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:

IMG_0339

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?

IMG_0384

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0224

IMG_0260

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:

IMG_0294

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.

IMG_0331

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