Friday, 8 June 2012

When in Rome

As I sat down to write this post, I commented to my adventure partner that our apartment here in Rome reeks of eggplant and grease. We made parmesan-garlic battered eggplant for dinner and I had the fan turned on “high” so I couldn’t figure out why the scent was so strong. We just noticed that the fan above the stove vents into the room. So that was pretty pointless. I also remarked that it was weird that we didn’t set off the smoke alarm, but that’s because we don’t have one. I think I love Italy.

The best part about our apartment is the air conditioning (which was included free of charge!) We also have some more interesting amenities in the bathroom.

Me:     Ah, Christ. They have one of those things that freak me out.

K:        A bidet?

Me:     Yeah. I never know how to use these things.

K helpfully straddled the bidet while fully clothed and turned on the spigot.

K:       You just kind of do like this, you know, but with more splashing.

Like every American before me, I nodded and decided that I’m still not totally sold on the idea.

Still doesn't do it for me.

We spent a fair amount of time lazing about in our apartment. We didn’t eat out at a single restaurant while we were in Rome, preferring to save on expenses by shopping at the grocery store and making our own Italian dishes at home. We’re saving our culinary delights for Bologna, where we won’t have a kitchen and the restaurants are much cheaper.

The food we have made ourselves has been amazing! We’ve gone through a half a liter of olive oil, piles of fresh fruit and veggies, way too much Parmesan and balsamic vinegar, and a bit of fresh baked bread and basil-spinach pasta.

One pepper will get you through a few meals.

The only food we’ve had that wasn’t from the grocery store was the tiramisu gelato we had outside the Vatican. I imagine Jesus himself made it, as that’s the only way I can justify paying 8 euro for an ice cream cone.

The Vatican, like my gelato, was completely overrated. I’ve always wanted to visit the Sistine Chapel to gawk at Michelangelo’s work. I considered the Vatican to be the Catholic equivalent of a trip to Mecca. Like everything good in life, hoards of tourists have turned it into some kind of nightmare.

First of all, do not go to the Vatican at opening time. We wandered by the line at 9:00 am, and the crowds wrapped around two streets. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thousands of people baking in the Mediterranean sun, as aggressive salesmen tried to hawk their wares. When we returned at 11:30, there were maybe 50 people in front of us. Perfect.

These 50 people combined with the hundreds who were still in line to get into the Sistine Chapel. I should preface this by saying I hate crowds, mostly because there is a direct correlation between the number of people and the amount of stupid shit they think they can get away with. Anonymity changes people and all traces of human decency die in a crowd. Imagine an airport, and tell me I’m not wrong.

This is the only reason I can come up with for why people think it’s acceptable to toss their garbage on the floor of the Sistine Chapel, while pushing and shoving each other down the marble stairs and completely ignoring the clearly posted dress code. Jesus doesn’t want to see your sunburnt tits.

The other major downside to the Vatican (which really shouldn’t have surprised me) is that they charge for EVERYTHING. We decided to mail postcards to our moms from the Vatican post office so they could have a cool stamp (surprise, Moms!) They won’t let you borrow a pen; you have to buy one for 1.50 euro. I call bullshit, but that being said, I now own a Vatican pen. Sigh.

The other attractions we saw in Rome were totally worth it. I played the part of the wide-eyed, stunned tourist at the Colosseum.

It's just so cool!!

Don’t stand in line at the Colosseum itself. Wander up the road a bit further to the Roman Forum entrance where there’s no line, and buy your tickets there. The ticket to the Forum includes your entrance fee for everything else, and the exit dumps you directly in front of the Colosseum.

The Forum

The Colosseum, like every attraction in Europe, is surrounded by people trying to sell you things, but they weren’t as aggressive as I’m used to seeing and they were open to haggling. I bought two silk scarves to prevent further burning my pasty Euro-tanned skin.

My favorite place to visit was the Pantheon, and not just because it was free. It’s in remarkably good shape for being a few thousand years old, and the interior was gorgeous. Don’t forget to take a picture of Raphael’s tomb while you’re there, but avoid taking any pictures with the gladiators. They charge for that.

All in all, Rome was a great place to visit. The local wine is cheap, the produce is delicious, and the Italian (not Vatican) postal workers were friendly and helpful.

You can't turn around without seeing a cool sculpture.

The metro is easy to use, but not nearly as clean as Barcelona’s. I’m glad we opted for an apartment while we were here, as I desperately needed to do my laundry somewhere other than a hostel shower and having our own kitchenette was great, even if I am sitting in a haze of eggplant parmesan smoke.

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