17. Rome, Italy
(Actual Trip Date: September 22, 2010)
Because Rome is gigantic, we decided it would be best to stay two days exploring to try to really get to know the city. Although backpacking is adventurous and liberating, I think the one setback is that one never really gets to know a city well enough. Backpackers at most usually spend two to four days in a city. Hostel hopping is an exhausting business as I would learn from Italy.
After an early morning in Pisa and a crowded train ride to Rome, we decided to take a chill day and spend most of the time at The Vatican before regaining our strength with a proper night of sleep and hitting the major Roman attractions.
I was excited to see The Vatican. I’ve seen it in pictures and movies before, and I’ve never formed an opinion of it. It was never super important to me since I am Buddhist, but regardless, I hoped it would be an eye-opener.
Traveling tip: the lines into The Vatican museum for those without a reservation look mortifyingly long, but once you stand in line, you will find it moves extremely fast. It took us less than thirty minutes to get to the entrance of the museum.
I was extremely surprised by The Vatican museum. I understood the main point of the museum for the majority of visitors was to see the Sistine Chapel, but I was still startled by how I felt walking through the halls. I was confused most of the times by the statues and murals I was looking at. I would cock my head and wonder why and how in the world does this relate to the Vatican? None of my friends could give me an answer as well.
The Sistine Chapel near the end made the confusing, jumbling beginning slightly worth it. The room was large with a vaulted ceiling, both ceiling and walls painted with scenes that just jumps out of the Bible. The paintings were incredibly vivid in color and while sitting against the cool walls with my friends, heads tilted up the entire time awing and appreciating what was above us, I realized how the images of figures seem to move out toward me. I felt like everything was becoming three-dimensional. Phenomenal work!
The only thing that marred the glory of the chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo were the guards the entire time yelling at people to not take pictures and grumbling out strident ‘shhhs’ that reverberated against the walls calamitously, causing more damage than good. The guards were more interrupting the peace of the air instead of tourists. How sad.
We then wandered out to the Apostolic Palace and gaped at the enormous, exorbitant length of the line into the palace. At this point, I was still exhausted from waking up too early in the morning and my friend’s foot fell into the post-surgery pain again she was still experiencing. We quickly opted to not stand in the line, preferring instead to stand near the large fountains letting the stray water droplets splash onto the backs of our necks.
My friends and I are the type to become overly-excited when a very favorable idea is introduced to us. I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but next thing we knew that there was a Hard Rock Café in Rome boiled into all of our minds. We looked at the calendar and grinned for it was September 22. It was our first month anniversary of being in Europe. My cousin chuckled when I told him about it and he asked me how it felt. I was surprised to find myself saying that one month has felt like forever at times. Of course, there has been times when everything flies by too fast, but I guess I never expected that statement to come out. Nonetheless, it has been an enjoyable ride.
Therefore what did we do that night? We all ventured toward the Hard Rock Café eager to get some real, juicy American food no matter what the cost. It ended up being the most costly meal I had on this trip so far.
Sitting in the midst of loud, vibrant American music, homesick Americans moving and talking as loudly as they could, waiters and waitresses that actually knew when you were done and automatically gave you the check, I felt like I was transported thousands of miles back home. My friend and I decided to split between us two dishes. Yup. We were that hungry.
A small bowl of crispy, savory eggrolls, half-way submerged in sour cream dotted with olives, tomatoes, and pieces of lettuce. Lettuce leaves sprinkled around for purely decorative purposes but topped with mouth-watering sides of buffalo chicken wings, crunchy onion rings, fulfilling stuffed potato skins with delicious sauces. A California hamburger with succulent meat, lettuce, and melted cheese squashed between two crispy buns with a side of tasty fries.
To say the food was savory heavenly is an understatement…
Another thing I learned from my time at Hard Rock Café was how many things we take for granted back in the states. The number one thing is free refills. Every restaurant or fast food chain we eat at back in the states always comes with free refills of sodas or lemonades. The only thing one really doesn’t get free refills for are alcoholic beverages. It was such a slap in the face to come here and have to pay for each drink you buy. It certainly limited how much we imbibed over time.
But free refills aren’t the only thing we take granted and never think about as we move across the busy metropolitan back home. What about free water, an abundance of meat, and free restrooms?
Traveling never ceases to humble a person. But that night while watching MTV’s music videos, downing free refills of Coke, and gorging on hunks of juicy meat, we were spinning in an American world again for a brief two hours or so.
Like Dr. Abell always says, “Yum yum, eat ‘em up!”