ARCHIVE: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…(My Visit to Italy)

(This adventure may also be titled „Pasta Fer Daaaayzzz“ if I were trying to be hip instead of at least a little bit cultured).

Roma

My last journey of my long break was finally at hand, and I was going to meet my father in Rome and we would feast everyday upon seas of pasta and drink in the culture of our ancestors.

Well, that was the plan, anyway. First, though, there was minor hurdle to overcome of how to GET to Rome. Lufthansa, the German airline I was supposed to fly with, had chosen that particular week to strike (the pilots were striking for pay or something similarly important to the human condition). I only briefly checked the website the night before and, seeing nothing, assumed my flight was still ready to go. I arrived at the terminal, looked up at the big board, and saw the word „ANNULLIERT“ next to my flight. Canceled! With a sigh of „but of course,“ I headed to the line marked „Umbuchungen“ (re-bookings) and was directed to a counter with a pleasant-looking woman with a Lufthansa name pin. I explained to her that I was supposed to meet my Dad, and she set about finding me another flight to Rome. I stood and fiddled with my backpack, answered a call from my dad who had bought calling credit while he was in the airport, and waited some more. The lady got me onto an Alitalia flight leaving only an hour later than my original. I thanked her, gave her my bar of chocolate as a gift, and went on my merry way through check-in and security. I managed to set the metal detector off, for the sixth time in a row even though I had nothing on me (it’s a talent). The woman who searched me commented that I seemed to be used to it. Whoops.

The flight was a short one, not even two hours, and soon I gave my dad a hug and we headed to the hotel. Riding through Rome and watching all the monuments and fountains pass by was the cue to get excited. We noticed quickly that we would not be walkin Rome: it sure as hell wasn’t built in a day, because it’s freaking gigantic. Our hotel was a little removed from the main sites we wanted to see, but the immediate concern was a nap (dad was jetlagged) and food. We took care of those in due course and set out to explore. We wandered through as many piazzas as we could, bumping into the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon completely on accident. For dinner we headed the opposite direction and dined on 35 euro bufala mozzarella. We were bewildered upon receiving the bill–my dad’s first impression of European food was 50 dollar cheese. As the ancient Romans said, „Caveat emptor.“ Let the buyer beware!

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I don’t know what that is, but it was cool-lookin‘.

The morning came with a taxi ride to the Vatican. High walls and a never-ending stream of cars greeted us as our driver dropped us off and we were directed by people with badges to the meeting spot for our tour. A confident young American woman named Tiffany informed us that she would be our guide. She’d been living in Italy for years after she had studied abroad in Rome and then come back. I asked her how she’d learned Italian, and she replied that she had mostly learned just from being there. Yeah, she was pretty cool.

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Seeing the key rooms of the Vatican Museum was a history-heavy experience. My favorite stories were the ones about Michelangelo and his painting escapades: he hated painting and at first refused to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but the Pope wasn’t gonna take no for an answer, so he ended up doing it anyway. In the panel of the ceiling where God is depicted creating the sun and the moon, there’s another „moon“ in that frame: a figure flying away and showing his naked ass. Some think that’s Michelangelo mooning the Vatican for making him paint the ceiling! Can you believe that? Or, my other favorite grumpy old painter story: the nudity on the wall of the chapel disgusted some Cardinals, but the Pope liked it, so Michelangelo kept painting that way. The head Cardinal interrupted him once while he was painting and said that the pictures were so disgusting, they belonged on the wall of a brothel. That scene happened to be the day of judgment, where the good were being raised to heaven and the sinners were dragged to hell. In the right-hand corner, where hell was, the king of hell, with his donkey ears and a snake biting his private parts, looks remarkably like that head Cardinal. People started noticing the resemblance and the Cardinal, furious, went to the Pope to complain. The Pope said, „although I have jurisdiction over heaven and earth, if you want to get out of hell, you need to take it up with Michelangelo.“
What a jerk. I love it.

Other fun Vatican stories I learned included the story of how Julius II demanded new rooms be made for him because he hated the pope before him so much that he refused to sleep in the same rooms the other guy had. Or, the rumor that his daughter, whom he had loved more than his other six recorded children (back in the days when Popes could have children), had poisoned people for him. The Vatican’s history is rife with corruption and madness and inanity and I adore it.

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We saw the Pieta in the St. Peter’s Basilica (above) and the crypt of the popes. Dad and I grabbed a bite at a place our tour guide recommended. Our next stop? The Coliseum.

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After we saw a group of men dressed as gladiators cross the street (just off to work, la da da), our tour guide gave us the entire bloody history of the arena compacted into about twenty minutes. Gladiators and animals and senators, oh my! My latent Latin nerd from my two years of learning it in high school re-emerged with a vengeance, and I happily geeked out the entire time. We had free time to look around ourselves before the next part of the tour started. I found a good view.

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Try to tell me that that view doesn’t make you hot for Roman history. Oohhhh.

We met by the exit for the second part of the tour, where a tall Brit lead us to the old Forum. Of course I made the reference to the musical „A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum“ and hummed a few phrases to myself. We ended at the remains of what had been a five-story palace. Dad and I decided a siesta was appropriate after a long day of history and architecture. We passed the Circus Maximus on the way to the hotel: it had once been a massive racetrack. Now, although it’s just a huge lawn, it’s still used to host concerts with a massive amount of people. The Rolling Stones are scheduled to play there later this year for an audience of 65,000 people.

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Nap well worth it, we finished our stay in Rome with some pizza at a nearby place and made sure we were ready to head to Florence in the morning.

Firenze

The train ride from Rome was simple, and we arrived in Florence to check into our hotel and enjoy the balcony view before setting out to pick up our tourist passes and eat. Although overcast, Florence emanated a kind of upper-crust atmosphere. The painted and marble buildings and tight old streets gave the impression of important things having taken place here.

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We climbed to the top of the dome of the Florence Basilica. It was massive, strenuous, cramped, and dark, and rewarded us with a fantastic view. We grabbed gelato right after to celebrate the calories we’d just burned (yes, we realize the contradiction there).

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The next day was a day of museums: with our Florence Pass we entered the Academia Museum and saw Michelangelo’s David sculpture. I managed to get a shitty picture from behind a column, but felt bad and deleted it. Ahaha…
The Uffizi art museum was laaaaaaarge. The Leonardo room had, ironically, only ONE picture from Leonardo. You could easily tell which one it was because of the mass of people standing around it at all times.
We took a detour to the Galileo museum after leaving the Uffizi. It was right around the corner and only nine euro per person to enter, so why not, right? We cruised through two stories of SCIENCE exhibits and were suitably impressed…and of course spent time in the interactive kid’s zone like the mature people we were.

We ate at Mama Gino’s and were very pleased. I recommend the place. It’s not far from the „Gold Bridge,“ so called because it’s lined with stores for people to buy and sell gold and other valuables. On the way back, one guy was jamming out with a Smash Mouth song and had a sizable audience. You go, bridge concert guy, you go.

Our last day in Tuscany was devoted to a bus tour through the hills to Siena. We stopped in the fortress town of San Gimignano to eat gelato from a two-time gelato competition winning store. It was, I must say, very tasty. The pale sandy walls rose in every direction, with more towers than anywhere I’d seen in such a small space. After that, we visited Monteriggioni castle for a short time. I used the opportunity to listen to the bells bounce off the walls of the small burg and enjoy the quaintness that was my view of the Tuscan hills. Then we were off again to our destination, Siena. We ate a discounted lunch of penne pasta in tomato sauce with arugola and a platter of antipasti before being herded to the shell-shaped main square to start our tour.

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Our guide told us the history of the Siena horse race and how the square we were standing in is prepared for it twice every summer even today. It’s four days of celebrating building up to a 90-second-long race. I’d add it to my bucket list if I think I’ll ever be in Siena at the right time.  My favorite rule is that the jockey doesn’t have to be on the horse for the first horse to cross the finish line to be declared the winner. Hold on tight, boys!
My other favorite part of Siena was the basilica with it’s absolutely stunning marble floors: they told a story, and were arranged in pictures. They looked like paintings. The skill that must’ve taken…I can’t even fathom. Wow.

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Y
es, that’s marble. Insane.

The hills of Tuscany bid us adieu with a wine tasting that even I, who generally shudders at the taste of wine, could enjoy. Next up, Venice.

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—-

Venezia

Water water everywhere.

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The sun glinting on the blue-green canals was a cheering sight. Dad and I had no real plans but to explore and enjoy the city. We did just that for most of our first day, wandering in and out of side alleys and debating when to take a ride on a gondola. The one notable feature of the day was, unfortunately, a sour one. Here’s the story:

Even though the season hasn’t really started yet, there are plenty of other tourists. As we were walking over a small bridge near San Marco after lunch, an American woman started screaming for the police. People nearby stopped, confused. The bag and sunglass sellers tensed up. Dad and I thought she was upset about one of them, but she started sobbing and it became apparent that the man with her had hit her. Immediately, other Americans jumped in to tell him to get lost. An older woman told him, „Leave her alone! Don’t hit her!“ The man’s response was to snarl, „That’s my wife!“ 

I’m happy to say the people nearby only got more angry with him. The same older woman said, „So? That doesn’t give you a right to hit her! He’s my husband and he’s never hit me!“ Her husband chimed in and told the guy „Behave yourself!“ The man backed off and watched as a few other American women took the crying lady aside and one of them called the police.

It was good to see people not let him get away with any shit. The incident gave me a sick feeling in my stomach, though, because of his response. You want people out of your business? It’s not just your business when you become violent.

The incident clouded my head and put me in a weird mood for a while after that, but started to fade as we ate again and wandered back to our hotel as night fell. I fell asleep knowing that I’d visit the glass-making island the next day, so that was something to look forward to.

The glass-making island was actually very cool. Although it was clear that they wanted us to buy one of the incredibly expensive pieces, it was still fun to see all the creative glass artwork and marvel that it was all just that–glass. Some of that glass cost more than a year at my college in Maryland. If I’m ever so rich I can bathe in my money, I’ll make sure to return to Venice and buy some of that artisan glass to pimp out my house with. Come at me.

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Art. Art that could pay my tuition forever. A R T.

We ended up never actually taking a gondola ride, but we had plenty of time on various boats as taxis anyway, so it was alright. The fish-shaped conglomeration of islands that is Venice was a (mostly) cheerful place to be, and I’m glad I got to see it with my dad.

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Our flight into Frankfurt the morning of the ninth was problem free, as Lufthansa’s strike had ended a day or two before. I managed to order food completely in Italian. Guess I had to pick up something after a week in the country! I said goodbye to dad as he went to his connecting flight home and I found a train to Heidelberg. Back in the land of the German language, I set about uploading my mass of photos and reminiscing, already, and closing the book on the last adventure of my break.

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