Hey, now they're playing Spanish pop. Well, it's an improvement, anyway.
So, my last day in Athens was spent rushing about... the ferry to Italy left at 6pm, and I was supposed to be there 2 hours ahead of time - 4pm. The bus trip to Patras was 3 hours, meaning I had to leave Athens at 1pm.
I spent that last morning being disappointed by the Acropolis. It's supposed to have all these big impressive ancient structures, but it really just had dirty, broken hunks of marble, obscured by scaffolding and cranes and scads and scads of tourists. All the best bits, the delicately carved friezes and statues, had been taken down and either put into a museum somewhere or simply carted off for protection and/or restoration. The Temple of Nike (winged victory, for which the shoe is named) was completely gone; in it's place was a mess of marble blocks and some workmen cheerily drilling into the blocks with power tools. OK, that was a lie - nobody in Greece does anything cheerily, as far as I could tell.
The acropolis museum was pretty neat, but the small space was quickly overwhelmed by organized tour groups. Between the throngs of tourists, growing lateness of the hour, and poor quality of the relics, I beat a hasty retreat to the bus station.
I'd heard a lot about the ferries from other travelers - they're like luxury liners with pools and cafes and bars and even gambling parlors. Apparently, those are only the Superfast line of ferries. My ferry was worse than some of the inter-island ferries in Greece! Old, slow, and lacking most comforts, it provided only a deck to roll my sleeping bag out onto for the long, long voyage. I hunted around a bit and found a nook (or was it a cranny? What is the difference, anyway?) near the bow that was quiet, out of the way and hence (mostly) smoke-free, protected from the wind and any rain or ocean spray that might fall, and best of all, had a length of carpet to act as a poor man's sleeping pad.
We were scheduled to arrive in Brindisi at 9am the next morning, but didn't get there until after 12. It turns out the train terminal is a couple of miles away from the port, and there is no transportation between the two except foot or taxi. I took a taxi with an Italian couple I met on the boat, as we were all going the same direction, and they helped me to buy my train tickets to Roma as well as navigate the train station.
Italy was the first country I'd been to (aside from Bulgaria) that I couldn't navigate with English alone. In fact, it was the first time in awhile that I'd really felt like I was in a foreign country, simply because not everybody spoke English. I switched trains in Bari, and took the opportunity to call one of the hostels listed in my guidebook and make a reservation. The last thing I wanted was to get to Rome at 10pm and have to hunt about with all my gear for a place to stay! I got my reservation and, thus assured, settled back onto the train to relax see as much of Italy as I could out of the window.
The Italian countryside was beautiful, much more beautiful than Greece (not that that would have been difficult to achieve). I watched the fields of olive trees give way to hills, then foothills, then lush green mountains complete with thunderstorms and sunsets. Whenever the engineer would come onto the intercom to make some announcement in Italian, it sounded like poetry.
After dark the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. I asked a group of four girls what was going on, as they were the only ones I'd heard speaking English in my car. As best as we could tell, there was another train on the tracks ahead that we needed to use, and we would have to wait until it passed. It turned out to be a long wait, about two hours, so we just talked and drank the wine the girls had bought in Greece. Oddly enough, all four were from Seattle. Not only were they all from Seattle, but they were originally two groups of two, and just happened to meet in Greece. How weird is that?
After the train got moving again, the girls got off at the next stop to catch a train for Naples. I got into Termini station after midnight, and was really glad I'd made reservations! The hostel was only a few blocks from the train station, and I checked in and got some much needed sleep. After nearly two days of traveling, I was finally in Rome.
Rome was amazing. It was everything I had been expecting it to be, and more. You can't hardly shake a stick in that town without knocking over some ancient monument, statue, or ruin. I was really looking forward to being there, after seeing the remnants of the Roman Empire everywhere I'd been, always getting closer to the center, and I wasn't disappointed. It's impossible to describe what the city is like. The city is big, the city is active, the city is alive. Unlike Athens, it doesn't rely on it's past glories to foster some sense of legitimacy in today's world. Even without the tattered remains of Imperial Roma scattered about the city, it would have a lot to offer.
I spent the next three days walking around the city; the Colosseum, Roman Forum, the site where Julius Caesar was assasinated, Vatican City and St Peter's... it's really impossible to describe. As I said, the city was amazing, and three days was not nearly enough time. And I haven't even mentioned the food yet!
Anyway, I'm going to post this now before my computer crashes or something. More in a little bit!