Sunday Snapshots: Museum Love

Pergamon, Berlin 2012

Pergamon, Berlin 2012

If you are in Berlin, I cannot recommend the Pergamon Museum enough.  However, it’s best to try planning a visit for 2019 at the earliest because if you go before then, you won’t be able to see/climb/experience the fantastic altar pictured above. Due to renovations, major parts of the museum are being redone in pieces over the next many, many, many years (or so it seems). But luckily for me, back when I got there in 2012 we could still see nearly all of the highlights. If you have any interest whatsoever in art or history, it is an absolute must-see in Berlin. Extraordinary.

Italy: Artsy Accomodations

It’s cold and snowy here in Germany, and I’m on the dawn end of an all-nighter due to some pressing paperwork. That is a perfect storm of blah, so we’re going to step back a few weeks and talk some more about Italy today.

Not a bad view on a January morning.

You already know that we ate some fantastic food over our New Year’s vacation, but today I’m going to give you a little peek into where we stayed. The accommodation was about as far from a typical hotel as you can get, but in this case it was not a bad thing. Some friends of BV operate a Ferienwohnung on the side of a hill in Tuscany, so that’s where we stayed. 

Dining area in our house

A Ferienwohnung is a ‘holiday apartment,’ and they have three or four of them on the property. BV and I stayed in the largest one, which had a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area for at least five people, and the biggest table. This meant that all of four of the shared meals were held in our house. 

We traveled with some friends, and their apartment was a bit smaller, and would only sleep two comfortably. All the apartments are heated by wood stoves which have some major pros and cons. Pros: they smell good, they get very warm, and you can throw all paper garbage right into the oven. Cons: they smell a lot and so will your clothes, and as my friend said, “it’s like a test baby.” Meaning that you have to get up every two hours all night, or you will have a very cold wake up call. Tuscany in January is much warmer than Germany, but still pretty chilly at night. Brrrr.

All the houses were furnished in a mish-mosh of objects, from the dishes to the bedding. Even the tiles in the kitchens and bathrooms were a mix of “normal” tiles, to pieces of mirror or mosaic tiles. (I slacked… I forgot pictures. But the bathroom floor was fascinating). There was something interesting to see everywhere you looked in the houses. If you didn’t bring anything to read, there were tons of books from previous guests (as long as you didn’t mind reading in German), and even some board games that had been left behind. Schwabach Tycoon, what?? Who knew.

Can you see me in the door decor?

Hand-painted accents were everywhere.

But if you’re in Tuscany, you don’t want to hang out in the house, right? Well if you thought the inside of the flat was interesting, you were in for a treat outside. My old sculpture professor would have called it “found object art,” and that’s about all I can say. 

Lots of cairns. Loooots of cairns.
What vacation doesn’t need a swing?

That’s the front of our house in the background.

These jugs were all over as well.
Outdoor dining area as art (those glasses are glued down).
Enormous nativity scene

Tibetan flags featured heavily as well.
View back up towards our house. Two more are behind the trees.

Oh, I miss that sun.

So that’s a glimpse into where we stayed. This kind of a place probably isn’t for everyone, but it’s an experience to be had. So if you are into Tuscan hillsides, wood stoves, found objects, good food, and don’t mind driving 15 minutes up a potholed dirt road, this might be your kind of place. German skills are encouraged though, just as a warning. There are a lot of stories at the top.   
 

Photo A Day July: End Of The Month Recap

Happy August! This means I’m less than 10 days from vacation, celebrating my 26th* birthday with good friends, and the beach. Ooooh, the beach. Almost there.

I quite enjoyed this photo-a-day thing. I doubt I’ll be doing it every month, but if I’m bored, I might go for it again. Having said that, here comes week four plus the last few days of July…

Day 22: upside down.

This day really couldn’t have worked out better. The topic was upside-down, and I was in Prague. And what is more upside-down than David Černý’s Svaty Vaclav? 

Day 23: mirror.

Day 24: a stranger.

Day 24 was probably the creepiest task. My original plan was to creepily take a picture of someone on the U-Bahn or something, but I got distracted so that didn’t happen. Instead, I super-creepily stalked people from the balcony. Fun!

Day 25: heart.

Day 26: sunshine.

Day 27: on the road.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your opinion of my driving abilities…) I don’t spend any time driving, so on the road had to be from the sidewalk. Close enough, I think.

Day 28: cup.

Day 29: last thing you bought.

Technically the last thing I bought was groceries, but the box of minute rice didn’t make it into the photo. Produce is prettier.
 

Day 30: calm.

I love my Monday strolls through the village. 
 

Day 31: toothbrush.

Really? Toothbrush. Yep. The last task is another weird one. Luckily I had to swing into the Müller to pick up a few things anyway, so toothbrushes it is. 


*Ok, ok, 26th for the third time.

Berlin: "Boy, you really can’t swing a stick without hitting a hipster around here, can you?"

Yep, I went with the hipsters. Thanks for the input! 

So last week I spent from Thursday evening to Tuesday evening in Berlin. If you’re looking for pictures of the Brandenburg Gate, please see my earlier Berlin post, because I didn’t take any this time. Whoops. Fact is, I already had pictures of it that were decent – and most importantly – didn’t have 1o88308 tourists in them. Because by the time we finally wandered near the Gate, it was chock full of groups and I have that problem where I don’t like pictures with people in them. Picky, I know. But if you still want to know what we got up to, do click away….

I arrived late Thursday evening so really there was only time for an U-Bahn ride, a tour of G’s new flat, and a bit of a catch-up before bed. So I’ll start on Friday….

Friday
This is why I need to write things down… I just had to go through pictures to figure out what the hell I did on Friday. We started off by sleeping late. Good way to kick off the weekend. Then it was off to do some grocery shopping, pick up beer, the usual business. G had to do some work and so he sent me off to wander around on my own. I decided a good place to start would be with the KaDeWe, aka the super-snazzy department store. I didn’t take any pictures inside (whoops), but some people (like Fiona) have done it muuuuuch better. Go look, I’ll wait.

Via

After a good wander through the assorted departments, I picked up a map in the book section, and headed back out. Now, G had given me reasonably good directions from the U-Bahn, but he neglected to tell me one thing. I knew that when I came out, I wanted to head in a direction that would take me past this very, very, famous church….

It’s the bombed-out Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a well-known landmark left over from World War II. I’ve seen it before (on the Amazing Race, my benchmark for most things), and so I was looking for it along the route to the KaDeWe. Fun fact: it’s covered by another building. I somehow didn’t get a picture, but there’s another building similar to the one in the photo covering the whole damn thing. Hence my confusion. Eventually after seeing signs for it, wandering around once or twice, I went looking for an entrance. (side note: there was also some sort of fancy party involving suits, cocktails and waiters going on outside it, so that added to confusion.) But today you can visit the inside, which is now a WWII memorial.

To find the entrance, I meandered between guys in suits, went inside and saw this….

If I remember correctly from the signs, the outside is under renovation until the middle of the year. But the inside is open, there are tours – I eavesdropped a bit on an English one – and there is a lot of information on display about the war. If you really want to see what it looks like, here’s a representation in chocolate from the fancy chocolate store we went to…

Pretty sweet, right? Ok… done. 

After that I decided it was beer o’clock as I still had some time to kill while G was working. Problem was, the weather was sunny and beautiful and every cafe was full. Finally I found a spot with no view, but at least a fountain to distract me from my magazine. 


I particularly enjoy the reclining ox in the second photo. 

A little window-shopping and wander followed. I had a vague idea of maybe going to the zoo and walked over to the entrance, but decided against it as I didn’t have that much time to spend there. I headed back towards home and spent the evening having a nice chat with G’s flatmate, a delightful French gent, while G was at football (that’s soccer, kids) training. We had some possible plans to meet a friend of G’s in the evening, but instead got distracted by a case of Altenmünster bier, which hit both of us like a ton of bricks. We ended up drinking half the case and watching The Art of Flight, a ridiculously awesome HD snowboarding movie. Darn you Altenmünster. A quality Friday night in one of the most exciting cities in Euro-land, am I right? 

Saturday
It was slow going on Saturday morning. Again we did some shopping, because G felt that I needed to see the new Hollister store that had opened up in a shopping mall near his house. Important things. But that did lead to me taking these pictures…

Sorry the second one is a bit blurry. But why don’t more stores in the U.S. feature thousands of glasses hanging from the ceiling with disco balls? Seriously. Super fun.

After the shopping we had to haul ourselves to a football game for the team that G is currently training with. No photos of that… the stadium wasn’t particularly scenic, sorry. And they lost, but I guess that’s not unusual.

I ♥ this logo.

When the game was over, it was off home for a couple of Radlers and to get ready for BBQ time. G’s flatmate C had proposed that we inaugurate the grilling season that evening, so we handed him cash and trusted his shopping capabilities. I have to apologize, I should have taken photos of the food, but trust me, there was a lot of it, and it was fantastic. Starters included hummus, pepper spread, assorted olives (stuffed and non-stuffed), and fresh French bread. After that we had grilled zucchini, eggplant, roasted mushrooms, and meat. Holy buckets, did we have meat. There was marinated chicken pieces, sausage, steaks, and I don’t even know what else. C’s co-worker joined us and had apparently asked him how many people were coming. It was one of those. We all stuffed ourselves slightly indecently, and washed it down with beer, wine, champagne, etc. Fancy, right? And for dessert? Well… were you aware that absinthe and strawberries go together? Because they do. Or at least they did. I don’t have a ‘bucket list’ but I guess if I did I could now cross off ‘drink absinthe with a Frenchman.’ Check. That may or may not have led to watching portions of French films (they don’t make movies you know) from the 60’s until the wee hours of the morning. Odd. Fun, but odd.


Sunday
Sunday was time to be productive. I had gotten such lovely suggestions from people and we were going to do at least one of them, darnit. After a solid breakfast, we pulled ourselves together and headed to the Gerhard Richter: Panorama exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie. Or, as I like to call it, “these are the people who go to art galleries on a Sunday.” G was about ready to call it a day when we saw the line, but it moved pretty quickly and we were even able to snag a student discount (Tip: never throw out your IDs, kids! Especially if there’s not a date on it… thanks UWEC). 

The exhibit was really interesting, and represented the variety and scope of his work well. The downside was the fact that it was Sunday and there were far too many people there. With headsets on. Standing in front of a painting for five minutes without moving. Grumble. But what can you do? Take pictures… that’s what.

How many pretentious art faces can you spot?

There was also a very cool mirror sculpture I wanted to get a photo of, but people were all up in my way. Grumble. 

After the gallery we had to get some food in G. Irritation at people makes him very hungry… it makes sense that we get along, right? We headed for a burrito at Dolores California Gourmet Burrito at Rosa-Luxemburg-Straße 7, near the Hackesher Markt S-Bahn. I’ve been there twice now, and G says it is alllllways packed. But an enormous burrito and a beer for not bad prices will bring ’em in, I guess. This was squarely in the middle of East Berlin, aka Hipster Central, so we thoroughly enjoyed the street traffic as well as our burritos. If I had been more stealthy, I would have some pictures of the traffic but I wussed out. 

We thought after that we should go to the Loxx Mini Railway at Alexanderplatz. But when we got there, we kind of balked a bit at the price…. 12€ seemed like a bit much. G was a bit worried at the fact that there was no-one else in there. Mostly I think he just wanted to do another lap around the mall… especially since it was open for some reason on a Sunday. So we scrapped the railway (next time!), and did some more walking about. 

“Fashion show! Fashion show! Fashion show at lunch!” Prize to anyone who gets that.
Berlin TV tower and Marienkirche. There are aliens in that church.
See? Aliens.
Altes Museum
Berliner Dom

Building G thought was cool at Gendarmenmarkt.
Gendarmenmarkt.

At Gendarmenmarkt is where we popped into the fancy-dancy chocolate store. It’s called Fassbender & Rausch, and I recommend a visit. If nothing else, it’s something to see. 

Brandenburger Tor from chocolate.

Reichstag from chocolate. 

The smell in that place was insane. Go. 


Monday
About the only thing I really, really wanted to do in Berlin was go to the Pergamon museum. I wanted to go last time we were there, but wasn’t able to get there. So Monday was Pergamon day. Slowly. That place is going to get it’s own post because it’s amaze-balls (real word), but here’s a picture of me throwing peace signs first…

But more Pergamon at a later date. 

We took a very round-about way to get to Museum Island. 

Dome of St. Hedwig’s.

Good weather brings all the kiddies out to play.

Bikes at Hackesher Markt
Hackescher Markt is a very cool S-Bahn station so I wanted a picture. And of course I wanted G’s elbow in it.

Monday was a little different, because Tuesday was Maifeiertag, aka Worker’s Day. So this meant that a whole lot of people took a Brückentag, or Bridge Day on Monday. Also the reason I was able to stay in Berlin until Tuesday evening. This was great, but really upped the amount of people everywhere we went. Luckily we had a good escape because Monday evening G was playing in a football game and there was no-one there. Boom. Roasted.

Kidding. It wasn’t an important game or anything, he’s a sort of ‘ringer’ (his words, not mine), on a mens league team for a friend’s company. So after our museum day we made our way home from the city center, then all the way across town again to get to the game. They played on a half field of what appeared to be felt. Weird. But here they are..

Yay sports! I was slightly distracted by making sure no kicks went past the goal onto the hill I was sitting on, and the sky, which was doing some sweet stuff…

 Also I found these amusing…

How organized are Germans? Well…. that tree is labeled. Think about that one. 

At the end of the game, we had planned on going to a bar to watch the Manchester United vs. Manchester City match. This is what happens when you hang out with G… there ends up being a lot of football involved. But one of his teammates invited people over to his new place for a BBQ and to stream the game, so we headed off with a few of the guys. 

A tram ride took us deep into Kreuzberg, aka the home of all that is hip, cool, and edgy in Berlin. Fun fact: G says that’s also how you know you’re in the old east Berlin… there were no trams in the west. The tram was packed full of people who had apparently started celebrating the holiday a bit early. Before we went to the apartment, we had to stop and get supplies for the BBQ. That was possibly the longest I have ever been in a supermarket in Europe. For one, this was a pretty big grocery store. Secondly, the guys were not sure what they wanted, but they wanted a lot of it. We were all fully loaded with food + football gear and it was less than easy to maneuver with all that. When we had finally settled on all 52 kinds of meat they required, plus a few veggies, and a bit of alcohol, we had to wait in line for probably at least 20 minutes. It was a long time. But good people watching because that store was nothing but hipsters. And us. My favorites included…

  • Four kids behind us who had a cart filled with the following: cake, Coke, cookies, candy, chips. All C’s, and looked like what would happen if you took a 5-year-old shopping. Prepping for holiday munchies…. just a guess.
  • Girl in short cowboy boots, daisy dukes, ripped sleeveless t-shirt, and fur vest. + tattoos. Lots and lots of tattoos. Which I’m cool with (I have three), but the general effect was impressive. 
  • Girl in black leggings, biker boots, black shorts, black studded leather jacket, dyed black hair, assorted facial piercings and blue lipstick. 
  • At least three shirtless guys. I guess security doesn’t care about hygiene. Also at least one girl with no shoes. This was a theme in Berlin. It was hot, but come on. You’re in a city, put on shoes.

While we waited in line, the guys filled us in on typical Maifeiertag celebrations in Kreuzberg. Apparently it’s pretty standard for people to run around, throw stones at cops, and light cars on fire. I wasn’t too worried about it, but was hoping that whatever followed, we wouldn’t have to do any running because I was wearing flip-flops and my running skills are non-existent on a good day. Much less in crappy plastic shoes. So if cars are being lit on fire, I want to be a safe distance before it happens. Danke. 

Finally we got through the never-ending check-out, handily remembering last minute items like matches as we went. Then it was back to the guys house to carry all this crap and a grill up the five flights of stairs. The reward was the fantastic flat on the top floor, complete with terrace. And handy for him, he’s one street over from the Kreuzberg street with all the nightlife. Which we planned on hitting later. But somehow that never happened. It was one of those rare occasions where somehow we never ran out of food/drink, and ended up hanging out chatting until about 4a.m. G and I were the only English speakers, our host was French, and the rest German, and the conversation slipped into and out of English and German all night. As per usual, the more that was drunk, the more that English was spoken. All around, an enjoyable night. G was eyeing up the couch, but I convinced him that it was better to haul across the city at night than it would be in the morning. No one likes the Walk of Shame, right? So we were off on our very long way home. If you ever wanted to know what the Zoologischer Garten U-Bahn looks like at 4:30a.m., here you go.

Our trip was enhanced by the variety of colorful characters out and about. Personal favorite goes to the dapper young gent who sat across from us on the S-Bahn sporting his finest holiday ensemble. It included a smart navy blazer and scarf over his faded Confederate flag t-shirt. Not cool, hipster boy. Sigh. Kids these days.

Tuesday
For the last day in town, we hadn’t really planned on anything besides possibly going out to Potsdam. But after rolling in at 5a.m., anything involving an early start didn’t seem like a great idea. Instead we decided to go out to Krumme Lanke, a lake a bit south-west of G’s place in Steglitz. His flatmate told us some directions to get to a beer garden that G hadn’t been to yet, and off we went. 

They have some sweet U-Bahn stations.

When we got there, it was just like a Bavarian beer garden, right down to the sign that said Servus und Gruß Gott. Not to mention the beach, where people were already swimming and boating. Our conversation went something like this…

me: “Oh man, I am so jealous of you right now.”
G: “I’m really mad we just found out about this. We should have done this all weekend.”
me: “Do we really only have time for one beer? Crap.”
G: “I feel a Prague coming on.”
me: “What?”
G: “A Prague. Like you’re going to miss your train.”
me: “Well if I do miss my train, we’re coming straight back here and drinking the rest of the night. There are always trains tomorrow.”

Sadly I did have a train to catch, and being that I missed out on 9 of my 14 classes by having Monday and Tuesday off, it was really in my best interest to go back to work on Wednesday. Boo.

I quite like the Tor motif in the train cars. And it’s a bit hard to see, but I promise that the name of the station in that second picture is Onkel Toms Hütte. Was?? Yep. A good end to the weekend. Weekends are five days, right? 

Anyway… G lives in Steglitz and it was a really nice area, so here are some random pics of that…

Lots of gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings and tree-lined streets. The only real downfall to the area is that it’s a bit far out, so every time we went somewhere it seemed to take 2+ modes of transportation to get there. But, small potatoes. It was a good weekend. 

I’m Trying Really Hard Not To Name This Post ‘Roman Holiday.’

If I had to sum up Rome in two words, they would be “sensory” and “overload.” I took 600 pictures in four days, which seems excessive to be honest. But that’s just how I operate. Shoot first and ask questions later. Let’s all hope I never have access to an actual firearm. So here’s the story of the trip to Rome, it gets long, but there are lots of pictures so… onwards!

Saturday.
I met up with O, my Russian Sprachduo/tandem partner, early on Saturday morning at the train station. We hopped a train and were off on our way to the “Munich West” airport, aka Memmingen, aka not actually anywhere near Munich. But that’s where Ryanair flys out of, so that’s where we were going. 

I had always wondered who those people were who run around the train station trying to find extra people to share on their Bayern tickets, and it turns out that O is one of them. I mean, I’m not going to argue with a lower price, and if you can find up to five people to share, that sounds great to me. But then when we got to the airport, she still wanted to try and sell the ticket off to someone else. Is this standard practice in Germany? As long as you don’t sign the ticket, you can just pass it off, but it seemed a little odd to me. Sadly, she didn’t find any takers at the airport, and we got ourselves checked in and through security in no time flat. 

A cool one-hour flight later, we landed in the sunshine of Rome’s Ciampino airport. There are an abundance of shuttles to the center, so we bought tickets and got moving. The shuttle deposited us outside the main railway station, where we decided to walk around a bit. Instead of a hotel or hostel, we were Couchsurfing and our host wasn’t home yet. Since we had some time, we wandered off in a likely-seeming direction. 

We walked to the Piazza della Republica, which had a huge fountain and a church. So, pretty much like every other piazza in Rome. It’s kind of a theme there. We were a bit hungry, but since it was mid-afternoon and we planned on having dinner, we thought we would just have a snack. So what does one have as their first food in Italy? Well if you guessed McDonald’s chicken nuggets, you would be correct! Shameful but true. There were a few other cafes and such in the area, but O deemed them all too expensive and we didn’t really want to sit down anywhere. So McD’s it was. 

We made our way back to the bus station and found the first bus we needed. O’s boyfriend had helpfully written out directions for us, and even drew a little map showing the walk from the bus stop to our host’s home. Once on the bus, I learned the first Fun Fact about Rome: the buses don’t announce the stops. There are no signs, and if there is no-one waiting at a stop, and no-one pushes the button, they don’t stop, (which is true in Germany as well, but here the stops are ANNOUNCED). This wasn’t a problem on our first bus, as we were going to the final station, but this got tricky on the second bus. 

The second bus we needed had just left, so we got to wait around for about 20 minutes for the next one. This would also be a theme of the trip. While waiting, we had some time to try and puzzle out the stops listed on the bus route. Unfortunately the time was no help as we couldn’t make the sign in front of us line up with the directions we already had. Also, after the name of our stop on the sign, it said: (7 fermate). I’m sitting there going, “fermate, fermate…. that sounds familiar but I have no idea what it means. Any Italian speakers know where I’m going with this one? No? Stops. It means stops. So what this meant was that there were SEVEN STOPS with the SAME NAME. They were labeled 1-7 along the bus route (which we didn’t know at the time), and we wanted number 4.

According to the sign, the first of the Seven Similarly Named Stops was the fifth stop on the route. But as I already mentioned, stops aren’t announced and if the button isn’t pushed, that bus isn’t stopping. We must have blown by three of the stops because suddenly we stopped for the second time, and I realized slightly too late that the dark sign outside said our stop with an indiscernible number after it. We jumped up, O asked the driver to stop, and he told her we could get off at the next stop. At the next of the Seven Similarly Named Stops we found the number 6. But we had no idea what number had been on the previous sign, or how many stops we might have blown past already. We decided to walk up the hill to the next stop and see what that sign said. It said 5, so we kept on walking to the next one. Lo and behold, number 4. 

We then followed the map through the neighborhood, down some crumbling brick stairs with no lights, and finally to our host’s home. And he wasn’t home yet. Well, at least we weren’t the only ones that were grossly later than we thought we would be. He showed up about five minutes later, and welcomed us into his home. 

I’ve had lots of friends who have couchsurfed before, and lord knows we hosted our fair share of house guests in Prague, but this was my first time actually surfing someone else’s couch, and I’m so glad we had a nice experience. Our host, E, had a GREAT apartment… it was huge and beautiful, with plenty of room for two extra people. He had been helping his brother move all day, and he put us straight to work putting the cushion covers back on the couch he took from his brother’s old place. Helpful hint: don’t take those things off, because they are a pain in the ass to get back on. But we managed, and now he has two nice, big couches for his surfers. Bonus points because now we didn’t have to share. 

O. had intended for us all to make dinner together, but it turned out that he didn’t have a kitchen; it was coming, but not installed yet. I swear that his Couchsurfing profile mentioned that fact, but she didn’t remember reading it. Instead, he headed off to his parents for dinner (insert stereotype about single Italian guys here), and he invited us to relax, shower, watch a movie, etc., promising he would be back at 10 o’clock and we could go “make a party.” We took him up on those offers, and had some good relaxation time after our day of travel.

A few hours later, E came home, and his friend came by a few minutes later. They did some quick moving of furniture, and then we were off. Riddle: How many cars does it take to transport four people in Rome? Answer: If your host drives a Smart Car, two. I can also confirm that all the stereotypes about driving in Rome are true. It is terrifying. And this was at almost midnight… I think I would have lost it in the daytime. Especially in a Smart Car. Scary stuff. But we survived, parked, and headed to the nightlife area. 

On the way we crossed a bridge and had what the boys said was the best view in Rome. It’s a bit dark, but here you go…

That’s the dome of St. Peter’s in Vatican City. I promise. It’s just dark. 

We wound through tiny, narrow streets in the city center, looking for E’s friend that we were meeting. The whole area we were in was basically bars, clubs, and restaurants, and it was packed. People spilled out of every doorway, smoking cigarettes, clutching cocktails, and generally having a good time. I felt decidedly under-dressed, because 1) I don’t really own “club” clothes, 2) I didn’t bring anything remotely “going out” appropriate with me so I was wearing a t-shirt, and 3) I was wearing color. I’m pretty sure O and I were the only two people I saw the whole trip NOT wearing a black jacket. Way to stick out, Heather. 

Finally we located E’s friend, and followed him into a bar. Inside we had to fill out a little piece of paper with our vital stats, presumably in case of emergency. Because of that, I was expecting an underground labyrinth of a bar… the kind of place where a fire or other situation would leave people trapped three floors below ground (U Sudu, I’m looking at you), but this was possibly the smallest bar I’ve ever been in. Like, maybe the size of my flat (37 square meters). And one of the loudest. I don’t know if it was a regular thing, but it was karaoke night and WOW was it loud. We got a drink and E told us that some of the songs were big Italian hits, but some of them definitely sounded like mainstream songs… it was just hard to discern from the Italian-karaoke-ized version. I found the whole thing quite entertaining. 

After a bit, the guys were ready for another club so we headed back outside. We ended up at a pretty swank kind of place, which the guys said was one of the nicest clubs in Rome. Now, I am not a club person… I’m more of a beer and a table kind of girl. But we were there, so I figured what the hell. O loves to dance, so she was quite content to bop around in a small area at the edge of the dance floor. I can handle clubs, but usually I have to do two things: 1) switch to hard liquor and 2) drink a lot of it. 

My first clue should have been the fact that almost no one was drinking. But I chalked that up to the fact that people here just like to dance. Or at least they don’t feel like they need to be off their faces to do it. But I do, so I went to the bar. I ordered a double gin and tonic. The bartender said a double was 30€ and I fell over in a dead faint. No, not really. I just downgraded it to a single for the bargain price of 15€. That’s right, despite the fact that just last week I refused to pay a $20 cover charge at a club in Milwaukee, I forked over 15€ for a cocktail. And not even a fancy one. But, I was on vacation, and in a club for an indeterminate amount of time. And you better believe that I enjoyed the hell out of that gin and tonic.

At about 4:30am, a few hours of Italian fist pumping and LMFAO songs later, we finally headed for home. I think I may have fallen into a coma when we got there because that was one, looooong day. 

Sunday
Our plan on Sunday was to get up early (hahahaha), and go to the Vatican museums. They are open free on the last Sunday of the month, so we thought we would take advantage of that. But we hadn’t accounted for being out all night either, so we didn’t get quite the early start we had originally planned on. 

We got to the Piazza near the Vatican at about 10:30am, and the line was out. of. hand. We were told later that the Pope was making one of his “waving from the balcony” appearances that day, and so that added to the amount of people. We couldn’t see the end of the line, so we decided to find the beginning of it, so we could judge just how long we thought we’d be in it. On the way to find the front, we were barraged by about 10,000 people trying to sell us tours that would skip this 2-3 hour wait. This would also be a theme of the trip. Anyway, here’s a shot towards the beginning of the line…

We walked past people for about 10 minutes before I took this picture. O wanted to go to the front and slip into the line somehow, and I absolutely put my foot down on that one. If I’m going to skip a line somewhere, it sure as shit isn’t going to be at the Vatican. I don’t need any extra tally marks on my rap sheet from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Not happening.

At this point, my stomach was eating itself since we were up all night and hadn’t actually eaten dinner, so we decided to try and find something to eat. Unfortunately it was a bit too early for restaurants to be open, so I settled for some mediocre street-pizza, while O went to find an internet cafe. Another Couchsurfing host had offered to show us around the city and she had forgotten to write down his phone number. 

When she got back, we decided to go to the Colosseum instead, and try the Vatican the next day. We slowly made our way across the city, with several detours, picture breaks, and a stop for lunch. So… pictures!

St. Peter’s looks much better without the enormous line…

Castle St. Angelo….

Sadly I slacked on the food pictures on this trip. However, this bruschetta served to remind me exactly what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. I eat tomatoes darn near every day, but these were fantaaaaaaaastic. 

Art market in the beautiful Piazza Navona. 

Stealth photos of creepy cowboy street performers.

Rome wins for the amount of people selling useless crap. Example 1: these balls of goo that flatten and reform. Why oh why would you need this??

When you take a break as a street performer, shouldn’t you go somewhere out of sight? Doesn’t this take away from the mystery??

The Pantheon was pretty amazing. I was trying to take photos that would give a sense of how high it is inside, and I don’t think these quite do it. I guess you have to go.

Rome is apparently famous for cats. I might do a whole post about the cats that hang out in the ruins at the Area Sacra Argentina… I have about 20 photos of them. Apparently up until very recently, the city fed them. Draw your own conclusions about the economic state of Italy…
 

The Vittoriano, the national monument to the first king of Italy. It was one of those things that made me say, “Holy shit,” when I walked around a corner and saw it. I was sitting and waiting for O a few days later outside it, when the guy next to me introduced himself as a Ph.D. archeology student and told me how they were just finishing a 10-year project to clean this thing off. I guess 10 years ago it was completely gray and brown from all the pollution. I’d hate to be the guy with the toothbrush scrubbing out the cracks of this puppy….

View of the Colosseum and Forum from the top of the Vittoriano. The view was pretty sweet, and only costs 7€. 

Inside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, next to the Vittoriano.
 

Count the chandeliers in this picture. Go ahead… I’ll wait….

 Heading up the steps to the Capital Museum and City Hall.

More of the Forum from behind City Hall….

 

And finally, six hours later, we made it to the Colosseum. Just in time for my camera to die. It was too late to go inside, so we just walked around a bit before walking aaaaaaaaall the way back to the Piazza Navona, where we were meeting G, another Couchsurfing host, and his surfer, L, for dinner.

Before dinner though, we had a nice, long walk. G took us back to the hill to show us the Capital building, and then back down to see the ruins of the Marcello Theater and through the old Jewish ghetto. 

After a long, long, long walk, we finally arrived at our dinner destination. We went to a place that G highly recommended for pizza, called San Marco. We had some appetizers, including suppli, which is a fried ball that is filled with rice, cheese, and in our case, spinach. We also had another appetizer that was (I think), fried cauliflower with cheese and anchovy. Sounds questionable, tastes fantastic. I really wish my camera hadn’t died, but you’ll just have to believe me on how good it tasted, and how pretty my pizza was. And I even pulled the American thing and took some home because I could not eat the whole thing. It was just not going to happen. We parted ways for the evening, planning to meet up with G and L later in the week, and rolled ourselves home at a reasonable hour so we could take another crack at the Vatican in the morning.

Monday
Something to know about me: if I don’t set an alarm, and you don’t wake me up, I will sleep forever. Also, keep in mind that I had just flown back from the U.S., so my sleep schedule was severely jacked up. We set an alarm, but O decided to let me sleep. It must have been the day for that though, as our host overslept and was late for work as well. By the time we were ready to head out for the day, it was already almost noon, so instead of the Vatican, we decided to go straight to the Colosseum and do the tour there instead. Are you sensing a theme here? Me too.

At the Colosseum, we ran right into L from the night before. L and I decided to go on the English tour, and O opted to get an audioguide in Russian and do the tour on her own. The tour was well worth the extra 5€ on the entrance fee, and I was happy to pay it.

This was not the only owl I saw in Rome. The ancient Romans were totally hipsters. 

Helpful hint: If you are traveling with a non-native English speaker and you do an English-language tour, you might want to pay special attention. Because the non-native speaker will ask you questions. A lot of them. And you might feel like you are extra-obligated to remember every detail because you were able to understand the first time. Just a tip. 

At dinner the night before, we had actually joked that they were all working so hard because they were speaking in another language, while I was able to sit back and relax. This was totally false though, because I had to find other ways to explain things if someone didn’t understand, O was asking me for equivalent words in German or some other situations. This happened quite a few times throughout the trip, but when you’re at a table with an Italian, a Russian, and a Taiwanese, and they are all able to communicate that well, it’s pretty amazing. It was a lot of fun, but there was definitely work involved. 

After the Colosseum, the three of us decided to go in search of G’s recommended place for the best gelato in Rome. The place he sent us was near the Pantheon, so we had a nice, long walk back.
 

The light was beautiful as the sun was setting; it was a perfect time for a walk. 

G’s recommendation for gelato was a place called Fiocco di Neve, and it’s about a 30-second walk from the Pantheon. I recommend sticking to the small, 2€ size, which they pack FULL of delicious gelato. 

We also stopped in a shop selling all sorts of marble goods, and neither of the girls understood why I found this funny….

Seriously, what does that look like to you? Right? And the translation? Hilarity. What are they trying to tell us??  

Afterwards, we decided to walk over to the Trevi fountain, and then to the Spanish steps…

 What are all those people taking pictures of??

Why this super-impressive fountain, that’s what! Don’t forget to throw in a coin and make a wish… if you can get past all the people, that is. 

Here I am being super-cool in front of the Spanish steps. 

It was pretty late at this point, so L decided to call it a night. O and I headed for dinner nearby the Piazza di Spagna. I had wine, prosciutto and melon…

… and a delicious vegetable soup. I assume that it was a more authentic version of the minestrone we all know and love at the Olive Garden. 

On our way home, we walked down the “ritzy” shopping street, and through St. Peter’s Square. 

I’m not a big fan of LV, but how great is this window display??
 

Authentic Italian version of the Jersey Shore GTL?

St. Peter’s Square is a lot better with no one in it. Just my opinion.  

Tuesday
Vatican attempt #3: success! There was no line. Score. However, there were a million people inside. Boo. We got there at about 10:30am, O wanted to do the audioguide again, whereas I was set on leaving by 2:30 at the latest. Our Colosseum entrance from the day before also included the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill, which could be used until 4:30 the following day. So we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet near the Colosseum around 5pm. 

I did the “accelerated” Vatican Museum tour. This consisted of me whipping through rooms to get to the Sistine Chapel, taking pictures inside (whoops), getting busted, leaving, not being able to find the way out, going backwards through the whole other wing of the museum, finding a courtyard, wandering around some more, and finally making my way back to the entrance/exit. Tip: Ask for a map. They don’t give you one when you arrive, and that would have been helpful. However, I did look at O’s map later, and I don’t know if that would have made much of a difference. Anyway, here are some pictures….

 Even the chairs in the galleries are branded with the keys.

 Sadly this Pieta is just a copy, the original is in St. Peter’s.

I do have pictures of the Sistine Chapel, but I’m not posting them because I don’t want the Swiss Guard to come kick my ass. Sorry. When I finally escaped from the Vatican Museum, I planned on going to St. Peter’s Cathedral. But when I got over there, the line made me change my mind. So that’s about the one thing I missed, or at least the one MAJOR thing I missed in Rome. Guess that means I’ll have to go back. 

See that line? No thank you.
 

So instead of St. Peter’s, I walked to the Metro and got over to the Forum much earlier than I had planned on. And sure, there were still a lot of people there, but I was much happier to be outside where at least all those people had some room to spread out! We’ll start up on Palatine Hill, where the rich folk lived…

 Self-shadow portraits.

 

People were running around shaking the orange trees looking for snacks.

… and now we’ll head down into the Roman Forum, formerly the center of city life in ancient Rome.

See that street? I’m predicting that a leading cause of death in ancient Rome was from infection after a broken ankle. Especially if they were running around in sandals all the time. Tip: Bring comfortable shoes.

The city symbol is a wolf, so you see them everywhere.

It was a beautiful day so I was happy to be able to spend a few hours outside wandering around. 

I met up with O afterwards, and we walked around a bit more before dinner. We met up with G and L again in the Piazza del Popolo, and went to a nearby restaurant, Il Brillo Parlante, which G recommended for some pasta. I had some absolutely amazing pasta with pesto, and the most fantastic tiramisu ever. It was more along the lines of a  pudding than the cake-like version you see in the freezer section, and it was to die for. I recommend a trip to the restaurant if only for that reason. 

Then it was time to head home… so some shots from the last night…

 Piazza del Popolo…

 Love me some Lady and the Tramp…

Vince??

Locks on Ponte Milvio. I’ve seen lots of “lock bridges” in Europe, but I don’t think anyone has ever cleared this one off…
 

We flew out at 3pm on Wednesday and made our slow way back to Nürnberg. I pretty much collapsed onto the couch when I got home and am still in recovery mode here. Whew.

To sum up the trip, I compiled a short list of pros and cons:

Pros:

  • The food. Of course.
  • Beautiful scenery and lots to see.
  • Lots of public transportation.
  • Everyone is super friendly and we met some nice people.
  • Warm weather!!

Cons:

  • Way too many street vendors. You can’t walk 10 feet without someone shoving a scarf or a paperweight in your face.
  • Lots of tourists. I think winter is the time to visit.
  • The public transportation is not necessarily going where you want to go, and as I said, they don’t announce where you are.   

Everyone I know said that Rome was dirty and too busy and so on, but I didn’t really think it was all that dirty. Busy, yes, and the street vendors made me completely crazy, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker by any means. It was a good trip and a lot of fun. I just need a nap now.

Productive Pants Weekend Wrap-Up:

I didn’t leave the flat today (Sunday). I thought about it a few times. It was beautiful this morning, but I made a deal with myself. I said, “Heather, if you can finish off the lesson plans you’ve been working on, you can go out and enjoy the day.”

But you already know how that ends. Didn’t quite finish them, and then it poured for a while anyway so I figured the nice weather ship had sailed. But the point of this was that I had a few goals for this weekend and they were mostly accomplished…

I got back on the Quicken train… so I definitely lost about 2.5 months of record-keeping, but now I will pay attention to where my money is going. It’s a lot easier for me to save/watch my spending if one of their wonderful pie charts tells me how much I’m spending on stupid crap. Visual learning, wee!

I also got through aaaaaaaalmost all my lesson plans. Considering I was 5 weeks behind, I think that’s pretty good. I had about 45 to do, and I have 4 left. Not bad. And to clarify, I did teach these lessons (and was awesome at it), but I didn’t fill out the appropriate form that the school wants. Details. 

Got my suitcase back. It is never just about the suitcase.

Hit the farmers market yesterday and stocked up on some delish fruit, some more of the yummy Greek spread, and even sprang for some fresh flowers. Farmers markets are marvelous. 

Cleaned the flat. Somehow already have a stack of dishes in the sink. Don’t know how that happens. But my hot water situation in the kitchen means that I have to do dishes strategically. That might have to be another post (with pictures), because it’s weird, and very Deutsch, and hard to explain.  

I finished the issue of Vanity Fair I got from the library. If you love me, you will get me a subscription. It’s my birthday soon. Just sayin’. 

Replied to six people who want to SprachDuo with me. Awesome. Hopefully soon I’ll have a vocabulary that exceeds things like “Kantinenfrau”. Even though that is a great word. 


I also realized that I have some pretty bitchin’ friends. They may not be in the same zip code (or country, or continent), but it’s ok. I know they exist, they’ll listen when I’m spazzing, they are fantastic, supportive, hilarious, and that’s the most important thing. 

I thought I had a better one, but this fits pretty well. Image via Postsecret

Harry Potter fun continues.

Remember kids, just because the books and movies are over, doesn’t mean we can’t still get enjoyment from our favorite wizards.

Image via Postsecret

This article came out a few weeks ago with the movie premiere, and I think it’s fantastic. I’m not a religious person in the slightest (reverent, maybe), but I think Greg Garrett makes some great points about the books and the lessons they teach. I appreciate JK Rowling’s ability to write about morals and good/evil without slapping us all in the face with blatantly theistic doctrine.