All roads lead to Rome

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In our case the above proverb really applied but actually only from our connection from Switzerland to Milan. As every time I have to go to Milan, something happens that my travel plan becomes more complicated. This time, it was a train crash with two cargo trains that happened in Switzerland and therefore the path I wanted to take was blocked. Due to the long weekend, all the other trains were already overbooked anyways and now even more people had to get on them…I wasn’t sure whether I’d make it to Milan in time to make my connection to Rome, but all I could do was try. In the end, my route via Bern – Brig – Milano Expo worked (although I had to stand in the overcrowded isle of the train from Brig to Milan …) and I met my friends at Porta Garibaldi just in time. They also had to make last minute changes to their travel plans and so 4 people had to take three different routes to get to Milan. Good that these possibilities existed and that we had this 2 hour time cushion.

On the Italian train from Milano to Rome, we had pre booked seats and had a very agreeable journey on a clean and fast train with air-conditioning and wifi. We had bought our tickets during a special offer and had a return trip to Milan for only 24 Euros! We couldn’t say not to that.

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Three and a half hours later, we arrived in Rome, where contrary to Switzerland it wasn’t raining and still over 20° C. Summer had arrived J.

Our connection by metro and bus to the airbnb worked without any problems, too. I didn’t really know what to expect of an airbnb since we did this for the first time. It’s an accommodation you book over a website. It can be anything from a private apartment or house to a dormitory room. This time we had a small room with bunk beds in the basement of a house. Good enough if you only need the room for sleeping and the shower was great!

We had a nice café right around the corner, where we went to have breakfast every day and the baristas enjoyed my attempts in ordering in Italian (I don’t speak Italian at all) since they were not used to tourist in this area and we probably were a nice change to the daily clientele they have. Luckily, Myriam (the one I went to Thailand with and not Australia ;)) knew that the Italian way of eating breakfast is having a coffee and something sweet at the bar, without sitting down at the table and so we avoided the almost 100% price surcharge if we had sat down at a table.

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We took the metro to the Colosseo and were happy to really be in the Rome as we had imagined it. We walked once around it to look for a shorter entrance line but then realized that we’d have to wait in the one, really long line near the arch. The tour guides who wanted to sell us their tours said that the line would take 2 hours but in the end we only waited about half an hour until we had our tickets. It’s a two day pass for the Colosseo and the Forum Romanum for 12 Euros or 8 Euros if you are under 25 and from the European Union.

There were hundreds of tourists but it was worth seeing the ruin of this huge stadium from the insides anyways. Plus, it’s also like a museum with old statues and artefacts. About 1,5 hours later, we met up with our friends (yes, it’s possible to find each other in all the tourists) and then went to look for some lunch. My goal was to eat pizza and gelati at least once every day and I achieved it J. The best ice cream we had was on the side of Basilica di Santa Maria. All the pizzas I had were good but the best dinner all in all probably was the one near the Vatican. In that area are many cute restaurants anyways.

Our days were filled with a lot of walking. Rome is like an open air museum, there is sooooooo much to see and at every corner you find another beautiful church, obelisk, arch, stairway, market or garden. Since there are only two metro lines and we didn’t really figure out the bus plan, we ended up walking everything. It was fun to see all these sights you always see on pictures or on TV in nature.

Pantheon by night

Pantheon by night

To round off our Italian experience, the metro was on a partial strike on the second day. A few Italians had been waiting at the bus stop for 30min already, since the bus might come after all (a few buses were running), so we thought, while we waited for the bus, we could also try to hitchhike into town. After only two minutes, a middle aged guy with a nice car stopped and we had a very agreeable ride to the brim of the city center with a stock broker who turned out to be the age of our parents but looked much younger and was really nice to give us loads of tips about good markets in the city. Have a positive hitchhike experience – check. Now that that was crossed of my bucket list, we could fully concentrate on the clothes market in Sannio Street outside of San Giovanni. If you haggle a little that’s probably the cheapest and biggest market in Rome (at least of the ones we have been to).

Forum Romanum

Forum Romanum

Then, we visited the Forum Romanum. If you want to have a look at everything, you need at least two hours but since the ruins are not marked that clearly, you could just have a look from the fences along the outside and would see pretty much the same things you see on the inside. After walking perceived 10’000 miles we took a taxi to Peter’s Square to meet up with our friends again. It was impressive to see the Peter’s Dome and the huge square in reality. Also, the line to get inside the church was impressive but luckily, we didn’t have to wait since one of my friends knew someone that worked as a Swiss Guard (I hope that’s the correct translation) and he was so kind to bring us inside without having to wait in line. He was also the one who introduced us to the delicious restaurant the night before. It was funny to pass all these guards who speak Swiss German and enter the smallest country in the world, in the middle of Rome. The church is richly decorated and the height of the dome very impressive. Near the front left of the church, there is a stairway down to the tombs of the former popes and then you come back up near the entrance to the big cupola. There are 521 stairs to get to the top and it costs 5 Euros to walk or 7 Euros to take the lift for the first 200 stairs. Although our feet were screaming something else, we decided to walk all the way, that we wouldn’t have to wait in line for the elevator. The first 200 stairs were no problem anyways, since the corridor is quite broad with small steps. It’s probably only the last 150 steps that get really interesting.

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First, you arrive just below the dome from where you can look down on the church floor and all the tourists. I didn’t even notice the people up here before! It’s so high! Good that we were in something like a cave with a fence all the way around us. After that, the corridor gets really narrow. You should visit the cupola before you eat too many gelatis. Plus, the walls are on a slant. The last few meters are steep corkscrew stairs. So, getting to the top is actually an adventure on its own and in the end you get rewarded with a beautiful view over St. Peter’s Square and the city of Rome.

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Of course, we then had to walk back down again and my calves still reproach me for that.

The last day of our four day trip, we wanted to take it easy and just visit the Pantheon and go shopping. Well, when is shopping ever relaxed? Again, we walked a 1000 miles but at least we wouldn’t go home empty handed. Even in the shopping streets there were so many tourists that it had the feeling of a street festival. Apparently, the best time to visit Rome to have good weather and fewer tourists is April but all in all, I was quite happy with our Ascension weekend.

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The journey back was a lot more relaxed since there were no train problems and so I even considered going to the Expo in Milan this year by train again.

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Lisbon – a must if you like small laneways

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I have never been checked-in so quickly as with TAP at Newark. After a 6 hour flight, I already landed in Lisbon, Portugal. Hello Europe, long time no see!

I took the metro to Sao Sebastiao station, where mom already waited in our hotel room.

We enjoyed breakfast in one of the street cafés around our hotel and then bought a ticket for the hop on hop off tourist bus with Graylines for 18€ for 48h. We didn’t know that other companies existed too but afterwards it seemed to us that the more colorful Portugal Sightseeing buses were driving more frequently and were friendlier too.

Sometimes, we had to wait over an hour to hop back on, since there were no timetables at the stops and sometimes, there wasn’t even a clear sign. Some improvements could be done but otherwise, it was a very comfortable way to see the city. Plus, there was wifi on the bus.

First, we rode to Belem. It’s an area with pretty buildings. We took a nice walk along the river (It’s so big, we thought it was part of the sea.)

Everywhere, there are cute restaurants in the alleys and on the squares. When we looked for the restaurants where the Portuguese people ate, we always had the most delicious and really cheap food.

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When we completed the circle of the red line, I felt the jet lag kicking in and I first needed to sleep for two hours.

Afterwards, I was fit enough again, to go look for some dinner.

We found a restaurant in the center and the friendly Portuguese owners even offered us free port wine.

Good that after that big meal we had the possibility to walk the 40min back to our hotel.

The next day, after we waited an hour at the stop, we finally boarded a blue line bus. It took us to the Orient area which is impressive but not necessarily pretty.

Lunch we found in one of the cute laneways close to the main train station.

Then we continued the blue bus line and again landed on a hill from which we had an amazing view over the city.

Afterwards, we took another red bus to go back to the Docks in Belem for Happy hour. We calculated that the last bus should come by at 7.50pm. However, we missed it by a minute because I saw it drive off (although we were there early). Luckily, a bus from the other company came after that and took us with him although we didn’t have their ticket. A little luck comes in handy from time to time 🙂

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Back in the city, we had dinner in a steep alley from where we had a beautiful view on the houses and the castle that was lit up on the opposite hill.

Since the temperatures were climbing, we attempted to take bus 161 from Plaça España to Costa di Capricia for a beach day. It’s a cute beach town with the typical tourist beach shops and markets. The water was totally clear and there were nice waves. I wished I had a surf board. Even in October it was still hot. We stayed there the whole day and returned at 22.40 with bus 153. Even at that time we were wearing short clothes at 20 degrees 🙂

On our last full day we bought a 24h public transportation ticket.

We walk along the river in the city and then took tram 28 up to the castle where we found more cute laneways and more nice views.

Then, we took the tram back to the other side of the city, where we relaxed for a while in the shade of trees and palm trees. On the way back, the small tram was really crowded and unfortunately, we couldn’t sit anymore. We got off to try one of the historic looking cable cars as well. It brought us down a steep street while children were running along next to it. Once we arrived at the bottom in another small street, we had no idea where we were and the tiny printed map didn’t help us either, so we just took it back up again.

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At 7pm we were supposed to meet some Swiss friends for dinner but before that we had time to enjoy an appetizer consisting of olives, cheese and sangria in another restaurant with view on this pretty city.

Right on time, we walked to our meeting point and our friends were right behind us. We hadn’t planned to be in Lisbon at the same time. It’s funny how things sometimes work out. And it was nice to already meet some Swiss people before returning to Switzerland. Gradual acclimatization.

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Unfortunately, we let us drag in from one of the touristy restaurants. The food wasn’t as good as at the other places and had been more expensive too. It’s really worth it to look around a little. Therefore, we decided to go back to the place from our first evening for dessert, where for the second time, we enjoyed perfect food and service.

Afterwards, we said goodbye to Kurt and Ursula, they will be spending a few more days in Portugal. Mom and I took the metro back to the hotel, where I had to pack my suitcase for the last time.

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The next morning, we took the metro into the city center again to buy some of these delicious cream tarts but then returned to our breakfast café, where the waitress already knew us and knew what we wanted 🙂

Before we took the metro to the airport, we had time to go buy some Port wine in the biggest mall in Lisbon. From the outside El Corte Ingles doesn’t look big because it only has two floors above ground. Eight more floors are below ground.

At the airport, the line for check-in was pretty long but moved quickly. In the end, we arrived at our gate right when they started boarding. The last flight on this trip passed quickly and finally, I saw the Swiss mountains approach from the air and then we landed on the familiar airport surrounded by trees.

That’s how fast you’re suddenly back in your own country. I had my train ticket, I already got used to Swiss German in Honduras and Lisbon again and the weather was still nice too.

So far, everything here still seems the same. Which is very different from long empty beaches, palm trees and waves. But I guess I’ll get used to it again. At least we have really delicious sausages and yoghurt 🙂

Lisbon's Golden Gate Bridge

Lisbon’s Golden Gate Bridge