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Journals from Aug-2009 Austria Semester Abroad in Vienna

2009-11-09 When in Rome, Bring Your Money.

This weekend half the posse and I went to Rome after the completion of midterms and a tour of the Habsburg crypt. Stepping off the plane into Italy, the group was 'assisted' by several terminal officials who wanted to sell us ridiculously overpriced taxi tickets to our destination. When we ignored them, we were then offered a spare train ticket for less than the usual cost by a scruffy older gentleman who spoke a little English. It was a good metaphor for the rest of the trip. Rome did not make a very good first impression on us, as it rained all through our first day. We decided to see the Vatican that day, and of course the line to get inside the St. Peter's Basilica curled half way around the world in the drizzly cold. I didn't have an umbrella, but thankfully there were people standing on literally every corner selling them for 5 euros. As we waited in line for the basilica, swarms of tour guides hocked their wares to the queued up people, with enticing cries of "no lines, no wait". We ended up paying a discounted student fee to get into the Vatican with a British tour guide who ran us briefly through the Vatican museum, up to the Sistine Chapel (echoing of "no photo!" and "Ssshhh!"), and then directed us into the Basilica whereupon we were cut loose. Despite the rush, it was an incredible experience. I do wish I'd had more time to see the Vatican Museum, though. We had a late lunch, and then suddenly it was dark outside. It had stopped raining, and the streets reflected all the light from the now illuminated Vatican and street lamps. It was indescribably beautiful. Then we went to see the Colosseum in the dark, and it was just as breathtaking. We took lots of pictures, then went back to the hostel Alessandro. The next day was more eventful than the last. It was sunny and wonderfully warm out with perfect lighting. We started off the morning by touring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Then we moved on to see the Spanish Steps, which were a little disappointing because they were not decorated or lit up and had large sections of the Berlin Wall displayed on the upper landings. Then we saw the massive, amazing Trevi Fountain, then the Pantheon, then the Cappuchin Crypt, which is the best example of the baroque period's celebration of death you'll ever see. The crypt is ornately decorated with human bones, the remains of priests, dried roses, paintings, and tiny skeletons. At the end of the vault is a plaque reading "As you are now, we once were. As we are now, you will soon be." What a nice reminder to make the most of your day! We came back to the Trevi fountain at night to take more pictures and eat dinner, and discovered how quickly money can evaporate in Rome. I, due to stupidity and paranoia, left my credit card in Vienna so that it would not be stolen. This has so far been my biggest mistake for the entirely of my stay in Europe. I've had to rely on the kindness of the lovely Andrea and the group to get me through three days in the city. I saw as soon as I got in the plane that I had far less money than I thought I had, and by the time I got into Italy I realized that even if I only spent money on transportation costs for the trip, I'd be out of money by the end. There were additional costs for basically everything we did, and delicious food that was never cheaper than 6 euro, not to mention a whole city full of ironically cheap shopping. If you come to Rome, everyone will warn you about the purse-snatchers and pickpockets. We didn't have the slightest problem with this. You don't get robbed in Rome- you get sold things. Evening and night are the worst; people in the subway and in side streets line up with knock-off reproduction or stolen Prada bags and everything else you could possibly desire for 15-25 euros. That evening I had already done some serious shopping, and several very-reasonable-seeming guys with coats full of things I might want or need later, I remembered that I had to pay for food and train tickets, but by then it was too late and I was out of money with a whole day of Rome left to go. What. A. Disaster. And I have no one to blame but myself. I can't complain about the trip as a whole because it was wonderful and I'm happy I came; but I've also had a stinging lesson about financial incontinence and decision making. Experience, along with eating granola bars for a whole day, is the best teacher. For further adventures in Rome, join Kiwi the stuffed owl on his adventures here:

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