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A Day in the Life of a Social Hostess on Embarkation Day…

Genoa, Italy…Embarkation

Genoa is a day we love and dread at the same time, actually mostly dread. We say farewell to most of the old passengers and welcome a whole new group on board. The best thing about embarkation Genoa, is that it only starts at 9.15am.

Genoa is located in the North of Italy and is the main starting point for the 11 day cruises that MSC Lirica offers. We also have guests embark in Civitevecchia (pronounced Chivi tevekkia), Istanbul (usually all Turkish) and Odessa (usually all Ukranian and Russian). But Genoa is the biggest day with around 1300 to 1500 checking in.

Positions Please

Rolling out of bed, donning the uniform of blue pants, white long sleeve button up shirt, blue jacket and blue and white neck scarf while putting on my comfortable shoes (and thanking my mum profusely every time I avoid wearing my heels at her insistance I take the comfy ones as well), we head to the office on deck 5.

From there we proceed to deck 4, through security and into the terminal. We have had really bad luck in the past 3 cruises finding an unlocked door, but it appears as if we have finally located the correct one for all future cruises! Small victories make our days easier.

One of us is stationed at the check in desk. This is usually the Spanish Hostess who knows the system and also speaks 5 languages. The German host is stationed at the exit of the line where he can direct folks to open checking inners. The French hostess is stationed at the front of the line where she can check the little tickets indicating normal check in vs express (actually both the same but different lines) vs priority (for handicapped and families).

Finally there is me, English Hostess, along with someone from the animation team (as in entertaining team not drawing cartoons team). We are stationed at a desk near the entrance where we have important safety information in 5 different languages and the little tickets differentiating a guests status of check in.

Let the Fun Begin

The doors always seem to open at a different time. In the past we have stood there from 9.30am till 11.30am before we even start. But this last embarkation we started at 10am. Guests file in and we greet them while trying to guess what language they speak. It usually goes a little like this:

Me: Good Morning
Guest: huh?
Me: Bonjour/Bonjourno/Gooten Morgent (sp??)/Buen Dia
Guest: huh?
Me: Francais/Italiani/Deutsch??
Guest: ahhh Italiani
Me: MSC Cruise Card member?
Guest: huh?

And so on for all 5 languages. If an English speaker comes along I introduce myself and invite them to the travel talk in the afternoon.

For the first 3 cruises we stood like this for 5hrs, no break. But thank the heavens, the message got through and we were all relieved for 30minutes yesterday. Unfortunately I had not realised this and had not brought any money to buy a coffee or drink, it was pissing with rain outside and after 20min I got bored of sitting so went back.

2pm!!!

Finally, just as it feels as if our legs may never recover, our replacements arrive and I have to suppress the urge to kiss him and offer to give him children!

With barely an hour before our next task, we bound into the ship and head up to the buffet where we inhale food. Then down to the room to put feet up for about 15min.

Travel Talk

3.15pm Monique, French, and me gather in the office to make the announcement for the upcoming travel talk. This round mine was in the Lirica Lounge on deck 7. I had a rather good turnout of around 25 folks, considering I only have about 100 English Speakers onboard. Now English speakers do not necessarily mean NATIVE, but rather everyone who can’t speak one of the other 4 languages, often that means they don’t speak English either. But all good! This round I have a group from Norway, some dutch, a couple from Singapore, Japan, England, USA, even a couple from Namibia. The most surprising thing was to meet a lady from Eugene, Oregon who lives just a few minutes from the folks. Mmmmm potential courier for stuff dare I wonder.

The travel talk is around 20minutes and covers everything from life on board to excursions. Finally being able to go on excursions means I don’t have to BS as much as I have been. At the end we do a drawing for 50% off an excursion of their choice.

Safety Drill

After answering numerous questions and meeting folks I manage a quick 1 hr feet up before grabbing my life jacket to man my station for the safety drill. I am crew number 0626, muster station S, lifeboat 8. This is inside the casino, which has been pointed out as potentially not being the best spot of the ship is going down, but hey at least we can gamble on it!!

Standing at the entrance I collect the red cards. These are small ID cards given to guests at check in. After the Costa Concordia incident, this method was implemented to ensure all guests attend the drill, if their card is not collected a message is sent to their cabin to join the one the next day in Civitevecchia.

Moving to my spot for all those in lifeboat 8, I stand holding a lollipop sign until the general emergency signal (7 short, one long blast) is sounded. I then don my lifejacket and wait until we start the instructions for lifejacket presentation.

Grinning like a cheshire cat, I take the lifejacket off and go step by step showing how to put it back on while announcements are made in all 5 languages. I am finally reaching the point where I understand what each one is saying.

Disembarkation Talk

Drill complete I potter off to the Theatre where I have a disembarkation talk explaining procedures for guests leaving us in Civitevecchia. This takes about 20minutes again with questions after.

Sleep or Dinner

My biggest decision is then to whether or not to eat or nap first. Yesterday eating seemed like the best choice to ensure a longish nap. And oh how blissful that nap was, unfortunately it felt like my legs were going to cramp when I finally moved them.

Hospitality Desk

Since it is the first day we remain in our uniform all day and I must note that 14hrs in polyester long pants is not overly comfortable.

Our hospitality desk runs for an hour and we get to meet and greet and answer any questions new and old guests may have.

The Remainder of the Night

Now the evening begins to wind down. 7.30-8.30pm is Hospitality Desk. From 8.30pm to 9pm we wander around deck 6 socializing, or lapping as I prefer to call it. From 9pm to 9.15pm we stand and welcome folks into the theatre. 9.15pm is our evening meeting with details of the following day.

At this point we have a short time to pop upstairs to the buffet and see if we need something to sustain us for the rest of the night.

Our last duty before sleep is to man the Lirica Lounge and welcome guests to the evening activity from 10.15pm to 11pm.

BED!!!

Finally the day is over and we can collapse into glorious slumber, only to roll out of bed the next morning at 5.45am….

However….

I must note that presently I am sitting at a cafe in Rome, overlooking the Colosseum. I was placed on the Rome on Your Own tour, which involved me counting folks on the onset and then recounting at the end. Inbetween is free time!! It’s a glorious day and after my cappucino I am beginning to feel human. I think I may hunt down pizza for lunch….

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Cruise, Italy, Travel

 

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Roman Reunion

Train Back To Rome

Got the train back to Rome and nearly died of heat. There was no airflow in the car what so ever and it felt like it was over 100F. I had this little old Italian Lady next to me, and when she first sat down I greeted her in Italian, which then launched her into a discussion of life, all in Italian. I nodded and smiled and strangely enough we understood each other in a lot of parts. Just all very bemusing.

Finally making it back to my stop, I took the subway home to Kate’s and napped. Then had dinner with Kate and her friends who had come from the Ukraine (I think). Her crazy roommate, who liked to wear an afro wig to pick up girls, tried to join the party. I was all rather amusing for us to watch.

We went to a little place that was famous for it’s seafood. It looked amazing but I was so exhausted that even the pasta I ordered I just couldn’t finish.

It was a great evening but I fell asleep fairly quickly when we got back to the apartment.

Roman Reunion

I had made contact with Kristin, who I had met in Naples, and turned out she was in Rome, so we planned to meet up. It was a great day and we just walked around and explored a section of Rome I hadn’t seen.

View from up on the hill


Hieroglyphs on Egyptian Obelisk in Roman Square


Kristin and I


Back Streets With Art Markets


Even the Dogs Love the Fountains

We went to go meet Kate and her friends near a huge piazzo with 2 fountains (this got us confused) and flea markets everywhere.


Another Pup taking advantage of the fountain

We finally figured out which fountain we were at and explored the area a bit. The markets were fantastic and I was very tempted to buy a few things, but with no space i opted for just a tshirt.

Guy making insane figures out of carrots!


Music was everywhere


Me taking advantage of the water fountains that are everywhere

Unfortunately Kristin had to head back to the hostel to pack as she was leaving early in the morning as well. I hung out with Kate and her friends a little longer and explored the Panthenon with them. Roman architecture back then was truly spectacular.



Finally it was time to go home and “sleep”. I had to get up at 3am, but with a full house, all staying in the same room, I couldn’t ask them to keep it down. So maybe got a few hours sleep, if I was lucky. But all too soon it was over. I was flying home to the states to see where the future would take me.


I Sure Will Miss The Fountains Of Italy

 
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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Naples Bound!!

Italian Train Ride

European living involves going to bed closer to the following morning than the previous evening… Me on the other hand tend to me a bit of a home body and head to bed closer to that evening than night! Am seriously suffering from lack of sleep. Luckily Italy has a fabulous cure, and Kate and I went for a morning tradition of a cappuccino and a pastry.

I was heading to Naples today and after very careful and clear instructions on what to do to get my ticket we said cheers. There are days that I am simply astounded at what good friends I have around the world, now if only I could have them all in the same place.

Somehow, in my diminished state of sleeplessness, I found the train station, got my ticket and found the train. Of course opening the door was a little beyond me, but with some help I got in and got a seat. Hopefully I am on the right train.

I was this close to getting a free seat, but with a minute to go a young man, straight out of a Jersey Shore extra Italian series, sat down next to me placing his numerous bags in such a way that there was no escape. He sat straight back with brillo’d hair, square jaw, huge muscles tattoos, tight white tshirt and blue and white striped pants. I think he was bordering on Guido status.

Luckily he only stayed on for a couple of stops and then I was able to spread out a bit…at least for about 20min till the next person arrived.

Never Know Who You Will Meet

During the last half hour of the trip a guy from Taiwan who is crew on China Air started chatting with me and asking if I knew anything about Naples. He was doing a day trip from Rome during his 3 days off between flights. We chatted about travel and opportunities and he was shocked at how much I had done. It always neat when you meet a stranger and just chat to pass the time.

My Lack of Direction Astounds Even Me

Holding very clear and concise instructions from the hostel explaining exactly how to get to them… I found myself getting lost almost immediately.

The instructions had said to walk to the end of piazzo and take the trolley to the harbor. Once there you essentially turn around, walk 20feet and the hostel is right there. However they failed to mention the huge construction site that now covered said piazzo and completely obscured it. I saw buses and honestly wasn’t sure if that’s what Italians called trolleys. So clutching the address in my little hand I went and tried to pronounce it and ask where to go. The men there were very helpful and soon I was on the bus. In no time at all, and with the help of fellow bus goers I found my stop. But when I turned around there was an old castle, and no sign of a hostel anywhere.

An Unexpected Tour of a Naples Neighborhood

So I headed towards the street, then turned left up a walk way that went passed the castle. Asking a few locals they all directed me in the same direction of straight across the road and then right. I turned right and headed that way, then asked some cops directions, they had never heard of the street or the hostel and had to get out a map to find it. They said keep going then cross the road to the right. This is starting to feel like a rather square circle…

I kept walking, going down some small streets, and, about 20 min later finally saw some signs that matched the map, and there, down a little alley right near the harbor and about a 5 min walk from where the bus dropped me off was the hostel bathed in a glorious light… I swear I heard angels singing. Good lord I think my mom held a magnet to my inner compass when I was born.

Hostel Of The Sun

Hostel of the Sun was set in an interesting location. Prime spot for anyone wanting to be near the harbor or the waterfront, but in a larger office building. You went up an ancient elevator that between the hours of 9 and 1 (or something like that) you had to put in a 5 cent piece (these aren’t made in Italy anymore but luckily the hostel had a supply). Lucky for me I was there during the free time and after about 5 min of trying to figure out how to make it go up I found myself on the floor of the hostel and found the door to the front desk, common area, bar and some of the rooms.

My room was on a lower floor. The English girl checking me in was super helpful and gave me lots of information of where to go and what to do. But before I could explore I had a mission to complete!

My Mission in Naples

Now as some of you may know, the whole reason for my coming to Italy was to join my boyfriend on a cruise, he was a bartender on MSC and was paying for me to come and see him. In addition, I was attempting to make contact with someone at MSC to talk about getting a job with them so that, hopefully, we could be on the same ship. Long distance is a killer.

Now as some of you may realise, writing these particular blog entries has been very difficult for me, as… let us just say things ultimately did not work out between us. For those of you who missed this little piece of news, please refer back to my Love Story entry a few months back, it’s a doozy!!

So, back to the task at hand. My mission for this afternoon in sunny Naples was to go to the offices of MSC cruises in Naples, which just so happened to be around the corner from the hostel.

I got myself tidied up, took a deep breath and headed to the office. As I entered I saw 2 guards, the following exchange is hilarious in hind sight, but at the time…
Guards: Appointemente?
Me: No, MSC office?
Guards: Appointemente?
Me: No, I need to speak to someone at MSC please.
Guards: You appointemente!
Me: How, how do I get an appointment??
Guards: you call, you appointemente!
Me: What number, who do I call.
Guards point upstairs… cause that helps me out I guess.

Finally, seeing how distraught I was getting at having been running in circles trying to speak to someone, anyone who knew something about employment at the blasted company, they got someone on the phone for me. Someone who was just upstairs and spoke perfect English and kindly explained that the Naples office only does reservations but I can try call this number. Taking a deep breath I said thank you, wrote it down, smiled (kind of) to the guards and said thank you and left.

I was so unbelievably frustrated, I had spent the first day in Rome playing phone tag with these people and getting no where.
Call this number
No, you call this number
No, you need to call this number (that was the number that just gave me their number).

Now it turned out, the lady from the office I couldn’t enter had given me the first number I had dialed back in Rome. Maybe they secretly tape these efforts and only hire people who are that determined to get on the ship. Or maybe it’s just Italian customer service at its finest.

Time to Explore…

Or not. By the time I got back to the hostel to drop off some stuff and go exploring I felt completely and utterly exhausted. The kind of wave of exhaustion that hits you from your toes to the ends of your hair, emotionally and physically. I had been so certain I would get somewhere with someone at the office so that I could tell my love that I was making progress to be with him… but nope, not to be. At least not yet. I sat on my bed and woke up 3hrs later with a fairly impressive drool stain on the pillow. Guess I needed a wee nap then.

Grumpy the Dwarf

Being on 5 ft (1.5m) and decidedly grumpy, I fear I may have given off the impression of a character from Snow White. But pulling myself together I went in search of some kind of food and managed to get to the store just before closing. After the amazing mozzarella and cherry tomato pizza I had had in Rome, I wanted to see about getting something similar. Apparently, Naples is the home of buffalo mozzarella. I found some cherry tomatoes, a yummy loaf of bread and a small container of buffalo mozzarella balls. I figured I could make some toasted cheesy tomato type thing.

New Friend

As I was sitting exhausted and waiting for my crustini invention to broil, I was joined by a Canadian girl and we soon struck up a long conversation that led to a travel partner for Pompeii the next day. And that’s how I met Kristin… someone who would become a great friend.

After my yummy meal, am now addicted to buffalo mozzarella, a good chat and a hot shower I decided to try be a little social and headed for the hostel bar. The official “Drunk American” guy offered me a free shot. Sure why not. Not to sound like a generalist, but I fear there always seems to be an official drunk guy and he is usually American…or Australian. Luckily for me, the Americans are more generous with free drinks.

I spent the next couple of hours chatting to folks, and being entertained as the drunk American tried desperately to seem cool and mysterious and trying to pick up Kristin. Eventually it just became too painful to watch, I think Kristin (who has a wicked sense of humor) was rather enjoying baffling him at every turn of phrase.

Is That Noise Human

I wanted to try stay awake to the end of my boyfriend’s shift, usually around 2.30am, I made it to 2.40am and then had to go to bed.
As I walked into my room I regretted not going to bed much earlier, I had a dorm room goers worst nightmare, other than bed bugs, I had 2 snorers.

The one was a “nice” light regular snore. The kind you can actually time and get in sync with. But then I had the other kind. The kind made, most often, by a male middle aged hostel goer, who possibly has some sinus congestion. The kind that is grating and uneven and occasionally sounds like he is struggling to breathe. The kind that lulls you into a false sense of peace and then jars you awake just milliseconds from sleep. Not only that, but it was interspersed with groans… Solution attempts were as follows:
– headphones
(I could hear him over the music)
– I went to the front desk and asked for earplugs
(didn’t have any)
– I asked if I could sleep on the couch
(hostel policy not allowed)
– I woke him up
(he apologized and went right back at it within 5 min)

Finally I could see only one dreaded option. THE BATHROOM!

Yup, I grabbed my pillow and blanket and went to the farthest toilet/shower combo I could find. Curled into an uncomfortable ball and fitfully got less than an hour of sleep. Then someone tried to open it and I was just too unnerved to stay.

My final option was coffee, by now it was after 6am and the coffee was on. After a couple of cups, I went back to the room and discovered them packing. Thank the heavens! I passed out!

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Italy, RTW, Travel

 

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Gelato and The Sistine Chapel

References

Still feeling exceptionally jetlagged and exhausted, of course waiting for the boyfriend to come online at 2am in the morning is not helping.. I decided to give the Vatican another go. There was just too much to see and Kate and Svet insisted I bite the bullet and pay to see the museum and Michaelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel.

While checking my emails I went to the couchsurfing site to leave a positive reference for Alfonso. I discovered that he had 2 negative references from girls who “Upon arrival found that the sleeping arrangements were not what I expected and so was forced to sleep in the bed with him”. Seriously???? Unless there was a gun to your head, the floor is perfectly comfortable as an alternative or a hostel. Alfonso is very Italian in every way, so if you agree to sleep in his bed…. I wrote that certain misunderstandings could occur but to take culture into the equation and that Alfonso was a perfect gentleman (once I realised he was moving my hand because of his ribs) and a fantastic tour guide. But it was rather amusing to read that after the fact.

There Appears to be a Tour Group or 50

Kate and I had our morning cappuccino and pastry, seriously I would live here just for this morning tradition, and then I headed back to the Vatican and Kate to work.

As I walked up to the Vatican I was gobsmacked at the number of people. I thought yesterday had hundreds, I think today had thousands. The lines waiting to go through the metal detectors were all the way out of St. Peter’s Piazzo.

Half the Line

I walked around the other side thinking to go to the bookstore and gift center and possibly slip in the back way. I picked up a postcard of the Sistine Chapel, as there was no photography, and mailed it to my folks.

The bookstore was near the exit for folks who had just toured the church. I casually made my way over there to, check out the changing of the colorful guards of course.

I glanced around, as if looking for someone, and headed towards the bottom of the steps. At precisely the same time one of the security guards, just as casually decided to side step in my line of direction, barely making any eye contact, so continuing the aim of being casual I casually turned around and headed out the exit. Ah well it was worth a try.

Gelato and Music

I decided to take a break from the milling of tourists and looked for a place to get gelato icecream. I had been in Italy for 3 days and still had not savored the deliciousness of this delicacy. Popping into curio shops as I went I finally found a place with a nice outdoor area. I was allowed to get the child’s size with 2 flavors, choosing classic chocolate and vanilla, figuring you can’t go wrong with a classic. Except for the occasional ice chunk, it was divine and the perfect break.

Mmmmm Gelato

Mid way through my icecream we were entertained by a gentleman playing fabulous violin music. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Vatican Museum

Once I had prevented myself from licking out the gelato bowl and paid, I headed towards the Vatican Museum, I figured even if it cost 20 euros at least I could say I had seen the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo.

It turned out to only cost 15 euro, so that made my pocket book feel better. As I passed through, thinking to myself that at least most of the tourists are at the Vatican and not come to the museum yet, I was amazed at the beautiful artwork.

Entry Had Great Display on Boats from World Cultures


All These Roofs Hurt Your Neck


Stunning


Some VERY Nice Statues


Possible Muse for Modern Alien Movies??


This is Painted in 2D, Believe it or Not


My Favorite the Hall Of Maps

Then I turned the corner and discovered that while half the tourists in the world were indeed at the Vatican, the other half were at the Vatican Museum. Being 5ft/1.5m tall meant I was at armpit height and not able to see over anyone. We were literally shuffled and herded like cattle and there was no time to stop and take pics or to double back for another look. About the only good aspect of this shuffle and glance was that occasionally you would find yourself amongst an English Tour and could pick up on things the guide was saying. It was funny watching them when they realised you were most likely using their knowledge without paying and suddenly they would pull their group over to explain something in more detail. Not wanting to prove them right, I would continue aimlessly following the crowd, slowing when I came side by side with another tour group.

Am NOT Tall Enough For This Many People

The Sistine Chapel

The museum was huge and was set in a way that led you from one style of art to another and all the while showing signs that promised the Sistine Chapel was just round the next corner. Eventually, about 20 corners later, we entered a smallish hushed room with a low, all be it pretty roof. The guards were very sternly shushing everyone and glaring at folks who even dared to raise their camera with the notion of taking a picture. There was a bench running around the edge, of course chock a block full, but I managed to squeeze into a corner just off it. After being herded through 2 hrs of art I needed to sit. I sat for about 30 seconds before I was promptly and very sternly told to stand. Wonder if they have special training for this….

I must admit, it was a very pretty ceiling with some lovely pictures, but I was rather underwhelmed. Could it be all the years of seeing pictures of the one main panel of God’s finger reaching out and imaging this huge painting on a grandiose ceiling??? Or perhaps spending over 2 hrs shuffled from room to room at armpit height with no idea of where or what was going on, as awe inspiring as the art was of course. I don’t know, but either way I was too exhausted to stand and stair up at a rather pretty roof and decided to find a place to nap. At least I can say “been there , seen that!”

Making my way through the masses I found a spot in a courtyard and promptly passed out for almost an hour. Who ever thought visiting an art museum could be so taxing. After recovering I explored, a far less populated, ethnological exhibit about world cultures, filled my water bottle and left. Heading out you go down a phenomenal spiral staircase or stair slope maybe.

Glad I went to see the pretty roof, but never going again unless there is a private tour of 1, namely me! Well ok I would go again even with other tourists but with enough room to breathe…

Lovely View To Wake Up To

Lunch!!

I wandered around looking for something to eat and finally spotted a little cafe deli like place down an alley. I think it was the old smiley guy ushering me inside that sold me. I chose a brocoli and sausage pizza and a dough stuffed with spinach. It was a little greasy, isn’t everything in Italy 😉 , but delicious.

An American family came in and looked very confused at how to order, and since there was a SEVERE language barrier I gave them a run down. It is actually quite cool when you go into these little places as you can buy pizza by weight, you decide on how big or small and then they weigh it. Very clever if I must say so myself. To the family I said “just point and reference size, they will get it”.

Since it was too early to go home I went looking for stamps and wandered round a bit. Sometime near 4pm the wall of exhaustion was fast approaching. Luckily Svet had texted me to say that his roommate was home so I could just head back.

His roommate had just got back from visiting his mom on the coast and was very happy to share some home made lemon cake she had sent back with him. It was divine and I enjoyed my piece just in time before passing out for a nap.

Last Meal

I had managed to get hold of Nicola and set up plans for dinner as I was not sure if I would see him again before leaving. We met around 9.30pm and headed downtown. I am still not used to this idea of only going out at that time, when I am at home that’s when I am in my jammies with a cup of tea.

Finding parking is always a struggle and occasionally people get creative.

I Guess if it Fits???

It was a glorious night and we walked along the river as Nicola told Kate and I some of the history. Then we found a piazzo and ordered 2 pizzas and beer. If there was pizza heaven I think I was in it. They were divine. My favorite being the simple baby tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. In fact I think I can safely say that pizza was damn near orgasmic!

Heaven on a Pizza Crust


Good Friends, Pizza and Beer!


Downright Orgasmic

Heading back to the car we met some people who took a couple of pics, then there was a bemusing interaction with the photographer, who spoke no English, indicating he needed a pic with me too. I love meeting people!



Our Mystery Photographer

Simply a superb day!

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Italy, Travel

 

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You Don’t Get Much More Italian Than That… ;)

Monday 16th April 2012

Jetlag

Kate was supposed to go into work at 9.30am but decided to work from home today. Thank heavens as jet lag was kicking my butt and after trying all the tricks I knew to get to sleep, it had finally only kicked in around 4am. I only surfaced around 11am and crawled out of bed around noon.

I got myself going by stopping in to a little shop for a cappuccino and a croissant, I rather like this morning (afternoon in today’s case) tradition. The cappuccino definitely made me feel better and my eyes were able to focus better on the subway map I was trying to decipher.

Subway Tickets Get Confusing

After living in Seoul, Korea for 3yrs, with a subway map known to be the most confusing plate of colorful spaghetti of all the world’s subway maps, I figured Rome’s would be easy. Well it turned out not to be the map that was confusing but rather the ticket. I managed to figure out how to buy one from the machine but then spent a good 5min unable to make the automated ticket taker… well take it. I looked exasperated and managed to catch the eye of a lady heading through, she indicated I flip the ticket over… of course it had to be that simple. I had tried every variation except that one. Jet Lag, I blame the jet lag.

Vatican City

Technically speaking while Italy became my 31st country, the Vatican City would make 32. Even though by my own rules I have to spend a night in a country, to do this I would have to sleep under a statue or on a bench, which might be frowned upon. So I am claiming an exception to my rule. (Please note I also claim Scotland and Wales as exceptions, cause they are just too different from England to be lumped together). I have very strict rules and since they are mine, well, guess that means I can bend ’em 🙂 .

I took the subway Metro A to Ottaviano stop and followed the masses in, what I assumed, was the direction of the Vatican. I figured I was heading in the right direction when I started being accosted in multiple languages by tour guides, yup definitely the right direction.

There were so many people, it just blew my mind. We had to line up and go through metal detectors, I kind of wished I could get them to stamp my passport or something.

Hundreds of People


Good To Know

The sight of The Vatican Building took my breathe away. Everywhere you turned you saw stunning architecture, statues and art.


The Obelisk

The Obelisk from Egypt was brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. It originally stood in his circus on a spot to the south of the basilica, close to the present Sacristy.

Sixtus V had Domenico Fontana move it in 1586 to the center of St. Peter’s Square

It is also a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square. The obelisk rests upon four couchant lions, each with two bodies whose tails intertwine. (from: St. Peter’s – The Obelisk)

One of my favorite things were the cardinal points marked on the floor around the obelisk.

St. Peter’s Basilica and Cupola

I decided to head towards the right and follow the signs saying “Cupola”. The entire time I was standing in line I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the wall art and statues and everything… kind of made me wonder what it cost to tell you the truth.

I was debating between the 7 euro to take the elevator or the 5 euro to take the 320 stairs. Right before I got to the pay window, merrily thinking I could take the stairs no problem, I realised it was 7 euros and 515 stairs. 2 euro saved you from 195 stairs. I promptly found 2 more euros and happily paid it. I am sorry feeling as jetlagged and exhausted as I did even 320 stairs were going to be an effort, and they nearly killed me when I finally made it.


My Destination

The first section was only a couple of steps and I was greeted by an up close view of the inside of the Dome itself. Words cannot express how spectacular it was, here are some pics:



It was all going smoothly until a bottleneck at the exit to the next section caused a jam. The area we had to walk on was a narrow elevated, fenced off walk way that ran half the dome. The most annoying part is that the exit was half way along the walk way and instead of spreading out everyone just crammed in on the first half where you entered. Finally pushing myself through the crowd I found myself with ample room to relax and enjoy the other side almost alone, even sitting down and writing in my journal while we waited.

Finally getting through the door to the next section we were greeted by the remaining 300 steps in the form of a vertigo inducing circular staircase. It never seemed to end.

But at the top you forgot how tired you were as you stared out at Rome spread around you as far as the eye could see. The weather was perfect with clear blue sky and only the occasional puffy white cloud. Once again, photos are the only way to do it some justice:

St. Peter’s Piazzo

Rome

Another Side of Rome

Heading back down the winding staircase, I stopped off at the gift shop to pick up and mail some postcards. I also picked up something I could use as a Christmas ornament, a small Olive Wood Rosary. I started this tradition a few years ago, collecting a Christmas ornament from every country, one day, when I have my own place, and my own Christmas tree, I can relive my adventures as I decorate.

Since it was such a nice afternoon, I found an out of the way corner and wrote in my diary and people watched.

Couchsurfing Contacts

Couchsurfing is a fantastic resource for any traveler. You can find free accomodation with locals or offer crash space and meet travelers or, one of my favorites, you can browse the groups section and meet people or post for meet ups.

On this particular occasion I had posted on the Rome group saying that I was traveling and would love to meet up with anyone who wanted to do some touring together. Earlier that day I had got a text from a local, by the name of Alfonso, who offered to meet me and take me on a tour of some ruins on his Vespa…. Alfonso and his vespa… it’s almost TOO Italian. I wanted to look round the Vatican a bit more but after the severe sensory overload that is, the church of St. Peter, I decided to take him up on his offer.


A Little Splash of Holy Water

Vatican Guard – You Have to be a Real Man to Wear These Colors

Vespa Tour with Alfonso

I met Alfonso at one of the metro subway stops. I had to wait for him outside a burger king or mcdonald’s or something and kept seeing these guys walking up and wondering if that was him, since I had no idea what he looked like. Some people would think I was crazy for meeting a guy I have never met or even spoken to and going on a tour with him. These people may say “who knows what his intentions are…”. But, some days you have to trust and go with it, some of the best experiences are made that way. Eventually this, very Roman, good looking guy walked up and made a call…my phone rang. Alfonso took to me to grab some lunch and insisted on paying. He also explained, apologizing profusely, that he was just on his lunch break and had to work till 7.30pm or they would fire him. So I gobbled up my sandwich quickly.

Alfonso and his Big Bike, not the Vespa

We chatted a bit and he talked about visiting Thailand, which then became talk about the sex trade in Thailand, and how he would never pay for it, as it wouldn’t be the same, and how he had met a girl who was a worker (but not in that sense) and they had hung out… I just sipped my coffee and watched this rather bemusing hole being dug deeper. Some people may have taken offense to where the conversation headed within the first 5minutes, but I could tell it was innocent.

There was a bit of a lull in the conversation and then he asked if I wanted coffee. I asked if he didn’t have to get back to work soon, he figured coffee would be ok, just a few minutes late is no problem.

Then he decided since he was running 5 minutes late he may as well just take me on a quick tour of some of the local archaeological sites he was working on. He was trained as an achaeologist and turned out to be an endless source of historical facts. As we whizzed past one site after the other he gave me a rough run down of their history, you could tell he was loving being able to tell these things to a receptive audience. It also turned out he used to race bikes and that little vespa sure could whip in between the cars and trucks at top speed. I think I spent a lot of the tour gripping onto him for dear life with my eyes closed. But when I opened them the sites he took me to were spectacular, unfortunately we never got off the bike, so I didn’t get any pics.

The Shifting Hand…

About 15min into his tour he started shifting my left hand from his waist to his hip. I kept shifting it up he kept shifting it down. I kept thinking to myself, “if I feel anything enthusiastic I am going to injure him”. After almost an hour of the shifting back and forth he stopped to show me another site and also explained that he had injured his ribs in football/soccer practice. Hahahahha oops, and here I was almost breaking his ribs with my death grip.

In the end he dropped me off at Kate’s house at 6.30pm, so much for his day at work. When I asked, he simply said that he was already late and they would get over it. We said cheers and he said maybe we can get together again for dinner.

What a ride, literally, you don’t get any more Italian than that afternoon!!!

Meeting My Crazy Seatmates

I had about 30min to rush back to the house and get changed to go meet the 2 crazy girls who had sat next to me on the flight. We were meeting at the famous Spanish Steps for dinner.

It was great to see them again and they told me all about their adventures thus far. From the exhaustingly long day at the Vatican and Museum where they saw the Pope, to being picked up by a rather drunk priest who invited them to a Bishop’s Ordination, not usually for public viewing. They nearly fell off their chairs when I told them about Alfonso and my Vespa tour. Got to love the experiences you have while traveling!!

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2012 in Italy, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Coliseum!

First Espresso

We had a bit of a late start today but it was certainly a jolt when it was started, a jolt of coffee that is. I guess if you are going to have your first cappuccino and your first espresso, Italy would be the country to do it in. The Espresso was so strong I thought I would bounce off the walls.

Please note, I am the girl who when ordering a tall latte that normally comes with four shots I ask for 2 and make one of them decaf. Once a coworker brought me a coffee and after having 2 sips I felt like my heart was going to burst from my chest and my couldn’t focus on anything. She said she couldn’t remember if I had 3 or 4 shots, so she got me 4… So one little teeny tiny mug of espresso was me set for the whole day!

Svet and I having an Espresso

I made us some lunch, Pasta Italiano (taught to me by Nicola when we were both at the wildlife refuge in the Amazon). It was a little too much pasta and not enough Italiano unfortunately, but still yummy. See recipe below:

Pasta Italiano (as taught by Dr. Nicola DMV)
Fresh Tomatoes
Garlic
Olive Oil (generous helping if going true Italian style)
Oregano
Salt and Pepper

Heat olive oil in pan, lightly brown chopped garlic, add tomatoes and let simmer for about 20min until they are broken down. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Best served with spaghetti pasta and a generous helping of parmesan cheese.

It is so simple and yet so amazingly delicious, the amount of garlic and tomatoes all depends on your taste and how many people. I have made this for friends and family all over the world now as it is a great alternative to my family’s spaghetti bolognaise when staying wither vegetarians.

Art

Italy is known for its great works of art, The statue of David, the Cistene Chapel and many more. However, it was the local art that had me captivated as we walked around town. Before the small shops opened you were faced with closed metal doors, but it was what was painted on these doors that had me bemused. No signs needed as it also gave away what the store was selling.

Jewelry Perhaps?


Clothes and Stuff I Suspect!

Coliseum and So Much More

Finally we hopped in the car and drove downtown towards the Coliseum and some much anticipated culture. I couldn’t believe it, it was huge. It blew my mind that it was 1,932 years old. Started in 75 AD and finished in 80 AD. Guess the don’t build them like they used to and it is still in pretty good nick, except for side of course.

It was Cultural Week in Italy and that meant all government run Historical Monuments, Museums etc.. were FREE!!!! Woohoo… until you realise that 90% of all these things are run by private groups, including the Coliseum. It was rather expensive to get in and so we opted for an external view, which was still pretty damn impressive if you ask me.



This is one of my favorites for some reason

The weather was a bit crappy, but coming from Eugene Oregon where we have 6mths of grey rainy winter, I was used to it and at least it wasn’t pouring.

There was literally history oozing from every corner you looked, there were times you almost tripped over it.

Walking Down the Main Drag

We past a line of statues depicting different rulers and I found myself correctly guessing most of them. I seriously need to get out more.

Julius Caeser

We walked past the Monument to Victor Emanuel II, also known as the giant marshmallow building, we crossed the main road of traffic (and an amusing traffic officer) and into the back streets.

Kate and I in Front of the Marshmallow


Stop Stop I am a Speed Cop


Italian Cars are Just My Size

A Wish To Return

The back streets were brilliant and confusing. At one point I popped in to buy some postcards and walked out promptly losing Kate and Svet in the massive crowd. Being barely 5ft (1.5m) tall I had no hope of finding them. But what I did find instead was the famous Trevi Fountain. That is, I found it after I had to elbow about 500 tourists out of the way. I promptly forgot I was lost when I saw it.

I found an intelligent looking girl, who spoke English, and asked her to take a picture of me and my coin and the fountain. The silly twat took a photo of me and my coin, seriously????? Maybe I should have rather chosen someone who didn’t speak English.

Me, my coin, and…

My Aunt had down right ordered me to throw my coin in the fountain telling me how my wish would come true. Later I learnt it wasn’t so much a wish in general, but rather the wish to return to Rome. Well I guess I wished she could return to Rome, so maybe it will work.

Suddenly realising I was still lost, I found something to stand on and called Kate, they were still standing outside the postcard shop. Oops!

Organised Crime… Italian Style?

All feeling rather exhausted from a long afternoon of walking and exploring we headed back to the car. Only to discover that it had been broken into and they had stolen the GPS and some foreign coins. They had left the radio though.

Not wanting it to spoil the rest of the day, we headed off to a vintage and artists market, very retro with hand made goods from locals.

Vintage Clothes and Bags Made from Vinyl Records

Back at home I cooked up some pasta vegetable something or other for dinner, it was actually rather good, and we settled in to watch a movie. Tomorrow is a day on my own and I think I shall head to the Vatican City.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in RTW, Travel

 

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Friday The 13th…

Friday the 13th…

If ever there was an ominous day to travel my choice would be it. I also left at the butt crack of dawn, flying out at 5.35am. Luckily it seems as if I got all the good luck from the 13th vs the bad. Everything was on time, I got aisle seats, soso food, great seat mates who took melatonin and then drank 2 complimentary bottles of wine each… good times.

View of Mt. Hood as we flew into Portland, Oregon

I have always said as much as I love travel, it’s the actual traveling part that I dislike, but at least I get to catch up on the latest movies, especially since I can’t sleep on planes. This trip I got to see Sherlock Holmes 2, Hugo and Machine Gun Preacher. The last one was phenomenal, disturbing and inspiring at the same time. Based on a true story about a criminal turned preacher turned guardian to thousands of kids in war torn Sudan. I highly recommend it! I have seen it 3 times now and even though I cry every time at the horror man can inflict on each other the triumph of the human spirit amazes me.

Roman Landing

Managed to get a bit of sleep and despite the gentleman walking up and down the aisle after apparently drenching himself in cheap cologne, it was a good flight. My seat mates and I exchanged information and hoped to meet up for dinner and wine at some point.

Deboarding was a breeze, didn’t even have to fill out a immigration card, first time for everything. Got my stamp and then headed to the gate. Really wish countries would get more inventive with stamps, I mean, my Italian one is barely visible, I know they are official and everything but come on, lets have a little fun!

Old Friend!

Nicola was the new vet that arrived at Amazoonico wildlife refuge 2 weeks before I left. I wish I could have had more time to work with him. So I was thrilled to find out he was living in Rome and was willing to meet me at the airport! Always a bonus having someone meet you, I am perfectly capable of figuring it out, but having someone take that load off makes landing all that more pleasant.

I am renowned for having a terrible memory when it comes to faces, and I was concerned I would not recognize him after a year, but I needn’t have worried. There he was with his girlfriend (also a vet) and their cute 6month old lab puppy.

They adopted the pup after a complication in surgery caused her to go blind and what a sweet heart she was, also completely adapted to life in the dark. She has no fear and just bounds forward, learning as she goes.

We did a brief city tour and saw some of the sites, even though it was a bit of a misty grey morning, it was still stunningly beautiful. If anything the weather added to the history and ambience of old Rome.

View of Rome from Parco Gianicolense

We walked down little alleys and side streets all glistening in the fine rain. The cobble streets and window boxes were simply breathtaking. I love cities a lot of history.

Alleys and Side Streets

When in Rome, Eat like a Roman

For breakfast Nicola gave me the option of either an American style or Italian style breakfast. I figured I may as well try my first cappuccino, so Italian it was.

Yummy!!

On the way back to the car, the little pup found a friend and they frolicked all over nearly knocking over a few people. No one could have guessed at her lack of sight.

Seeing is Believing

Heading to my friend Kate’s apt, my couch surfing host from Australia who kindly offered to put up with me… put me up again :), one of the most amazing historical buildings came into sight. The Coliseum!

Just Coming into View

It’s Bigger in Person

We could only drive by it this time, but planned to come and visit it the next day. I asked Nicola if he was awed every day he drove past it? His response “No! It is just part of the city!” (Please add in your own Italian accent to truly appreciate the sentence). I guess it’s kind of like growing up with monkeys in my garden in South Africa, they were just part of the scenery.

Before getting to Kate’s, Nicola helped me buy a SIM card and then we went and found their apartment.

Nap Followed by Food

It was fantastic seeing Kate again and meeting her boyfriend, Svet, but it was sad saying cheers to Nicola. He worked nights at a local vet and we weren’t sure we would have a chance to catch up again. Oh well have to make another trip to Rome.

I was absolutely worn out and exhausted, got to learn how to sleep on planes! So passed out for a couple of hours. Then Kate and Svet took me out for beer and pizza, I had a potato and rosemary one that was amazing!!

Something I loved from the first time I saw it, was the little parks where the locals came and hung out. There were also water fountains everywhere and the water was crisp and clean.

Our final item for the evening was to go to a famous Tiramisu shop. I LOVE tiramisu and couldn’t wait to try a true Italian one.

Pure Deliciousness in a Personal Sized Box

We decided to join the locals and went and ate our little piece of heaven, we got one each, in the park. A great ending to a great, yet exhausting day.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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