And I’m off to do as the Romans do!
Saturday, April 23rd 2011: Miami, FL
I thought my countdown would never end! Different parts of the last two weeks felt like they were balanced evenly on either end of the spectrum. From one aspect, I had alot to take care of at work before being out for two straight weeks, and I felt as though time were running out to get it all done while, at the same time, the big red circle around the 23rd of April on my calendar seemed to approach so slowly that I thought the anticipation would kill me.
Strike two on the jolly green giant who was seated next to me in the cramped little seats and hogged the whole arm rest. Not to mention the giant behind me, whose outstretched legs were practically long enough to be ‘stowed’ under the seat in front me. But there was very little that could quell my excitement, and I was more grateful that I had a window to my right and no obnoxious child in front of me begging to be tranquilized. I was content enough to just stare out at the stars once night fell, amazed at how many I could see in the darkness, until I fell asleep.
Sunday, April 24th: Rome, Italy
Sunrise over the Atlantic meant it would only be a few hours until we landed. As we flew over the snow-covered French Maritime Alps I noticed how small they seemed, but knew better since I could actually see them from this altitude. A quick breakfast flying over Nice, the general prep for landing and 8,358km later… Benvenuti a Roma! =)
Once I went through immigration and realized that my passport was not stamped, I followed the crowd out to baggage claim slightly confused and feeling quite cheated. I wanted my passport stamped damnit! At that point I felt the intimidation building up inside because I was finally here – alone in Europe for two weeks with no one except a group of 50 complete strangers. What was I thinking? Which carousel was our luggage out on? What if I couldn’t find my bag? How would I find my transfers to get to the hotel when everything was written in Italian and none of the people holding signs were for me? Eek… After a little ‘self-collection’, I asked about the carousel number, and actually read my travel docs properly while I waited for my bag and then went to the specified spot to wait for my shuttle. Our soundtrack as we drove into Rome included ‘Walking on Sunshine’ with a mix of Italian crooning and our driver speaking angrily to someone on his phone. Looking out the window, I was particularly taken with the different green shades of the trees and how they were all speckled with white or yellow or purple flowers. Throw in some winding roads here and there, add the driver weaving in and out of traffic and between people and parked cars and I could be in Jamaica again.
Once the hotel formalities were out of the way I jumped in a cab with Alex, Mel and Anna to head right back out into the streets of Rome. First stop: The Vatican – it was Easter Sunday after all. It was almost unreal walking up to St Peter’s Square, as if the Basilica were just a huge painting in the distance. As we had expected, it was packed with people of all walks of life and we shouldered through the crowd as far forward as the uniformed gentlemen would let us and from there were able to catch the last 15-20 mins of the Pope’s address. Amazing moment #1: I was at the Vatican on Easter Sunday listening to the Pope himself! I felt like such a good little Catholic =).
After exiting the square with the masses, we ended up infront of a huge fortress-like brick building that was the Castel Sant’Angelo (which we would have gone into if the line wasn’t wrapped around the building) and swinging a right we walked down the Ponte Sant’Angelo, marvelling at the size and beauty of the Angels that lined the bridge. Heading east off the bridge down a tree-lined street running parallel to the river, we passed the High Court building and found our way to the Piazza Navona for our first margherita pizza lunch at the Café Bernini. Walking even farther east took us past the Pantheon for another of many photo ops, and we eventually ended up at the Trevi Fountain. I had pictured the fountain to be in a more wide open space than it was, and the number of people crammed into the small square made it feel even smaller. We took some pictures, but I held on to my coins for the moment – I decided to save it for when we came back on the second to last day of the tour.
Too tired to walk from there, we split another cab back to the hotel in time for our our first meeting with our tour manager, Marlen, and the rest of the group. The first wave of tired washed over as I filled out some necessary paperwork, but a quick shower was enough to get me going again and ready for dinner with the group. Driving in Italy is an adventure in itself on the cobblestone roads, and the bus ride to dinner and back that night certainly brought out the bobble head in me! At a small place near the Piazza Navona, I had a plate of pasta with porcini mushrooms and a glass of house white and it was just enough to bring back the tired I had managed to shower away earlier.
My first 24 hours in Rome were better than I could have expected. Traversing the streets on our own was not as daunting as I thought it would be, but was quite the opposite and after just one dinner together I felt quite comfortable with the people in our group. I settled into bed feeling quite at ease with where I was and who I was with and ready for the tour to start.