October 14th, 2013

Charah coffee

When in Rome

I've been in Rome for slightly over 12 hours and it's only just sunk in that I am really in Rome. I've wanted to see the Colosseum ever since I was 14, when I was obsessed with Joaquin Phoenix and watched Gladiator something ridiculous like five times. The movie was shit but its historical setting was magnificent. Not only that, I've had a long term fascination and fixation with ancient historical ruins - put me in front of a pile of rocks and spin a believable tale about its age, its authenticity, and its history, and I WILL get excited. Going to Athens five years ago with Mag was one of the best moments of my life; even seeing the ruins in Knossos (Crete) was pretty unforgettable.

I decided to come to Rome on a whim for the sole purpose of seeing the Colosseum. I had no idea at all - and I really mean AT ALL - what other sites Rome has to offer...and I clearly don't really care that much because I spent the last hours of daylight of my first day in the Eternal City making a trip to the Colosseum, just to buy a ticket FOR TOMORROW so that I don't have to queue, and I spent the rest of the evening staring up in awe at the sight of the Colosseum doused in the fiery glows of the evening sun. The sheer beauty of the sight was so profound that it was almost incomprehensible...which is what I have realised about the rare occasions when I see something that embodies everything we know about beauty, and does so perfectly. In such moments - swimming in the Adriatic, driving along the Austrian pastoral landscape, staring at the Venetian fortress in Montenegro, gawking at the Colosseum - I am quite overcome by the weight of the reality that such things actually exist. The perfect beauty of it renders it nearly impossible, definitely hard to believe, that it is real.

The irony of what I am saying does not escape me. I do feel somewhat icky for waxing lyrical about a place that saw such cruelty, inhumanity, senseless bloodshed, and which embodied the absolute worst of human nature at its peak. In a way, this inescapable contradiction that inheres in a site like the Colosseum is just so...human. Namely: we are capable of great beauty, and equally capable of great horror as well. It's trite by now that opposites cannot exist without each other: happiness/sadness; good/evil; idealism/realism. Sometimes, though, I can't help but wonder what the point is.


Anyway, I spent my evening planning what to do tomorrow which took a lot of time because I'm on my phone and I didn't up on anything before I came, so I had no idea what the other sites are. I think my planning skills are out of this world.

Now that it's finally sunk in that I'm really here, I'm really excited. I'm thinking of ditching the Vatican stuff for this neighbourhood called Trastevere (pretty sure I spelled that wrong) which is supposed to have good, non-touristy food - which obviously is a huge draw factor since I love Italian food and I don't have time for rubbish ones. I went to a random cafe along the lane leading to the Colosseum and ordered a caprese and a tiramisu. I LOVE caprese salads so I was quite excited when I saw it on the menu and I was craving for something sweet and I ordered the only thing they had.

Oh my god. Worst tiramisu ever. It was not moist and it seemed to have been made for recovering alcoholics because where the fuck was the alcohol? Where? My mom makes much better tiramisu than that. And he caprese - the whole time I was thinking, this isn't disastrous, but how is it not remotely as good as the one I had in Da Paolo in Singapore or Ye Old Cheshire Cheese in London? After my dinner, I was determined to google for the good places to eat in Rome where I won't get cheated of an authentic Italian meal.

I had a really good lunch though. I was brought there by the guy that works at the hostel I'm staying in. I ordered what to me was basically aglio olio with really yummy mushrooms and with what tasted like home made tagliatelle. It was SO good. The pasta itself was heavenly; I had never tasted pasta that was so tangy and bouncy and chewy and yummy. The mushrooms were to die for too, cooked just right and so tasty. The portion was rather big though and I got full real quick but it was a great lunch anyway.

I arrived in Rome really grumpy thanks to, first, National Express, and second, Ryanair. I booked a coach to Stansted at 4.41am. I was super early and I started waiting at the bus stop from 4.20am. I sat in the bus stop, facing away from the road like a typical London bus stop, and I entertaining myself by reading things on my phone. I checked my watch and saw that it was 4.37. I thought that the bus would arrive soon; more importantly, I thought that the bus would STOP at the bus stop when it arrived.

It did not do that. Out of nowhere, I saw a guy and a girl running frantically after a bus - a National Express bus. MY National Express bus. It zoomed past me and the bus stop at which it was supposed to stop without stopping. It was incredible. What was more incredible was that the next bus took twenty minutes to come, during which time I saw THEEE Luton buses go by. I was cold. I was sleep deprived. Ergo, I was cranky. Thanks to this delay, I didn't have time to have breakfast properly at the airport so I was even crankier as a result.

And Ryanair. The less said about it, the better, so all I will say is that I totally understand how their fares are so much cheaper than other airlines.

Also, I've been so spoiled by Changi Airport that I'm ALWAYS surprised when I have to walk outdoors to the plane from the departure gate, or when I have to take a shuttle bus to the plane. Today was especially dreadful because it was raining rather heavily and I had to get my hair wet to get to the plane. I don't understand airports with no connecting tubey tunnel things. That definitely did not improve my mood.

To make matters worse, when I got here and finally found my hostel after walking down this long road along Termini station for what seemed like forever, I was told by the guy that there were no vacancies in that hotel and that he was gonna take me to another one. He spoke very little English so I couldn't ask him vital questions like why the fuck was there no room, where the fuck was this other place, and how long it was gonna take to get there.

It was really far. It was two metro stops away from Termini which I initially found irritating because the location of the hostel was half the reason I picked it. The new place turned out to be this family-run inn. I couldn't really get mad, though, because the guy was really nice and so was the woman who owns the place (a Filipina). That said, I was about to flip when I saw the room I got. I booked a double room and I was expecting a double room because they didn't charge me any less, so when I saw how absolutely tiny the room was and how tragic the bathroom was, I decided that it was not right and I asked for another room.

I'm now in a room for three. I love it.

The people running this place are a bit odd. For instance, when the guy took me to the lunch place, we ran into his boss and they got into an argument over the fact that he was taking me to the lunch place. It was in Italian which made me more uncomfortable about the fact that I formed a part of their argument. The same thing just kept happening: they (plus the woman and a young boy whom I guessed was the son of the woman and the boss) kept talking to each other in Italian when I asked something before answering me and sometimes I knew that they were talking about me. It was all a bit strange. But the place is not too bad.

Lastly, Italian men are really...friendly. I had extended conversations with two different men and a brief one with another man. The brief one was brief because I was a bit wary that the man would turn out to be a tourist scammer but he seemed all right in the end (ie. he wasn't out to steal my money). The other two: I talked to the first one because he was a tour guide. I was going into this chapel place somewhere and Ye guy was like, "The place is closed...no I'm just kidding." He lingered around to chat so I asked him some questions about tourism.

Then he was like, "What are you doing later tonight?"

The second guy: I was at the Colosseum trying to find the tickets entrance and I was circling the place not finding it, and it was hot and I was in uncomfortable shoes. Out of nowhere some guy at a souvenir stand said "hello" and so I went up to him to ask where the entrance was. He took me there, asked me where I was from blah blah, and that was it...until later on when I was on my way out and I spotted him from the corner of my eye trying to catch my attention. I pretended not to see him but he said "hello" quite loudly and I turned on instinct and that drew me into a conversation with him and his colleague. The conversation eventually led to, "Maybe we can meet tomorrow for coffee?"

I said, "That's gonna be difficult." When I saw that he looked quite embarrassed, I said, "I have a boyfriend."

Then another man in that group was all, "You can't have me!" in a sing song voice.

I got out of there then, politely but firmly.

This reminds me of the time in Croatia when I was waiting for Arnaud somewhere in my bikini top and shorts and this guy - a local - chatted me up. He seemed ok but I noticed that he kept sneaking glances at my body. He asked me if I wanted to have coffee some time even after I told him that I was there with my boyfriend. Obviously I said no.

There was a weird guy on the ferry back from France too. This one was REALLY weird. The ferry had arrived in Portsmouth and I was waiting for Arnaud to come back from the loo. He was literally gone for thirty seconds and during those thirty seconds, this middle aged French man came up to me and said something in French, which I obviously didn't understand. He repeated in English, "Did you sleep well last night?"

I was a bit confused, which must have shown on my face, because he added, "I saw you sleeping in the children's room last night."

What. The. Fuck? Arnaud and I were literally squeezed onto an inflatable mattress for one person. We were sleeping on our sides and his arms were around me all night. Clearly he wasn't my brother, so clearly he had to be my boyfriend. And yet, that weird guy actually said that to me. I was rather creeped out. Arnaud was perturbed by the fact that he left me unattended (his word, not mine) for a minute and some guy tried to chat me up. He kept kissing me after that. It was cute.

I'm exhausted. These morning flights are just terrible. I have to sleep.