Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Italy - Boats, Gelati, Coffee, Old Rocks and Classes...

The ride to Venice felt long... even with Irene - in all her hilarity - and "The Italian Job"to keep us entertained. When we arrived, I rushed to get my bag into my cabin (which I ended up sharing with Kim and Mel - a happy coincidence) and get a bus into the city, but in the end I missed the local bus and the campsite's shuttle bus wasn't running for another hour, so I had to contact Cass and Lauren to tell them our plan for a gondola ride was kaput. I used Karina's mobile to send them a text, and it was weird using a mobile for the first time in two months!

I sat in the bar with the others for a while, completely distracted at first by the basketball game on TV (Deron Williams and Dee Brown from U of I playing for the Utah Jazz!). When Cass and Lauren returned, they gave me lots of good pointers for my next few days in Venice: where the grocery store is, which direction to go so as to not get horrendously lost, and - most importantly - where the best gelati was. Feeling a little under the weather, I took myself off to sleep at around midnight.

The next morning, despite feeling less than 100% (I think it was the run in the snow that did it), I was up and on my way into town by 9:30am. the local bus would've been a far more enjoyable experience had 1) there been many locals on board, rather than tourists, 2) we not hit a traffic jam turning the 30-minute ride into a 70-minute one, and 3) had I taken something - anything - with me to entertain myself. Reading the Italian "Metro"that lay on the floor under my feet - though time consuming - proved confusing and inevitably boring.

I managed not to get too lost in Venice, following every yellow sign to Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge as if my life depended on it. I know it's such a silly thing to say as an Aussie in Italy, but there were just so many tourists in Venice. I guess in bigger cities they're just more spread out (or we were all just on the same path, following those trusty yellow signs!).

[Piazza San Marco]

[random little kid, and lots of pigeons]

I have to say, the canals are pretty, the Piazza and Rialto alright, I suppose, but on this particular day, it was the gelati that made my day. So, so tasty! I also had a slice of pizza, though in my dodgy Italian - which was, sadly, met with disdain from most of the people I spoke to - I think I asked for a whole pizza rather than a slice. She knew what I meant...

I headed back to the campsite at 4ish, and as I was waiting for my change of bus at the airport, it started to pour down. Running from the bus to the camp's reception, I got nicely soaked, and then made a dash for my cabin. I'd come home because I wasn't feeling too well, and the rain didn't really help things.

I took a hot shower, climbed into bed and read/siesta-ed for an hour or so before an almighty storm passed directly over us. A couple of large bolts of lightning hit very near the camp, and I couldn't help wondering whether the cabin's roof was strong enough for all that rain!

When it'd eased off a little, I headed for cabin 38 (not 35 as I'd earlier thought - a potentially awkward situation) and spent a few hours chatting with Corina, Hayley, Alicia and Shane before heading back to #15 and to bed.

I ended up taking the shuttle bus into town the next morning and Corina, Hayley, Alicia and Shane (Adelaide, Newcastle, Pagewood and Maroubra - NOT MELBOURNE!) and I spent the morning at the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto because the others had failed to find them the previous day. The stories they told of how badly they'd gotten lost were hilarious!

We eventually met up with Mel and Kim at noon, having enjoyed a brief performance by a gorgeous chior at the church of San Marco.

The seven of us jumped on a gondola (one of few that would - illegally - take seven at a time) and paddled down small back-canals, seeing the homes of Casanova, Marco Polo and Vivaldi, as well as various churches. Our gondolier, Giovanni, wasn't as much fun as others we passed, but, even despite the rain, it was quite an enjoyable ride. It's so strange, passing windows and doors that open up onto water!

[we girls, being such tourists]

[Shane, the lone man aboard... except, of course, for Giovanni...]

We went to a pizzeria ("Piramidi Pizzeria," with Venitian photos, Egyptian "relics" and what looked like Balinese masks adorning its walls) and gorged ourselves. Oh how I love pizza. Oh how I hope my pants still fit by the time I leave Italy!

The others had to rush back for the shuttle bus, but as I was taking the local bus, I took my time, and met a lovely jewellery store owner named Luigi who put up with my stumbling Italian.Back at the campground, I took advantage of their gym, and though I had to get off the treadmill after a few minutes (the pizza was still bouncing in my belly), after half an hour pretending I knew how to use the weight machines, I was back on. I only ran a short distance, but I conquered my fear of treadmills, and had a great run because I could go faster than usual as I wasn't pacing myself.

I had a quiet night, knowing I had to be up at 6:30 for my 10.5 hour bus ride the next day...

The first half of the trip wasn't too bad, but when we had to stop 20 minutes from Ancona for 20 minutes (crazy European busdriver rules), and then stop in Ancona for 45 minutes, I was pretty over it. On the upside, I finished my bad book while everyone else watched "Gladiator."

I said a quick goodbye to everyone before bounding off the coach and getting a bus then a train to Termini Station. As I was coming up the escalator, "All By Myself" came over the PA system. Had I been less excited to be in Rome, I might've gotten a little homesick at this point, but instead I just smiled. Finding the apartment wasn't too hard (despite the dirty old man who rubbed my arm as I passed), and it was actually a really nice place. The lady I was renting the room from - Paola - was just lovely. When I asked about a supermarket, she said it would be closed (as it was after 8 on a Sunday), and later came in with a plate of crackers and a big bottle of water for me. So sweet.

[me in our apartment, near Termini. Check out that thong tanline!]

[the view from our 5th floor balcony]

As I was attempting to do some last-minute study, my room-mate, a French Canadian who is half Italian, named Mirella, came in, having spent the day sightseeing. When she saw I was studying, she gave me a funny look, and I realised that last-minute cramming probably wasn't worth it. If I didn't know it already, I wasn't going to learn it in a few hours. Instead, Mirella and I chatted for a while before going to bed.

At 6:20 I was up and showering, and an hour later, Mirella and I were on our way to Scuola Leonardo da Vinci. It sounds thoroughly impressive, but was small enough for us to get quite lost finding it. After my very dodgy test and even dodgier oral exam, I was put into the "beginners plus" class, which met from 2:15 til 5:30. This meant I had to get in contact with Lauren and Cass (who I was supposed to meet at the Spanish Steps - not as close to the school as I'd thought - at 1pm). Without a mobile, this proved pretty much impossible, so I sat at the steps for a while (with all the other tourists in Rome, it seemed), took some photos (with all the other tourists), and then met them at 1pm as planned. They showed me a great gelati shop at the Trevi Fountain for lunch (all class) and we stood and admired the fountain for a while before I had to hurry off for class. I figured I could throw a coin in on another day.

[The Spanish Steps]

Class was hard. I was most definitely the least-educated-in-Italian there. It was pretty painful. Luigi, the teacher, was very nice though, and although he never spoke English (which, though it was a struggle, I think helped in the long run), he put up with my severe lack of knowledge.

After class I met up with Cass and we went home (via the supermarket, and my first glimpse of the Colosseum) to make dinner. My first Italian pasta meal - home made!

I saw Cass off at the train station and then headed home for some serious studying before bed.

I was meant to meet Lauren and Cass at the Vatican the next day, but when I got there, they weren't in any of the places they'd said to meet. So, I went it alone. I think, though it's refreshing not to have a mobile, phone-less people are often left to themselves!

[St Peter's]

Two hours and a bit of studying-in-the-line later, and I was finally inside the Vatican Museums. There was a brief moment of panic when my Swiss Army knife was picked up on the metal detector (completely forgot it was there!), but luckily, the fabulous security guard let me through.

There are some beautiful ceilings in that place. Everywhere you go there is some sort of intricate, beautiful artwork. After what seemed like hours of walking through spectacular room after spectacular room, we - the hoards of tourists - shuffled into the Sistine Chapel. It is beautiful, and ridiculously intricate. But, dare I say it, I think I'd built it up too much for myself. As one of only a few "must dos" on my list, I guess the throngs of people surrounding me and the time spent getting there (to Italy, to Rome, in the line, through the rooms...) I feel I let my expectations get the better of me. But it is gorgeous - and I'm excited to have seen it at last!

[my dodgy, sneaky photo of the Sistine Chapel. Shhhh.]

[just one of the amazing corridors]

I went into another of the Vatican museums briefly, but as an agnostic\atheist, there are really only so many paintings of Jesus you can take in one go! I was more appreciative of the artists whose works were on show (Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael) and the amazing artistry that came out of so few years during the renaissance.

[Raphael's Transfiguration]

I dashed back to school for my 2:15 class, and half way through went to see the director about changing classes. Unfortunately, he wasn't in, and when I went back to see him later, it turned out that the next lowest class was for absolute beginners (i.e. a waste of my time). He signed me up for three intensive\catch-up classes and said it was the best he could do.

I met Cass, Lauren and Mirella at the Colosseo metro station, and we went to the supermarket for picnic stuff. By the time we'd settled into our nice little grassy picnic spot, the skies opened up and we got soaked. It was so funny - we were rushing back to the train station (nowhere to hide in the Colosseum), and Mirella said "just wait - any minute the vendors are going to come and offer us umbrellas." Not a minute later, and it was "Umbrella? Umbrella?"

[what a view! But look at those clouds!]

We came back to our apartment for a quaint little picnic indoors. It was a little sad to say goodbye to Cass and Lauren, as Cass was continuing on with Busabout to Florence, and Lauren was heading home. We made plans to catch up at a later date (a Carnavale mask working-bee with Cass and a Bombers\Swans game with Lauren).

I spent a little while studying before bed.

Wednesday morning I went for a jog. There's nothing like running past the Colosseum in the morning to pull you out of a stressed-out slump. I spent the morning studying, went to school, still knew far too little, and made myself feel better by walking home via a gelati store, the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. Though the Piazza was - like so many other important monuments - covered in scaffolding, the Pantheon more than made up for it. That is one heck of ain impressive-looking building! Going inside, it is hard to believe that it is older than the Colosseum!

[the Pantheon: ]

From the Pantheon, I walked past the Piazza Venezia, with its Brandenburg Gate-esque statues. Sadly, all I did when I got home was study.

[Piazza Venezia]

I was feeling pretty good about myself on Thursday morning, and when I went for a jog, though I didn't find my way to the Spanish Steps as planned (too many hills), I was unphased. Then, I tripped at the entrance to a park, and there went to good mood. Nothing like a bit of gravel rash on your palms and hip to keep things interesting. Luckily, my trusty biggest sister supplied me with the World's Best First Aid Kit, and I patched myself right up.

I spent the morning doing a little study, but mainly washing my clothes. In the afternoon I had class, and though I started to feel as if I understood more of what Luigi said, I'm not convinced it is just that I was becoming better at reading his body language than understanding Italian. I think I could handle the Italian opera now!

After class, I went home to study. Apparently there was a procession nearby and Mirella saw the Pope, which is pretty cool, but - even though I was in Rome - all the religious icons were still overwhelming.

On Friday I chose not to go for a run as I'd woken up with my hand stuck to my stomach. Mmm, puss. Lovely.

I walked to school with Mirella, intending to find a library nearby where I might borrow a dictionary - my old Italian workbook and the Mediterranean Europe phrasebook Gemma gave me could only help me so much! I ended up borrowing one from the girl in the office of the school. I then went to Piazza Navona and studied until the sun came out from behind some pesky clouds (meanwhile the local artists came out of hiding and started setting up their stands). I took some photos, then headed back up Via del Governo Vecchio to a little bar I'd passed a few times. I ordered "un cappucino, per favore" (not much learned since Sydney...), and sat and studied some more. It was actually really nice - especially as I was starting to make some tiny bits of progress in my Italian.

[the central fountain, through the scaffolding]

[one of few pigeons in Rome that don't have a death wish and didn't dive-bomb my head]

Class, though still difficult, was actually kind of fun - being a Friday, everyone was pretty relaxed, and we ended up playing Taboo in Italian... interesting, to say the least. After class I spent some time booking accommodation for the next few weeks, and then took a leisurely stroll home - via Piazza Navona and a gelato bar Cass and Lauren had recommended. I also discovered how to get cheap gelati - get two scoops in the same colour, and the guy at the register may only charge you for one scoop!

When I got home, I made yet another salad (I loved having a fridge!), and sat down to do my homework with Mirella.

I spent a few hours on Saturday morning doing a few things I'd been meaning to do for a while - including grocery shopping for shampoo, conditioner, face wash and a razor which all, miraculously, ran out at the same time.

I wanted to go to the Villa Borghese to do some study (in a pretty location), but on my way I got stopped when I gried to go up a number of streets because bloody George Bush was in town. Grrr. By the time I made it to the park, it was almost midday, so I tried to finda phone as quickly as I could so I could call home. When I did, a strange voice answered the phone - turns out my cousin Ben is staying with them for a few weeks. When Ben realised I was calling from Rome, he did the typical Stratton thing and said goodbye very quickly!

The Villa Borghese is quite pretty - lots of very green grass and lovely, big cool trees. There is also a viewing platform overlooking the Piazza del Popolo (where an anti-Bush demonstration was to take place), and beyond it, over towards the Vatican.

I got bored with my study and went on a gelato hunt - finding myself at the Spanish Steps. I tried to head to the Trevi Fountain from there, but again Bush was making my life difficult. When I got there I took some photos and then headed home (via a gelato store). At home I did a fair bit of study, watched the news (where Mirella had to translate) and had a reasonably early night. I became such a nerd in Rome, but I had to try to learn as much as I could in my two weeks of classes!

[a whole lot of tourists, throwing in their coins]

[the Trevi Fountain]

On Sunday Mirella and I visited the Colosseum and the Forum. There are some very pretty parts to the Forum, but after a while we just started joking that it was all just a bunch of "old rocks."

['Old Rocks' at the Forum]

I headed home for lunch (my €20 cash was going to last me til Friday!), studied some more ("io ho studiato, tu hai studiato...") and then went for a walk with Mirella to see where "the young people go." We saw a few here and there, walked past the Colosseum (which had also become "lots of old rocks,") and then home for yet another quiet night.

My second week of classes didn't start out as well as I'd hoped after all my studying at the weekend, but I think I know more than I did, and have had a few semi-Italian conversations ("un biglietto a Napoli Centrale... Sabato mattina, circa otto, per favore... meno caro"), so figure the extravagence was worth it.

I could write more "got up, ate, studied, class, ate, slept," but I'm getting bored of that. Being in one place - and studying - prove none too exciting. Let's just assume I ate, slept, ran occasionally, studied and went to class in my last week at Scuola Leonardo da Vinci.

The highlights of the week were...

[Church-Crawl on Tuesday. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore...]

[...Church of St Peter in Chains, where there was also...]

[Michelangelo's Moses... and then it was off to...]

St Peter's Basilica. The view was well worth the 510 or so steps. Not something you really want to be wearing a tshirt and knee-length pants for, but the three "bouncers" were turning some women away who were "scantily clad." Mirella and I - ever the sceptics - had to keep reminding ourselves to forget it was the "poor peoples' Pope's" enormous, immaculate garden we were looking at... The fact that the Colosseum - huge in name as well as in actuality - couldn't be seen from up the top of the cupola was possibly enough to take my mind off it, though. The church itself is gorgeous, and the Tomb of the Popes is a little eerie... That day I was late for class, but it was worth it.

[Mirella, on about step number 12]

[so very man stairs!]

[the view!]

[I love this - a souvenir store on the top of St Peter's]

[Michelangelo's Pieta]

[inside St Peter's - gorgeous!]

Another highlight was finding a bookstore on Wednesday evening that sold books in ENGLISH! ("Scuis, dov'è posso comprare i libri in l'Inglese?"). I'm now very excited to be reading Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Hopefully it's as good - if not better - than the film. If the first few pages I snuck in between study sessions is anything to go by, I think the latter may be true!

Thursday's class was pretty good, if only because everyone else seemed to be struggling just as much as I was with the various personal pronouns.

[Campo di Fiore, where I had tirimisu for lunch on Friday. Mmmmmm.]

On Friday, Mirella and I went to Trastavere for dinner. It was a really nice area, even if we failed to find teh medieval area. We climbed the Gianicolo hill for a beautiful view across Rome just after the sun had set. We still couldn't see the Colosseum from up there!

[Rome by night: ]

Oh, and I got hit by a Segue! A girl pimping a certain brand of beer clearly wasn't used to riding it and ran right into me. Too funny.

I've been thinking about a list of things I enjoyed during my stay in Rome. The food - Gnocchi in Trastavere, gelati, and the great cafè! The men - until they open their mouths to say "ciao bella," turning them from dark-eyed adonai to creepy sleazebags. I also found it pretty funny the way so many men walked as if their pelvises were top-heavy.

The scooters (which are everywhere) were also great, but pretty scary on the roads. Pedestrian crossings proved quite the challenge.

The quaint streets were also a favourite. It was worth the extra 30 minutes walking to school each day to get lost in the back alleys. I got lost a lot. Let's pretend it was intentional.

To come - more of Italy: Napoli, Florence, Cinque Terre, and then it's off to Southern France and Spain...


gemma said...

Don't even TALK to me unless you go to Capri. I mean it.

Urilla said...

Interesting to know.

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