectors in the fastest time that I can recall ever going through security.  Edinburgh airport is international, but it really isn’t that much bigger than, say, Albany Int’l.  Once to the gates, we stopped by a tech shop where I grabbed a monkey grip tripod for my camera.  It essentially is a heavy duty grip that can act as a reach extender, tripod, and latch to almost any surface.  Looking back, it was a fantastic investment, as much of the shots that I got and that you will see are a result of it.  Money well spent.

Getting on the plane was a nice surprise since I figured it wouldn’t be in great shape considering how cheap the flight was.  Instead, I had my row all to myself, there was ample leg room, and the seats were comfortable.  Spanish may have been the predominant language for the attendants, but I would fly Vueling again.  As the flight lifted away, I took a deep breath, knowing that when I touched down I would not be in Scotland, but Italy.

***2/18  Our flight has left.  Tens of thousands of feet above the ground we are cruising to our destination: Rome.  At this stage of the journey we have been in the air for two hours, and I felt it prudent to start writing something for the record.  I do not know how, but I am the only individual in my aisle; this has afforded me a prime opportunity to read some L.O.A. in peace and close my eyes for a few moments.  The flight itself has been surprisingly smooth, and I feel good about booking cheaper airlines in the future.  I was also able to carry all my luggage onto the plane, something which takes much stress off of my mind.  Looking out the window, I am garnering my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.  Its vastness stretches out like no other body of water that I have ever witnessed (I was not able to see the Atlantic on my flight to the U.K.).  It should not be too awful long before we begin our final descent.  I would take pictures, but my camera is in my bag above my head.  As I am in the emergency exit row I am not permitted to carry my backpack at my feet, though I am allowed to access it. Speaking of my camera, I picked up a tripod grip at the tech store in the airport.  Ben Brown uses one, and I feel like doing a bit of vlogging for the next couple days.  If nothing else, it should help with my photo stability.  

I look forward to the weather.  Though it will not be too warm, the weather app claims nothing but 60 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny for the days we are there.  Talk about luck!  While I do have my light jacket, and no shorts, I have packed my lightest gear.  It should do my just fine.

I do not know what I saw, but it was not the Mediterranean.  It is the Alps, which I thought must’ve been clouds!  My goodness … I have never seen a more beautiful mountain range.  Whatever country I am over, it it breathtaking.  Oh yes, I am far from home.  With views like this, I may not go back.  I cannot tear my gaze away from the window, so I think I will sign off until we land. ***

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I actually thought they were clouds for a time!

As our plane descended, I caught a glimpse of the setting sun over the Mediterranean and the Italian coast.  I don’t think I have seen so much color in my whole life.

Sunset over the Mediterranean

I had arrived.  Somehow someway I managed to get myself halfway across the world.  I did not speak the language and had no concept of the local customs, but that was not going to stop me from having a kick-ass weekend.

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Here we go

The first thing I immediately noticed was all of the armed guards in the airport.  I am not talking of simple police officers.  No, these were fully armed military personel, and seeing all of their fully automatic rifles made me realize that I had better not do anything stupid or out of place.  The last thing I needed was to be detained or have a Galil pointed at my chest.  Luckily we got through customs without incident and we made our way to the train station where we would catch the next Leonardo Express into the city.

On the train we were barely able to get a glimpse out the window as the darkness of night had swept over the countryside.  Quite literally, we were going into the city blind.  Upon our arrival we were greeted by Termini Station, which seemed massive at first to someone who has not much experience traveling train stations.  Pulling up the directions to the hostel, we managed to quickly grab our bearings and walk the five minutes it took to get to our accommodation.  Along the way it was also refreshing to see that the Italians drove on the right side of the road.  A simple thing, yes, but it was a familiar sight to see, and it helped put my apprehension away for a moment.

Hostel Alessandro Palace and Bar was our stay of choice.  We picked it as it was right near the train station, had great reviews, and cost us only £50 for the entire time we were staying there.  We were assigned to a room on the 4th floor which, while a hike up the stairs, was welcome as we figured we would not hear the noise from the bar below.  Our room was not much bigger than an average dorm room as it was only a 4 person suite.  But, we had our own bathroom and shower, which was a nice surprise.  The beds were also comfortable, much more than mine at HC, so I relished in that fact that I could have a comfortable sleep (hopefully).  Our suitemates had staked their claim to their beds but were not currently present, so we unpacked and decided to hit the town for a bite to eat and some nighttime sightseeing.

We quite literally had no idea where we were, so we just decided to head West in hopes of finding a cheap place to eat.  Along the way we stumbled through a nice little plaza, of which I still do not know the name.

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The amount of fountains in the city was quite impressive.

Eventually we found a place that looked cheap enough to eat.  Upon sitting down both Lawson and I had no idea that in Italy, three course meals are the common theme, and each course costs as much as a main entree.  Well shit.  Guess we were gonna have to drop some cash for a good meal.  Thankfully the food was worth the cost, and the lasagna, chicken, and strawberries were filling and tasted quite good.  The house wine didn’t hurt anything either.

Having filled our stomachs and feeling refreshed we decided to go out and find the Trevi Fountain.  Since it was a pleasant evening it seemed like a good idea to start some sightseeing.  We had not far to go, and through a few twisting streets laden with tourists shops and restaurants we traveled until we could hear the sound of rushing water.  Rounding the corner we came upon our destination, which was absolutely a wondrous sight to behold under the starry sky.

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The sheer size of the fountain was something to marvel at.
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There are no words that can describe this level of beauty.
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Taking it all in
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Yes, I did make a wish
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Simply awestruck

At the fountain we hung out for a little while, people watching, making wishes, and trying to wrap our heads around the fact that we were actually in Rome.  Trevi dazzled us with its architectural majesty, and the sight, as with all others, cannot be done justice by my photography, even though I tried my best to capture the essence of the scenes.  After a while, we decided to move on, and as we turned to leave we witnessed a man proposing to his girlfriend.  She said yes!  Congrats to whomever you two happen to be.

Next on the destination list was the Colosseum.  We didn’t want to wait to see it until the morning, as we knew we would be out with the girls all day, and they had already seen the sight.  Again, we navigated our way around the old streets and walkways until we turned one in particular and saw the massive structure off in the distance.  The sheer size of the place made it easily visible from about a half mile away, and as we got ever closer it only continued to increase in its enormity.  Upon reaching the plaza where it sits, the structure took my breath away.  You see it in pictures, and read about the history of the place, but in person it is something else to behold entirely.

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The size of the place is not captured by the camera accurately.
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WOW
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Am I really here?!
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Arc di Constantino
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DOUBLE WOW

We did not stay at the Colosseum for long, as we knew we would come back on Monday. Still, to cap off a long day it was the perfect place to visit upon our arrival.  Seeing as it is the sight to see in Rome, it validated to us that, yes, we had indeed arrived.

Upon returning to the hostel, we ran into our suitemates, two Spanish girls our age, who were very friendly and a pleasure to talk to.  They tried to teach us some Spanish and tested our fluency.  While I could understand bits and pieces of their language my skills were pretty rusty, but thankfully they were more than happy to talk in English.  Exhausted, Lawson and I decided to get some sleep when the others went out at midnight.  I do not believe that they returned until sometime around 5 a.m.  I wasn’t sleeping very well anyway, but upon hearing them some in I realized the rumors were true: Spaniards go HARD when they go out.  Thankfully though I was able to get a little bit of shut eye, which I would need for the busy day ahead.

 

Day 2 –

Allison and Sarah were to meet us outside Alessandro at around 8, so Lawson and I managed to grab some breakfast downstairs in the bar.  It tasted like the €4 that it cost.  Whatever, it was some fuel for the day.  Outside, we met up with the others, and had to travel to Termini Station to drop their bags off in a locker.  For they had a train to catch at 5 to head to Verona, so they would not be staying in Rome for the entire time that Lawson and I were.  It was just by chance that our travels overlapped, and so it made no sense for the four of us not to travel together on the one day we were all in Rome.  The girls had an itinerary for what they wanted to see and do for the day, and considering that Lawson and I had no idea where we really wanted to go, we decided to let them pick the destinations.  First on the list: Vatican City.

I got turned into navigator as my sense of direction (and my Google Maps) were deemed to be the best of the group.  Through twists and turns we made our way across the city.  It didn’t hurt one bit that the day was beautiful, as no clouds and moderate temp made wearing naught but a button down extremely comfortable.  Along the way we ran into the Piazza Venezia, the center of the city, which housed the Altare della Patria, the Altar of the Fatherland.  The massive structure was quite the sight underneath the rising sun, and we stopped for a moment to bask in its shadow and take some pictures.

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Not a cloud in the sky
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Some ruins [EDIT:  It’s Trajan’s column … kinda a big deal!]
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Altar of the Fatherland
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Why must everything be gated off?

From there, we continued across the city, until we came to the Tiber River, the central waterway for the city.  Across it we could see the Castel Sant’Angelo, which would be a later destination.  We did not know at the time, but we were very close to the Vatican, and in short order we rounded a few more turns and arrived at the country.

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The Tiber River and Castel Sant’Angelo

Getting into the city was easy enough, as we just had to go through some metal detectors.  No passports were needed, although it is technically a separate country.  The amount of armed guards were notable however, and I got the vibe that if there was one place I didn’t want to screw around in, it was here.

Once we were in St. Peter’s Square, we took a second to just look around.  The space was something to behold, as the ring that surrounded the square and the basilica in the background made the enclosure feel truly separate from the city that surrounded it.

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St. Peter’s Square, quite empty for a Sunday
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One of the fountains in the square.
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St. Peter’s Basilica
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En route to the inside

Since it was relatively early still the Vatican was relatively unpopulated, and we seized the opportunity to get some personal space as we headed into St. Peter’s Basilica.  Once inside, I could not help but be stricken by the shear vastness of the interior.  Sculptures, frescoes, and mosaics lined the entirety of the basilica, and I was profoundly overcome with a sense of humility.  While it was a bigger deal for some of my compatriots, who are much more religious than I am, I still was moved by the grandeur that my eyes were now gazing upon.

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O_O
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Was I allowed to take pictures?  Probably not, but that didn’t stop literally EVERYONE from taking them.
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Awe … struck
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The Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

People were starting to gather for mass (it was Sunday after all) so we ducked down into a little hallway, which just so happened to house the Papal tombs.  Tomb by tomb we walked past popes who had come before, each one uniquely ordained with special decoration.  No photos were allowed here, which I can respect given the sanctity of the area.  Coming up from the tombs we were spit out by the spot where you can purchase a ticket to climb the Dome, which we decided to do.

Instead of taking the elevator, I convinced the others to take the stairs with me, all 551 of them.  After a grueling trek up the stairs, swearing much more than we should have for a holy place, we arrived back inside the Basilica, this time many stories up, looking down onto the mass that was just beginning.

I took some film of the mass, which you can see in the video at the end of this day.  The organs sounded beautiful, as they tend to do, and we stopped to watch the proceedings for a few moments.  After, we continued to move up to the top of the Dome.  Here, the claustrophobia could really shatter a person, as the slanted staircases and extremely narrow staircases made us realize just how close we were to the top.  Reaching the top made it all worth it though, as we were gifted possibly the best view of the city.  On the clear day that it was, it was quite simply magnificent on every level.

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The papal gardens
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St. Peter’s Square
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On the roof of the basilica

Heading down was much easier than heading up, but I would take the stairs again if I had the choice; more rewarding that way I figure.  Once on the ground level, we took some more photos and tried to head to the gift shop, which was closed, of course, because it was a Sunday.

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Swiss Guard
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Lawson, myself, Allison, and Sarah.  Truly a great group to travel with, and people that I am happy to call my friends.

On our way out, we checked the time: 11:50.  It is Sunday, we said.  Maybe the Pope will speak?  Our suspicions were confirmed as when noon rolled around people rushed into the square to get a good view of the papal apartment.  Then, to our profound amazement, a figure in white approached the window and the crowd erupted in cheer.  Pope Francis was about to speak.

Though I could not understand his language, his words nonetheless permeated deep within me.  His voice was comforting, and had the pace and eloquence I would only expect from such a prominent figure.  To bear witness to such a person, especially one who has advocated for tolerance, peace, love, and contemporary social issues, was beyond what I had ever expected when coming to the Vatican.  As I have said, I am not religious, but I respect Pope Francis with a passion.  Regardless of if it is in the name of Christianity, he is someone who is fighting for issues that transcend religion, trying to make the world a better place.  For that, I look up to him, not as a religious persona, but as a social leader.  Truly, it was a treat to listen to his words, and for as long as I live I will not forget that moment in St. Peter’s Square.

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Listening to this man will make you feel like he is no different than you are.  He puts himself on the pedestal of the people, and that I highly respect.

From the Vatican, our group headed next to Castel Sant’Angelo, which was right down the street.  The facade resonated out history, and though the tickets were costly, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we decided to head in.

Inside, the ancient castle was a proverbial maze, and navigating proved to be a little more challenging than I had anticipated.  Since we had a lot to get to during the day, we just did a quick walking tour of the place, though we easily could have spent two hours exploring every nook and cranny of it.  Below is the wiki page, since I was not able to pick up much of the history during my visit:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Sant%27Angelo

I have no particular thoughts on the place, other than that this may be the most famous castle that I will visit during my time abroad, which is pretty cool.  Instead of words, here are some pictures that better represent the experience:

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After the Castel, our next destination was the Pantheon.  Along the way, we stopped at a true Italian gelatoria, and I sampled a strawberry gelato that was simply fantastic.  Not only did it taste just like the fruit, it was creamy and the perfect temperature.  Can’t beat the real thing!

Refueled on gelato, our group continued onto our next destination, the Pantheon.  While not far from the Castel, everyone still tried to test me and my navigation skills.  A funny moment occurred when Allison asked the famous “Are we there yet?”  A second later, we turned the corner to the sight of the Pantheon, and I replied in the most matter-of-factly voice I could muster: “YEP.”

While the square was crowded, it nonetheless overshadowed the glory of the Pantheon.  The ancient structure dominated the area, and the size and scope of it seemed out of place when compared to the apartments and cafes that lined the square.

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Not a bad sight.  Not one bit.
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“Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this”

Aged since the time of ancient Rome, the Pantheon was rebuilt during Hadrian’s reign in the year 126 CE.  Never before had I been inside a building as old as this one.  While it was evident that the inside had been modernized into a temple of some sort, the open ceiling nonetheless gave a view into the sky that shined into the room, lighting up the walls of the past.

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How the Romans built such perfect architecture I cannot say.
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Looking out towards the entrance

Once we had our fill, we headed back outside where we regrouped and planned our next move.  Lawson went to go pet a horse, which promptly started to eat his backpack when he turned to take a picture with it.  Not going to lie, it was hilarious.  Meanwhile, I tried to grab a picture of one of the guards.  Seriously, they were everywhere in the city.  I have a feeling that it is to defend some of the historical structures from terrorist attacks.  Considering that Italy does share a border (via the Mediterranean) with some less than safe nations, I suppose I can understand the military presence.  Still, it was unusual to see so many armed personnel.  I took extra caution hiding my camera as I took a photo of one of the guards.  The last thing I wanted to happen was to have the Military Police pissed at me.

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Actual obelisks from Egypt are located in just about every historical part of the city.  They are remnants of ancient Rome, and the connection that the city had with its territories in Northern Africa.
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The horse that had a taste for Lawson’s pack.
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Yeah, the MP aren’t messing around.

Next, we decided to find the Spanish Steps (wiki link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Steps).  While not the most historical spot, it was still a pretty little square.  At the base, we took pictures in front of the Fontana della Barcaccia, otherwise known as the “Fountain of the ugly Boat.”  It was not so ugly, and provided a nice little photo op while we looked about the area.

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Just a side street, still pretty though
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Looking up the Spanish Steps
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Fontana della Barcaccia
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Trinita dei Monti, with its Egyptian obelisk in front

Here was when one of the more uncomfortable moments of the journey happened.  To start, let me explain this: soliciting is HUGE in Rome.  Everywhere you go there are dozens of people vying for your attention, most of them hocking selfie sticks or trying to get you to come into their restaurant.  It is actually quite suffocating, and if you do not like being approached by a gaggle of strangers, then I hate to say it but Rome is not the city for you.  If you do brave the masses though, here is one rule to follow.  DO NOT TAKE SOMETHING IF THEY HAND IT TO YOU.  One gentleman offered Sarah and Allison roses as we were walking up the Spanish steps.  They took them, unknowingly, and he immediately looked at Lawson and I for payment.  Uh … what is happening?  We looked at the girls with eyes that only could’ve said WHAT DID YOU DO?  We only had to pay a couple euros per rose, but the point is that we got conned.  Allison and Sarah were apologetic, but we were not angry.  Everything had happened so quickly.  Plus, now we had some roses to take uber-photogenic photos of Rome with!  We did this, because, well, fuck it, why not?

 

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Money well spent
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The Spanish Steps’ obelisk up close.

Other than that incident, the Spanish Steps were a fun little excursion.  We toured the Trinita dei Monti at the top, and got a good view of the city while we joked about the whole rose thing.  Nothing was going to bring down our spirits this day.

A straight shot from the Trinita lay the Piazza Medici.  Seeing it was now a museum, we decided to pass on this place considering how steep the ticket prices were.  Instead, we decided to walk to the Piazza Navona, a square built upon an old competition arena.

The Piazza was much grander than any of us had anticipated.  Indeed, the shape of the square looped around like an old chariot track.  With the sun starting to come down for the day, the light gleaming off of the buildings made the statues in the plaza glisten.  While we did not stay here long, it was still a beautiful sight nonetheless.

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Statue of Neptune
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The main statue of Piazza Navona
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One of my favorite photos from the whole weekend!

At this point in the day it was roughly 3 o’clock, and the girls had to leave for their train around 5, so we decided to head to one more sight: The Forum.

From the Piazza Navona we walked to the Tiber and followed it south to the Forum.  Or, at least, the gateway to it.  The Forum, as it turns out, is a pay to enter area.  Since we were on the wrong side park, it would have eaten too much time to go around, buy tickets, and then explore.  Instead we posted up on the Northern side of the park and stood for a while, enjoying the views, the heat from the sun, and each other’s company.

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Gosh this city is beautiful
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Old ruins lay gated off around every corner
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The Forum
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See the Colosseum in the background?
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I’m not very photogenic, but this photo was dope
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The intricacy of some of the designs there is incredible

Alas, the girls had to leave, and we made our way back to Termini Station.  Lawson and I made sure they got their bags back and found a departure board before we took our leave.  Though it may have been by coincidence that our trips coincided, I couldn’t be more grateful for their company.  Together the four of us effectively saw an astounding amount of Rome in one day.  We laughed, we saw, and we toured.  It was truly a pleasure, and I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t a bit upset to see them leave.  But, they had much more of Italy to see.  In fact, they are probably in Florence right about now, and won’t be back until Saturday.  Cheers to you guys, I’m exhausted after a few days in one city; I can’t imagine how you’re getting along.  I’m sure you are both having a blast; I’m looking forward to hearing all about it!

Now on our own, Lawson and I made our way back to Alessandro to recharge and sit for a while.  We had covered roughly 14 miles that day according to Lawson’s step counter.  It wasn’t even 6!  Our Spanish roommates had left, and for a time we thought we might have the room to ourselves for the night.  At 6:30 we went out to try and find some dinner.  We ended up at a pizza place somewhere down the lane, where I ordered a four-cheese pizza and a glass of house wine.  Since it was still relatively early for dinner (for Italians) we had the place all to ourselves.  It was a good meal and I enjoyed just shooting the shit with Lawson for a while.  I would’ve taken pictures, but I was done filming for the day.  My camera was back in the room anyhow.  After getting sufficiently buzzed on pizza and wine, we wandered back to Trevi Fountain.  There we grabbed some fresh cannolis and sat by the fountain; a proper way to end a long day of travel in the city.  Quite literally it was the best cannoli that I have ever eaten in my entire life.  The shell was fresh out of the oven and the filling was made with the smoothest ricotta.  In layman’s terms, it was dank.  Eventually our food source had run out, and we retreated back to the hostel to maybe grab a drink and nod off for the evening.

Our new roommates had also arrived.  Canadians a little older than us, Jenny and Nichole were their names.  Quickly we got along, each of us talking about why we were in Rome, what we did for a living etc.  They then headed out for the evening, and Lawson and I went down to the bar.

It was 2 for €5 Corona night, so we each double-fisted bottles of the brew.  It was also “sing for a shot” night.  Those who remember my previous blogs know that I sang Taylor Swift at Three Sisters a while back.  While we wanted to get up and sing “friends in low places” in honor of the other API members we also couldn’t get through the line.  In particular, this one guy, already drunk off his ass, held onto the mic for every song.  He tried to convince me to get plastered, to which I politely refused.  I did not need a hangover in the morning.  So, instead of singing, or binge drinking, Lawson and I finished our Coronas and passed out early.  That was, at least, until our roommates came back absolutely blitzed.  I wasn’t mad that they woke me up as I got a kick out of them trying to unsuccessfully undo the lock on one of their lockers.  The quote of the night, via Jenny, was this. “*To Nichole* Did we wake the boys up?  HEY, ARE YOU GUYS AWAKE?”  Why yes Jenny, yes we are.  She also fell out of bed that night.  Since we had the room to ourselves earlier Lawson and I had claimed the bottom bunks.  At 2 a.m. I hear a loud thud and look over to see Jenny on the floor.  She didn’t say anything, but she got up, walked out into the hallway, back in, back out again, and back into the room before realizing that the bathroom was, in fact, not outside in the hall.  For a moment, I thought she might have had a concussion, but she climbed back into bed ok, so I think she was alright.  Regardless, I was too tired to want to deal with it, so I rolled over and went back to sleep.

[Please excuse my naive nature as I blatantly disregarded Trajan’s Column as mere ruins!]

Day 3 –

While it wouldn’t be quite the adventure it was with Sarah and Allison, having them be gone did afford Lawson and I the opportunity to sleep in (a little)  We got up at 8 and took our time getting ready.  After the lackluster breakfast we had the day before our first order of business was finding a true meal.  Conveniently there happened to be a cafe across the street, so we decided to stop in.

For roughly €15 I ordered a full breakfast including a cafe latte (coffee and milk), orange juice, and the “American breakfast.”  I know what you’re thinking, “Cam, you’re in Italy, shouldn’t you get a pastry or something?”  Don’t get me wrong, I thought about it, but this breakfast had wurstel (sausage), two fried eggs, bacon, and a couple of pancakes with miscellaneous fruit on top.  Protein and nutrients were the name of the game, as I needed to recharge my body for another long day of walking.  Not only was my meal tasteful, it satisfied everything that my body was craving at the time.  I was recharged and ready to go.

Since Sarah and Allison wanted to get some post cards from inside the Vatican gift shop, which was closed the day before, we were going to head back and grab some, visiting the Sistine Chapel as well.  This is the part where I will gloat a little bit about my sense of direction, as I effectively led us across town without a map.  Once we were back in the Vatican we realized that we had no idea where the Sistine Chapel was.  So, we decided to wait in line to at least get through security and back to the Basilica.  We talked with some nice folks from North Carolina who were on holiday, and baked in the warm morning sun.  30 minutes later we got through security, only to begrudgingly realize that the way to the Sistine Chapel is not in fact through the Basilica.  ….. Damnit…..  To get there, you have to follow the Northern wall of Vatican City around and wait in another line to get inside.  Since we had waited long enough we fulfilled our promise to our friends and got them some postcards, which are now sitting on my desk.  After that we went in search of the line to get into the Sistine Chapel.

Once we found the line, we had someone soliciting the fact that from where we were it would be a two hour wait.  Ugh.  Considering it was almost already noon, and the Colosseum closed at 3:30, I decided to split.  Lawson wanted to stick around and wait, and I do not blame him.  For me though, touring the ancient structures was much more important than seeing a couple important paintings.  Don’t get me wrong, I wish I had enough time to do both, but I couldn’t risk missing out on the one thing that I really wanted to do.  So, I bid Lawson adieu, and went off on my own.

Almost immediately I got sidetracked my a little gift stand.  For €1 I was able to buy this neat little gladiator bracelet thing, which I quite like.  From there, I went up to the Castel Sant’Angelo and headed South, stopping for lunch along the way.  I ate at a local deli, at which none of the patrons spoke English.  Using my hands and a broken clusterfuck of language that constituted Spanish and English I managed to convey how large of a slice of pizza I wanted.  For only a few euros it was damn good.  The freshest basil and ricotta cheese topped this slice, and I took a moment to eat in the alley under the sun and ready myself for the rest of the day.

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A cool little flower shop I came across.
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A side street next to the flowershop
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Another side street

As I continued on, I decided to find this gelato shop that a friend of mine, Kaitlin, recommended to me.  She studied abroad in Rome and said that the best gelato in the city was the Frigidarium, located at the shop of the same name.  Since it wasn’t really much of a detour I decided to stop in and test her hypothesis.

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The frigidarium is the yellow one with the brownish cookies.

In review, I cannot deny how damn good that gelato was.  I don’t have the right words to describe the flavor other than “really fucking good.”  Just take my word on it.  If you find yourself in Rome, this is a can’t miss treat.

After my delectable dessert, I pushed onward.  I decided to take the long way around to the Colosseum, taking myself South through the Circus Maximus and then up to the Colosseum and Forum.  Along the way I found myself back at the Piazza Venezia, where I decided to climb another 100 or so steps to reach the Campodoglio, visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli at the top.

wiki pages:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitoline_Hill

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Santa_Maria_in_Ara_Coeli

Inside the Basilica I found a grand chapel that, while much smaller in scale than the Vatican, still reflected a level of detail that was foreign to me.  This was an old chapel, and I appreciated getting a good look around at all the architecture and paintings.

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The Altare della Patria, the Basilica of Santa Maria, and the Campidoglio
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The view from the top of the steps
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Inside the Basilica

From this plaza, I continued my journey South, eventually having to come up a hill.  Over the top it opened right up into the Circus Maximus.  As it is now a public park I did not have to go through any sort of gate or pay for a ticket.  Nay, all I had to do was cross the street.

The park was surprisingly empty, and I enjoyed having the open space all to myself.  I can only imagine what the atmosphere must’ve been like back when this place was still running races.  Though the original grounds were 6 meters below me, covered up my flooding and development, I still felt the excitement buzzing through the air.  I love going to horse races.  Saratoga Springs is an awesome day trip.  But, I bet it would have paled in comparison to this arena.  Thousands of Romans, side by side, probably drunk, watching chariots fly by.  I haven’t seen Ben-Hur, but now I feel like I should.  At the end of the day while the park wasn’t much to look at it was still an important site for me to cross off my bucket list.

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The Circus Maximus

After sitting in the spot where the stands would have been and having completed a segment of filming I figured it was time to head Northward towards the Colosseum.  Along the way I bought a good quality scarf-thing which I am using as a tapestry in my room.  I love the red and gold coloring that Rome is traditionally identified with, and this piece of fabric really popped out to me.

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Upon arriving to the Colosseum, I purchased a ticket for entry into the place in question plus the Foro and the Palatino (Forum and Palace).  As I walked underneath the Archway into the Colosseum, I could feel my heart begin to race, as if the years of savage brutality and competition were imprinting themselves within me.  Walking into the arena I could almost hear the cheers from ages long ago come from the stands.  In its glory I can only imagine what the interior must’ve looked like on a busy afternoon.  Oh how a part of me wishes to have lived back then.  Humanity can only interpret the exact nature of the arena, and our common perception has been reflected in games like RYSE: Son of Rome and movies like Gladiator.  In truth, we will never know exactly how the place looked in its heyday.  Considering how stripped the place is, reconstruction seems almost impossible.  The sad realization that I was in fact in a ruin made me somewhat disappointed.  Those feelings quickly passed though as I began to appreciate the place for what it once was, and not what it has become.  This was the hub of entertainment for one of, if not the most powerful Empire that the world has ever known.  That cannot be discredited by any means, and I worked hard to imprint sights and sounds into my head, lest I forget them come old age.

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Entering
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The arena floor would have been at the level where that wooden platform in the distance is at.
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Some of the original arch design that was still standing
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A history lesson never hurt.
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Taking it in
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Put me in coach, I’m ready to play.  Give me a sword and listen to what the crowd will say.
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Like any stadium, in person the interior is surprisingly smaller than expected.
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This little guy decided to say hello.
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Old school gladiator art
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Simply incredible

I hung around the Colosseum for about an hour and a half or so before deciding to venture onward.  Again, I forced myself to shut my camera off and imprint the visual of the place into my head.  While I love taking pictures, seeing life through a lens just isn’t as rewarding.  Plus, when I try to recall events that I took too many photos of I cannot remember them in as good a detail as I would like.  So while I took many a photograph in Rome I made sure to take a moment or two just for myself at every location.  Having done that for the Colosseum, I slowly made my way back out and walked over to the entrance of the Foro Romano and Foro Palatino.  Having to go through security had become a norm at this point, so I decided to make the most of my time in the area considering I would not be able to get back in later on my own terms.

I decided to save the Foro Romano (base level) for last, so I made my way up above to the more quite, more pristine Foro Palatino.  Gardens straight out of King’s Landing covered the area, little bits of ruined temples and parts of the palace scattered about all over the place.  Of all the ruins I visited, these were the most “ruiny”.  The amount of degradation was staggering, but that does not mean the place did not have a certain charm to it.  I really did appreciate how it was far enough away from traffic, and the quiet nature of the area paired with the amount of vegetation made me wonder what it must’ve been like back when all these structures were still whole.

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For real, can I camp out here?
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The Foro Romano with the Altar of the Fatherland in the background.
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A small pool in the Foro Palatino
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Looking back towards the Colosseum
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Ok, maybe I’m a little photogenic.
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A better view of the Foro Romano
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So Verys, Lord Baelish, what schemes are you concocting up today?
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This is either a palm tree, a pineapple, or a pokemon.
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St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance
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Ruins of the Imperial Palace
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More ruins
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Even more ruins
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Looking down to the Circus Maximus
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The arena yard of the palace, or the horse training area.  Probably both.
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More of the arena yard

At this point in the day, the sun was just starting to go down in the sky.  Since it was beating down upon me I decided to get out of the sun for a bit.  As it happened I stumbled across a nice little spot to sit out of the way in the Palatino.  There was little foot traffic and next to no noise coming from the city.  It was the perfect spot to sit for a while and just some thoughts down.  So that’s what I did.

***2/21  I sit here, in the middle of the Foro Palatino, under an olive tree.  To the right of me is the Colosseum.  To the left, the Circus Maximus.  Ahead, the imperial palace and the Roman Forum.  I am in the middle of ancient Rome.

Two days of adventure have brought me to many places in and around the city, including the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Forum, and to where I sit now.  History oozes out of every nook, cranny, and side street; all of it enveloping me with an aura of understanding and wonder.  Who has stood where I now sit?  Whose words were spoken?  What documents, written?  All of these questions are a constant presence inside my naive mind.  For this is a city of true greatness.  Empire, upheaval, and political phenomena of all sorts have occurred within walking distance.  I am but a witness to something much bigger than I ever thought possible.  That being said, my being here means that I can write my own name into the annals of Roman history.  For I was/I AM here, and that alone is something to be proud of.  Perhaps, in the future, my name will come to represent bigger things than what it currently constitutes.  Maybe my time here will set off a chain of events that lead to whatever destiny may await me.  When it is all said and done I may just be getting carried away, but predicting the future is a hard task to accomplish.  In reality, there is a chance, however small, that my compatriots and I go on to do great things.  When the historians write of us, they may take note of this trip, and maybe even these scribbles that I wrote in the shade, with a cool February breeze running down my neck.  I do not know.  

Regardless, this moment is naught but pristine serenity, and I still cannot wrap my head around it.  Here, I am so far away from home, further than I have ever been.  Do I wish to see my friends and family in person?  Of course!  Yet, that does not much to douse the flames of adventure from within my being.  In fact, it stokes them.  I feel as though I must go further; to see, do, and feel more.  Doing this would only help me grow further into the person that I am only just starting to become.  I have said it before, and I will say it again:  The Cameron who left Vermont will not be the same Cameron who returns.  That man is gone, and while I still retain my identity and convictions, my eyes and ears and voice and body have begun to evolve into a more worldly capacity.  I am not just Cameron Pratt of Wells anymore.  I am Cameron Pratt of Wells, Edinburgh, and now, Rome.  I look forward to adding to that title.  But for now, I must take my leave, as the sun is starting to set, and I have much more to see yet.  S.P.Q.R.***

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Serenity now.
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Oh how valuable my notebook is quickly becoming.

From my seclusion I eventually made my way down into the heart of the Foro Romano.  Though I mainly was taking B-footage it was still nice to look at some older ruins under the setting sun.  Many ancient Romans used this place to congregate, worship their gods, and hear the proclamations of the local town criers.  At the height of the Empire this place must’ve been hopping on a daily basis.  Nowadays, the sounds of performers from the local street cut through the quiet of the area, and the foot traffic is heavy with tour groups gaping at things they do not understand.  Being on my own I was able to sit back and people watch, and it was clear that the majority of everyone didn’t understand just how old these ruins were or what they represented to the people.  While I do not claim to be more qualified in that regard, I do at least understand my place in this world.  The gap between the world that I was in that day and the one that existed thousands of years ago is massive in scope.  I know not how the Romans lived, but if I was put in a room with one of them I can tell you that we probably could not relate on almost any level.  Society is so much more complicated nowadays.  For better or worse, there is so much more to think about and concern ourselves with than the people of the past had.  At least reason stands to determine that.  In any case, to see the Forum was to glimpse into a way of life so estranged from my own.  It is a unique feeling to feel so out of place.  As I continue to travel I hope I feel that way more often.  If nothing else, it will continue to humble me.

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It’s a little sad to see scaffolding everywhere.
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Past that arch is the Colosseum.
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Ah, Corinthian pillars
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I wonder what was here.
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It’s the same sun that the ancient Romans had…
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The top level led to the Foro Palatino.

The February air quickly cooled as the sun set further down over the horizon; it was tiem for me to regroup with Lawson and grab my jacket.  The walk home afforded me a nice view of the city streets as well as potential places to eat for the evening.  I did have to pay up for filming a band, but it was only a couple euros.  Back at the hostel I met up with Lawson, Nichole, and Jenny.  They all had a nice day: the girls went on a hop-on/hop-off bus to see all the sights.  Lawson actually managed to get to the Colosseum after the Sistine Chapel, to which I applaud his determination.  Do I wish I stayed with him and saw the Chapel for myself?  Sure, who wouldn’t?  Yet, at the same time I had a good time trekking out on my own.  That way, I could spend as much time as I wanted wherever I wanted to, which proved to be a nice outing.

For dinner we found a small little shop that was on the cheap(ish).  I ordered a slice of pizza with tomatoes and mozzarella, a pasta dish with sausage, and a 66 cl beer (almost 24 oz).  Needless to say I ate well.  Over dinner we discussed how our days went and Lawson wrote down some notes in his own journal.  While the joint wasn’t anything special, the food was good, and that’s all that really mattered.

After we ate, we decided it was only appropriate to go out and get some dessert.  We found ourselves at another pastry shop, and we got cannolis once again.  These were just as good as the night before, though the filling was much more creamy than that of the previous one.  Regardless, it was still damn good.  Eating them by the Colosseum made them even better.  Deciding to retrace our steps of the first day, we took a final walk around the Colosseum, and hung out for a bit.  Above, I noticed Orion the Hunter.  That’s when I realized that all the planets and constellations were named right here, in the city of Rome.  The stars were the same, but the times were much different.  Between the Romans of old and myself these were the same sights up in the sky, though they probably had a better view without all of the light pollution.  This realization again gave me another powerful feeling of humility, and underneath the lit facade of the Colosseum I stood witness to things that have endured since the written record began.

From there we found our way back to the Trevi Fountain for the third and final time.  I think it is funny that it is the only site we visited every day that we were there, yet never were we there in the daytime.  I guess it just had a special way of drawing me back.  Here, we reflected upon the events of the past few days, and sat for a while, trying to soak up all of what Rome had to offer.

Before we headed back to the hostel for the evening, I had one more thing that I felt necessary to do.  Down at the water, I knelt over the fountain, and dunked my face into it for a moment.  Some may call it a strange form of baptism, as I thought it symbolic to go in one person, and come up a changed one.  It was my way of having Rome leave its imprint upon me I suppose.  It was also me just saying “fuck it, I’m dunkin’ my head in.”  I think I prefer the more poetic description.

At last, we decided to call it a night.  We had to be up early to catch the train back to the airport tomorrow, and while Nichole and Jenny judged us for not being fun and not wanting to go out they also understood that we had to be up early.  Nichole actually stayed in with us, and we all talked ’till we passed out around midnight.

Day 4-

After dragging myself out of bed at 6 in the morning I managed to get a shower in before Lawson and I left the city.  Finding our train was easy enough, and we departed the city center just after 7.  Roughly 45 minutes later we arrived back at the airport.  We managed to make it through check in and security at a very fast pace.  Hell, I saw the metal detector beep a few times but the guard just waved people through.  That, and there was no presence of armed guards to be noted.  I guess the Italians just want you to get the fuck out of their country.

Again, we had to wait for our flight to depart, so we used the opportunity to grab a bite to eat.  About an hour and a half later, we were on the plane, up in the air, and bound for Edinburgh.

***2/22  Below, the clouds have smothered any and all view of Europe, though based on the flight duration I perceive that I am somewhere above London, or at the very least Normandy.  It is not yet 1 p.m., but still our day has already felt so long.  We got up at 6 to catch the 7:05 train to Fiumicino Airport, and once there we swiftly and easily moved through security.  Too easily.  Long gone were the armed guards we greeted us upon our entry to Italy.  It seemed as though the airport staff was essentially saying “you’re someone else’s problem now.”  So much for everyone getting in your face and soliciting…

I am tired.  While I have gotten enough sleep the past couple of days nonstop walking has caught up to me.  If I had to guess, I probably covered close to 30 miles just walking about the city.  Add in thousands of steps and stories climbed and I think it is safe to say that I am going to skip leg day.  My side still hurts though, but it is healing slowly but surely.  It probably won’t be fully recovered for some time yet, probably another week and a half or two.  At least it was no major hindrance to my traveling around.  For that I am thankful.

As for the rest of the week, I feel it prudent to witness some aspects of the Festival of Creative Learning.  There are a few lectures that I wish to attend and some of the workshops look interesting as well.  More importantly, much of the rest of the week will be spent writing and editing, for I have a good bit of notes and a substantial amount of photos/film.  Transcribing and filtering through the past few days is going to be an effort, but I look forward to it nonetheless.  Also, reviewing coursework and getting back into the gym should be in my itinerary as well.  After all, I have to return to a sense of normalcy soon.  As for the rest of today, my plans include grocery shopping (yay…), posting photos, and unwinding after an epic  3-day trip.  I might just go out and grab a beer too, for I did not do enough drinking in Italy.  I was there to witness, not to party.  So here’s to that, I suppose.  To Allison, Sarah, Lawson, and myself: cheers to one hell of a holiday.  Viva la Roma!

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Ciao Roma
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Sicily?

In just about three hours we touched down back in Edinburgh, the weather substantially worse than that in Italy.  Oh well.  We made it through customs easy enough, and before we knew what was happening we were off the bus on Waverley Bridge from whence we departed.  We had made it.  We had booked a flight and a room on our own, survived the hostel, navigated the city, didn’t get mugged, took a bunch of pictures, and touched down back safe in Scotland.  As far as a confidence boost goes, I don’t think I could have gotten a better one that day, for I realized that I am fully capable of planning an executing a holiday for myself.  I conquered this bitch.  Now there is no excuse for me not to have a good time on any other trip that I plan for myself.  Perhaps it is just coincidental that everything went just about perfect, but I’d rather contribute that to the fact that I made good, smart decisions about where I was going, how I was going to act, and what I was going to be doing.  I felt great, and still do.  The future is brighter for me and my friends because of just how much ass we kicked on this trip.  Aw.  Hell. Yes.  The hype is real.

Parting Thoughts

Wow, what a trip.  Two full days and three nights of pure adventure.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would go to Rome.  Now that I am back, I want to reflect and discuss a few things that caught my attention:

  1. I wasn’t joking about how heavily armed the police presence is in the city.  Every major monument had at least 4 or 5 armed guards ready to spring into a firefight.  I have never seen this before, and I guess I take for granted the safety that comes from the U.S. being half a world away from hostile nation-states.
  2. Soliciting sucks.  It really took away from the experience because whenever I would enter or leave an area there would be literally 5-7 people trying to sell me a selfie stick.  No, dude, just because I looked at you doesn’t mean I want your crap.  Leave me alone lady, I don’t want to eat at your restaurant, I’m just looking at the menu.  I’m all for people trying to make a living, but it really can be suffocating.
  3. Cheap flights do not necessarily mean bad ones.  Vueling, while a Spanish airline, got us there quickly, cheaply, and directly.  If Ryanair or Easyjet has this quality, I probably will fly cheap for the foreseeable future, as there is no point to dropping extra cash when I can get to the same destination in the same amount of time.
  4. Construction is everywhere.  Edinburgh, Rome, it makes no difference.  Scaffolding dots the streets and monuments everywhere which is a rather bummer.  I hated seeing the Colosseum look like a mine or something.  That, and putting gates up everywhere really takes away from the atmosphere.  Just let me wander people!  If I get hurt it’s my own damn fault.
  5. I feel bad that I don’t fluently speak other language.  Having our Spanish roommates speak our language felt unfair, and I felt like a douchey tourist when I talked to the native Italian shopkeeps who did not speak English well.  Perhaps I should brush up on my Spanish, and take my Gaelic more seriously.
  6. With hostels, you always run the risk of getting shitty roommates, a shitty room, or a shitty bed.  Thankfully, my first experience with a hostel was a positive one.  While I know I may not have as much luck in the future I can at least book a hostel with confidence knowing what I am getting myself into.
  7. Pope Francis may be the exact opposite person that Donald Trump is.  #Fran2020
  8. For one of the most religious places in the world, the Vatican did little to shove Christianity down my throat.  I think that the church realizes that the Vatican has become much more than just a religious hub, and so they cater to people of all walks of life, making the place holy for some and an architectural and cultural marvel for others.  That is pretty awesome if you ask me.
  9. I don’t know how the Italians aren’t all overweight.  Their diet, or at least ALL of the food stops, is made up of foods that are just carbs.  Yes, the ingredients are natural and freshly sourced, but still.  If the lack of protein and vegetables is evident enough for even me to notice, then I truly don’t know how the health of the nation is.  Perhaps I was just looking in the wrong place.
  10. If you wanted to know how much of a gamer I am, I kept picturing Ezio Auditore da Firenze eagle diving off of landmarks as I did in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.  Say what you will about my gaming habits, but Ubisoft made the game to have an element of accurate history to it, which is pretty cool.
  11. They sold absinthe all over the place.  I won’t lie, I was highly tempted to ship some back home, but I think that might be illegal.  Also, they sold wine in bottles shaped like dicks.  Like, just about every store did.  Why?  Hell if I know.  I guess the Italians think everyone loves suckin’ dicks … don’t quote me on that though, I’m more than likely wrong (probably).
  12. Hail Caesar!
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Augustus Caesar

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Since I took so many photos, I wasn’t able to justify putting all of them into the blog.  Below is a link to my Facebook album, which has all of the photos that I took!

Open this link to see all my photos!

Alrighty folks, that’s all I got.  Thank you for reading through this post!  It was the most daunting one that I have had to write yet.  I’ve broke 10,000 words for the first time [10,754 to be exact]; and that, paired with all the video editing and picture filtering, made this post quite the endeavor.  All in all, I have put approximately 10-12 hours of work into all the content you see above you.  I’m not saying that to ask for sympathy or anything; I’m just saying it to validate to myself all the work that I have done in the past 56 hours or so.  Totally worth it.  Next week will be a normal post, though it will have backlogged stories from before I left for Rome.  Again, thank you for your time, your support, and your well wishes.  See you next week!

Vivat Romae

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