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Day 11 - May 9, 2005 - Florence, Italy to Rome, Italy

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For a surprising first, after over a week of the tour, this was the first day in which I don't remember when I woke up.  Vince was nowhere in sight that morning, and the tee shirt design that we volunteered to design was due later that day, when we arrived in Rome.  This meant that I had to do it by myself that morning.  I went to breakfast a little early and surprisingly came up with a pretty decent design in little time.  It was a circular map of Europe, with an illustration of our coach driving through the map, leaving ripped edges.  Making up the perimeter of the map were the names of all ten countries we would be visiting while on tour.  It was an effective design and seemed to be well liked by the group.  I was also able to fit in a quick breakfast with James, Kim, Yvonne, Freddy, Olivia and Kent.
 
After departing for Rome, a highly anticipated stop by everyone on the tour, the first stop was a rest stop somewhere in the Italian countryside.  Matt and I bought, at an astronomically low price, huge 1 liter cans of a beer called Faux.  It seemed as if it would be the worst beer in the entire continent.  However, the price and the reaction of our tour mates made it more than worth it.  We did not drink them then though, and we saved them for later that night.
 
After what was a relatively short drive, we arrived at a train station in the outskirts of Rome.  It was a very nice, clean, modern, double decker train.  For me, it was exactly the way I imagined European train travel to be.  We took the train to a certain stop and then transferred onto the Metro.  When the subway train pulled up, we all burst out in laughter.  The entire train was completely engulfed in graffiti.  Virtually every square inch was covered.  You couldn't even see through the windows.  After little time in Rome, I will forever associate graffiti with that city.  It now makes complete sense to me why graffiti is an Italian word.  It was ridiculously out of control.  Anyway, we took the subway to the center of Rome and, to our delight, exited right across the street from the Colosseum.  The clash of eras between the adjacent Colosseum and Metro was extremely noticeable.

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THE ROMAN METRO REDEFINES "GRAFFITI"

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RIDING THE METRO

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SOME OLD BUILDING

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OKAY, OKAY... IT'S THE COLLOSEUM

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A MUCH NEEDED REST

My usual group of Vince, James, Myungsoo, Kim, Yvonne, Kent, Freddy, and Olivia gathered together and we all headed to the Colloseum.  There was a fairly high entrance fee but I don't think anyone thought twice about going in.  It was incredible in there.  The ambience of that place is indescribable.  I'm pretty sure I took more pictures of the Colloseum than any other individual site on the whole trip.  The restrooms there, however, are probably among the worst I have ever experienced.  Take care of business before you go in.  Aside from that, I could've spent all day there.  We had a lengthy conversation about how amazing it would've been to go there in its heyday.  The Colloseum is one of the best examples of a place that really requires your presence to fully grasp its beauty.  Pictures and descriptions are inexplicably inferior, while being there gives you an entirely different perspective.

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IN THE CORRIDOR OF THE COLLOSEUM

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INTERIOR SHOT

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INSIDE THE COLLOSEUM

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DAMN AWESOME

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DAMN AWESOME AT EVERY ANGLE

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MORE

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AND MORE

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ANOTHER

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ME

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ON THE WAY OUT

We were pretty hungry after exiting the Colloseum and we had a few minutes to kill before our walking tour began.  Without time limitations, we probably would have searched for some pizza or even a restaurant.  However, the only thing we could find in the time we had was a hot dog stand.  I think there was also a McDonalds.  By the way, I was still going strong with zero fast food restaurant visits.  What happened next was rather clever and ingenious on my part, and probably unethical as well.  The hot dogs, which were huge, were €3.50.  Vince ordered something else that cost €1.50.  While charging all of us at the same time, he became confused as to what I ordered.  I hoped he would confuse my order with Vince's, so I quickly muttered, "1.50, right?"  I then handed over my €1.50 and there was no response.  I apprehensively walked away.  Everyone knew exactly what I was doing except for the vendor.  I felt guilty but I justified it for myself as I thought of the Florentine street gambling and the fact that it cost the guy less than €1.50 to produce the hot dog in the first place.
 
We then met up with the rest of our group for our guided walking tour.  Prior to the trip, I had read a lot about the ancient Romans, the Colloseum, and Rome in general.  For this reason, I found the walking tour to be uninformative and generally geared for people who didn't research the city.  I found the facts I didn't know to be trivial and uninteresting.  While I still didn't get the early night's sleep I had needed, my fatigue became evident.  Luckily, our tour guide, an Italian woman in her upper 60s, didn't notice me.  She did notice some of my tour mates who were also on the verge of dozing off though and threatened them with a machine gun that she said she had in her pockets.  It was humorous to see a 5 foot tall, 65 year old lady threaten us with a machine gun.  Our tour proceeded around the Colloseum, through the adjacent Roman ruins, and it concluded at some sort of Italian government building.

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ROMAN RUINS

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CLOSE UP

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MORE RUINS

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AND MORE

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THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT BUILDING

There we met Rex for yet another walking tour.  I was not happy to hear this as I was definitely not in the mood for another one.  My aforementioned optimistic motivation to see and do as much as I possibly could while on the trip was really put to the test that day.  I made the best of it and, in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't just sit down and wait for the group to finish.
 
Rex' tour went to the Pantheon first.  The Pantheon is a huge, circular temple built for all the gods in Roman mythology.  The most unique thing about the Pantheon is, of course, the large opening in the ceiling.  While we were there, almost half of the interior was covered in scaffolding.  Other than the dome of the Duomo, this was the only historic building that was blanketed in scaffolding so far.  Two out of dozens isn't that bad of luck if you ask me.

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STREET SHOT

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THE PANTHEON

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INSIDE THE PANTHEON

After the Pantheon, we went to the Spanish Steps.  This is, simply put, a bunch of steps that lead up to what used to be the Spanish embassy.  This tourist attraction, in my opinion, was the Piccadilly Square of Rome; dull and overrated.  Now, the steps (for some random reason, I think they number 160, but that's probably incorrect) are for single people to sit and meet other single people.  Some jokes were circulated that a select few from our group would use their entire free day of Rome the next day to sit on the steps and pick up the locals.  To protect the innocent, no names will be mentioned.  Near the Spanish Steps, I noticed an American Express.  I had yet to cash my travelers cheques, so I planned on doing so the next day to take advantage of the low exchange rates.

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THE SPANISH STEPS

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WALKING UP THE SPANISH STEPS

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FROM THE TOP

After the Spanish Steps, we had the privelege (sarcasm) of a "one hour walkabout dinner."  This meant, similar to our Florentine dinner, locating a restaurant and eating in an ungodly short amount of time.  We had one hour to find a restaurant, order, eat, pay, and meet the group.  While still with the group I was with at the Colloseum, we managed to find a decent restaurant rather quickly, with immediate seating.  I remember there was either no cover charge, or a very cheap cover charge.  I ordered lasagna, which was extremely tasty, but very small.  I wanted to order another, but I didn't think I'd have enough time, despite being told it would only take 3 or 4 minutes.  Most of the people I was with told me to get another, so I did.  It took at least 20 minutes to get my second piece of lasagna.  When I finally did, Myungsoo still didn't get his first order of spaghetti.  I think there was one other person who still didn't get their initial meal either. 
 
We were concerned that we would miss the group.  Since James had finished his meal, we decided that he would go meet the group and find out where to meet to catch the train and at what time.  We would miss the rest of Rex' walking tour, but I don't think anyone minded all that much.  We didn't really have a choice anyway.  Right after he left, everyone else got their meals.  They ate very quickly, we paid very quickly and then we were given a free shot of something.  I took James' shot and Myungsoo offered me his as well.  We hurried back to the meeting spot to see if we could catch the group, making sure to stay on the same roads, so James didn't get back to an empty restaurant.  The entire group was coincidentally walking our way.  We eventually walked right past our restaurant.  If only we knew that the whole time.
 
Next, we went to the Trevi Fountain.  Before I was actually there, I didn't really understand the appeal of the Trevi Fountain itself, much less the superstition.  The superstition guarantees you different fortunes for throwing different amounts of coins into the fountain, ranging from falling in love in Rome to returning to Rome someday.  Yes, I know, it sounds like a sham.  However, the fountain was quite a site.  The ornate detail of the sculptures surrounding the water was worth the time there.  I also purchased my very first Italian gelati with James.  This would mark the first of literally dozens of gelati I would consume in the next four days.  Simply put, Italian ice cream annihilates American ice cream.

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THE TREVI FOUNTAIN

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AND AGAIN

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THE AMAZING GELATI

After enjoying our dessert, we proceeded back to the graffiti ridden subway, then back to the inversely immaculate high speed train, and then eventually back to the coach to head to the campsite.
 
We didn't actually arrive at the campsite until 9:00 pm, the latest of any arrival of the whole tour.  This was a result of a short drive, which led into a long day in the city.  Because of the late arrival, I planned to finally get my early night's sleep.  I figured there couldn't be much going on after arriving at this time, especially since most of the tour went to sleep around 10 or 11 each night anyway.
 
The campsite in Rome was mediocre.  Then again, we knew it would fall short to the Florentine campsite.  I roomed with Steve.  Shortly after getting settled in, we took a walk to a picnic area, complete with a restaurant, bar, and convenience store.  We sat and chatted with Rex, Scotti, Dale, and Siraj.

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OUR CAMPSITE OUTSIDE OF ROME

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MY CABIN

Nothing against them or anything, but I never really felt in the loop with their group from the tour.  So I left and went to the bar at 10:00.  I was just going to have a quick drink and then get to bed by 10:30.  You can predict that my early night was starting to become null and void, can't you?  I learned that they were having happy hour from 10 until 11, which included two beers for the price of one.  Since I was already staying until 10:30, I figured staying until 11 wouldn't make much of a difference.  So the new plan was to stay until 11.  I spent the time chatting with various people.  Rex and I talked some more.  I met Lauren, an Australian, from the Escapade tour.  I spent some time with Nelson, from New Zealand, who was from my tour.  He was on the tour with his girlfriend, Nicole.  They were really nice people and I remember wondering why it took me eleven days to really get to know them.  Before I knew it, it was 11:30.  Right as I was planning on leaving for my "early night," they told me I have to stay until midnight for the free pasta.  I was pretty hungry, so I had to stay.  However, I got caught up in conversation and completely missed the free pasta.  Do you see how easily 10:00 turns into 12:30?  Before I knew it, Matt, Neil and I were the only ones left from our tour.  I went to bed at 12:30 for yet another not so early night.

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LEONI, KALE, ME, NICOLE AND NELSON AT SOMEONE'S CABIN

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CROWD SHOT AT THE CAMPSITE BAR

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ME AND REX