Automatic Updates from New Blog

Hey, everyone! I’ve got some great news–I’ve finally figured out a way to give you guys access automatically to all of the posts showing up on the new Bythepathlesstraveled blog!

I know that it’s a pain to head on over there for new posts. But now, fear not! This is how it works:

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So click on the cog and you’ll see the five most recent posts from the new bythepathlesstraveled blog. Woohoo! In the cog there’s also the option to subscribe, and you can also view the archives if you don’t feel like scrolling all the way down. The magnifying glass is a search bar too, so feel free to search for a post if you are looking for something specific. 

I’m trying to make things a lot easier for you guys if I can, so if you have any suggestions, PLEASE let me know.

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So basically, I’m going to attempt to shortlink to some of my major post categories. Once you’re at the first post, you can use the navigation arrows on the vertical red bar to the left of the page to keep reading through chronologically. (Don’t worry, the arrows will be there!) 😀

To check out my China Series, click here:

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To check out my Europe/Hungary Series, click here:

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To check out my Flagship Niagara Series, click here:

Niagara

To check out my Things You Thought You Knew Series, click here:

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To check out my Japan Series, click here:

Japan

Condensing My Trip To Rome into a Blog Post? Impossible!

I’m home.

Well no, I don’t want to say that quite yet. I’m actually still sitting in the Liszt Ferenc Airport, and it’s 3:10 AM. But my point is that I’m back in Budapest, at least.

So why am I sleeping in the airport when my flight arrived at 00:20 and there are buses going from the airport? Because I’m a lazy bum who doesn’t want to chance getting stuck out in the cold because of a night bus mishap. If I had to, I would take those night buses, such as if I had a place to be at a certain time. The only place I have to be now is my bed, but I made one of those for myself at the airport. I have a little wall all to myself in front of the Alitalia office –

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So, I’ll be here until 4:17, as I understand it. That’s when the night buses stop coming and the regular service buses get back in action. I’ll hop on 200E like always, and by the time it gets me to its station of origin, the metros and trams will be open and all will be well.

You can see how this is still future and is, of course, speculation, yes? I don’t want to spite Time yet again and have something else go wrong. So anyway, it’s really not that bad here at the airport. The floor is freezing, but if you’re tired enough you can sleep through it. What would thousands of people pay to see their airport look like Liszt does now – there are all of about 13 people across all three floors of the entire airport.

That’s not a guess. I checked.

So, what did I accomplish today (err,  yesterday, I suppose. My last day in Rome). It started off perfectly, if I don’t say so myself. The bed and breakfast owner, bless her heart, made me breakfast half an hour early – chocolate muzli cereal again with juice and homemade chocolate bread this time. Unfortunately, today was my day to check out and say goodbye to her, but even after I checked out, she let me stash my bag at the B&B so that I didn’t have to lug everything with me to all the sights today. A relief, since I didn’t return for my bags until 6:30, and I would have been carrying that thing for that long had she not been as kind.

So yeah, we ate breakfast and chit-chatted about what I did yesterday, the Japanese language, and some other things. I finished up breakfast, checked out, and said goodbye to her. What a great person – I’m sad that she won’t be the owner of every hotel I stay in! So I strapped on my camera bag and headed toward the traffic light where I usually turn onto the long road to Trastevere Station. Today, I took a little detour toward the small open market in the opposite direction. Within moments, I was lured in.

There was a tiny bakery pulling all of its things fresh out of the oven. Everything inside looked gorgeously prepared. I went up to the owner, a slightly large man who was running the cash register, and asked, “Bomba la crema?” Soon enough I had in my hands yet another of my must-eat Italian foods, the bomba con crema or, as a couple people said, bomba la crema. This is more than just a filled doughnut, my friends. Sure, that’s what it appears to be, but it’s actually a very unique type of filling that is not really sweet but certainly not bitter. Not vanilla flavored, and most definitely not Boston crème, the filling was very interesting but very good, and bombas are known for their extreme amount of filling. I stood in the bakery and ate the bomba, which you’d think I’d be in the habit of doing by now since it’s more expensive to sit down and eat in Italy than it is to stand (seriously, there are two differently priced menus). I only sit after I’ve paid for my meal. Anyway, the bomba was delicious – freshly made, crispy and light on the donut side, so airy that it almost appeared to have a slight lemon tinge to it.

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After that, I rode the train out of Trastevere to Termini, even though I could have gotten off earlier, just so that I could finally sneak a picture of the aqueducts around the city. Can you believe that I totally forgot that Romans used aqueducts until the train went right under them, and I was like, “Oh yeah, check that out!”

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At Termini, the metro quickly sped me to my next stop, which is the monument I’m sure everyone will recognize. If you don’t, go pick up a history book.

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Thanks to my handy Roma Pass, I got in for free and skipped the massive line, which was great.

A note on the Roma Pass – did I save money by using it? Technically, no. I could have bought all of my metro, bus, and train tickets individually, paid the admission to certain sites, and have come off probably 4 or 5 euros cheaper. But for the convenience not only of skipping the lines at places like the Colosseum and Palatine Hill, as well the reassurance and freedom of knowing that I can get on any public transportation at any time and any place without finding a ticket vendor and validating machine (because there is not one at every stop) was for more worthwhile than the few extra euros.

Back to what I was saying.

The inside of the Colosseum was cool as well; images of trying to find a way to climb that darned circular building in Assassin’s Creed kept flashing through my mind. And I was reminded, once again, how painstakingly accurate the creators of that game were. Stone by stone, I traced my path through the game in the real monument. It was pretty wicked. And of course it was cool for many reasons aside from just a video game.

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I can’t stretch my legs out straight and I can’t walk straight because my muscles and feet are so sore. Was it worth it? You bet.

Anyway, focus. After the Colosseum, which was very cool but not too time consuming, I headed for the Arch of Constantine right next to it, to get a better view.

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Yeah, you wonder why my legs and feet hurt. Look at these cobblestones I was walking on all day.

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Right next to the arch was the beginning of Palatine Hill, which I grossly underestimated until I was actually up there. Skipping the line again, I –

Wait a second. The “skipping the line” thing was a little bit of a fiasco. In trying to get through the turnstiles, I got very confused. They’re the kind that automatically move, and the lady took my Roma Pass from me, scanned it, and didn’t warn me that it was going to happen, so naturally, I missed it when they turned. So then I tried to push through, but the bars were locked. I turned back to her and she scanned her little ID card. I tried to push through again, but they were still locked.

“You don’t push, don’t push,” she said. “Just walk.”

Okay, lady. You do realize that the very act of walking through them pushes on them, yes? Do you need a physics lesson?

So, long story short, I hovered there until they suddenly flopped me ungracefully over to the other side. Whatever. I was in.

As I said earlier, I had completely underestimated everything that I could find on Palatine Hill. Sure, there were the Roman Forums, which were pretty cool but didn’t have much opportunity aside from a couple pictures –

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But there was also the arena, which I found much more intriguing.

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There was also a botanical garden,

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and Casa di Augusto, or the House of Augustus. Not gonna lie, I didn’t actually get to go inside that one. It was pushing noon and I was still on the hill, which was much later than I had planned. I knew I would be crunched for time later with the flight looming, and only about 7 or 10 people are allowed in the House of Augustus at one time. There were about 25 people in front of me, and I just couldn’t hang around. It was another museum, which would have been interesting, although I’d also filled my Roman museum fix long ago and didn’t necessarily mind missing it.

I tell you what, the people around here sure liked to build arches.

I decided that I’d seen what I came to see (and quite a bit more, actually), so I walked the short distance to the Colosseo stop and got back on the blue metro B to go see the famed Circus Maximus – cool, but overall the most disappointing piece of architecture in my trip. Construction on half of it and a county fair-looking event on the other half really obscured what the Circus Maximus used to be — a ring occasionally for gladiators but more often for chariot races that typically turned brutal.

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One note I’d really like to make at this point is the proximity of everything in Rome to each other. In my mind, I’d divided Rome neatly into two sections – the western half on the first day, and far-removed eastern half on the second day. However, Rome consistently (at quite a number of places) got me to turn one corner only to discover a monument that I actually thought was miles away. Like how I turned a corner just a little past the Circus Maximus and found myself behind Palatine Hill and the Forum again – monuments I believed to be four or five miles to the north. As I said, this happened almost all the time (the Colosseum being right behind Piazza Venezia, etc), so if you ever go to Italy, don’t trust how big the map actually appears. If you’re ambitious enough to start at sunrise and go past dark, you can do a walking tour of all the things I did in one day.

Anyway, back to the architecture. By the way, I’m now sitting outside the airport so that I don’t miss the bus that’s coming in about 17 minutes. I’m using my normally kind of hot laptop to keep me warm, since it’s like freezing cold out here. So yeah, I walked past the Circus Maximus down into a plaza (which, for a while, I mistakenly believed to be Piazza di Anastasia, therefore getting myself lost for about ten minutes), and there were more policemen in that plaza than I’ve seen congregated in my entire life. Literally, I saw them walking up and down the corded-off street in platoons.

What’s going on? I thought to myself. Should I even be walking down here? Ahead, however, I saw other people crossing through the police tape and crossing the street as if nothing was happening, so I decided to chance it too. Everything was fine – it was a wedding.

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So someone, please tell me what the heck was up with all the weddings in Rome on September 22? No matter where I went in the city every church was having a wedding. I saw five or six of them before the day was out. To be completely honest about the first one near Circo Massimo, however, I have no idea why it was such a big deal. That many policemen, bodyguards, heck, even the Guardia di Finanza was there! What do they have to do with anything?

I think, perhaps, there was an issue with the value of the ring or its origin. Eventually, a man ran out of the church with a ring on his finger and said, “Everything’s fine, it was just [blah blah that I couldn’t hear]. Here’s the ring! See?”

So down by past Circus Maximus, I stumbled upon these really cool monuments, although I have no idea what they are.

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Okay, I get that it’s a water fountain. That’s not what I meant.

Intermission – it is currently 4:05, and the airport is starting to return to life a little bit. As in, there’s probably 30 people here now. Woohoo!

Intermission 2 – So the bus just came, even though it’s only 4:08 and it’s supposed to be here at 4:17. Never mind, it just turned off. Guess we’ll be here till 4:17 after all.

So, my real intention for wandering around Circus Maximus with three-fold – the last two restaurants I had mapped out for my must-eat list were around there somewhere, as were the Baths of Caracalla, which I’ll get to later. Because of my mistaken belief that the plaza I was in was Piazza di Anastasia, it was no wonder that I couldn’t find Via di S. Teodora. Even though I had walked right past it looking for it. The restaurant (more like a shop, really – it required standing at a shelf, again), had no signs on the outside that made it noticeable. If I was not specifically looking for it, I would never have found it and probably would have mistaken it for someone’s house.

It was called Cristalli di Zucchero, and I came there because of its reputation for excellent tiramisu. Who can go to Italy without trying the tiramisu? The cabinet before me was lined with confectionary delights, and I wanted to try all of them. But I didn’t have the stomach, wallet, or time to do that.

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Instead, I ordered what I came for – a tiramisu and a piece of cheesecake.

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The portions were very small, as you can see. It was perfect, though, because they were cheap, didn’t fill me up entirely (leaving room for my other restaurants), yet giving me enough of a piece to savor each flavor individually. I got four small bites out of each one. I’d say each was probably the size of one of those tiny pads of Post-It notes. The wide rectangular ones, not the really skinny ones. Know what I mean?

The tiramisu was divine, as far as my untrained palate could tell – light but not full of air, rather full of airy substance where it needed to be. The vanilla-ish cold cream was the perfect temperature, chilled but not too cool to dull my mouth and lose the other flavors; the cream was also sweet without being overpowering. It was balanced well with incredibly strong, bitter, and intensely finely ground coffee on the top. Overall, I would call that an excellent experience, and an excellent tiramisu.

INTERMISSION: The bus is leaving, and it is in fact 4:17. The rest of this blog, starting from the small piece of cheesecake, shall be completed back at the dorm after I get some rest.

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Ah, I’m back! Rested (a little, at least), it’s time to continue the blog. Unfortunately, I just can’t cover everything in this blog, so I’ve got to kind of skim over some stuff (like the fact that I also visited the Flavian Amphitheatre on this day). So moving on — the cheesecake.

The small piece of cheesecake was also quite good, but it was very different from typical american cheesecake. It did not have the thick, heavy consistency of New York style cheesecake, and it wasn’t as sweet. The clear red topping, which may appear to be strawberry or cherry, did not seem to be either. Rather, it tasted merely like a sweet topping that had no distinct fruit flavor. I enjoyed that small piece of cheesecake but, if I had the option to order an entire cheesecake of that, I’m not sure that I would do so in favor of another of Zucchero’s pieces.

After I ate those treats, I backtracked past the Circus Maximus again and sat down on the rim of it, resting my feet. As I’m sure you can imagine, anyone’s feet would be tired and painful after two days of the hard walking I did, but my feet especially are prone to intense pain after a lot of work. We had this issue when I first came to Calvin as well, and the doctor (who had at first diagnosed it as a ganglion which needed to be drained) finally told me that I simply have feet prone to stress fractures. I believe her. Entirely.

So yeah, I was sitting on the edge of the Circus Maximus, talking for a brief time with an elderly Italian man walking his pug. He was very excited to tell me all about Rome, but I had to excuse myself and keep heading up the Via di Cerchi, the way I had come from, in order to hit the Baths of Caracalla before my time in Rome finally ran out. The intense pain in my feet made the way difficult, and I took a wrong turn that added an extra fifteen minutes of unnecessary uphill walking to my itinerary. Oh well. I realized my mistake and backtracked.

Using my trusty Roma Pass, I also got into the Baths free of charge. The Baths of Caracalla were a large complex of public baths used by ancient Romans free of charge. However, it was later destroyed during a war, and it was one of Rome’s only ruins to be further damaged by the earthquake that hit Italy in 2009. Many places are corded off to avoid further damaging the floor tiles, but I did get some great pictures of what the broken floor tiles looked like when they were whole.

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The site itself was quite large, especially for a bath house.

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While I was there, I was walking slightly ahead of an aging couple who spoke English. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lizard scurrying across the ground. I dashed after it, virtually faceplanting into the ground to get a picture. As I lay still, they couple walked by me with curious stares as I held my camera poised at a rock. The man turned to the woman and whispered, “What is she doing?”

I like lizards, dude. If I wanna use my time in Rome to chase lizards then by golly I’m gonna chase some lizards.

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That couple did make me smile, though.

After I left the baths, I only had one more food stop on my itinerary — Il Gelato di Claudio Torce. Apparently it’s the place in Rome to get gelato. I mentioned before that I couldn’t find Fatamorgana, but after doing some more research, I don’t regret not being able to find it and get their gelato — while Fatamorgana receives rave reviews from tourists, if you take the time to translate the Italian reviews, every Italian person who’s been there hates it. One man even said that he threw the gelato out without eating it. However, Il Gelato is highly (and proudly) recommended by tourists and Italians alike, not only for their unique flavors but also for the authenticity of their ingredients and the overall quality of their gelato. Take a look at the wall on the inside of Il Gelato — it’s obvious they have quite a reputation all around the world!

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There were about 30 languages up there.

So anyway, I went in and ordered two scoops of gelato — the first a cinnamon chocolate ginger scoop, and the second a lighter lemon ginger. To be quite honest, I was blown away. The presentation was excellent, first of all, with two separate cones and a small dabbling of cream (not whipped cream but rather whipped cream; it wasn’t sweet, just dairy cream whipped smooth in order to refresh the mouth and accentuate the flavors of the gelato).

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As for the flavors themselves, the cinnamon chocolate was indeed spicy, although the ginger element was a little drowned out by the cinnamon. Rather than simply ground cinnamon, it appears that Il Gelato used actual cinnamon sticks which have marinated in the cool ice cream for so long that they have become soft. Finding pieces of them throughout the scoop was delightful. However, it was the lighter lemon ginger scoop that really drew me in.

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The lemon was barely noticeable but perfect, adding just a hint of freshness without being overbearing. The ginger was revitalizing, and I mean that in more than just the typically “ice cream is good on a hot day” kind of thing. Literally, the ginger was physically re-energizing. It was fresh, tangy, and light. I would bathe in vats of that ginger gelato for the rest of my life. It was, by far, the best ice cream I have ever had.

My final destination in Rome was controversial — would I make it in time or not? The time for my flight was approaching quickly, but I really wanted to go and see Faro al Giancolo, a lighthouse on a huge hill with a beautiful panoramic view of Rome. What better way to end the trip, right?

After quite a few endeavors and bus failures trying to get me there, I hopped on electric bus 115 to the top of the hill. Time was short, but I just couldn’t pass up the beautiful view afforded by the hilltop.

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Also atop the hill was the Monumento a Garibaldi, an impressive horse-riding figure.

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The light of sunset framing my view, I just couldn’t help but take one last, long look around at Rome, at where I was standing, and at where I had come from.

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It was an amazing journey, but it was finally time to say goodbye. But to balance out my sadness at leaving, a lively Italian puppet show for the kids started up right behind me. Take a look! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KQ6xctt4Uc

I got back on bus 115 and rode it to its station, then waited for it to turn around and take me back down the hill. On the way down, we passed the Fonte Acqua Paolo, but the picture opportunities in the bus were quite limited.

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When I got back to Via Trastevere, it was quite a long walk back to Trastevere Station; at one point, I asked a taxi driver if I was going in the right direction just to make sure. He didn’t speak English.

“Stazione Trastevere?” I asked, pointing in the direction I intended to go. He nodded and made a walking motion with two fingers. “Grazie!” I shouted as I booked it toward the station. I was already much later than I wanted to be, although I wasn’t “running late.” On the way back to the bed and breakfast to pick up my luggage, though, I stumbled upon the final place that I wanted to be — a real, family-run Italian pizza shop.

Oh yeah baby.

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The elderly lady behind the counter spoke no English, but I gestured with my hands and my limited Italian that I wanted a very small piece of the pizza closest to her, a slice of mozzarella. She handed it over cheerily and we parted ways. I munched on it as I walked back to get my bag from Michela.

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It was quite unique, but it was also quite authentically Italian. No sauce, no dressings, just good old pizza dough and mozzarella cheese. It was awesome. I like this idea of “Italian pizza.”

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After an exhausting walk back to get my bag, I went to Trastevere and just barely missed the train to Fiumicino Airport. No big deal, I still had a lot of time; it was only 7, and my flight was at 10:20. Then again, the last time that I said I still had time, look what happened — a delayed flight, a missed train, a taxi, and a botched arrival in a foreign city.

Well, you got the delayed flight right.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I should have been in less of a rush because my flight would end up being delayed by about an hour. Why? Well, we’ll discuss that in a moment.

At Trastevere, my intention was to go to the ticket window and tell the woman that I needed a ticket to Fiumicino on the Sabina-Fiumicino train from platform 5. The problem? There was no one at the ticket window. In fact, it was downright closed. The only option which remained were the dreaded self-service ticket machines notorious for giving both tourists and natives problems. I got in line behind a man and his son who could not figure out the machine, which did nothing to make me feel that I could figure it out myself. Eventually, the two got so frustrated that they let me go ahead of them.

I don’t really know what all the fuss was about. It was quite easy.

For a while, I debated with myself about even getting a ticket. It’s 8 euro one way, which is insanely expensive for just one ticket. The cheap, greedy part of me said, “There were no ticket checkers last night, and that’s a lot of money to pay. No need to buy a ticket.” But the moral part of me said, “No, I have to buy a ticket, because that’s the right thing to do.”

Indeed, the moral part was right and I’m glad I ignored the greedy me. Not five minutes after boarding the train, a man came over and asked me, “Biglietto?” I showed him my ticket gratefully. Indeed it does pay off to do the right thing.

I arrived at the airport without incident. Before I headed to my terminal, though, I couldn’t resist one look back at the train and the station that had caused me so much grief on my night of arrival.

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Security in the airport was a breeze, although it was more thorough than in Ferihegy. This time, we actually had to take our shoes off and remove not only our laptops but also our cameras. I beeped going through, but there was actually no problem and when I went through again all was well. I can tell you, though, that those few moments of having my shoes off and pressing my throbbing feet onto the cool floor were pure bliss. It was one of the few times in my life that I actually wanted to go through security.

I found the gate with no problem and sat down, about an hour left before boarding. When boarding time finally came, I walked over to D3 to line up (I was one of the first ones to go over), and I looked at the screen to make sure that it was in fact 21:50 when we were supposed to begin boarding. The screen flickered on.

Hm. I didn’t know I was going to Geneva. Cool.

Suddenly the entire group of people slated to go to Budapest lurched forward in a panic, no longer knowing where our gate was. I went over and checked the board, but it displayed D3. That obviously wasn’t right. People were getting worried.

If they would have been a little less focused on worry, they would have noticed when the board updated to D7. And that’s how I got to be one of the first in line to board.

However, just because we got to the gate doesn’t mean we got to board. The wait lasted about an hour. Now don’t get me wrong, so far I have found nothing significantly wrong with WizzAir as an airline. I have heard multiple reviews of it arbitrarily enforcing unfair rules, being rude, etc, but I have not seen evidence of any of that. I know it exists, of course, but I don’t have anything bad to say about WizzAir right now. The only thing I didn’t understand was why the WizzAir lady was staring at me as I stared at her wondering why she was staring at me doing nothing as she stood there doing nothing and we were both wondering why we were standing there doing nothing but staring at the fact that the other was doing nothing. This continued for an hour. Why were we delayed? I have no idea.

So, I sat down on the floor to relieve the pain in my feet, although that didn’t really help. By that time, I couldn’t feel three toes on my left foot. That’s happened before, though, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. Then, at long last, we were called to board, and I got my final glimpses of the airport.

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I got on the plane only to have a guy with extremely long legs behind me shoving his kneecaps into my back. When he shifted so that he could kiss his girlfriend and knocked me so hard that his knee lifted me off of the seat, I had had enough. The benefit of flying a small budget airline? There are no assigned seats. First come first serve. So I got up and moved, and I ended up getting a view I liked better — the wing and the ground at the same time. I enjoy watching the wings of an airplane as it flies. It entertains me.

I pay my compliments to this WizzAir pilot just as I did the last one, he provided an excellent and smooth flight experience from takeoff to landing. I was surrounded on the plane by elderly folk nervous about flying on a plane, their white-knuckled hands gripping my seat in various places. I bid farewell to Rome by the light of the nighttime city.

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I also finally got a snapshot of the coast of Italy. I was prepared for it this time.

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And thus my flight continued until I ended up at the airport where I was at the beginning of this post. So, in a way, we kind of went in a backwards time circle. I only wish that it were more possible to convey all the points of my trip through the blog, but they will stay with me for the rest of my life as one fantastic experience and a journey well worth taking. Three days of Rome by myself was something I’m certainly grateful for.

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Sorry about such a long blog! And I still can’t believe everything that I still had to leave out. Anyway, for those of you curious, I did also post my first vlog here on the blog, on the post previous to this one. Please feel free to check it out.

Until the next interesting thing comes along, this has been good ol’ me, signing off (finally)!

“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.