Oh, man. I am really bad at writing blogs now. About a month ago I promised my mother that I would write something here, and there are things to write about (mostly about rain, and what Albanian gyms are like, and spending two weeks hunting Tirana for basmati rice [I am spoiled, but also the rice suddenly vanished off the shelves of my favorite grocery stores (it’s back now)]), but I’m actually supposed to be posting pictures from my trip to Rome.
So! After firmly declaring that I was going to spend my third Christmas/New Year’s in the Balkans, my parents said I could come home, I booked a ticket, and a week later was sitting in South Jersey eating tater tots and fake chicken nuggets. Life was good: for Christmas we went to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (for the first hour every gray-haired sixty-ish man looked the same to me, making it hard to follow the plot) and eat Indian food; I went to the library and read new books I thought I’d have to wait six more months for (Zone One, The Marriage Plot, and also an old book – The Blind Assassin); I went to New York and nearly cried because the city was too big, and also got on subways going in the wrong direction a couple times; I bought a bunch of shoes, since neither Albanian nor Macedonian shoe stores cater to the giant-footed; and I ate a lot of baby Reese’s cups.
After all this exciting stuff I got on another plane, headed for Rome. I stopped in Rome mostly as a matter of convenience, because last time I was flying out of the States I kept getting interrogated about whether I was allowed to enter Macedonia. (When you are going to a country no one has ever heard of, they won’t believe you when you present your Macedonian identity card and say that, no, you don’t need a visa because you have THIS CARD SAYING I DON’T NEED A VISA.) I was still waiting on my Albanian residency permit (which now that I’ve picked it up, wouldn’t have helped matters – it’s just a sheet of paper, and while an Albanian would understand that it says I can live here through December 24, 2012 [yeah! only, I am not staying that long], a USAir employee couldn’t) and it seemed easiest to play this little trick and spend a few days wandering around Rome.
Rome is, if you’re wondering, a great city for those of us with no sense of direction. Each evening I carefully plotted my course for the next day, drawing my walking routes from one attraction to the next, and each morning I would set off only to be utterly and completely lost within the hour. Even these tiny roads are scenic and worth walking along, though, and when I stopped panicking about finding the Trevi Fountain or some highly praised pizzeria or gelatario, I was able to enjoy my six hours a day of aimlessly wandering the streets of Rome. After two and a half years of living in places that are beautiful and welcoming but that don’t have many “touristic places,” it was strange/wonderful to walk down streets that hadn’t even been mentioned in my guidebook but offered sights like ornate fountains set into the corners of buildings, and little piazzas with more fountains and statues, and beautiful churches. I never found the pizzeria I was searching for, but while on the hunt I stumbled into a different pizzeria filled with a crush of people, and picked up a slice with tomato and mozzarella that I am still dreaming about. And yeah, after I did that (the second time) I may have gotten completely lost and wound up standing next to the river across from the Vatican, when I had intended on walking in the other direction (I had just come from the Vatican), but everything seemed to work itself out once I had a piece of pizza or a gelato in hand.
I’m not a great travel writer – apologies – but it seems worth noting that I found a little Skanderbeg Square in Rome, just by the Trevi Fountain. If you have ever read my blog before, you’ll remember that Skanderbeg is the Albanian hero, and that Debar had a statue of Fat Skanderbeg in the town center. Other things:
- the Vatican Museum. When the guidebook says to buy your tickets in advance it means, really, buy your tickets in advance. To avoid the two-hour line to enter I joined an overpriced group tour, and after that ended spent the day wandering the museum. The Vatican has really figured out this museum racket, so I would like to now offer this guide to museum curators/fundraisers who aren’t too concerned in the quality of their visitors’ experience: instead of labeling exhibits, set up little bookshops throughout the museum, where visitors can spend 13 euros to buy a book describing the artwork. This totally works. It got me, though I clearly still harbor some resentment.
- The Trevi Fountain, beautiful but would be more beautiful if it were not constantly surrounded by two thousand sweaty tourists straining to take photos without dropping their gelato.
- There are many, many restaurants in Rome serving bad Italian food. I guess this is what happens when you don’t have to worry about creating repeat customers?
- The gelato!
- Best thing I saw: The Capuchin Crypt, by far. At one euro this was one of the cheapest places I went, a crypt decorated with monks’ bones. Very, very cool.
- Rome, like Philadelphia, has a subway system with exactly two lines.
- St. Peter’s Basilica, beautiful. I first tried to go after visiting the Vatican Museum, in mid-afternoon, but the line looked a few hours long. Went back around 8 or 9 am the next morning and walked right in. This is a nice place to have to yourself, if you can manage it. Also, how much money went into the Basilica? (That this was my overarching concern as I walked around is further proof, as if we needed any, of my non-religious mindset.)
- After walking around this very cool museum near my hostel (about one block from Termini Station – both the hostel and the museum, I mean), admiring all the old-timey statues, I realized that I needed to join a gym.
So, that was my visit to Rome! Toss in a couple of unsatisfying bouts with overcooked penne, my subsequent visits to The Schwarma Stand for falafel sandwiches (I am that person who went to Rome and ate non-Italian food…sorry), trying not to think about what was clogging the hostel’s shower drains, and my fury that Italians, unlike Albanians and Macedonians, won’t allow you to get a macchiato in a big cup (if you ask they will give you an Americano…at least they will if you’re American), and you’ve got the complete picture. It was a nice four days, but it was maybe slightly nicer to return to Tirana, where I immediately* went out for a lunch that cost, like, three dollars.
* Explanation: I accidentally turned off my refrigerator before leaving for the trip.