“Time For the Ninja Mind Tricks”

Don’t be misled by the title of the blog — today was a great day. It started with Michela preparing me breakfast, which was delicious, of course. I had some chocolate muzli cereal with juice and home made peach cobbler that was still warm. After I finished eating, Michela gave me a map of Rome (and a really good map at that) as well as my Roma Pass, which I have a feeling she picked up just for me. Strapping on my belt and camera case, I journeyed out the door to find Trastevere station, the place I was supposed to be last night. Today, it was the place where trouble began.

It was a little bit of a distance further than I thought it would be, which made me doubt myself for a little bit. Still, I found it. Although my original itinerary tells me to ride the Pisa C. Le line, I have no idea why I would do that to get to Termini when there’s a big sign that says P5 TERMINI. So, I changed plans at the last minute and got on platform #1 for the Termini train. My goal was to visit the Vatican Museums first, not only because I knew they would be time consuming but also because I pre-bought my ticket so that I could skip the line (which was, in the end, worth it, although that’s debatable) and I had a scheduled time — 11 AM — to be there. When I left the B&B, it was 9AM. Michela said there are trains that can get you there in 10 minutes. Totally enough time. I should go find a gelato place first.

Why does Time always come back to spite me?

Roma Trastevere — the place that is quickly coming to be known as “That Place Which I Do Not Want To Go Ever Because Bad Stuff Happens.”

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So, I stand on the platform. It’s like 9:15. Just kinda chillin’, no big deal. Bored, I go over and look at the timetable for the trains. I saw that I’d just barely missed the most recent one, but that wasn’t a problem (so I thought), because I still had like two hours, right? Yeah no. The next train was scheduled to arrive at 10:12.

Meh, I’ll still be good. Sure, I have to get on the metro to Ottaviano after this, but metros are fast. It’ll be fine. And then, as is apparently quite prone to happening to me, the train was delayed. Until 10:25. As I was standing there waiting, an old balding man dressed in a yellow and white golf-ish shirt approached me, looked around, and said something very quickly in Italian.

“No capisco,” I responded. “I’m sorry, I speak English.”

“Ah!” he shouted, and we both smiled. He held his fingers in the air, shaking them every now and then. After a minute or two, he finally managed, “Eh, train here 10:15?”

Close enough. “Yes,” I said, smiling. We both laughed again, because we were both entertained by his (successful) attempt at English. We stood there together, waiting for the train. At 10:12, I looked around. He looked at me and smiled. At 10:15, I looked at him, and we both shrugged. At 10:20, we both shook our heads towards each other and sighed. He would say something in Italian that I didn’t understand literally, but the meaning was quite clear — this is stupid. Where the heck is the thing? And we would both laugh, understanding each other even though we never spoke the same language after that. He would listen to the Italian announcements, hoping to hear something about the Termini train, and every time he would perk his head and lift his hands, then snort and let his head and hands drop when he didn’t hear anything. At 10:25, we were both despondently sharing standing space on a floor tile with no train to get on. When the train finally arrived, he eagerly waved me towards it with more energy than I thought he had, a huge smile on his face. We had made it on the train! It was a fun, quick friendship with someone that shows that, even though people speak different languages, they often feel the same way. Still, my mind stayed preoccupied with getting the Vatican on time, or else I’d have to buy a new ticket. And that’d be stupid.

Eh…I can still make this…maybe. Even though after I get on the train it pulls into Termini at 10:55. And I still have to ride the metro. You’ve never seen me be so crowd-pushing and escalator-running as I was in that metro station. I never run, or even walk, on escalators. I just stand there and wait for them to take me to the bottom.

So, I got on the metro and got off again, then dashed toward the Vatican Museum. It’s a zigzaggy path, but I made it to the front doors and shoved my way into line. Thanks to my hard work, it was only 11:12. But I was still late.

Time for the ninja mind tricks.

So I walked up to the desk lady, and I was like I am NOT letting you tell me I’m late. Primary tactic? Distraction. The museum is busy. She’s got a lot to do. So, I handed her my ticket and distracted her by showing her not one but multiple student ID cards, to prove that I was an international student and get my discount. She was so focused on the multiple student IDs that she never looked at the time on the ticket.

Just as planned.

So, I was finally into the Vatican Museum, and that was were my day really began. By the way, who says you can’t make it through the whole Vatican Museum in one day? I did. Okay, that’s a lie, I skipped one section. Sorry. But I don’t see why it’s so hard to get through that thing — I did it in 2.5 hours.

Anyway, there was certainly a lot to see in the museum, but it was fantastic. I am so glad that I went, even though I don’t like art. With a little determination, it was pretty easy to get most pictures without people in them, and I was quite happy to see some famous pieces of art that I recognized, most notably —

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OH YEAH, Last Supper baby. Awesome.

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to name only a few. And of course, the painting that I wanted to see more than any other piece of art in the whole museum —

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W00t! So excited about that one. It’s the only piece of art that I talk about or make reference to all the time. Anyway, my original intent was to only visit the Pinacoteca and Raphael Rooms, but I just couldn’t help doing virtually the entire museum. I felt guilty skipping rooms, and they caught my eye as I tried to walk past them. Like a sad puppy sitting on a corner all alone, just staring at you meekly with gigantic brown eyes. You just have to go look.

*****

After the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, I headed straight to the Basilica of St. Peter. What great views! It was so much bigger than I anticipated. No, I didn’t go up in the cupola. Should I have? Maybe. But I don’t know, jostling with 500 other tourists who want to do the same thing on a skinny platform just to take a picture of Rome from high up just isn’t worth 5 euro to me. Not when I paid a taxi that I didn’t expect to last night. Although I will never regret that choice.

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Anyway, the only disappointing part of my day happened after the Basilica. Right around there, there is supposed to be a gelato shop called Fatamorgana, which I specifically had on my list as the place to get gelato (side note: if you didn’t know, I’m doing a souvenir-less trip. I decided that my souvenirs would be the native Italian food I wanted to genuinely experience. Therefore, I picked out specific restaurants to eat at, while leaving some meals open to just decide spur of the moment, to keep my spontaneity). Unfortunately, I just couldn’t find it. I think I may try again tomorrow.

After I gave up on Fatamorgana, I gradually wound my way to Castel Sant’Angelo —

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and, after that, Piazza Navona.

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For those of you who don’t know, a piazza is like a wide open space. Like a plaza. Anyway, it was actually during the Basilica that my first camera, the small green Sony, gasped out its last breath due to the abuse of taking like 500 pictures at the Vatican Museum. So if you see a difference in picture quality, it’s because I switched to the Sony Handycam. By the end of my journey today, even it had only a sliver of life left.

So anyway, Piazza Navona was fun. The fountains were really cool.

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So, after that, I trekked down an alley and stumbled upon a cute little pizza shop that had the first of my must-try Italian foods list — Suppli al Telefono. Named because the cheese strings out like telephone lines, a suppli is like a pizza ball notorious for its cheese. Can you actually it eat without making a fool of yourself, stringing cheese all over the place?

No, you cannot.

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Trust me, it got a lot stringier than that. Anyway, I was happy to find one of my target food items, but the next one was a total coincidence. Literally. I accidentally turned a corner and wound up inside a gelato shop with pastries and whatnot. Thinking I may be able to find a bomba con crema, another member of my list that I have not had yet, I looked around. Finally, I saw that the napkins said Ciuri Ciuri, and I was like, “No way!” That’s a restaurant on my list, but I was scheduled to visit it tomorrow.

Sorry, tomorrow. I’m having that chocolate chip cannoli right now.

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I chose Ciuri Ciuri because it has a great reputation, not only as a friendly place, but also as the best place in all of Rome to get cannoli. They only fill the cannoli once you order it, so it’s as fresh as can be. Indeed, the owner was very awesome. And so was the cannoli.

I saw that I was very close to another of my chosen restaurants, so I figured, “Why not stop by?” In Piazza Di Sant Eustachio is a shop noted as one of the best in Rome to get real Italian hot chocolate, which is notorious for being so thick and pudding-like that you can put a spoon in it and it will stand up by itself. I headed in and got a hot chocolate of my own — it was delicious but, as I might expect, quite different from any hot chocolate I’ve had before.

It wasn’t a bad thing. But it was the darkest chocolate I have ever tasted. I asked them to put whipped cream in it on purpose, because I knew it would be bitter, but holy moly! Still, as I said, it was great.

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After that, it was a short hop, skip, and jump to reach the Pantheon.

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So, interesting things happened here. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? So I did. People were having a hard time drinking out of the fountain, but I watched a Roman do it by plugging the bottom of the fountain so that water would spray out of the top in a small stream. Like so —

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It worked fine. However, there was a small child watching me. This child.

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He was so intrigued by what I was doing that, obviously, he must try this for himself. I will still drinking when he tried it. This was the result.

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No worries, though. I laughed right alongside his family.

So, as cool as it is to talk about all this stuff, I just don’t have the time right now! I’ve been writing this post for about two hours at this point. Fast forward to when I get to Piazza Venezia. That’s this cool building —

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Yes, that is in fact an Italian flag garden in the foreground. This was my base of operations for the end of the day, as it was where I constantly returned to in order to get back to Al Pompieri, which I’ll talk about later. So anyway, there was another fountain right near this place, and I was thirsty again, so I took a drink. A Roman walked up to me and said, “Ah, you know how to do it!” I was pleased. It was also in a park next to this fountain and the piazza that I did my first vlog, which I had been talking about doing for a while. Not now, my friends, not now. I’ll try to remember to put it in the next blog.

Then, I walked out a bit, my goal being to find my dinner, which I wanted to be Al Pompieri because I wanted to try Rome’s native pride and joy, zucchini flowers. And Al Pompieri is said to be the best when it comes to those. However, they weren’t open quite yet, so I went off and did some other things, one of which was to find a Roman ruin totally inhabited by cats. What the heck?

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On my way to Al Pompieri, I also made a pit stop to Trevi Fountain, which was a lot of fun. But no, I didn’t throw coins backwards over my shoulder in the water. I’m way too cheap for that. 😉

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During my detour to kill some time before the restaurant opened at 7:30 (it was only 5; remember, Italians eat late!), I decided to take one of tomorrow’s sights — the Spanish Steps — and do it today. The whole thing about them is that they’re just a whole bunch of steps, if you’re wondering what the significance is.

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Yeah that’s like a tenth of all of them.

So anyway, I had to take the metro out to Spagna to see that. In order to do that, I first caught bus 64 (because it said Termini and I intended to get on the metro there), but halfway through the ride I saw a metro station and hopped off. However, I now needed to get back to where I was in order to have dinner. It was now 7PM. This is why I enjoy not having a specific time that I have to be places. I figured, Hey, let’s see what happens. So, I rode the metro back to Termini and looked around for bus 64, which had supposedly been going there before I prematurely hopped off. It did in fact drive me back towards Piazza Venezia, which was what I wanted. Rather than risk that it would suddenly go a new route, as soon I could see the Piazza I just jumped off and walked the rest of the way. But, I did make it to Al Pompieri five minutes before they opened. The waiters were very nice, and the menu was stylish.

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If you didn’t realize from before, when the waiter came over I asked for fiore de z’ucca ripieno, or fried stuffed zucchini blossoms. Yes, they are literally flowers, and that’s actually kind of how they tasted.

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I can see why Al Pompieri has a good reputation with the zucchini blossoms — they were very good, although as I said, they did taste flowery. Kind of earthy and bitter, yet the fried coating and mozzarella balanced out the bitterness with a zest that cleansed the palate. I enjoyed it, and I’m glad that I got one. If you want something truly and genuinely Italian, get one of these.

The restaurant itself was beautiful on the inside —

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So yes, thank you Al Pompieri for a good experience. The waiters’ English was quite rough, but I didn’t mind at all. I can’t expect everyone to speak my language — it’s my responsibility to rise to them. When they tried to bring me a menu instead of my receipt, a simple il conto solved the problem.

Come on, people. It wasn’t that hard. Learn someone else’s language.

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After I finished eating, the only thing remaining was the matter of getting back to the hotel. Michela told me to take tram 8, as it would come very near the bed and breakfast, but there was only one problem. The stops were not named and I had no idea what the correct stop looked like. So, I rode tram 8 to the end of the line, trying to recognize things along the way but failing. I approached the tram driver and asked, “Trastevere, how many stops?” He and the other driver looked at each other and counted. We tried to have a conversation, but he acknowledged that his English was not very good and that he couldn’t talk with me. I was fine with that.

“Stazione Trastevere?” I asked. He held up his fingers for 7 stops, then let me back on the tram and started it up. I kept careful count on my fingers, just to be sure that I wouldn’t get mixed up. However, at stop 6, he came out of the drivers seat back into the tram and told me that this was my stop. Tram drivers are far too busy for that, so I thank him immensely. He literally stopped the tram and came back and helped me. And he waited, with a tram full of people, to make sure that I went the right direction. When I got out and looked back, he pointed to the right. I gave him numerous grazies and thumbs ups and smiles, and lo and behold I come around the corner and there’s Trastevere station.

Thank goodness. After walking it once, I had the path back memorized and got back to the bed and breakfast, thanks to his help.

So, I pretty much condensed way too much information into this blog. There was so much I didn’t cover, but at least I hit every actual place that I went. I saved the easier things for tomorrow, so hopefully I can finish my journey here and get back to the airport (and finally back to Budapest) with all things going well. Not necessarily going as planned, but going well would be great.

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