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Viva Vienna

Monday, October 9th, 2006

Written at 9:33 PM on 10-8-06 in Vienna, Austria

After two days of sightseeing in Rome, I’d had enough. It wasn’t that the sights weren’t amazing—they were. It wasn’t that there wasn’t more to see—there was. It wasn’t that I accidentally caused a fender bender while crossing at a crosswalk—I did. No, I just wanted to relax and take a break from museums. There’s only so much you can see—so many pictures of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus or Christ on the cross—before your eyes start to glaze over and you stop appreciating the art and beauty of what’s around you.
[read on]

On Roam in Rome [continued]

Saturday, October 7th, 2006

Written at 11:21 PM on 10-6-06 in Rome, Italy

Side note: Added new pictures page, “Italy Pictures 2” and included links to the pictures within the text of the past three blogs.

Sadly, my free internet seems to have come to an end. I had been using an open wireless signal, supposing it was from the hostel, but not it requires that your computer be registered on the network. I can only assume that the network’s administrator noticed me filching off a bit of the bandwidth and decided they couldn’t stand for such a transgression. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

Anyway, it’ll be a little harder for me to link the pictures since I can just work from my own computer; it will probably be another day before I can upload them. Hopefully I’ll get this second blog up tonight though, using the hostel’s internet (which isn’t very good, apparently.)

When we last left off, I was drifting asleep after finish my book, Labyrinth. I decided I wouldn’t set an alarm and would instead sleep in. This entailed sleeping in until about 9:30, which was when—either because of noise or my body’s discomfort—I was forced up. I took a shower and got ready for the day. After some time, Dan and Renee joined me for breakfast downstairs. We had decided to head to the Trevi Fountain together, and I welcomed the company since I would be spending most of the day on my own in Vatican City.

I had made an effort to meet up with the girl I met in Florence, Kimberly, but things just didn’t work out. Consequently, I could look forward to more sight-seeing alone. No matter though. There were bigger things to worry about, like the strike by the metro workers. Basically, the entire metro was shut down for the morning and afternoon. What did this mean? Utter chaos. Combine Italian-style driving with twice (perhaps three) times as many people on the roads, and you effectively have a death trap.

The police were doing their best to keep things under control, but it didn’t stop the crosswalks from being a dangerous adventure. Everywhere, one could hear the honking of horns, the buzzing of engines, and a thick fog of car exhaust hung heavy throughout the city. It certainly made things interesting, but interesting does not necessarily require that things be good.

We actually passed the location of the workers’ protest. Words like “stupido” and “bastardo” drifted from the speakers’ podium. It was quite a strange protest, as it included a band. I thought that generally demonstrations included lots of angry people talking, but apparently in Italy, it includes music as well. Anyway, it made for interesting sightseeing.

Dan, Renee and I navigated our way through the city and eventually came to the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was said to bestow luck (and a swift return to Italy) if you tossed one coin in, and love if you put in two coins. I stayed away from two coins, tossing in only a five euro pence piece. We took lots of pictures. It was nice to actually be with someone to take my picture, rather than having to take the typical hand-held pictures. After the Trevi Fountain, however, I parted ways with Dan and Renee. They were off to see the catacombs, while I was on a mission to the Vatican.

I wandered through the streets, passing the Piazza Navona and the Parthenon again by accident. I picked up a gelato on the way, even though it was only about 11AM. Soon I was crossing the river and heading into Vatican City. Stepping into Vatican City is like stepping into a church. Everywhere people are selling images and caricatures of Jesus, Mary, Peter, Paul, the Pope, etc. It was a whole different world—a Christian world.

Nuns and people dressed in the vestments of priests passed me on the streets. I paid little mind to them, other than noting it was interesting to see such things. After walking down the main street to the Vatican, St. Peters Basilica and Plaza arose before me like a great expansive horizon that encompasses everything. The enormous plaza was dotted with people, as well as an enormous line leading to it. I didn’t really know where I was going, so I just joined up with the first line I saw.

After a few minutes, however, I realized that I would be better off heading to the Vaitcan Museum, since it closed early and I didn’t want to miss my chance to see the Sistine Chapel. There was a line, but it didn’t take long, maybe fifteen minutes. After all the other tourist sights, I was accustomed to the metal detectors and ticket lines. I lined up for a student ticket, though I didn’t have the appropriate idea. In a surprising act of kindness, the ticket service man gave me the discount anyway, though I didn’t realize until after it was too late to thank him.

I picked up an audio guide and headed quickly into the Vatican. While I was interested in seeing the museum, I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the Sistine Chapel. Therefore I speeded through the first sections, listening only to the general overviews of the rooms. The Sistine Chapels (and the museum in general) closed at like 3:30 or 3:45 PM. I had plenty of time, but there was just so much to see.

The Vatican Museum can’t really be conveyed in words or pictures. There’s just so much to see, that one really has to see it with his or her own eyes to truly appreciate the scale of everything. Hundreds of statues and carvings, hundreds more of relics and artifacts, and on top of that thousands of painting and frescoes, make it no wonder the this place is the religious center of the world. I happily listened to my audioguide as I passed through the various galleries. I must say, though, that the books I had just read, Bloodline of the Holy Grail and later Labyrinth threw everything I saw into very sharp relief. I saw Mary, Jesus, John, and Jospeh all in very different ways than I might have seen them before. The books enlightened me, but at the same time robbed me of a certain innocence I might have otherwise enjoyed of the paintings. Honestly though, I’d take knowledge and truth over innocence any day.

Such things were the very topic of Michelangelo’s frescoes on the Sistine Chapel. The place was attended heavily by guards, all ensuring that know pictures were taken and that a constant silence was maintained. I stayed there for about twenty minutes, and about every five minutes, a loud “Silenzio” would cut through the air as the guards reminded everyone that this was a sacred place that demanded silence.

The Sistine Chapel really was something. After the disappointing size of the Colosseum, I guess I didn’t expect the chapel to live of the my expectation, but it most certainly did. The frescoes were painted with such amazing significance and detail. Michelangelo spent five years under the roof, performing his craft, and it really shows. I’ve seen a number of churches throughout Europe, but nothing really compares to this.

After relaxing and enjoying the extensive frescoes, I headed on to check the rest of the exhibits. I also stopped for a brief lunch on one of the piazzas that ran adjacent to the museum. An art gallery, which stood out-of-the-way from the main exhibit, hosted several beautiful paintings, including those of Bernini, DaVinci, and Raphael. After enjoying this, I returned my audioguide and then headed back out onto the street to make my way home.

That’s where the difficulty was. Because of the way Rome is lay out, I really couldn’t get a “straight” street back toward my part of town. Instead, I ended up having to zig-zag back and forth until finally coming to a part I recognized. I didn’t mind so much. It made for an interesting adventure and I got to explore a lot of the more out-of-the-way shops. Eventually I made my way back to the Trevi Fountain (by following the signs) and from there I was able to remember a relatively direct path back to the hostel.

I came back to the room, where Dan and Renee were both sleeping. I settled into my bed to catch up on my blog, which took a fair bit of time. I talked to Dan and Renee a while after they got up; they then left to get dinner at a restaurant while I headed downstairs for to cook an intriguing and complex culinary masterpiece—pasta with salt. Mmmmm. I actually quite like it. I’ve tried using pasta sauce, but of the three pasta sauce jars I’ve bought while here, I disliked—hmm, let’s see—all three of them. When I went back to the room, Renee and Dan were back, as well as a new roommate: a Canadian girl we’d talked with the night before.

We all hung around in the room talking about traveling and all manner of other things. Dan and Renee had to wake up early (4AM) the next morning to catch their plane, so after a few beers and talking for a while, they decided to hit the sack. I stayed up for a while to type up this blog, but unfortunately it was at this time that I discovered my internet source had been cut off. So, after writing a little bit, I went to sleep at the relatively early hour of midnight.

[continued the next morning]

There’s not much to be said for this morning except to say I got up, cleaned up, packed up, and checked out. I’m in the hostel now and I’m going to try and use their free computers, though I don’t think they work too well. I don’t plan on doing much sightseeing today. I think two days of constant sightseeing here in Rome has worn me out a bit. I have to putz around for the day until I catch the night train to Vienna at 8PM. It’s about a 12-hour ride—fun.

On a bit of a side note, I failed to describe much of the “atmosphere” of Rome in this blog or the earlier one, so I think I should mention something here. Rome is chaos. It’s actually not quite as bad as I expected, at least the first day, but on the second day, all the metro workers went on strike. This meant that between my first and second morning of walking, the traffic nearly doubled. Anywhere you walked, the distant (or nearby) clamor of blaring horns and screeching breaks could be heard. To add to this, there’s not really much of a system of crosswalks. Sure, there’s a few crosswalk signals here and there, but mostly there’s just striped paint on the sidewalk indicating you should go. The problem is, no one stops for you if you’re waiting at a crosswalk. Thus you have to make a near-suicidal leap of faith into the street and just pray that the drivers are paying attention. I was noticing the cars as I walked, and there’re surprisingly very few dents on the cars. I can only assume that the madness of Italian driving actually has some kind of order that only becomes visible when you’ve lived here long enough or if you’re actually Italian.

The parking is pretty consistent with the driving. Park anywhere there’s space. There are actually very few places that you can find “No Parking” signs. Unlike in France, the Italians don’t park on the sidewalks. Instead, they just pull into the tiniest spaces, or just park across crosswalks, on street corners, in intersections, or in the enormous plazas, which would be normal except that the cars and motorbikes are parked so closely that you can’t even walk through sections of the plaza. Renting a car in Roma would be absolute madness. I come from a place where you hear a horn honk maybe—I don’t know—once a month? Here, it’s like a form of meditation. And you have to be aggressive. Not in the road rage sense, but it’s sort of like predator and prey—if you show a moment of hesitation, the prey is likely to attack and swallow you.

I was a little concerned that the metro strike would affect intercity trains, but apparently it was only for one day. Good thing, too. It didn’t bother me that I had to walk to the Vatican; after my experiences with the metro in Paris and the buses in several other cities, I trust my feet a lot more than I trust trains and busses. At least if I take a wrong turn, I know it pretty quickly. If you get on the wrong train or bus, then you’re out a few bucks and you’re much further from your destination than you ever intended. That’s only in the cities though. I don’t mind the intercity trains, and I’m actually looking forward to the sleep train tonight. It’ll be a nice change of scene. Well that’s about it for now.

On a side note, this entry marks officially 100 pages that I’ve written since I started the Europe blog. It’s a shame all the writing is incoherent rambling because 100 pages is like one third the length of a novel. Anyway, the writing is more for me than anything else. Got to stay sane.

On Roam in Rome

Friday, October 6th, 2006
Written at 6:41 PM on 6-10-06 in Rome, Italy So Rome. Hm hm hm. It’s quite the interesting place… Let me start from the beginning. After the roughly four-hour train ride from La Spezia to Roma, I arrived at the Termini, Rome’s ... [Continue reading this entry]

Cinque Terra

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
Written at 10:23 AM, 10-4-06, somewhere between La Spezia and Rome. My evening at the Ostello Archi Rossi in Florence ended with relative quiet. After watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, we put on Last Samurai, which we (the other backpackers ... [Continue reading this entry]

Statues and Streets

Sunday, October 1st, 2006
Written at 7:22 PM, 10-1-06 in Florence, Italy I feel confident in saying that today went more smoothly than any day over the past…mmm…week or so. Not that my days in Greece had any other problems than the torrential downpour—but that ... [Continue reading this entry]

The DaVinci Mode

Saturday, September 30th, 2006
Written at 7:07 PM in Florence, Italy It was an almost perfect day. Great weather, beautiful city, time well spent. Now you’re wondering why the “almost.” Well, hold your horses and I’ll tell you. My evening last night finished quietly. I went ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Small Triumphs

Friday, September 29th, 2006
Written at 7:38, 9-29-06 in Florence, Italy. There’s not much to be said for the 24 hours following my previous post, at least not very much that’s positive. The most positive thing I could say is that I am no longer ... [Continue reading this entry]

Matters of Service

Monday, September 25th, 2006
Written at 4:15 PM, 9-25-06, in Corfu, Greece. From my last blog, one might have gotten the impression that my time in Venice was a solely positive experience. I feel the need to clarify this. Venice was beautiful, true, and there ... [Continue reading this entry]


Friday, September 22nd, 2006
Written at 7:48 PM, 9-22-06 After our long and arduous recovery from Oktoberfest, Jacob and I kicked back in a couple coffee shops in and around the Munich train station as we waited for our 11:40 PM train to Venice. Most ... [Continue reading this entry]

Oktoberfest is Crazy

Friday, September 22nd, 2006
Written at 4:49 PM, 9-21-06 I’ve made a realization about the kind of hostels I like. After staying at a wide variety of hostels during my time in Europe—from the very big to the very small—I’ve realized that I really don’t ... [Continue reading this entry]