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So now begins the tale of my ridiculous journey home.

I woke up bright and early this morning, had a nice espresso and last chat with Alessandra, then I walked over to the Trastevere train station to head for the airport. I had just missed the 7:30 train, but I got a ticket for one leaving a few minutes later.

The train ride was fine and I got to the airport with no problems. Then began the frustrations. I was supposed to be leaving from Terminal 5, so when I saw a sign pointing to Terminal 3 and Terminal 5, I went in that direction. I went into the terminal, but it was Terminal 3. I went back outside and there were no signs for Terminal 5. Frustrating, but whatever. I walked in both directions and saw absolutely nothing pointing towards Terminal 5. Nobody seemed to speak English when I tried asking for help, and my limited Italian wasn’t getting me anywhere. Finally someone who spoke English came up to me and asked if I knew where the shuttle to Terminal 5 was. Oh. I guess I had to take a shuttle, then! Finally I came upon a shuttle stop (NOT very well marked at all), eventually got on a bus and got to the right terminal. The signage there is crap. I can’t find the [airline] desk anywhere. I see desks for every other airline, but not [airline]. Eventually I find it and it’s not open. NOT OPEN! Our flight leaves in 2.5 hours and we can’t even check in yet?! It eventually opens, I give them my bag and go through the long security lines and hop on yet another bus to go out to the gates.

I got off because I saw signs for gate H. I walked in and it was NOT gate H – it was gate G. Whut. I don’t even know how this was possible. At this point I was starting to get a bit nervous and annoyed, as I’d already wasted a good amount of time trying to find the bloody Terminal 5 and then waiting for them to open and process people. I finally find signs to gate H, hop on the little train thing and get to where I’m supposed to be.

I grab some food from a little cafe and sit down to wait. By this time the flight was leaving in about a half hour. I used up the majority of my remaining coins to buy a bottle of water and a snack for the plane.

Eventually they call our flight and we go up to go through their check again. The plane is way out on the tarmac somewhere, so we line up to board buses out there. That takes forever. I’m looking at my watch and thinking that the plane was supposed to leave in 15 minutes, so it was obvious that it was going to be delayed. I had a 2.5 hour layover in Montreal, so I was starting to get antsy, thinking that my time to go through customs and reach my connecting flight was decreasing, but I wasn’t too worried just yet.

We get out to the plane, board it and proceed to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Then we’re told that there’s a small mechanical issue and they’re going to fix it because (and this is a direct quote here) “Safety is our highest priority and we want to make sure that this plane is 100% safe for you.” Fine. I like safety. I chat to the people around me and it’s no big deal. The wait turns into an hour. Then two hours. At this point I know I’m going to miss my flight from Montreal to Vancouver (unless the winds are in our favour), but am confident that they’ll get me on another plane right away. Ha! The plane is finally “fixed,” and we start to move out to the runway.

Finally we take off, 3 hours later than planned. All is good. They pass around the iPads and I rent one so that I can have some entertainment and save the battery on my phone. They serve some disgusting food. In hindsight, now I can tell that I’d been hearing some engine noises, but didn’t think anything of it at the time. About an hour or so into the flight, the captain makes an announcement that there’s been mechanical failure, so we need to make an emergency landing in London. Oh shit. I try to stay calm, but it’s very hard to. The view of London that I can see from the middle of the plane is lovely. Oh hai, Tower Bridge and Big Ben! The plane noises are becoming louder and louder, and there is a lot of shaking that is most definitely NOT turbulence. I’m white knuckling it and willing us to land safely. The landing was definitely not good, but we landed and skidded our way onto the runway to huge applause. I was so glad to be on solid ground and safe!

We slowly taxi our way to somewhere out on the tarmac, well away from any terminal that I can see, then the plane stops. They haven’t told us which London airport we’re at, by the way. The captain explains that they don’t really know what is going to happen, but crews are coming out to look at the plane. So we sit and wait and wait, and wait some more. Nobody knows what’s happening. The captain comes on again and says that busses will be coming to pick us up, and then we’ll be shuttled out to a hotel for the night. We will fly out again the next day. Okay. That sucks that we can’t get on another flight today, but I’ll deal. We wait and wait and wait some more. The busses come and park, so we get up to get off the stupid plane but the captain tells us to sit down again and wait. The crew is trying to fix the plane, so we might actually be able to leave. UH UH. NO. I WANT OFF THIS PLANE!! By now people are beginning to get angry. We’ve been sitting here for ages, getting mixed messages. Just let us get off the damn plane!!

After some time has passed, the captain announces that the crew has determined that the fix isn’t quick, so we will indeed be leaving the plane momentarily. A cheer goes up from the crowd. Then we were told that due to security concerns, we wouldn’t be getting our checked luggage. It would meet us at our next flight. That caused a groan and much cursing from the crowd. After 2 HOURS of sitting on the stupid tarmac, we are finally let off the plane. Ahhh, fresh air!! We board the buses and get to the main terminal area. We finally find out that we’re at Heathrow airport.

Then we go thru customs and get a lovely stamp on our passports.

uk border

There really should have been people escorting us to where were supposed to go, but there wasn’t, so many of us who were at the front of the plane and first off the bus were totally clueless as to where we were supposed to go.

Finally someone corrals a number of us (unfortunately we saw some others go the wrong direction, so I hope that they eventually found their way back), and we board a bus that takes us out to our hotel. It was a fairly decent place.

bed

We stand in line and get checked in, get our vouchers for dinner and breakfast and I go up to my room. We were given one free 3 minute phone call, so I planned to call my parents. Whenever I travel, they always track my flights to make sure I’m safe (aren’t they so cute?!), so I knew I needed to let them know that I was safe and okay, but was NOT in Montreal or even on my way to Vancouver at this point. I called their work phone number and my aunt picked up the phone. They weren’t nearby, so I quickly told her the short version of the story and to let my parents know I was okay and that I’d send them an email or FaceTime them later.

I then went downstairs and got some dinner (bleh – boring buffet food that wasn’t very good), and a few drinks from the bar.

drink

One of the hotel employees told me that our shuttle would take us back to the airport at 7am the next morning. I went back up to my room and turned the TV on, and sent a few emails back and forth with my dad. I also posted a quick blurb on FB that I was okay.

I didn’t have much battery power left on my phone after this, and while I had my charger with me, my power adapter was in my suitcase in the belly of the plane. Grr. Since we were far away from any kind of city centre or shopping areas, I turned my phone off for the night, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy an adapter and charge my devices until the morning. I wasn’t about to pay an exorbitant amount of money for a taxi to get me to a store, so I figured I’d spend half that exorbitant amount and buy one once I got to the airport. 

I watched a few movies and TV shows, had a quick shower and washed my clothes in the tub. The hairdryer was in the middle of the room (explain THAT one to me) and it was attached to the desk and not moveable. I hung the clothes to dry, as they were too soaking wet to bring over to the hairdryer at that point. I knew that with a few hours of drying, hopefully by morning they’d not be dripping wet any more.

I read for a little bit but then decided to try to get some sleep if I could.

Total distance walked: 3.6km

Complaining works

As I mentioned in my last entry, I was waiting to post the last two days of my Italy series. I didn’t want to publicly post my story until I’d had a response from the airline about my complaint.

Earlier this week they sent me an emailed response along with details of the compensation they’ll be giving me. I was very impressed. They went well over and above what I asked for, which was so surprising. They’ve still lost my business, because I’ve had too many bad experiences with this airline, but their generosity is very much appreciated.

I’ll have the final two posts in the series up later this weekend.

I still have two more posts to come in the Italy series. These are the posts about my adventures in getting home. However, I’m going to hold off posting those for the moment.

As some of you may know from my posts on social media as it was happening, my trip home was a bit of a fiasco. I submitted a complaint to the airline and told them my story, much of it being copied from what I’ll eventually be posting. I’m going to wait until everything is resolved with them before posting the story here. So far I haven’t heard a peep. I don’t know how long it takes for them to process things like that, but hopefully it won’t be too much longer. Whenever things are finalized I’ll finish posting my stories.

So stay tuned! I may have something else worth sharing in the meantime, but we’ll see. :)

I had another leisurely morning, then I headed out to explore the area of Testaccio. In the Rick Steves guidebook, there was a fabulous walking tour of this neighbourhood listed, so I decided to make that my focus for a number of hours.

First up was this cute little museum in a miniature castle, called Museo della Via Ostiense. There weren’t any signs in here explaining the artwork and displays, and the guidebook didn’t say much either, but it was a chance for some shade, so I looked around for a bit before heading on.

museum

These are Aurelian walls, dating back to 400 AD.

walls

I find these ancient structures to be SO fascinating. How on earth are these things that are THOUSANDS of years old still standing, yet we can’t build anything that lasts for longer than a few years?! What are we doing wrong?! ;)

Next I walked over to a cemetery for Protestants. I’m so fascinated by foreign cemeteries, and try to visit one in every country that I go to. It helped that many of these tombstones were in English, so I was able to read their fascinating stories.

sailors

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angel1

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angel2

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rare

Two very famous English poets are buried here – Percy Bysshe Shelley…

shelley

… and John Keats

keats

That was cool to see.

Also visible from here is the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius, which is just stunning! The Wikipedia article about this is very interesting, so I’ll just direct you to that instead of boring you with my summary.

gaius cestius

After I was done wandering in the cemetery, I was desperately in need of cold water and some food, so I walked over to the Testaccio Market and found a baked pasta dish like the one I’d tried the night before.

baked pasta

I slowly made my way back to Alessandra’s, had a cool shower, then sat out on the patio for the rest of the day, reading and relaxing and finishing off my wine. How glorious!!

For my last meal in Italy, I went to a recommended pizza place called Pizzeria Ai Marmi. They had a huge outdoor area, but since the wait for that seemed interminable and I was starving, I ate indoors. The pizza was excellent!

pizza

It was also fun to watch the chefs create the pizza right in front of you.

chefs

I enjoyed one last nighttime stroll through Trastevere, and headed back to the AirBnB.

Total distance walked: 10km

I hadn’t bothered packing the night before because I didn’t need to be out of my room until 10am, and wasn’t expected at my next location until 11am. I heard my roommate banging and crashing around at the crack of dawn, as she was leaving very early, so I pretended to still be asleep until she had left.

I had a nice, long, leisurely morning, which was so lovely. I lingered over my breakfast with some people from the tour group who were still there, then I went upstairs to finish getting my stuff together. I still had my purse and tin of olive oil in a big plastic bag. I planned on taking a taxi to my next destination and didn’t want to bother figuring out how to rearrange everything until it was time for me to head to the airport.

The cab came much quicker than I had anticipated, and even though it took the driver forever to pull up the right address on his GPS, I was at my AirBnB very early. I walked a block to a little cafe and had an espresso and read for a bit until it was closer to the time that I was expected.

My new place is SO cute!!

bedroom

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patio

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view1

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view2

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living room

The hostess is Alessandra, and she is just the most adorable little lady ever! She was so friendly and welcoming, and it was lovely to stay in her home.

I settled in for a bit and had a quick nap before heading out to explore the neighbourhood of Trastevere. It’s a busy place, for sure, but it’s much quieter than the more central areas of Rome.

trees

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colourful buildings

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church of santa maria in trastevere

I was so tired and since I was wanting to conserve my energy, I bought a bottle of wine and brought it back to the apartment with me. I drank some of that while reading on the patio. What bliss!!

For the evening, I had a foodie tour booked, which I’d been looking forward to for the entire trip. I took the tram and then walked over to the Isola Tiberina, which is where I’d be meeting up with our group. There were 13 of us, mostly Americans, but there were two Australians, so that was nice.

Our first stop was at Da Enzo Al 29 for a glass of prosecco and some cheese, prosciutto and melon. Yum!

melon cheese prosciutto

Next was the coolest place, called Spirito Di Vino, which used to be a Jewish synagogue. The entrance is gorgeous!

spirito di vino

We went downstairs into their wine cellar to taste a wine and have some delicious nibbles. There was a fantastic cauliflower soup, a dish that was a favourite of Julius Caesar (pork something-or-other), and a unique baked pasta dish. It was incredibly dark in there, so my pictures didn’t turn out.

Next up was Innocenti, a family-run bakery that has been there for almost 100 years. We tried some fabulous cookies, my favourite of which was the hazelnut one in the middle. It was melt in your mouth delicious!!

cookies

Our fourth stop was to Antica Caciara, where Signor Roberto (very famous in Rome) and his family have been running the place for over 100 years. We tried some excellent cheeses here.

roberto

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cheese

Stop number five was at La Norcineria for some type of meat that was very tasty, but I forgot to write down the name of what it was.

meat

Up next was i Suppli, for a traditional Roman street food snack called suppli (fried rice ball with tomato sauce and mozzarella). This was a very popular little place! And the snack was delicious!

suppli

Our last big meal stop was to Enoteca Ferrara for some pasta dishes. This place was great – they have a CRAZY huge wine cellar – thousands upon thousands of bottles to choose from. This is just the red wine list!

wine list

We had three different pasta dishes:

gnocci

Gnocchi

ravioli

Ravioli

cacio di pepe

Caccio de pepe

We stopped here for about a half hour, so it was nice to actually sit, enjoy some wines and eat fantastic pasta.

Our last stop for the night was at Fatamorgana for some gelato.

gelato

This was a wonderful tour, and I’m so glad it was suggested to me. A great (and delicious) way to explore a new neighbourhood of Rome!

We were close to a tram stop at the end of the tour, so I hopped on that and headed back for Alessandra’s and to bed.

Total distance walked: 11.6km

This morning was a MUCH earlier start, as we were going to Vatican City for the day. Technically it’s a whole different country, which is crazy. No need for passports, so unfortunately there was no funky stamp to be had. Oh well!

We had a different local guide today, and she was excellent. The only frustrating thing was that because there were SO MANY PEOPLE (ack!!), it was impossible to hear her half the time, due to the interference with our radio headsets. I feel like I missed out on a ton of information as we were walking through the halls because all I could hear was static. Despite that, I just enjoyed looking at all the marvellous statues and artwork.

entrance

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sculpture1

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sculpture2

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ceiling

There was a period of at least a half hour when we were outside in the blazing hot sunshine with no shade, hearing an explanation on the Sistine Chapel, so that we could all go at our own pace and look at what we wanted to. I felt like I was melting, it was so warm.

courtyard view

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explanation

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st peter's

View of St Peter’s from the courtyard

I’m so glad we got this explanation, as we learned a hilarious story about one of the figures depicted in The Last Judgement portion of the chapel. Photos aren’t allowed in the Sistine Chapel, and the guards there are crazy vigilant and militant, so I got caught once attempting to get a stealthy photo. If you get caught twice, you’re thrown out, so I didn’t want to risk trying again. Anyway, this is the figure in question:

cardinal

This is one of the Cardinals. He was offended by all the nudity in the painting, and said some pretty insulting things to Michelangelo. So what did he do? He painted the Cardinal in the Hell portion of the painting and gave him donkey ears (a sign of stupidity), and a snake is eating his genitals. LOL!!! That had us all in convulsions of laughter. What a saucy little man Michelangelo was! I love it!! If our guide hadn’t told us about this, we would have never noticed it on our own.

In the lead up to the chapel’s entrance, there are signs EVERYWHERE, telling you to be quiet inside. However, when you enter the chapel, the noise from the people is so loud. It’s so unbelievably disrespectful. Yes, the art is jaw-droppingly amazing, but can’t you just whisper your incredulity?! I don’t know how many times I heard a piped in announcement or the guards telling people – SILENCIO! NO TALKING! QUIET PLEASE! It just pisses me off that people can’t respect that it’s a chapel and shut their damn yaps while in there. Rant over.

We had about an hour to be in there, and even that felt rushed, as there was so much to see. When we finally met up to leave, we then went into another outdoor courtyard for our guide to explain St Peter’s Basilica, and then for Sarah and Asa to explain our options for the rest of the afternoon. We also got a group picture taken. I was hoping that by the time I got around to posting this entry that someone would have posted it to our FB group, but no dice. Maybe one day it will appear.

I spent about an hour wandering through the Basilica. It is a phenomenal church! It’s also one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.

dome and canopy

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dome

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canopy

Pope John Paul II is buried here, and it surprised me at how much it moved me to see his tomb, even though I’m not Catholic.

john paul

I took a few photos of the outside before leaving in search of some lunch.

st peter's square

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fountain

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corridor

Asa had recommended a restaurant called L’Insalata Ricca (and, coincidentally, Rick Steves recommends it in his book as well), so I went there for my lunch. I saw her and Sarah at one of the tables, and later on I saw a number of other tour group people there as well. I was sitting next to two young girls from the US who had just come to Rome, so I gladly gave them a bunch of recommendations and tips, which they were desperate for.

bruschetta

Bruschetta assortment: olive, artichoke and tomato. Yum!

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pasta

Fabulously delicious pasta!

I was so full from the delicious lunch that I decided to NOT go to the recommended gelato place, because if I had another bite of something I probably would have burst.

I walked over to the Metro station and took that to the Spanish Steps area. I walked up them and had a look, but frankly it was kinda disappointing. The view wasn’t all that great, since the building behind it was covered with scaffolding and an obnoxious looking billboard ad. Oh well!

spanish steps

Because today was Italy’s independence day, we’d been told that the scaffolding on the Trevi Fountain would be removed for the celebration, so I decided to walk over there and check it out. Unfortunately it hadn’t been, but that was okay. I got a much better view today, plus I went on the little walkway to get up close. While I was on the walkway, I sneakily threw a coin over my shoulder and into the empty fountain to guarantee my return to Rome one day. Of course, immediately AFTER I’d done that, I saw the signs saying do NOT do that. Whoops! Well, there was no way that I wasn’t going to throw a coin in the fountain. It was my last chance to do that, as my time in Rome was rapidly coming to an end.

trevi fountain

I was so parched that I stopped in a little cafe to buy a Diet Coke, as I needed some caffeine as well. I gulped that drink down SO quickly. I guess I didn’t realize how overheated I was. I’d done a lot of walking on a very hot day.

I wasn’t in the mood to walk any further, so I stopped at a nearby bus stop. I waited a long time, and was about to give up and go get a taxi instead, when I spotted the bus I wanted approaching. It wouldn’t have been too expensive to get a cab, but since I already had a 3 day transit pass, it made more sense to use that instead. The bus dropped me off about 3 blocks away from our hotel, so I slowly ambled the rest of the way back.

I was pretty much done with being a tourist for the day, even though I technically had 2 more hours free. Instead, I decided on a quick nap and a shower, then drinks down in the hotel’s bar, which was much more refreshing anyway!

prosecco

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bar

Our final meal together was at a restaurant just down the block a bit called Osteria Angelina. A very nice place! We had their back room, so that was great. We spent several enjoyable hours together, eating a TON of food: meats, cheeses and bread to start, TWO pasta courses (a carbonara that was the best I had in all of Italy, plus another pasta dish that I didn’t catch the name of), a meat and potatoes dish, then a dessert of chocolate mousse. At the restaurants we’d eaten at as a whole group, normally there would just be one bottle of white wine and one bottle of red wine per table, but tonight the wine just kept coming and coming, so I just kept on drinking and drinking. LOL! The great thing about wines made there are that there are no tannins in it, so you don’t get a hangover. Sure, you can definitely get drunk, but you won’t feel horrible the next morning!

Since many people were leaving early the next morning to either go home or move on to their next destinations, we said our goodbyes at the restaurant. It was a great group of people overall, and I had an excellent time with them.

However, as an exhausted introvert, I was SO excited to have a few days completely alone and to go to a quieter area of the city.

I took one last late night stroll over to the Colosseum before heading back to the hotel and to bed.

colosseum at night

Total distance walked: 12.9km

The breakfast spread at our hotel in Rome was AMAZING!! Literally tables and tables filled with food. There were all kinds of delicious pastries (my favourite being the chocolate croissants), buns, meats, cheeses, cereal, granola, yoghurt, fruit, eggs, smoked salmon & cream cheese (!!!), toast, and the list goes on. That doesn’t even include the two tables of drinks – milks, juices, teas, coffee and hot chocolate. What a feast!

This morning was one of our later starts (8:30am), so it was lovely to have a relaxed pace to start the day. It was nice to linger over some coffee and chat with people.

Our guide this day was Francesca. I need to take a moment to rave about her, because she is AMAZING!!!! She is so passionate about the city, and her love for history and Rome is so evident. She had me in tears most of the day because she just made everything come alive in such a touching and incredible way. I cannot speak highly enough of her. If you ever go on a Rick Steves tour of Rome, and are lucky enough to have her as your local guide, you are in for a HUGE treat! She’s the best.

Ahem. Now that I’m done gushing, onto the day.

Our first stop was in the Basilica di San Clemente. Unfortunately no photos were allowed here, but it was an incredible place! There are basically 3 levels of Rome (at this point) under this place. The current church was built around 1100, the level below that is another basilica from around the 4th century, and the bottom layer is a Roman nobleman’s house that was destroyed in the fire of 64 AD. SO fascinating!!

The thing about Rome is that it’s a city of layers, and more and more keep getting discovered. Many many centuries ago, when a building was destroyed, there weren’t bulldozers or technology like that to completely raze the site and start over. So instead the building would be filled with dirt and the structure would be stabilized, and they’d build something on top of it. Hence, the many, many layers of buildings. It’s unbelievable to think about the many layers of history in just ONE building, let alone the entire city! There are probably many more layers below that haven’t been discovered yet.

After a short coffee break, we headed over to the Colosseum. Right across from there is the ruins of a Gladiator school.

gladiator school

There was an underground entrance from the school into the Colosseum, so that the gladiators didn’t have to go up in public.

Finally we were at the Colosseum. It is an amazing and absolutely horrific place. I may or may not have been in tears almost the entire time that Francesca was talking about the history of the place.

colosseum1

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colosseum2

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colosseum3

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colosseum4

After we were done in there, we walked across to the Roman Forum. This was probably the most meaningful and exciting part of the day for me. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here or not, but I’ve been reading a series of incredible books called The Masters of Rome by Colleen McCullough. I don’t even want to remember how many years it’s taken me to get through these massive books. Each one is well over 1000 pages each, so I’ve taken my time in reading them. I’ll sometimes put them down for months and months at a time, so it’s been years. Anyway, these books all take place in ancient Rome, and now I was finally standing in the places that I’ve read so much about. It was incredibly awe-inspiring to see these buildings in person. They’re thousands of years old, yet there are portions of them still standing. WOW. I just could not stop crying, it was so moving.

columns

Incredible columns

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vestal virgins

House of the Vestal Virgins

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cremation site

Where Julius Caesar was cremated

Francesca left us after we were done at the Forum. I made sure to speak with her for a few minutes and thank her profusely for making my experience so meaningful and amazing. She grasped my hand, looked me in the eyes, and said that she could tell the moment she saw me that I was someone who really understood and appreciated the history of the place, and that people like me are what keeps her motivated and loving what she does. Well, I just lost it again. What an incredible woman!!

We now had free time for the rest of the day. I decided to walk up to the Palatine Hill with another woman from the group so that we could get a better view of the place from above.

forum1

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forum2

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me

Sarah had said that there would be an optional visit to the top of the Vittoriano for anybody who wanted to go. Even though I’m terrified of heights, my motto for this trip was “just say yes!,” so I joined the group who was going. It was worth it!

vittoriano1

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vittoriano2

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vittoriano3

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vittoriano4

A small group of us decided that since we were tired from a busy day in the HOT HOT sun (it was hovering in the mid 30s celsius for these days), we were going to all chip in for a taxi ride back to the hotel. When you have 4 people in a cab, a €12 ride becomes much more reasonable. Plus, it was a whole heck of a lot faster (and less sweatier) than walking!

I felt so disgusting by the time I got back to the hotel that I had a nice cool shower, which helped immensely. I had a short little nap then went downstairs to have a few drinks.

For dinner tonight I went to a place nearby called Luzzi, which had been recommended. The food was simple yet delicious.

After I was done eating dinner, I walked over to the Colosseum to see it at dusk. It was so beautiful and quiet, with hardly anyone around.

colosseum at dusk

Total distance walked: 9.6km

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