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Kasteel Well Week 6-7: Rome (Part II) & Florence

  • March 14, 2013
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It took us at least half an hour to find our way out of the Vatican Museums but somehow we managed to make it out and we went to the Metro station to take the subway to the Colosseum.  I’m a big fan of the public transportation systems in Europe, but Rome’s was reminiscent of the MBTA in Boston.  You had to fight your way into a train car and pray that you weren’t pushed back out by someone trying to get off at the next stop.  We watched a man get stuck halfway between the doors and someone had to pry the doors open in order to get the rest of his body in the train as it was already beginning to leave the station.  So we fought our way on and emerged fifteen minutes later with the Colosseum towering before us.

Colosseum

Colosseum

I found Rome to be a very interesting city to visit because it is so historic and covered in the media, that when you see something for real you’ve already had expectations about it.  The Colosseum was one of those places for me.  I had pictures in my head of what it would look like and it was almost exactly what I expected.  This didn’t make it any less impressive, it’s still incredible how it was constructed and how it’s still standing (for the most part) over a millennia after it was finished.  But I will be completely honest that the entire time we were in there I was really hoping that Hayden Christensen was going to teleport into the center of the arena and proceed to have a teleporting fist fight with someone.  Alas, instead I witnessed a herd of middle school children point overenthusiastically at a seagull.

Standing in the Colosseum and taking an obnoxious number of pictures with my friends made me step back and take it all in.  There we were, a group of close friends travelling the world and standing on a piece of history together.  Homework and everything else could wait; we were just living life and enjoying everything that the Kasteel Well experience had to offer.  Several more embarrassing pictures later and we called it a day.  A quick drop-off of belongings at the hostel and we were off to dinner.  Back to a quartet, we tried to find the restaurant that Annie and I had patronized the previous night but we were unable to find it.  I suppose that’s for the best as returning might have tainted my memories of that fabulous meal.  But we found a sturdy substitute and enjoyed our dinner over a bottle of Italian wine.  Carefree.

Ancient Roman City Gate

Ancient Roman City Gate

The following morning, we headed to the ancient city and spent most of the morning exploring the Roman ruins there.  A major feature within the ancient city is the Roman Forum.  This was the center of the Roman Empire back in the day and was also where Caesar was murdered then later ceremoniously cremated and mourned.  Among the ruins were various temples, city gates and aqueducts.  Once we finished browsing around the ancient city we headed back to the Vatican City to meet up with some friends that had just gotten to Italy.  In order to enter the Vatican City, you must adhere to their dress code that explicitly states no shorts or skirts are allowed.  Since we were only planning on meeting in St. Peter’s Square, we were not properly attired and everyone kept staring at us.  It was a bit frustrating when tour companies trying to sell you a tour kept telling us that we couldn’t go in and we had no plans of going in.  But we took the opportunity to take a picture of our beautiful legs together being the only two people in the country wearing shorts.  We felt some sense of importance for that brief moment in time.

Enjoying the overlook in Rome

Enjoying the overlook in Rome

Our friends were planning on visiting the Colosseum after we met them so we took what we thought would be the most direct route.  We were just starting to think it would have been better to take the Metro when we discovered an overlook that may have given us the best view of Rome.  You could see all of the tall landmarks and directly ahead was an Italian flag flying straight out in the wind.  The Apennine Mountains in the far distance flanked the entire scene.  Our route was well worth the walk and we eventually crossed back over the Tiber River and got our friends to the Colosseum right before it closed.

One of my missions while I was traveling was to try to find a bike jersey in every country I visited.  I found a very respectable bike shop not too far from our hostel, so a friend and I shot over there real quick to buy my jersey.  It was a tiny little shop but they had so much gear in stock was a little ridiculous.  I ended up finding a Rome jersey that was black and orange with “ROMA” right across the front chest with the Colosseum underneath.  The back featured a gladiator with the Italian flag right above it.  This was definitely one of the coolest jerseys that I found on my journey.

We recollected everyone at the hostel and went out for dinner, once again meeting up with more friends that had just gotten to the city that morning.  We wandered around for a bit before settling on a restaurant.  Boy did we choose wrong!  All of the food was frozen and this was the worst meal any of us had had in Europe.  It was quite the disappointing way to spend our final night in Rome.

Duomo in Florence

Duomo in Florence

Before we knew it, we were on a train in the morning to Florence.  For some reason we had decided to fly out of Bologna instead of Rome, which didn’t make sense to me because it was about fours north of Rome but hey, there we were.  The awkward travel plans gave us about half a day to spend in Florence before we had to be at the airport to head home.  Since it was Sunday, most of the city was shut down, but we were still able to climb the bell tower next to the Duomo, which provided some stunning views of the city and the famous dome.

Still upset about the previous night’s dinner, we wanted to make sure we had a good lunch for our final meal in Italy.  Our friend told us there was a nice place by the Duomo but couldn’t remember where it was, so that was a lot of help?  There were several empty restaurants and one that was overflowing.  We had found our place.  We had to wait to get our table and it was well worth the wait.  My final meal in Italy was gnocchi in a Gorgonzola sauce.  After we finished all of my gripes about the night before were gone and I was leaving Italy with a smile on my face.

Our express train to Bologna was scheduled to take thirty-seven minutes, but by the time we boarded we were already fifteen minutes behind schedule.  Approximately five minutes from the completion of our journey, the train came to a stop due to issues on the line.  We sat in that spot for the next hour and fifteen minutes before we slowly started moving forward again.  By the time our train pulled in, we had spent over two hours on the train.  We were poised at the door ready to jump out as soon as we could get the door open.  The train screeched to a stop and we were instantly running down the platform and I hailed a cab as everyone else made it out of the station.  We nervously checked our watches as the cab circled around the airport and we just hoped that we could make it on our plane in time.  Missing the shuttle from the Ryanair check-in building to the main terminal didn’t help, but crying to get through security faster did.  Against all odds we made it onto the plane and we all had a new respect for traveling.

After over a week of traveling in Spain and Italy, nothing seemed to be able to beat the feeling of driving down Kasteellaan in Well and seeing Kasteel Well rise up out of the darkness of night.  After all of the delays, damp hostels, ancient ruins and extravagant food; we were finally home.

As we did so much over travel break, I broke the week up into more posts so I didn’t write a novel.  Links to all of the parts are here: