Friday, October 29, 2004

Evora, Portugal—Day 272

Oh beautiful Portugal.

Today I headed to Evora, Portugal, which is two hours from Lisbon via bus or train. My attempt to take the train to Evora failed after I missed it by just 3 minutes. Since the next train wasn’t for a good 4 hours or so I decided to seek out a bus and so I went to the tourist office in the main square area to seek help. I was directed back to another metro/bus station and was told to get the 11:45am bus.

Having almost two hours to spare, I headed back to the gigantic mall to find a book to read after finishing my book last night over dinner. I went to the FNAC store and bought a new book to read (“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen if you are interested—Elizabeth’s suggestion!) and went back to the bus station.

It was 11am when I showed up which gave me plenty of time to buy my ticket and wait for my bus. It finally showed up and I was soon on my way to Evora and for the life of me couldn’t keep my eyes open. I kept falling asleep and then waking up thinking I had missed my stop. Luckily I hadn’t and the girl next to me told me when I did need to get off which was nice.

I got off and took a taxi to the middle of town since I didn’t have a map and had no idea where the center of town was. I was dropped off (it was so close that the meter charge didn’t even increase the whole time I was in the taxi!) and found the tourist office where I was outfitted with a map.

I spent the afternoon avoiding the on and off rain while visiting the beautiful 12th century cathedral and its cloisters, the ruins of the Templo Romano, the Igreja Real de Sao Francisco and the main Evora attraction, the Capela dos Ossos, otherwise known as the Chapel of Bones. Bones! As in HUMAN BONES. This chapel, believe it or not, was built using the bones of 5000 (FIVE THOUSAND) skeletons. AHHH! It was too horrifying to be true, but I witnessed it with my own eyes. The whole thing is made up of bones bones bones—skulls and all. There is even a full skeleton hanging from the wall as some sort of trophy (well, what it was once full since it is now like totally decayed). Some crazy Franciscan monks decided hey, this sounds like a good idea, let’s build a chapel from human bones! That’s just the thing this town needs. It was truly fascinating yet totally horrific at the same time.

I mean, what do you say when looking at it, “My, I just LOVE what they’ve done with those skulls!” or “How creative! Using femurs to build a wall—I should try that.”

Or not.

All these bones were too much for me and I needed a break from both the rain and from thinking about dead people. So I walked around and happened upon a coffee shop where I ordered a nice big piece of carrot and orange cake and a Café Latte which, unlike in Italy, is not just milk but coffee as well. Perhaps I should mention (and perhaps Elizabeth will only appreciate this) is that I haven’t really had caffeine this entire trip (give or take the occasional Coke) and drinking coffee for me is like too much caffeine at once now. Its pathetic and Elizabeth witnessed me in Spain after we ordered a spare cappuccino once which I felt obliged to drink. I was jittery all afternoon!
Anyways, I ordered a coffee, drank barely half of it, and now even as I am writing this (it is 11:30pm) I don’t feel the least bit tired.

Considering I am writing this you can bet that I made it back to Lisbon just fine. I walked down to the bus station again (now that I had my map I knew where it was!) and caught the last bus back to Lisbon. Two hours later I was back on the metro whizzing down to the main touristy area for dinner (my legs weren’t up for wandering to find something really good to eat tonight so I settled for just something I knew was there unfortunately—it still was a tasty meal though) and am now back at the hotel.

Tomorrow I am off to Lagos where I will spend the weekend and then will head to Seville, Spain for the last zoos in Spain. According to my guidebook, Lagos is “a black hole—come for two days and you’ll stay for two months.” Hmm. I’ll keep you updated on that.

On another note, this weekend is my birthday. Halloween in fact. I will be turning the ripe old age of 24 and will hopefully be celebrating in style although I have to say that I don’t have a costume (yet) and nothing will compare with last year’s adventures at First Ave. Most notably because there will be no butterfly man this year (ahem…) but more importantly because it will significantly lack the company of my truly amazing friends and family to which I have had the privilege of celebrating 23 wonderful birthdays and to whom not even the world could ever replace.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Sintra, Portugal—Day 271

Today I caught the train to Sintra, a beautiful small town (and Unesco World Heritage Site) just 45 minutes from Lisbon. I headed to the train station where the train was supposed to leave from and found it to be closed and, along with another older British couple, were redirected to a different train station to catch it from there which meant back tracking on the metro.

I made it to the station and hopped on the next train to Sintra, arriving just as the sun was coming out. After taking a slightly wrong detour from the train station, I made it to the main road and walked to the historical center where I came upon the most gorgeous sky combined with beautiful hillside historical homes on lush hillsides.

I walked along the main road and came upon the Palacio Nacional de Sintra which has two huge white conical kitchen chimneys which distinguishes the palace from any other building I have ever seen before. The palace itself was beautiful both on the outside and on the inside as I discovered by taking a tour of the rooms.

After visiting the Palace, I went out and, after running into the British couple again, sat down to wait out the torrential downpour that had begun. Clouds and fog poured in and my hopes of heading up to the castle ruins on top of the mountainside overlooking Sintra were, well, ruined for a bit since it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to see any views once I made it to the top. So I waited for a while for the rain to let up and finally decided to start walking once I put on my rain coat and set off with my umbrella. Luckily the bus pulled up right as I started walking so I hopped on, not really knowing where it went, and was pleased to find that it was taking me right up to the top of the mountain! The rain was letting up and the blue skies were coming in just as we made our way up the mountain (which was quite an adventure since the bus driver seemed to be going at a terrific speed for such a huge bus and such a small windy road—let’s just say my eyes were shut and my grip was tight on the seat) and I decided to get off at the Palacio Nacional da Pena which is just above the Castelo dos Mouros (the castle ruins) and then had to take a tram up to the Palace. The Pena National Palace is the craziest building—looks almost like something form a fairy tale slash Disney concoction but I found it fascinating. It was built in 1840 by a Prussian architect and is all sorts of amazing colors and has all sorts of crazy embellishments to it. The inside is just as neat, with the rooms remaining in their original state as to when royalty lived in them which is quite interesting.

After visiting the Palace, I walked back down through the Pena Park back down to the main road that the castle ruins were on. I had to take refuge at various points from the rain that had started up again but made it down modestly soaked. I then walked a little ways back up the hill to the Castel dos Mouros (the castle ruins) and walked around the grounds for a bit, clamoring up to the top to look out over Sintra down below.

I then walked all the way back down to the town center via a footpath at the base of the castle ruins and headed back to the train station after resting my feet for a bit. The train took me back to Lisbon (where I missed my stop but luckily it was the second to last stop so I just went to the last stop where the train turned around again and took me back) and made it back to my hotel. I dropped off my heavy backpack and set out in search of dinner, this time walking down to the main Rossio area instead of taking the subway. The downpour started again and so I rushed into a Brazilian restaurant (the kind where they have the meat all on display and you say—I’ll have a piece of salmon and they go whack off a chunk of salmon off of the fish for you right in front of you) and ate to my heart’s content before heading back to the hotel.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Lisbon, Portugal—Day 270

I was up and at ‘em early this morning so that I could get to the zoo first thing. I got up and had breakfast in the hotel (the breakfast room is on the 10th floor which is in its “panoramic restaurant”—oooh) and for the first time found it convenient that my room is on the 9th floor.

I had breakfast (no sketchy eggs at this place!) and then got my things and headed out on the metro to the zoo. Ahh, thank goodness for the metro! There is a stop RIGHT at the zoo (in fact, called “Jardim Zoologico”) AND right near my hotel. They are even on the same line! Couldn’t be better.

So I took the subway to the zoo and got off at my stop and headed into the zoo. It was 10 o’clock on the dot—right when it opens. I found the entrance and bought my ticket and headed to the hippos.

I had heard from several people about the appalling condition that the Lisbon Zoo. I went in expecting the worse of the worse but found it to be somewhat ok—yes things were small and needed improvements, but it definitely wasn’t the worse that I have seen. However, I did only walk from the entrance to the hippos (via the monkeys) so I really don’t have much to judge.

Anyways, I found the hippos—six of them! And the TINIEST baby I have seen so far. SOOOO cute. I almost squealed with delight (really, I made that oohhahhheeee! Noise that can only be compared to a squeal) when I saw the baby who as SO cute. Did I mention that she was cute?

Anyways, to my relief, there were three hippos on one side and three hippos on the other, separated by a small divider. Plus there were two pygmy hippos to the left of the Nile hippos, which of course I didn’t photograph, but there were there too. Anyways, the separation made it easy for me to tell them apart since the tiny baby and her mother (the hippo with the big tooth sticking out) and the other hippo (the one without the tooth) were on one side and the bigger baby, its mother and clearly a huge male (again you can tell with the whole poop thing) were on the other.

To top it off, the tiny baby, mom and other hippo (sans tooth) were all out of the water when I showed up. I quickly threw down my bag, got out my camera, and snapped away as they came lumbering towards me, stopping of course before getting in the water (work it, work it!) and then gracefully settling down in the water (yes, I did say gracefully). It was perfect.

I started taking pictures of the other hippos when a keeper appeared and started feeding the monkeys who were just down from the hippos, closer to the pygmy hippos. I made my approach (getting out my “what are their names?” translation that the man at the hotel desk wrote out for me before I left the hotel this morning) and showed it to her. To my complete surprise so told me “Of course I can tell you” in PERFECT English. In fact, she even had a British accent when she spoke English.

I had hit the jackpot!

So she rallied off their names—Pele (the big male), Juliana (mother of the bigger baby), Peão (the bigger baby), Mada (mother of the tiny baby), Bocas (the other hippo—sans tooth) and the tiny baby (who is still unnamed but a female) and showed me who was who. She asked me why and I tried to explain to her about the porcelain, but she just smiled and said “cool” and then told me all about seeing the tiny baby hippo being born. She went off and told me that she would be around if I needed any more help.

So I spent a few more hours at the zoo taking pictures of the hippos, specifically Juliana and Peão who kept getting out of the water, walking around, looking over to the other side at the tiny baby, and then getting back in. Then Juliana would do a series of flips and rolls (no joke) which was just hilarious. I got some great flipped over and upside-down hippo pictures (her head four feet sticking wildly out of the water with her belly upright) and got some great pictures of all of them when the sun finally came out.

Between my photographing of the hippos however, I couldn’t but help notice the monkeys escaping from their enclosure (more like a cage really). No seriously, the baby monkeys could fit through the bars! They would sneak out and walk out onto the grass and collect leaves for the bigger monkeys (too fat to squeeze through the bars) and back out again. They would do this and play in the grass a bit chasing insects and even at one point going up to the pygmy hippos, putting their hands on the bars as if they were actually WATCHING them like me. I became more amused at them that I did at the hippos (which is a big thing to say really considering the cute baby hippo and all her glory) but I was just fascinated with these monkeys. They were totally misbehaving and the best part of it was was that they KNEW it. They would roll around on the grass and at any time they sensed a keeper coming they would scurry back into their enclosure. It was hilarious—I would look over and see these two monkeys just sitting in the road and whenever you could hear a keeper coming—wheeling a wheelbarrow past with hay or driving by in a cart or something—anything—they would dash back into their cage and pretend like they were there the whole time with innocent looks on their faces. They were definitely playing it cool—what, me? Escape? No, I would never, I have been swinging on this branch the entire time!

And what happened the minute the keeper was out of sight? You guessed it, dash right back out again.

What luck! I headed out of the zoo happy with everything. I spent the rest of the day exploring Lisbon some more—visiting the Museu Calouste Gulbenkian to have lunch (it’s a famous art museum but I decided to just have lunch there instead of visit it since the sun just came out as I was finished with lunch and figured that I should be outside while it wasn’t raining). walking up to the ruins of the 9th century Castelo de São Jorge which overlooks Lisbon and has amazing views. I then took a tram though the historical Alfama district which is a beautiful system of winding cobblestone roads and alleyways, visited the gorgeous Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora (a 16th century monastery) and then walked back down to the waterfront through the streets of Alfama. I then walked to the main plaza, the Praca do Comercio, and went up the Elevador de Santa Justa (to get a another good view of the city). All in all I had a wonderful—if not another exhausting day. I made it back to my hotel in the evening and after much debate about what to do, I decided to head to the huge mall in Lisbon (also conveniently located on the metro!) to get my much needed suitcase instead of having to take time out of another day to do so. I made it to the mall (which is absolutely huge—it rivals MOA!) and found both dinner and a suitcase shop. I wheeled my glorious new suitcase back to my hotel and felt my shoulders already thanking me for saving them from future grief.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Rome, Italy—Lisbon, Portugal—Day 269

I flew to Lisbon today on an Alitalia flight from Rome. Luckily for me the flight wasn’t until 12:50pm giving me plenty of time to get myself up and ready and to the airport with time to spare. I checked out of Hotel “Revolting” and got a taxi to the train station, where I was able to catch an express train directly to the airport.

All this was just great—except for a small factor that I haven’t mentioned yet. My suitcase had been in the process of breaking from my last day in Germany all throughout Italy, getting progressively worse. What I mean is that the handle that you pull out in order to be able to drag the suitcase (I have one small hard-cased suitcase with wheels and one shoulder bag that can be conveniently attached to the rolly one so that it all can be transported together). Anyways, the handle was constantly getting stuck and difficult to pull out in order to drag it. One had to do a series of yanks and shakes to get it out but finally, just before we arrived in Rome, it gave out, meaning that I had to CARRY it. Now I wouldn’t be complaining if it wasn’t like 40 pounds but since it is, I will. You can hear it from my friends—I don’t really have all that much stuff with me (personal items, changes of clothes, etc.—neither Elizabeth or Mo complained about how infrequently I changed my clothes—something I was getting more and more embarrassed about as time passed, and er, when it became more and more noticeable) so my suitcases are filled with computer and camera gear, extra cds, AND my computer! This all takes up most of my room and has proven to be considerably heavy.

I have boasted before about how strong I am getting from lugging everything around, but a few weeks ago I noticed something not so amazing.

I was wondering why on earth my backpack didn’t seem to be fitting right. It seemed like no matter what I would do, no matter how much I would adjust my straps, it never seemed to fit right. One side felt different and off compared to the other one, and no matter how much I tried to fix it, I couldn’t. I thought I must have a faulty backpack until I stood and looked in a mirror.

Turns out that my right shoulder is LOWER than the left side, and no, it wasn’t like this before. OH MY GOD! My should had dislocated (or at least SIGNIFICANTLY shifted downwards) and my shoulders were now LOPSIDED. Ahh! Of COURSE! My right side is the one that I use to drag all of my stuff around with (more often than the left) and the one that seems to bear the brunt of everything so I wasn’t surprised to see that it had in fact shifted downwards.

So I had to drag all my stuff out of the hotel and into the taxi then drag it all into the train station. Thank goodness for trolleys! I then lugged it all on the train to the airport and off again, then hauled it to the nearest trolley I could find in the airport, shoveling out 1 Euro for the life-saver on wheels.

I checked my bags through and was happy to go through customs with just two carryon bags instead of the five I had seemed to accumulate (I was able to shove things into my suitcases after taking out my computer). Anyways, I made it on the plane and was one of two people seated in business class! Why I was in business class is a mystery to me (no upgrades, my ticket was for business class!) but it was funny being in the front of the plane with one other person and everyone else in the back. I didn’t mind reclining back in my huge chair and thought only briefly about the people in the back while I dined on my chicken and wiped my hands on my personal, heated towel.

Landing in Lisbon, I collected my bags (after having multiple people stop and ask me directions and other such things in Portuguese) and inquired about getting a taxi to my hotel from the information booth. The girl working there told me that I could take a bus to my hotel and that it was “just a short walk” from the bus stop to my hotel.

Why I agreed to this, I don’t know. My brain must have momentarily shut off and forgotten about the load that I was literally carrying.

I boarded the bus, paying my 1 Euro ten to get on (what a deal!) and we started down into the city. I had my map in hand and was told that we had quite some time before we were to make it to my stop by a woman on the bus. So I put my map away and started to not pay attention to the stops when all of a sudden we were at my stop! I almost missed it and it took some time for me to get my stuff together (my two carryons—a backpack and my huge computer case AND my two suitcases) and practically fell off the bus. I then started walking with an amazing strength that lasted, oh, ten feet. In the wrong direction of course. I hurdled myself down the road, counting my steps and telling myself, ok, when you walk thirty steps you can take a break. Ok, maybe 25. Ok, no really, 20. Ok 15. Stop. Pant pant pant. I have found that shaking my arms can help quite a bit so you can imagine me standing there on the road, shaking my hands like a mad woman, then picking up my enormous weight and practically trying to throw myself down the street. Its funny when you have to do something like this—you think that the faster you go, the quicker it will be over so you open up yourself to the possibility that going faster increases your likelihood of say, falling, spraining an ankle, you know, those types of things.

After walking quite a bit in the wrong direction before realizing it (an tourist information booth was amazingly right on the nearest corner to which I collapsed and asked where my hotel was) and the girl working at the desk smiled sweetly and pointed my back in the direction I came from. “Its just passed the coffee shop” she said to me.

So, thinking I was really just going to die, I started back again. I thought for sure a heart attack was going to come on. My hands were killing me (clearly my shoulder was getting pulled farther and farther down—there wasn’t anything I could do about it) and clearly I was going to die. One, two, three, four five, six….stop. pant pant pant. One, two three….stop. pant pant pant. I was getting nowhere at a pretty decent rate if I might say.

I made it almost back to where I was dropped off by the bus when a man stopped me (or maybe I was stopped already!) and said “You need help.”

He was right, I did. For a brief moment I thought, no! what if he is going to STEAL my things? Helloooo Sarah. Like he could run away with these heavy cases!?!? I gratefully accepted his offer although it seemed like he wasn’t asking me if I needed help, he was telling me that I did. So he carried my broken wheelie suitcase to the steps of the hotel and told me “good luck” as he left. I thanked him and went inside the hotel, dropping my things on the floor, walking up to the desk and wiping the seat off my face.

I am sure I just made a lovely sight. The people in the lobby didn’t seem all that pleased. Plus I haven’t done laundry in who-knows-when so I am sure I wasn’t, er, the greatest asset to the room really. I’ll spare you the details.

Anyways, I was soon checked in and headed up stairs in a teeny tiny elevator with the concierge guy (feeling mortified at having to be in such a tight enclosed space with the man in my current state) and was shown to my room where after he left, I collapsed.

After regaining myself and doing some stretching and amazingly (and painfully) my shoulder popped back to where it is supposed to be. I wasn’t sure if it did, but it seems like it has so we’ll see how long this lasts! Getting a new suitcase is definitely a priority here.

I spent the rest of the day walking around Lisbon—down to the main square and the Rossio, walking through the Baixa area down to the friverfront and through side streets basically trying to figure my way around the city without getting too lost—which obviously meant a lot of walking. I really am amazed at myself—it seems like I can just walk for hours and hours even though my feet tell me to stop, and my stomach tells me to stop and eat, I can just keep going. The afternoon and evening passed and I made my way back to the hotel where I collapsed for the second time today. Or third—but who’s counting.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Rome, Italy—Day 268

This morning it was back to the Bioparco di Roma—the Rome Zoo. I got up and had breakfast at the hotel. Oh, speaking of which, I must tell you all about the ridiculousness that is called the Hotel Rivoli. Whatever you do, if you are coming to Rome, DON’T stay here. It all started when Mo and I checked in and were greeted by an older man who seemed more like the head-honcho-but-doesn’t-know-what-he-is-doing type. The guy who likes to be in charge. Anyways, we showed up and checked in and he gave us quite an attitude when we checked in, telling me that I hadn’t requested a non-smoking room (I am sure that I did) and snatched away our passports and stapled my best western card to a piece of paper. You can’t STAPLE the card to anything because it has a magnetic strip on it but he just took it and punctured two holes right through it.

Whatever. We hauled our stuff up to the room which wasn’t incredibly smoky but wasn’t the nicest. Oh, this all was just after our cab driver tried to rip us off by charging us 50 Euros to take us to the hotel. We arrived at the train station and hopped in a cab. When he figured out where we were going he said, “oh, this is a nice hotel—I must charge you 45-50 Euros—a set price.” Hmm, 45-50 Euros doesn’t sound like a “set price” to me. I told him no, use the meter. He said no and so I told him to let us out. We got back out and went down back to the taxi line and got into another taxi. We got in and told him to use the meter, and he happily obliged. Our fare when we reached the hotel? 10 Euros. TEN!

Anyways, back at the hotel, I wasn’t in the mood to be messed with. I didn’t want a smoking room and I wanted to be treated with respect. This is coming from someone who has spent the last 200 odd nights in a hotel room, I know what service is supposed to be like. And I am not complaining in a “oooh, look at me, poor me” type, we’re just talking basic customer respect here.

So we drop off our stuff and go downstairs. Ask for a map, he doesn’t have one. Ask for directions to the subway, he doesn’t know them. Says that the subways don’t have names (of course they do—we confirmed this later) and sort of dismissed us. Anyways, the hotel was in the boondocks (after claiming it was “conveniently located to all tourist attractions” which meant that every morning we had to hike down a huge hill and through the streets with a crappy map (he finally scrounged up a photocopied blur of a map).

Anyways, back at breakfast. Every morning there was a man (again with the head honcho attitude but a different guy) would sort of show you where you had to sit even though there were several tables open. He would point you in a direction but there seemed to be no reason in it. He should just let people seat themselves. Anyways, it made it pretty awkward (heaven forbid I take a table set for FOUR! Gasp! Horror!) and everyone would sort of look confused the whole time when trying to find somewhere to sit. Not to mention that the chairs were these awkward big round things that made it hard to negotiate around or move out of the way to let someone passed.

Now on to the food—bits of cheese, watery orange juice, a bowl of broken eggs sitting in front of the bread. Even though I can’t speak German, it seems that “salmonella” is a universal term because and entire table of people were talking about the bowl of eggs. It was disgusting. Almost as disgusting as our bathroom in the room which not only lacked a complete shower curtain (it was like a fourth of one which meant you had to be careful about spraying the floor), the shower head didn’t really work so you had to stand up and use the second sprayer set at bath level (meaning that you had to put it down every time you needed to pick something else up), the sink got clogged and was clogged for two days straight which is utterly disgusting AND there were bugs.

This hotel claims itself to be a 4-star hotel and calls itself Hotel Rivoli. More like Hotel Revolting to me!

Ok, enough about the hotel. Where was I? Oh yeah, having breakfast (eww) and then heading outside on my hike to the taxi stand. I got a taxi and he took me to the zoo entrance (after complaining that it was “too close”—suggesting that I could walk it—it was like a 30 minute walk) and I got in line to buy my ticket.

Once again I headed to the hippos and found Carlo sitting in the water. Where was Mimi? Hellooo? I took pictures of Carlo for a while (he got out again which was nice and walked around a bit) and finally went and found some zookeepers who sort of spoke English. They told me that Mimi would be out at 11am so I had just about an hour to wait.


I sat down on the bench near the hippo enclosure and read my book as time passed. I watched the zoo train go around three times passing the hippos (each time they went around the drivers kept looking at me funny—oh, you’re STILL here?) and finally the keeper came and called Carlo inside. I got up and got ready with my camera but then two keepers came out. Oh, they were going to clean up the enclosure a bit. So I sat back down wait some more when one of the keepers came over to talk to me. She spoke English and asked me with a big smile on her face, are you waiting for Mimi?

I smiled and told her yes and tried to explain why but then decided just to tell her that I was doing a “project on hippos.” She told me that they were going to clean up the enclosure a bit and then bring both Mimi and Carlo back out, and that they could feed them for me if I wanted to get some pictures with their mouths open.


So I sat and waited and finally the keepers were done. Mimi came waddling out and went straight to the food (as I clicked away) and then Carlo came out just after Mimi (click click click). They munched and I clicked and time passed. Luckily they didn’t have too much to devour and I didn’t have to wait that long for them to finish up (Carlo first) and settle down in the water. Carlo headed into the water while Mimi finished up the remnants of the hay and I clicked away.

Once both hippos were settled in the water I waited a good while for the keeper to come back out as promised but after a while it seemed like she wasn’t going to come back. I waited and waited (and waved to the keeper who recognized me from when I was here on Saturday) but eventually decided to head out of the zoo since I had some great pictures anyways.

I left the zoo after getting a bite to eat at the zoo café and spent the rest of the day wandering around Rome, this time heading to the Trastevere area via the Isola Tiberina where I visited the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Trastevere (a church built in the 4th century). I then wandered up a huge hill to see a great view over Rome. I didn’t know that that is what I was really in search of however, I just sort of happened upon it. I was looking for the botanical gardens (which I eventually gave up in finding) and started hiking up this hill until I found a great lookout point and a café that had sold bottled water, and a nice bench nearby. I decided that I had had enough walking at that point (at least going at steep inclines) and sat down to drink my water overlooking Rome. I finally headed back down and wandered around some more until it was close to dinner time, where I waited out the extra quarter of an hour until most restaurants began serving dinner (it was 6:45—dinner is usually served after 7:30 in the non-touristy places) in the Piazza Navona. I then walked back over to the Via del Coronari where I ate at a fantastic restaurant that had been recommended to me by my mom’s husband Peter. It was great and I left feeling like I had finally found the nicer places in Rome and now have to leave again. I guess that can be said about everywhere I go really!

Tomorrow it is off to Portugal.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Rome, Italy—Ancona, Italy—Rome, Italy—Day 267

I got off to an extra early start this morning to catch my 7:30 express train to Ancona, actually to Falconara Marittima to the zoo there—the last of the Italian zoos on my itinerary. Ancona is about three hours from Rome, in the sort of North-Easterly direction on the other side of Italy on the coast.

Luckily there was a train that took me right there, so I did not have to switch trains or anything. I took a taxi to the train station (loathing the fact that my hotel is ridiculously far away from everything—more about the hotel later) and bought a 12 Euro reservation for the train thinking that the train would be packed and that I would need one (because I have a Eurorail pass, I don’t need to buy separate tickets wherever I go, just need to get a reservation if I think the train is going to be full—like when Mo and I headed down to Venice the train was packed cattle-car style—we had to sit in the aisles!) Anyways, I got on the train and there were like four other people on it. I took my reserved seat and the train started off and I realized how silly it was that I paid for a reservation.

Anyways, reservation or not, I made it to Falconara Marittima. Quite a name for a small town on the coast! I immediately went outside in search of the taxi (I didn’t want a repeat performance of my experience in Punta Verde, Italy) and found the taxi but with no driver. This seemed a bit weird, the taxi was parked in the taxi spot but no one was there to drive it! I assumed that the driver was just in a shop or something so I eyed everyone who came out of the surround shops and buildings, trying to making eye contact and gestures about needing the taxi.

This didn’t work and I stood there for quite a while. When I turned around in ultimate frustration (with the intention of heading back into the train station to ask for help) I saw a small room off to the left saying “TAXI.” Oh.

I went into the little door and found the taxi driver sitting there (he was like five feet from me this whole time) and he rushed to start up the taxi and get me on my way. He took me up and around the hills to the top of a hill overlooking the water (Ancona is where there are ferries to Greece and back so its right on the water---of course I was scheming to myself on whether I could warrant a few days over in Greece while we made our way to the zoo).

He dropped me off and I went up and paid for my admission and headed into the zoo. I found the lone hippo (ippopotamo in Italian!) in this teeny tiny little pond. He took up practically the entire thing and was obviously trying to make the most of what he had. The pool he was sitting in was filling itself up. Poor guy!

I took lots and lots of pictures every time he moved or did something different (like turned his head). It was obvious that he wasn’t going to be getting up and out of the pool anytime soon, and from the remnants of hay in his enclosure, it was safe to say that he had just eaten and REALLY wouldn’t be out of his pool anytime in the near future. So I took pictures and sat on the bench near his enclosure waiting for any sudden movements.

The only sudden movements I got the whole time were the families with children racing up and shouting at the hippo. Now we all know that Italians are stereotyped as being loud and argumentative (I say this and don’t mean to offend any Italians out there) but when you combine that with Italian CHILDREN, woah! Several families would come up at one time and the children would just be yelling and yelling and yelling “IPPOPOTAMOOOOOOO! IP-O-POT-A-MOOOOO!” like it was the last thing on earth. I swear, it hurt even my ears so I felt bad for the poor hippo would had to listen to that every time anyone came to visit him.

The parents weren’t all that encouraging of them to be quiet either, although one man did yank his child away from the hippo after he threw a few rocks into its pond.

Luckily this rush of chaos only happened every half hour or so and in the meantime I was the only person there sitting with the hippo. I took more pictures as the pool filled up until the hippo decided to stick his head under water for good. Even my attempts at calling out at him didn’t work (I wasn’t surprised) so I set off in search of his name.

I walked all around trying to find a keeper (no luck) so I went into the main ticket area which also served as the restaurant, gift shop, restrooms AND game area. There were several sort of old crappy electronic games set up to lure children (and their parents) into playing them on the way out of the zoo. The zoo in itself was a pretty small little place. With small, inadequate enclosures for all of the animals. The poor tiger was just walking around in circles back and forth growling while the zebras trotted back and forth in their small pen as well.

I inquired about the hippo's name and both the woman working at the ticket booth and her co workers in the restaurant agreed that his name was Pippo.

Pippo! AGAIN!?!?! How on earth can every male hippo in Italy (sans Carlo from Rome of course) be called PIPPO!?!?! Let’s get something original here!

I thanked them (I didn’t show them my disbelief) and went back to see Pippo again, who of course, hadn’t budged.

So I made my way out of the zoo and wrote down “Could you order me a taxi, please?” in Italian from my phrase book and handed it back to the ticket woman. She smiled and called up a taxi for me and I went outside and waited until the same taxi driver picked me up and brought me back to the Falconara train station.

Problem was that my train wasn’t leaving for another hour and I had to wait at the station, which was all fine and good except I was hungry. I walked around the area for a bit but being Sunday everything was closed. I finally came upon a small café and bought a sandwich that had looked like it had been sitting there for quite some time. Even the girl asked me, oh, you want THIS one? And I smiled and handed over my one-euro-fifty for it.

I ate my sandwich on the way back to the station and found a bench to sit on to wait for my train. it finally came (this time it was slow train, not an express) and the four hour train ride back to Rome was just fine—if not very crowded at the end but luckily I had a seat the entire time.

Back in Rome I walked around a bit in search of dinner. This might seem like an easy thing considering that there are THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS (or what it seems like anyways) of restaurants all serving the typical tourist. But I don’t WANT touristy food, I wanted the real deal. This meant that I would wander and wander and wander some more until I just about couldn’t go any farther. Literally, my feet were so tired. But my wandering would pay off and just when I was about to give in to the point-to-the-picture menus, I found a nice little place, albeit a tad touristy (I guess you have to give in at some point!) Being on my own, its easy to get a table since they can just about shove you anywhere there is space for just one person. This time it meant that I was shoved back to an outside table in the corner—just as far back as you can get into a corner really. It didn’t matter though, I was hungry and the food was excellent.