Monday, October 31, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
So there I am sitting on the bus, right at the front because that's the way I roll and I have a sweeping view of the road ahead. Mistake numero uno! In Rome the rules of the road are more like casual suggestions. This I expected. I expected to see skinny men on little scooters talking on their cell phones, madly gesturing with both hands, correcting the set of the handle bars only at the last possible moment, not a second before he would be sent careening in to the semi-sized bus just inches away. Cars dashing in and out of traffic with no consideration for their relativity to other vehicles; Some cars going twenty miles and hour, some doing a hundred and twenty. I think I could have handled seeing it all... if only... Oh, if only!.... my bus driver were to actually look at the road, on occasion. Instead he looked left (for a few minutes), then right (for a few minutes), only catching sight of the road as his head turned from one side to the other. Sometimes he drove in the left lane, sometimes in the right, mostly somewhere in between. At one point he became so preoccupied with a lady in the car beside us I was able to count to sixty without seeing him so much as glance at the road in front of him. I didn't see much of the long stretching fields and farms of the Italian countryside on the way in to Rome. I had my eyes closed.
Note: On my drive in to Rome and actually on the flight in to Fumicino I was shocked to see that the area was almost all rural. Even just outside of the city limits of Rome the land turns to agricultural farms with no buffer of suburbs in between.
When I next dared to look we were traveling through the sprawl of the working man's Rome: tired and worn with sagging apartment buildings, crammed together cheek for jowl, their terracotta walls, tall and narrow shuttered windows and cute little balconies stripped of beauty by artless graffiti, air conditioning units and stacks of random junk. Car dealerships, gas stations, small neighborhood grocers- familiar businesses in a foreign landscape- stray dogs and cats lounging in the shadows, garbage in the gutters and not so much as a shrub for landscaping. Mid morning and there were men gathered outside their little shops, gossiping; Dark haired woman, sternly dressed, regally smoking on cafe patios. Unlike London, this city felt far from home. I loved it.
As we drove on, the city rose up around us. The buildings became taller, sturdier, wearing their age like a beautiful patina. I became so enamored with the changing landscape I almost didn't notice at first that the bus had come to a stop where there was no light or stop sign (which is not to say that the driver had actually stopped at such previous signs). The bus driver picked up the intercom handset. I am pretty sure he said"Santa initiliani lebititalian... Mario Botali". At least that is what I got. To my horror about 6 of the 20 people on the bus stood up. They picked up their luggage. They got off the bus. Amongst them, the American couple. My heart immediately started pounding and I looked frantically to the streets on either side of me for some familiar landmark. Is this my stop? Should I get off? No one mentioned a stop! When is my stop? What the hell did that bus driver just say? I stand up. Panicked. I intend to ask someone what the HELL is going on!!! but just then the bus lunges forward and I'm thrown back in to my seat. My mind races. I convince myself that when the time comes to get off I will recognize the Termini... after all it is a huge busy building and I've seen it on Google dammit!
The bus seems to grow in size as the streets become narrower and narrower. I hold my breath every time we squeeze between a parked car and a person who has laid themselves flat against it to avoid being squashed; Every time we whiz by a pedestrian just a split second after they step clear of our path; Everytime we squeek by... okay you get the point. The good news is that my bus driver is now actively driving. The bad news is that he's getting cranky. His window came down. He begins to yell and madly gesture at the cars in front of him, at the people that we've passed. They are uneffected by his anger. They yell back. Somehow the streets become even narrower. Next we passed a rally or protest of some kind. People fill the street. I am convinced we're going to run over them all. We turned a corner and I notice that the bus driver is reaching for his intercom again. My heart begins to pick up that lerching pounding beat. I search the street for anything familiar. He says, "Sanitinirinalinibadina" in the time it takes me to say, "Bo!". People get off. This time I stay seated. My new strategy is that I'm gonna sit right there in my seat until he drags me off the bus kicking and screaming. We drive on. Two stops later I need a Prozac and a bottle of wine. Stat. There are only four people left besides me and the driver.
I look down at my map and try to find some familiar landmark. When I look up again we are rounding the corner next to a tall brick colored wall. This wall stretches on and on, winding with the street. It is twice as high as the bus, it's surface is smooth and solid. No windows. No doors. Finally we turn a corner and ahead a line of people stand before a gate. I see a sign. It's the Vatican.
Now I know where I am but I cant take my eyes off of the window long enough to look at the map. With every block there is another gorgeous fountain, ancient church or statue. This time, when my heart begins to pound, it's because I cant believe I'm finally here, in Rome. I dont think I will ever forget the moment I looked from my side window to the road ahead and saw the Colosseum standing right there in front of us. I couldn't even breath. You always think these things will be less than you imagined. But it wasn't. It was pink and crumbling and fantastically immense, right there on the side of the road.
We drove on. When we next came to a stop the four remaining people get off. I sit still. I look left. I like right. I look ahead. This... This is not the termini. Not one thing is recognizable. Not a street, a building. Not a sign saying "Termini". Nothing. I dont have a clue where I am. The bus driver gets up and off the bus. I am forced to follow. My heart isn't pounding. It has stopped altogether.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Mid morning, a clear and hot day, the first of October- I meet Rome for the first time.
London, Athens, Messina, Rhodes, Istanbul, Chania, Bolognia... these were places, cities, towns.
Rome is a woman.
Meeting Rome was like coming face to face with a movie star I had long loved and admired. She is everything I expected- glamorous, vain, distinctly Italian, beautiful...her star quality evident and in tact. Rome wears big Elizabeth Taylor jewels: The Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, the Arch of Constantine, The Vatican. The beauty of these gems fade little for being set against age spotted skin. But the gems, the designer clothes and heavy makeup could not hide her imperfections, the reality of age, heavy drinking and a hard life. The illusion of the silver screen goddess fades. She has yellow teeth and coffee stains. The hem of her vintage Armani dress is torn and dangling. She smells a little.
I landed at Fiumichino airport and made my way through customs, which is to say that I was swept forward by the crush of a crowd along a narrow corridor and through the slim opening between two custom's officers desks, the officers themselves disinterested, half asleep, not even bothering to glance up as I passed amongst a flood of multinational people. We poured out into the Italian sunshine. There is no "Welcome to Rome" sign.
First things first. I must catch a bus or a train to take me in to Rome (the airport is a half hour west of the centre of the city). I walk confidently out of the airport and turn right. I feel confident, cool, a world traveler. I walk a few minutes to the designated bus area. I pull out a sheet from the tab beneath "Bus Rome" in my file folder and glace at it briefly. I know it by heart. I look for the white bus with Terravision on the side. There is no such bus. There are two blue buses. Neither have Terravision on the side. I dont panic. I settle in to wait. I'm confident that one will arrive shortly. A man approaches me. He is wearing a apron with pockets in the front. He looks very official which is to say stern, unfriendly, annoyed, rushed, impatient... his expression says it all. He asks, in broken English, "What you waiting for?"
I say, "Terravision bus".
He seems to roll his eyes, "Yes, Where you want to go?"
I go to say the word on my sheet but falter... I cant remember. So I hold up my page and point at the word "Termini" I dont dare try to pronounce it.
"Ci! Ci!" He cries, "This bus! This bus!" He gestures emphatically at the blue bus and motions for me to get up. "Seven euro!" He holds out his hand.
My false bravado crumbles. In an instant I have become the bewildered tourist: lost, scared and alone in a foreign country.
"No!" I say. "I wait for white bus." I realize that for some reason my English has become as broken as his. This makes no sense.
The man gestures wildly, without even a single word his gesture screams, "Geeze, these tourists! What am I to do! They are such idiots!" I stare at him with wide blank eyes. So he changes tactic. This time he speaks to slowly, pronouncing each world precisely like I'm a dim witted child, "The blue bus is same. Same as white bus. You go to Termini. This bus goes to Termini. Seven euro."
"To here?" I ask, pointing again at my sheet.
He rolls his eyes. "Yes, yes!"
"Alright I say!" Why didnt he just say so? I pay for my ticket and get on the bus. My imagination runs wild, what if he misunderstood? What if he is conning me? What if I end up in Naples?! Venice! A bad neighborhood?! I'll be kidnapped! Raped! Sold in to the sex trade! But wait! I'm fat. It's all good... surely they dont kidnap fat girls! But wait! What if there is a specialized market for fat girls? Oh my God, I'm going to be sold in to a niche fat girl market!
An American couple sit down in the seats across from me. "Excuse me, does this bus go here?" I ask, pointing at my now sweaty crumpled sheet.
"Yes." She says, confidently.
I settle in for the bus ride to Rome.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
A recommendation for future travellers: Look in to buying a London Pass. I had no idea how expensive the admission prices were going to be for the different sites (not just in London but in Rome and other cities as well). For example: Westminster Abby 16 pounds ($25) St. Pauls 14.50 pounds ($23) Buckingham Palace (where Kate's dress is displayed) 17.50 pounds ($29)
St. Pauls (the upper facade) sorry I got a little carried away editing this one, I didnt like the originals as there were many buses, sign posts and people below.
-"Unveiled 10 November 1937. The statue aroused great controversy, comparable even with the reaction to Epstein's early works. The depiction of the horse was deemed to be unnatural; Country Life noted that its legs were in the position for urinating. Haig's widow did not attend the unveiling."
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Lo Sono a Casa! (I am home!)
And there depletes my entire repertoire of Italian phrases!
Not really, but it's a near thing.
How could I possibly put down in words just how amazing my trip was?
"The trip of a lifetime!", I could say if I were unimaginative...
"The best trip ever!", I might say, if I were still a teenager....
"An spiritual and emotional cornucopia!"... I could say, if I were pretentious (and lame).
"A wonderfully rich and spiritually nourishing journey filled with adventure, laughter, and memories that will last a lifetime." .... Yup, I think that about sums it up.
I could write a hundred posts about our adventures and still be no closer to describing the whole of our experiences. I am going to run through our itinerary and share a little about each of the places we visited but the CliffsNotes version will have to suffice.
Where to start... Hmm... I best take Louis Carrol's advice and "Begin at the beginning and go on until you come to the end: then stop."
In the beginning: There was a bittersweet farewell.
Sitting at my gate waiting to board the plane from Vancouver to London I wrote in my journal:
"I hate leaving home. I love where leaving home takes me."
Driving away from my home, my babies, my bed (:D) was bad enough, saying goodbye to my man at the gate was infinitely worse. But as much as I hated to leave him behind, I was so incredibly excited about taking my first real step towards a trip I've dreamed of taking for the better half of my life.
In my dreams I've always envisioned that when the time came I would make that long journey abroad alone. And I did, to a certain extent. I flew out all by my lonesome on the afternoon of 29th and landed in London at sunrise on the 30th of September. From Gatwick I walked five minutes down the road to my hotel where two weeks previously my Mom and sister had stayed when they began their journey towards a cruise out of Amsterdam heading to Portugal and Spain and finishing in Rome on the 1st of October.
Our plan was that I would fly to London on the 30th, stay the night and fly out the next morning to Rome (the 1st) where we would all meet up at the Beehive Hotel within a few hours of each other (they disembarked early in the morning an hours train ride North of Rome in Civitavecchia (and no, after two weeks I still cant that town's name perfectly.) So while I was alone in London that day I had the comfort of knowing that my Mom and sister were just a short plane ride away and that soon we would have a grand reunion in the heart of Europe, Rome! I was so excited about this plan that when my Mom and Fel left, and for the two weeks thereafter, I would finish every text and e-mail to them with a nearly giddy, "See you in Rome!!!"
Here I've already rambled on and I have only gotten so far as my hotel at Gatwick! Before I go on I must say that there was a moment when we first touched down on English soil that I will never forget. When I want something as bad as I wanted this trip I have a hard time letting myself believe it is really going to happen, until it does. It wasn't until I took my first step off the plane that it really sunk in that I had arrived. I cried for joy inside (I had to keep up the I'm-an-international-traveler-and-this-is-no-big-deal-facade on the outside...but inside I was just bursting out of my skin with excitement.) Adrenaline filled me with a desire to jump right in, feet first, to sink in to that old English dirt and soak up every sound, scent and sight around me... *ehem* sorry... got a little carried away there. So, I landed and checked in. I had been awake for 16 hours and knew that my day had just begun. I had all of London to explore and until sunset to make it happen. I dropped my bags and headed out to catch a train to London...