Hello from Rome!
It’s been a busy couple days, and I haven’thad time or opportunity to write anything, so I’ve got a lot to cover. This’ll be a bit of an abrdiged version, I fear…but I’ll just start writing and see how it goes.
Where did I leave off…the last night in Amsterdam? After some debate about what to do for breakfast in the morning, and some online searching, Cheryl found a plausible-looking breakfast/coffee place within walking distance of the hotel. Secure in the knowledge that we would be fed, we slept. The next morning, we checked out of our hotel, left our bags behind, and went for one last exploration of the city.
The area she found was quite neat – it was an old industrial area (a “gas factory”, as far as I could translate) that had been converted into a recreation area with a park, a pond, and some little restaurants and cafes and things in the old buildings. In a way, it reminded me of The Forks in Winnipeg. We got some coffee and pastry and things and wandered around a bit, and then wnet back to get our bags from the hotel and catch the bus to the train station so that we could catch a train to the airport.
We’re getting pretty comfortable with transportation, having taken all sorts of buses and trains and planes lately, but nothing prepared us for departure from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. It goes like this: First, you check in: you drop off your checked baggage and get your boarding pass as usual, but in addition, the attendant asks a couple of the questions that normally get asked by security (e.g. “Do you have any of the following prohibited items?”) Then, you go through customs into the departure area (another stamp in the passport! They don’t always stamp, but Cheryl and I have started requesting it. Tim thinks we’re ridiculous, I think.) After customs, you’re in this shopping mall, basically. Lots of shops and things, and screens telling you which flight is at which gate. The thing is, you have to wait until it’s time to board before you learn what gate you need to be at. So you wander around, shop, whatever, and keep one eye on the screens. Then, when your gate is announced, you make your way to the right area (which can take 10+ minutes, depending on where you need to go.) Then, and only then, you go through security (metal detector, baggage check).
The last part is the real oddity. We’ve seen the delayed gate announcement in other airports, but the way this one works out, you don’t go through security until it’s time to board. I have no idea what happens if you get held up at security for any reason. Maybe you miss your flight.
Anyway, we got to Geneva, but our flight was late. We just barely caught the second-last train from the airport into the city (good thing we’ve learned our way around train stations), deciphered the directions we had, and ended up at the hostel (no hotel here; they’re expensive) just minutes after reception closed for the night (at midnight). But after two rings on the buzzer, we got let in, and got our (tiny-but-cheap-by-Geneva-standards) room. We basically got into bed and collapsed, with our alarm set for something like 5:30 AM the next morning.
The next day, we wandered around Geneva. It’s kind of a nice place, but didn’t have a lot of personality, I felt. It’s fairly busy and modern, though there are still French and German touches to it. Geneva is in the French part of Switzerland, being basically on the French border, so most people were speaking French. In a way, it felt like we were in Quebec. It’s pretty, and I could have spent more time there, but it’s not somewhere I’d hurry back; as European cities go, it lacks that je ne sais quoi (See? French!) that makes it a really attractive destination.
Our main destination in Geneva was the Reformation Wall: a monument to the reformers who were the founders (I think) of the city. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure of the history. Nice monument, though.
In the afternoon, we caught another flight – this time to Rome. It was also a little late, but not badly. Every flight so far has been a success: we made all our connections, they’ve been a little late but the worst was 30-45 minutes, we’ve still got all our luggage (though a zipper pull broke on mine), we’ve had no problems with security (though my pocket full of coins set off the metal detector – whoops), and we always ended up in the right city, which is a nice bonus.
We took a taxi to our hotel in Rome – first time we’ve taken a taxi, but the hotel recommended it. Our hotel is right in the ancient city area; at one point in the cab ride we looked out our window and were driving right next to the Coliseum. I’m actually suffering from a big of architecture overload: there are so many things here that are so old and beautiful and impressive that they all blur together. Take any one out and stand it alone or put it in a North American city and it’d be amazing, but stacked up against all the others it’s just another building.
The hotel is very nice, and the receptionist has been incredibly helpful: when we first came, he asked if it was our first time in Rome, and gave us a map of the area, pointing out the major attractions, giving us suggestions on how to get around (warning about pickpockets on the bus), and pointing out his favourite restaurants in the area (“with the most quality prices”). We took him up on one suggestion and went to an amazing pizzeria, where you get served on outdoor tables on a patio at the end of a little street. Eventually someone started playing Italian music on an accordian and someone else was trying to sell roses. We ordered a pitcher of red wine with the meal, on the grounds that we’re in Italy and that’s the thing to do. Between complete exhaustion, a couple glasses of wine, and comfortable beds, we slept like babies. Well, not like Nik…like other babies.
Which brings me, finally, to today! Today is pretty easy:
We got up early (again), went to a “bar” for breakfact (really a breakfast bar; we got some pastry and took it with us), and caught our shuttle bus to Pompeii (though in Italy it’s spelled Pompei, so I have no idea where our spelling came from). We spent the day wandering around, and I don’t know if there’s much to say that you don’t already know. Most surprising thing: It’s huge! Baically the entire city is still there, and you’re free to wander around a significant portion of it. Lots of streets are closed off, but enough are open that you can walk the entire length of the city (we did). You can see into most of the buildings, and even wander into most of them. In some places, marble pillars, altars, and capstones contrast with the brickwork (which, while surprisingly modern-looking, is a little eroded, and used to be covered with plaster in any case). In other places, carvings, frescoes, mosaics, and other details are still visible. It was a little weird to think that we were walking on roads and going into buildings that were built over 2000 years ago.
We saw a few temples, the theater, the amphitheater, lots of houses, the baths, and I don’t know what else. We debated about hiring a guide but decided not to; I’m still not sure if that was a good decision. I was a strong “no” vote, because I wanted to be able to wander freely without being urged along, but it meant that we didn’t always know what we were looking at, and we had a hard time finding some buildings. Still, a success. The famous plaster casts of the victims are there, but there aren’t that many: thirteen in one place, and three or four in another, including a dog). I suspect there are more that are in the Naples museum; apparently a lot of the artifacts and frescoes and whatnot have been taken to the museum. The buildings were all empty, but I understand that there were things in them that simply aren’t on display in the city now.
When we got back to Rome, it was raining (the first rain we’ve had all trip) but it stopped fairly soon. We had planned to go to a pasta place for dinner, but by the time we found the one that the hotel recommended, we discovered that we didn’t care for the menu, which had a heavy seafood bias. So we went to another place that we had seen, and it was quite good (and had a lot of character). No wine tonight, though.
And…that was the last three days. I’m all caught up now! Apparently “abridged” means “fewer pictures”. Tomorrow we plan to visit the Vatican (though I don’t think we’ll be going into the museums), and then we’ll explore the ancient city (Coliseum, Forum, etc.).
‘Til next time…