Rome

The most hyped city in Italy. Home to the Roman Empire.

11:05 AM, I was finally here. I exited the train station, and made way to my hostel. Yes, the only part of this journey I wasn’t couchsurfing. The thing is, this was around Christmas and I would be spending Christmas in Rome, so I couldn’t find a host. My hostel, was on the eastern edge of the city, closest to the Colosseum. This meant, I’d have to walk more to everything else on the eastern side. As a result, over the span of 3 days, I walked a total of 90 Kilometers!

I was blown away the minute I stepped into the city. It is so full of character! You see ruins and masterpieces almost everywhere you look.IMG_2433

I reached my hostel, dropped off my bags and was straight out! There was no way I was going to let this Wonder of the World elude me anymore! As I drew closer, my heart started beating faster. I was finally going to see this. I could never be prepared for what happened next. I knew it was big. But, I never imagined it to be this gigantic! All the pictures make it look so small! To keep up with the tradition, here’s a good pic, that also fails to capture the scale.

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The Colosseum

Oh my god. Just imagine the audience as the gladiators would fight to the death inside! I spent a while just taking it all in.

Starting from here,  I made my way into the rest of the city, through the Roman Forum. This is truly an open air museum! I have never seen a city quite like Rome.IMG_2454.JPG

I made my way through these magnificent ruins, to the largest monument in Rome, The National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, which stands for the unification of Italy. It is a sight to behold, much like the whole of Rome. Haha.

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I love this picture. I took it later in the day.

Pro Tip : The monument features a view point from the top! There’s a paid elevator or a staircase. I’d recommend taking the staircase. The view is pretty decent.

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There’s the Colosseum on the right!

As tradition goes, I looked up free tours in the evening. Here, even more so! You were literally breathing in the history, so you better find out all there is about it! Ofcourse, it’s also a great way to meet new people, and like all of my travels, I have never been disappointed! I made some great friends here and completed my circle of influence : Today, I know someone on every continent on this planet, except Antarctica! How freaking cool!!

This tour took us through some more major sites, starting from the Spanish steps, which sadly at this time were under maintenance, apparently losing all the grandiosity. Now, having heard about the Trevi fountain, walking through quite a few short alleys, again, I did not expect this to be as tall as the neighbouring buildings. A fountain! No, I don’t mean the water jets that were higher than the buildings ( this is the 18th century, folks! ) but simply the intricate facade, made of pure white stone. Absolutely magnificent!

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Trevi Fountain

Oh and it’s always full of people. The only time it was slightly less crowded was at 2 AM.

Soon enough, I started making my way back to the hostel, having exhausted myself to the brink. Oh, doesn’t Rome look even prettier at night?

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One of the most epic pictures in low lighting

One of the best things about my hostel was that we had free dinner. Ah, doesn’t that make you feel good! Coupled with the fact that it was a cheap place to stay, going out at 5 Euros a night on Christmas,  I was definitely sold!

The story doesn’t end there. I met everyone at my hostel for dinner, and we went out exploring again at night. This was also the first time I crossed a country border walking, but we’d keep that for the next post! ( Hint : Which country could possibly share a border with Rome? )

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Florence

I left Nice about 3 PM, in this bus service called BUDA bus, which I had never heard of before, which runs just once a week. It’s a miracle I even found this service as I didn’t find it on any bus search either! I was half scared that it was a scam, but well, I had no option but to go with it. Thankfully, it was one of the best bus services I’ve seen! Free refreshments and towels, I’m sold! This is even better than OUIBus! Haha. I felt slightly awkward as the entire bus was filled with Italians, but majorly excited : I was going to Italy!! I was determined to kill the awkwardness, and to learn the language. I didn’t want to speak English either. I struck up a conversation with my seat neighbour, and the most epic thing happened : I learnt italian through french. I asked him to teach me some basic important phrases, as well as some basic flirting. I’d be honest, that’s the first thing I like to learn in any language. Here’s why :

  1. It’s the best ice breaker! You see a beautiful girl who you’d like to approach but don’t know how? How about addressing her in her own language. Sei molto bella. Vous etes très jolie. You’re beautiful. sie sind sehr schone. Linda!
  2. It gives you confidence to speak the language, which is any day the best way to learn.
  3. You look forward to learning more.

Hmm, I forgot how to say it in spanish.

I reached Florence pretty excited, and left the city 5 minutes after I reached, for I was couchsurfing again! This time, in this town called Prato, right next to Florence. A small 20 minutes train ride away. This was the best decision I could have made, because I got to meet some awesome friends. Katja, Mirko, Michele and Alice( maybe I forgot the name of your girlfriend, Michele! . She’s awesome though 😉 ) I’ve never felt more welcome in a place! They came to pick me up at the train station, and that’s how it all began.

We went back home, where I got to taste some of the best authentic italian pasta. Now wasn’t that to die for! Some of the best pasta I’ve ever had.

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Heavenly.

I loved living here, to see an italian home, which I couldn’t have otherwise. No hostels aren’t the same, there’s a reason they are called hostels and not homes. Don’t get me wrong though, I love hostels too! Both have their pros, and I refuse to look at the cons.

One more thing Italy is famous for is : Its strong coffee.

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and their concentrated coffee maker.

Surely, it is really strong! Since I am not much of a coffee drinker, my experience with this was minimalist. However, I did have a coffee everywhere I went! Kind of needed it while travelling, and I could smell and taste the difference with this specific home brewn italian coffee.

Oh yes, another thing you’d notice is that Italy has gas stoves, like India, unlike France or Germany.

Fresh with this coffee in the morning, and this super cute “snack for the day” left for me by Katia, who had already left for work, I had breakfast with Michele and was off into the city of Firenze.

No wonder so many people are attracted to this city, it is so freaking beautiful!IMG_2357.JPG

I roamed around for a bit, taking in the beauty. This city was so full of character!IMG_2366.JPG

Sure enough, I was soon on a free tour. It was overwhelming, to hear so much about the city. There’s a lot of history here. A lot of art. Loads of artists! This occurred because of a very specific set of families who were generous enough to donate their private collections at the decline of their legacy. The most notable one being the Medici family.

We soon reached the main center, home to the Florence Cathedral, which boasts the 3rd largest dome in the world, after X and the Vatican City’s St. Peters Basilica. Yeah I don’t remember the second biggest.

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Wow.

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Yeah, the weather wasn’t perfect, but that just gives me another reason to return to Florence. What that simply means is : not a very clear day.

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View from Michelangelo Hill. Same view in Season 3 of Hannibal. Hell yeah!

En route this slightly steep climb, I was fervently looking for Pizza. Come on, Italy is supposed to have the best pizza. I wanted to have the best pizza in my life. I saw this pizzeria on the way up and I wouldn’t lie, I was disappointed. It tasted so.. normal. Hmm..

I wanted to get to know my hosts better, so just after sunset, I returned back to Prato. I was offered Pizza for dinner, and that’s when I shared the story about the earlier Pizza I had that day. Sadly, I was told that the best pizza is in Napoli, or Naples, which is south of Rome. Did this mean they didn’t enjoy their pizza? Hell no! They knew this guy from Naples who had moved to Florence to open his pizzeria. Traditional wood fired pizzas. YES, THIS PIZZA WAS OUT OF THE WORLD! So epic, that today, 3 months later, I still haven’t touched a pizza. I don’t want to destroy the taste in my mouth. ( which I am trying real hard to remember ) Haha, another epic observation : The italians like to cut their own pizza. They have these specific scissors to cut pizza, which I found pretty cool!

Michele is an aspiring musician, with some awesome singing and guitar skills. He had a meeting for a gig/competition, and wanted me to come along. Thanks a lot for inviting me with you, I get to add another memorable event to my life : crazy driving in the foggy night through winding roads by the hills, to a secluded recording studio.

I had never been to a recording studio. It was awesome to see so many musicians gathered around. And ofcourse, who can forget the PIZZA! I ended up talking a bit with the owner of the studio, which felt great. My vocabulary was pretty limited, so we evidently switched to English.

French, Italian, Spanish and Portugese, all share a common root, Latin. How does that benefit me? Well, I understand 30% of all these languages, and about 90% French.

Mind = Blown.

True, this wasn’t enough time to do everything I did. But I got to make the most with the time on my hands, and I’m getting extremely good at that. We got back home after that adventurous night, and soon we were off to bed. The next day, I’d leave Florence, to get to this city I’ve been dying to visit ever since I was a kid. Ever since I saw Jumper, and the actress wanting to go there really badly. Rome.

Nice

Now that I am back, sorry this break was way too long that I just can’t believe I am back into living where I know where I would sleep each night. Haha, I cant help but reiterate how amazing this trip was. Bear with me, because there is no way I am stopping!

Nice marks the start of my Couchsurfing spree. Did that sentence seem weird? It did when I read it again. Again, it’s the city “Nice” pronounced “Niece” 😉

I reached around 7 PM, to be greeted by Benoi at the train station, who would be my host for the night. We hit it off really well, and he seemed pretty impressed with my french, which made me like him even more. This stereotype about the French being snobs is really damning! We cooked some dinner and then he took me to visit the city. We rented a bicycle and were off! What made this trip really memorable, was going through the city at night, cycling on these endless curving roads that I could imagine coming out of a cool high speed car chase.

My knee soon started creating problems, for I had recently been ice skating, falling down head-knee first onto the ice, which apparently hadn’t healed. He asked me if I wanted to return, but told me it was going to be worth it going on. Well, you know me by now, I’d never turn down an adventure, and I’d really encourage you to do the same with your lives. Why? Because I got to visit this really epic hidden locals exclusive side of Nice, right on the sea! It was pretty dark, so this is the best I could do:IMG_2309.JPG

We were on the other side of the city. There’s a road, which you think is the edge, but then you cross it, then you go down a slightly concealed staircase, out into a side lower path, not visible by the road and walking on it, you come up to a quiet, almost sacred place. There are no people, just the sea and the sound of the water. The waves crashing on the rocks, and just the moonlight to guide your path. As the French call it, “Le bruit de la mer”.

The next morning, I was off exploring a bit, to see the character of the city during the day. Oh my, isn’t this city pretty!

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View on the way up Castle Hill
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I was somewhere on the farther edge last night, the one right behind the small light beacon.

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It’s a shame I forgot to click a photo with Benoi, I got one with almost all my hosts. Thanks a lot Benoi, for making my stay truly memorable.

And, just like that,  I left soon, for I had a bus to catch to Florence, or as the Italians call it, Firenze, the birthplace of the Renaissance.