Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rome - Day 1

So, now that it's been nearly 6 months since my first epic trip out of the states, I feel that I need to make sure that I write down as much as I remember. Although photos speak a million words, words still speak more I believe.

I'll begin with the morning of the flight.

No, I'll back up.

Let me go back more than a year. This whole trip was more than a year in the making. In February of 2013, Jenny Hansen had come to me, suggesting a Mediterranean Cruise. Me, having never been out of the country before was quite taken back . . . and 100% in. So, for a year and a half, after losing many travel buddies (including Jenny herself to the gold pot at the end of every single's rainbow: Marriage), the trip dwindled down to Mandy and I and we finally set a date for the end of August. I spent the entire year researching, watching documentaries, looking at pictures, trying to familiarize myself with maps of Rome and Athens (which, FYI, a map of a city does NOTHING to familiarize yourself with a city), and planning what clothes I needed to buy and pack. I'll admit, the planning of a trip is nearly as fun for me as the actual trip. I think it's the learning thing. I love learning new things about people and cultures. Even though I get to experience it eventually, the build-up and the preparation are invaluable to me.

Now, fast forward again to the morning we left. It was very early. I'd spent about three days trying to prepare my body for the time zone change. It didn't help that I'd been up 'til 12 am the night before helping at the open house of the Ogden Temple (and experience I'd never give back . . . but it did rob me of precious hours of sleep).

I drove to Mandy's home in Centerville and her friend drove us to the airport. We got there at about 6:30. After some quick breakfast food from one of the little airport marts (a couple granola bars, juice, etc.) we didn't have to wait too terribly long before our flight was called up.

Due to our Coach status and inexpensive flight tickets (we're all getting to the same place in the same amount of time, right?) we were among the last to board. The flight from Salt Lake to Philadelphia wasn't too bad a few hours of flight time with a good book on my tablet and little playing cards makes the time "fly" by (horrible pun).

In Philadelphia, we broke down and got donut pillows and blankets, along with some YUM chocolate that we'd saved from the Rocky Mountain chocolate factory we'd splurged on in Salt Lake.

After waiting . . . waiting . . . charging our phones . . . and more waiting . . . and people watching . . . and waiting . . . we were finally ready to get on the plane from Philadelphia to Rome!
The moment we landed, we hurried off to the Roma Pass office (these city cards become your best friends! Nearly all major European Cities now have these tourist passes and they are amazing! Not only do you get multi-day passes to use the entire public transit setup, but you also get free entrances to multiple sites, and discounts to just about everything else. It's totally worth it!) and picked up our pre-paid passes. The only problem came when we stepped out of the airport . . . and had no idea how / where to get on the train. The air was muggy and warm for the early morning (yes, we'd lost a whole day just on airplanes), it smelled like cigarette smoke everywhere we went, and everyone spoke in Italian. Since, I find I have a man's mentality when it comes to some things and I'd rather just figure it out without asking someone, I found myself dumbfounded and at a loss at what to do. Even after all my Google Maps studying!!!

Luckily, Mandy had the guts to actually approach one of the bus companies (there was a lineup of shuttle busses) in English and asked how much it was for a ride into the city. After 4 Euros each, we had a bus ride! On the ride to Termini Station (the central Public Transit station in Rome), we saw the cityscape, some beautiful buildings, and I found my heart pounding away furiously inside my chest.

I was in Italy. I was in Rome.

After we were dropped off at Termini, I checked the map from our Roma Pass and my Google Maps studying finally came to the rescue. I knew we had to walk North from the station to find the hotel and we started walking the three short blocks to the street our hotel was on. It was a lot easier to find than I thought it would be, AND we walked by an ATM on the way there, so we knew exactly where we'd be able to stop for money. (NOTE: Cash is king in Europe).

The hotel (by Mandy's definition, left something to be desired) was adorable. Smelly, but adorable. The closet made my clothing smell like a sixty-year old sweaty German man with a cheese fetish, but all-in-all . . . I won't lie, I found it quaint. Afterall, I was in Rome. I wasn't gonna complain about a thing! I was in ROME!

We asked the sweet lady at the front desk, which was the best route to get to the Caracalla Baths and she looked at us as if we just told her we were going to jump into the bowels of hell, warning us to be careful while using the Metro (we must have looked more Utahn than I thought).

So, we walked back to Termini Station, wandered for a few minutes, I asked a station employee if she spoke English (Parle Inglese? -- I was little less shell shocked at this point). She replied that she knew very little, but she was able to help us enough to get to the Metro entrance via the long way -- we eventually found the easy access routes by the end of the day. We got of the metro, walked the wrong way for about five blocks (this happened a lot--but it was a fun adventure! I loved it), and then turned around and finally found our way to the Caracalla baths in the hot August morning.

The pictures don't even come close to doing this place justice. You can see the tiny people in the center of the photograph below. Like, seriously, the walls were HUGE. Not to mention the beautiful Mosaic work that was on display.

After the Caracalla Baths, we walked down the Appia Antica (or Ancient Road). It's the oldest road in Rome and it leads out of the city and to a very large National Park of Aquaducts and Christian Catacombs. We didn't follow it down far enough to get to the Aquaducts, but we did stop to do a tour at the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. 
There were groups in tours for nearly every major European language: German, Italian, Spanish, and of course . . . English. The tour guide, by the sound of his accent, was from New Zealand and he was a Catholic priest. Since the tour didn't allow photographs underground due to the sacred nature of the location, I don't have any for you (though I could have easily sneaked some--I knew it would be disrespectful). He started us in the old chapel on-site, and explained some of the early Christian symbols we'd be seeing. He also explained how the Catholics and early Christians viewed the Godhead and the afterlife before taking us to the catacombs below. As we climbed down, the tombs began to show -- long holes in the wall -- the bodies now having been either moved or raided and destroyed in years past. At the lowest, the tombs reached nearly fifty feet or more above our heads.

The guide explained to us that the oldest graves were at the top, the youngest, at the bottom, because they'd dig low and then bury the bodies in the walls. As more people died, the floor was dug lower and lower, creating higher and higher walls, all the while burying the bodies in the catacombs.

We saw Frescoes of Bible stories, figures of Christ, doves, and other early Christian Symbols. We saw the early burial tomb of some major popes, and the tombs are still used today as pilgrimage points for very devout Christians with an operating Chapel still in the tombs.
After the tour, we headed to the center of the city again and right to one of the many museums on the trip. The Capitoline Museum is AMAZING! Not only does it house some of the large pieces of ancient Roman statues and extremely detailed art, but it's also built over and protects the remaining walls of Jupiter's Temple (Jupiter being the equivalent of Greece's Zeus). Statues of Constantine and other Roman emperors basically stand guard and watch over the entire building.
And of course, nudie Gods and fantastically carved marble baroque statues are EVERYWHERE. Amazing, intimidating, and beautiful!
One of the great things about Rome is that there are fountains of potable water everywhere you go. No need to purchase water anywhere (it's price is um, cha-ching!) because you've got your handy dandy water bottle and a thousand fountains no matter where you go.
When we finished at the Capitoline Museum, we walked around the city and ended up in front of the Altar of the Fatherland. The quite-new (1800s) Greek-esque monstrosity of a monument in the center of the city. It's one of those monuments that Italians apparently have a love/hate relationship with. We sat on the steps, looked at is as it lit up, and then made our way back to the hotel, ready to crash and prepare for the next adventure!

Check out the rest of Day 1 photos below!

Eating vegan in Rome was a cinch! The first meal I had was a simple potato and zucchini pie. it. was. fabulous!

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