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March 9th 2005
Published: May 9th 2005
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Vatican CityVatican CityVatican City

This is the hallway of the border to the Vatican City.
So, I'm freshly back from six days in Italy. It was interesting to say the least.

Our intended itinerary was to fly out very early on Thursday morning and touch down in Rome. We would spend two nights in Rome, the take an early train to Pisa, where we were only going to spend a few hours, then take a late train to Venice, where we would stay until Wednesday morning.

This plan only half worked. Tristan came down with a cold before we left, and was only barely able to go. I got it (or one from one of the germ bags I live with who are also all sick) a little after we left. We were both partially miserable for quite a bit of the trip, but I'm still happy I went.

Flight: The flight was OK. This was the first time I'd been on a smaller plane, so it was kind of weird. We sat over the wing, which I did not enjoy at /all/. I could see way too much of the planes workings, and I could feel the landing gear going in and out, and it generally freaked me out. I was so
Vatican CityVatican CityVatican City

This is what the hallway around the Vatican City looks like from the inside.
exhausted I fell asleep bent over my tray table, which lead to soreness later.

The little airlines don't assign seats, but board you according to how early you checked in (I think in an effort to get people to turn up early). I had no clue about this, and we arrived in the middle of the checking-in times due to train difficulty. We were like numbers 166 and 167 or something. 1-65 got to board first, then all the rest of us had to queue up and board. We opted to stand for ages in the queue, and got to board relatively early, and did get seats together (though over the aforementioned wing!)

We also had to go down a set of moveable stairs onto the tarmac, then board the plane from another set of moveable stairs, which I had never done before.

Rome: We got off the plane and were bussed to the terminal where we went through passport control. There were two lines: EU passport holders and non-EU passport holders. Despite the fact that the EU passport holder line was about 30230238 times shorter than the non-EU line, I /still/ got through the line slower
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A closeup of the statues around the Vatican City.
than Tristan. Though I got a stamp and he didn't!

We collected our bag with no problem, then exited the airport to be immediately faced with soldiers in full miliary dress holding GIGANTIC guns pointing at all the passengers. I'm not kidding. It was terrifying, and I felt like we'd flown into Iraq instead of Italy. The soldiers pretty much ignored everyone, so we just inched on about our business.

We got a bus to the metro line, and proceeded to make our way to the outskirts of Rome where our hostel was. We got lost and walked about six miles out of our way. I got my first taste of what everything was going to be like trying to ask for directions. No one spoke English, and while I could understand a bit of Italian thanks to its connections with Spanish, I couldn't speak it to save my life. We got further confused by people trying to help and managed to end up in a different town. No joke. We finally walked back to where we started from, and Tristan found the place. We learned that I should never be allowed to lead. I had a fight
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The Vatican City Museum which I did not actually get to go in because it was closed!
with the hostel people because they wanted to keep my passport as insurance that we would return the room key, and I wasn't about to do that because they were just keeping them on the counter where anyone could get to them. She didn't speak English very well, so we had all sorts of issues there too. We finally were allowed to pay a 100 Euro deposit in lieu of them keeping my passport, and were ushered to our cabin. It was clean, dry, warm enough, and had a TV. By this time it was raining and we were both feeling ill, so we just stayed in and ate the leftover sandwiches I had packed. Our first day in Rome was not all that impressive.

The next day was not that much better. It continued to rain, but we figured we had to see /something/ so we braved the rain to go to the Vatican City and the Collesium. Both were quite impressive, and I took lots of pictures. We also poked around Termini, the main train station, to try to figure out where we would get our trains from the next day, and I stumbled upon what I
The ColiseumThe ColiseumThe Coliseum

The side that isn't half gone!
believe is the only McDonald's in the city, where I promptly demanded to be able to get a cheeseburger. We also discovered that McDonald's employees are taught English, and managed to get directions to an internet cafe, which we needed so we could find our train reservation numbers. We found the cafe, got what we needed, and headed back for our last night in the cabin.

My closing thoughts about the city of Rome are not good. The city was filthy dirty. It had loads of graffiti. There were touts /everywhere/ trying to sell you a bunch of junk. There were loads of signs about crime and pickpockets. The public transport was a nightmare - the underground lines were confusing and all the trains covered in graffiti. Most of the light up signs to tell you about approaching trains were broken. It was really hard to figure out what tickets you needed for what. The rides were /incredibly/ rough. It was all I could do to keep standing most of the time. There were buskers right on the trains with you, which made them unavoidable and all the more irritating. The only nice part of Rome was the Vatican
The ColiseumThe ColiseumThe Coliseum

More of it.
City, which is in fact another country, technically, so I'm not sure that counts. Some of the stops on the lines turned out to be "request only" stops... and there was no indication of how to request, or when you needed to do it - and some stations weren't marked with names. It was really dumb luck that we did as well as we did.

Trains: We got up super early the next morning and made it to the train station without incident. We found a rail employee who spoke English who helped us try to retrieve our prepaid tickets... only to discover one of the confirmation numbers I had written down the night before at the internet cafe did not work. In my haze of illness, I had transposed something, but we didn't know what. Tristan left me at the station, and went to the internet cafe to check the e-mail again... only to find out that it didn't open again until 8am, which was only 30 minutes before our train was supposed to leave. We decided to do it anyway, and I got some breakfast at the station while he waited. He txted me the number, and
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Our first view of Venice out of the train station.
I got the tickets. Then we found each other at the station, and we were standing in front of a big board of trains that had an 8:30 Firenze (Florence) train on it (which is what we were supposed to get), but no platform number yet... so we thought we had time. I went to get him something to eat while he guarded the luggage and waited for the platform to be announced... I came back.. and he'd discovered that we'd be staring at the ARRIVALS board, and our train had been boarding all along. We RAN to the platform, but the train closed its doors right before we got there and we missed it.

This proved to be my breaking point. We were stranded in Rome with all this luggage and no idea where to go. Nobody spoke our language, and I was really sick. Shock about everything just hit me hard and I ended up crying in the train station. I don't know what I would have done if Tristan hadn't been there, because I was unable to even think about what to do next. He got me off the platform, and decided that we were just
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Venice looks /just/ like it does in the movies... it was so so so cool.
going to skip Pisa and go straight to Venice. He was going to buy new train tickets, but I came out of if enough to remember that I could exchange the ones I'd bought up to an hour after the train left, so we went to the ticket offices, and I once more had to face the nightmare of trying to get something done with people who speak little to no English. The ticket person tried to tell us something about using our second ticket and paying the difference on the train, but we couldn't figure out what she was talking about. We just took the new ticket that was issued to us, paid another E6 for the price difference, and ran to catch an 8:55 train that went to Pisa through Florence. We think we were meant to get off at Florence and take a different train to Venice. We couldn't find any ticket inspectors on the train who spoke English or Spanish, so we just stayed on the train and hoped we weren't doing something illegal.

We got to the Venice stop our tickets were good for, which turned out to be /before/ the island, so we
Me!Me!Me!

Me in San Marco square... which is the place in that commercial with the man yelling "I love this woman!"
had to buy E2 worth of more tickets, then find a train that was going out to the island. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated, because none of them /said/ they were going there. I had discovered that at this station, the rail employees had little flags on their badges indicating which languages they spoke, so I went and stood in line at a customer service desk until the /one/ that had a little British flag became free, and she told me what platform and time we needed, which we ran to get.

The train went to Santa Lucia station on the island of Venice over a land bridge... you could see water out both sides of the train, and it was really neat.

Venice: We got off the train, and had a snack in the station and visited the restrooms before making our way out... into the most beautiful scene I'd ever seen. You exit the station and are staring at the canal and this gorgeous church thing across from it. The sun was shining and the water was a gorgeous color and it was like we'd gone to an entirely seperate country from Rome.
Pidgeons!Pidgeons!Pidgeons!

The pidgeons in San Marco square were something else - and people were feeding them, so it just made it worse!
This totally set the tone for the rest of our trip, which was fantastic.

We took a waterbus to San Zaccariah, which was our stop. It was really super neat, and only made me about as sick as a real bus, so no problems. We got to take the number 1, which is the "tourist" bus according to our guide - it goes down the grand canal rather slowly because it stops nearly everywhere, so you get a great view of everything. We found our hostel with no problems, despite it's semi-difficult location. There had been a problem with the reservation system though, and they were not expecting us, but provided a replacement room. The room wasn't that great - it didn't have a window which was kind of freaky because we never knew what time it was. It was, however, a place to sleep. And we did get our own bathroom at no extra charge (which was only good because it meant we didn't have to stumble around in the hallway looking for a shared bathroom in pjs in the middle of the night - the shower was freaky and I could only bring myself to use it
San Marco SquareSan Marco SquareSan Marco Square

This is the big church in San Marco. I can't remember its name.
once).

We were really close to Piazza San Marco, which has a /load/ of neat things to see, places to eat, and souveneers. The percentage of people who spoke at least a little English was /much/ greater because Venice is much more a tourist town. We'd also learned a bit of Italian by that point, and thigns in general weren't as scary.

We went inside the Museo Correr and the Doge's palace. We saw the Basilica San Marco, but did not go inside because it was Sunday and they were holding services. Monday we mostly spent wandering around shopping, followed by (an extortionately expensive) Gondola ride! We almost didn't do it, because it was soooo expensive, but I talked to mom twice and she told me both times we had to do it, and I'm really glad I did (even if it did cost around $105). The Gondoliers are all out to make a huge profit, so they try to overcharge you massively. There is an "official rate" that no one actually charges, and you just have to haggle with them. Tristan, being British and polite, was knowingly going to be useless at this, and I was not
Me!Me!Me!

Me inside the Doge's palace.
much better. He tried to charge us E80 for the ride. The official rate was E73. I offered E70, which he took... though I now think I should have offered less and he probable would have taken it, but I was nervous. Either way, it was so so neat, and just like a movie. Getting out of it was scary, because they made us get out at like a wall, and it was a good 3 or 4 feet from the boat to where we were meant to be, and we kind of had to get a knee up and get dragged out. It was a nice ride, but I was glad when it was over, because it was a little sick-making when we passed other (motor) boats because of their wake.

We had one last dinner, then got up early and checked out of the hostel, and got a water boat to Marco Polo airport (where there was a significant lack of men with guns, thankfully). We went past Murano Island, which is where they make all the glass, but we didn't see it while we were there, though we did see a lot of the glass shops
Bridge of SighsBridge of SighsBridge of Sighs

This is the real Bridge of Sighs in Venice. It's called that because it was the last view of the outside that condemned prisoners would see. There's a bridge in Cambridge also called the Bridge of Sighs that was inspired by it.
the factories hold on the main island. We (read: I, due to Tristan's polite British thing) charged ahead of all the people we'd boated over with and got to the check in desk ahead of everyone else, which meant we got ticket numbers 60 and 61, and were in the early group to board. I got another stamp out of Italy in my passport.

We poked around the airport looking in shops for a bit (where I found a Clinique counter, and used their tester bottle of that nice lotion on my little sore, red nose), then went to our gate where we almost immediately had to line up to board. We were towards the end of the group that got to go first, which was fine. The first group got herded onto a bus, and they tried to make us go towards the front, but I held my ground and once again made a nuisance of myself and stayed near a door - and was consequently one of the first ones off, where I then made my way around the herd and was one of the first on the plane, meaning I got to choose what seats I
The Bridge of SighsThe Bridge of SighsThe Bridge of Sighs

This is my poor attempt at taking a picture from inside the Bridge of Sighs.
wanted out of practically the whole plane. Bless my American roots. :p

Then back to the UK. During the flight a group of 3 irritating Italians sat behind us and were loud and poked our seats the whole way. Then we got off at Gatwick to see signs in blessed English again. I had to go through passport control by myself in the non-EU line, though the UK is much more rigid about it than Italy was. I had to answer a million questions about what I was doing in the country and when I was leaving. I actually made it through before Tristan anyway though. We collected our bag and hopped on a train to Victoria station, where I got the cheeseburger I'd been dreaming about for days, then caught the tube back to his house.

When we were buying tube tickets, this group of italian 20-something men were making butts of themselves in the underground station and Tristan got irritated and said something like "I thought we were leaving all this nonsense /behind/ in Italy"... and I said "and you thought American tourists were irritating" and he said "You have a point... at least we can
GONDOLAGONDOLAGONDOLA

Me and Tristan in our gondola! Expensive, but well worth it just for the "Venice" experience.
understand what you are nattering on about". :p

Food: Italian food is fantastic, but it got old after a while. I think especially because of Venice, which is a tourist town... All the restaurants there had basically the same menu with varying prices. We lived off of pizza and pasta, which, while fantastic, grew old... we had to have Chinese one night out of self defense. I've never had better pizza. The pasta was good too, though it was better if I didn't wonder what I was eating and just eat it!

A typical conversation:
Me: So, what exactly is that you're eating?
Tristan: I've got no idea.
Me: Oh.
Tristan: It's good though.

or:
Me: What on earth is this meat inside of this? (holds out fork of pasta I'm eating)
Tristan: Beef?
Me: It doesn't look like the right color...
Tristan: Pork?
Me: I don't think so... try it.
Tristan: Hmm... Veal?
Me: Ewww... I don't want to think about it.

(I'm fairly sure both of these conversations happened more than once)

All in all, the trip was good. And I got a taste of culture shock for the first time. But wow
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The coolest graffiti I've ever seen - and they had to have done it from a boat!
am I glad I came to an English-speaking country for my semester abroad!


Additional photos below
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Ambulance!Ambulance!
Ambulance!

My hospital buddies will probably appreciate this - this is an ambo in Venice!
The Alps!The Alps!
The Alps!

We flew over the Alps! I got some awesome pictures in the plane.


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