An Old Girl Needs to Nap
Bleary eyed I wait patiently in immigration. My turn arrives, my Italian immigration official is talking to his colleague. I stand there awkwardly, I’ve approached the desk ‘to quickly’ and been reprimanded before. He reaches a hand for my passport, still continuing his conversation. He briefly glances at it and then tosses it back to me. Literally flinging it back on the counter with a careless toss.
I stand there. Is he done? Is he mad at me? Can I go?
I interpreted his grunt as ‘enter’ so with a bounce in my step I entered Italy. No stamp means no one knows i’m here, plus free travel through the EU. How perfectly reckless of him…hmmm how easy it would be to stay forever, eat gelato and be clothed exclusively in a floral housedress.
After 30 hours I arrived into Roma with the morning sun. Naturally I couldn't check in until 3pm so forgetting that I am no longer 23 I hit the pavements of Rome. A fantastic city that never ceases to amaze and inspire. The perfect mix of dirty garbage-filled metropolis and charming Italian cityscapes. And rocks. Lots of rocks. If you love old rocks that were once something, boy are you in for a treat. Also if you like sandwiches, they do those well. Rome is also an amazing city for map readers to lose their cool in. It’s intricate old streets are sometimes missing and it’s easy to get lost.
Despite functioning on 4 hours sleep, I just had to fill 8 hours until I could check in. So I set off feeling good about my chances of doing a quick round-a-bout of the sites to fill my time and refresh my memory. 8 hours, piece of cake! I admired the colosseum, laughed at the fools lining up by the hundreds to go inside. Within 40 minutes I had parked myself on a ledge underneath a temple ruin from thousands of years ago. From my floor level-bin adjacent location I looked over at the Roman Forum and ate a panini in the gutter. I thought about how glamorous travel can be and how I really don’t embody that in anyway. I was in the same clothes that I put on at my house at 8am Saturday and this was now the equivalent of 8pm Sunday. (EDIT: actually, my mum suggested that my choice of plane outfit looked disgraceful and so I stopped at Big W en route to the airport, bought an outfit and got changed in the back of the car).Either way, by this point the clothes were walking on their own and just carrying me along for the journey. My soft, winter feet got blisters immediately and my legs began to chafe. This began to chafe my nerves as I got further and further away from my hostel and the crappy bunk bed I was looking forward to lying on. I soon soldiered on. I’d been out for several hours and completed my itinerary. My hair, though clean upon departure was now greasy with the germs of 300 international travellers, its fine knotty strands perfect for capturing the germs and fart smells of others. I felt gross. Looked gross and was incredibly tired. The few selfies I took will serve of a reminder to just photograph scenery. A flea market that was less other people’s fun trash and more African migrants selling knock off sunglasses was the last straw, I decided for my own wellbeing I had to go back to the hostel and sleep, on the reception couch if need be.
I obviously then got horribly lost.
I was off my own map. I couldn't navigate myself because as far as the city of Rome was concerned I was not longer in an area worth being in. Hey, you bastards I thought all roads lead to Rome?
So my slow stroll turned to a trudge. I trudged on. Stopping to sit at every large stone, butt-level building ledge or bench I passed. Getting lost is part of good exploring,, only doing it when you are having trouble putting one foot in front of the other is particularly traumatic. I followed my nose compass, which is well developed especially as I get older and my nose seems to be growing rapidly. So I trudged on in a vague ‘thataway’ direction, my patience wearing thin and hoping my body too may wear a little thinner from all this walking. I trudged down dead end streets. Suburban streets. Past weddings at local churches. Through urine soaked alley ways. Up annoyingly steep hills. Past housewives hanging out in crappy inner city parks that are in desperate need of a mow. Occasionally wondering why in life traffic lights make me anxious but I very little fear of being alone in small back alleys in foreign cities. Stopping regularly to sit, rest a minute and hope a street I was on reappeared on my map. Cursing how flea markets are like cat nip to me. I was so misled. I was also chronically dehydrated despite the copious amount of water I was drinking. A result of the high sodium level in their water or the 20 hours on a plane or a combination of both. Still I trudged on. And I mean trudged. One step at a time. Exhausted. Too exhausted to cross the streets safely. I had to summon all my energy to remember to look in the right direction and double check in case I was hallucinating. Where the hell am i? Where the hell is that giant-ass colosseum? My aim was three-fold. I made myself the promise that if I could find a metro I would take a train back. I just had to find a metro. As that wasn’t happening at all, I needed to get myself back inside what the tourism centre of Rome deems ‘map worthy’. Or thirdly, get high up and work out where I am. I walked on following my nose compass. I was getting higher and the street I was on was either going to be a dead end or have a nice, educational view.
As I approached the end of the street there was an open gate and I saw people sitting in the shade. I saw a free Roman drink tap. Was this real? It was like an oasis. I literally stumbled into an oasis; a rose garden with park benches and flowing water. I entered and considered putting my feet into the fountain to cool them down. And also maybe sitting in it to sooth my chaffed legs. I was high up, in a rose garden overlooking the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. I collapsed onto a park bench and contemplated just staying there the night or at least taking a power nap there to give me the energy to keep going because right below me was Circus Maximus, the ancient roman chariot race track, the bottom of my map and the location of the Metro Station I was looking for. Proof, I was significantly below the map.
I laid on a park bench in the sun briefly then psyched myself up and made a beeline for the Metro. The red M was glimmering in the distance. Funnily on a street I was on before but diverted off from because I decided it was safer to head back towards the river so I could follow it if I needed to/throw myself in out of misery. I had €2 in my pocket, bought a ticket and went in. Much to my severe disappointment the trains were going the wrong way. I needed to go across the street. The army man with the huge automatic rifle told me so. He also thought my ticket would let me out and back in across the road. With one last energy burst I crossed the street and got denied entry. I needed a new ticket. I was “displeased” which I showed by swearing and angrily feeding my ticket into the gates and having it return it to me 20 times. I guess hoping to trick it. I had no more coins. I could only find notes which the ticket machine obviously also kept spitting back out at me. Finally, I found another €2 in my pocket. I was on the home straight. Naturally there were no seats so I had to carefully stand so gypsies wouldn't steal my stuff and focus on keeping myself upright. Hoping that the chaffing, blisters and fat sore feet I had given myself within 4 hours of arriving wouldn’t put too much of a dampener on my holiday. My legs ached. My eyes were stinging for lack of being closed. Everything felt heavy. I was tempted to lean on a strong looking person. In what was in all likelihood, a unconscious walk to the hostel and I soon checked in, washed the stench of long haul air travel off me and laid down. I slept. With washed but unbrushed hair I slept so soundly I had a lot of trouble waking up. One alarm went of. Then another. Then another. By then my hair was dry and sitting straight up but I wasn’t. I kept trying to psych myself up. I lay there with my phone checking out some social media to adjust to the idea of being awake like I do every morning but kept falling asleep and dropping my phone.
This is perhaps part of travel in your early thirties compared to travel in your early twenties. Soon I was awake enough to get up and leave before I fell back asleep so I went out again in a haze of zinc powder to watch tourists taking selfies and posing while throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain. I considered finding a hill to climb to get some nice pictures of Rome in a golden, afternoon setting sun glow but then remembered how much I enjoy sleeping and how old and unfit I am and decided to head back via some cheese and salami. (Too tired to dine out, that’s how tired I was) I was in bed by 9. How things have changed? I listened to the girls in the hostel recount their week to their parents via Skype. I remembered fondly how busy and carefree the gypsy life was. Checking in with home and rattling off a bunch of places you’ve been, how you’ve caught a cold, how much you need some new clothes and about the great beaches you saw and the cool people you met. It’s nice. I wish it was still me but alas I have a job now and a greater than ever desire to sit down and rest. So I retired for the night. Ready to start a new day of old spinster lady travel. Sitting down at famous sites. Taking photos of food and stray cats. So my dear friends and readers, the Tipsy Gipsy is on the road again, but i’m not walking far... also what’s for lunch? Whose got an Aspirin I’m gonna get DVT on this 4 hour train journey? €3 for coffee that’s outrageous!