Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Damien Hirst Spot Challenge: Geneva to Rome (9 down, 2 to go!)

I nearly dropped my camera when I saw this. Do they really think a "NEW!" starburst will  attract American tourists? Hang on, it works for toasters and hamburger helper! 

In case you weren't sure you've landed in Italy, there are plenty of clues right at the airport ..

It's a long, long, long hike to the Easyjet gate lounge at Geneva Airport. As it was such a short flight (1 hour), I made the mistake of thinking of it as a domestic flight in the USA, where you can arrive an hour before take off. I've smugly sat in the gate lounge charging my phone or laptop while everyone else rushes to shuffle along the gangway to their pre-assigned seat. I've even waited for the eleventh-hour "Passenger Lynette Chiang, please come to the gate lounge, your flight is now boarding ..." before calmly packing up my things and strolling to the door like I own the place ...

The wonderful patina of old Rome ... 
Doh! EU airlines require 2 hours, even if it's hop and a skip. I had to run the length of three football fields to find everyone nose against nape at the aircraft door.

The $US160 flight was fast and the hot chocolate was better than watery Swiss Miss or Hersheys syrup that usually passes for same in the USA. Rome, the land of good food, is nigh! At 4.40pm we touched down, and in an in 1 hour I was at Roma Termini, the main bus/train interchange. I knew it was ambitious to get to Gagosian Gallery at Via Francesco Crispi before it closed at 7pm, so I'd allowed for two nights in Rome.

The main transit hub of Rome, and just a stone's throw from a bunch of hostels. 

A local CouchSurfer who wasn't able to host me had suggested the Yellow Hostel. Without bothering to scroll down and read the find print, I'd made an online booking.

Now I had the chance to read it, and saw that it had an age restriction - you had to be younger than 40. (I guess that's no worse than the Electronic Music Appreciation Society I'd started in Eugene, which had a tongue-in-cheek age restriction: you had to be older than 40.)
Further, the text made no bones about it:  "if this rule is not respected, a full night's accommodation would be charged."
A shoe shop in Rome with a courtesy bar!
I couldn't imagine they'd turn away an elder traveler like me in low season, but I wasn't going to risk it. My Lonely Planet City Guide to Rome, which I should have consulted earlier, recommended a sublime-sounding place called The Beehive Hostel, 20 Euro for a dorm bed and run by yoga-minded people with an organic café .. I was sold. And it was just a couple of blocks from Roma Termini.

I fronted up and totally lucked out. There was one dorm bed left. "Normally we're fully booked year round," said Yuli, from Indonesia. I poked my head in the room and noted I'd be sharing with 5 guys. Snoring? No problem. I had ear plugs, and besides, I'd feel a lot more comfortable bunking with 100 guys than being in a hostel which precluded me for being born in the sixties.

Yuli let me call and cancel the Yellow Hostel from reception. "I'll refund your deposit as a courtesy, but normally we'd charge you for the first night," came the business-like reply.

Thus I came to spend two nights in one of the best hostels I've ever stayed in. It was more like a hotel. A grand old house nestled in a high-walled garden, impeccably maintained, with organic shower gels, shampoo and hairdryers in the spotless bathrooms, complimentary towel, a cosy downstairs living room decorated with photos of the owners' kids and travels, and a wonderful organic in-house kitchen-café, serving a few simple but instantly appealing items - like home made whole wheat bagels and preserves. Yum! There was even came with a Beehive manual that listed the owners' favorite eateries and other must-see sights.

I complimented the handsome breakfast chef, Gianluca on his menu, but he just shrugged.  "I've helped out here part time for years." He had degrees in HR, and was trying to be optimistic about the job climate in Italy, which apparently, is far from bellisima. I suggested he start a food cart, because they seem to be the only people making money apart from Wall Street: selling food - always in demand - with a low overhead.

The Gagosian Gallery Rome

I set off on the half hour walk to the gallery and didn't make it until late afternoon, distracted by pizza and tourist vortexes like the Trevi fountain.

The Gagosian Rome is the most impressive I've seen - a classically ornate, carved building with tall glass doors.

Gagosian Gallery in Rome
The gallery is an elliptical space, with paintings dotted around the wall. This time I tried to photograph my Traffic Cone Bag, the singular piece of luggage I was carrying for this 8 country trip (10 if you include my failed Beijing leg and Sydney at the end).
Showing my only piece of luggage on this global trip - my Traffic Cone Bag - in cycling (orange) mode.

The Gagosian Gallery Rome



Oh my ... I look like death warmed up after all this running around - put a bit of that red ink on my lips and cheeks,  please! 
The final stop of the day was a visit to the Spanish Steps. I looked back along the road I had started walking on and saw an opening between the buildings in the distance with sun shining on an obelisk. Know the feeling? When a distant scene beckons you to go check it out, even when your feet hurt, you've spent too much money and it's getting dark?



Three views of the Spanish Steps at sundown

A curious glitch in the Blogger photo upload produced this two-tone shot of the Trevi Fountain by night.  I'm going to say it's been Rothkoed!


No-one does pizza like the Italians - in Italy. This scrumptious roasted pepper and eggplant slice from a hole in the wall called Fior de Pizza.


No boat to China

Rome was my last chance to see if I could get a visa to China, specifically, Beijing. If I had beat it to the consulate I might have been able to plead with them to process it same day, but I basically gave up on the idea, and decided to just enjoy Rome. It was all too hard. China visas are incompatible with spontaneous travel, they must be arranged in your home country.

Tomorrow ... Athens!

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