A Long, Self-Indulgent Dispatch From a Vacation, Part One: Rome and The Vatican

So, this has nothing to do with Gwyneth Paltrow. Sorry. But maybe we need a bit of a break? A break from Gwyneth Paltrow is something the internet DEFINITELY needs. So, I apologize for derailing the blog for, like, ever. We’ll get back to the cooking soon! (Don’t worry, we’re well ahead of schedule on the recipes, anyway.) But for now, do you want to hear a lengthy, self-indulgent story about a wonderful trip someone you probably have never met took to Italy? Of course you do! So, let’s go to Rome.

First things first, I should explain some background: I went to Italy with my two sisters, Nikki and Sara, our Aunt Dana, and our grandma. There were a couple reasons for the trip. Our grandpa died a year ago almost exactly, my grandma was doing a writing seminar/adult summer camp/strange thing in Tuscany this summer, and also we just all wanted to go to Italy. So, we did. Lesson learned: any excuse you can make up for yourself to go to Italy, take it.

We arrived in Rome, bleary-eyed and excited, and immediately were herded into an enormous mass of people, just filling up an entire hallway. Grandma had warned us all that Italians don’t believe in lines, so we made like the Romans and squeezed our way through the crowd wherever we could, until we got to the non-EU passport line, where we eventually were waved to the booth by the bored-looking Italian immigration official. We held out our passports, but he didn’t even glance at them before he waved us through. “That was it?” a random Canadian girl said to no one in particular. That was it. No stamps, no documents, nothing. We were in Italy! Yikes.

The cab ride to the hotel was absolutely surreal. I quickly realized Rome would be impossible to describe. It’s huge. Beyond huge. We all had whiplash from turning our necks so quickly, trying to see every enormous ruin we passed. It was impossibly large. I just sat with my jaw open. And then we got to our hotel (Albergo del Senato, for the curious), and, uh, holy shit. It was 50 feet away from the Pantheon. Our room stared directly AT the Pantheon. Even our shower had a view of the monstrous temple. Do you know what it feels like to take a shower overlooking the Pantheon, standing naked over swarms of tourists and the oldest continuously used building in Rome? It feels like power. You feel like Caesar. It was, up until that point, the best shower of my life (the usurping Best Shower Ever will come later in this trip – cliffhanger!).

The view from the window.

The view from the SHOWER.

The interior of the Pantheon is similarly mind-blowing. The dome is huge, beautiful, and it just astonishes you that, first of all, these ancient people could build this thing (Raphael once said it wasn’t built by humans, but by angels) and, secondly, that it’s lasted all this time. Visiting the Pantheon is a great way to make you feel like an insignificant speck, a feeling you must become accustomed to if you are going to mentally survive Rome.

I took this one, half-hearted photo of the interior of the Pantheon, and then I just gave up. How do you capture it?

Actually, Sara captured it pretty well.

We strolled, drank, ate, as you should when in Rome, of course. The food was great, the wine was better, and we all kept giggling at the thought that we were in Italy, of all places. Nikki was scheduled to arrive later than the rest of us (she had to work on Thursday like a FOOL), so we headed back to the hotel to have some drinks on the rooftop terrace, which, do I even need to describe the view? I could have died up there. Nikki arrived, and we all got a little tipsy on some sangria as our bartender charmed the shit out of us. Finally we wandered down to the Trevi Fountain, which was impressive and huge and old and all that good stuff, but HOLY SHIT THE CROWD. This will become a common theme on this trip. We all wondered on more than one occasion if the rest of the world was empty, because there were definitely at least 7 billion people in Italy.

The view FROM Trevi Fountain. Look at all those people.

Then things get crazy. After dinner, we had drinks in our little piazza, where we scoffed at the rude, obnoxious, loud Americans at the table next to us. We made fun of them to the waitress, who was this adorable woman who acted with everyone as if she had known them for years. One of the obnoxious Americans pulled the waitress aside and told her something, and she came over to our table. “One of the boys has a crush on you, be careful,” she whispered in Sara’s ear at one point, giggling. Later, she invited Sara out to “the Irish Pub” if she could manage to escape her family. Obviously, we had to go.

————–

As the bar closed, we went back to the hotel, and pretended to go to our room to go to bed. Once Aunt Dana and Grandma settled in, we snuck out, like three teenagers. (Uh, surprise, Grandma! Sorry!) We headed down to the bar to meet the waitress, but she was already gone. We decided we were already out, it was our first night in Rome, so let’s find this Irish Pub. One of the waitress’s friends pointed us in the general direction, and we wandered. A drunk Italian along the way told us where to turn, and there we were!

The Irish Pub was closed off by a velvet rope, which is kind of adorable. Ooh, exclusive! We approached the rope, and the bouncer asked, “What are you here for?” trying to be important. Nikki immediately responded, “Uh… we’re here to party?” Apparently that was the secret code (or the secret code was more likely just being a woman), and we were granted entry.

Oh, the full moon was behind the Pantheon at one point, because Italy likes to one-up itself always.

Ugh, this bar. It was a tiny, one-room, Irish-looking pub, PACKED with juicehead guidos. The place was at least 98% men, just these huge, musclebound dudes, all on the prowl. A DJ in the corner played some generic Top 40s American hits, and everyone was dancing awkwardly in the thin space between the bar and the booths (or at least bopping around and trying to pick up any of the 6 girls on the “dance floor”). The bartenders constantly slapped the overhead hanging lights, making them spin, presumably to give some semblance of club lighting, which actually had the effect of making the place feel like even more of a fever dream. And, to top it all off, the waitress wasn’t even there. But we’re here, so let’s drink!

Nikki spent a good portion of the night working the bartender for free drinks (she got at least six, by the way, because some Italians are caricatures), and Sara was enjoying her first-ever legal drink in a bar (she turns 21 today, wish her happy birthday!) by dancing maniacally with the only other English-speaker in the bar, a fact we realized when we saw this girl was the only other one who knew the words to all the American songs. Meanwhile, I’m frantically trying to keep an eye on each sister, as well as the four or five steroid mutants pressing up against them, as if I could do ANYTHING to stop these guys if they decided they wanted to do something to one of my sisters.

But, in spite of all my paranoia based on Italian stereotypes, it was I who got into the most perilous situation. Sara was enjoying a harmless dance with a charming young gentleman who — trust me, I was watching like a hawk — never moved his hand south of the middle of her back. Nikki was giving the bartender a kiss on the cheek in order to get free drinks. And me? I got offered sex for drugs.

I mosied up to the bar to get another drink and noticed an American-looking blonde kid sitting on the stool next to me, passed out with his face on the bar, his eyes wide open. He looked dead, I am not joking. I slapped him and yelled at him, and he didn’t respond at all. A bar employee came over and started to pick him up. “Oh good,” I thought. “They’ll cake care of him.” And then I watched the bouncer reach into the kid’s pocket, remove his wallet and passport, and hand them to a greasy-looking old man with a long ponytail and disgusting moustache. Oh shit.

“Woah, woah, woah,” I say, grabbing the gross guy’s arm, which, in retrospect, was probably the worst idea. “What are you doing with him?”

“It’s okay, this his father,” the bouncer said.

“I am a bad influence! His mother never trusts me with him, but he’s adult!” Moustache said.

I let go of his hand, unsure of how to continue. Maybe he’s telling the truth, or maybe this kid is going to wake up and learn a valuable lesson about drinking too much by yourself in a foreign country. Either way, what can I do? These guys are huge. So I let him go. Which I still feel badly about. I have no idea where they took the kid, or what ever happened with him. I’m sure he woke up in the gutter with a pounding headache that only got worse as he put his hand in his pocket.

Moustache, however, did not leave with his “son.” “I saw you earlier,” he said to me, a devilish grin peeking out from behind his horrifying facial hair.

“Okay?” I said, as he sidled up closer to me. My hand immediately thrust into my left pocket, wrapped tightly around my wallet.

“I saw you with the dope,” he said.

“Uh, nope, sorry, wrong guy.”

He spent the next ten minutes trying to get me to admit that I had “the dope,” constantly smirking and nudging me, and telling me how fantastic his life was and how he could afford “the dope.” I kind of wished I did have “the dope,” so he would take some and go the hell away.

“Maybe you should go find your son,” I weakly suggested.

“Right. My son.” He winked. Damnit.

“Listen,” he leaned close. “I make literally a million dollars a year. I’ll pay whatever. I have $500,000 in my pocket. I’ll pay for a hotel room. I’ll do whatever. You can do whatever to me. I’ll give you the best night of your life. I know you have that dope.”

Obviously, I took him up on the offer. We made love all night, smoked some dope, and I am writing to you from Rome because we are going to be together forever.

Or, maybe I just shook his hand, said it was nice to meet him, gathered my sisters, and left the bar.

Either way, somehow we got back to our hotel at 4 AM, only to be woken up bright and early for a 3-hour tour of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum, in the sweltering heat. How is it this HOT so early in the morning? How is it so LOUD? We were still a little drunk. We were becoming more hungover by the second. We were slightly miserable.

But my major in college was history, with a focus on ancient Rome, so I was still pretty damn excited to see all this stuff, and the adrenaline of seeing Caligula’s Palace, and the temple of the Vestal Virgins, and a million other things I’ve studied carried me through the morning. And they were, in a word, jaw-dropping. Better, bigger, and more impressive than any books, movies or pictures can do justice. I barely took any pictures, because I knew I couldn’t capture any of it accurately. Blaring headache and three hours of sleep aside, I wanted to spend a week in those ruins.

The three-hour tour later that afternoon of the Vatican City? Not so much.

Temple of the Vestal Virgins. Just opened to the public!

Obligatory Colosseum photo.

————–

The Vatican is weird. There’s no other way to put it. It’s tiny, and creepy, and feels like a mix between a police state and Disneyworld (although one could argue that Disneyworld is already a bit of a police state).

We were greeted by this statue of the Pope doing… uh… something behind a young gentleman?

You get herded through enormous, never-ending hallways and galleries filled with some of the most amazing ancient and Renaissance artwork, all presumably stolen. You’re pressed up against thousands of tourists, and it’s so hot you suspect you’re actually walking on the sun. And this is just for the smaller, less-famous stuff. The main show, the Sistine Chapel, is, I imagine, what Ellis Island was like.

The chapel makes you feel like you’re starring in one of those PETA hidden-camera videos of slaughterhouses. Everyone is packed together and stepping on each other’s toes, because you’re all staring straight up at the ceiling. There’s no talking or photography allowed, so obviously it’s the loudest room in the Vatican and you’re constantly blinded by flash photography. Every once in a while, the weird Vatican police officers loudly clap their hands and scream, “QUIET! NO PHOTOS!” which only adds to the noise and doesn’t discourage anything, because good luck pushing through 5 million people to arrest someone.

Contraband Sistine Chapel photo.

But the ceiling is, of course, spectacular. Turns out there’s a reason there are zillions of people in this room! So you deal with the crowds and the heat and the hassle, because it is totally worth seeing, just once. Even if it’s difficult to fully sit and contemplate it, because you have six million human cattle pressing you towards the exit.

As we leave, all we want to do is take the hike up to the top of the dome, to get a view of the city. As we’re literally steps away from the entrance, a guard slams the gate shut, and now the dome is closed. Fantastic. So we move off to the side and sit on a couple steps, to get out of the way of the crowd and just take a breather. This, of course, causes a Vatican cop to materialize out of thin air, as if his entire purpose on this planet is to scream at us, “NO SITTING NO SITTING!” Fine, fuck you, Vatican. We head back to Italy, a country that knows how to have a good time and to just fucking relax once in a while.

On the way out of the city/building/country/prison camp, we finally see some Swiss Guards, who are doing some over-complicated changing-of-the-guards routine, and we return to Italy with one overwhelming thought: What is this place?

————–

So that’s Part One! SO MUCH still to come! I’m still trying to make sense of it all! I’ll do my best to get Part Two up as quickly as possible — between the nightmares of Moving Week — because it only gets more insane from here. Next up: Positano, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, and trashy nightclubs with 15-year-olds.

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10 Comments

Filed under Italy, Non-Gwyneth, Uncategorized

10 responses to “A Long, Self-Indulgent Dispatch From a Vacation, Part One: Rome and The Vatican

  1. chick110

    What? Nothing about the Roman concrete construction??? That’s ALL I remember from my Roman architecture class in college. The professor would show all these slides and say “blah blah blah, Roman concrete construction, blah blah blah” I managed to pass the class by writing roman concrete construction all over the tests he gave…

  2. Tammy J.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, 1) because you’re insistence on mocking GP and her cookbook are amusing (I however, adore her and am not nearly as irritated with her rantings/goopiness. I have my own similar blog charting my way through the book, but I’m doing it for the mere fact that I can’t cook shit and I’m trying to learn!) and 2. you’re posts for the most part are funny as hell!

    I’m finally posting a reply because as an avid world traveler, this particular posting about Rome has me nostalgic for my one and only visit to stunning Italy almost ten years ago (I”m returning next March for my birthday!). You’re spot on with your views on the city, it’s a very crappy but beautiful mess! And I must say, if I knew in college what I know now, I would’ve been a history major studying Ancient Rome myself!

    Can’t wait to read the next installment, I sure hope you visited Venice during your trip. That is where I left my heart!!!

  3. Avonasea

    Tell more soon! Looking forward to Part II (and III?)
    I’ve never been to the Vatican but I am certain it is creepy & weird – just as you described it. I am also not a Catholic. Obviously.

  4. BRAD

    If you don’t get back to recipes, I am never reading this blog again. MORE RECIPES

  5. Clair

    Forget recipes. More Rome stories!!

  6. katieb

    Haw haw haw!! More of this and less of that other stuff!

  7. I love how you describe everything from the moustached creepy guy to the Vatican.
    When I went to Rome it was in November, and the crowds were much thinner than I hear they are in summer. I’m glad I did because I was able to sit in the Sistine Chapel for a long time and hardly anyone was there.
    Can’t wait for more of your Italian adventure.

  8. I am thoroughly enjoying your writing….recipes or no recipes.

  9. This post was by far the dopest dope I’ve ever smoked.

  10. Favorite Aunt

    Can you please write part 2 soon? I’m having a hard time remembering what happened after Rome – I think it’s a side effect of Ketadol…

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