Rome I: sunrises and sightseeing by chance

I’m a little more than slightly irked that a pre-cold runny nose got me up at 6:30 when I could have slept in till 8, but I suppose this is just an unexpected opportunity to reflect on my first few days in Rome. Although my head aches in an unpleasantly dull way from the congestion, this feels like a pretty appropriate time to be doing this – the birds are twittering away, the sun is slowly filling the space of our courtyard, I am at the maximum comfort level in sweats, a crewneck, and a flannel. Really, the only thing missing here is a two-hands-required, bowl-sized mug of black coffee… but I don’t drink black coffee. You know. Goals.

The morning I took off for Rome, I was pretty exhausted (if you recall from my last installment, I did not sleep the night before). So after the continued issues with flights and cancellations, when I finally got into the air en route to Heathrow Airport, I actually, legitimately cried about the beauty of that morning’s sunrise over the Scottish countryside. Before you judge me, please just take a look through my eyes:

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Crying about a sunrise on an airplane full of business people could easily be considered a low point in my life, but I’d argue it was a cheesy-albeit-fitting beginning of my journey to this city. I had my layover in Heathrow, where I ate pizza and drank prosecco at like 9:30am. In my defense, my concept of time at that point was egregiously warped thanks to my sleepless night at the Glasgow Airport, but I did not have the chance to tell my fellow diners this and could feel their cold, judging stares. LIVE AND LET LIVE, GUYS.

Predictably, my flight to Rome was delayed by about an hour – this honestly felt like a blessing after the problems I had encountered in the earlier parts of my itinerary. We’re leaving an hour after our planned take-off time?! We’re practically early! I was in and out of sleep the entire flight, partly because I was knackered and partly because some asshole had taken the window seat, and what’s the point of staying conscious if you don’t have the window seat?

I touched down at FCO around 3:15, waited impatiently for my bag, and hopped into an insufferably muggy cab. I think I had this previously unacknowledged expectation that we’d somehow magically hop from the airport into the middle of the historical city, taking some nonexistent route which wound us past the ruins of the Forum, and the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Quite unrealistic, like so many of my expectations. So when we reached the dingy outskirts of town, with its bright paint and mini marts and buildings thrown up in the 70’s (aka the worst time for architecture), I found myself feeling slightly disappointed that this was a part of Rome. And this made me think about the ways in which I love cities. I tend to love cities for what I perceive to be their authenticity, but when it comes down to it, I’m not even sure how I’d define authenticity. Does the guy selling selfie sticks outside the Castel Sant-Angelo make the monument any less real or valuable? Do the dilapidated fringes of the city detract from its history or culture? Whenever I’ve considered these questions in the past few days, my resounding answer has been “no.” Everything that is a part of this city is a part of this city. And it’s important to learn how to embrace the pieces which aren’t carved out of marble or painted by a guy I learned about in 9th grade art class. I think I’m getting somewhere.

To carry on with the story, eventually we did start seeing crumbling pillars and cobblestone streets, and soon enough our driver had pulled into the piazza where our campus is located and was unloading our bags and saying “ciao.” There we were. In Rome. Getting keys to our apartments. In Rome. Perplexedly gazing at maps and getting lost. In Rome. It didn’t sink in then, I’m not entirely sure it’s sunk in now.

So far, it has been a spectacular experience. One of my favorite things about Rome is that it’s so easy to wander, to just impulsively dive down winding side streets, and sometimes when you’re doing this you can glance up, in a moment which is the dictionary definition of serendipity, and find yourself stumbling up the steps or across the bridge to an incredibly old and famous monument. I’ve done this multiple times. The city is full of sculptures and fountains and panoramic views that seemingly come out of nowhere, jump right in your face when you’re least expecting it. I’m learning to sightsee by chance, which means I get to take in a lot of details that might be glossed over in a whirlwind tour. I absolutely love it.

Equally fantastic is the group I’m here with. Most of them I’ve only just met, but everyone is so kind and chatty and interesting in their individual ways – I’ve got my introverted tendencies, but I love getting to know people and learning their quirks. So, needless to say, this fun for me. What better way to make friends than getting lost in Trastevere together?

I won’t talk about any places I’ve visited yet, but that will come soon. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep, but I do think my posting on here will be uncharacteristically frequent for the next few weeks; I actually have material! When does that happen?

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42 hours with the Glaswegians

After the flight debacle which seemed like it would never end (and, in all honesty, it didn’t), I finally touched down at the Glasgow Airport, where the woman working at border control confused me by being incredibly stern and then underhandedly complimenting my taste in glasses. Shook it off, grabbed my bag from the carousel, and awkwardly hired myself a cab – into the city I delved.

Glasgow is a really cool city, contrary to what I’ve heard from some people. Being a Seattleite, it feels pleasantly familiar – I mean, there’s a substantial amount of rain. But there’s also a similar cultural vibe, as it’s a city that feels like people actually live there, it’s not just some tourist trap gallivanting around under the guise of authenticity. They have amazing restaurants and pubs with genuinely good food, and the people are SO nice (there is one specific instance of this which I will share later). Also, damn. Dat City Centre.

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As if all of this was not enough, I showed up to my quaint hotel and was promptly enveloped in the arms of my best friend, who I’d not seen since January. She smelled nice. And she hugged well. Umulu, I missed you.

Because of the Flight from Hell and the ensuing nail-biter-of-a-layover in Amsterdam, she had already been wandering around Glasgow a day before I arrived. Disappointing, but she also had scouted out the places worth seeing – we hit the high street (BOOTS! why oh why does this store not exist in the US), the Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis (look up pictures of this place – it is insane), the City Centre… a good, quick little tour. This was followed by a charmingly typical pub visit, complete with a couple o’ pints and slightly inebriated men loudly reacting to a football match. We were even given wristbands by one of the barmen, and as he handed them to us he animatedly explained they’d be giving out “FREE PINTS IF SCOTLAND WIN!” I found this tiny little grammatical difference – treating Scotland’s team as a plural noun rather than singular – pretty damn endearing, although I can’t explain why. I’m a nerd, guys.

This marked the beginning of a leisurely evening spent in various restaurants throughout the City Centre – Em and I are both of the mindset that food is an integral part of any travel experience, valued over souvenirs and the like, and thus it is well worth spending a pretty penny on. We decided on a place called Slouch for dinner (she voted because of the menu, I voted because of the name). It was a trendy basement bar and cafe, with wallpaper and enormous booths and LIVE MUSIC. If you know me at all, you know I am a sucker for live music. So with my gourmet mac and cheese, my fancy cocktail (called the “personality crisis”), and my live acoustic set, I was a happy, happy girl. This feeling stuck with me through the champagne and chocolate fudge cake at a swish little Italian restaurant, although this is not a surprise. Friends and food. That’s what life is all about.

Shockingly, the next morning started with food. I know. Also three cups of apple juice. We embarked on an absolutely frigid doubledecker bus tour of Glasgow, which was SO COOL and I took too many pictures. I love cities that embrace the old and still let the new move in, and that’s exactly what Glasgow is. Such a fusion of time and culture. And speaking of fusion, we paid a visit to Kelvingrove, a museum which has everything from Monet paintings to stuffed flying possums to a really old coffee pot. While walking through, part of you wants to say “why…?”, but most of you wants to say “YES!!!!” Take a gander:

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IMG_0300Overall, Kelvingrove is a worthwhile stop if you’re ever in Glasgow, and it’s located near the absolutely stunning University of Glasgow campus. I thought my school in Washington was old and beautiful – haha NOPE.

The rest of our second and final day together consisted of afternoon tea (as could only be expected with my classy-ass hooligan friend), two more trips to Boots, and a very sad goodbye at the train station. Frown selfies were taken. The sadness was real. I dragged my suitcase out into the rain and wind, caught the shuttle to the airport, and said “seeyalatah” to Glasgow.

Now for the really enthralling chapter of this saga: a solitary all-nighter at the Glasgow Airport. My flight through Amsterdam was scheduled for six in the morning, so I figured it would “make sense” to just hang out at the airport for twelve hours rather than pay for a hotel nearby – I think I was right. I don’t know how many people would enjoy spending an entire night in a relatively small airport on their own, but it was honestly one of my favorite travel experiences. It was like seeing Disneyland after closing. I hung out at Starbucks and blogged, set up camp in the women’s bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth, bought myself a mix-and-match meal from TESCO at 2am… I was basically living the life. It was quiet. I had a multitude of outlets to choose from. Didn’t sleep a wink, but whatever.

So. Walked my luggage over to the check-in desks right when they opened at 4am, a smile on my face, knowing my travel woes had ended when I left Dutch soil. I say “knowing” because I was confident – not because I was right. Yes, dear friends, it happened again. Took my bag to the counter, handed the woman my boarding pass, and was immediately sent to the special services desk (I should just start going there first). I was informed that I would not be able to connect through Amsterdam for some reason I did not understand. I was very lucky that they automatically rebooked me on a flight through Heathrow, but the situation was still enough to send me back to Starbucks, frazzled and searching for an outlet, probably with zombie eyes. I collapsed in the corner and heaved my laptop out of my backpack.

This is when I will show you just how lovely the Scots are. While I was sitting there in my distress, a barista walked over to me and took my order – from my table. I began an attempt to respond, quite inarticulately, and then paused and said “wow, thank you for actually coming over here and asking,” to which he replied, “of course, you looked busy.” I explained the issues with flights and he was so nice and asked me questions and talked to me about Seattle – basically made my morning. Single ladies, if you’re ever in the Glasgow Airport, go to Starbucks and HUSBAND HIM UP. I should have. Except he’s probably ten years older than me.

And the rest of the morning is not very interesting, with the escalators and security and sitting in a terminal for an hour. The flights themselves I will probably include in the next chapter: arriving in Rome. Still can’t believe I’m here. No details yet.

I will leave you with what I assumed to be the “American” section of the TESCO in the Glasgow Airport. I laughed a little bit.

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Peanut butter, sugary cereal, poptarts, candy, and beef jerky: we literally eat nothing else.

Hot mess in terminal S

The other day, I frustratedly scrawled the following into a notebook:

I am sitting in Gate D6 at the Amsterdam airport. In a bout of nostalgia which is completely circumstantial and not my choice at all, I am HANDWRITING this blog post before I can type it. Why? I made the mistake of A) owning a dinosaur of a laptop that constantly needs to be plugged in, and B) packing my outlet adaptors in my checked luggage rather than my carry-on. In my defense, though, my plan was to NOT EVEN HAVE TIME to use an outlet at this airport. Originally, I was only supposed to spend an hour here between flights. But OH the utter fickleness of a flight itinerary booked through Delta.

See, yesterday I was on the “Flight from Hell” (this term was coined by Nancy, an elderly woman standing in front of me and my friend in the practically stagnant line for hotel vouchers… which I will get to later). Our flight to Amsterdam was scheduled to leave Seattle at 2:15pm, and at first things were looking alright – we had some pre-flight mimosas and boarding was relatively painless. Took our seats, settled in, watched the cheesy safety video. After all of this, we were told that one of the air valves on the plane needed repairs and they were bringing in a maintenance team, which would delay us slightly – that’s fine, whatever. Delays are normal and problems need to be fixed. Eventually the maintenance crew left and we were forced to watch the safety video again, which was comically irksome, but then we were finally up in the air. I mean, we were up in the air for thirty minutes. And then they notified us that the valve problem had not, in fact, been fixed, and we had to return to Seattle to re-address the issue.

… and then I took a pause in recording my story because yet another flight of mine had been delayed. And I wasn’t even sure if I had a seat on it. (“I didn’t even cry!” she exclaimed with pride)

Me, when I'm being cool as a cucumber in a time of crisis

Me, when I’m being cool as a cucumber in a time of crisis

Anyway, I am now ready to continue telling this story. As you’ve probably noticed, I call it “Hot Mess in Terminal S.” Because when we re-landed in the Emerald City, we touched down at Terminal S. And it was a HOT MESS, YOU GUYS.

So. The pilot turned the plane around and parked it back at Seatac. The maintenance crew came back. Since we were all in the middle of watching the Oscar-nominated movies we never had the chance (or money) to see in theaters, we did not de-board the plane. You don’t turn down the opportunity to watch free, good movies, ever. That is a rule. But much to our chagrin, the movies eventually ended and we were STILL sitting on the runway, five hours after we were supposed to take off. Dry airplane sandwiches could not squelch the widespread, ever-growing annoyance. Eventually the crew began to sense that their passengers were slowly turning against them, and they let us off the plane, saying we would re-group in approximately two hours and then we would be on our way – at 9pm.

The disgruntlement was palpable (and also quite audible) as we exited the aircraft. We distributed ourselves among the four restaurants in the terminal, and some people re-booked for a flight the next day. It was an odd and miserable atmosphere, with dozens of strangers exchanging knowing eye-rolls and sardonic laughter while dunking over-priced chicken strips in plastic containers of BBQ sauce. I was, of course, sorely disappointed because this delay pushed back my long-awaited reunion with my best friend in Glasgow – but I also thought the situation was pretty funny. It was so ridiculous it was kind of unbelievable. I continued laughing when we had to watch the stupid safety video for the THIRD time around 9:30 that night, although at this point the spirits of the group as a whole had risen a little bit. Hope had finally re-gained some buoyancy all thanks to free Pizza Hut at the gate’s info desk. We settled in under our paper-thin airplane blankets and resumed our movie marathons, greatly looking forward to our inevitable takeoff.

After 45 minutes of sitting on the runway, a man’s voice came over the intercom. “I have some bad news,” it said mournfully. I chuckled, thinking it had to be a joke. Spoiler alert: it was not a joke. The pilot had just exceeded the hours he was legally allowed to spend on-duty. “I’m afraid we are going to have to shut this down tonight” explained the mystery intercom man as the undeniable rumblings of mutiny spread throughout the economy cabin. Once again, we de-boarded. Slowly, angrily, some people loudly and profanely. And then… The Lines.

A massive line formed outside the gate’s desk with passengers demanding hotel rooms, re-bookings, and profuse/tearful apologies from each and every Delta employee at Seatac Airport. My friend and I joined this line, and we stood there so long that my backpack straps actually gave me a slight rugburn on my shoulders. When we reached the exhausted and trampled-upon employee working the service desk, he kindly printed us a hotel voucher while repeatedly wiping sweat from his brow (I felt very, very bad that he had been scheduled for this shift – worst shift ever, dude). Sadly, though, the shuttle to this particular hotel was no longer running, and it was definitely not within walking distance. And after unsuccessfully fumbling around with the computer keys for ten minutes, our poor Delta friend sent us off to the airline’s check-in desk at the front of the airport to get another hotel voucher.

Our journey to this destination involved running down an escalator and retrieving our luggage from baggage claim, only to arrive at the check-in desk where there was, you guessed it, another line. This one was at least fifty people in length and it was not moving. Like at all. For twenty minutes. Despite counting ourselves among the more patient and civil Flight from Hell passengers, we finally got fed up enough to abandon our efforts and just pay for a cab to our shuttle-less hotel. I think I fell asleep en route.

The next morning, we encountered a few other disheveled non-traveling travelers in the hotel lobby. We had all been automatically rescheduled for a 2pm flight that day, but it was not as straightforward as it sounds – the details we received were few and vague, and connecting flights had been metaphorically mangled with a blunt-edged knife (as I learned for myself when I reached Amsterdam). But rather than express our irritation directly to the Delta employees at the airport (since they didn’t really have anything to do with it), my trooper of a friend and I rebelled in a more mature way by proceeding to the nicest restaurant in Terminal S – now our second home – and ordering champagne and $15 entrees, fully intending to demand reimbursement because we were not provided food vouchers. It was his idea. Pretty brilliant.

Although our flight that afternoon departed late (and we had to watch that damn safety video again), it did depart… AND IT ARRIVED! In a place that wasn’t Seattle! Imagine that! And now I write to you, happily, from the quiet lobby of the Glasgow Airport. I think my unlucky streak is over. Let’s all cross our fingers.

Next time: I express my love for Scotland and yes there will be pictures.


PS: even though this particular flight was undeniably a shitshow, I do not mean this to be an attack on Delta Airlines – most of the employees I encountered tried very hard to be helpful and dealt kindly with some pretty angry people. I mean, they could improve their safety information video, but…