A Farewell to the Continent

Day 587 – 8 October, 2016

After wrapping up a fun week in Tuscany, I felt the air slowly drain from my sails. I had been on such a high to see everyone and then it was strange to actually see them. I stared out the train window, watching the landscape zip by and felt my eyes fill with tears. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. I wasn’t sad really, but I think I was suddenly having a glimpse into what my life would be like when I finally go home. I’m caught between two worlds and it might take some time to figure out where I fit in exactly.  

Once in Rome, I immediately immersed myself in the food, history and culture. I made the obligatory rounds to Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona, each so clogged with people that it was absolutely claustrophobic and overwhelming. I tried to take a step back and witness the mania from afar, but I was in it. I was part of the mania and I wanted out.

The next day I mustered any patience I could gather and headed to the Colosseum first thing. I did arrive early enough that the line and entry was not too bad and I caught myself feeling a bit of awe for the archaeological marvel. Even with the parts that had clearly been reconstructed, the Colosseum and museum met all my expectations. I kept thinking how Julius Caesar may have walked on these very stones. How cool is that?! As the day drew on and the crowds began to grow, it was my cue to go.

The ticket to the Colosseum includes entrance to the Roman Forum, as well as Palatine Hill. Technically, I could have visited these on two consecutive days and saved myself the sight seeing exhaustion, but I was feeling ambitious and I was already here right? I’ve long been a fan of admiring archeological or architectural sights over artistic ones and entering the Roman Forum, I could imagine ancient Romans milling about, tending to daily affairs while wearing togas and strappy sandals. This is where I explain that sometimes I can harbor slight OCD tendencies to a fault. I didn’t want to miss any of the Roman Forum. Not any of it! I walked up and down EVERY single path just to make sure I saw everything. I was wholly lethargic and disinterested after almost four hours wandering around. I hadn’t planned to stay so long and I was famished, finding only a small pack of soda crackers in the vending machine for 2 euros to sustain my weary sensibility. My head ached. My feet ached. And I couldn’t have cared less about ancient Romans until I could satisfy a craving for pizza.

Completely losing track of the date, I got a text from Jen when I first returned after my tiring day of sight seeing. She and Greg were back in Rome for one night before they had a flight home and she wanted to meet for a drink. I was wiped out, but who knows when I can see them next so I pulled myself together for a night out. It had been so fun to get them all to myself for a few hours. Plus, I rarely go out for drinks so for a few hours with my friends, I could pretend to live it up in the capital of Italia. The night was growing late and I had a late lunch so I felt no need for dinner, but Greg & Jen wanted to find an authentic Italian restaurant with the right kind of atmosphere. I knew exactly what they meant. I have spent lots of nights looking for just the right atmosphere to suit my mood. However, that specific establishment eluded us that evening and we spent a good chunk of the evening looking for it. I sadly parted ways with them as they headed back to their hotel for room service! In spite of the anticlimactic ending, I will long be grateful to spend an evening in their presence roaming the piazzas of Rome.

After taking a day off, I was ready to attempt the Holy Grail of Rome. Well, not really the Holy Grail, but the Vatican anyway. The night before, a Tuesday, I had asked the reception desk at my hostel if there was anything I needed to know before attempting to visit the Vatican. Should I buy tickets in advance? What were the ticket options? Etc, etc. He gave me a website to buy a ticket in advance, but it wouldn’t accept my credit card so we agreed that if I went early I could wait in the general queue.

At 8:00am, I was out the door with a bounce in my step. I was rested and determined to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. I walked the three miles from my hostel to Vatican City, stopping only to get a hot coffee and a limp croissant at one of the few places open so early. Upon first glance of Piazza San Pietro, I was gawking at all the famous sights when I realized I was going through my third bag security check and then ushered into a fenced corral. Pushing my way to the front of the corral, there was no exit on the other side. Wait, I didn’t mean to go here, I thought. I was trying to find the entrance to the Vatican Museum so I backtracked the way I had come only to be told that I couldn’t leave the corral. It was now I realized something was going on, but since I am admittedly clueless about such things I had no idea what was happening. I tried to elevate myself on tip toes above the other onlookers when I saw a very distinguished figure in a white robe and white hat being driven around in a little car while waving to the crowds. The POPE is here?? For a moment, I too became caught up in the energy of the crowd, hoping that he would drive by my little patch of real estate by the barrier. But instead, he got out on the front steps and quite possibly the longest ceremony ensued. I’m not Catholic and I am not entirely familiar with all of the customs so I don’t know what to call this particular display, but the Pope spoke to the audience in several different languages for over an hour. I was so far away that I couldn’t hear very well or see anything at all. I was standing on my feet in the heat without water and I was growing very impatient. By the time they finally released us from the corral, my enthusiasm was wearing thin. I began asking authority figures where to go to wait in line and I was told by two different people that the Basilica was closed. Still holding some determination, I followed the signs and a stream of people around the building toward the Sistine Chapel and Museum. I was cut off at the entrance by an “information” guide who explained that I wouldn’t have enough time to see it all unless I bought one of his express tours. He was pushy and aggressive and he had picked the wrong prospect. I looked at him blankly and then turned and walked away. I kept walking until I found a gelato shop I had wanted to try and then I walked some more until I got back to my hostel without ever entering the Vatican Museum or Sistine Chapel. The guy at the reception desk recognized me when I walked in and asked me how it was. I told him that the Pope was there and that the Basilica was closed. He said, “oh, the Pope is there EVERY Wednesday! And the Basilica is only closed until 1:00 that day!” All helpful information that would have been good to know when I asked the night before. Obviously everyone knows about Pope Wednesdays except for me!

Nineteen and a half months away from home, spending about six months each on three different continents. The cultures, the people, the food, the customs could not be more different. When I arrived in Europe in July, I was ready for the safe comfortable familiarity of the western world. Now that it’s time to go again, I’m ready. I’m not sure I entirely fit in to the West anymore, yet I’m not sure where that leaves me. I don’t have a desire to live in developing world squalor either.  Until that path reveals itself, I’m going to keep living as if Someday is Now.

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