So, it was from Cairo that I flew into Munich, Germany, and the Eurail adventure was set to begin. Leading up to the journey, I was really looking forward to catching trains through Europe (as anyone familiar with my blog might guess!) and so I had a pass that 10 days travel across Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria in a two-month period.
Munich was, as it has been with subsequent trips, a chance to take a few breaths as I spent time with family before moving around Europe. I had a couple of weeks there from memory sleeping in, and exploring Munich – just a little bit. It’s actually a really impressive city with great architecture and some good museums and galleries too.
But the journey had to continue, and I was on an overnight train southwards to Rome after my two weeks in Munich. I would loop back there before heading to the United Kingdom. From here on in, the budget would be much harder to control. Actually, in Egypt it had blown out quite a bit, after being good in India, Denmark and Russia.
It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t spend longer in Italy, but I’d decided on this loop to try and take in a bit of as many European countries as I could, so Italy was just going to be Rome. The train was an overnighter, and Rome’s main train station was very packed and crazy, especially as it was 7am in the morning.
There was just really one main (big) hostel in Rome in 1999. So, I found myself on a local bus across the river and a little way from the centre of town trying to find it. When you arrive early in the morning with little sleep, finding accommodation is not a lot of fun. It had been low 20s in Munich, add about 10 degrees for Rome. I walked way way WAY past the turn for the hostel and in desperate need for the loo, I went into a school that had toilets open for the public, to find, crikey – squat toilets! What was this place all about?
I was supposed to meet up again with my friend Greg (see previous posts on Egypt!) but things didn’t go quite according to plan. I had phoned ahead to the hostel to secure my bed, however Greg’s itinerary was less settled and he missed out and ended up at a camp ground for a few nights (which he didn’t mind, although the idea of camping in a huge city seemed strange to me!). We did eventually meet up however.
The hostel (which I can’t find these days on the interweb, suggesting it’s no longer) was really big and quite institutional in feel. The smell of disinfectant permeated every floor. There was a decent cafeteria which also sold microwave meals and served an ok breakfast. The dorm rooms themselves were locked up for a few hours in the middle of the day for cleaning. It lacked a fair bit in atmosphere, but I did meet some new ‘friends’ there and we went about Rome together.
Not far from the hostel was a set of tennis courts and it so happened that at the time I was there the 1999 Italian Open was on. On my second day it was the final, and it featured an Australian – Patrick Rafter, who was playing Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten. Surprisingly, seats were still available and not particularly expensive (from memory around $30). Sadly, Pat didn’t win despite my inner patriot coming out and cheering him on, but it was something different to do and cool to say that I was there.
Never fear, I did get to see a bit of what makes Rome, Rome. You know, churches, columns, Roman ruins and the like. I still remember how brilliant yet bizarre it was, seeing the ruins with columns and arches in areas fenced off from the rest of the city, modern shops and buildings and the like.
The there’s the colosseum. Ok – confession – I didn’t go inside, I was too cheap. In all fairness though, none of the little group from the hostel paid to go inside, we could still get a decent photos from outside and say we were there.
I tossed a coin over my shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, visited St Peter’s Square and Cathedral and many of the ‘must-see’ items in Rome. St Peter’s is incredibly grand. Big. Huge. Humongous! And itr was so packed when I walked through it I felt like a rock bobbing up and down in moving lava! Then there were the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon (yes not the Parthenon!) This building dates back thousands of years. As do many in Rome, of course! Oh, and let’s not forget a little country surrounded by Rome – the Vatican. The Holy See. Vatican City!
Well, as with most tourists I went to the Vatican Museum. I remember getting there by 9am to already find a long line and a wait of over an hour to get in, by 10 o’clock it was possibly twice as long. Sadly, I only took a few photos in there, but I’m sure it was well worth it.
By this stage, Greg had gotten a bed at the hostel, but I was moving on. Family friends in Bordeaux, on a vineyard no less, had offered me a place to stay, which was VERY kind of them. Well – I did ask. Greg decided to stay a few more days. For me, though, another overnight train journey and a new country awaited.
But that’s for the next chapter!