If there was one place on this planet I never thought I'd be, it would be standing on the grounds of the Roman Forum. But there I was this past November, standing before the Rostra completely dumbfounded. The words of Cicero playing in my head, the pain at seeing what was left of it, wishing desperately to either be Marty Mcfly (for time traveling reasons yo) or a cat (for their ability to go where humans cannot--damn our destructive and pilfering nature).
In this post I'll tell y'all about the absolute wonder of seeing three Italian cities (Pisa, Florence, and Rome) in two days. So here we go, crossing the Rhine (figuratively of course, as the only body of water I crossed was the Ligurian Sea).
chapter 1: pisa
Nicole and I made it to Porte Malliot with the world still a damp blue and caught a bus to Aéroport Beauvais (BVA). This airport bares a striking resemblance to a warehouse (tbh not entirely convinced that it is not one and is simply masquerading as an airport). It has a whooping total of two gates, which made it rather difficult to find our flight, and a tiny duty-free store that stocks Chanel.
We disembarked the plane and discovered, to my eternal chagrin, that our passports have once again both not been not asked for and not stamped. *cue dramatic sigh* I realize two things, next: #1 romance languages do not translate as easily as I'd imagined they would and #2 water is copiously excreting from the sky. Let me take this moment to tell you a little fun fact about Nicole, she and rain really just can't handle each other. Honestly, it is really best if they don't interact with each other.
Thus, if this was a movie: the camera would flint to a shot of two American girls wired and racing, backpacks flopping from side-to-side, through the cobblestoned streets of Pisa battling this sporadic and epic downpour of water whilst trying to remain under the protection of a one-person 3€ rainbow umbrella. The scene would do a slow creep segment of the Leaning Tower, which indeed, is really quite astounding in its ability to remain upright. I think in total we'd spent about an hour in Pisa before boarding a bus to Florence. Long enough to see the Tower, grab a canoli, and catch a bus.
The good stuff: A scarf was purchased for 5€ (#score). Pisa resembled Nice so much it was a little triply. I was seriously digging its buildings and their varying hues of reds, yellows, greens, and off-whites.
chapter 2: florence
By 1pm Nicole and I were boarding a bus bound for Florence. During the hour or so bus ride I did a total of two things, #1 combed the matted mess that had been my hair before the rain claimed it and #2 ogled the handsome man sitting in the seat in front of us. Not much excitement there.
The first thing we saw in Florence was the church, Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. I was irrevocably stupefied. There I stood, before this massive structure that stretched so far into the air, above and around me, that its construction seemed to be improbable. A church known for its marble walls and bronze doors. The city that saw the birth of the Renaissance.
By 3:30pm I was eating another canoli and learning from an old Italian man the proper way to accentuate the 'double r' in vorrei, which is in no way pronounced as it's spelling suggests it would be. From the small shop we wandered to Galleria dell'Accademia to see Michelangelo's David. In which museum there is an entire rather large, room dedicated solely to Roman busts. Seriously an impressive collection.
After this we ate more, this time gelato. This trip was honestly more of a "Anna Eats Every Hour While in Italy." But the gelato. *wail of withdraw* Let's pause here. Because goodness did Florence have the most amazing food I've had in Europe thus far. While in Florence I had a cannoli, two gelatos, a huge plate of pasta, and a rich chocolate tarte/cake/cookie thing.
We strolled along the Arno River as the city sparkled with lights and nightlife, licking my gelato and loving so desperately every sight around me. And then something dreadful happened... Nicole tripped and fell shattering her iPhones screen. And this is how the night ended, Nicole hobbling to our hostel cradling her function yet severely damaged phone.
chapter 3: rome
The next morning, we woke up the at 8am, jumped on the first train we could find leaving Florence toward Rome and made our first stop our hotel to drop off our stuff. What an adorable hotel that was, so quant with blue and white tiles as a bed frame and complementary chocolates. I do love free chocolates.
I'm going to preface this story by saying, first and foremost: Trying to see all of Rome in one day is impossible. Word for the wise: if you've given yourself just a day in Rome, 1) rethink this option, 2) if you've decided you want to do this, then, resolve yourself to the fact that you will have to breeze by some things. Accept this and the day will become more relaxed because doing Rome in a day is possible if you have a clear idea of the things you HAVE to see.
In the warmth of a soft 75 degree sun Nicole and I set out to conquer the sights. It's notable to mention that at this except moment in Paris, the weather was a crisp 35 degrees. We found the Trevi Fountain first, threw a coin in and made a wish I won't spoil. From the Trevi fountain and its mass of people we walked along worn cobblestones to the Pantheon. Rome is the most amazing place to be, because there's an incredibly modern metropolitan city built directly around buildings that have been there for thousands of years. The amount of times we walked by the ruins of temples that were simply just there in their eroding form across the street from a restaurant is crazy.
After a much needed gelato break, we took to the ruins. Which, to this day still brings forth a surreal feeling of otherworldliness in me. I remember we took a break to sit on a marble stone in the shade and look around. The scene you see is marble blocks that form squares and rectangles in the ground to distinguish the different rooms of a house. The marble stones are everywhere in the ruins among them grass grows and more marble for pathways wind through them. For some reason I imagined the homes of the Romans would be further away from the Forum, they are not actually all that far.
The colosseum, what to say about the colosseum. I will say that on the size is impressively intimidating. The picture of it in its epoch, red flags waving and vibrantly painted statues in the archways is really an image you can picture quite clearly while there. We ate gnocchi at a restaurant across the street, purchased more gelato and stumbled upon an obelisk stolen by the Romans from Egypt.
My experience in Rome was unlike anything I have felt before and it ended with the two of us eating a large greasy pizza in a hotel room.
chapter 4: the way back
This was a mission and a half and I'm not even sure how we managed to pull it off. Think James Bond and the ominous presence of a large timer ticking away. Start time: 2 hours. Go.
Two hours to get from BVA, roughly 50 miles northwest of Paris, to the 5th arrondissement where I had to present my Master's thesis to a group of distinguished professors and my peers. Not that I was feeling the pressure or anything. Word to the wise, never try and go through customs on a time crunch you will end up, as I did, cursing the red letters of a digital clock that would not stop moving forward.
From the moment we landed in BVA, we entered into dark-ops mode without the leather attire, the mission was: make the impossible possible. We were out of our sets and into the aisle of the plane before anyone had even clicked their seat belts. Unfortunately the passengers were exiting from the opposite side of the plane making us the last people off the plane and some of the last people to make it through customs. 20 minutes down the drain. Thanks world.
Once free, we rushed straight toward the bus where a ticket mishap happened, because I'm Anna and this is my life. The man scanning tickets scanned Nicole's ticket and then I unknowingly, but promptly, handed him another copy of Nicole's ticket. The scanner flashed red. So there I am speaking something that I don't feel was French and there's Nicole watching me like an amused cat because there's the man looking confused as I waved my hand about. --- If you could burn minutes like paper another 20 had just gone up in flames as the man proceeded to try and figure out why there was not enough seats for all the passengers. The answer was of course because he'd scanned my seat twice.
I bit away my nails at such an unprecedented speed. Let me just tell you. Once on the bus, I changed my shoes, combed my hair, and willed time to slow down. We arrived in Paris 30 minutes after I was set to present; however, luckily for me the other Master's students in my year have epic topics and so the presentations were running 45 minutes late.
Flinging the blue door to the Reid Hall building, I rushed to the conference room and tried to sit down as quietly as possible. I quite literally had only 2-3 minutes to spare. I was just feeling mildly settled when one of the professors was finishing up a comment on one of the students presentations. The twelve faces swung towards me. I blanched. My program director smiled encouragingly at me as I stood up and gave my presentation.
SEE A BALLET AT PALAIS GARNIER & OPÈRA BASTILLE ✗
While I've seen a total of three performances at Opéra Garnier, I was a bit hesitant to link the two opera houses together in the to-do list as I wasn't sure when I would be getting around to seeing a performance at the Bastille opera house. Luckily though my school had an extra ticket lying around for a last minute next-day performance of "Le Songe d'Une Nuit d'Été" by one of my favorite choreographers: George Balanchine. So, this afternoon I picked it up, did some light shopping (by which I mean I finally purchased a shatter proof protector screen for my already cracked screen, curse you Uber driver for dropping it while plugging it in to charge), and waited in a nearby Starbucks until 8pm rolled around.
A bit of symmetry for ya: the first Ballet I saw in Paris when I came back this year was a contemporary piece also choreographed by George Balanchine at Palais Garnier.
Palais Garnier let's be honest you're going here for the atmosphere, historical significance, and to see that chandelier that was in the Phantom of the Opera. These are not bad reasons to go and it is on the list of things one ought to do if they are to live in Paris.
Tips for any first timers:
For the love of holybelly coffee and bacon pancakes please do this. Trust me you do not want to find yourself dashing up those marble steps in a frenzy. I am notorious (can you use the word notorious if you've only done a thing thrice?) for arriving late to the opera house. Except for the last performance I saw there the marvelous Tree of Codes (I had to stand for the entire hour and a half of the performance, but it was so worth it because that piece is magic) when I tricked myself into thinking the performance was at 2:00pm instead of 2:30pm, because sure enough there I was rushing into the opera house at 2:10pm huffing and cursing myself only to find out that no the showing started at 2:30pm. I had, for once, the time to mull around and see the the gloriousness of the interior without the stress of those bonging bells propelling me up the marble steps, that I will seemingly never cease to trip on.
This is honestly just a thing. Unless you're splurging on those fancy Orchestra seats of course. But lets be real, the grad student life that has one rolling in the euros. I say discomfort because the seats are just painful but you'll accept this because it will be magic. One time ( *cough* Tree of Codes *cough*) I branched out from those Amphitheater Cat 4 seats and tried Cat 3 Loges and wound up both standing and wishing I was in one of those tiny red velvet seats with that wooden bar back that offers no support whatsoever. None.
Opèra Bastille, this place is so massive that I got lost twice trying to find my seat and then proceeded to sit in the incorrect seat.