Europe is off to a great start! Too bad it's so expensive...good thing there's always money in the banana stand!
21.04.2012 - 03.05.2012 27 °C
It is just after 1 in the morning in Nairobi, Kenya and we are not resting comfortably in our hotel. We are at the airport, waiting for a plane to take us out of Africa. Normally we would be annoyed at this early flight time, but not today. Today we will be reunited with the world of western comforts and it couldn’t come at a better time. Our adventure is reaching its final continent, Europe, and our first stop is Italy.
Once we arrived at our hotel the first order of business was to shower off the weeks worth of camping filth. After a long nap we ventured out to look for some coffee and pizza. We wandered the streets for a while checking out the beautiful architecture and the ruins that remain from the glory days of the Roman Empire. Just around the corner from our hotel was one of Rome’s greatest ancient buildings, The Coliseum. We found a spot overlooking this monumental amphitheater and watched the hordes of tourist that collect around it everyday. We called it an early night with some delicious pizza and caught up on some sleep.
The next morning we were getting ready to head out for the day when we received one of the best surprises we have had on this trip. While seeking some help from the front desk, one of our best friends, Rachel, appeared in the lobby of our hotel. Rachel flew down from Poland to spend three days sight seeing and drinking wine with us before heading back home to Australia. Rachel has been playing volleyball in Poland and her season ended in March. We thought she was headed home before we would get to Europe but she extended her time in Poland and it was long enough that it overlapped with our trip. We were so excited that she did, it was great to see a familiar face! We spent the rest of the day catching up with Rachel and shopping for some new clothes. Most of the clothes we left with 5 months ago are not the same color anymore.
The next day the three of set out to experience Rome and see the major attractions. We started out with The Coliseum, considered one of the greatest sights of Roman architecture. Originally called the Flavian Amphitheater it was completed in 80 AD under the emperor Titus. It was home to the gladiator and the elaborate games that often took place here ended in death. Once you see the size of this complex, including the underground labyrinth that housed the gladiators and animals, you start to get an idea of what a spectacle these games must have been. The Romans planned elaborate scenes in which to create realistic habitats for the animals or recreate an ocean to reenact great naval battles. This elliptical amphitheater is grandiose and is a great place to get you in the spirit of ancient Rome.
We strolled along the Roman Forum, home to Julius Caesar, and checked out views of the city from the top of the Monument of Victor Emmanuel. We continued our walking tour through the narrow cobbled streets to one of Rome's most impressive fountains, Trevi Fountain. Trevi Fountain is know world wide and collects coins thrown in by tourists amounting to an astounding 3,000 euros a day. Tourist toss coins into the fountain with hopes that it will ensure them a return trip to Rome. We took a break near Trevi for lunch, where we dined on, wait for it...more pizza!
After lunch we traveled to two more famous sights, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The Pantheon is home to the the worlds largest unreinforced dome, a title it has held for almost 2,000 years. The only light in the Pantheon is from the sun as it shines through the oculus in the middle of the dome. It is one of the most impressive buildings in Rome.
Not far from the Pantheon is one of Rome's more delightful social scenes, Piazza Navona. This famous piazza is lined with cafes and littered with artist selling copy cat paintings of the major sights in Rome. The fountain in the center is called the Fountain of the Four Rivers and was sculpted by Bernini. The sculptures in Rome are marvelous and it seems that one famous sculpture after another appears around every corner. We stopped here for some gelato and mastered the art of drinking from one of the numerous drinking faucets found around the city.
After an already long day we decided to check out Vatican City to scope it out for a return trip the next morning. Vatican City, a land locked city state, is the heart of Catholicism. It occupies 110 acres of land and is home to a population of 800. This makes it the smallest independent state in the world. We started in St. Peters Square, staring up at Michelangelo’s Dome that floats above the enormous church doors leading into the Basilica. The square itself is magnificent, lined with columns and more incredible statutes and fountains. The line to get into St. Peters Basilica was unreal. We couldn’t believe how many people were lined up with only a few hours of viewing time left in the day. We decided to head around the corner and take a shot at getting into the Vatican Museum to see the worlds most famous fresco, the Sistine Chapel. To our delight there was no line to get in and we were able to work our way through the numerous galleries leading to the grand finale, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The frescos in this room are some of the most iconic and breathtaking pieces of art work I have ever seen. The number of frescos and the quality of the work in the room is astounding. Michelangelo created a masterpiece truly worthy of being considered the best of Renaissance art. Michelangelo painted nine scenes depicting well know stories from the book of genesis, the most iconic image in the series is the hand of God giving life to Adam. The colors, once muted by grime from candle smoke, now shine as vividly as they must have when they first touched the plaster.
After staring in amazement at the Sistine Chapel we followed a tour group out the exit, our so we thought. Some how we ended up inside St Peters Basilica and we are still not sure if that was correct exit to follow. Thankful that we didn’t have to wait in that long line to get in, we decided tour the largest Catholic Church in the world. It was truly impressive. I think we may have missed a few pieces of art in the museum by exiting early, but seeing St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in one day was more than worth it! After a long day of walking we took the crowded metro back to our hotel to relax. That night we enjoyed another fabulous dinner and lots of vino.
The next morning we headed to the Spanish Steps and snapped some photos of the colorful flower arrangements. We also had to avoid more gladiator posers, asking if we wanted to take a picture with them. They are everywhere in Rome. After a a long walk and a late breakfast we gathered up a few picnic supplies, bread, some cured meats, cheese, chocolate, and of course some wine. We took our picnic to a park in the Villa Borghese and spent the afternoon lounging in the park overlooking the city. That night we enjoyed more classic Italian food before bidding farewell to our dear friend Rachel. Sad it came to an end, we had so much fun all together again.
The next day I ventured out before 7am to snap photos of Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Coliseum without the crowds around them. I would recommend anyone visiting Rome to do the same. It is very peaceful and nice to get some pictures without the tops of peoples heads. After breakfast we discovered that it was Italy’s day of independence and the streets were packed with modern day Romans celebrating with gellato and shopping. We picked up tickets to the AS Roma game before heading out for a morning of shopping on Via Del Corso along with everyone else in Rome. Eventually we made it to the Stadio Olimpico for AS Roma v. Fiorintina. It was a hard fought match that ended in the away teams favor 2-1. Roma fans left with a bitter taste and what we would guess were some unkind words for the home team. We hoofed the 4 miles back to our area of Rome earning a gellato break and then crashed, exhausted from the day of walking.
Rome is such an amazing city, there are fabulous sculptures, jaw dropping fountains, and incredible ancient buildings on almost every corner. We didn’t even scratch the surface on what this city has to offer. There are so many sights that we missed and classic works of art that we just didn't have time to see. The food is amazing and it is everywhere you turn, which has been good and bad for us. We are not looking forward to summer clothing after a week in Rome. The people in Rome are a source of constant energy, from shopping all day to sipping drinks at their favorite piazza late in to the night. They spur us on to burn the candle at both ends. All we can do now is hope that our Trevi fountain wish comes true so we can come back and finish what we started.
The next morning we bid farewell to the capital city and caught the train headed for Como to visit McKenna’s childhood friend, Jillian. Jillian has been living in Como for three years and has played for one of the most storied clubs in European Women’s Basketball. Our timing was great, that night Jillian had a home playoff game and we got to sit court side for the intense match. Jillian put on a clinic in the fourth quarter leading her team to victory. It was an exciting game and a lot of fun see Jillian play so well.
We spent the next four days in Como just relaxing. We toured the lake and had more delicious italian food, while Jillian impressed us with her fluent italian. It rained several of the days we were there, but that wasn’t so bad. We hit a wall and were in need of some serious downtime. The rain kept us from feeling guilty for being a little lazy. We took over Jillian’s apartment and watched a lot of movies, she was a gracious host. Besideds relaxing a bit we did get to venture out in Milan for an evening of fun at the clubs. We danced the night away in true Milan style. Although our style was not nearly as fashionable as the other party goers! After enjoying some relaxing and fun days with Jillian we were ready to get back on the road and continue this European adventure!