Sunday, April 15, 2012

Semana Santa 1 - Italy

Wow, so much to update! 12 days worth of non-stop travel to be exact. Eeek. Better get started!

Semana Santa kicked off for me a couple days early, on Wednesday night. Thanks to la huelga general  scheduled to take place on Thursday throughout all of Spain, I headed to Madrid a night early to make sure that my bus actually arrived. I was really glad I did, because the public transportation on Thursday was awful!! The Madrid metro only ran once every 15-30 minutes, and almost all of the buses going in and out of the city were cancelled. It was a mess.

"THE LABOR REFORM: Unjust, inefficient, useless" [Source]

This was more or less my experience with the metro.[Source]

I met Lisa and Brian at the airport, and the trip promptly took a turn for the worse as Brian learned that his checked bag had been sent to Atlanta, Georgia instead of Madrid. Brian is a tall guy. 6'11" to be exact. So while Lisa or I would have been thrilled with the reimbursement money from the airline to go shopping, it wasn't exactly as easy for him. It took some intense store-scouring to find 2 shirts that were long enough for him.

Other than that though, Thursday was pretty uneventful. The 3 of us met another friend in Madrid, and we went out exploring for a while. I had my first experience in a Museo del Jamón! So delicious! I had never gone to one before, so I assumed that it was literally just a museum of different types of ham. I was very pleasantly surprised to learn it was also a bar and restaurant. With delicious, ginormous, ham and cheese bocadillos. Yummmmm.

Friday morning was when our real Semana Santa adventure started. Lisa, Kaitlin, Brian and I hopped on a flight to Rome, me for the 3rd time, and them for the 1st time. We totally lucked out when we grabbed a taxi to the city center, because our driver immediately joyfully told us that we were in for a treat, because he was a tour guide as well! His driving was a little erratic: slowing down in the middle of traffic to point out a famous ruin, swerving in and out of traffic as all good Italians do, and one time, straight up stopping and reversing in the middle of the street because he had forgotten to point something out. It was Lisa, Kaitlin and Brian's first experience with an Italian driver, and I think its safe to say they won't forget it.

Now, I wouldn't normally write about the hostel we stayed in, because normally there's not much to say. But this one... was too weird to not mention. The owner is a flamboyant gay man who lives with his mother and (most likely also gay) brother, in the hostel. When he first opened the door to greet us, I think its safe to say that our jaws literally dropped. And then when the bubbly Italian greeted us with "Hello! Would you like some champagne?" the guards started to go up. And then when he held up a large pink-foil wrapped...thing... and said "And I have an easter egg for you!" We were about ready to turn around and run for another hostel.

As he showed us around the hostel and explained that there was a free buffet breakfast that included yogurt, eggs, fruit, bread, granola bars, cookies and coffee, and also as we say that there were other people staying in the hostel, we started to feel a little less nervous.

After settling in, they left to visit the Vatican, and I took a well-deserved nap. We met back up that night for dinner, where I had the best pasta carbonara of my life!  Then we saw the Colosseum at night.

On Saturday we did a tour of the Colosseum, and then visited Palatine Hill and the Forum. Then we did the Rick Steve's Heart of Rome walk to see Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.

The gravestone looking thing was a marker that was found in front of every house telling passersby who lived there. 
Standing in front of the ruins of a house on Palatine Hill.
Trevi Fountain. They say when you throw a coin in it means that you'll return to Rome one day. It worked for me, since this was my 3rd trip to Rome in 2 years!
Piazza Navona was originally the site of the city racetrack, which is why it has such an unusually long shape.

I also ate way way way too much delicious food. It was like I had a never-ending-pit instead of a stomach. Kaitlin and I joked that we were plumping up before the Swiss famine, since we wouldn't be able to afford to eat anything in Switzerland.

Then on Sunday we headed off for Florence. I had been to Florence in 2010, but my jaw still dropped a little when we rounded the corner to see the Duomo. It is a spectacular piece of architecture! We made a stop at a Rick Steve's suggested restaurant, where we ate the best pasta of our entire trip. We also hiked ran up the hill to Michealangelo's Plaza, just in time to catch the sunset. This plaza gives, by far, the best view of the city, especially near sunset.
The Florence Duomo. A spectacular piece of architecture.

I love Italy, and if I can ever find an actual reason to move there, I will in a heart beat. (However if that ever happens I will need to live next door to a gym to counteract all the eating I'll doing.) Kaitlin and I  started calling our adventure the Food Tour 2012, because our whole vacation revolved around what kind of delicious local food we could find next. In Italy, that included Rick Steve's recommended pasta, freshly made pizza from street vendors, unusual gelato flavors like rose, lavender and cactus, and some of the most delicious fruit tarts I have ever eaten. Stay tuned to find out what I ate in Switzerland! don't care about that? Well...I guess I can throw in a couple pictures and funny stories too :)

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