When in Rome (do what the tourists do, but eat what the locals eat)

For the past two days, Gord and I have been very diligent tourists, wandering, photographing and taking in all the wonder that is Italy’s capital.

Arriving late Tuesday night from Athens, Gord and I decided to leave the country on the morning of our first day.

Fooled you? Probably not. Our first visit was to the Vatican City, the world’s smallest city-state. We were in three countries within 24 hours. Pretty impressive, n’est ce pas?

Now, you can’t visit the Vatican without making note of the modesty police. This is the name Gord and I gave to the dress code enforcers of Christianity’s holiest place. No knees, shoulders or inappropriate cleavage were allowed, lest you make the handsomely dressed Swiss guard fall in love with you.

Once we were modesty-approved, we began our visit in the Vatican Museum, home to Michelangelo’s neck-breakingly beautiful Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Overall, the Vatican was really cool, albeit insanely, INSANELY busy. I obviously took lots of pictures in St. Peter’s Square/Basilica and pretended I was Robert Langdon a la Angels and Demons searching for antimatter.

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Of course, one cannot visit the Vatican without making note of the stunning art and architecture housed within. The only problem was that there was just SO much of it. Every room was so ornately decorated, floor to ceiling, that it was actually too much for our unrefined artistic minds to take in. After much early admiration and appreciation, Gord and I spent the last few gallery hallways speed walking around the slow-as-snails tourists, disregarding the painted frescoes and century-old tapestries. Perhaps Gord described our apathetic art views best when he said “you can only look at so many baby cherubs.”

After the Vatican, we started to wander back in the direction of our bed and breakfast, hoping to stumble on more tourist checkpoints as we went.

Gord’s stellar navigational skills found us in front of the Pantheon, which was amazingly well preserved. We both had to wonder: do they close the oculus when it rains? Have they installed some secret, SkyDome-esque closing mechanism? Clever, clever Romans.

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Walking further, we rounded a corner and were met with by the sight of the Trevi Fountain, Rome’s most famous water attraction.

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It was PACKED (with tourists and pickpockets, I’m sure) and, after making a wish which I valued at 1 euro coin, we scurried off beyond the crowds and into the open air.

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At this point, Gord and I decided to separate for the rest of the afternoon in favour of a little independent wandering.

From here, I proceeded to do the two things I do best: get lost and eat. More on that on my blog soon.

For supper that night, Gord and I reunited and decided to investigate one of the restaurant recommendations I got. Katie (@tinymurders) suggested we try the spaghetti carbonara at La Pigna, a restaurant located not far from the Pantheon.

It was here that we encountered our first “Roman Holiday” closure, wherein Italians use August as a time to flee the city and summer heat. La Pigna was closed for the month, leaving a barren and lonely space in the piazza where the patio would, I suspect, normally have sat.

The closure was a blessing in disguise, however, and we instead dined on delicious homemade pasta dishes and tiramisu down the street at Osteria Pizzeria di Agrippa.

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Day two started with a trip to the Colosseum. After an hour worth of waiting in line, we finally proceeded into the ancient gladiator theatre, the upper, inside levels of which have been transformed into a museum. Here, we found out more about the Colosseum itself – did you know they could flood the entire floor area in order to hold marine battles? So cool.

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Once the obligatory Colosseum photos were taken, we headed next door to the ruins of the Forum, the old Roman public square.

I’d like to say that something funny happened on the way to the forum, but alas, it did not.

This was also true for the rest of our Forum visit which, although once again impressive, was not assisted by our “sick of ruins” state (see Athens post for more).

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Determined to fulfill at least one of my Twitter food recommendations, we walked south to get gnocchi for lunch at La Fraschetta.

Possible movie title for this meal: The Curse of the Roman Holiday Strikes Back.

You guessed it, La Fraschetta was closed. We drowned our sorrows in bubbly water (my new favourite thing) and lunch nearby.

Splitting again in the afternoon, I trekked back to the Vatican area to buy dresses from one of the many vendors that lined the street. Mission accomplished, times three

To celebrate (MOURN) our last night in Rome, we decided to try our hand one last time at my Twitter recommendations. This pizza suggestion from @hellokaitlin was the biggest gamble location-wise – about a 35 minute walk from our B&B. After reading rave reviews online, we decided to take our chances. It paid off.

The restaurant, Dar Poeta, was so popular that a long line twisted outside the entrance. I LOVED my pizza, which was topped with zucchini slices, spicy pepperoni, garlic and cheese. Gord was less than mesmerized by his, however. I felt sorry for his lack of delicious pizza, so I decided to share mine.

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The night ended with us wandering about an eclectic and lively street market on the bank of the Tiber River – a great way to spend our last few hours in Rome.

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Gord and I both bought new wallets and, with the purchase of a knock-off (but real leather) book bag, I officially became the biggest tourist ever.

Rome, you have made my backpack burst at its seams and my camera pray for forgiveness. One day I shall return.

Athens: The city that launched 1,000 “ruin” puns

“Gord, you RUINED the picture.”

“Turkey really RUINED ruins for me.”

Etc. etc. There are a lot of really old stone ruins in Athens. They drove us kind of crazy.

ANYWAYS.

This post will likely have the greatest “words per hour spent in city” ratio.

Gord and I were in Athens for 24 hours. Not an hour less, or more.

After an extremely classy and unnecessarily expensive ferry ride in from Santorini (apparently the only difference between economy and VIP seats is a red leather, a table and an extra 30 euros), we arrived in Athens, ready to use what little time we had to take the city by storm.

But first, we needed to find the subway. An adventure in and of itself. Unlike France where we could decipher the language into something that sort of resembled english, the complicated Greek alphabet characters were lost on Gord and I. It took approximately 30 backpack-sweaty minutes of searching to find the subway station, which was in the exact opposite direction of where we originally started walking. Whoops.

Once found, we navigated our way through the Athens subway fairly easily, noticing quickly how clean and empty the whole place was.

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I didn’t know whether to be impressed or weirded out. It was a relief to get back to normal subway scum when riding the metro in Rome today.

Arriving at our hostel, Athens Backpackers, we quickly dumped our bags and went off to explore.

Since our hostel was super close to the Acropolis (seriously, best location ever!), we wandered over there to start our sight-seeing. Five minutes later, we were looking up at Parthenon, lit from behind by the late evening sun. Naturally, we decided to walk further into the grounds, our hearts set on looking down on Athens at dusk.

On our way up, we passed through the ancient Theatre of Dionysus, where we made sure to take tacky tourist photos sitting on the crumbling marble thrones.

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Just as we were about to reach the final uphill stretch, drama set in.

Okay, not really drama, but Gord and I like to exaggerate because it makes us sound cool. Apparently we needed tickets to enter the Acropolis. Yes, in hindsight, this made total sense, but we swear there was no one selling tickets anywhere along our route. After much wide-eyed innocence and groveling, we were kindly escorted down the side of the Acropolis hill by a stern Greek official.

Plans foiled, we consoled ourselves with a dinner of delicious Greek salad, oven feta (our new favourite thing), moussaka and some weird tubular pasta thing (for Gord).

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It was just what we needed and was super cheap. All part of the Greek “crisis” menu, as the restaurant liked to call it. Yes, that’s a thing.

We ended the evening by making new friends on our hostel’s rooftop patio, sipping on Mythos beer and staring out at the beautifully-lit Parthenon.

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The next day, we registered for our hostel’s walking tour in order to find out more about our ancient surroundings. In the end, we found out LOADS more than we had to, and our very-informed, very-chatty Greek guide kept us out in the blisstering sun for a sweltering two hours.

Some lessons? Well, we learned a lot more about the tensions between the Greeks and the British Museum. In the early 17th century, the British Lord Elgin decided to strip the Parthenon of its artistic glory in order to impress his bride-to-be. As a result, the majority of the Parthenon’s glory now sits in London. The Greeks are not pleased.

We also learned about the history behind Athens itself. The myths made me reminiscent of learning about ancient Greek mythology, circa grade six. I won’t go into detail, but lets just say I am stunned with the amount of godly self-impregnation that occured (seriously Zeus, you REALLY needed to grow Athena in your mind? That’s just begging for attention.).

Stunning sights of Athens were also a given. This one was taken atop the point where the Greek Supreme Court once stood.

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After our tour’s gyro/souvlaki stop (I finally got one!), Gord and I decided to ditch out of the tour early to actually go up to the Acropolis.

Once again, we stubbornly refused to comply with the proper ticket-buying procedure. Here’s the thing. You could get to the Parthenon for free if you were a student studying in the EU. Thankfully for us, Carleton University just happened to be in Cork, Ireland for the day. Imagine that. Hey, we need to save all the money we can. It’s not our fault Greek ticket officials are very trusting…

Here’s what we saw at the top:

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On our way down, we decided to stop at the New Acropolis Museum, which we were told was the place to go. The building itself is very modern looking and is cleverly designed to reflect the remains of the Parthenon on its glassy outer walls.

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Since we got away with the Irish student scam once, we thought we would try it again. It worked, 2/2. Wonderful.

The museum itself was worth the short visit. As impressive as we’re sure the stone remains would be to antiquity studiers, Gord and I were a little bit tired of seeing ancient artifacts. It was a bit boring. Sorry, history buffs. I did, however, love the top floor – it was an exact to-scale replica of the Parthenon, complete with a 16×8 metal columns outside. I took many pictures, despite being yelled at on numerous occasions by both Gord and officials at the museum.

Conclusion: Athens is a city of rule-breaking.

And that was our very short visit to Athens! We avoided riots and saw the Parthenon. Mission accomplished.

H

PS: This is the tan difference between Gord and I after a week in Greece. ūüôā

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Departure Day!

To many, this is just a normal Thursday, but to me, this is the day for which I’ve been waiting months.

It’s finally the departure day for my European adventure!

Right now, I sit in my oversized, cushiony papasan chair typing this last Canadian travel blog post. Tonight, I leave, all pop culture references aside, on a jet plane and, after a drugged-up gravol sleep, will (fingers crossed) arrive in Paris tomorrow morning.

But before I get to do this, I had to pack.

As an indecisive, sometimes neurotic person, packing is not my forte.

That’s why I brought in the troops to help me out.

Ariel and Alex – you can always count on these two to help you out. As ex-roommates, they know my wardrobe better than I know it myself (hey, why don’t you bring that flowery dress that you got with Britt that one time? It would be perfect for Paris!). They’re the best. Knowing that I would be stressed out, they also brought me an oat fudge bar. Like I could love them any more.

Ariel is also a particularly accomplished packer and, to this hour, I have still not yet had to place anything inside my backpack.

So what were some of my necessities? Well…

I very much can’t live without my collection of vintage jewelry. I wear it everywhere. I don’t care if I am backpacking and wearing a garbage bag, I insist it comes with me.

Sunscreen, because after six days in Santorini, girl is going to get tanned. Mom, take note.

Perhaps my most important travel companion (other than Gord) will be my Toms. I fully expect them to be falling apart by the end of the trip, but I will always keep them regardless and treasure the memories we shared. Also, to the left you see my Joe Fresh (bahaha $16 knock-offs!) birks. They will lead me through many a sunny day.

And so, while I do not yet have a photo of me with my human-sized backpack on my shoulders, I will be posting one as soon as I can. And by that, I mean as soon as I finish packing. Which will be never.

Eeeek.

Bon voyage, mes amis!

Saturday night: Our final pre-departure meeting (aka crepe-mania!)

Well, the time is finally here for Gord and I to start up our travel blog.

With Gord leaving for Turkey today and me leaving not too long after (July 28!), we figured it was about time for us to get our butts in gear. With this in mind, we met Saturday night for our final meeting before our month-long adventure begins.

Gord modelling one of his packing necessities: his striped bowtie

To celebrate the near-beginning of a journey that will be full of delicious food and good company, it seemed appropriate that we do something equally as gluttonous to mark our last Canadian hangout.

Therefore, it was logical that our evening involved crepes, and lots of them.

Your two travel bloggers: Gord and Hilary (extremely happy and hungry)

Our dinner-dessert combo was provided by Pure Gelato, a short walk down the street from Gord’s apartment. ¬†I took the walk as an opportunity to practice some key French phrases with Gord:

-“Je veux 20 macarons svp.”
– “Combien¬†co√Ľte le croissant de chocolat?”
– “Est-ce que je peux acheter un billet de m√©tro svp?”

I think as long as I know those three, I will be just fine in Paris.

At the restaurant, we spoiled ourselves silly. We got crepes of the savoury variety (ham and cheese for me; ham, cheese and tomato for Gord, both topped with chives and b√©arnaise sauce) and crepes of the sweet variety (a shared chocolate, banana and strawberry one). ¬†Gord even ate the whipped cream, despite his intolerance to lactose (he’s a Hufflepuff!) – what a champ.

Best meal ever.

One crucial decision was made during our crepe outing, and that had to do with the official hashtag for our travels.  We decided on #ghabroad.  Short, sweet, not the bearer of any terrible hidden meaning.  Lets make this topic trend, kids.

Gord tweeting, using our official hashtag, obviously

Back at Gord’s apartment, we made some final accommodation plans. ¬†This amazing site,¬†Airbnb¬†hooked us up with loads of accommodations. ¬†Basically the site is a database where travellers can search for places to stay around the world. ¬†The locations you stay in are not hostels or hotels, but rather rented rooms in people’s homes or apartments. The majority of the time, these places are cheaper than hostels, and offer Internet, real beds, gorgeous rooms and access to washers and dryers. ¬†The place we want to rent in Amsterdam even offers free bikes. Heaven. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to witness our decadent European living accommodations on a student budget. Many IKEA-esque photos will be taken.

Anyways, that’s all for me. ¬†The next time I see Gord, we will be half across the world, basking on a beach in Santorini.

What’s next for me? A packing adventure. Stay tuned for the chaos, forgetfulness and anxiety of packing my life into a no-more-than 22 kilo bag.

Paris, I’ll be seeing you soon enough.