Picture 17While I spent the spring of my Sophomore year in Vienna, the cool thing to do was to take a weekend trip. Many of my fellow classmates had traveled to Budapest, Salzburg, and other nearby cities of interest. Being low on cash, I wasn’t able to join them on most occasions. But when I heard talk of taking the train to Rome, I gathered up my schillings and climbed on board.

Being an art major, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see so many famous pieces of art up close and in person. While my traveling companions might have had visions of piazzas and pizzas, my mind was focused on Bernini, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio.

Speaking of my traveling companions, we weren’t totally companionable. The only two classmates who wound up on the trip were my roommate Sherry, and this guy Dan. Sherry and I were polar opposites – she liked to party all the time regardless of when others were trying to study or sleep. She saw me as a huge dud. Dan was sort of a beatnik – down to earth and a tad grungy. I had no problem with him other than I didn’t know him that well. However, we were on this adventure together, good, bad or ugly.

We took the evening train from Vienna and arrived in Rome in the morning after a lousy night’s sleep on the train. We quickly found a youth hostel near the station, dropped off our bags and headed out for our first day in Rome!

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My fave Dave

You can’t imagine the amount of walking we did over the course of the weekend. Our first day we saw the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps and wandered through the Borghese gardens. I also dragged my companions through the Borghese Gallery, where I was able to feast my eyes upon Bernini’s sculpture of David. After seeing it in books and studying it for my Baroque art history class the semester before, it was a real treat to see it in person.

By the end of our first day we were exhausted. As we sat eating a very frugal meal at an outdoor cafe, I took out a map and plotted my course of action over the next 36 hours. I had a list of every church and gallery that held the works of art I wanted to see, and set out to locate them. It wasn’t easy. Some of these places were down tiny little alleyways far off the beaten path. But I was determined – this was my one chance.

The next day we woke up in the hostel with a plan to see the Vatican. I had paid extra for a shower, but was not aware that the shower would not be a hot one. I vividly remember trying to wash in freezing cold water on a very chilly morning. At least I was invigorated for the day ahead.

VaticanOur morning at the Vatican was one I’ll always remember. As we walked down the Via della Conciliazione I was awestruck – you could see the Vatican right in front of you, but it never seemed to get closer. After what seemed like 10 miles, we finally stepped within the columns of St. Peter’s Square. I can remember spinning around, watching the columns zoom past. I was actually here, not just looking at photos in a book.

Part Of The Artwork Of Michelangelo That Adorns ThThe day, for me, was a wonderland of art. I stood in front of Michelangelo’s Pieta for a good half hour just staring at every detail. There were many statues and paintings that I had studied throughout the Vatican, but nothing compared to entering the Sistine Chapel. The famous panel portraying the birth of man is actually quite small – you would think it’s the entire ceiling, but it’s only part of a larger story.

After the Vatican we split up for a while. I wanted time to hunt down a few other pieces of art that were in odd places around Rome, and my companions weren’t as art crazy as I was. I headed to the Cornaro Chapel to see Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Theresa.

Picture 16Again, I was awestruck. It was in a little side altar, and I just stood there and stared for at least 20 minutes. I had studied this sculpture in depth just the semester before. I had seen slide after slide of it in class, and here I was, IN ROME, standing right in front of it. The feeling was amazing. I didn’t want to leave.

After a trip to the Trevi fountain we headed back to the hostel in preparation for our train ride back to Vienna the next morning. I was close to broke so I made a quick breakfast out of a couple of oranges, and we got on board for the long ride back to Vienna.

When the train pulled into Florence, my classmates decided it would be fun to get off the train and explore the city. It was Sunday, and it would mean missing classes the next day. We had a German test, and I didn’t want to miss it, so I decided to stay on the train by myself.

Dan and Sherry left me with their bags of souvenirs so they didn’t have to lug them around Florence. I put them with mine on the overhead rack in our compartment and went to sleep. I was hungry…those oranges didn’t go far, but I was determined to wait until a bit later to eat.

The next thing I knew, I was shaken awake by a conductor speaking Italian. I had no clue what he was saying, but I was being urged to grab my things and come along. There was a line of travelers in the corridor, so I sleepily followed suit, totally forgetting the bag of souvenirs.

It seems that there was a problem with the track. To get us to our destination, we had to board a bus and travel 45 minutes or so to the next stop. It was nearing dark, and I was hungry and confused. By the time I got on the bus there were no seats. I had to stand behind the bus driver and hold onto a pole.

Between the lack of food, being tired, and getting increasingly nauseous from the bus ride along a windy road, I began to feel faint. I slid my hand down the pole and sat on my baggage – I was in la la land, my head banging against the pole with every bump in the road.

When we got to the next station, I got off the bus in a very bewildered state. I stood in the parking lot not sure what to do. Everyone else was carrying their baggage into the train, but for some reason I had no energy to do this. I was just standing there like a zombie.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed both my bag and my arm and lead me to where we needed to be. I was ushered to a compartment on the train where my bags were stored and I was able to lay down.

My hero? A young man named Wolfgang who was also traveling to Vienna. He gave me some pretzels and an apple, and kept me company on the way back to the city. I had totally lost my way, and he took care of me, asking nothing in return

It was a crappy ending to my trip to Rome, but I had made a new friend and arrived home safely, even if I did lose everyone’s souvenirs in the process.

But the silver lining? I got an A on my German test.

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