Monday, December 02, 2013

buon giorno!

So ... I arrived in Italy at 7:30 AM on a Sunday morning, and by the time I caught a cab and found my way to my hotel, it was 9:00 AM.  When I checked in to the hotel, I immediately booked myself on a shuttle that would drop me off at the Vatican by 10:30 AM - which I thought would allow me ample time to get situated so I could see the Papal Mass at noon.

I hustled up to my room, where for the next five minutes, I tried to figure out how to turn on a light.  What I learned is that hotels in Italy are way ahead of hotels in the US on the energy conservation curve, and the only way to turn your lights on - is to insert your room key.  Once you leave the room, and remove your room key - the lights go out and voila!

Energy savings!


Once I was no longer in the dark (ha ha ha, so I thought), I hopped in the shower and had to do a quick calculation so I could get the water temperature correct.  (Note to others, a good estimate is to double the number and add 30 for conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit. So, 38C would be ~106F ).


I then tried to charge my nearly depleted phone battery - only to realize that the electric outlets in Italy are not at all like the electric outlets in Virginia.  Imagine me exclaiming in great distress, "OMG. WTH IS THIS?!"


And so it is I set about in a foreign city, in a foreign land, with less than 20% battery life remaining on my phone / camera / GPS unit with a fretful heart.  But then I successfully navigated myself from the shuttle drop off, to the center of St. Peter's Square and I felt my first pang of success.


I was right up at the front, and thought for sure I'd have one of the best seats in the house.


Except, Pope Francis appeared to us not from the steps of the Basilica, but from his apartment window. First, the Papal Banner was unfurled, and then - just like that, he was there.  POPE FRANCIS!!!  If I ever return to my Catholic roots, it will largely be due to your awesomeness! 


He then went on to talk for 15 minutes, and I have absolutely no idea what he said since it was all in Italian / Latin (although I really should have recognized SOMETHING that he said, seeing as I took Latin for FOUR years in high school).  But even though I couldn't understand his words, I could feel them and they were beautiful, like silk. The crowd surrounding me was mesmerized.  Note, this is the last photo I was able to take before my cell phone battery died.


Once Pope Francis concluded, and I was standing alone - by myself - surrounded by a sea of people who spoke languages that were different than my own - and I realized that I had no phone, no camera, and no means of tracking back to my hotel .... a bit of fear creeped in to my heart.

At 2 PM, I had to be at the Roman Coliseum for a guided tour, so pushing my fears aside, and gripping my map tightly, I set off.  My first stop was a camera store where I picked up a little point and shoot number and some Rosary Beads for good luck.  Before I had left on Saturday, Charlie had suggested that to conserve space, I not take my Nikon with me because I could just take pictures with my phone. Assuming of course, my phone battery was live. And I had some way to charge it.  

This is the first photo taken with my new camera.


This is the second.


And third.


And look, here's a bridge!


Here we are, crossing the bridge, because the Coliseum is on the other side of the river.


Once on the other side, I got a bit discombobulated and wasn't quite sure where the heck I was because as it turns out, the streets in Italy ARE NOT VERY WELL MARKED for tourists who confuse easily. So I walked and walked and walked, and when I thought that I'd never get to the Coliseum in time for my guided tour, I hailed a cab and he drove me a whole three blocks to my destination.


I'd like to take a moment here and express my intense gratitude and respect for people in other countries, who are fluent in English. I'd also like to express my intense feeling of ignorance, that most Americans (myself included) are not fluent in languages other than English.  When the cab driver dropped me off at the foot of this masterpiece and bid me farewell, I thankfully replied, "Merci beaucoup!"  It wasn't until a few hours later, I realized the faux pas that my gratitude was in French. Not Italian.  (Molte oopsie.)


Look at this amazing architecture!


Behold the trees, they are so Mediterranean looking!


The Roman Forum ...


Men in gladiator costumes who charged 5 Euros for a picture with them. I opted to take a picture of them taking a picture ... for free!


As I wandered around, looking for the meeting point of my guided tour, I made a quick stop. And if not for my husband, whose initials are WC and who is called "Jack" by his Uncle Bobby, because "Jack" is a nickname for "John" and "John" is a toilet; and in Europe, a toilet is a Water Closet (or WC) - I might not have as quickly recognized that this was a public restroom.


When I emerged from the WC, I walked around for the next 45 minutes, looking for my tour. It was like this statue was specifically asking me, "Do you know where you are, child?" 


I couldn't find my tour anywhere, and I was feeling beyond annoyed because I was tired, and hungry, and oblivious to the language, and had no cell phone so I couldn't even call my husband to complain, and why am I walking around - all alone - when I could instead be on an Open Top bus tour, with all the other ignorant foreigners?

Insert my one-person pity party.


Then, suddenly, I stumbled upon my tour guide, and felt whole again.

With my tour guide, we saw Julius Caesar.


And these shallow steps at the Palazzo Senatorio which were designed by Michelangelo for the Roman Chariots to race up and down.


And the first of the seven hills that Rome was built upon.


And then, we saw the Coliseum.



With more than 5,000 human deaths, and more than 9,000 animal deaths, it is suggested that more blood has been shed in the square foot print of the Coliseum, than in any other area in the world.


After spending the next three hours hearing about the history of this place, it is evident that life is more valued today, in modern civilizations; than it was two millennia ago, in the ancient Roman civilization.


These structures, it is theorized, were constructed by Jewish slaves....




I recognize that I could do more research on the matter, but it is late and I have an early flight out again, tomorrow morning. So, in the meantime, from what I understand, the only "original" part of the Coliseum, are these limestone / marble blocks (in white at the top), and all of the earthen bricks were added in subsequent years to reinforce the structure, which has been damaged by time and earthquakes.


The Emperor sat in the vicinity of the cross (which was not there in ancient times...).


By the time the Coliseum tour was complete, and I was again on my own, it was nearly night and thousands, THOUSANDS, of birds were flocking through the night sky.

Starlings, I think?


My sister, Eileen, told me that I needed to visit Trevi Fountain. So I set off walking in what I thought was the correct direction.  When I saw this sign, I felt empowered.

I'd succeeded in finding a landmark, on my own!!


Then I turned around and took a picture of the fountain near the sign, that I thought was lovely, but not quite what my sister had described.  I would later learn that this was absolutely NOT Trevi Fountain and my map reading skills are apparently crap.  I know I was in the general proximity, so I'm curious to know where the real Trevi Fountain was, relative to this pseudo one that I thought for sure was IT.


Unlike my husband, who said that his day in Rome would consist of eating his way across the entire city, I realized that I was more interested in seeing things and hadn't consumed any food in 12 hours. So I begrudgingly stopped for a quick bite.  Except, there is no such thing as a "quick bite" in Rome.


For the next 90 minutes, I was forced to sit and savor a caprese salad, funghi pizza, and a goblet of red wine.  The whole time, I was thinking of my husband, and wishing he was with me. And if he couldn't be with me, how lovely it would be if my Italian heritage sister-in-law, Kathy, was there, instead.

(Next time, OK Kathy?)


When I emerged from the restaurant, I was struck by this sight.  And all of those feelings that I'd experienced about boo-hoo I'm lost, and I don't know where I'm going, and I'm in a foreign country, all alone - vanished. And I felt like the luckiest most adventurous, God-blessed person alive!!


Then I set off to find the Spanish Steps, also recommended by my sister, and promptly got lost.


An hour later, I found them.


As I was running up the steps, counting them as I went, I was interrupted at 125 by men who were peddling green blast laser pointers.  I held up my hand and hushed them, as I continued counting aloud to the top.  I think the total step count is 136. (Or 137?)


I then decided that this solo Americano was going to get really adventurous and take the subway back to the Vatican for my rendezvous with the hotel shuttle bus.


Translation: The train will be here in one (1) minute.


All aboard! The only thing that allowed me to unashamedly keep snapping off photos, was the realization that none of these people know me, or will likely ever see me again, so this is a moment capture for the memory banks (and blog).


When I departed the subway, I thought I was walking in the direction of the Vatican, only to be told by a kind person that the Vatican was approximately 2 kilometers the other way. So I walked around in a circle, felt despair again creep in to my heart, and then stumbled upon a pastry shop.


This is how I combat despair.

Please meet pistachio and chocolate gelato and their little friend, eclair.


After my sweet stop, I walked and walked and walked. And when I didn't think I could walk anymore and would need to throw in the towel and hail a taxi for a drive back to the hotel - I saw this statue, and stopped for a moment to pray.  "Dear God. Please help me get back safely. I've been traveling for more than 36 hours and am so tired, I'm not sure if I'm awake or this is a dream...."


And then, I kid you not, I rounded the corner, and BOOM! There was my bus.


BRAVO JEN, BRAVO!!! Those are the very words I was exclaiming as I stumbled on to the bus and smiled at all of the people that were already seated.  I cannot properly articulate here, just how proud I was of my accomplishments to navigate this city. And then, I made it back - in one piece - with less than nine minutes to spare for the final bus of the night. Boo-yah!!


Once we arrived back at the hotel, I was approached by two women from the bus, who said that they saw me at the pastry shop. They told me that they were absolutely terrified because they'd been lost all day, and weren't sure that they would be able to get back to the hotel. They'd also told me that they'd heard we shouldn't take taxis at night because they were dangerous.

(Thank goodness I hadn't heard that - since a taxi had been my contingency plan, all along.)

They said that they thought I might have been an American, and they were planning to ask me if I knew where I was going - but I looked so confident, and strode off before they could formulate a question.  When they told me all of this, and said that they really admired me for my bravery, I laughed and told them. "Looks can certainly be deceiving since I was desperately lost in a sea of oscillating confusion and despair, all day!"

Here's the map of the city that I transversed:  I walked from E (Vatican) to C (Coliseum).  I then walked around the Coliseum no less than four times, looking for my tour guide.  At dusk, I walked from C to the vicinity of D, and then all the way to A, looking for Trevi Fountain. I walked north to the Spanish Steps, and then took the metro back to E, where I walked around it one more time, before finding my bus near point B. Keep in mind, none of those routes were direct, and each time I'd set off in a direction, I'd have to backtrack when I found myself on the wrong road.


At the end of my first day in Italy, I walked no less than 20 kilometers (12 miles).

And it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable days of my life.

.... to be continued. 


  1. Oh Jen. Your day in Rome sounds exactly like mine did when I went. I especially love that you wondered around looking for the Trevi fountain, and then to the Spanish steps (we did those exact two things at night, in that order) and once we were done at the Spanish steps, we too decided to take the subway back to our hotel. I admire you for doing it all on your own! At least when I did it, there were 10 of us all together =] Though, when 10 people all think they know where they are going, and none are right, you still get lost =]

    Love reading your blog! Been reading forever! Like, since before Henry was born =]

  2. My feet are hurting in sympathy and my mind is overflowing with goodness and cultural thoughts. What an interesting experience-doing Rome solo.

  3. WOW JEN! Just wow how brave you are to tackle this on your own! I am soooo impressed! Can't wait to hear more. Thank you for sharing :)
    Ruth in Oxnard CA

  4. Bravo.....or is it Brava? What a fantastic adventure!

  5. Next time... WE have to go together. I've been to Rome, twice and know where everything is! It could be an awesome girls' trip!!

  6. Bravissimo for navigating Rome all by yourself, Jen! I loved reading about your adventure!