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Italy: Rome, Day 2 (Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Colosseum)

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Italy: Rome, Day 1 (February 17th, 2015)

I was re-reading the Italy portion of “Eat Pray Love” on the plane to Moscow (layover), and a man (American) who was sitting on the same row I was pointed the book out to his girlfriend (Chinese) that it was a very popular book that was made into a movie in a not-so-quiet voice as if I weren’t sitting two seats away. It was oddly annoying; It was either assumed that I do not speak English (which would have been strange, given that I was reading an English book, unless he assumed I was looking at the words as if they were foreign pictographs), my hearing was severely impaired, or my existence in my seat was not acknowledged. Or maybe it was an oddly indirect way of trying to engage a stranger in a conversation.

Anyway. No, I was not going to Rome because I was somehow naively infatuated with the city I only vaguely remember (from my visit when I was in 2nd/3rd grade) upon reading of the experiences of the protagonist from the book. Honestly, I have no idea (other than the fact that I miraculously (and incorrectly) found cheap tickets) why Rome became my destination. But it doesn’t matter, because I fell in love.

I love Rome. I don’t know how to make those words sound more emotionally emphatic and less naive (I have heard alternating accusations of being too dramatic in emotional expressiveness and range by my brother, and too naive in falling in love with things by certain friends). I don’t think it is advisable to fall in love with a place, as places don’t reciprocate feelings. But Rome did. The mere existence of this grand and ancient city that presented me with so much wonderful gelato and architectural beauty that really dims most other beautiful things in contrast inspired more awe and gave me more happiness than I could handle. (I was not sugar-high, I swear). I wanted to blend into the wall or a cobblestone street. I wanted to inhabit the crisp, clean air that hung over the greenery of Villa Borghese and under the brilliant blue skies. I wanted to stay wrapped in the embrace of the yellowish glow of a warm night in front of the Pantheon packed with tourists, musicians and lovers.

I know that with prolonged exposure to a good thing comes a degree of disillusionment, and a small voice somewhere tells me that if I stayed in this city for a lot longer, I may not love it in the way I do now; it may be too much of a good thing.
I do not care. I love it now. As the Korean expression goes, I am very “thin-eared” (귀가 얇다), which basically means I am malleable and easily influenced by the opinions of others. I honestly wish someone would re-encourage my “thin” ear to go again this month.I don’t mind laughing out loud again because of food, like that time I was losing my mind after tasting insanely good rose-flavoured gelato for the first time in my life.

Anyway, straight to the more interesting photographs.

DAY 1

Castel San Angelo from a distance

Castel Sant Angelo from a distance

I started the day relatively late. I didn’t eat, but I wasn’t all that hungry.

The air that was hanging around me felt so crisp and fresh and clean; if my happiness could be described as a substance that consists of molecules, this happiness was quickly expanding in volume and filling the clean and empty spaces in the air around me because there was so much space to fill. (This stands in stark contrast to Beijing, where the smog attempts to make my lungs collapse upon itself). I tried not to smile around too much so that I don’t come across as a vulnerable tourist (as if that were possible to begin with, given that there is little room for doubt if I am an Asian woman with a massive camera around my neck).

I never ended up going into Castel Sant’Angelo (picture). It was definitely on my itinerary, and I was probably thinking of going there on my third day if time allowed, but I ended up spending the entire first day getting my bearings in this city of sprawling streets. If I may impose my opinion here (as if it wasn’t what I’ve been doing throughout my writing), I think you need at least a day to be able to picture and place yourself on a map, at least in relation to the major landmarks, and you have to do it almost entirely on foot (which is what I did). Besides, this was Rome, and getting lost was delightful and beautiful.

By the way, I am going to continue with this litany of praises for a while. (Cynics– brace yourselves.)

Ponte Sant'Angelo, Bridge of Angels

Ponte Angelo, Bridge of Angels

This is such a cliche, and writing this with my own hands makes me cringe slightly, but Ponte Sant’Angelo took my breath away. (More precisely, the view resulted in a very sharp intake of breath from amazement). Honestly, why does anyone bother making ordinary, boring bridges if you can make bridges like this? You get the sense that you are stepping on and walking across something that is so much greater than you are. The bridge below your feet feels sturdy and old, but it also has an air of grace and self-assurance that cannot be captured in photos.

One of the angels of Ponte Angelo

One of the angels of Ponte Sant’Angelo. “The Angel with the Sponge”.

I mean, just look at it.

In retrospect, some of the awe that was inspired in me may be due to the fact that this was the first awesome thing I saw almost as soon as I got out of the apartment. I say this because the awe that I felt when I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica has no parallel in my memory.

Anyway, I made my way across the bridge and ended up, after some confusion and many photographs, at Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona. I’m sorry– the first and last thing I notice about this photo is the butt of that sculpture.

I was trying to find the market at Campo de’Fiori (literally, “Field of Flowers” but actually a square) to have lunch. I bought a large cup of strawberries and sat in front of the statue of Giordano Bruno. No photos, unfortunately, as I was busy doing close to nothing but just being there eating strawberries and getting skin cancer. If I were a plant, I bet I would have grown at least 2 centimeters sitting there for so long eating strawberries and drinking the sun while watching people. Interestingly, most of the people selling fruits and vegetables looked like native Italians, while a lot of the people who sold packaged pasta and seasoning looked like immigrants. Anyway, after some photosynthesis and leg-resting, I headed towards the Trevi fountain to look for the Gelato of the Crispy Saint.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain, unfortunately under construction.

Unfortunately, this magnificent thing was under construction or restoration or whatever you call what they are doing with this unpleasant metal structure. People were still throwing coins in here though.
They say that if you throw a coin into this fountain, you will visit Rome again. I do clearly remember throwing a coin in here backwards over my shoulder when I came here about 15, 16 years ago (I just did the math to calculate how many years it has been since I was in 2nd/3rd grade and I cannot believe how OLD I am now). Unfortunately I do not believe this works when there is no water in there (as if it works with water the first place), so I didn’t waste any pennies, but I definitely will be back, and I dearly hope San Crispino has rose flavoured gelato again when I come back.

View from the Spanish Steps

View from the Spanish Steps

My plan was to bring my crispy saint gelato all the way to the Spanish Steps and do more people watching here while I savour the delights of rose, orange and hazelnut. However, I got lost too many times, the weather was unnaturally warm, and the gelato was truly too delightful to wait for even the most spectacular view. The view wasn’t bad, but being here felt like it was more about even more sitting around doing nothing where everyone else is sitting around doing nothing. It was awesome, given the spectacular, warm weather. I just wished I had sunglasses.

View from Spanish Steps II

View from Spanish Steps II

On my way here, I actually almost lost my map twice, and I almost lost my map many more times in the following days (because it fell out of my pocket or from under my armpit while I was taking photos or some other similar careless nonsense). Right before I descended the steps here, though, a man (who looked Southeast Asian) who sold red roses (there are a lot of those. people who sell flowers, I mean) called me (which I initially ignored because my hands were sticky from the gelato and I thought he was trying to sell flowers) and pointed at my map which was on the ground about 10 meters behind me.

I would have been completely helpless in navigating this city for the rest of my 3 day stay if it weren’t for this man. I often get a little timid in pointing out things like “your bag is open and it looks like your stuff is about to fall off” or “your fly is open” or “you have something on your jacket” to complete strangers. I guess I should do this more often. I don’t know if I should be less suspicious of strangers from this one incident, because Rome is famed for being a tourist trap full of pickpockets and people trying to scam you. But luckily I have had nothing but delightful encounters, such as the one with the rose man, and another one with the panini man of two days later from the Colosseum warning me to keep my possessions close to myself when I take the metro.

Horses that left a trail of poop in front of Galleria Borghese

Horses that left a trail of poop in front of Galleria Borghese

Did I say I did a lot of sitting around and doing nothing under the sun? Well I really did a lot of that here at Villa Borghese. I think there is a pattern emerging here– when I sit around and do nothing, I sit around and do nothing. I barely take any photos. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of Villa Borghese save for a couple when the horses went by when I was on my way to Galleria Borghese to get advace tickets to the gallery for the next day. They left a very stinky trail of poop.

Anyway, being in this park was quite amazing. I had no idea I missed this green and this feeling of relaxation so much. I sensed an increase in the density of happiness molecules in the air around me. The relaxation wasn’t the kind that intoxicated me with laziness (which so often happens when I absolutely refuse to get off my bed on a weekend). It was an oddly energizing kind of relaxation that filled my mind with greater empty clarity; it was the kind of relaxation that just made my senses more keenly aware of everything I could take in about my surroundings.

And after soaking in as much as I could, I dozed off a little in a patch of sun on a bench, had some coffee, and walked around even more.

Villa Borghese (took precious few pictures here except for this pond thing, sadly)

Villa Borghese (took precious few pictures here except for this pond thing, sadly). There is a married couple in a boat in the distance taking wedding pictures.

I got lost a few times here and there when I was rushing to get out of Villa Borghese. I wanted to catch a Carnevale celebration somewhere, and I had written down a couple on my map. Unfortunately, I was running out of time. I managed to get out of Villa Borghese but I had no idea where I was.

Turns out, I was near Piazza Del Popolo

Dancing! And apparently I am not the only one with the big(ish) black camera who found this subject fascinating

Dancing! And apparently I am not the only one with the big(ish) black camera who found this subject fascinating. I wish I could dance shamelessly in public. I definitely did that in 2nd grade to Backstreet Boys at school assembly.

And the had a massive parade going on.

Carnevale Parade!

Carnevale Parade!

Robin Hood in a pram, armed with a balloon sword and a bag of confetti

Robin Hood in a pram, armed with a balloon sword and a bag of confetti

You hear the drums for 2 minutes before you see the drums

You hear the drums for 2 minutes before you see the drums

Roman generals looking legit

Roman generals looking legit

Roman senators looking pretty legit too!

Roman senators looking pretty legit too

Confetti, Confetti everywhere

Confetti, Confetti everywhere

O.o

O.o

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more confetti in your hair

more confetti in your hair

Anyway, after the parade, I had more San Crispino (honey and banana) and headed towards the Pantheon.

Honestly, I didn’t know if I would have more awe left to be awestruck.

Pantheon

Pantheon

IMG_2516 IMG_2512The pictures of the dome looked too ridiculous and measly (due to my lack of photography skills) so including them here is doing the magnificence of the building a gravely unjust disservice.

By the way, Raphael was buried here, and I cannot think of a more fitting place to be buried at after seeing what he did at the Vatican museums.

Pantheon, from the inside looking out

Pantheon, from the inside looking out

Pantheon, in its nightly splendor

Pantheon, in its nightly splendor

IMG_2532 (2)Anyway, after being thoroughly awed by the Pantheon and embraced by the bright lights and the music and the warm applause outside the Pantheon, I headed back to the apartment of my airbnb host.

Ponte Angelo and St. Peter's Basillica in the distance

Ponte Sant’Angelo and Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica) in the distance, being magnificent with effortless grace.

It took about 30 shots to get this photo right.

The Tiber river flows slowly and sluggishly, but the pretty reflections on the river of the warm yellow lights all over the place makes you really feel the depth and expanse of the history of this incredible city.

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Castel Sant’Angelo and Ponte Sant’Angelo on my way home.

I mean, just look at what I walk over, just 5 minutes from the apartment.

Italy: Before the trip and Day 0.5

*special thanks to Sarah and Andrew for encouraging this inanity of a whim which resulted in one of the happiest weeks of my life*

After the shenanigans of re-purchasing the correct return ticket from Italy (the process spanned over about 36 hours of worrying and some more hours of waiting on international phone calls to Expedia customer service; I contemplated cancelling the whole trip, but thank goodness, thank all things I can thank, that I didn’t actually cancel) and sort of losing around $500 due to general carelessness and lack of keen observational skills, I actually did go to Italy.

Oh that reminds me; I had to go to 4 different bookstores that sold English language books (one of which was permanently closed) to find a copy of Lonely Planet- Italy. Either Italy is way more popular than destinations like France or Spain or Greece (all of which were in stock), or no one is interested in going to Italy and therefore they do not bother stocking up. Anyway, I bought the last copy at the 4th bookstore.

So as one can observe, this whole trip was a series of difficulties and bank-breaking before I even set foot on a plane, let alone Italian soil.

If I am to mention a silver lining in this mess of a cloud, it is that I was lucky enough to snag the last book, I was lucky enough to randomly find a return ticket from a different city (Milan, an unintended destination) at a cheaper price, and I was lucky enough to have friends and parents who were supportive and excited for me all the way through. Honestly, I think it would be very childish of me to want more than that, given that these shenanigans were brought upon my shoulders by myself, mostly.

Also, a cloud like this cannot change the fact that I AM GOING TO ITALY. YAY. It’s like the sun being like, “yeah, you measly cloud, cloud all you want. I’m still the SUN”.

My departure was the morning that my vacation started (which meant a week of work right before the trip). I was exhausted psychologically (from the whole ticket issue) and physically (from vacuuming, packing, doing 3 loads of laundry and cooking and eating everything that would go bad in the next few days). I was very close to saying that I didn’t want to do this trip anymore. I actually said it in my mind a couple of times, but there had been too much time and money and bits and bobs of my heart invested in this trip, so I had to go. I also knew that if I didn’t go, I was going to spend a very miserable 9 days in Beijing.

*****

Anyway, after a fight delay and a fair amount of running around the Moscow airport, I arrived at Rome at around 11:20PM…ish. I was in a hurry to get on the Sitbus to Vatican City (the schedule I saw online said there was a bus at around 11:50ish). There were no proper directions at the airport, so I asked a man who seemed to be in some sort of uniform where I would find this bus. He proceeded to inform me that the last bus had already left, and my only option was to take a taxi, which would cost around 70 Euros. I found this a little odd, because I saw online that the flat rate was 40. He then proceeded to inform me that he would be willing to take me to my destination with his car for a mere 40 Euros. I ignored him and headed directly to the taxi stand.

As the taxi started heading out of the airport, I actually did see the Sitbus shuttle.
fml.
Grumbling inwardly that I ended up spending about 10 times more than I should have, I struggled to not be unhappy or disgruntled 30 minutes after setting foot in Rome. I had invested too much in coming here, and I didn’t come here to be unhappy. But happiness doesn’t work that way, apparently. So I grumbled for a bit. It felt like I had a garden gnome (from Harry Potter, or more specifically, The Burrow) grumbling and fidgeting inside my chest, while I tried to wriggle it out of my body.

Then Uptown Funk came on the radio. I don’t know what it is about this song, but the beat is usually almost always genuinely uplifting for me. When I’m not doing anything in particular, it makes me want to dance, even when I am in public. Disgruntled me could feel the corners of my mouth were curling upwards. The garden gnome had left. This whole “I have to be happy here” was becoming a lot more easier, and 40 Euros did not seem like too much damage all of a sudden. The driver then pointed out the walls of the Vatican and I could actually take in the wall and the cobblestone streets and the streetlights and the tiny tiny cars. I was happy. I was very happy. I felt like I was being driven through a postcard… or an instagram filter.

I repeatedly “grazie”d my cabbie after I got off, and I went up a really cool elevator (which had a manually operated door, was half the size of a standard toilet cubicle (barely fit me and my bag) and looked about 150 years old) to meet my airbnb host.

If all airbnb hosts are like Esmeralda, I would like to recommend airbnb to everyone I like. (I wouldn’t recommend nice things to people I don’t like, because I generally don’t want nice things for them). The building looked old but spacious and very very well kept, and the rooms were really well decorated and clean. Also, I slept little, but I woke up to spectacular blue skies and air I wanted to capture in my lungs, so all was well. The corners of my mouth that curled upward seemed to never want to come back down.

Although I started writing this with the intention of writing about the whole trip today, I now realize after 1000 words that this is too audacious of a goal at 11pm. I will be writing about the rest of the trip in the next few days before I stop having to suppress the impulse to say “grazie” and “buongiorno”.