Part II of my Greece/Italy vacation summary
Walking onto the land of Italy for the first time, we were immediately swarmed with souvenir sellers, tour guides, and taxi drivers. With stone poker faces, we breezed past them like pros. There was one solicitor we paid mind to, though. A sightseeing double-decker tour bus. It wasn’t the cheapest, but it was over 80 degrees and my dad already looked defeated from the heat. We looked to him. “It has free wifi?” he asked.I wouldn’t recommend a tour bus for every city, but for Naples this kind of tour was so worth it. We first took the “panoramic” route, which wrapped around Naple’s coast-side cliffs. The sights — of shadowy Mount Vesuvius, the colorful houses, the curtains of foliage — were priceless.
When the bus’s audio guide pointed out the tomb of Virgil, I nearly screamed. One does not go through AP Latin and not love the man. His tomb turned out to be a secluded park, strangely quiet and meditative amid the busy city. Vines draped over large slabs of stone. Near his bust and an old Roman tunnel, there were profound cold spots — “air conditioning!” my sister sighed. I found a narrow staircase that led to a small one-room tower with nothing but a metal tripod burner full of letters. Handwritten, parchment — some looked Italian, some looked Latin. The park had no signs in English. Some sights are fitting without explanation.
When I said earlier that we hit all the important ruins of the ancient world, we in fact missed perhaps the most important ones: Pompeii and Herculaneum, despite their proximity to Naples. But we did visit an archaeological museum with some stunning Pompeian frescoes and mosaics. Including an unreal one with a battle of Alexander the Great. Again, I’m just obsessed.
We only had a few hours in Sicily, and we tried a tour bus again. I enjoyed the large orange duomo (church) that we climbed and a building with a kick-ass chariot statue on top.
Our cruise trip technically ended in Rome, but we took a train straight to Florence. There, we visited the gigantic Uffizi museum and then the Accademia gallery.
All I can attempt to say is that when I caught sight of David from across the hallway, I felt struck. Simultaneously paralyzed and magnetically pulled. The sight’s just so fucking dramatic. Surrounded by unfinished Prisoners, naturally illuminated from above, surrounded by tiny admirers, and standing confidently in a room tailored just for him. I didn’t want to leave.
We spent two days in Firenze. We hung around the Duomo, admiring the religious reliefs. I adored the Piazza Della Signoria — a plaza with famous statues just hanging out in the open, like no big deal. We visited the Medici’s ornate apartments. My favorite memory was walking through Uffizi’s outdoor gallery with my mom (my sister had left to return to Amsterdam at that point) towards the Ponte Vecchio: the most charming old bridge decorated with quaint little stores hanging on the outside. And tasting Venchi gelato for the first time.
My mom was dying to stay in elegant, artsy Florence for one more day. I, however, knew the main attraction still lay ahead…
I remember on the taxi ride to our hotel, I was already in love with Rome. The buildings held a grandeur the other cities could not match; even the sewer-tops, to my delight, had SPQR stamped on the metal. It was so much more Extra than even my Latin-fangirl-dreams had fantasized.
We didn’t really have a hotel, though. Imagine my surprise when the address on my mother’s phone matched a large door to the Singaporean embassy. Apparently, my parents had rented a spare room of this 18th-century embassy, complete with antique furniture and an old-fashioned lift.
That day we were going to hit our last Important Ruins. During our walk to the Palatine Hill, we passed by the gorgeous Victor Emmanuel monument, which might be my third favorite sight in all of Italy. Just a very bright, classic building. After the Palatine hill and Circus Maximus, we went to the Roman Forum. I was absolutely tickled pink. My favorite sites were Caesar’s “temple” and the Vestal Virgins’ temple and hangout. Sadly, the Curia was closed off to visitors, and angry clouds poured heavily right after we finished our Rick Steves audio tour.
After lunch, next stop was the Colosseum. It was a fascinating place, but when stopping at the gift shop, I left my phone on the counter. When I went back to retrieve it, someone had taken it, along with some credit cards, recent photos, and my very successful Miitomo account. That threw the rest of the day in complete stress and disarray.
As we scrambled to cancel the credit cards and whatnot, I felt like an absolute piece of shit. I had been so ungrateful for this vacation opportunity, doubting my parents’ ability, when all along I was the one who ended up fucking up and causing unnecessary trouble. They were very angry at first, but by evening they had softened slightly. I’m glad they sometimes remember I’m young. We visited the Trevi Fountain, a gorgeously-lit frothing spectacle. A jovial man asked me to take a picture of him and his family. As if I wasn’t the dumbest, saddest girl in the world! I took the photo for him.
We dedicated the next day, Tuesday, to Vatican City. We trooped through the Vatican museum to the Sistine Chapel. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in there, but they wouldn’t have done the masterpiece justice, anyway.
After that: St. Peter’s cathedral. The thing that maddens me about St. Pete’s is how massive it is, when it’s even larger than it seems. Its architects employed perspective to make the huge structures seem more homey and humble despite its size. So human statues are actually giants, and the brilliant blue letters of Peter bible verses are actually seven-feet-tall. What also kills me is that none of the paintings are really paintings. They’re actually mosaics. You can imagine how this made me feel.
Wednesday morning: the Borghese gallery. Essentially, I learned that Bernini knows witchcraft and is too powerful for this world. My fave is his Daphne and Apollo statue, of course, regardless of the fact that my Latin class translated Ovid’s story. But I also think his own take on David is underrated. After that we searched for the Spanish Steps, discovered them closed for renovation, but enjoyed the nearby fountains and shops.
In between attractions we did lots of gelato-eating and window shopping. At one point we also dined at this restaurant where I saw The Waiter. Typically uncultured in Italian cuisine, my parents were being quite obnoxious and indecisive towards a certain waiter. He looked like a mixture from that Dad from Modern Family and an older boy from my school. He was probably like thirty. As I drank water, waiting for my parents to decide, I looked at him slyly from the rim of my cup. Upon noticing me, behind my parents’ backs, he slumped his shoulders slightly in a silent sigh and smiled pitifully for himself. I covered my laugh with my hand.
Finally, my parents ordered and our waiter returned shortly with our platters. I made eye contact and smiled at him, trying to communicate: job well done. He matched my smile with a dazzling, conspiratorial grin. Naturally, I was devastated. I ate my whole lasagna with a private smile.
My #1 favorite sight in Rome, and probably the whole trip, was the Pantheon. A unremarkable, pock-marked exterior, but an absolutely INSANE interior. Beneath the Romans’ great dome and engineering prowess, I basically wanted to die. I’m convinced the Romans were the most hardcore people to grace this earth.
On our last day in Rome, we strolled around casually, finding our way to the Medici mansions and gardens. I rolled a lavender stem between my fingers and peered through the bushes at an unexpected panoramic view of the city. I loved the trip, but something in me was very ready to return home. I had seen so many wonders and accomplished so many dreams that I felt like I had been gone for a lifetime.