Italy Day 4
Wednesday, December 26th: The Colosseum and St. Peter’s Cathedral
On the 26th of December, the day after Christmas, we decided to forgo a day trip to Naples and stay in Rome. We had heard that the Colosseum was open on the 26th, as was St. Peter’s Cathedral. We both really wanted to get to those, so it seemed like a good idea just to stay put.
We finally got to have breakfast at the Beehive Café. I had an omelet for the first time in years, plus one slice of gluten-free bread and one slice of regular homemade bread. Actual real wheat bread. It was delicious.
A bit of background: I have been following a gluten-free diet since 2009 when my stomach and digestive system decided to completely rebel against me. Maybe it was the stress of graduating and trying to find a job, I don’t know. I had seen a gastroenterologist and had an endoscopy to check for celiac disease. I, thankfully, did not have the disease, but the blood test revealed that I might be sensitive to gluten/wheat. So I eliminated it from my diet and… I began to feel better! Less stomach distress, less pain, more energy, a lot of things. I decided to stick with it.
But lately I have eaten certain gluten-y things without pain/distress, so I don’t know what is going on. I decided to be less restrictive in my gluten-free-ness and try to eat bread in Italy. After all, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity! How could I not eat Italian bread and pasta?
After breakfast, we were on our way to the Colosseum! I had done some research on the internet about this and lines for tickets to get into the Colosseum tended to also be ridiculous. However!! I got an awesome tip from Reddit that said to go to the Palatine Hill entrance first because you can get a ticket for all three (Colosseum/Palatine Hill/Roman Forum) and wait in a significantly shorter line. It was absolutely true—we were about 5th in line and were inside the Palatine Hill ruins in minutes!
I love ruins.
After Palatine Hill and the Forum (which is basically an open area with a bunch of rocks, but it was fun to stand and think about what used to be there), we were off to the Colosseum.
As we approached, we saw this huge mass of people that circled around the Colosseum. “This must be The Line,” I said. But hey, we already had tickets. We walked past what seemed like hundreds of people waiting in line. I felt bad for all those people who didn’t know that they just could walk across the street, buy a ticket for the same price, and be inside within minutes. That was the best tip ever. So my fellow travelers, if you are ever going to see the Colosseum… Start at Palatine Hill.
The Colosseum was what I had been dreaming of seeing for a long time. It was on my bucket list. (But no longer! Consider that DONE!) Looking at the Colosseum from the outside is impressive. It just looks tall and mighty! But looking at it from the inside was just as impressive. And amazing. And all those other awesome descriptive words. I loved it.
The gift shop was very tempting, but I was able to resist and onward we went! St. Peter’s Cathedral awaited us! We had to walk all the way back to Termini to grab a quick lunch at the grocery store. After that, we hopped on the metro.
There was a bit of a line to get into the cathedral, but we didn’t have anything better to do than wait! Even so, it took us about 20-30 minutes to get in. Not bad at all!
It was dimly lit inside the church, so I can’t express enough how much the pictures do not do it justice. I feel like nothing I had could have captured the magnitude and the opulence of this church. It was like a castle or a throne room, where the king of Catholiscm ruled.
The sun was setting when we left, but it wasn’t quite dinnertime, so we decided to walk back to the main area of downtown. The streets were busy busy with people and cars, even on the night after Christmas.
We had chosen to eat at Il Margutta, one of Rome’s original vegetarian restaurants. It said on the website that reservations were required, but from the way things looked, they really weren’t. It was a little weird. Their menu was huge and they had a ton of vegan options. Quite expensive, but hey, it was time to splurge on a meal for once. And splurge I did.
2 euros for the water. 2 euros for the bread basket.
Then they brought out this little rice appetizer as a freebie, which was super nice! It had beets and zucchini!
I ordered a winter salad, which I was too hungry to photograph. It had wild rucola, baby spinach, valeriana, Belgian endive, apple, pineapple, pomegranate, sweetcorn & grapes. That was another 11 euros.
Then my second course came. I had a chickpea and soya rosemary burger with potatoes and acai sauce. Another 11 euros.
But I couldn’t stop there! Eating at fancy restaurants is usually not so filling (and I hadn’t had a large lunch), so I ordered dessert. Bring on the trio! It was a chocolate cake with a molten chili-chocolate center, soy pistachio ice cream, and a berry drizzle down the middle. There went another 12 euros.
Done! That concluded the dinner affair. I am not going to calculate up how much all that cost again, haha.
We saw a hilarious sticker in the subway on the way home that evening…
Italy Day 6
Thursday, December 27th: Getting Lost in Venice
I picked the early train that morning since I wanted us to have as much time as possible to spend in Venice. It was a little odd leaving Rome after we had been there and settled for a few days, but… we would be back in a few days! We got to the train on time and there was a little drama with me having forgotten my favorite hat in the world that Sam had bought for me. At the hostel. Except I rummaged through my backpack again and there it was. Not lost. Ugh, all that worrying and fretting for nothing. Story of my life.
The rest of the train ride was nice and I was able to use the train’s wifi for the cost of 1 cent. Sweet.
When we arrive in Venice, it was very cloudy. And a little colder. We decided to buy our tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Florence that day, just to get it out of the way. The ticket machines at the Italy train stations are awesome.
We then needed to get to the hostel to drop off our bags, which was easy enough. It was close to the train station and easily found with the directions. It was a little ghetto, but whatever. We were only staying for one night and really only sleeping there before leaving for Florence in the morning.
With our bags out of the way, we crossed our first bridge and were off!
See? It really was foggy and spooky. But we didn’t mind! It added to the atmosphere. There weren’t too many tourists and it felt like a ghost town as we walked through winding narrow alleyways, never knowing which direction we were going. We crossed bridge after bridge and wandered and wandered… without a map.
In Rome, they hand out city maps like tissues on Tokyo street corners. There are tourist information centers that give free maps. The hostels give out free maps. I kind of expected the same in Venice, but this was not the case. So… we went map-less. And if you have been to Venice, you will know how hard it is not to get lost.
In fact, we were lost pretty much the entire day. But that’s okay, since we had nowhere to be and all day to get there.
I came to love window shutters.
Sometime after noon, we wandered into a plaza. The gelato place that I had heard about was closed, but there was a grocery store and a pizza place. I picked up a salad and Kimberly indulged in a piece of pizza and some pastries.
First cannoli ever… How did it go?
After our brief food pit stop, we wandered more. I am a map person, so not having a map to reference was a little disconcerting, but it was also fun to just explore. We ended up walking to the other side of the island and met the ocean. Between all those narrow alleyways and wall-to-wall buildings, I had almost forgotten that we were on an island. (Yes, I know that’s silly considering that there are bridges everywhere.)
Voila! The ocean!
And a church! Fancy that!
And here we have some fancy gondolas… We did not ride them because they were too expensive. Plus, it was chilly. Who wants to be on a boat when it is chilly?
Then there was this bridge where couples wrote their names/initials on padlocks and then attached them to the bridge. It was so cute.
Then we got to this place! The place from James Bond! (See, you can really tell that I didn’t have a map because I have no idea what any of these places are even called.)
The church there was amazing too.
Now, it was starting to get later in the afternoon. Closer to evening, actually. I was getting a little nervous about being able to find food, since we had been walking around all day and hadn’t eaten a proper meal (breakfast on the train, lunch on the plaza bench). I was really hungry and I start to get worn-down…
But something caught my eye as we rounded another corner.
There it was… The Hard Rock Café.
I hadn’t remembered any vegetarian options when I had eaten there last, but it was worth checking, right? I checked out their menu on the outside of the building and saw a burger called “The Veggie Leggie.” It wasn’t clear from the outside whether the burger patty was vegetarian or if it was just a plain meat patty with lots of vegetables, so I inquired inside.
“Is the Veggie Leggie burger vegetarian?”
“Completely vegetarian. And here are our other vegetarian options…” The nice Italian hostess continued in perfect English and got out the menu to show me a ton of menu items that were veggie or could be made veggie. She spoke “my language.” I was sold. Kimberly knew it too, haha.
It was time for some AMERICAN FOOD.
“Would you like a salad or fries with your burger?” Our server asked me.
“Both,” I answered. I was not going to go halfway on this foray into American food. Kimberly didn’t either, opting to order a twisted mac, chicken, and cheese pasta dish. Plus french fries. Because we are American and need our french fries.
It was magical.
Say hello to my little friends: Ketchup and Mustard.
And that, my friends, was the happy ending to our day in Venice. We stayed in the Hard Rock for a while, enjoying our food and watching music videos on the screens. It was like a taste of home, especially for Kimberly who has not been back to the US since leaving in July 2011.
When we left the restaurant, it was dark and the city seemed to finally come to life. It had been rather dead in the daytime, but now more shops were open and people were out eating and shopping. We popped into a couple stores, not really finding anything. One fair-trade store had a nice man that gave us free ginger-chocolate samples. Another was a grocery store with vegan, gluten-free, and natural foods.
But we were also very tired. It had been a long day.
We tried to find out way back to that first bridge (which would also lead us to our hostel), but… ended up in dead ends or circles. Finally I just decided to ask a hotel front desk person. He wasn’t busy, so he showed us the way and told us what signs to look for (they were painted/posted on the walls of buildings). With arrows too! I could follow arrows!
Once we knew what to look for, the aforementioned bridge and hostel were easily found. We checked into our dormitory room and found ourselves in a full room. It was around 8:30/9pm and our other roommates were still out and about. I had hoped to take a shower, but… that proved impossible because of freezing cold water. I even let the water run for a bit in hopes that it would get warm, but no dice. Defeated, I curled up in bed and started to write in my journal.
Kimberly headed for the bathroom herself and asked me if I was going to bed. I said, “Ha, no way, it’s still early.”
Well, that was a lie. When she came back into the room, I was out like a light. My journal and pen were still next to my pillow (they fell down to the floor when I woke up in the middle of the night a few hours later). That hostel was our least favorite, due to the cold shower, thin blankets, inadequate heating, and uncomfortable beds.
We were scheduled to depart early the next morning for Florence, so I tried to get as much shut-eye as I could. Our day in Venice had been a great adventure and I felt like I got to experience the island in an unconventional way. Strange and wonderful.