Blurry-Eyed Beginnings

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.)

Sunday, September 22.

2013-09-20 03.55.52It’s amazing how the months before a trip can seem so long, then seem to vanish in the blink of an eye.

But here we are. My mom and I, with our tour group, in Rome. Italy. Finally.

Technically, it’s “day 3” of our itinerary, having spent the first evening, then most of the following day in the air, and finally arriving at our hotel at 4:30 in the afternoon, exhausted and practically nodding off during the orientation session with our trip leader, a compact Italian man named Franco. (Well, me, anyway.)

Today, is much, much better. We sufficiently fill our tummies at breakfast and slap together some small sandwiches for lunch.

Our day starts with our tour bus passing Rome’s historic ruins before we’re let off for a closer look. Franco hands us off to our local guide Tiziana, who leads us from point to point, rattling off historic facts and waving around an antenna with black, white and red ribbons tied to it, so we can see her at all times in the sea of other tourists, and keep up.

2013-09-20 04.27.11We spot the ancient arch after which Paris’ Arc de Triomphe is modelled, and  come across some sort of military parade as we’re looking at the various remains from the old city. We follow Tiziana farther, and pass by the exterior of the Colosseum.

At this point, the group breaks up for an hour or so. Some of our fellow travellers enter the Colosseum for a more detailed tour. Mom and I opt to stay outside.

The grounds around the exterior are teeming with tourists. Men illegally selling their cheap knock-off scarves, squeeze toys, and other wares, approach us repeatedly.

At one point, while taking some shade from the sun, we see a few pedlars high-tailing on it on foot, whizzing past us. There are police officers in the area.*

The group re-assembles, and we return to our hotel on the outskirts of town, where I gladly take a nap to battle my lingering jet-lag.

2013-09-20 10.51.09We return downtown in the late afternoon for a walking tour of the various piazzas and fountains, most notably, the Trevi Fountain – the biggest and, obviously, the busiest of them all.

At the fountain, we navigate around the hordes of tourists, finding a small patch of marble long enough to sit and snap a couple pictures.

Next, we pass through a shopping galleria with ornate stained glass (and stores with expensive designer labels), pass by a couple of smaller fountains and check out Trajan’s Column.

2013-09-20 11.39.49We head to the Pantheon, whose interior is not only architecturally stunning, but simply massive.

I glance up at the hole in the roof of the dome. Because of the time of day, the sunlight casts a shadow just inside, acting like a sundial.

Remains of various individuals are buried here, including those of the artist Raphael.

Our scheduled sightseeing for the day ends at the Piazza Navona, where merchants are hawking their wares and buskers are in abundance.

We’re let loose for dinner, and Mom and I partner up with two ladies – Susan from Darwin, Australia, and a Dutch lady from Vancouver named Else. (We don’t find out her name until later, because unlike a lot of people on the tour, she’s not wearing a name tag.)

2013-09-20 13.27.42We walk away from the main drag and manage to find a restaurant who can fix something Mom can actually eat!

Our meals consist of pasta and pizza; Mom can’t finish her meal, and I’m lucky my appetite’s big enough to demolish mine.

We aren’t downtown much longer after dinner, before we’re collected, walked back to our bus and whisked back to our hotel.

Today was so-so. We’ve got another early start ahead. We’ll see what the next day’s itinerary holds.

*Seems the police don’t really arrest these guys; rather they chase them around the area.

Waterlilies, Tombs, and Happy Hour (Parisian Style)

(Note: The following post describes details from a previous trip, NOT a current trip.) 

Monday, September 17th.

My long walk home has ruined my plans to get an early start on the day and tick off some of the places on my list.

I eventually get myself in order, and head down to the tourist information office.

After tolerating a long line to get a museum pass, followed by a(n awkward) bite to eat at a nearby bagel place, my first stop is the Musée de l’Orangerie, which houses eight of Monet’s “Waterlilies” paintings in two rooms specially designed to best view the works.

Europe, Croatia 370To my recollection, I’m sure I’ve only seen reproductions of Monet’s works, so I’m surprised at how large they are.

I love the variety of colours used, and I don’t feel rushed as I study each work from one end to another.

There’s also a lower level, which showcases many other paints from artists varying from  Cézanne to Picasso. (I’m sure technically I’m not supposed to, but … *coughs nervously*)

After, I hop on the métro and head over to the Panthéon.

The architecture of the lobby and main level itself – from floor to dome – is a sight to behold.

Europe, Croatia 379Also neat to see? Foucault’s Pendulum. Or, rather, an exact copy of the original, which has been swinging permanently in the Panthéon for 17 years. I’ve heard of the pendulum, but have never seen one up close. Nor has it ever occurred to me that it would be this big.

I head into the crypt of the Panthéon, to visit the final resting places of a number of France’s most well-known names.

I visit the corner that Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau share; I peek in on Louis Braille and Marie Curie (in different sections, of course).

Europe, Croatia 381And the hallways – despite the echoes of the voices of yammering tourists (and shushing by staff) – are immaculate and sleek (and this is me describing a crypt).

Outside the Panthéon, I need to kill time before I go to meet Darlene for drinks. And I’m kind of hungry. So in a moment of weakness, I duck into a McDonald’s. I usually try to stay away from the familiar (or ubitquitous) when I travel. But today, I think I’m at a breaking point. I’m craving grease and batter.

Heading out, I ride the métro to Saint-Michel station, but get a bit lost (surprised?), then dawdle in Shakespeare & Company, so I’m late when it’s time to meet Darlene.

When I finally find her, it turns out she’s brought her roommate Laurent with her. They take me right into the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood. Many bar and restaurant terraces are already full to the brim with happy-hour-goers, drinking and smoking, by the time we get there.

So now, we’re waffling between finding indoor seats at one of the French restaurants surrounding us, or trying to find the Canadian bar (which I think is called the Great Canadian Pub – someone can correct me if I’m wrong) where ex-pats are known to hang out.

We pick a French restaurant and hastily file inside. Our server’s super-friendly and he provides us with popcorn and olives to accompany our drinks.

Laurent’s really friendly. Originally from the north of France (not sure if his easygoing nature’s a direct product of being from outside Paris), he’s working as – of all things – a spam programmer, but is on the hunt for another, less questionable job.

We don’t hang out too late, as Darlene has to get back to working on her freelance project.

I return to my neighbourhood and grab a bite at one of the local restaurants. Given my late night on Sunday, I opt to turn in comparatively early.

Tomorrow, I aim to make up for a bit of lost time.