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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Both Ends of the Spectrum

Hello people!

Today has been a defining day in our trip. We expected to have a good time during the trip; we expected to encounter some problems.

Both of these things happened. And both on a fucking ridiculous scale.

When we woke up this morning, we didn't have an inkling of what we were going to be faced with. In hindsight, we couldn't even really plan for it. But we've had to deal with it, and the trip continues.

Lesson 1: Shit happens.

I'm hoping that today is one of those days that we'll look back on and laugh. That's what i usually try and think about when problems occur. Let's hope I'm right!

So the majority of the day was spent in Rome. We are currently in Milan where we are spending the night to bridge the gap between Rome and Geneva (Switzerland). We still had plenty of stuff to do in Rome, as you will see, and tomorrow we're leaving early-ish for Geneva. Exciting!

So that was a brief outline and context of today in terms of the whole trip. Let's go into more detail shall we? Believe me, it's worth it.


So we woke up for the last time in our hostel in Rome at about 9-ish I think. We'd planned to get up earlier seeing as breakfast started at 8, but as is usual recently, we overslept.

This didn't matter though. The breakfast consists of toast, biscuits, cereal and French toast (as well as coffee, as Sam reminds me) all of which are replenished regularly.

We absolutely STUFFED ourselves for the second day running at breakfast. We'd also bought a big yoghurt to share from a supermarket the night before which was in the hostel fridge, so we ate all of this too. What a breakfast.

We were joined again by a German couple who are staying in the hostel. They are very friendly and have travelled A LOT (they even know remote parts of Switzerland, which is a good sign) so they have given us good advice and we've had a good time talking about our respective experiences.

We wished each other a pleasant journey, and then I got in the shower. We had to check out by 11am; I think it was 9am at this point.


By the time I got out, Sam had already packed most of our stuff and he was forced to have a quick shower (LOL, gutted). But in the end we more or less made check-out in time, and the friendly owner-person said farewell, and we thanked her for not stealing all of our shit.

Next stop: Roma Termini train station. As we had nowhere to store our fucking huge rucksacks, and we were planning on doing quite a bit in Rome today, we decided to keep them in the left luggage area of the station. It was cheap and as we needed to get back there to get our train to Milan at 6pm, it was in a convenient place too,

We dropped all of our stuff off. And then we realised we hadn't made a proper plan of what we were going to do for the remainder of our time in Rome. Smart.

Luckily, we'd already proposed areas that we'd LIKE to visit earlier, and this became the plan.

So first stop: Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain is a nice fountain. One of our knowledgeable people recommended it. So this is what we had to go on.

We got the tube to the nearest metro station to the fountain (whilst simultaneously meeting an Australian tourist who didn't know her way to the Vatican, so we showed her...noob!) and after spending about 10 minutes working out how to read the fucking map, we walked down there.

By the way, the temperature was FUCKING INSANE. It must have been 30 degrees. It was completely sunny and everything, but unlike yesterday there wasn't much wind. So everywhere we went we were looking for shade.

We found the fountain. WOW.

It was certainly the most ornate fountain I've ever seen.

The sun was blinding and reflected off like all of the surfaces, so we didn't want to stay exposed for too long. We got some decent photos though.

If only you could swim!

After we'd had our fill of fountain, the next place to go was the Pantheon, which was just a few roads away. Check out that last-minute route planning!!

We saw this interesting place on the way:

When we got to the Pantheon and its associated square, there was a ridiculous amount of police and we also heard very loud speakers playing music somewhere in the vicinity. So that was a bit weird. But then we saw this:

There was another Egyptian obelisk!

And when we went to enter the Pantheon, we realised what the cause of the music and police was...there was an anti-austerity protest around the outside of the building (or as Sam calls it, the 'colonade' of the building...the bit between the door and the outside where there are columns). So that was interesting.

For those of you who don't know, the Pantheon is a temple built by the Romans for 'all gods' (i.e 'Pan' - all... as in PANorama, PANdemic etc., 'Theon' - from 'theo' meaning 'gods', i.e. THEology, THEistic etc. - this may not be exact! This is from Greek by the way). So I suppose it was kind of appropriate that the protest was there, in a place where different points of view are given equal footing.

The inside is more impressive than the outside:

Let there be light!

Light beamzzzz

The main altar area.

We spent about half an hour in here. It was quite serene, despite the tourists...I imagine that it would probably be quite a good place just to sit and think. It was free to get into too!

After this, the plan was to visit the Roman forum and the inside of the Colosseum. We saw a small part of the forum on the first night, as well as the outside of the Colosseum, but we knew that it would be very interesting and would say a lot about the history of Rome during the time of the Roman empire if we properly visited it. So we headed back towards the Trevi fountain metro station.

On the way, we saw a sign for an architecture exhibition, which obviously caught the eye of Sam, so we walked around the block to find it and went inside.

Sam was in his element and got plenty of inspiration from it; I quite liked some of the ideas that these people had.

Here are a couple of pictures that Sam took of people's drawings:

My legs were aching quite a bit at this point too, so for a lot of it I was sitting down in a dark room watching some film about how one of the drawings was done. At least I was sitting down.

So we then made our way back to the Trevi fountain tube station and got the tube to 'Colosseo'.

We'd seen on the first day that you could get a ticket for the Forum AND the inside of the Colosseum. We checked with a nearby tourist information place and they said that we could get it at the entrance to the Forum across the road. Nice.

When we got to the ticket office, there was practically no queue which was brilliant. And when we got the tickets, we found out that we were eligible for a lower price because we are 'EU citizens aged between 16 and 25'. Result!

So we payed 15 euros for both of us and headed into the Forum.

After walking in, Sam came up with the idea of getting one of the audioguides (which were 5 euros), and then he could relay the information to me, saving money. And we would get to learn a lot more about the history of the place. So this is what we did.

So the Forum area itself is an area of Rome that was excavated from the 19th century onwards, revealing a number of important and impressive Roman remains. This would have been the political centre of Rome during the time of the Roman empire.

I think the best way to go through this is through another photo tour...

This is a basilica with parts of the columns still remaining in place! You can really see the shape of the building and picture it there today.

The original steps to the basilica.

Original Roman columns that were part of the basilica. Amazing.

Now, there is something really strange but kind of cool about this place. There is Roman shit EVERYWHERE. Random bits of column; bits of patterned stone like this one. And you can sit on them! This was a particularly good place to sit as it was in the shade. YOU CAN SIT ON HISTORY.

More impressive design on a part of a column.

Looking over towards a nearby church from the Forum area.

A Roman frieze in the Forum museum thing, from the site.

Glass artefacts from the site...incredible how well they've been preserved.

The Arch of Septimus Severus. It was built in the 10th century, making it one of the newest additions to the Forum area. It marked Severus' accession to the throne (I found out that last part from the internet)

The fucking stones we had to walk on the whole time. These are the original stones that the Romans would have walked on. I pity them.

Here are a couple of trees. An olive tree and a fig tree.

What makes them interesting is that they are ORIGINAL trees that were planted during the period of the Roman empire. What the fuck!

A column dedicated to Niceforo Foca, the Roman emperor that gave the Pantheon to one of the popes in the 600s. Source: INTERNET.

Looking over the Basilica Julia and the columns from a temple. The basilica was built in dedication of Julius Caesar. It is incredible how much of it has survived and how the shape of it is still there. All of the steps are too, and according to the audioguide, some of them have Roman graffiti on from where kids drew stuff for games like marbles.

One of the most impressive parts of the Forum - columns from the Temple of Saturn. So well preserved.

The Basilica Julia can see the shape!

Now this was amazing. I walked past this before we got the audioguide and I didn't really know what it was, so I was just like 'fuck it'. But then Sam told me that it is only the place where JULIUS CAESAR WAS FUCKING CREMATED. WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?

This is the EXACT spot where the cremation happened. So surreal? Maybe if you breath in the dust hard enough, you could inhale a bit of Julius Caesar...

This is the Round Temple of Vesta, which apparently was looked after by virgins. Women who looked after the temple, which contained a scared flame, had to be virgins for at least 30 years, and then they could marry and have children. Also, these women were given the right to not be controlled by men (lol) and could suspend death sentences. Cheers audioguide!

According to the audioguide, this was part of the university of the area. Looks pretty nice.

These pictures are from the Via Sacra, which was originally a path crossed by some victorious Roman leader. It's now a sort of garden.

All the statues/wells/columns are original!

So this was pretty much the extent of the Forum. It is an incredible place, I hope I've done it at least a bit of justice with the photos. When you're there, you can really visualise how the area fitted together. We wished we could have had more time there but we had a train to catch to Milan after the Colosseum. Still, fucking awesome place. 

To get to the Colosseum from here, which was our next stop, there was a road straight through from the Forum (Roman, of course). Here are some pictures we took along this road:

A thing, not sure what it is but looks old and important.

Current excavations going on! We saw them brushing the stone and shit.

An arch built by a Roman emperor to celebrate a victory (surprise surprise).

More original Roman columns.

We entered the Colosseum with our tickets and saw the queue for people who didn't have glad we got our tickets earlier at the Forum!

So this is what you see after entering through one of the outside arches.

Pretty amazing.

We then climbed a couple of sets of original steps to get to the upper part of the stadium.

And we looked out over the Colosseum.

What a sight.

And this is what people in Roman times would have looked like when watching spectacles!

This place is unreal. It reminds you a lot of a modern stadium, and you realise how much our modern stadiums are based on these early principles.

But then you see all the arches and stuff and you're like 'Roman people were actually standing here, watching shit'...and it's difficult to comprehend.

Here's more stuff:

The arch by the Colosseum...from the Colosseum. You can look out over the whole stadium vicinity.

The lower section from the upper tier.

Sammy on the upper tier.

Me on the upper tier.

Arches, patterns and stuff.

A crucifix in the lower part of the stadium.

Random columns in the bit connecting the outside of the stadium to the inside. Again, people sit on them!

Now, you may be wondering why there's loads of random shit where the FLOOR should be. You can see in the background a modern wooden floor...this is what it was like in Roman times too. A retractable wooden floor was put in place for gladiatorial contests and other stuff. In these random bits that you can see, the Romans used to flood it for certain spectacles such as acrobatic displays, and also they used to keep dangerous animals there for other types of shows.

So this was the Colosseum!

Considering that our ticket covered the Forum and the Colosseum, 15 euros was fucking amazing. Totally worth it for a brilliant experience. What an interesting place.

So with this done, we needed to get back to Roma Termini train station to pick up our left luggage, so that was two stops on the tube.

We got there and paid the money for our luggage, and then went to see what platform our train to Milan was on.

We found it and got on the train. Strangely, we were in a 3-seater (we were by the doors so the seats had to be awkwardly positioned),but there was no one in the third seat! Yay!

It was a really nice 3-hour train ride. We saw a lot of picturesque Italian countryside, and I used the opportunity to play very loud music for 2 of those 3 hours. My ears needed nourishment.

We got to Milano Centrale, the main station in Milan (which we'd been in before on our way to Venice). From here, to get to our hostel we had to get on the metro for about three stops, but it wasn't hard. The Milan tube systems is pretty sick.

When we got off at our stop in Milan, Sam had directions on his iPhone that we had to follow to get to the hostel. It was like 9.30pm at this point, so we REALLY didn't want another 3-hour hunt for a hostel that we didn't have good directions for.

Thankfully, we left the tube station at a good exit - Sam recognised the shape of the road from the map straight away.

We followed all the directions and we got to the hostel within 15 minutes. That's how you do it.

We checked in with a Chinese man at reception (he was the hostel owner). He was very friendly and helpful, but we didn't understand each other at times, which caused delays.

We also found out that you had to pay for the wifi and towels (for fuck's sake), which are generally free. We needed wifi, so we payed for this, and we payed for one towel because we have one with us.

We went up to our room and settled in.

Now, this is where DISASTER stuck.

Sometimes the smallest and seemingly least important things can be the things that make or break a trip like this.

The European to British plug adapter.

We hadn't considered it AT ALL so far in the holiday, but we realised too late how the use of practically all of our electronic devices hinges on this adapter. The netbook, the iPhone, my iPod, Sam's camera.

It fucking broke.

There was only one European socket in the room, next to the TV. Sam plugged it in with my netbook adapter attached and saw a spark in the socket where my adapter was.

What the fuck.

Sam told me what happened. The light on the plug adapter that shows when power is going through it wasn't turned on. When we plugged our devices in, none of their lights turned on and nothing would charge.

We took out the adapter and plugged in the room's TV. It worked.


The adapter had broken.

It took about half a minute before it dawned on us the scale of what happened. We couldn't charge ANYTHING. After their battery lives ran out, there would be no netbook or anything.

The only things we had a chance of charging were the iPhone, iPod and my camera because they could be charged via USB, but we'd have to find a computer first. And this was by no means certain.

I completely flipped. I couldn't get my head around it. I kept 'Oh my god' and 'What the fuck' over and over again. Sam actually kept calm, but I really couldn't deal with the situation.

What about the blog? What if we needed to contact people back home? Manage our money? Book hostels?

The whole trip was lying in the balance, and this is not being dramatic, this was the situation.

Sam sat me down and we thought through things logically. What did we need to do with the remaining battery life we had?

We made a plan. First thing: tell our most important contacts what was going on. Next, book as many upcoming hostels as possible for as cheap as possible within the time. Then, get more money on the card in case we couldn't do it at any point during the rest of the trip.

These were the most important things.

I turned on the netbook and out the brightness as low as it would go. I saw that I had about 1 hour 20 minutes of battery life remaining.

We worked tirelessly. We managed to book 3 hostels  for Switzerland (one at a ridiculous price, but it was the only one available and we didn't have time to check more). We contacted the people we needed to. As some of you will know, I posted what the situation was on Facebook. We sorted out what was going on with the money.

And then the power ran out.

Sam's iPhone still had about 66% of battery remaining, so he turned it off. It was essential to have it in case of emergency.

We then went through what we were going to do about the problem. I was still a bit hysterical at this point. I was a bit sunburnt from earlier (why we didn't put sun cream on i do not know) and loads of stuff was building up.

We outlined all the possible outcomes.

The best: we find a new adapter in Milan train station before we get our train to Geneva.
The worst: we live on what we have and use computers in hostels if they have them.

We tried asking the hostel owner if he had an adapter by chance, but he didn't. He didn't have any tools to over the adapter up (perhaps we could solve the problem?), but he said he could bring some in the morning. We thanked him for this, and he said he would bring them to us at 9 o'clock in the morning.

Then, there was nothing else we could really do.

I wrote up the beginning of this post in Sam's notebook, but obviously without pictures and stuff it became a bit difficult.

The bed beckoned.


So, this is Jack writing from Lausanne, Switzerland, on 16th June. This was the post that would have been posted on 14th June.

Obviously, the problem has been resolved now. I'll tell you about that in the next post; it's best to keep the blog structure as separate days.

So yeah, this was a fucking crazy day. We had the BEST time in Rome, so it was very depressing what happened to us in Milan. But it's an experience we've learnt from an dealt with now, and, as I said in this post, we can now look back on the situation and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.

I hope the post has been interesting for you, it was one of the most interesting days so far for us.

So, that's two of the three posts done! I'll try and get the third post done tonight, if not tomorrow morning. And then we'll be more or less back on track.

So stay tuned for more, and thank you for reading!

Jack - 16/6/12 - 23:11 in Lausanne, 22:11 in the UK.

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