Diari Di Mais Per Bambini: Roma

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Really, you've never been to Europe? "But I thought you said you traveled a lot?"

That was actually a response I got while on a date once. It started with the simple question of what was her favorite destination out of all the places she’d traveled, to which she replied: Italy. I had told my date that I hadn’t actually been to Europe yet and that it wasn’t quite on my short list of places to go since I didn’t think Europe would change a whole lot within the next five years or so. I told her my plan was to see the parts of the world that were changing quickly and it was kind of a goal of mine to do it before those changes took place. She literally gave me this skeptical look with regards to my answer and I could see her begin to doubt the fact that I even traveled at all…

It’s funny, I consider myself to be fairly well traveled. But not in a way that most people would normally assume. I mean up until a few weeks ago I had never set foot in Europe. And up until a few years ago I hadn’t traveled that much outside of North America with the exception of my first trip back to Cambodia when I was thirteen. So it’s not really surprising to me when people ask what cities and countries I’ve been to only to hear that they haven’t heard of half of those places. Most of that is simply due to work as there’s only so many places in Middle America one can travel to as a regional airline pilot over six and a half years.  However, the flip side to that is for four years I was fortunate enough to have seen some seriuosly crazy exotic places as a corporate jet pilot and I’ll probably never get to see those places again. Still, if you were to list the big name places that most people dream of visiting such as Japan, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, South Africa, etc…, I wouldn’t have been able to say yes to a single one of those places till just this last year. So I’m not surprised in the least when people are shocked to hear that bit of news though I can say I was a tad caught off guard at my dates reaction to it…

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Two years ago I “crashed” a wedding in Costa Rica… Sharon and Ernest’s wedding to be exact. They turned out to be some of the coolest people I know and my friend Diana is BFF’s with Sharon which is how this story all starts out. It was Sharon and Ernest’s wedding to which I was technically invited to by Diana at the last minute when several people couldn’t make it due to the Zika virus outbreak. Though at the time I had no clue who Sharon and Ernest were, let alone anyone else at the wedding. Ironically, or perhaps fate had it written that way, the timing worked out perfectly because I was actually going to crash a wedding in Australia that same week so I conveniently had those days off. But the Australia thing didn’t work out as my other buddy couldn’t get the days off that he needed in order to make the trip and long story short, I ended up in Costa Rica instead. 

Side note: Diana says I didn’t crash the wedding because she invited me. I guess she’s technically right but I didn’t go as her date either and I didn’t know anyone else at the wedding. Hell no one was even around when I showed up and I ended up randomly meeting three other really cool people who had just met for the first time a few hours prior themselves. We were all attending the same wedding so we hung out for the rest of the day, which turned into the rest of the week and by the time the wedding ended we became “Los Algos”. However that’s another story for another day and I’m still sticking to my story of crashing (Charese, I know you got my back!) the wedding but Diana will say I’m full of it and I’m only saying I crashed a wedding because it makes a good story. Which of course is true too… 

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You’re probably wondering “What the F” did all of that have to do with this post about Rome and Italy? Well the simply answer is this: because of Sharon and Ernest’s crashed wedding (Yes Diana, crashed…) in Costa Rica I met Drea and Jerry. I also met Charese and Jeff whom later invited me to their wedding in the Philippine’s party capital known as Boracay, a year ago even though I hadn’t even known them for a full year. Drea and Charese were bridesmaids at Sharon and Ernest’s wedding in Costa Rica and I even sat at the bridal party table with them during the reception (See… Wedding crasher…!). Drea and Jerry then invited me to their wedding in Italy which took places just a little over a week ago. There, the backstory complete. Sort of anyways…

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My first thought at seeing Europe for the first time was all of the rich history in front of my eyes. We were somewhere over the German countryside just west of Frankfurt and my window was filled with deep greens and dark shadows as the sun hadn’t quite peaked above the horizon yet. I was still groggy from my 6 hour nap and for some random reason I thought about how this might have been the view a lone fighter pilot might have had as he patrolled the early morning German skies during the first or second World War. Yeah that might sound strange but that’s the pilot and history buff in me speaking there. Shortly after that we touched down to a grapefruit colored misty sunrise and there I was, in Europe for the very first time.

So my itinerary for Italy was basically Diana’s itinerary with me tagging along. Diana and I had talked about me joining her for her tour of Italy early on but I didn’t think I’d get enough days off to come early so I didn’t really do any planning for it. Of course that’s when I find out a few weeks prior that I did actually get those requested days off. I’m gonna be real honest here, I didn’t really know too much about the must do’s in Italy, aside from the real obvious stuff, so tagging along with Diana was just fine with me. Plus Diana had this Vespa tour of Tuscany planned and no way I could say no to that.

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I landed in Roma shortly after 9 am and would have breezed through the airport had it not been for the slow pace in which the Italian ground crews were working (or not working?). It took a good forty minutes after had I walked up to the baggage claim carousel before my roller board finally came flying down the conveyer belt. After spending the next few minutes verifying that my roller was all in one piece with everything in it I was off and running. My first order of business was to catch the Leonardo Express from the Fiumicino Airport to Roma Termini. From there it was supposed to be a short fifteen minute walk to the hotel that we were staying at and everything was looking pretty good…

Till the rain started that is. So I’m going to back track a bit here and point out an interesting fact with my travels. For whatever reason, the universe has decided that when I’m traveling somewhere far for a destination wedding, my arrival into the country shall be an “adventure”. It all started in Costa Rica when I was dropped off in front of a bunch of condo’s with no real clue as to which one I was staying in and no one to ask. That adventure continued in Boracay when my transportation never showed up at the Caticlan airport to transfer me to the island of Boracay as planned. That then required me to do a little bit of improvising by taking the local public ferry from the Caticlan Jetty Port to the island of Boracay, where I then had to wait an hour for a “tuk tuk” driver whom had no clue where he was taking me. It was that “tuk tuk” driver who then dropped me off at the bottom of a large hill in the jungle and pointed to some random stairs at the base of the hill. It’s those steep stairs in the jungle that I would then have to hike up with all of my bags. Oh and I should also add that once I got up to the top of the hill I still had no clue which house, or mansion as I would later find out, we were actually staying in so I had to wing that part too. And of course now Roma…

A week prior to my trip I checked the weather forecast and saw the potential for some rain showers in both Roma and Firenze so I packed my rain jacket just in case. But… I hadn’t really thought about my rollerbag and as I stood there in Rome Termini watching the downpour all around me as I decided that I wasn’t really too enthusiastic about having a suit and a bag full of wet clothes. I walked around searching for the nearest taxi stand but it was all in vain as I didn’t see a single empty taxi anywhere. Que the locals selling some expensive but cheaply made umbrella’s to all of us tourists. Initially I said no to the swarm of local sellers whom approached me and I just started running through the rain only to quickly realize how foolish that really was. Eventually I broke down and bought a ten Euro umbrella from some guy and off I went in search of our hotel.

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Of course finding my hotel turned out to be no real easy feat either. After dodging who knows how many tiny cars, rain puddles and not knowing the proper way to cross a Roman street I finally arrived near the entrance of where I was staying. I only had one major problem, the entrance wasn’t marked as this was just a small hotel on the third or fourth floor of a larger building rather than an entire building like a major chain that one may normally be used to. After I spent several minutes walking back and forth past the entrance I finally met a random Italian gentleman whom was able to understand my mix of bad Italian and American English and pointed me in the right direction.

Take a step back in time with me for a second here but while I was at the Fiumicino Airport awaiting the arrival of my checked bags Diana told me that the weather forecast from noon till four-ish was showing cloudy skies but no rain. Diana then suggested that I should run down and see the Colosseum during that time since she was out doing her thing as well. I should point out that out of all of the things that I really wanted to see in Roma, the Colosseum was definitely one of the most important attractions that I had wanted to see while I was there. And given that the Colosseum was just a few blocks down the street I figured that it was a no brainer so off I went, with my new handy dandy umbrella of course. 

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That ten Euro umbrella was more than worth it’s weight in gold at the Colosseum. Because as if on cue, right as I had arrived to the Colosseum a nice heavy down pour started once again. Luckily I was ready this time around and I managed to avoid getting completely soaked like a bunch of the other tourists who were standing in line to get into the Colosseum. Speaking of lines, the security line into the Colosseum was a long one, even in the rain. To the point where I decided that it was worth paying the thirty Euro’s for one of those skip the line guided tours…

So I should say something here about scams and research. I normally do just a bit of googling and research to figure out where to go and how to avoid some of the local scams when I travel. I also just try to use a bit of common sense as well. However; this time around I didn’t, with regards to the googling and research part that is. Now I can claim how busy I was with work and all of that prior to my trip but let’s be real, I should have taken the time to do so but I didn’t. I knew that I was potentially being scammed with this tour but I really didn’t want to stand in line since I was time limited. I figured thirty Euro’s for a guided tour was a reasonable price and fortunately I got lucky as I got a good tour guide who was able to share quite a bit of knowledge about the Colosseum itself and the Romans who built it.

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I have one final thing to say about the Colosseum before I end this first Roma post. I really, really, really disliked my experience. First I had to deal with the weather, which went downhill once we entered the Colosseum. The rain started pouring again and the wind picked up quite a bit so it got downright chilly (even with my hoodie on) and we had to take refuge in one of the few dry spots in the Colosseum. Which ironically was the same place a pigeon had taken refuge in as well (see pigeon picture). Second, it was crazy how many people were there even with the bad weather.

May is considered the “shoulder” season for Italy as tourism begins to build up once again as the weather warms throughout the country. I knew it was going to be busy but man, I wasn’t quite ready for what happened at the Colosseum. Everywhere we went there were hordes of people and groups of kids running around screaming and yelling to the point where I could barely hear the tour guide half of the time unless I just about stood right next to her. Everywhere you looked you saw nothing but selfie sticks with iphones and camera wielding tourists snapping thousands of pictures from everyone conceivable angle. People were actually crawling up random parts of the Colosseum for whatever Instagram picture they were trying to produce and it became downright obnoxious at times. But I guess that’s how things are these days. I probably shouldn’t complain too much but it really made it hard for me to just stand there and let the Colosseum soak in with all of it’s history. I never really got the opportunity to sit and let the fact that over 2000 Roman Gladiators lost their lives in mortal battle for the pure entertainment of others just a few feet in front of me. I guess my Colosseum experience was a good reminder of why I prefer to travel off the beaten path as much as I can. I should say that Diana also made a good point in that my experience with the Colosseum was after a days plus worth of travel and I was probably just tired and irritable at the same time. Which is true to a degree but my Colosseum experience will definitely make me weigh the thought of if I really want to be visiting some of the very touristy, but must see historical places in the near future.

Oh and if you’re wondering about the girl on that date. No we didn’t make it beyond the second date and no I don’t think I missed out on a whole lot there either. Though she may be thinking the same thing herself…

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