Speaking of late, I’m going to try and tackle the “big one”: our fabulously exciting (not trying to be arrogant, just being truthful) two week trip through Rome, Cologne, Munich and Paris. Wow. That’s really all I can say. (Not true. I can say more, and I’m no more capable of being that brief than I am of turning into a penguin. Which I can’t. Obviomente.)
So, I’m going to try it this way: a few highlights, special moments and pics of all the trips, but, heck, who am I kidding it’s going to be really long. I’m sorry. You’ve been fairly warned. You just can’t shorten some things. Oh jeez, I just need to stop all this drivel and start already. This is my form of literary/blog-iary procrastination and it will go no further. Well, it might have to be two posts… Enough already!!
So, Rome. Can I gush enough about this city? To anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of going to “the eternal city,” I promise you, it lives up to the hype. We walked for hours upon hours and while not seeing everything, (is it even possible to do so?) we saw just about everything we wanted to in the 2.5 days we had there.
-Rome’s city center at night, in general. Not always a sight you’re able to see as a tourist unless you have a hotel/hostel nearby and we were lucky enough to snag a pretty decent one about a 7-10 minute walk from the Colosseum. Seeing it, the Forum, the fountains, just everything in that magical, romantic evening setting is just that. Romantic and magical.
-The most fantastic pizza on the face of this earth. Not kidding/exaggerating in any way. I spent a month in northern Italy a few years ago and I fell in love (or lust, perhaps) with the stuff and knew to take advantage of every opportunity upon my return. HIGHLY recommend wandering the Trastevere neighborhood (across the river, to southwest-ish) for great finds that are a little less touristy (read: reasonably priced and extremely good quality) as well as populated by locals. We had the best experience at a packed little place full of long wooden tables, which provided a unique opportunity to meet other people, one of which happened to be a particularly friendly Roman gentlemen who spoke English and was there with his ballroom dancing club (too adorable or what?!!!).
-The Forum and the fountains. The Roman Forum, the ruins of what was once an important center of Rome’s commercial and governmental life, is just stunning. It’s literally like stepping directly back in time or into a history book or something. Some people may think the fact that so little of it remains is a detractor, but I love the opportunity to use one’s imagination to think of the splendor it used to have in its time. And of course, the fountains. You’ve heard of the Trevi Fountain, and it’s incredible, to be certain and you must see it, preferably at night. But the sheer amount of fountains in the city, each of them unique and intricately detailed and gorgeous…is just incredible. And for a person who LOVES fountains, like I do, it was pure ambiance heaven. 🙂
A few tips: go to the Colosseum early in the morning (right after it opens or before) and you beat a ton of lines. Get pizza and gelato at every opportunity…it’s worth it. Wear good shoes. There is no such thing as “too many pictures.” Take time to sit in a plaza, let the sun (or moon) shine on your face and soak up the wonder that is Roma. Visit any one of the many catacombs (seriously, must-see). If you’re a Christian (or just interested in history), definitely see Peter’s prison (Mamertine Prison). Go to the Gianicolo (the top of one of the famous hills) and see the whole city laid out at your feet (especially at dusk or night). Go to Vatican City…get in line immediately to see St. Peter’s; it’s free (and amazing) but the line can wind through the entire giant square. See the Sistine Chapel & Vatican Museums (we weren’t able to unfortunately—next time) but be aware of the impressively large lines & 20 euro admission fee.
Cologne became a priority stop after we met our friend Jan, who studies in Logroño as an Erasmus student at the university. He was wonderful enough to invite us into his home (and the flats of his friends) and show us around not only Cologne, but also his university town, Münster, as well as give us the most INCREDIBLE New Year’s Eve of our lives. We love ya, man, and are in your debt till you come visit us in Nebraska. A lively, historic-meets-modern city set on the Rhine river, Cologne used to be an old Roman colony (“Colonia” means “colony,” and thus “Cologne”). In addition to a generous amounts of great pubs and restaurants, it’s also home to the busiest shopping street in Europe, called “Schildergasse.”
-The Cologne Cathedral, of course. A looming, impossibly tall, spire-spiked Gothic masterpiece that looms darkly over the central train station. Beautiful/impressive day and night, building on it begun in 1248 and it houses relics of the Magi (yeah, you read that correctly, the Magi or Wise Men of the nativity story) transferred from Milan in 1164. Just astounding. And, not for the faint of heart (literally), you’ve got the challenging climb up the tower’s 533 steps. Not an easy feat, and by not easy I mean absolutely exhausting for someone not in the best cardio shape like myself. But worth it, if even just for the bragging rights.
-New Year’s Eve. We somehow managed to ring in the new year on the top floor/roof-top terrace of a building with our already dear friend Jan and wonderful friends of his who welcomed us with such hospitality. Oh, and the minor detail that everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) in Cologne sets off fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve. So we all gladly stood out shivering in the cold, misty night on the terrace and toasted/watched in absolute awe as the whole city was practically set on fire—a panoramic view of fiery green, blue, orange, red, purple and yellow explosions lighting up the sky. Then back inside to the warmth for drinking and dancing into the wee hours of the morning. Amazing.
A few tips: go to the cathedral & climb the tower, no excuses. We were too late for the Christmas markets and too early for Carnival, but the city’s world famous for both, so I highly recommend hitting one if you can. Definitely sample the city’s own Kölsch beer, a delightful easy-to-drink brew to help you “do as the locals do.” Cross the bridge near the cathedral a night to get a postcard-esque photo of the bronze bridge leading to an almost greenish-glowing cathedral, as well as marvel at the thousands of locks fastened to the bridge’s edges– each with the initials of a unique pair of love-birds.