I am back in Amsterdam after an incredible long weekend in Rome. I left on the 21st of August and returned late on Monday (the 25th). I traveled on KLM - no complaints there, everything worked as it should, and it was easy to tell that I had landed in Italy by the clapping and cheering of all the passengers once we hit the ground. From the minute I got off the plane, everything was chaotic, noisy, and off schedule - and I loved every minute of it. I've been to Rome before, in the early summer of 2005. This time around, I was staying at the home of C. and A. and getting much better insight into "real" Rome. A. is from Sardinia but has been in Rome for over fifteen years, and is part owner of the bar/restaurant Ombre Rosse (in the Trastevere district) - and that is where I went directly from the airport.
The highlight of the trip was definitely the food, which is no surprise. I could probably write ten pages detailing everything I ate over the course of four days, but I can also just sum it up by saying that everything I ate was flawless and perfect. I followed the Italian rules and never drank a cappuccino after breakfast. I ate big lunches and drank wine only an hour or two after waking up, I ate dinner late and ice cream was a perfect mid-afternoon snack. Instead of filling up my suitcase with clothes or souvenirs, I came back to Amsterdam with 3 different kinds of cheese, balsamic vinegar, and other assorted food items that I wouldn't be able to find at the local Albert Hein.
As far as sight-seeing, I feel like I would need ... a year, at least, to really feel like I've "seen" Rome. Whenever I go to museums or galleries anywhere, I don't really like taking maps or guides or planning out my route - I would rather just wander around and figure out what I like, what I don't, and not be bothered by trying to find my way to the stuff I know I will want to see. Being in Rome is like being in the biggest museum on earth, and since I was only there for 4 days I knew I couldn't even scratch the surface. The one thing I really wanted to see was the Vatican. Despite the absurdly high entrance fee and the massive crowds of people, I really, really wanted to see the Cappella Sistina, the famous tapestries (I love tapestries), and absorb all the history. The trip to the Vatican didn't disappoint and when I left after three hours, my brain felt like mush. To see all that famous art in person, rather than in a textbook or a replica - there are just really no words to describe what that feels like.
The Vatican was the only thing I really made a point of visiting and paying to get into during the day. I did most of my sight-seeing at night while walking around with friends, wandering from place to place. I lost track of how many monuments, fountains, churches, and beautiful old squares I wandered through. I was also fortunate enough to get out of the city for an entire day and drive off to lago di martignano (Martignano lake) with my friends, about 45 minutes north of Rome. We spent the afternoon and evening sunbathing and swimming in the perfectly clean water. I haven't gone swimming since last summer, which was a sad realization. I adore the water, and I especially adore swimming in clean lakes and rivers (rather than the sea or in pools). I felt really lucky to be at such a relaxed place, with little kids running around naked and dogs jumping in the water after frisbees.
Cycling as a mode of transportation does not seem to be at all popular in Rome, which is a real shame, considering that it's a huge city with a pretty lousy public transportation system. My only real complaint about Rome is that it seems like such a car culture - granted, the cars are small and fuel-efficient, but still, the most popular form of transportation for Romans is the automobile (or motorcycle/moped). While waiting for a tram one night, I saw a bigger car crash into a smart car and drive off without stopping (it didn't appear that anyone was injured). I can't emphasize enough how much I truly hate having to rely on a car while in a city - I firmly believe that cars should only be necessary if you live in a small town somewhere. Obviously, most cities are not going to be as bike-friendly as Amsterdam, which is fine - I'm usually pretty good an figuring out local public transportation. But I've honestly seen better public transportation systems in just about every other major European or American city I've ever visited, compared to Rome.
Anyway, enough of that. Though I was often in my friend's car going from place to place, I also spent a lot of time getting around by bicycle (C. had one to lend me, which was great). Rome is hilly, with cobblestone streets, uneven pavements, cracked sidewalks - so it makes perfect sense that those who do choose to ride on two wheels choose mountain bikes! It was actually quite a bit of fun to shift gears and bend over the handlebars. C. and I rode from her place to the Vatican in about 40 minutes, and when we went out for ice cream later in the day we just happened to ride around the Pantheon. The moment I realized I was riding my bike past the pantheon on the way to eat the best ice cream in the world (San Crispino) was just as overwhelming as walking into the Sistine Chapel for the first time.
Taking weekend trips to different countries is one of my favorite things about living in Europe, and I am fortunate to have friends (or friends of friends) spread out all over this continent, ready to offer hospitality and accommodation. My next big-ish trip will be to Poland, hopefully in late September or early October. Before then I'm also going to try and get to Antwerp (at least for a day) and maybe a few other places in the Netherlands. Even though I was sad to leave Rome, with all the sunshine and beauty and amazing food, I have to admit that being back in Amsterdam (and back on my own bicycle) feels great. The end of the summer is always a little depressing, but when September arrives it means more visitors, a new roommate, the return of Tuesday night movies at the OT301, and friends coming back into town from their holidays. Even saying goodbye to C. wasn't too hard, because she's returning to Amsterdam for a few weeks and staying with me - so I'll have my Amsterdam roommate back! At this time three months ago, she was hosting me at her apartment in Amsterdam (in the Oud Zuid neighborhood), and I had no idea if I would be sticking around. I was still pretty much living out of suitcases and borrowing everything I needed. It is a really fantastic feeling to now be the one that gets to host her in my own apartment and lend her my guest bike. I've been in Amsterdam just a little over four months, and it really, really feels like home.