Day Ten

It’s my birthday!!! It was officially my birthday sometime last night, but here in Italy it’s finally here, today, Friday. The day before I fly to Crete.

Today, I have booked a tour of the Coliseum including the underground and upper levels, courtesy of mum and dad by way of birthday gift.

I’m running late in the morning which starts stressing me out, and I was really hoping to avoid Termini station. It’s awfully busy, way too many people, and appears to be the main hub of the train lines, where all (tracks) lead to Rome. (Hahahaha) I do, however, require to take the train which will half my 30 minute journey by foot. I swear it was even faster than the 15 minute estimate because the train had just pulled into the station when I got down the steps.

We spend little time on the main floor of the Coliseum, turns out its quite handy Jasmine really wanted to see that on Sunday.

We go to the arena floor, I skype my parents like I promised – ’cause it’s my birthday and I’m in the Coliseum. The tour guide is really knowledgeable and if I hadn’t learnt this information a hundred times throughout my studies I imagine it would have been really interesting, but I unplugged her for most of the trip so I could focus on my bits and pieces.

Under the arena floor, it’s chilled. Some water flows around us from when Vespian drained the lake that the land used to be, and being surrounded by cold bricks from the shade it’s really nice compared to the outside sun.

We head up lots and lots of really steep stairs to get the best view. The view the plebs would have had, actually.

I think this might be my favourite photo ever taken.

I start messaging Janneke because I’m getting grumpy. I have done SO MUCH walking in the last week and my feet kill me as soon as I step out the door now. I’ve just remembered that this tour also includes the Palatine hill. So many more steps.

We cruise around Palatine Hill, I found as many places to sit as I possibly could.

Sometimes, the low angles are better for pictures anyway.

The tour ends and I head back to the hostel. Daniel (the owner) is waiting, says Happy Birthday and asks if I want pancakes for lunch. He sends me on an errand to the supermarket and we make pancakes, cheese savoury ones and jam sweet ones. It’s probably the best birthday lunch I could have asked for in Italy.

For dinner, Vyy – the evening receptionist – makes a quick curry and lets me have some. I chill out before my early wake up for my flight, and eventually head to bed.

Crete, and beach life, is so close!

Regards,

Alex

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Day Nine

Today, Tivoli! A lot of people in the hostel have recommended Tivoli when chatting about places to go, luckily I had this tour booked. Hadrian’s Villa, or Villa Adriana, was one of my favourite things to study, and this tour includes entry to Villa d’Este as well, which was a minor recreation and remains in much better condition.

We arrived at Hadrian’s Villa first, and walked around a lot of ruins. The guide did an excellent job of bringing things to life for us – it can be hard to picture what used to be there.

This was a bathhouse in the Villa, a gigantic structure. It would include tepid baths, and saunas.

Here, the end of a “canal”. A replica of what you might find in Egypt as Hadrian paid homage to the different cultures the Roman empire controlled. This was also a shrine of sorts to a young boy he loved, who drowned. The faces on the statues of the gods were all modelled to look like him.

We moved on to lunch, and then into the Villa d’Este. The inside of which was very gaudy. I didn’t like the inside so much, but it is excellently preserved and reconstructed where necessary. I don’t think I’d have liked living in the decoration of that era. However, the gardens were really the showstopper.

We descended further and further into the gardens, which are terraced, and about halfway down we realised we’d have to climb all those stairs back up again.

The fountains kept getting larger and more intricate.

Until, finally, the end.

This post has more pictures than words, because what can I really say about this beauty except to show you.

Apollo, help me up these stairs. They’re not even half of them.

Regards,

Alex

Day Seven

I really wanted to do nothing today. Really, really, really badly. My feet are tired from walking, it’s been a while since I really rested and put them up. However, at this point I had already decided that Wednesday would be my rest day this week (calculating Trump being in the city, laundry day, and the fact that I had two more tours booked, both for Thursday/Friday, so wanted to have rested feet for that.)

So I buy a last minute ticket to the Villa Borghese which is supposed to just be totally gorgeous. It’s so popular that they have specific times for viewings and that includes a kick-out time.

I also need, in my bones, to see the Ara Pacis before I go. A beautiful monument that has been gorgeously reconstructed and refitted from all the pieces they can find that were once scattered around the globe in different collections.

So, the Ara Pacis first as the time slot I found available for the Villa Borghese was in the afternoon. 

I mean, look at this gorgeous thing. It was so quiet in its little glass house which protects it from the elements at a perfectly stable, constant temperature and humidity. The Altar of Augustan Peace.

I was the only youngun in there. Well, I was by myself to start. Everyone who followed was greying or completely written off, hair wise. Damn you, scholarship classical studies, teaching me these uncool things that I now HAVE to visit. The amount of blank stares from others who asked what I got up to that day… I’m sorry the Arrow Who Now?

The Villa Borghese was a longer walk than anticipated, mostly because of hills. Once there, my bag was checked in, and I waited outside for our calling card time.

The roof in the main room was just gigantic. Look at this eccentric piece of art. On a roof! Around the first floor of the Villa are a lot of statues, with the second floor being mostly paintings. A LOT of the second floor were depictions of Christ, which I quickly made my escape from.

People go on and on about the beauty in this museum, and I did find a number of items I wouldn’t have known were in there to see, but in my two hour allocated spot I was bored within 20 minutes and stretched it out to 30 so I didn’t look as ridiculous as I felt leaving so soon.

Once home, I put my feet up and got ready for the upcoming tours.

Regards,

Alex

Day Six

My first tour day. 

I kind of went a bit crazy when I was booking this trip, and booked a few tours – like an actual real life tourist on a tour bus tours – today we head to Pompei via way of Napoli.

I have no real interest in Napoli, but it’s the major city you go through to see Pompei from Roma, and the day trip tours tended to stop there anyway so I just picked one.

The tour came with hotel pickup/dropoff. When I booked the tour, it did not ask for my accomodation details, which I thought would happen in a follow up email. Turns out I have to call them to let them know, the voucher said call 24 hours beforehand, so yesterday (Sunday) I attempt to call.

A prerecorded message all in Italian. It’s a tour company that offers English guides, though, so I wait to see if it repeats everything in English. It does, only to tell me that they’re closed on Sundays. Well, that’s handy for a Monday morning 7.30am start tour. Oh, and they open at 8am.

I query with my hostel receptionist Sarah, and she follows up with an email address to try, so I send a detailed email hoping to just get one reply confirmation rather than a back and forth on a Sunday, and go about my day.

They end up coming back saying yes, they confirm they’ll pick me up outside my hostel at 6.30am. Joy.

So, I’m up and waiting outside the hostel doors at 6.28am. And 6.30, 6.35, suddenly it’s 6.45am and I’m wondering how long I wait before giving up on the whole ordeal and start demanding refunds. The bus shows up at 6.48 which stalls that idea, and we’re off.

We head South on the highway, and stop briefly at a snack bar for breakfast. We carry on further, and stop again. This time for Lunch at a restaurant booked by the tour company specifically. We get a three course meal, choice of either fish or meat. I choose the meat and get a VERY tomato-y pasta dish, a very thin (schnitzel almost?) Slice of steak with thin cut fried potatoes, and tiramisu. The pasta itself wasn’t half-bad, and everything else had really good flavours at least. Finally, though, we are on the road to Pompei.

We drove into Pompei and immediately went to a cameo workshop where they show you how they make cameo jewellery from seashells. We’re invited downstairs to look at the gallery and shop, and find that even tiny ones are €300 at least. Woojeez. I carried on looking elsewhere and found awesome, awesome statues that I wish I had room in my bag for, and looking back should have just bought one and figured ot out.

Everything is as I studied it, lordy I’m in heaven. They say don’t meet your idols in person but here I am in Pompei and everything is amazing. I got some great photos which had no people in them (thank timing and angles for that one) and it looks like I’ve been exploring alone, without the hint of another tourist.

I’m looking forward to curating the best photos for a family viewing I know they’ll want to have, and then honing down even further my favourite ones to share with ADHD friends.

Regards,

Alex

Day Five

I have discovered that Romans do not drink a lot of tea. When they do, it’s mostly herbal or fruity ones. I made friends with the receptionist at this hostel and she smuggled me in some individual packets of tea bags to hide away in my room. It’s great to be nice and friendly.

Today, I have no plans except laundry. I’m out of undies, so it really needs to happen anyway. I have also spent the last three days walking non-stop, so my feet are sick of doing that.

Sunday was my first full day in the city. I swooped in on the American I was sharing a room with and we grabbed a hop on/hop off bus tour. We stopped at the Altar of Rome, a colossal structure of marble. It was huge, and amazing.

There was a little gated entrance to get in around the front, where a lady says you cannot smoke or eat or sit on the structure. We pass through and take it all in from the base. My phone camera couldn’t get the entirity of it in from down there, so there’s no awesome photo of that.

I lay down in one of the many vast platforms to get a better angle for a photo, and a guard came running over reminding me we’re not allowed to plant our bums. I though I was safe here because there were people sitting around the edge of this platform not being told off, and the lady downstairs had specifically said steps. I was wrong. I did get the photo though.

From there we walked around the back, and surprise surprise came across an elevator that takes you right to the top of the monument. It was €7 when original entrance was free, but we knew it would be worth it.

Jasmine and I moved on, and she really wanted to see the colosseum. I already have a full tour booked for Friday (my birthday!) but entrance was only €12 and I felt bad for abducting her to accompany me when she only had a few days in Rome v my whole week. So we went in, I pretended not to be totally excited by being there, saving all that elatement for Friday, and I let her lead the way around at the things she wanted to look at. On Friday, my tour is going to include access to the upper levels, underground levels, and the reconstructed arena floor which standard entry doesn’t get you.

We started making our way to the next place, walking back to where the bus dropped us off. After 30 minutes of waiting for our “every 10/15 minutes” bus, we walked back to another stop to ask what was going on. Turns out there was a marathon in the city that morning so some of the stops were altered, and we weren’t informed, so we got on and headed back to the hostel instead, deciding now that we were over it all.

We stopped at Eataly for some dinner, and put our feet up once back in our hostel. Preparing for tomorrow’s adventure. 

Regards,

Alex

People Watching

Transit is like purgartory on Earth. 

Whether you’re on your way to the next station, or a passenger in your own car, it’s this weird situation where you kinda feel like everyone is watching you, but, like you, they’ve got their own places to be.

Purgatory is definitely what it felt like, waiting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for 12 hours. I kind of did this voluntarily, but at the same time there was little choice about it. My flight to Rome was at 7am, this means a 5am check-in time. I was staying in Zevenaar, which is an hour from Schiphol, which is another 20/30 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal. So, I would need to be on a train at 4am, at the latest. The only train that would arrive before 4am left at 2am. I’m not keen on asking family to go much out of their way for me, and I’m not keen on changing trains/platforms at that time of night. The next option would be to stay somewhere the night before. As mentioned earlier, the distance between the actual city and the airport means only airport hotels are nearby, and we all know they charge through the roof. Upwards of $320NZ to be precise. I wasn’t keen on looking for a hostel to stay in due to the inconvenience of not having a wake up call nor shuttle service etc. So the decision is made to just wait it out at the airport. It was a bad one, but not the worst. Something like purgatory.

​Waiting at Arnhem for a train, I use my hands to ask a girl if I can sit next to her. I thank her in Dutch and she starts talking to me in Dutch like I passed for a native! I mean, it’s not like it’s a long word or something, and you can say it pretty fast, but it is the only thing I have been making a point of actually saying in Dutch every time I’ve needed to. I quickly switched to English and said sorry and she was happy to exercise the language centre of her brain and chat for a while. It was nice. In the end we wished each other well, her on her music production internship and me in my travels, and then waved and made faces at each other as her train pulled away from the station.

I get on my train from Zevenaar to Amsterdam Schipol, and at 6.27pm a guy sits next to me and cracks open a can of Heineken and a pottle of pringles. Hard Friday at the office, friend? Haha, oh the life. It’s always so strange seeing how more relaxed rules are for some things but not others in other countries.

We stop at Utrecht Centraal and I watch a guy on the platform strapping a little fish skateboard to his backpack. He’s fumbling around, looking like he’s never done it before. The wheels are brand new – no signs of wear – and the underside is covered in gloss, nice and fresh. Note: it’s raining today. This guy did not ride this board to the station. I laugh to myself while he swaggers off looking “cool”, and our train pulls away from the station.

In Schiphol, I take a photo of two people standing close who are in different entourages, male and female, wearing the same shirt. I get a giggle out of it.

I slowly order a coke, and then some bitterballen, and then a hot chocolate at the Heineken bar in the airport. I start falling asleep while I’m sitting there reading so move to some hideously uncomfortable airport seats and get 2 interrupted hours of sleep. I check upstairs for better seats, having previously gone upstairs to get through security early as the massage spa and sleeping pods are on the airside of check-in and got told I can’t, but not taking note of seating arrangements there. It’s worse, so I sneak back into the Heineken bar (open 24hours) but the waiter catches me and asks if I’d like another hot chocolate. He remembers. I’m being people-watched. He probably saw me aimlessly walk past 3 times when I was doing loops, too. Not hard to miss with my bright red backpack.

So, I suffer through with a burger for breakfast and another coke (they don’t serve tea, only coffee, I cry inside)

I meet some Americans from Oregon, because when they sat down next to me the husband got up for a wander and the wife said in her thick drawl “you’re just gonna get lost” and 10 minutes later I saw him wandering around,  practically circling exactly where we were, but never connecting with his wife. I tap her on the shoulder and point to him asking if he’s lost, and she calls him over and we all laugh. We chat, and I leave to board my flight to Rome.

I slept through that flight completely (yay! Getting used to transit sleeping!) even after the surly looks from people who were told to stuff their handbags into their carry on due to only being allowed one item, while I stood brazenly with my two items in priority boarding thanks to the upgrade I purchased (having read all the carry on restrictions and knowing full well I’m not getting anything else into my backpack).

In the train station, while swiping my ticket to get onto the platform for boarding, a lady behind me asks for help reading her ticket. I try to decipher it with her and we come to the same conclusion but she thanks me by apologising for asking me in the first place, I just seemed to know what I was doing. I laughed and told her that’s how you have to get around to stop local guides hassling you. We chat easily, I save her a seat on the train, and that turns into a hilarious ride.

We sit across from a Dutch couple, with the wife originally being from Malta, and we all talk like old friends who haven’t caught up in years. We talk politics, with Sally from the platform being from America, and we talk about how slow this supposed “express” train is going. We poke fun at each other, and chat about our families. The 54minute ride felt like 10, and suddenly we’re singulars again.

The city of Rome greets me with rain. Big, fat, droplets of rain. It soaks me through in 20 seconds, so I wait in an alcove until someone walks past selling umbrellas and keep making my way to my hostel.

It’s really nice. Quiet, empty at the moment I think. I saw a girl checkout this morning, and another girl is sitting in the common room but she has all her packed bags at her feet. I have first pick of the bed in my room. Everything is really clean, the shower pressure is great, and the patio is adorable.

Honestly, I want to nap. I’ve flown halfway across the world to do what I would have been doing at home with the same time off. Reading and sleeping and eating.

But, its been a busy day and I do have plans set up for this week, and a small list of things to do tomorrow, and I have to go out again later for dinner, so maybe I can have a rest.

Regards,

Alex

Day One (and 3/4): Zevenaar

Yesterday, I landed in Amsterdam Schipol at 7am local time. I was exhausted, having managed a mere 4 hours sleep on the flight, but that was 4 hours of boredom I didn’t have to contend with. As we were landing I discovered the people sitting next to me were lovely, suddenly wanting to chat.

They started talking about New Zealand and how they wanted to move there from the Philippines, and had the best time visiting last year. It was then that I realised my necklaces had popped out of my jumper, greenstone and whale bone an international sign of a Kiwi. They were flying through to Paris, we wished each other safe travels, and I called Mum from the airport.

Quickly, we chatted. I let her know we landed safe and when we hung up her colleagues moaned to her about how they didn’t get to say hi.

I sorted out a train ticket, and got lost on the platforms. Turns out they’re underground and only one escalator per platform with no way to get between them once you’re down there. Missed the 7.30 train because of all of this, laughed at myself, and waited for the 8am.

The trains are double-decker, which I thought was pretty cool, but Pete thinks it’s weird.

I’m met at Arnhem train station by my mother’s aunt, and we train through to Zevenaar together where I spend time recouperating. I’m fed some real food, cheese and pastrami on brown bread, and the filling from croquettes, nap for a few hours and miss my mother’s cousins who came to visit, and wake up for dinner.

Adamant it’s around 7pm, I check the clock and it’s actually shortly after 9. The sun is still up and it’s still very light. I pack in for the night and sleep right through till 8am. It’s midday now, and no jetlag! Win!

Today is raining. I went with Andrea to the shop to buy some plants for their gardening work they’re doing. I’m hoping to get to a windmill (careful, actual tourist coming through) this afternoon if the rain slows down, or tomorrow morning before I head back to Amsterdam for my flight on Saturday morning. 

The houses are exactly like you see in the pictures, little weirdly shaped brick structures with white trim. It’s been great relaxing, and realising I’m actually on holiday with nothing to do but read and chill out. I’m looking forward to heading south to Rome, though, to start being a bit of a tourist. Though I will miss being with someone who knows where we are and how to read the language. Admittedly, I should have learnt Dutch a long time ago to communicate with my family, but Andrea keeps talking to me in Dutch and then in English, and sometimes I get what she’s saying before she translates, either from recognising a word or just the tone. It’s a good experience.

I am, however, about to be fed again! So off I go.

Regards,

Alex