Sunday, July 31, 2011

Italia - Part Due (two)

Eleven people stepped off the train together in Florence.  We didn't realize at the time but the same couch surfing host was hosting ALL of us.  Well, almost all of us - two Chinese girls were just there to get their luggage because they had been hosted the night before.  This was our second night there but we didn't realize how many others would also be there. Three Americans, a couple from the UK, a guy from Japan, another guy from Estonia, the two of us, and our couch surfing host filled his flat in Florence.  Matthew and I slept on a mattress on the floor in the computer room while others slept in various places including a tent on the balcony and a room made out of cardboard in the hallway.  It was actually quite fun to stay with so many other people.

The rest of our two days in Florence was a blur.  My traveler's fatigue and feelings of being homesick were at a peak so I really can't describe much of Florence in any great detail at all.  (I can say that things have been better since that point!)

After Florence, we decided to head to Venice and find a place to stay once we arrived.  The art festival going on (which we didn't know about until arriving) made it difficult to find accommodations.  Many of the hotels and even hostels were full.  After walking around and talking with many places, someone referred us to a "word of mouth" hostel where we eventually decided to sleep.  It was definitely an adventure as we ended up sharing a tiny single bed on the bottom bunk.  The poor guy on the top bunk had just broken his foot and had to jump down on his other foot. We felt really bad for him, especially because his trip was supposed to take him to many more destinations.  Here are a few pics of the hostel:

Walking around Venice with it's bridges, gondolas, and lights is spectacular.  "Have fun!  You will get lost!" is what one of the hostel workers told us as we left to explore the city.  We wandered around exploring the shops, drifting through art galleries, indulging in the occasional gelato, and sitting on benches watching people.  One afternoon, we sat to rest on a bench in a square and watched some Italian kids kicking around a soccer ball.  There was an accordian player at a restaurant behind us and I swear he was playing the theme to the Olive Garden restaurant.  It was a really funny moment and made me think of my sister.

Our final destination in Italy was Rome.  We decided to take an overnight train which proved to be a crazy experience.  It was only after we had boarded the train that we realized that our tickets were for "standing room only" for our overnight journey.  We also did not yet have a place to stay once we arrived in Rome.  Before we made the realization about our tickets, we plopped ourselves down in one of the rooms that sleep six and quickly befriended an Italian man who did not speak a word of English.  We tried to tell him that we didn't know where to go since our tickets did not show seat assignments but he kept gesturing for us to stay where we were and seemed to tell anyone who tried to take our seats to leave us alone.  Another couple joined our car with tickets that had seat assignments.  We hoped that we could make it in these seats through the night without being kicked out to stand through the night.

The other couple was Canadian and our Italian friend shows us how to recline the seats so the four of us could lie down.  The Canadian girl and I bonded over our dislike of feet as the guys put their feet right next to our heads!  When the conductor told Matthew he had to take off his shoes if he wanted to lie down, I laughed out loud at our non-English speaking Italian friend who started crossing his eyes and making faces like he was going to pass out because Matthew's feet were so stinky!

The rest of the night people got on and off the train (including in and out of our car) and it was only by the grace of God that we were able to stay in those seats all night long!  We were so thankful!  We arrived in Rome exhausted at around 6am and ended up waiting around til the city woke up before we tried to find accommodations for the night.  We decided to try to find a hotel because we were exhausted from traveling overnight, waking up every time someone came to our train car and waiting to see if we would be kicked out of our seats.  No offense to Matthew but it was kinda hard to sleep with his smelly feet next to my head all night too!

Once the city woke up, we found an internet cafe and searched for hotels.  We found one near the train station for a reasonable price so we decided to walk there to see if any rooms were available.  We arrived there and after booking the room, we slept for a few hours before starting to explore the neighborhood.  The funny thing was that this randomly selected place in Rome was right in the Indian part of the city!  Everyone around us spoke in Hindi and many of them kept asking if I was Indian and gave us free fruits and discounts once I affirmed my Indian origin.  We enjoyed our fill of Indian cuisine during this portion of the trip!

The next day we took the Metro to explore more of Rome.  I was amazed to walk out of the Metro station, look up and see the Colosseum right there!  The first time we saw it, it was dusk and the pink sky and twinkling lights made it even more beautiful.  Other highlights in Rome included touring the Vatican Museum, seeing the Sistine Chapel, and St Peter's church.  The Sistine Chapel was incredible and we stared up at that ceiling for quite some time.  I was struck at how much bigger it is than I had anticipated.  We also stayed two nights with Matthew's cousin's friend, Sam, who is in culinary school in Rome.  He was a gracious host, as he cooked a delicious meal for us and we enjoyed watching fireworks from the roof of his apartment building with some of his friends.

We woke up early to take the Metro to the bus stop where we would take a bus to the airport to fly to Greece.  Next stop - Thessaloniki, Greece!

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