Friday, August 5, 2011

Italy: If a coin falls in Rome and no pop-star is there to see it, did it make a sound?

Last Entry to my Eurotrip Blog:

My tour group and I arrived in Italy a completely unified and bonded family unit, with the knowledge looming over us that Rome was my last stop. And although most of the tour would be continuing on to Eastern Europe, I know that they were devastated about losing me. (Deny it all you want. You know Bratislava wasn’t the same without me!)

With movies like Three Coins in a Fountain, Under the Tuscan Sun, and yes, even the Lizzy Macguire movie on the brain, I was more excited for Italy than anywhere else. Not to mention the historian in me was ready to be let loose onto the streets, like raging bull. The Vatican, the Trevi fountain, and freakin’ Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance—I was traipsing about Italy, looking happier than a “Make a Wish Foundation” winner the entire time.


Our first stop was Pisa. It was a sort of hop off/hop on bus stop en route to our camp in the hills of Tuscany and it really didn’t deliver much. Besides the leaning tower and Duomo, Pisa doesn’t have much to offer UNLESS you’re fixing to buy some good knock-offs.

The minute we stepped off of the coach, we were swarmed by peddlers of African descent trying to sell us designer replica sunglasses and handbags—which looked pretty spot on, if I may add. In hindsight, I would say the tourist area of Pisa was like an African Chinatown: rows of shops and little markets selling knock-offs and imports.

Later we learned that Italian women reportedly spend a third of their income on designer clothing and accessories—and boy, did it show. Prada, Armani, Dolce and Gabbana… It was such a visual treat watching these beautiful Italians strut the streets dressed to the nines in designer labels and exquisitely tailored suits.

And while city of Pisa genuinely looked like a suburb of Miami, we were able to stage the perfunctory photo shoot in front of the leaning tower.

In the afternoon we arrived at our camp up in the hills of Tuscany. I sat, with my now close friends, by the pool overlooking the rows of grape vines with a glass of wine and literally sighed, “God, you can take me now.” Because life, truly, will never be better that it was in that exact moment, watching Tuscan sun set over the vineyards.

Wine tasting in the Tuscan Hills is something I’d recommend. There’s nothing better than sampling an amazing bottle of wine and having the store owner point out the window to the vines it came from. All the wine in Europe was so delicious and light—even the 7 Euro wine at the grocery stores tasted better than a $40 bottle in the states. I don’t know WHY I didn’t buy some bottles to take home; (And you can, if you check your luggage) the wine at the Italian airport was wildly overpriced.

At dinner, I promptly learned that I’m not as big of a fan of Italian food as I thought. I know; it’s me, not the food who sucks for not going gaga over the sight of pasta with a hint of marinara or pepperoni-less pizza, but I’ve got to keep it real here. I didn’t love it. In fact, it just made me pine an American pizza. I knew it was a lost cause when I ordered a margarita pizza and literally got pizza bread with sauce on it.

Staying in Florence with the cast of Jersey Shore simultaneously, filled me with this aggressive urge to get on TV. Thankfully, the rest of my travel mates had no plans on fame hunting and my reputation wasn’t forever sullied by MTV. Instead we went to a disco on our camp site, and, of course, had a great time dancing to J-lo  and a little bit of Euro-trance. It was not fun trying to reject the aggressive advances of particularly sleazy Italian men.

The next day was our tour of Florence. We visited the Medici house, among many other places, and the historian in me tried not to swoon in public. The Renaissance is one of my favorite periods of history and the fact that I was standing in the breeding ground of artist made me feel luckier than Own Wilson in 1920’s Paris. Several Panini’s later, and all too soon, it was time to board our bus for my final destination: Rome.

Ah Rome! Rome was… fabulous, stupendous, tremendous, and fantastic! Our first day in Rome, we did a quick walking tour of all the sites.

Literally everywhere I turned my head, there was a building dated thousands of years. I have never seen anything like it; Roman monuments right next fascist headquarters, right next to the subway and modern offices, meanwhile thousands of people are milling about like they have no clue that there’s a giant Coliseum in front of them.
One amazing fact about Rome: You never need to pay for water. The ancient Roman aqueducts still continue to pump freshwater into the city and you can hold your bottle under just about any dripping pipe for cold, clean, water.

One Hilarious Fact: There are almost no public bathrooms in the entire city! So while you’re enjoying that cold, crisp, free water, you better have all the MacDonald’s in the area mapped out because that’s likely the only place with a bathroom for miles.

After filling our water bottles with fresh water from the Trevi Fountain, my two romantic American friends and I decided to finally get rid of our leftover Swiss Francs, hoping they would land in the fountain just as an Italian male pop-star passed by.

But of course, Italy isn’t Paris; you can’t expect that kind of movie magic to hold true in real life. And so, sadly, it was all for not. It’s said that if you throw 3 coins in the Trevi, you’ll return to Rome someday and I’m hoping that’s true—because I’m coming back with my entire piggy bank and tossing it out, penny by penny until I meet that pop-star!

Admittedly a bit jaded from my Trevi fail, I wondered over to a nearby stand and decided to finally try this gelato everyone’s always going on about. One taste of that pistachio gelato and I just knew that frozen yogurt wasn’t going to be the same when I got home. That gelato, or as the Italians say, gelati, was delicious: perfect, creamy, sticky goodness. One of my American friends dropped her cone and she was traumatized, and rightly so! But like all things dropped in that beautiful city, if a cone falls in Rome and no pop-star is there to see it, then who cares! You just lost your gelato, homie!

After touring the Pantheon, getting a glimpse of the Coliseum, and almost getting ran over by crazy Roman drivers in front of Victor Emmanuel’s palace, we called it a night and I fell asleep, dreaming of gelato and men in fine tailored suits—and Italian pop-stars.

My last day on the tour was bittersweet. A part of me wanted to keep going and see Berlin and Amsterdam with the people I’d shared all these incredible memories with. The other part of me was tired of waking up in a new country, walking everywhere, and running out of money and clean clothes.

We toured the Vatican and the historian in me had somehow produced one of those embroidered handkerchiefs and started fanning herself dramatically like Scarlet O Hara. Constantine’s casket, The School of Athens, the Sistine, it was just too much! I didn’t even know where to look. The Vatican didn’t just house religious artifacts; they had a mausoleum of loot from every period of history.

We went to Saint Peter’s Basilica where the crowds were gathering to hear Pope Benedict give a sermon. He did not disappoint. We were surprised to see him come rolling in front of us on his Pope-mobile, without his signature bullet proof screen. He greeted the cheering crowds and then gave a sermon in Latin. I didn’t stick around for the whole sermon though. When the translator started with, “In the beginning,” I knew it was going to be a long lecture.

Instead, we decided it was time to get up close and personal with the Coliseum. Taking that tour inside was the most monumental way to end the trip.

And then, too soon, I was tearfully saying goodbye to all my new friends and headed back to the states.

I felt like I was being unplugged from the matrix the moment the plane touched down in Miami. Or to be nerdier: I felt like I was disconnected from my avatar, booted out of Narnia, Inception-style dropped from dream layer 3…I could really go on with this. It would take awhile for me to readjust to my normal bourgeois existence…and the 6 hr time difference

But I could never complain. For 24, I’d lived a full life: I had eaten the famous Macaroons from Laduree in Paris, been romanced by a Parisian on the Champs Elysees, sung a terrible pop song on top of the Swiss Alps, gambled in Monte Carlo, hugged a stranger in front of Buckingham Palace, and I had consumed more white bread, sugar, and wine, than the average American in his/her entire life. I was truly blessed and could never take a moment that I’d experienced for granted.

Final Thoughts: Experiencing Europe young isn’t the same as experiencing Europe older. It’s much cheaper, for one. Hostels and Camps tend to have age limits and hotel rooms are REDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. I spent my last night at a Hilton in Rome for almost $200 a night. Not bad, but it was NOWHERE near anything and cab rides are expensive. If I’d stayed in Rome proper it would have been MUCH more.

I encourage you. if you’re young, just do it. Don’t put it off till you’re older; it wont be the same. Book a cheap flight and stay at a $30/night Hostel. It won’t kill you, as the movies say. The hostels are nothing like they are in the movies, they’re cleaner than the average dorm and much more charming—and you’ll meet a lot of people you might want to link up and travel with. The American I met in London traveling by himself, ended up making friends with his hostel-mates and traveling to Prague (I have heard from him since, so he lived).

There’s no way to truly describe being young and in Europe. In London, the American and I agreed to meet in Paris before I had go to Switzerland.. He didn’t, but he very well could have, if he wanted to. If this were some paltry romance, he could have easily hopped a train from Prague to kiss a girl he’d met in London under the Eiffel tower…or not. What I’m trying to illustrate is, traveling and getting around is so simple and effortless once you’re actually on the continent. It's possible to just go there and play things by ear, hopping on a train and going wherever the wind blows you, if you want. And never underestimate the power of a Student ID. Discounts galore!

No comments: