Our last full day of vacation. We got up early on tuesday, with this knowledge hanging heavy over our heads. The only answer was, of course, to make it a day to remember!
We began with a search for breakfast. For two weeks, we had been staying at hotels that provided breakfast, but not this time. We were determined to breakfast the Italian way today! As I understand it, Italians are generally in a hurry in the morning. They eat breakfast standing at the bar, sipping espresso drinks and eating croissants wrapped in paper, talking animatedly to their neighbors.
Walking toward the train station, we found a little bakery/cafe on the corner. We entered the cafe, and it was pure chaos. To our right was a bar, lined with Italians in business clothes. To our left was a bakery window filled with lots of tasty-looking treats, also mobbed by Italians waving receipts and pointing to pastries.
We both hovered in the doorway, uncertain where to go first, whose attention to seek, nor how to ask for what we wanted. There was a cash register at the door, and the woman running it asked, "Croissant?"
"Si...." I said uncertainly, glancing about at the pastries and the confusion.
I think at this point she decided that we weren't capable of taking our breakfast the Italian way, so she offered us menus and a table for two. We were led to the back of the cafe, where they had a little restaurant area with tables and wait staff. Clearly this was where the tourists ate. Embarrassed but relieved, we sat down and looked at our menu.
We paid a ridiculous amount of money to have a waitress bring us a couple of chocolate croissants and coffees, but we didn't have to deal with the chaos in front. I felt somewhat uncomfortable, because I prefer to do things the local way when possible. But without much language or understanding, it would have been a challenge! After watching, here is how I believe it is done: you tell the cashier what you want, and pay her. She gives you receipts for pastry and coffee, then you take each receipt to the appropriate counter (starting with the bakery), fight your way to the front, and request the item you paid for. The coffee is drunk from little ceramic cups at the bar; there is little-to-no concept of a "to go" cup in Italy.
After our failure at breakfasting like they do in Rome, it was time to try taking the Roman subway. We had reserved this day to see Vatican City, or Popeapalooza as I liked to call it. The Vatican was far enough from our hotel that a subway ride seemed like the quickest way to get there.
The subway in Rome is a lot like my general impression of Italians: loud, fast, insane, and exciting. You must do things their way, or not at all. Once we'd figured out how to buy tickets and where to go, we boarded a train. There were more people who wanted to board the train, when it was ready to leave. The bell sounded, and the doors closed.
On most trains, if you get stuck in the door it won't crush you. Apparently not in Rome though! A guy thrust his hand in, trying to leap on at the last second. The doors closed on his wrist -- now they didn't actually chop off his hand, so I guess they must have released pressure a tiny bit when encountering resistance. But they certainly didn't open. They hit the guy's hand hard enough to break the clasp on his watch, and he snatched his hand back in pain. His watch fell down onto the tracks, the doors slammed shut, and the train roared away. The man was left standing in shock, watching us leave, holding his wrist.
So we learned an important lesson that day: never try to delay the subway in Rome.
Eventually, we arrived in Vatican City. Standing in St. Peter's Square in front of the St. Peter's Basilica was pretty amazing. There are two arcade-type things, called Colonnades -- they have massive columns that curve around the square (actually it's oval-shaped). There are statues of saints lining the Colonnades, and a huge obelisk in the center. (Because, for some reason, Europeans love obelisks.)
( read more of the LAST FULL DAY... )