Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The 10 EUR Nap

The Olympics, right, I was there last weekend sort of at the womans ice hockey game of Germany v. Italy and I have pictures to proove it.

Notes before the story:

The original plan was to take a night train from Rome to Milan, where we would check into our hostle and maybe see one sight before hopping on a train to Turino. In Turino we were to take a bus to the ticket office to collect the tickets, then to the Official Enormous Souvanier Store of Doom, then to the game which began at 6:30. After the game we would take a train back to Milan. We would spend Saturday sight-seeing in Milan, and then take an Express train back to Rome on Saturday night, arriving before the busses would stop running because none of us had been able to make heads or tails of the night bus schedual.

In honor of the lady in the pizzaria behind the Pantheon, from now on Treco's name is Mr. Boy.

I forgot that Nick was going to be in Nurnburg when I ordered the tickets, and Lauren decided to go to the woman's retreat, a fact which I also forgot. The Doppleganger, Mr. Boy, and I ended up splitting the cost of five tickets three ways.

I decided to take my large backpack, the one with the waist strap and the internal frame. I did this 1.) so I could bring an extra blanket and sweater and 2.) so I could make absolutly sure that I had all the straps adjusted correctly before Greece and 10 Day. I'm glad I did that, because I did have to make several adjustments, but remember that for most of this adventure I was carrying a 30 pound backpack. The Doppleganger and Mr. Boy also had bags, but nothing on the order of mine.

On with the story:

As we were entering the Metro station at Anagnina Mr. Boy said that he had a bad feeling about the out come of the trip, which I seconded. The Doppleganger's Bad Vibe Detector (TM) is apparently broken, because she said she was feeling pretty good. Our conncerns were written off as hunger, nervousness about our first attempt to use the Italian train system, and the relization that Mr. Boy had forgotten his camera.

We got our tickets in Termini, ate in the station, and made our train with no problems. The conductor was nice, we did not over sleep, we were not tobbed by gypsies during the night, and when we woke up in the morning, we were in Milan.

After the grief we gave her for not printing the confirmation for our hostle in London, the Doppleganger was careful to have confirmation and directions in hand once we arrived in Milan. We were able to navigate the Milanese subway with little difficulty (they have three different lines, 0_o) and were able to find the hotel with little trouble. The hotel bore all the signs of being a private residence recently repurposed (one bathroom on the 2nd floor, a non-sensecal floor plan, a front yard) and was owned and run by a Chinese family (the only sizable ethnic minority in Italy). The owner didn't know much English, but he knew enough to tell us that we were too early, and that we should come back afte 10 a.m. He was nice enough to let us leave our luggage behind the front desk (which looked like it was orriginally a breakfast bar). Thus libberated from our bags, we set off down the street in search of breakfast.

The neighborhood was a little more graffitti-ed then I would have liked, but the pedestrians were all well dressed, and we saw more than one mother walking with young school-aged children so that was reashuring. Besides, the backyards of most of the buildings here look like the less plesent parts of some 3rd World countries, so who am I to complain. To tell the truth, the most unnerving thing was seeing billboards all over the place advertising Quintin Tarintino's new movie Hostel. Any way, we found a bar and grabbed pastries and coffee. We were able to stay for the next hour and a half, as we plotted our plan for the next day, by continually purchising more food, and then consuming it slowly. For instance, the Doppleganger got a cup of hot chocolate so thick that the spoon did not sink when placed upon the surface. Swiss Miss eat your heart out.

We went back to the Hotel and checked in. Then we decided that instead of going to see St. Ambrose's relics, that what we really wanted to do with the rest of the morning was take a nap. So I set the alarm on the phone for noon, and we were all out like lights within ten minutes. About 11:45 we were woken by knocking at the door. It was the owner's son, who spoke much better English than his father did, arrived on the scean to tell us that there was a mistake with our booking.

It turns out that the Doppleganger made this reservation late at night, while simultaniously plotting for 10 day, and trying to write a paper, and that our reservation at the hotel was for the 17th of March, not the 17th of Febuary. They did not have any extra room in the hotel, so they were very sorry, but we had to leave. They refunded some of our money, but seeing as how they would have to change all the sheets (which we slept on top off because we were to lazy to do anything other than just crash >| )... they would only give us half the money back, which means that we each paid 10 EUR for a two hour nap.

Armed with directions to a main street where we were assured that we would be able to find a hotel, we gathered up all our luggage and set out. We spent the next hour and a half walking around searching for a hostel, or a hotel, or something. We found zip, nadda, and nothing. After an hour and a half, we decided to cut our losses and go to the train station so we could catch the two o'clock train to Turino. At the station, there were several palces that advertized hotel reservations, but as we found out, in addition to handeling the overflow from the Olympics, there was also some sort of exhibition in Milan last weekend and the cheapest room to be had would have cost over 200 EUR a night.

Wandering around for so long for no purpose would not have been so bad, except we were no where near the city center and our map did not extend out as far as we were wandering (we had to ask directions to find the Metro again, thankfully we do know the Italian words for that). Just a note if any of you decide to go to Milan, the northern part of town is the grungy industrial part of town where the buildings are all windowless boxes with fences around them.

We grabbed a bit to eat at the station and got on the train to Turino. It wasn't Express, which meant that we had to stop in every thorp along the way. On the other hand Fila, which apparently makes the ski gear for the Italian Olympic team handed out free lip balm on the train. It was attached to an advertising booklet, which would probably have been more interesting if any of us skiied.

In Turino, we left our bags in the Luggage Depository, and changed our train tickets. One of the many advantages of train travel over air is that (at least in Italy) once you have a reservation on any train, going anywhere, at anytime you can easily change it to a different reservation on another train, going somewhere else, at a completly different time and the only thing you have to pay is the difference in price between (if any) between the tickets. So, we traded our express train home on Saturday night for a night train leaving Milan on Friday, figguring that we had come to see the game and Milan had just been an after-thought anyway.

A phone call to the ticket office, and a short conversation with an American employee revealed that all we had to do to get to the office to pick up our tickets so we could acrually get into the game would be to take bus 67 to the end of the line (about 10 minutes) and the office was just off of the piazza. We found bus 67 at the bus stop right outside the station, and hopped on. A few moments later, Mr. Boy and I felt our danger senses tingling, but as we had no knowledge of the Turino bus system, we let it go after all, it was bearly after 4 and the game started at 6:30, we had plenty of time, right?

Turino has really cleaned everything up for the Olympics, it's quite a pretty little town, as is at least on of its suburbs. We should know, because we were on the right bus, heading in the wrong direction. We spent the better part of 4 hours ridding buses around Turino. We finally make it to the appropriate end of the line and see nothing that looks like the right office. I call again, and one of the locals working there is able to guide us in. We collect our tickets and hop the bus to the stadium.

It is now about 8. The game started at 6:30. There is no line at the security check point.

We come running up, and the first minion to encounter us looks at our tickets, and tells us that ice hockey is being played in one of the other stadiums. We say "grazie" and walk away a bit. The Doppleganger cries for a bit, and Mr. Boy and I say things in the "I'm mad at the universe line." Then Doppleganger decides to take pictures of the outside, in order to show that we at least made it that far. I, not to be defeated by a mere minion, look at the ticket again. On it, the name of the stadium in which the game is played is printed clearly. On the side of the stadium I can see the same name printed in very large letters. Mr. Boy confirms that my eyes have not decived me. We grab the Doppleganger and run around to a different security check point, where we are let in.

We arrived during the break between the 2nd and 3rd periods. After securing our seats (and they were good seats - the second row on the Italian end) the Doppleganger and I went back into the concorse and purchased souvaniers. We went back into the arena just after play resumed, and were back in time to see Germany's fourth goal.

The crowd was overwhelmingly Italian. By overwhelmingly Italinan, I mean there were small groups of well-organized German fans scattered around the stadium, but most of the spectators either were Italian, or if forigners, had bought their tickets blindly like we did and were just cheering for the home team. As it turns out, Italians are really good at cheering for sports, but unfortunatly they arn't any good at playing sports.

We don't think we were in the news, because the camera crews were standing in front of us, facing the ice. Not only that, the other side had cheerleaders. I kid you not, sitting on the stairs and periodically standing up to (supprise) lead cheers were girls with pom-poms wearing the most attrocious neon orange and yellow uniforms that I have ever seen. They even had gold trim, if you looked for more then a few seconds then your eyes would start to water.

It turns out that "Forza, Ragazzi!" (Go Guys!) is the appropriate cheer to use for any Italian team, regardless of gender (ragazzi is male plural, ragazze is female), except the national soccor team. If you see them you should yell "Forza Azuri!" (Go medium-blues!*). Because blue is randomly the color for their national sports teams. It's not in their flag anywhere, but there you have it.

Germany ended up winning 5-2, but we didn't get to see the end of the game because we had to go so that we could get on the train back to Milan, so we could get the train back to Rome.** We crunched the numbers and realized that we had each spent 10 EUR for each of the seven minutes of game play that we actually saw.

On our way out the door, Mr. Boy stoped to buy a pin for his collection at the souvanier stand, and the Doppleganger went back to picture taking. There were a number of cops clustered near the door, waiting for the game to let out. One of them took a picture of all three of us. As soon as I get a copy of that one the Doppleganger I'll put it up.

We got back to the station and then on to Milan and Rome without a further problem. We talked on the train and agreed that the problem was the bus, because if we hadn't spent four hours riding around lost we would have seen most of the game, and then we could have lived with not seeing the very end. As it was the whole weekend was just sort of a bust.

Lauren didn't have a very good time on the retreat either, as it turned out. Then Nick arrived and poured salt into everyone's wounds by reporting having a great time in Germany -- the land of punctual buses and food that actually includes sugnificant quantities of meat***.

Tune in next time as I return to Rome and go exploring in the Pantheon (hear the origin of Mr. Boy), Piazaa Nuvona, and the Trevi Fountain and then into the Colusseum and the Palitine Hill with the Art and Arch class. Also, it's mid-term time, so that means a round of Funny Professor Quotes.


*Light blue is celestia and dark blue is... get ready for it... blu.
**Train stations are far less secure then airports, for starters, there are no doors to the outside, everything is just sort of open, and no security like at airports. We wern't about to spend the night in a station.
***Dad, we may have a lead on the world's perfect Saurbrauten, as prepaired by a little old lady operating a hole in the wall resturaunt in Nurnburg.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Guerilla Tourism

On Wednesday I went to the Palasso Massimo museum with Art and Arch. None of the problems of the last trip occurred, in fact we got to the Metro station where we were to meet Marry Anne, the Student Life Secretary two hours early. Our unfailing nerd senses led the Doppelganger, Treco, Nick, and I straight to a bar for coffee, and then to Mel Bookstore, which is evidently the Italian equivalent of Barnes and Noble. We went in just seeing the store front, and surmising that it was long and then, but no bigger than any of the other stores on the street. Then I turned a corner around a bookshelf and discovered that it went much deeper into the building and there were exits on the street running parallel to the one from which we had entered, and that there were two other floors in the building. ^_^

The museum itself, one of the three National Archeology Museums, was smaller then the Capitoline Museums and it’s collection consists of Roman sculpture and portraiture. I liked it better than the Capitoline as well – its size made it easier to take in, and there were a lot of cool things there. If you have seen anything from its collection than it is probably either this, or possibly this, which is a Roman copy of a Greek original. My personal favorite, and that of everyone I talked to, was this room. When I get home I’ll show people the video I made of it, but even that does not do the room justice. There are frescoes like this along all four walls. It was originally an underground barrel vault from the garden at the private villa of one of the emperors. I also overheard more than one person express a desire to do this in their own home, an idea which I too plan to carry out. It was nice at the end of the tour to just sit down and look at this room.

So, I went to London this weekend, just, you know, because. Let me begin this with a definition and another note.

Guerilla Tourism: lurk underground then jump out and take pictures of the monuments while their guard is down, than disappear onto the Underground.

My partners in crime were Lauren, the Doppelganger, Nick, and Treco.

Treco is a lighting rod of hate. If anything bad can happen, it will happen to him. The trick is to stand near him, so that anything bad which would have happened to you will happen to him instead, but don’t stand to close otherwise you get all of his bad karma, plus whatever was already going to happen to you.

Our flight on Friday was to leave at 11:00. So, leaving an hour for check in, security, and passport control, we needed to be at the airport by 10:00. Presupposing the existence of a bus, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get to the airport, which means that for comfort’s sake we deeded to be on a bus by 9:30 at the absolute latest. Now the existence of a bus is a big assumption to make, if you want a 9:30 bus, you need to be at the stop at 8:30 otherwise you won’t make it. So, we made our first mistake and stayed up late the night before, and each of us got roughly six hours of sleep. Treco is nearly impossible to wake up, and may even beat me in the World Sleeping In Championship. So, at 9:30, when despite numerous attempts to get him moving, Treco was still not fully packed, the rest of us went out to the bus stop fully prepared to leave him.

We caught a bus which was more or less on time, and made it to Chiampano without much trouble. A consultation with the departures board told us that the flight has been delayed, so my cell phone was abused to call back to campus, to Angie, one of the Student Life Coordinators, whom we had spoken to at breakfast and who knew what was going on with our trip, and asked her to try and find Treco and tell him that he might still make it. She never did talk to him, because in the intervening time since our departure, he had finished packing and caught the next bus.

The rest of us got our boarding passes and changed our money (one of my 50 dollar traveler’s checks was magically turned into 19 Pounds by a particularly obtuse clerk who insisted on changing it into Euros before giving me pounds) and were just about to go through security when Treco came dashing in. We debated killing each other and decided to go to London instead.

He got his boarding pass and we all passed through security and passport control. The maniac their decided to stamp mine on the page across from my visa, underneath the little information notice from the Italian Embassy that is stapled in there. We did this just in time for the beginning of the line to board our flight.

Let me take this moment to say that Americans pay far too much for airfare. For the flight to London together with the flight back, we paid $87.55 per person, and we were grumbling about the price, because there are a lot of British airport taxes and the flight home was roughly three times as much as the flight back. As another example, in the Metro in Rome there are Lufthansa billboards advertising round-trip flights to Miami for 324 EUR. Why do Americans pay so much more to fly?

Now Ryan Air is a “low fares” airline, and part of the way they achieve this is at the terminal. They have itty bitty little airplanes that are accessed by stairs on the tarmac, not a gangway attached to the building. Our flight is parked on the opposite side of the air port from where the terminal is, and we have to take a shuttle bus to the plane. They save even more money by trying to sell things to you all throughout the flight: hot and cold drinks, food (although there is nothing stopping you from bringing your own), souvenirs, fragrances, children’s toys, and bus passes from the airport into the city (we did get that last one, because we had been warned by friends who went last week that they were far cheaper onboard then at the station and there was no other way into the city).

The flight itself was without incident, and Lauren got some great shots of the some mountains (the Alps?) and the costs of Corsica and France. We landed in London and were filling out the landing cards for customs when we realize that the Doppelganger had not printed the confirmation email for our hostel and we consequently did not have anything to put in the blank labeled “Address in the United Kingdom”. This wasn’t a problem for me because the guy had trouble finding where the Italian passport control officer had stamped my passport (I finally had to tell him) and that distracted him. My other four accomplices were read the riot act by an increasingly irate passport minion.

Finding the correct bus wasn’t any trouble, and not having any other instruction we rode it all the way into Victoria Station, which is one of the bigger Tube Stations in the city, in addition to being combined with National Rail, and a coach station. Just before we got there, we spotted an STA Travel outlet, and since that is where we had all gotten our Student ID cards we went there first. Treco inquired about replacing his stolen ID, and I called directory assistance in an effort to locate our hostel. I was less than successful, as London is divided into many small towns all of which are mashed together into one metropolis, rather like New York City. This means that if you call directory assistance and say “London” they will not be able to locate a hostel in Kensington or Chelsea (we never did figure out where it actually was) and they will treat you like an idiot for not knowing. Thus defeated, we went back to Victoria Station and at the ridiculous rate of 1 Pound ($1.80) a minute, the Doppelganger used a public access terminal to find the address of the Hostel. After that, we bought tickets and took the Tube across town to our hostel.

I will never say another word against the organization of the Roman Metro again. The Metro looks like this. The Tube looks like this.

We weren’t entirely sure where on the street our hostel was, so we took the Tube to one end of it, and started walking. The street number of the hostel was 149. We emerged from the tube at Number 8. Only the residential buildings were numbered, so the walk lasted a lot longer than it would have otherwise. It was a long walk, past another Tube station and several bus stops that we could have taken if we had bothered to try to understand the London bus system. One of the few amenities offered by the hostel was its location, it was 20 minutes by Tube from Victoria station, sure, but it was in a nice area, on our way there we walked by the Natural History Museum, the French Embassy, the Yemeni Embassy, and the Baden-Powell House [sorry boys, but I didn’t have a chance to stop :(]. We were next door to a large modern glass-and steel Marriot with waterfalls and torches out front. We checked in at the hostel, got directions to the Earl’s Court High Street, dropped our luggage and went in search of food. I’ll come back to the hostel later, but let me just say now that our plan was to check in and hit one museum that afternoon. Between the hour and a half on the bus and the confusion in reaching the hostel it was dinner time before we were ready to go anywhere.

We ate in the Earl’s Court Tavern, which had good food. We tried the appetizer nachos in homage to a favorite comedian who laments the lack of good Mexican food in England. He was right, they used Doritos for tortilla chips, and the chili included beans. On the other hand, the hamburgers we had were wonderful, and the chips were a welcome break from the pasta we’ve been eating. Our waitress was new, something we forgave her and left an over generous tip for after confirming that service had not been included in the bill. She was also not a native speaker of English: her understanding and usage were both good, but she was used to hearing British accents, and ours threw her for a loop. We found that everywhere we went our accents and idioms caused problems. Lauren found out the hard way that you do not ask “Do you carry Nutella?” at a grocery store. Apparently that means does the clerk personally carry Nutella. The correct form is “Do you have any Nutella?”

After dinner we went on a lightning tour of the monuments by night, using what I called Guerilla Tourism, see the definition above. We started at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, then went to Westminster Abby. We walked up the street past Horse Guards Palace, the Admiralty Arch, and the turn off for Scotland Yard, ending in Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. We hit a souvenir shop and a pub before heading back to the hostel for the night.

The hostel was the cheapest available, and we got what we paid for. It was sweltering hot, even with the window open. And the beds were tiny, although the linens were clean. Our rooms were divided: 2 in a 6 bedroom female dorm, and 3 in a 6 bed room mixed dorm. I drew the short straw and was in the mixed dorm, there was another girl my room, so it was sort of OK, we didn’t spend much time there. Anna and Lauren were in a room on, what the British called the 2nd Floor, which means the 3rd Floor to us. Nick, Treco and I were a floor above that. The stares were a continuous, orange painted, wrought iron monstrosity that started out with large good-sized steps, but got steadily narrower and steeper as it ascended, to the point that we regretted not packing climbing gear before we reached our room. The included breakfast turned out to be toast (your choice of butter and/or Apple-Plum-Rhubarb Jam) and juice. There were no smoking signs plastered all over the place, but the whole building reeked of cigarette smoke. We got what we paid for. My three other roommates were from Spain, and spoke very little English. The three of us colectivally knew German quite well, a little Italian, a little French, and a little Latin, but very little Spanish that wasn’t directly related to food or money. What Spanish we did know was Mexican Spanish, which is as different from Spanish in Spain as American is from British. We did not talk much, and I’m sure they 1.)thought we were crazy and 2.) wanted to murder me and throw my cell phone out the window after I hit the snooze alarm four times.

As we trekked down to breakfast, Lauren met Nick and me on the steps (Treco as up and
moving and swore that he was on his way down) to the basement where the kitchen was located and told us that the Doppelganger was sick. She was sick as in throwing up, but she had no temperature and was not coughing, nor was her nose stopped up. After we asked her several times if she didn’t want to stay there and I even offered to stay behind with her, the five of us got on our way. Our first stop, at the end of that block, was to a grocery store, where we got bottles of water, 7UP, and Milk of Magnesia (the only thing in the “Medicines” section that said it was good for upset stomach) and set out for a day of Guerilla Tourism. [I also found Dr. Pepper there. British Dr. Pepper tastes like the stuff in the glass bottles with the Imperial Cane Sugar that comes from Dublin, Texas. Good stuff, but more than twice what one would pay for it in the States.]

One can buy a day pass for the underground for the inner two zones (we only needed the first one, but that is as small as they come) for 3 Pounds 90, which is an incredible deal considering that a single ticket costs 4 Pounds, so that is what we all got. Treco, the Doppelganger and I all had change so we were able to use the machines. Lauren and Nick stood in line and bought the tickets from a real live human being. As Nick was leaving the teller, he heard the guy turn to the other one and ask Metro, tickets “You come to a foreign country without a quid in your pocket?” Our answer is of course, yes, when the exchange rate is this bad, although he restrained the urge to answer the question. We got as far as the Monument Tube stop, before the Doppelganger threw up again, although she did move away from us, and she had a bag handy. We exited hurriedly and began a search for a public restroom and a trashcan.

We made the discovery that neither thing exists in the Underground, apparently for security reasons. We landed at a Starbucks just outside the station, where the Doppelganger was able to throw the bag away. We all sat down to wait to see how the Doppelganger felt, and Lauren and I bought coffee since we were taking up space and using their restroom. After a while, in which Treco and I wrote a few postcards, Lauren and I drank our coffee, Anna drank a little water and had a dose of the Milk of Magnesia, and we re-plotted the day to allow for our troubles getting started, we left again.

Our first stop was the Tower of London. The Doppelganger decided not to go in, so she went to one of the gift shops and took a nap while the rest of us went. We took the tour from one of the Yeomen Warders, which was free with admission, and well worth it. Between Nick, Treco, and myself, we got most of the tour on our cameras (we didn’t get the first section because we didn’t think about it and we weren’t allowed to record the part in the chapel because of copy write restrictions) which we have strung together for the Doppelganger to see. Then we went into the Jewel House, where no photography was allowed, so we bought postcards of it. If we could have, we would have spent far more time at the Tower, but there were other places we wanted to see and we didn’t want to leave the Doppelganger alone any longer, so we hit the gift shop, collected our ailing comrade (now feeling a little bit better) and moved on.

We then took the Tube to Blackfriars, and got turned around because we decided to try to reach our next location by following the posted signs instead of the map. Of course, part of the reason we got lost was because we only followed half of the directions on the map, but who am I to quibble? We doubled back and crossed the Thames via Blackfriars Bridge, which is a nifty piece of civic architecture put up by Queen Victoria. We walked down the Thames for a while, dutifully following signs that informed us that our target was only minutes away. We learned when we finally arrived that the Millennium Bridge would have been closer, but it was a moot point by then.

This is me at the Globe. ^_^

All the historic Any-things in London seem to close in the 4-5 o’clock hour, so we alas did not have time to take a tour or see the special exhibit that was there about Shakespeare’s connection with the Gunpowder Plot, both of which would have also cost money. We made up for not spending any money by blowing large portions of our remaining money at the gift shop. I spent 19 Pounds and some change, which translates to about $40.

We crossed the river on the way back to the Tube via the Millennium Bridge, which is a brand spanking new steel and glass footbridge – as wide as a two lane road, and not one of these narrow Italian roads either – that we could feel shaking beneath our feet with the weight of all the people walking on it. I didn’t like it because I’m afraid of heights. The others agreed that the shaking was disturbing and that Blackfriars was a much better bridge. On the flip side, the end of the bridge near the Globe and the Tate Modern was home to the best steel drum player I’ve ever heard. He was playing “Moonlight Sonata” and against all logic it actually sounded good. Nick recorded it, and I plan to get a copy from him. If any of us had had any change handy we would have left some.

Our next stop, just across the bridge and two streets directly north of the Globe, was Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Our stop there went something like this:

“Look it’s Saint Paul’s!” *click, click*

“So where’s the Tube Station?”

“Let me check the map.”

As for the map, we went through a song and dance every time we looked at it, which was often. It was a good map, but unfortunately it folded up into a continent pocket size and found a home in my purse. I had my camera, Augustine’s Confessions (which I was supposed to be reading for Theo Trad), and a growing collection of receipts in it. Every time we wanted the map we had to stop and spend a minute letting me search for it, declare I couldn’t find it, check the bag a was using for souvenirs, check my pockets, and then check the purse one last time, where I would find it tucked between two postcards. We did this EVERY TIME. In hindsight, we agree that I should have just given the map to Nick, who was my assistant navigator.

Our next stop was the British Museum. Finding it was a bit of a challenge, as there wasn’t a Tube stop that spit you our right at it, and Nick was allowed to navigate initially. The British Museum is cool. It’s big. It’s FREE (although they suggest a donation). They allow you to take pictures. We only had an hour before closing time, so we swung through the ancient Greek galleries and saw the Parthenon Room, we then went through the Egypt room. We saw the Rosetta Stone, some mummies, and a bunch of other nifty looking things, the names of which I can not for the life of me remember. We hit the gift shops(plural) and spent the last of our cash. On our way out the door we saw the main reading room, which is also very impressive. When I grow up, I want a library like that of my own. I’ll put it near the Roman frescos. Our last act was to take photos on the steps of the museum. While we were there everyone except Nick encountered some sort of trouble with their camera from Treco, who’s camera reported new batteries as being dead to Lauren, who’s camera randomly decided that it did not want to turn the flash on when we went outside. All in all, I could easily have spent a full day just in that museum and been perfectly happy.

About the time we left the museum it suddenly hit us all that we had eaten a very small breakfast and has skipped lunch completely (well except for the Doppelganger, who was feeling much better but still didn’t feel like trying to eat anything). We trooped back over to Blackfriars, were the pub had been recommended to Nick by a friend. It was worth the trip, I got sausage and mash because 1.) it was not pasta and 2.) it was as about as British as it is possible for food to get and still be edible. Those mashed potatoes were at least as good as the ones I make at home. Good stuff.

A word on schedules before I continue:

Our flight back to Rome left London at 7:10 AM. It was the only Ryan Air flight going from London to Rome on Sunday, so missing it was not an option. Now, since unlike the Italians the British actually have something resembling customs and security, it was necessary to be there at least an hour early, which would be at 6:10 AM. We timed the bus going in and knew to allow an hour and a half, luckily the bus service was continuous, with up to three running every hour. Which meant be on a bus leaving Victoria Station at 4:30 AM. Problem: our hostel was a 20 minute Tube ride from Victoria and the first Tube in the morning to leave Victoria doesn’t come until 6:40 AM. Having already paid for our return bus tickets and being unwilling to chunk out money for a taxi, and totally unable to make heads our tales of the London bus system, we decided to take the only remaining option for us: stay in London as late as we could and then spend the night in Luton airport.

We went back to the hostel, collected our stuff, and checked out roughly 12 hours early. Treco wanted to get online before we left, because at the hostel it only costs 50 pence per half-hour. Unfortunately, the person before us paid for a full hour moments before he walked into the office. So we sat there and watched part of the Olympics on BBC2, which was kind of fun. We got to see the pair of skaters who came in first in whatever even was on Saturday.

We killed time in Victoria Station until it closed at 11, mostly by going to the grocery store in order to procure breakfast for Sunday, and at McDonalds. None of us wanted to go to McDonalds at any time this semester. We swore up and down that we would not be the obnoxious Americans that everyone complains about. Then we saw a billboard advertising Cadbury Crunchy McFlurries for 99 Pence, so we gave in and sacrificed a little bit of our souls to our evil corporate overlords.

When the station closed we caught the bus to the airport, there were four other passengers with us, but they got off before the airport. Anna and Treco managed to sleep a bit on the bus, the rest of us were kept wide awake by the driving. I did not know it was possible to get a bus moving so quickly, or handle it so sharply.

We arrived at the airport at a little past midnight and settled in to wait and wait and wait. Then finally the Ryan Air counter opened and we grabbed our boarding passes and went through security and waited for another hour, we were awoken by the cold wet air coming in from outside when a 6:30 flight to Milan left. We were the first people with out special needs or small children onboard out plane, and we were all asleep before it was off of the ground.

We got back to campus just in time for brunch, which was grabbed before retiring to our rooms to sleep.

Places where America has England beat: food, signage, and TV. If we pay far too much for airfare, then the British pay too much for food. One example: McDonalds has a 99 Pence menu, which equates to a $2 menu. A two litter bottle of Coke costs 2 Pounds, or $4. I would never pay more than $1 for any soda in the States. As for signage, the Brits always go for the most formal and wordy way to say anything. American TV programs are just better, hands down.

Funny Britishisms:

Quid- this is either 1.) a Pound; 2.) 20 pence (five to a pound); or 3.) a 5 Pound note. No matter what, it is defiantly money, and defiantly has something to do with the number 5, we didn’t have a dictionary handy, and certainly weren’t going to ask, but we are leaning towards number 2. Update: a consultation with a German dictionary (turns out the German for Quid is “Quid”) confirms that at Quid is, indeed, a Pound.

Underground- the subway, or Metro, sometimes called the Tube

Subway- a pedestrian underpass, sometimes connected with the Underground.

Way Out- Exit

Queue- used indiscriminately for the words line, traffic, or delay. Lauren has a picture of a road sign well outside the city with a picture of cars stopped by traffic and the sign says “Queues Likely”

Coach- a bus, not a person who leads a sports team.

Chips- French Fries

Lessons learned:

Don’t stay up late the night before you travel.

Don’t oversleep.

Don’t get sick.

Cheaper is not always better.

More TIME is always better.

Never ever sleep in an airport.

Always bring as many batteries as you can carry.

Pay cash.

Always print the confirmation as soon as you make a reservation.

Know where your towel is.



P.S. repeat after me: Roman copy of a Greek original. This is in the Palasso Massimo. This is in the British Museum.

P.P.S. The Doppelganger is feeling much better now, although her stomach is not happy about throwing up five times in one day, neither is she for that matter. She swares that as hard as it was to keep moving she would not have missed it for the world.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Solo Act

In hind sight, this was a really stupid thing to do, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. You see, I went to chuch this past Sunday at St. Paul's within the Walls, in Rome.

I got up early Sunday morning, along with my roomates, one of my suit mates, and another friend of ours. They were all going to Saint Sebastians, or Saint John Lateren or some such, I was going to St. Paul's as it is one of two Anglican churches in the area. Jeanne was going to go with me, but she decided to sleep in.

So at 8:30 in the morning, Anna, Bridget, Lauren, Erin, and I are all standing out at the bus stop trying our hardest not to look like Americans. There are also two Italians there, ignoring each other and us. Naturally the 8:40 bus comes late, and when it does it is litterally packed to the gills. The Italians cram their way on, we decide to wait for the next bus, which arrives about the same time as the first one finnaly left the intersection. This bus is slightly less crowded, and we shove our way on board. The driver didn't open the front doors, so we had no way of getting up to the front of the bus to validate out tickets. Oh well.

We were packed on pretty well to begin with, but the bus stopped three more times on the way into the city and more people shoved their way on. I spend the thirty minute ride to the city standing in the isle, pressed up against three of my friends, and four locals that I did not know from Adam. Even when crammed in like this, you still have to hold on to something on the bus, otherwise the first time a corner is rounded you start off a domino effect that results in the people on the ends going flying out the windshield. I grabbed the overhead bar and hung on for dear life, trying to convince myself that the cold feeling in my wrist was just air from the open window and not blood loss.

We got into Anagnia without any injuries from being crushed by the crowd or passing out from lack of oxygen, and onto our train. The great thing about Anagnia is that it is the end of the line, so while there are a multitude of buses, all runing behind schedual in different directions, there is only one train going one way, so one would really have to work hard to mess up getting on the metro there.

We lucked out, and the train we were on was one of the shiny new ones that havn't been vandalized yet. All five of us got seats, because it was Sunday morning and there are never enough people waiting at Anagnia to fill a train, the realy push comes at rush hour, but that's another story.

So the others got off at San Giovani to go do their thing, leaving me to ride four stops further down the line to Repubblica. Those three stops were delightfully incedent three, and I got off at my stop, hoping that Jeanne's mumbled, sleep induced directions were good. They were, I guess God looks after fools and travelers.

One leaves Repubblica station in the Piazza Nationalie, one of the nicer parts of town. Then, just looking down a main street, you can see the Wedding Cake* at the other end of the street. Saint Paul's was only about two blocks down the street from the Piazza. It is a pretty little church built sometime in the 19th century, which means by Roman standards it's brand new. A set of ornamental bronze doors on the street side are accompanied by a legend that says they were built to celebrate the meeting of Pope John Paul II with the Archbishop of Cantabury. I'm not sure when exactly the doors were commissioned then, except the current ABC is named Rowen, and his immidiate predicessor was named George, and the ABC listed in this enscription was not either one of those. The doors are suffering from Late-70s-Early-80s-Post-Modernism-itis, so that combined with the ABCs name makes me think that the doors are older thean me, but not by much, easily the most recent anything I've seen in this city.

The interior of the church is home to some absolutly glorious mosaics and stained glass -- the next time I go I'm bringing my camera and a little money for postcards of the place. The church itself is part of the Episcopal Diocese of the Meditaranian, and the congragation was a real cross section of the Church. The priest is Latin-American by way of New York City, the acolites are all from somewhere in West Africa, the readers are either from England or one of its former colonial possessions, the chior director is Italian, one of the basses is German, and the LEMs were Americans. Everyone was very welcoming, and keen to know what I was studing, how long I would be in Rome, and if I was planing to come back. All in all a nice morning, its nice to know that no matter where I go, I'll be able to find the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal 1982 waiting for me in a pew.

In Rome, the 8th sacrament includes tea and orange juice in addition to coffee, and some sort of hard sugar cookies instead of doughnuts. I said hello to people, got my coffee and went on my way. The trip back to campus was equally uneventful. Once again I was on one of the shiny new trains, although I found myself forced to retract my earlier thoughts on the lack of graffitti in the new trains. Someone had scratched the word "GROELS" on one of the windows in six inch high letters (in the metric system thats something like 2.4 kiloliters). I have no idea what it means, but it probably isn't an Italian word given that the language does not have either of those consonent pairs nor that dipthong.

I didn't get a seat initially, despite the fact that I was at the leading, and least crowded, end of the train** but a young couple trying to navigate luggage that weighed as much as they did got off at Termini, the stop after I got on and I was able to snag a seat next to a woman in a violently pink coat that no American woman over the age of 13 would have been caught dead in. I spent most of the rest of the ride pondering the meaning of groels, watching the elderly gentelman sitting across from me read his newspaper, and ignoring the gypsy playing the accordian. He murdered the song from Barber of Seville*** somewhere between when we didn't stop at Manzoni and when we did stop at San Giovanni. After that he started wandering around the train playing, and I didn't have to put up with him for the rest of the trip, or the kid with him. The kid was holding the collection cup, and holding on to the older gypsy's jacket like a champ, but his sad puppy dog look could have used work. Right now the best one I've ever scean was from my grandfather, 88 years old at the time, when he was told that he was not allowed to have any pie.

At Cinecinta the mystery of when, where, and how the train drivers switch was solved. We were stoped at the station, when a man wearing the navy blue with the silver reflecive stripes identifing him as working for the metro system got on and opened the door to the driver's little cabin. The new guy sat down and had a short conversation with the driver, out of which I recognized the words "Allora" and "Ciao", than the old guy left the train and we continued like nothing was different. The new guy's voice on the PA was indistinguishable from his predecessor's. Of course that does bring up another question: WHY CINECINTA? Anagnia, the next stop, is the end of the line. Wouldn't it make more sense to switch drivers there?

So I left the station, and low and behold, my bus was waiting for me. Not only that, I got to set down. If you're quick and ride for long enough, one can usually snag a seat on the Metro, sometimes even during rush hour, but I havn't sat on the bus back to campus since the first day when the school took us on a walking tour. The secret is evedently to ride at 1300 on a Sunday. I've also been told that there are four buses leaving the station in the 1600 hour on weekdays and that it ought to be pretty easy to get a seat on one of those, but that does not stack with my actuall experiance. I've tried the 1600 bus on Friday before, and always manage to find myself being standing passanger number 30 on a bus that allegedly carries 55 people seated, 14 people standing, and one driver for a total of 70 on board.

When the bus finally made it to Frattocchie, I pushed the stop requst button, to descover that it wasn't actually working, so I went forward and muttered something to the bus driver that included the words "Scusi" "fermata" "prossima" and "prenotazione". The grammer was horrible, but the driver, who looked like Richard Gere, seemed to understand and nodded at me. Whatever he though I said, he let me off at the right stop, and I made it back to campus in time to remember that the Mensa only serves brunch and dinner on Sundays, and that I should have grabbed a pannini at the station in Anagnia.

*It's this big white thing Moussolini built. It's a nice building I guess, but he decided to plop it down on the side of the Capitoline Hill, and it just looks out of place with it's surroundings, namely the Campidoglio, the Forum, and the Colosseum. It also looks rather like he told the archetecht 'make me a building that looks like the bastard child of a cake and a greek temple'.

**although with the new ones it doesn't matter so much, since they are open from one end to the other, and one can just walk from compartment to compartment

***you know the one, Bugs Bunney taught it to us all

Saturday, February 04, 2006

My camera eats batteries...

Seriously it does. I have gone through a dozen of the things since I got here and I have them all lined up on my desk. We're supossed to be recycling here, not a problem, although sometimes I think sorting trash is more trouble then its worth. The problem is batteries can't just be thrown out with the normal trash -- or more acuratly, they arn't supposed to be. I havn't asked how one throws them away here because I never remember them when I am not in my room staring at a row of a dozen dead batteries. Anyway, Mom, forget the money and send batteries: food and clothes are cheap here, but batteries arn't.

It's been an interesting week, lets recap:

On Saturday we were all taken on a walking tour of the Via Appia Antica, which was the main Roman highway out of the city. Now the school is very close to the Via Appia Nuova, which runs parallel to the Antica, and since it is paved and provided with guardrails as high as a bus through traffic runs on that. Now it is in theory possible to get from Rome to campus by the old road, you'd spend the last two miles or so running through people's yards dodging their dogs, but you could do it, at least according to Dr. Ht.

Dr. Ht is the history professor here, and apparantly through long study of the anciant past, has learned faster then light travel. He is about my height. He does not appear to be taking abnormally long strides. He does not appear to be walking unusually quickly. Yet somehow, in a group of nearly 100 people, no more then three can ever keep up with him at one time. Angie, one of the Student Life co-ordinators says that in Greece he has been known to spread the group out over a mile. On one occasion she reports that she had the entire group together at the bottom of the Acropolis but he and Dr. F, the art history professor, would already be at the top, lecturing at the air.

We went north on the Via Appia, led by Dr. Ht, who occasionally stopped long enough to point out a few of the sights. At the end, we went to the Catacombs of St. Callisto, the largest and deepest of Rome's catacombs. Now there are 88 student in our group, plus assorted proffessors and student life staff, so we couldn't go in one big group. The English speaking guide was already taking a group through, so half of the UDers got the guide who usually lead the Italian tours, and my half got the French-speaking guide. At first, it was very difficult for me to understand him through his accent, but after a while I got used to it. Drs. M and S were in my group, so I possitioned myself in the crowd where I could hear what the guide was saying and also what the professors were pointing out to one another. It was a really interesting little tour. All the bodies that were burried in the levels open to tourists (no one goes in without a guide) have been reburied either in the lower levels of the catacombs or, in the case of a few of the Saints, in other churches in Rome.

The Catacombs are/were (select appropriate) home to a number of early popes, most of whom were also martyrs. The catacombs were also home to St. Cecilia, the patron of musicians. She was a martyrd by beheading, and according to the story, her dying action was to hold up three fingers with one hand and one finger with the other, showing her belefe in the three pesons of the Trinity who are still one God. Like all good Roman saints, her relics have been moved to the church in the city that bears her name. Also according to the story, years after her death, a statue of her was commissioned, to mark the place of her grave in the catacombs so it would be easier for pilgrims to find. The tomb was opened for the sculptor, and her body was found to be uncorrupted, so the statue on her sarcophagous is supossidly exactly how the artist saw her. The original statue was moved when her body was, like all good Roman art, but a copy is now in its place, which is what I saw.

Speaking of things that have been copied...
After our tours ended, the two groups rejoined each other and there was to be as mass said in one of the churches on the grounds of the catacombs. While that was going on Dr. Ht lead a death march... er... walk through the area for those two dozen or so of us who either wern't Catholic or didn't want to go to mass (even though it was a vigil mass, and therefore would take care of the Sunday obligation). The first stop was a small, architecturally unisteresting church name Quo Vadis. Now, according to the apocriphal story, the last time Peter was in Rome, he had escaped the city and was fleeing, when he saw a vision of the resurected Jesus. Peter asked Jesus "Domine, quo vadis?" which means, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus told him that 'I am going into Rome, to be crucified'. Peter then got the message and returned to the city, where he was subsequently caught by the authorites and crucified in the Circus of Nero. Now, Jesus's footprints are supposed to have been left on this spot, and the church built around it. Like all the good relics, these prints have been moved to a different church in the city, and a reproduction left in its place. Anyway, I have in the photo bucket a picture of the copy.

We also saw the Nimphao, which was the spring where the Vestial Virgins came to get holy water once a year when it was time for them to clean the temple, the rest of the year it was just sort of a party place.

Then, Dr. Ht started on a path going up a hill, so we followed. He stoped at the top, and there was a building there, so I figured he was going to say something about it. Wrong, he took one deep breath and started back down the other side, which was much steeper, and had more in common with a cliff than with a hill. So we sort of inch our way down after him, even though we were all out of breath, and he was already out of sight. Apperantly Dr. Ht is also part mountain goat. Thankfully, he decided to wait for us to catch up, and we were told that going over the hill was meant to be a short cut because the mass should have been just about done. We had saved maybe 200 yards by going over this hill instead of around it, but no time because we couldn't keep up with him.

After we rejoined the rest of the group, we returned to campus for the wine and cheese dinner, which is a Rome Campus tradition. We were treated to good food, wine that cost more than 10 EUR (a rarity from UD), and some instruction about how to choose a good wine. Also included was the surreal experiance of hearing a Scottish priest translate for an Italian wine seller to a group of Americans.

On Sunday, the Doppleganger and I dragged the boys to the Flea Market at Porta Portesse. We found some pretty good deals on scarfs, considering that one only needs to know numbers in order to haggle.

Tuesday was the 21st birthday of L, my third roomate. The Doppleganger, Nick, the Trec and I took her out to eat in Albano: to a chinese resturaunt. :P It was really good -- the owners were actually Chinese -- and had two advanages which really endeared it to us: 1.) it was cheap and 2.) the menu was printed in Chinese, Italian, and English. They were really nice and put up with us doing silly things, such as using our cameras to record samples of the chinese rap (I kid you not) that was piped in or practicing everything we said five or six times before we actually asked. [Including all five of us saying "il conto" -- 'the check' -- repetidly for five minutes.]

On Wednesday we went to the Capitoline Museums for Art and Arch. We were all given the instruction to get a sack lunch from the Mensa before grabbing the bus into Rome, so we could be there between 1:30 and 2. That would be 88 students. Attempting to ride Roman public transportation. At the same time. Naturally, a few people (no more than a dozen, probably less), who ran from the end of the last class at 11:20 managed to catch the 11:30 bus. Naturally, the 11:45 bus did not come, nor did the 12:00, or the 12:15. We crammed another two dozen people on the 12:30 bus, all of whom were forced to stand, some on the stairs. The 12:40 bus did not come. Then, someone spoted a bus coming from Marino. It wasn't our normal route, but it was going to Rome, and there was plenty of room, so we piled on. This was about 12:45, 12:50-ish. We made it in just in time for the begining of our self guided tour.

This is a huge museum, with all sorts of nifty things included in it, such as the foundations of the temple of Jupiter, Optimus Maximus, the statue called the Capitoline Venus (Mark Twain wrote a short story, by that name, about her that Dr. F included in our packets, I highly recomend it), and also the Dying Gaul. One of the wonderful things about this museum is that you are allowed to photograph all of it, just as long as you turn the flash off for the painted things, of which there are five.

If you look in my photobucket (link to the side) there is a sub-album named Capitoline for these pictures, as well as another for a pictures of the Via Appia. Give it a look-see, the easist way to look at the pictures is to go to the album, and then hit the slide show button.

The other excitment that occured on Wednesday was a creepy Italian man hitting on AT on the A Line as we were heading towards the museum, and then the Trec getting his wallet stolen on the B line when we changed trains at Termini. Thankfully, he wasn't carrying any of his important documents of credit cards in it at the time, and he only had five Euro in it at the time. The creepy guy left as soon as AT turned to look at him, she didn't have to say a word.

Yesturday, Friday, the Doppleganger, the Trec, Nick, and I went into the city. We hit the post office in the Vatican City and the bookstore. We found a Bible in the bookstore writen in either Aramaic or Arabic, we're not sure which, but they have all sorts of multi-lingual religious things there. When I was in the post office, helping the Doppleganger put stamps on things, I heard at least five languages being spoken around me. We ate our sack lunches in St. Peter's square, and fed a few bread crumbs and chips to the pidgeons and sea gulls, which swarm like they're part of Hitchcock movie at the sight of anything that might possibly be food. Then we went to the Circus Maximus and read the Libation Bearers, the play we are currently reading in Lit Trad, out loud. It was a very successful trip. I didn't take any pictures, I didn't even take my camera since it was cloudy and we wern't going anyplace we hadn't been before, but the Trec and Anna got a few good shots of the pidgeons of which I'm going to get copies.