365. “St Harriet”

IMG_6556 (480x640)My first attempt at the Vatican was a definite failure. As it turns out, one does not simply visit the Vatican on a whim in the middle of summer whilst wearing a summer dress. I got myself a modesty scarf and decided to chance it (the lines weren’t too long by then). But alas, I was still deemed too slutty and denied entrance.

Round two was much more successful, this time I managed to be appropriately covered, but in some kind of divine revenge for even thinking I could enter with my knees bared, it was a 40 degree day. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything more than 38, and even then I was feeling faint. Conveniently, there were enormous crowds on my arrival too. Standing in a gigantic line that went all the way around the courtyard (the line kind of wiggled around so as many people were in the shade as possible) it was going to be at least a few hours of incredibly slow movement. I was not fortunate enough to be one of the ones in the shade either.

About the stage where my vision was getting blurry and I had long since run out of water (tourism in that heat is just exhausting), a nice old woman came along to pitch the “skip the line tour.” I’d already been haggled multiple times for those tours and had written them all off as totally unnecessary expenditure. But by that stage I was already thinking about quitting on the Vatican and finding the nearest establishment that could put ice and water in a glass and give it to me. This woman told me that for €25 I could skip the line, go straight in and have a guided tour and I thought bugger it, I didn’t come on holiday to spend two hours in what felt like an inescapable sauna. I got her down to €20 and off we went. Sadly my feeling of relief was very short lived. First we had to go in to a nearby shop and sign up (they have to register names as a group apparently). Waiting around happened. Then we went back outside (at least we were in the shade) where the tour started with an incredibly long winded explanation of the history of the Vatican and the square out front. More waiting around happened. We did get to sneak round the back and get photos with the Swiss guard in their hilarious Uniforms, which was possibly one of the only perks. Then we were back out front again, more waiting, in to another shop to pay (you guessed it, more waiting), more “history” and explanations and finally we went around to the museum entrance. I would say it was probably almost an hour and a half before we were actually looking at anything inside the Vatican, and it was an enormous ruse so the tour guide could keep adding more and more people. Worst of all, when we got to the Museum entrance there were no lines whatsoever, and by then I was really annoyed at myself for not doing a bit of research.IMG_6553 (480x640)

Like the thousands of people queuing out front, I had no idea that if you just go via the museums there’s almost no line, it spits you out at St Peter’s Basilica, and the museums/Sistine Chapel are where all the good stuff is anyway. The guide was also fairly useless, rushing us through when there were loads of things to see, and she only really knew about the few key things that she stopped to explain, and couldn’t answer basic questions about other things. For instance, when I asked what the enormous and rather out of place modern sculpture smack-bang in the middle of the courtyard above the Sistine Chapel was, she didn’t even have the decency to make something up! It’s quite the noticeable eyesore, looking like a giant, gold poké-ball. You’d think someone going past it twice a day would have some idea. Especially when they are meant to be an expert in the subject.IMG_6431 (480x640) IMG_6430 (640x480)

So I wound up paying some serious 40-degree-heat-induced foreigner/idiot tax. I will never again do one of the “skip the line” tours or turn up at something ridiculously famous in the peak of the tourist season without doing my research!

On the bright side though, whilst waiting for far too long out the front, the guide pointed out the names of the saints around the Colonades that matched those in the group. Apparently the one pictured above is Saint Harriet. Sounds fairly dubious and I haven’t been able to verify if that is actually true (the closest I’ve found is that it could be St Hilarion or St Hyacinth) but I don’t really care, I’m just going to assume that it’s true as it was probably the only interesting thing I learned on the tour. Ignorance is bliss.IMG_6557 (640x480)

362. The Spanish Steps

IMG_6350 (480x640)I took a very lovely stroll after dinner (Pizza, of course) to the famed Spanish Steps. Having only a couple of nights in Rome, I had been doing laps of the city on one of the tourist buses, so it was really nice to be able to go for a walk. In the peak of summer (it had gotten to about 35 degrees in the afternoon), it was about 10 or 11pm by the time I was comfortable with a big walk through the city! It also took about that long before I could handle a warm meal, let alone before the restaurants of the Mediterranean were serving dinner!IMG_6346 (480x640)

Walking through town I decided that if anyone plans to do any walking whatsoever through Rome, they shouldn’t bother going out of their way to find a particular fountain, because they are just everywhere. I also really enjoyed the mix of ruins, glorious churches, fountains, and more modern buildings all over the show. IMG_6351 (640x480)

The Spanish steps were quite the magical experience. Even though by that stage my dislike of anywhere thronging with tourists was really massive, I didn’t really mind all the people around. Most were just sitting on the steps, drinking some wine, chatting away, and there were all kinds of Spanish guitar playing buskers making for a very romantic atmostphere, not to mention the beautiful lights.

Apparently they are the biggest flight of steps in Europe, but at 138 stairs I think maybe it is meant to be the widest.

This was occasion number two where someone almost violently grabbed my arm and demanded I take a photo of them (no need for pleasantries, apparently). I don’t know what it is about me but I guess I must have looked like the opposite of whatever tourists in Rome think a thief looks like, as it happened many more times and each time I was just as surprised at how rude people could be when asking for a favour. Or perhaps I was just more annoyed because I had such a short amount of time to get to all the places I wanted to go and I was always in a hurry. It wasn’t until the third time it happened that I decided I would just zoom right in on their eye, or miss the attraction behind, hand them back their camera and walk away before they had a chance to look at the photo. Serves you bloody right for being a rude bastard!IMG_6345 (640x480)

359. Trevi Fountain

IMG_6035 (480x640)One of the most famous fountains in the world, according to legend if you throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain you are guaranteed a return to Rome. According to wikipedia, an estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy. I probably would have been more inclined to partake in the tradition on that basis, than a local legend, or hollywood myths of romance!

On the topic of Hollywood myths, I had the impression that perhaps it would be found on a popular thoroughfare where you’d get a great view of it, having seen movies where actors just stumble across it. In actual fact, it takes up almost the entire square it is found on, and is a bit of a treck through little alley ways to find. Not that that means it is difficult, being such a big tourist attractions.

My Trevi Fountain experience was also absolutely nothing like ‘La Dolce Vita’ as it was absolutely swarming people all trying to take their photos and throw their coins.  Nothing like a bunch of tourists elbowing you left right and centre to get their perfect photo to ruin the magic. That and being borderline assaulted with people aggressively demanding I take photos for them.

307. Picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower

IMG_3533 (480x640)In the most touristy of all things touristy possible in the world, we absolutely HAD to have a picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower.

It was the most hilarious sensation, being there right in front of the Eiffel Tower on a beautiful sunny day, in a lovely park that was absolutely PACKED with people. It was also at that moment that I realised that being in Paris is exactly like being in a giant postcard. Everything is exactly as you expect it to be, nothing more, nothing less. And you have seen it all before. So on the one hand its all very satisfying to finally go to all these places you have been wanting to go for a really long time, but on the other hand there are no surprises. None at all.

Almost as packed as a concert!

Almost as packed as a concert!

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The entertainment factor of the Parc du Champs de Mars, however, was a lot better than expected. First, the sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower thing. I’m not gonna deny it wasn’t novel and exciting. Second, the sitting around in a park with your bottles of wine and fancy French cheeses, and the drinking bit being all legal and legit, and the wine and cheese being so cheap compared to what you would pay at home.

Third, there’s all the extreme PDA. Everywhere we looked there were couples just all over each other, to the point where it was actually really funny.

So much PDA, which became quite entertaining as we watched them try to eat/drink in such an awkward and uncomfortable position

So much PDA, which became quite entertaining as we watched them try to eat/drink in such an awkward and uncomfortable position

 

Fourth, the wine hecklers. All afternoon, like many places all over Paris, there were Indian men coming up to us trying to sell bottles of wine (and cigarettes). At tourist destinations with huge queues it is usually bottled water and at some parks it is bottles of beer (I’m not sure how they decide, but apparently this one is a wine park).

Heckler's in action

Heckler’s in action

 

...and then not so much

…and then not so much

After we ran out of wine, we signalled one over to see how much he was offering, to see if it was worth it to not have to move to get another bottle. After he said €20, we laughed and politely declined. However, we had made the crucial error of displaying the slightest bit of interest, and he wasn’t going to give up easy. He then lead in with “well how much did you pay for that bottle?” and I guess he was expecting us to be a bit more classy, as his heart visibly sank when we told him it was €2. Still not keen though, to the great entertainment of all the couples around us I haggled him down to €6 for his bottle and it was satisfaction all round. However, as soon as the sun went down, suddenly out of nowhere (as if they had been hiding behind the trees) there were at least 30 more men wandering around trying to sell all kind of things. And by gosh did they get aggressive! There was some serious desperation among them, at one point they were trying to distract me by offering a free bottle of wine while their mates circled round eyeing up our handbags. Needless to say the magic was somewhat ruined after that. We could definitely understand how it was very much an illegal activity (we actually saw one guy getting arrested earlier on), and after the near robbery (lucky we were on our toes after the whole van incident) it definitely ruined that magic a bit.

Fifth, and most clichéd of all was when the Tower lit up. It really was quite magical, though I most definitely cringed when everyone started clapping. It reminded me of when people clap when a plane lands, a massive pet peeve of mine. If you don’t clap the waiter when he delivers you a coffee, don’t clap the pilot for just doing his job either!IMG_3574 (480x640) IMG_3586 (480x640) IMG_3596 (480x640)

We had intended to go up it the tower while we were there, but after a few wines and with the size of the lines in full view, the beginning of the process of putting it off every day for almost two weeks began!IMG_3520 (640x480) IMG_3516 (640x480) IMG_3519 (480x640)

 

112. Learn the Danish National Anthem

Well I didn’t actually learn it, I only heard it the one time! A quick wee clip from Kapsejlads.

An interesting observation about Danish people, is many of them don’t seem to think they are particularly patriotic, or nationalists at all. And yet there are Danish flags everywhere, they whip the anthem out at drinking events and they love their Queen. Compare that to New Zealand, where most kiwis will tell you that without a doubt NZ is the best country in the world, but we don’t have flags everywhere, nor are we particularly bothered about royals (possibly due to the fact they are all the way over in England).

Every time I meet someone Danish and they ask where I’m from, I’m immediately met with the response “but why would you want to come here?!” and a puzzled look. While I’ve been tempted to say “Oh I just wanted to come to the country with the highest taxes and most expensive goods and services I could find, and I definitely didn’t want reliable good weather” it does make me wonder if the Danish government spends any of the money it rakes in on tourism. I happen to think its a great place to be, but not many others, even the Danes themselves ,seem to know anything about the perks of this place!