Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A cultural half term

For the first time in a few years, I have a half term holiday! Such an exciting prospect that I decided it merited adventure, and so I have had a week of being exceedingly cultural.
First of all, it being Thursday and therefore the only day when the musée gallo-romain here is free, Rebecca and I popped up the hill to Fourvière and briefly visited it. The amphitheatre was exciting, the models of roman Lyon and the roman road network in France were interesting, and they had quite a nice exhibition on the old celtic religion, but the rest was a bit too much like every other roman museum ever…definitely have to be in the right mood to spend a lot of time looking at it!
After that, we trotted over to the Epicerie, which definitely ranks as my favourite café in Lyon so far. Its speciality is 'tartines' but it also does yummy puddings and pick-n-mix sweeties, and has good tea and coffee. It's like a little bit of french country in the middle of the city and the waiters are young and friendly. I had a cup of tea and a 'tartine douceur', while rebecca chose an option with chicken and roasted vegetables, v yummy.
From there we wandered on to the Opéra, where a *five hour* Lohengrin marathon was awaiting us: three and a half hours of opera in three acts, with two forty-five minute intervals between them. We were sat in the third circle (or 'balcony' as they like to call it) and the whole seating experience was rather confusing-people didn't seem to sit in the same seats after the intervals…but we could see the subtitles (the ticket lady said we wouldn't be able to) and had an excellent view of the stage. A very good production, though it had its bizarrities, not the least of which was that Lohengrin himself was enormous and appeared dressed in a very shiny silver suit, with suave gelled back hair…all a bit mad.

Anyway…it was a very good way to spend €10 and five hours of thursday evening. On Friday morning I upped and out to the railway station in rather a hurry in order to catch my train to Chambéry. The train came in, we piled on…and then waited…and at the time when it should have gone they simply announced, "good morning ladies and gentlemen, this train will leave in about ten minutes". Fifteen minutes later, the train did leave, no explanation given, although they did kindly tell us our connection was going to wait for us. So, the connection left Chambéry about five minutes late, but somehow lost another half hour in the mont blanc tunnel, and a further twenty minutes at the border station the other side, eventually arriving in Milan a whole hour and ten minutes late. I therefore had to look for another train to Bologna, and found one called a 'tBiz' which does Milan-Rome stopping only at Bologna and therefore gets there fast. It turned out (perhaps I should have guessed from the name) to be a business train, choc full of people in suits with laptops and swish mobiles, although there didn't appear to be any kind of rule against "normal" people taking it. Strange. To make my day even more crazy, it turned out that my brand new french mobile didn't work in Italy, as apparently it has to be 'activated' in some way (this seems utterly ridiculous in the world of E.U, to me), and so I ended up contactless for a whole five days!
Upon arrival in Bologna, Pamela met me in a state of 'still hung over from the night before' (not good…), but things improved and we had a nice meal out at Belle Arti before going for a drink with Drews and his jamaican friend as well. The following morning Pamela cooked full english breakfast (wow), which was muchly tasty indeed! Lots of fun :D but then I had to leave the lovely city of Bologna once more, and get on a swish eurostar to Roma Termini, where I arrived at lunchtime and found my incredibly basic hostel. The lift appeared to be about to break, I'm not convinced they have regular safety checks in such places…ach well. My roommates were friendly, including a lovely tasmanian couple who reminded me a lot of mark and tasha (for those of you who know them), and a danish girl called Rebecca who like me was travelling alone, and so we spent monday exploring together.
On Saturday I did the colosseum and forums before meeting Natalie for dinner at one of Rome's best pizzerias (it was, indeed, very tasty) and a drink at a bar in the Campo de' fiori. Sunday was Natalie's day off, and also her flatmate Tiffany's. Tiffany is a guide at the Vatican museums, and so together with her boyfriend Mirko (whose broken leg rather conveniently meant we could skip the ENORMOUS queue) we went on a totally free tour of the Musei Vaticani, and then Natalie and I also visited S Pietro. So much to see, and soooo many crowds of tourists, so a long hard day but most definitely worth it! And a privelege to have a guide tell us where to go and what to look at. In the evening, we went back to Natalie's lovely cosy flat in Trastevere and then ate at a restaurant nearby where a particularly crazy waiter tried to offer us every single plate of food he brought out! Madness. Feeling a little museum-ed out after Sunday, I decided to take things at a more relaxed pace on Monday, and the only priorities were the Pantheon and the Fontana di Trevi. The danish girl who was in the bunk above me in the hostel had similar plans, so we decided to go together, and spent all day just wandering in the parts of the city we hadn't yet explored much: Quirinale, Pantheon, a few churches along the way, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo, Villa Borghese (we spent an hour or two in the park, which was lovely especially with such good weather-it was a good 25 degrees), and a gelato in Piazza Navona before popping back to the hostel for a couple of hours and eating nearby where the waiters thought we were swiss and had an argument about which of us they liked better. Romans are funny! On Tuesday Natalie had another day off, and so we walked together to the Circo Massimo via the Jewish quarter, sauntered up to Piazza del Parlamento to eat in a lovely little cafe, and then toddled back to Trastevere to make essential purchases (notably panettone) before I had to take the bus back to catch my sleeper train.
The train left Termini ten minutes late, and in my compartment there were only three of us: a young parisian couple and I. We had a lovely peaceful ride for the first couple of hours, but then all went a little crazy when an oriental couple got on at Florence with a big suitcase and two very heavy cardboard boxes of goodness knows what and proceeded to want to go to bed (it was only about 9 pm). A fifth person joined us at Milan, with an even bigger suitcase that hardly fit anywhere. Somehow, despite it being the night, the train managed to arrive 45 minutes late at Dijon and so I, along with a couple of californian students, had missed our connection, and ended up in Lyon at 11 instead of 9. Still at least we had each other, and a pack of cards, to keep ourselves amused on the journey! Not to mention a double decker train.

Rome was lovely, and, as Natalie and I were discussing yesterday, incredible if you actually think about every bit of Roman building that you walk past. Yet, unfortunately, there is so much that we have a tendency to start ignoring a lot of it. And, which is worse, the Romans don't take care of it well, in as far as the city is dirty, very polluted, and covered- everywhere -in graffiti.
I am going to go and get some sleep now, as the sleeper train was not the best night's sleep ever–but will add more to this very soon-watch this space!

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