29 February 2008

Backpack, Day 7-8: Of Giants, Geriatrics* and Gelato

*Geraitric - Of or relating to the aged or to characteristics of the aging process. (Thank you, Dictionary.com). Rome is filled with old relics and monuments.

My flight to Rome was relatively quick and painless, and I landed and was whisked through security without a cursory glance. Italy, it seems, was happy to have me, but not happy enough (sadly) to give me a real, cool stamp in my passport. It's practically invisible.

I made up for this with a myriad of digital pictures, as you will see shortly. (This is clearly just an excuse. I always take many pictures. It's who I am.)

Anyway, I shrugged into the backpack (carrying mostly books) and ran off to the train station. I had missed the train by about 2 minutes, as I was informed by the Lehman Bros. London employee who was in Italy to see his parents (jealous of Europeans. Soooo jealous.). He and I decided to share a taxi. He then proceeded to help me call my friend a few times, figure out where my friend lives, discuss route and price with the driver in Italian, and explain to me that his debit card had expired so he couldn't pay for my part of the cab ride, only his. These are the Italians that movies are made about.

When he and the cabbie dropped me off at Aaron's corner, I squealed with joy to see my old Ramah friend on some random Italian street, down the street from a pyramid (really). It was just about midnight when I arrived, so in typical Aaron style, we dropped my bags in his apartment and went off to the local bar to hang out with his friends from study abroad. After meeting a smattering of study-abroad kids, Aaron and I went back to his apartment and rested up for the next day.

Aaron and I are incapable of looking normal in pictures together.

On day 8, Aaron took me on the bus to the Colosseum, and left me to continue on to school. I went into the structure, which was really incredible. I think I was surprised at how much it was like every baseball stadium I'd ever visited, but eventually, I did integrate into my tiny little brain that of course, all baseball stadiums got their original structure ideas FROM the Colosseum. Yay for history! Woo!

Check me out, at the Colosseum!

Some friendly fellow tourists took a picture of me at one of the narrow ends of the Colosseum's ovular structure.

I am the Champion.

The Arches of the Colosseum, from the inside.

Outside the Colosseum. Pretty sweet.

I think you get the point...I went to the Colosseum.

After the Colosseum, I wandered the ancient ruins in the same area. It was pretty incredible to walk a couple of steps to see the Arch of Titus, the Palatine Hill, and the ruins of the Forum. I was a little confused by the walking tour in my tour book, probably because I had my map upside down, as most gifted children would do accidentally, but eventually I figured out where I was and what I was looking at. Basically, lots of crumbling and worn marble, and some really spectacular structures. I just don't understand how this stuff was built without cranes. And Superman. I think it also struck me how really NOTHING, even marble, lasts forever.

Really old doors. The original ones. From whenever whenever in whatever ancient century. History history history...

Hi, I'm some ruins. Hi, ruins.

Ruins and an arch. Sweet.

After the Colosseum, I walked toward the Pantheon, and didn't get lost. On my way, I was pretty hungry, so I tried my best to order a panini. The guy claimed he spoke English, and the conversation went something like this:

SBB: Do you speak English?
Guy: English? Yes.
SBB: Great! Can I get a panini with nothing in it?
Guy: But you want ham?
SBB: No ham! Just cheese and sauce.
Guy: Cheese and ketchup with ham?
SBB: No ham! No meat!
Guy: You don't want meat? Just cheese and ketchup?
SBB: No ketchup, just sauce.
Guy: No cheese?
SBB: I want cheese and sauce.
Guy: Cheese and ketchup coming up.
SBB: [Grunt]

The resulting ketchup, cheese and tomato sauce panini, while not something I would order again, was actually not half bad. After eating, I wandered across the street to some really gigantic and um, ridiculous monument that people say looks like a wedding cake. I didn't see it, and you won't either, because I couldn't get a picture that captured this so-called vision. You'll get this picture instead:

Just in case you didn't get the memo...I'm in Italy. And on the middle tier of a wedding-cake looking monument whatever something. I didn't think it looked so cakey to me. Mmmmm. Cake.

After that, I walked and walked until I found the Pantheon. The Pantheon used to be a temple to the Gods, and then it got turned into a church (naturally). Raphael's tomb is in there, and the only source of light is the occulus in the top of the MASSIVE dome. It was REALLY pretty, really cool, and I was already exhausted. You would've been, too, after that conversation with Mr. Panini.


There are lots of Egyptian obelisks in Rome. This one's outside of the Pantheon.



Raphael's Tomb. Raphael, the artist, or the Ninja Turtle? Unclear.

I walked to Piazza Navona, which has three cool fountains. One is a Bernini, and is supposed to be the focal point of the Piazza, but it's under restoration, and as a result, scaffolding. Another is also old, and another was built in the 1900s sometime -- a baby fountain (in age, not in size)!

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAaghhhhhhhhh-splat! I shouldn't have had all of those tequila shots on the Pub Crawl last night!"
(More on Pub Crawl coming soon.)
This particular fountain, which I mock, was the non-Bernini old fountain on Piazza Navona.

I took Shira's skills class, so even though this Bernini masterpiece is partially hidden, I dig it, and its scaffolding.

I wandered around the Piazza and its surrounding neighborhood for a while before meeting up with post-school Aaron. We picked up some pizza (always hungry!) before walking to the bus back to his place. We picked up some veggies to make dinner (which he did, because I am lazy and he is terrific), gelato (gelato count: 1) before going to hang out at his place. Both of us were deliriously tired, and need to just sit and do nothing, and sit and do nothing we did.

The First Gelato of Many. Whipped cream? OF course!

We did the aforementioned nothing until it was off to the gym for an Italian-American basketball game. It was fun to watch, particularly because Aaron's roommate, Jimmy, seems to levitate, Matrix style, before he actually shoots the basket. Pretty cool, although I was afraid he was going to float by me and score a three-pointer in my face. More gelato (gelato count: 2) and the ride back, and then we went to the same local pub to meet some of Aaron's friends, who are going to college in Rome for 4 years, and not just studying abroad. Interesting group, cool to talk to.

Wanna Spoon? Every gelato I got, I got with two spoons, because I always had to try a sample before deciding on flavors! (Gelato #2)
Picture taken on the Rome subway. Not nearly as nice as the Tube, and crappier than the blue-lines in NYC, it was still a subway. This made me happy.

We went back to sleep soundly until it was off to see Da Popa!

There was morning. There was evening.
The seventh day.
There was morning. There was evening.
The eighth day.

PS -- Shavua tov and HAPPY BIRTHDAY BIGGEST BROTHER, who reads my blob like a good brother.

Backpack London: PS, Are You Greek?

My last day in London was fun, but you already read about that. There is one thing I have to mention before I take you on my Roma adventure...

Before I got back on the Tube (I LOVE SUBWAYS) to go to Heathrow, I wandered into the downtown version of Dalia's grocery store to buy rice pudding, as I am now in love with the British delicacy. Then, I went across the street to get another tasty sandwich from EAT, which is like Pret A Manger, but less expensive. If you're a NY person you know from Pret, and if you're not, then, just know that EAT is even better!

When I was in EAT, wearing my sunglasses, a long-sleeved shirt and the ever-present Aurora NorthFaceofStyle, the guy behind the counter asked me a question. (Editorial note: I was also wearing pants and shoes.) I pushed my sunglasses up like a headband, so I could see what he was saying better (I listen with a variety of senses), and he looked at my carefully.

His next words formed a hilarious question: "Are you Greek?"

I couldn't believe it. Is it my eyebrows? My year living in the AEPhi house and the accompanying occasional glitter consumption? Was there an errant bit of red glitter sticking to my face from 2001? Was I shaking some blue and gold sparkles out of my underwear like in 2002? I am pretty sure I don't look Greek, but I was flattered.

Maybe I had some eyemakeup left over from 2003?

Sneak peek of my adventures in the Vatican, but really, I just want to show off my sunglasses-head, Greek look.

First in Petra I get told I look Jordanian. Then, in London, it's Greek. I wonder what nationality guesses I will get when I go on my next adventure?

PS -- It's LEAP DAY! How cool is that? The next time I write anything on a Leap Day (unless I finish my first Rome post before Shabbat), it'll be 2012. I'll be 30. Oh, dear God. 30?! The horror!

27 February 2008

Days 4-7: Of Penpal Reunion and High-End Shopping

Over the next couple of days, I was in and out of Central London, as I spent the greater part of the weekend with my childhood friend Dalia. Dalia and I met in a swimming pool in Fort Lauderdale when we were maybe 11. (No, I am not making this up.) She was on holiday (insert British accent here), and my dad had some doctor convention, so we became friends in the pool, and remained penpals and, later, email buddies. I always said I'd visit her, and she's visited me in Florida before, so I finally came to London to see her!

I went to the British Museum before I made my way to Dals, and I was overwhelmed by the contents of the museum. I liked that it was free, but after roaming around for a while, I realized I'd been to a lot of huge museums recently and I wasn't that into it. A lot of the British Museum's collection is from Egypt and Greece, back when the British kingdom ruled the world / took relics from their native lands.

I also was not on top of my game during this museum visit. I think I was really tired, because I had a lot of stupid reactions to things. For example, I saw the actual Rosetta Stone (as opposed to the fake they had on display in the Egypt museum). You would think this would be exciting for me, but the only thought I had was, "The copy in Egypt is bigger." Ditto about everything else Egyptian there. I was like, I SAW all of this. I'm pretty sure if I had been with my mother or Rafi I would've started whining and demanded they buy me a snack. Another example involves the Elgin Marbles. Elgin took these marbles from the Parthenon in Greece. I, being the fine-tuned instrument you know and love, wandered around for a while, looking for the display case with the marbles in it. There was not to be a single marble-related game, for the Elgin marbles are actually carvings - in marble - that were all around the structure. That was the end of my stupidity.

Ok, so it was pretty sweet to see Cleopatra.

I'm sorry, I expected you to be bigger... [Insert Obvious Response Here]

Taking funny museum pictures isn't so fun without Andrew ES, whom I love more!

Recording my presence outside of the British Museum.

Then I went to see Dalia. I spent the weekend at her place, and we hung around, talking about the last 15 years of our lives. She's pretty well-versed in what's going on with me. We spent a great time hanging around in not-Redbridge, wherever it is that she lives again. We hung around her 'hood, showed me the local supermarket (I love grocery stores), went out to dinner, watched super-nanny, and did lots of other fun things. It was a great weekend!

Dalia and I enjoy dinner in her hood!

On Sunday, Dals and I went into central London to go to Harrod's and Harvey Nick's. These are two chichi shopping malls in London that are integrated into the cityscape, like Macy's on 34th Street. But where Macy's is (sometimes) affordable, Harrod's and Harvey Nick's are filled with super-expensive merchandise. Harrod's, for example, has everything, from fancy food (think Zabar's, but cleaner and bigger) to electronics, from $600 shoes to a pet department. Oh, and they have clothes, too. Dalia and I spent some time eyeing chihuahua puppies, as she debated purchasing a dog. I stuck to my guns, saying that being afraid of dogs maybe should prevent her from buying one, so we went upstairs to electronics, and she got a Wiiiiiiiiii instead. I managed to spend a small amount of money (relatively) on a few (more) paperbacks, so I could have some Harrod's bags. I think, after this trip, I was traveling with 10 paperbacks, and a siddur to do my Liturgy homework, and a couple of pairs of pants.

Look! Harrod's!

At Harvey Nick's, which is apparently known from Absolutely Fabulous, Dalia and I barely bothered with the schmancy clothes and went right to the cafe, where we ordered really, really expensive drinks made out of fancy things like avocado and kiwi (they were tasty, I swear). We also took lots of pictures of ourselves, trying to get the PERFECT profile picture for Facebook. Behold:

Harvey Nick's has some tasty stuff to drink...That Diet Coke was like 10 dollars...

Where'd she go?

Standard SBB.

Not as bad. I like my hair in this picture.

As we were playing around, I noticed these two, crazy-looking people walk in. I pointed them out to Dalia, and she gasped. Apparently, the Cheeky Girls (for real) are the Clay Aiken of England, if Clay Aiken were twins from Transylvania. Their most famous song is something along the lines of "touch my cheeky bum." Barf. Anyway, they looked fake and horrible and hilarious. Things started to heat up when Dalia and I entered into a dare-contest that didn't go anywhere during our snack. After we left the table, however, Dals decided that she wanted me to take a picture of the Cheeky Girls, but when we walked back, they had left their table. Sadly, we thought the game was over...until I saw them walking in the food store, so I played the nerdy tourist and got her in a picture with them. Hilarious! She may have pretended that she didn't care to take a picture with them, but honestly? She LOVED it.

The Cheeky Girls + Dalia.

After the malls, Dals and I went to the O2 center, where we went ice skating. Our hour on the ice was fun, although the skates were the MOST uncomfortable skates I have ever worn. EVER. Anyway, I taught Dal how to skate, and twirled around a couple of times before we made our exhausted ways back to her house.

Dalia's gliding skillfully on the ice!

That is actually my own leg. Flexibility still intact!

Reheated pizza, Peanut M&M's and Diet Coke never tasted so good as we watched TV and played with the Wii. Her internet was down, so I didn't do school as originally anticipated, but no worries. I got my bags ready for my trip to Rome, which commenced the following day. Before Rome, however, I traipsed around London (after a few hours of doing schoolwork for JTS. Really.). The resulting pictures follow here.

London Bridge!

London Bridge, as it turns out, is not falling down.

You are on Shoe Lane. Yes. Yes, I am. (My favorite bus sign ever.)

Last London picture, and I finally get the self-shot + Tube sign in the same snap!

It was really great to see her, and hang out with her parents, who had plenty of tips for things to see in Rome! Thanks to my fabulous London hosts! I hope to see you in Israel, or New York, soon!!!

There was morning. There was evening.
The fouth day.
There was morning. There was evening.
The fifth day.
There was morning. There was evening.
The sixth day.
There was morning. There was evening.
The seventh day.

25 February 2008

Days 1-3: Of Hostel Environments

I also had some pretty fabulous experiences staying in a hostel. I've never done it before, except for Beit Gesher with Pilgrimage, and that totally doesn't count. Trust me, if you're going to stay in a hostel, stay at the one I stayed at in London. It was fab-u-lous, and while I was not born yesterday, the hostel certainly seemed to have been constructed yesterday. It was brand-spanking new! I wouldn't say I made any friends, but we had some interesting conversations. Below gives you an idea of the setup of my days in the hostel.

Anya's backpack, now stuffed with myriad Borders purchases.

The hostel room "refrigerator."

The view from my "refrigerator." Hostel was on Bolsover street, close to Oxford Circus.

Hostel Locker!

Hostel Bed + SBB's stuff!

Just as an FYI...I love the Tube!

Day 3: Of Towers and History (Boys)

The next morning, I woke up refreshed and determined to make my way to the Changing of the Guard. I wore WAY more clothes and made my way to Buckingham Palace AGAIN. I staked out a similar spot on the fence, again, and set to wait, again. This time, I came prepared with sustenance. I sat and ate my breakfast and watched the tourists mill around. Over the course of 45 minutes, I saw millions of people wandering around, got crushed against a fence, and marveled at the pomp and circumstance of the transfer of a key.

Aurora The Wonder-North Face holds my spot for me.

Luckily, I made friends with two lovely grownup people next to me at the fence. Hailing from Atlanta, we talked about their travels, where to go in London, what was too expensive for a student and what I absolutely HAD to see. They were interested in my studies in Israel, and I explained a little bit about my life in Jerusalem. We also talked about security, Bush and politics. You can talk about a lot while waiting for the guard.

The waiting paid off, when the guards (there are two, because they are switching) FINALLY showed up. The layers of people behind me pressed me forward at a weird angle, and I leaned up against the fence, flexing my tempermental feet every couple of seconds. Ouch. This stupid position, however, did give me a pretty good vantage point.

I enjoy my staked out spot, watching the guard.

This is one guard, one the side where I was standing. The other guard had these horrible, furry black hats. Made me miss streimels!

"Hi, Nigel. How's the wife?" "Oh, Katherine is having a good time with Quincy. Our little boy is quite the cute little chap!"

Things that ran through my mind during the changing of the guard:
1. It's over an hour? REALLY?!
2. Stop leaning on me!
3. Ohh...I think it's over!
4. Wait...no, I'm not in Petra. Then why are they playing the theme from Indiana Jones...
5. ...and Star Wars? What is going on here!?
6. I would really like a nice bottle of CocaCola Light.
7. Ohh...I think it's over!
8. I think I'll go to the Tower of London.
7. Are cellphone cameras so good now that you don't need a separate digital? How fascinating!
8. Ohh...I think it's over! YES! Off to the Tower!!!

My friends at the fence convinced me that I should go to the Tower of London, at least to see the crown jewels. I arrived at the Tower, and since I've returned, I have explained how expensive London was by stating the price for a student ticket. $26 / 13 pounds! Barf! But I paid it, joined a tour, and learned all about the creepy history of the Tower, which used to house the royal family, be surrounded by a moat of excrement and muck, houses the Beefeaters and their families, and, my personal favorite, stores and displays the crown jewels.

This is the Tower of London's crenulated walls and towers. It's pretty fabulous.

Quoth the raven, nevermore. Apparently, if the Tower's ravens leave the premises, the whole Kingdom will come crashing down. Superstitions. Love them.

This is a Beefeater, otherwise known as a Yeoman Warder. His dry, British humor and dislike of children was hilarious. Also, his uniform is quite fabulous, yes?

They don't let you close to the guards anymore for goofy, Austin Powers-esque pictures. So this is what I got.

The day was warming up, the view was beautiful and the only downside was that the crown jewels are in a no-photo zone. (Link gives you a peek, but does not do the jewels justice. Just imagine the ball dropping in Times Square at New Years and you'll have an idea of the flash!) Lame as that rule was, it was really ridiculous to see a 530-carat diamond that looked like a baseball. In all honesty, the jewels looked fake. There were so many, they were so sparkly, and it was just kind of crazy.

The Tower of London is next to the Tower Bridge, so I visited it on my way out. Before I did that, however, I had some English tea, with a scone and jam and clotted cream (worst name EVER of tastiest stuff EVER) and a piece of banana bread cake. Good deal (just $10!) for London...and really yummy.

The Tower? The Tower!? Rapunzel!! Rapunzel!!!! - Airplane!

After the Tower! the Tower! I wandered my way to the theatre district, and got last-minute TKTS to see the History Boys. The play was excellent, and although it was incredibly British, I managed to keep up. Seeing as how I hadn't changed my outfit, I ended up in the intermission bathroom line in jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and my backpack (beloved Aurora, pictured above). A woman in line, affected her snootiest British accent, asked me if I liked the play, and then said it must be difficult for me to understand. What she didn't exactly say was that she thought me a daft American prick who could never possibly understand highbrow British drama. Thankfully, she spoke in a language to which I could respond fully, and let her know that I was fully capable of understanding the plot, and oh, by the way, I am an educator and not only am I learning plenty from the play, but I understand a great deal of the issues in the play. (Part of this conversation took place in my head, but I did tell her off. A little.) It was really nice to be able to mouth off in my own language, one of the parts of my English-speaking life at home I miss so dearly.

Exhausted, I made my way back to the hostel. It was time for bed.

There was morning. There was evening.
The third day.