As I announced recently, I will be using Tuesdays (every other) as an opportunity to share with you all some of my travel adventures. Aside from photographing people in love, spending quiet time with my husband (Jay) and doggos, and eating as much ice cream as possible, one of my favorite things in the world is travel. Nothing can replace the experience of immersing yourself in a foreign place, hiking through unknown territory, and spending time in a different culture. It's a truly transformative experience every single time I do it.
Last fall, Jay and I spent a glorious (and sometimes harrowing) five weeks in Europe. We traveled from Italy to Iceland and had many adventures. Until now, I've done a pretty disappointing job of sharing the images and stories from those adventures, and I'm really excited to change that now.
So, I'll be taking you on a guided tour through our time in Rome, Florence, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Paris, Dublin, Galway, Reyjavik, Hvolsvollur, and Hveragerdi. We'll start at the beginning...
Rome is an interesting and beautiful place. I have to say, I'm glad we started our travels here, because I think the hustle of the city would have been a little too much for us by the end of our trip. That said, it was the perfect way to begin our adventure.
We met a couple of old friends in Rome for the first day of our journey. Nicole is a friend I made back in my high school years - she was a foreign exchange student from Germany at my school in Post Falls, ID. While she was there, we became very close and spent a glorious summer together. Being that both Jay and I had never spent any significant amount of time in Europe, it seemed the perfect opportunity to meet up with Nicole, and her husband, Julian. And, of course, one of our first stops had to be the Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
Before I dive into the destinations themselves, I have to mention something I've learned and truly take to heart whenever I travel. The absolute best way to see a new place is to walk it as much as possible (in warm weather, my shoe of choice for miles of exploration is Chacos). Sure, taxis and public transportation will get you to your end location a whole lot quicker (usually), but walking through a new place, for me, has proven to be the best way to actually experience it. That said, we did a whole lot of walking our first day in Rome (and really, every day of our trip), and we saw (and heard) some beautiful things as a result.
Of course, we eventually make it to our destination, and I remember coming upon the Colosseum a bit unexpectedly. From the direction we were coming, it seemed to suddenly appear and it was way more breathtaking than I anticipated. You see images of a place online so often and for so long, and it gives you this impression that you know what it feels like to be there. And though images can certainly give you a tasted, there is something inexplicable and tangible about actually being in these places.
Getting into any well-known place is always a bit of an adventure in and of itself. As you might imagine, the Colosseum was crawling with tourists. Add on top of that that it was blazingly hot (we had just come from a very cold and wet Portland), we didn't have water (and as we found out later, you should NOT buy the water the vendors are selling), and we hadn't purchased any tickets to get inside the Colosseum ahead of time. So, naturally, while we game-planned, I took a bunch more pictures.
Ultimately, we ended up hiring one of the on-site tour companies. At the time this seemed like a risk, but we really wanted to go inside, and it was basically our only option. It turned out to be a great choice, because we got a package that included a guided tour of not only the Colosseum, but also the Roman Forum (right next door). Granted, we probably ended up paying a lot more than we should have, so I highly recommend booking your tours ahead of time, folks.
And yes, having a tour guide is totally worth it for these historical locations. We got so much more out of our experience, because we had someone there sharing the meaning behind all the amazing things we were seeing. It also got into the Colosseum a whole lot faster. And let me tell you, if I had known what it would feel like to step inside there, I would have tried to get in even quicker...
I can't really even begin to describe the feeling of enormity of the Colosseum. It really feels like stepping into history. A gruesome history. Our guide told us all about how the parts in the center of the Colosseum floor that you can see now were originally hidden beneath a stage, and animals that were made part of the fights there were kept in cages beneath. How the stage would be layered with sand, in order to absorb all the blood for easy clean up and to protect the wooden floor base. How not all gladiators were actually slaves, and even some Roman emperors participated themselves (though, it couldn't really be called a fair fight, as conditions were likely highly controlled).
I will never forget this place. The history of it horrified me, and yet it is so undeniably beautiful.
After we exited the Colosseum, we waited for a tour guide shift swap and promptly made our way toward the Roman Forum. Everywhere you turned there was some magnificent piece of architecture, and we weren't even in the Forum yet.
At this point, I have to mention our tour guide, David. He was...marvelous. Born in Rome, he not only provided us with valuable and interesting information, he was naturally hilarious. A good tour guide will make you laugh despite the heat, while also managing to make the history come alive around you.
At this point, we haven't even really walked into the proper Roman Forum, but when we finally did, it was magical.
At this point, David starts wrapping things up while we all sit on ancient stones and admire the amazing place surrounding us. We say goodbye to our guide, and are given free reign to roam the Forum. This means that I know significantly less about what is in the following images, other than they are original buildings, some of which have been restored, some of which haven't, and that it all was stunning.
At the end of our first day in Rome, we were all exhausted, hungry, and a little too hot. Travel will sometimes do a weird thing to you - at the end of a long day of exploring new things, you can become so tired that your perspective temporarily shifts from one of awe and gratitude, to one of "I-am-so-done-and-I-want-sleep-forever". Even so, we made a great effort to keep our eyes and ears open as we walked back to our hostel and managed to appreciate a few more moments of magic in this beautiful place.
Next time...Day 2 in Rome: Pantheon and the Spanish Steps.