Thursday, December 25, 2014

Netherlands Adventures!: In Which I Go To The Eternal City

I decided in October that I wanted to spend my birthday weekend in Italy!  So on 18 December, I got up really early, turned in the keys to my dorm (meaning that I was checked out and couldn't come back), and then walked to the train station to catch a train to Schipol airport.

Two hours later, I was on a train, speeding to the center of Rome.  Thursday, I didn't do much besides nap (I'm not sure why I was so tired, but I was) and go out and eat dinner.  Even so, I thought it was a good night.


Friday however, I hit the ground running, although not literally.  I decided that I wanted to visit Vatican City.  So I walked the hour or so distance between my hostel and Vatican City, but not before stopping at Castel d'Angelo first.  The walk however, since it was my first walk in Rome, was highly interesting, in good ways and bad.

Fontaine del Tritone
This is how I feel about almost being hit by a car, a motorcycle, and a giant bus.  You seriously take your chances when you walk in a Roman road.
This part of the walk along the river was kind of nice.

I got an audio tour for the castle fortress thing, but only ended up listening to parts of it (the parts were fairly long-winded).  I learned that this castle was first a tomb, then a prison, then a castle where popes would come and do their work.

Found a thing that shoots stuff :)  Not a trebuchet as I originally thought though.  I'm not sure what this is called.

After I finished at the castle, I continued my walk to Vatican City (did you know this is a country on its own?).

This long line is for people who wanted to go inside the basilica.  It's free to enter, but you need to go through security before you enter.  Like at the airport.
Setting up for Christmas, I think.

Finally, I made it inside the basilica.  I was surprised that it was moving as fast as it was, but I certainly wasn't complaining.

This was probably the weirdest thing that I saw on my trip... I've seen statues of dead popes before, but never dressed up.  It made the experience so creepy... it's like he was just buried....

A very graphic door on the way out of the basilica...
Swiss Guards in their funny pants :) 

After visiting the Basilica there, I walked around the city (you're not allowed to walk through.  I think you need a ticket to see the gardens or something like that to walk through.  If I remember, it was rather expensive) to get a chance to see some of the Vatican Museums.  It's kind of neat, because you pay an entry fee (mine was 8 euro because I had my Leiden University ID) and then you have three or four entire museums at your disposal.  But I was only interested in seeing the Sistine chapel and whatever else stood in my way.  Unfortunately, you can't take pictures of the Sistine chapel itself, so I'll just have to live with the memories.  I will say though, the chapel was a lot bigger than I thought it would be and includes more paintings than the one of God connecting with man.

A fluffy puppy I saw on my walk back to my hostel from Vatican City :)
One thing that I did differently on this trip than I did on my other solo trips was go out to restaurants for dinner.  In London and Munich, I went to grocery stores to get cheap food to eat and heat up in my hostel, since I was more focused on what was in London and Munich than I was on the food.  But in Italy, you can't skimp on food.  It's too much apart of the Italian culture.  Friday night, I went to a restaurant just down the street from my hostel and I chose a ridiculous pizza.  The size of it was more than I could eat, but it was so good.  In the middle is margherita sauce and fresh mozzarella and something called "courgette" which might be zucchini, but I'm not sure.  There were also two sides folded over and had fillings.  One side had mozzarella in it and the other side had ricotta cheese and ham (it was by far the better side).  It was so good, but so much food.  I wasn't sure how Italians felt about take-away food from a sit-down restaurant and I also didn't really have a good way to store food, so I told them I was done.  I had to reassure them that it was very good, it's just that my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Eating alone in restaurants wasn't as weird as I thought it would be.  I mean, I do wish that I had a friend sitting across the table from me to talk to over dinner and while we were waiting, but eating alone wasn't the end of the world.  Everyone was nice to me and all that jazz.  I learned to bring something to write or to read while I waited for my food and since I usually ate at slow times of the night (usually around 6:30 or 7:00pm), the waiters were patient with me and let me try ordering my food in Italian.  "Posso averre" followed by what you want to eat brings good things.  At the restaurant where I got this ridiculous pizza, the waiter was even nice enough to talk to me for a while before the restaurant got too busy.


Saturday was my 21st birthday!  I let myself sleep as late as I wanted.  Afterwards, I got up, got ready, and walked to the area of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.  I got a little turned around walking around here, but I eventually figured it out.  One thing that I didn't expect to happen was to be roped into a tour.  I left my hostel having no place to be at any particular time, but I was walking toward the Colosseum and I was stopped by a guy who was trying to get people to take this tour of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.  I wasn't going to do it, but I was talked into it.  The tour cost a little bit more than just going and buying tickets on my own, but we also got to skip the line and have someone tell us about these places.  Once we arrived at the Colosseum, I appreciated being able to skip the line which was literally out the door.  The tour guide may have been quite slow and talked to us like we were small children (all but two of us in the group were adults), but being able to skip the line made it worth it in the end.

The Vittoriano, also nicknamed the Wedding Cake building.  Romans apparently hate this building because it doesn't fit with the other buildings in Rome.  Everything else is thousands of years old while this building is only 200 or so.  I don't like it too much either because it caused me to be a little lost.

The original flooring versus the new floor on top.
An overview of the inside of the Colosseum.  The floor in the middle was added by Mussolini to better show was the Colosseum was like in its better days.  Underneath is the underground part where gladiators would prepare for battle and where animals were kept before they were slaughtered.  For a while, games between gladiators (often prisoners, but some trained specifically to be gladiators) and other gladiators or wild animals not native to Italy were held about once a month.  But the games were very expensive to hold.

Part of the Roman Forum, where people would come to discuss and argue with each other.


Sunday was the day I was most excited for.  This is the day I went to Pompeii!  Before coming to Italy, I knew this was something that I wanted to do, so I prioritized it and make sure that I'd get there.  So 6am on the 21st of December, I was waking up, getting ready, and speed-walking over to the Piazza del Popolo to meet my tour group.

The first stop we made was to get breakfast.  This was good, because I didn't have time to get breakfast.  I had the best cappuccino I've ever had here.  So good!
Something that I know now but didn't know in October when I booked this tour was that trips up Mount Vesuvius aren't made in the winter.  This is because adverse weather conditions are so common at this time of year and if there's even a tiny amount of rain, Mount Vesuvius closes.  Mount Vesuvius is also prone to landslides during bad weather.  So while on the 21st the weather was nice enough where we could have gone up the volcano, the tour guides didn't want to say we were going and then end up not going after all.  So instead, we went to a museum in Naples that had artifacts such as household items that were found in Pompeii.  They brought us here to get a better idea of what life in Pompeii was like before the tragedy.  There was also art from that same time, although not from Pompeii.

The original "Beware of Dog" sign.
Penises were a symbol of luck and fertility of land, so mobiles like this would be made and sometimes hung over the beds of babies and also put in doorways where everyone could see them.  The more you know!
As we got further into Naples, we were able to see Mount Vesuvius better and better.  In these pictures, Mount Vesuvius is the tallest mountain, although it used to be twice that size when it erupted in the time of Pompeii.

You can still see where wagons rolled over these stone over 2,000 years ago.
One of the houses that was more intact.
It's amazing.  This city was so well-preserved that you could even still see the original paintings that were on the walls.  This was true in the houses and outside as well.  There's a place where you can still see election propaganda painted on the walls, although it's quite faded. 

Peek.  Hello Mount Vesuvius.

One of the things that I knew was here in Pompeii and was keeping my eyes opened for were the forms of people who were killed in Pompeii.  This was both painful and sad to see.  You can still see the facial expressions of these people and often they are scared and struggling.  The people who got stuck in Pompeii died by asphyxiation from the toxic gases, so often their bodies were low to the ground trying to find clean air or they were contorted in such a way that it looked like they were fighting for air that just wasn't there for them to breathe.  I think this would be a terrifying way to die, volcanoes aside.

Volcano selfie.

A dog who was chained up and couldn't escape Pompeii like other animals had several days before the eruption.

The Bay of Naples used to be where these buildings now stand.  After the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the water receded about three kilometers.
This was a really moving day for me.  By the time we were brought back to Rome, I was tired.  I pretty much went right to bed after I got home.


By Monday, there weren't a lot of things left that I wanted to see.  So as far as sight-seeing goes, this day was short.  First, I saw the Spanish Steps:

I tried to see the Trevi Fountain, but it was under construction.  I was impressed by the fact that even though the fountain is under construction, it was still accessible to the public.  There was a bridge you could walk on to see a little closer through the scaffolding and there was also a little bit of the fountain where you could toss your coin over your shoulder, as per tradition.  I stayed in this area for a while though.  There was good people watching and there was also a good gelato place, so I had gelato for breakfast there.

The last place I went was the Pantheon, because it was recommended to me.  Today, it's a functioning Catholic church.  It's a very impressive building.

Monday marked the end of my trip, essentially.  Tuesday morning, I was up at 2am, but I didn't need to be up until 3:15.  I had to catch the 4:30 shuttle bus to the airport and then fly home.  The flight itself wasn't too bad until the landing, which wasn't the pilot's fault at all.

So, that's it for me!  I have one more trip left to take, but for now, I'm going to enjoy my Christmas day with LouAnn and her family.  I'll write a little thing about Christmas in the Netherlands and about my trip to Berlin after they happen, so probably after I arrive home in the U.S.  Speaking of the U.S., I'll be home 11 days from today.  I don't think that I'm freaking out as much about going home.  I love the Netherlands and the rest of Europe, but it's been a long time since I've been home and I feel like I need to go home and process the whole semester.  I've seen and experienced so much in a short amount of time.

Thanks for Reading!  Tot Ziens!



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  2. Very cool tour through Rome with megan. Thanks for another great blog post. I did know that the Vatican was it's own country - I collected stamps as a kid so had a few from there. It looks as though the line is worth it. And, did you know that the Cathedral in St. Paul MN is built as a replica, or at leased a design, similar to the Basillica in the Vatican. You will have to take a field trip there when you return, if you haven't been in it. You can just walk in. I have been there several times - even for events. Pompeii - I learned about in fifth grade. I sort of forgot about it but now I must add it to my Italy tour. Thanks for another great post. Have fun with Jack and his father, and I look forward to seeing you when you return.


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