"Yo, they're boarding! Run!"
Welcome to the RyanAir School of Hard Knocks:
Lesson 1: Run, don't walk
Lesson 2: Throw them 'bows (small children, too...those little bastards)
Lesson 3: Under any circumstances, do not look anywhere else other than in front of you when boarding.
Lesson 4: Prepare to spend an entire flight marveling at how well-postured you are in your non-reclining chairs.
Lesson 5: Marvel at how your knees are touching your chin in those aforementioned chairs.
Lesson 6: Carry some food with you, and prepare to be sold all kinds of products on your flight
Lesson 7: Make sure you actually pay attention to the safety information flight attendants give you...you might need it...
Lesson 8: And finally, congratulations are in order if your flight actually makes it to the gate (and "15 minutes early").
You gotta love RyanAir. :-) It's become something of a joke among Europeans. Tell them you've flown in somewhere with RyanAir, and they just start laughing. This sure ain't JetBlue.
And so, it was through RyanAir that we began our trip to Italy. Once again, Michelle, Giselle, and myself embarked on another adventure through a European city. Gis had read all about Michelle and I's previous adventures, and simply couldn't believe the kind of things that would happen to us along the way. What she didn't realize was that Italy would have in store for her, as well as for the rest of us, an experience and adventure that would far surpass anything else we had gone through before.
For this trip, we had to leave through Stansed Airport instead of Heathrow; which for my New York people and for my Houston people, is about the equivalent of NYC's LaGuardia and Houston's Hobby Airport. (More like Hobby than LaGuardia). Because we decided to leave on the official last day of classes, and Michelle actually had a class to go to, Giselle and I stayed behind in the flat while Michelle ran to class. The two of us did what we had to do to finish packing and get ourselves situated for the trip. I was busy trying to finish some projects that I was working on for my classes, so I was already stressed out from the sheer amount of work I had to do. (In hindsight, I simply should not have gone to Italy at that time...I needed that week to finish off my work once and for all, but because we had booked the trip earlier, I hadn't anticipated my work becoming a factor during the trip at the time of booking. Yet, of course, there was no way I was going to simply "not go" after I had booked all that stuff...fuck losing that money!) Along with packing, I had to take some books back to the University of London that I was using for a project (never mind that I had never gotten around to using those books because at the time, I had never gotten around to starting the project). The books were due on that particular day, and so it was imperative that I get it back in UCL's hands. Michelle left some of her books behind with me as well so I could take them all at once. So, Giselle and I, with about 40 pounds worth of books, left our flat and headed over to UCL, which is about 10 minutes away on the Tube from us. Now, the thing was that we were both on a strict timetable. It was imperative that we reach Liverpool Station, home of the Stansed Express train that would take us to the airport, by 12:40 PM, so we could buy our train tickets and board the 1:00 train. If we didn't get on that train, then we were going to have another Amsterdam on our hands, or possibly, another Dublin. So, now that we're on this strict timetable, what happens? DELAYS ON THE BLOODY TUBE. We boarded the Tube from our station at about 12:05 PM. We got off at our stop for UCL at 12:25 PM. And we still hadn't even dropped off the books, or started our journey towards Liverpool Station, which was farther, still. Rain had started pouring on us as we ran with huge, heavy ass bags across Russell Sq. in London, an area that is constantly filled with those stupid ass tourists who have nothing better to do than to stand in the middle of the pavement and stare up at the sky, gawking at the faux-Victorian "architecture" that was made in 1970 as opposed to 1870, all while they snap off pictures to show Mum at home, wherever the bloody hell home is for them. (I've been in London so long, I'm a native now. :-) ) Gis and I freaking hustled, and we finally made it to UCL's Library (an institution that puts Bird Library in Syracuse to shame in terms of sheer information, but not in organization). I dropped off about 3 stone worth of books (In UK, 1 stone equivalent to 15 pounds. So, I would weigh 10 stone), and got a move on (keeping some books, however, in the hope that I would get around to using them while in Italy). Because we were running out of time, Gis and I took a cab to get to Liverpool, where Michelle was supposed to meet us from SU. Gis got all happy we were in a London taxi, saying, "I wanted to get in one of these before I left." She was blinkin' jubilant to be in the cab. (I gotta admit, they are cool; we should have them in NYC) Our man, the taxi driver, got us to our destination in good time, and with determination, we bounced out the cab, and delved into Liverpool Station.
You see, there was one problem... where the hell was Michelle? After all that hustling, Michelle was nowhere in sight, and it was now 12:45 PM. We went to the ticket agent and bought tickets for the train for all three of us, and at the same time, I was blowing up Michelle's phone demanding a progress report. Voicemail was all I got. Bloody hell, I grunted, suppressing the creeping inner feeling that we were going to miss our designated check-in time and get screwed over on our flight. I looked at the clock. 12:55 PM. Still no sign of Michelle. It was time that we accept reality, I told myself, and ask when the next train to Stansed was going to be. If the train was leaving at 1:40, we were fucked. Our flight left at 3:00, and check-in was closed at 2:20 PM. It takes about 45 minutes to get from Liverpool station to Stansed. So, I prayed that the next train was before then, and I got my wish when the answer was 1:15 PM. That gave us just enough breathing room to check in on time, and prepare ourselves for the war we needed to entail to grab our seats. I kept blowing up Michelle's phone, getting nothing but the increasingly annoying digital recording of Michelle's voice telling me to fuck off and leave a message. Finally, at 12:57, Michelle calls me back.
"I'm stuck on the Tube. I'm three stops away."
It then became clear to me the situation. Michelle was stuck on the same exact line that delayed our trip to the library. We told Michelle we would wait and updated her on the time of the next train. Finally, after a few agonizing minutes of cursing Michelle's name under our breath (it really wasn't her fault, but, she just was a good scapegoat for us to use at the time), she made her grand arrival; her tummy growled its greetings, and ours responded in kind. We all needed food. But, off we ran, past the turnstiles to make our train. The train arrived a short while later, and we all just collapsed onto our seats, resting up for the ensuing war we were about to embark on at the airport.
... Now, about that war... As I explained earlier, RyanAir is no joke. Your seats are not pre-assigned, and there is the very real chance of RyanAir actually overbooking your flight...so, in other words, your ticket don't mean shit until you're actually secure in your seat, flipping through the second-hand Air Magazine and reading the safety instructions that are unceremoniously plastered across the backside of the headrest of the seat in front of you. (Saves money on paper). RyanAir gives you a number when you check-in to alleviate some of this conflict. The higher the number, the more fucked you are in terms of getting a seat. Ryan-Air officials call the lower numbers first to board the plane, and the numbers are assigned on a first-come, first serve basis. So, RyanAir rewards the people who check-in early with low numbers, and dicks like us with the high numbers. We were given numbers in the 160s. We were fucked. It was time for war.
Now, RyanAir did something beautiful on this day...it called for a free-for-all... you basically get a seat if you can make it to the plane first; fucking all three of us were ready to battle. We ran to our gate and grilled everyone along the way. We even almost ran over a couple of little kids. ("Those little bastards shouldn't be in the way!") Needless to say, we got onto the plane (we had to board from the tarmac) and found some seats. I fucking felt like I won the marathon. I tried to joyously plop on my seat, but the shit was so hard, I felt my back crack into proper posture as I dropped in. The RyanAir crew, a couple of minutes later, unceremoniously announced we were "actually taking-off," and just like that, the pilot kicked on the engines, and we were off.
Our first destination in Italy was Rome. Before, I always thought of Rome as a clean, well-kept city that was one big monument to the Roman Empire. I thought that since, after all. this was the largest city in Italy, Rome would be a sterling capital. As our plane flew over the majestic French Alps enroute to Italy, this image sat in my mind.
And then I got off the plane.
We landed at Rome's Ciampino airport, an airport that matched the kind of "quality" that we have come to expect from RyanAir. In other words, to quote Michelle, this place was straight "Caca." It was just a dark area; I thought we had flown into a closet as opposed to an airport. We grabbed our bags, and headed out to the street, searching for the bus that would take us to the Roman transportation hub; Termini Station. After some initial confusion, we made it to Termini, where we begin another adventure; finding our hostel.
Now, before we left, I was responsible for booking the hostel in Rome. Because of a fault in the website I was dealing with, I never got a complete confirmation from the website; instead, I got a cryptic e-mail from the hostel itself, saying that everything was confirmed. However, I didn't read the e-mail clearly enough; there was no address printed on the confirmation e-mail. So, when Michelle printed out the e-mail earlier in the day, she discovered that there was no address printed. So, we were going to have to find the hostel once we arrived in Rome.
I figured once in Termini station, we could find a little tourist kiosk with people who could tell us where the hostel was. Well after walking up and down the station with these big ass bags, we finally found something like a tourist kiosk, but unfortunately, we encountered this crabby ass lady who told us to go find an internet cafe to find the place, despite the fact she had the internet right in front of her. So, off we went, map in hand, to find an internet cafe, where we eventually were able to log into the ghetto website and get the address of the hostel. The place wasn't too far from Termini, so we hoofed it. Unfortunately, because of the collective weight of our bags, this walk proved to be more trouble for us than we imagined. It didn't help that the closer we got to our destination, the seedier our surroundings became. It became more like something out of "Down These Mean Streets" rather than "Gladiator" or something. Graffiti was everywhere; political posters littered the streets and the billboards, providing more of a canvas for any politically-inclined teen with a can of spray paint to make their feelings known. There were plenty of "Bush = Devil" slogans sprayed across the walls of buildings. Trash was everywhere, and many of the streets looked like they haven't been properly maintained in years. It was almost as if the area was falling apart. To be fair, it wasn't like the area itself inspired one to fear for their lives. There weren't shady people standing on street corners or crack heads walking around asking anyone for some cash (no, it's not like Syracuse). It was just that the area was neglected, and it clearly showed. As we later discovered, this more or less was a trait of the entire city itself, not just our area.
We finally found our hostel, and once we got settled in, all three of us started to have second thoughts about staying there. We were expecting a hostel along the lines of the one we found in Amsterdam, which was a pretty nice place to be in. The key word was "private" in that place. We didn't have to mingle too much with the rest of the people who stayed there; our bathroom was in our own room, and with the multi-floored, multi-room set up of the building, it allowed people to pretty much live in their own little bubble while they were there. Instead, in Rome, we got a one floored place that we shared with 20 other people (6 or 5 people to a room). There were four bathrooms, but because of the set up of the hostel, we were practically forced to mingle with people we necessarily didn't want to be seen with. Our hostess at the hostel was this chick, who, for whatever reason, didn't believe in wearing a belt. Before I even knew her name, I already knew what her ass looked like. And she really liked to wear this lavender thong she had on; she didn't change it for two days. Ewwww, indeed. For the rest of our stay, we called her "Baja Panty," and not because I wanted to, but rather because of the relative ease her pants fell off; it was only natural to think her thong would fall off just as quickly. Baja Panty didn't believe in having change, either, which I really didn't understand. How do you expect people to pay you for a place to stay, and you don't have change to give them? She only had 7 Euros of change. That's it. The entire fucking time we were there. Giselle wanted to smack that bitch by the end of our stay.
There were these Canadian guys that were staying in our room on the first night. Man, one of them was particularly annoying. Mad loud, obnoxious, and downright corny. He tried to pull an ASPIRA-style "icebreaker." I'm like, yo, son, what are we, in fucking kindergarden? I started to get at him hard, using the lessons I learned about Canadians from "South Park." "What's going on, eh?" "What are you talking aboot?" The other Canadian guy even thought he was annoying, asking himself how he managed to get on without beating him down. During our first encounter with the Canadians, Michelle and Giselle were looking at each other like they both wanted to cry; they looked like they had just gotten themselves into hell or something. As we spent more time in the hostel, though, eventually, it grew on us, and we didn't mind it anymore. I couldn't get used to my RyanAir-style bed, though. That shit was so god damn hard. I wound up switching it with another bed and taking a softer one by the second night. Soon, all was good.
Our first full day in Rome started off kind of late, but we made the most of it. We first headed over to the Colosseum (which wasn't far from the hostel), where, by chance, we encountered a tour group that was going around talking about the various aspects of the building itself. This 30-something year old Italian guy named Roberto was leading our group, telling us in his thick Italian accent about the various aspects of the Colosseum. He was hilarious and informative at the same time, telling us things like how the top level of the Colosseum was where all the "cucchi-gucci" took place. (It was called the "fornicarium..." you figure it out). I thought the Colosseum was pretty cool, though, at first, the walk leading up to it was almost surreal. The building didn't look real at all when contrasted with the modern day setting that surrounds it. It looked like someone had Photoshopped it in or something. While I understand the importance of preserving old works, I kinda wondered why no one had decided to rebuild the Colosseum to its former grandeur. Each passing day is just another day the whole place spends rotting. But, I sympathize with the need to maintain history...
...That is, until, you see the rest of ancient Rome. After the Colosseum, we followed our tour group through the nearby Via Imperiali, a boulevard filled with the ruins of Roman temples, buildings, and monuments. It saddened me to see just how many buildings were destroyed over the course of time, and angered me that much of the destruction was done by the Vatican's pillaging. They took statue after statue, and tore down temples and grand architecture in the name of God. As a matter of fact, the only reason why certain structures remain is because they were turned into Churches at one point in their history. What angered me even more was that all these ruins were just lying around this huge field, and no one had even bothered to do anything with them. Instead, the City decided to place spotlights at the feet of all these ruins, some of them just a single column of a once huge structure, and highlight them for all the world to see. Now, while I think it's great to celebrate your past, it almost seemed as if Rome couldn't get over its once-storied history; as if it never recovered from the fall of the Roman Empire. The city spent all of its energy to highlight these ruins, but couldn't spend money fixing the modern-day infrastructure of the city. Rome could be a great city again, but, because they would rather spend their time living in the past, modern-day Rome looks decrepit, and is falling apart in the same way that the ancient ruins are. We saw the Circus Maximus, which was supposed to be the largest stadium ever built by man, and when we get there, all we see is this park, with the ancient racetrack preserved, somewhat. The only sign one has that this was an ancient Roman structure are three columns and the remains of a grandstand. What the fuck? The area is so wide and large, that Rome could turn the Circus Maximus into a modern-day sports facility surpassing its origins. They could incorporate those remains into the new structure. Instead, however, the place looks like an overgrown park sitting in the middle of a rotting city. I thought the goal for civilization was to surpass one's ancestors, not to constantly live in the shadow of them. It's saddening, really. I think Rome should completely reinvent itself for modern times, while preserving the ruins at the same time, and in some cases, even rebuilding them, and incorporating the old with the new. With the way it is now, it seems as if architects never bothered caring about their modern structures and spent most of their energies figuring out ways of keeping them away from the ancient ruins.
As we were told, only 20 percent of ancient Rome is uncovered. The rest of it lies beneath the surface of the modern day streets, under thousands of years of sediments from the flooding of the TIber River.
Later on that first full day, the three of us decided to take another tour through a different part of Rome. We were told that the tour was going to be conducted by some Scottish guy who was real big on gladiator duels, or something of that nature. So, we were like, hey, let's check that out. Little did we know that when we arrived at the meeting place, the two girls would turn into complete babbling idiots; this tour guide tickled their fancy to say the least. His name was Alex, and to the girls, he was their God. It was almost as if they were both back in high school, and for the entire tour, they might as well have been. Of course, what is a little game of attraction without some competition thrown in. And so, arrive these two Canadian girls, who, once they saw Alex, they did a double take as well. It was clear that they were going to throw the coochi at him, and they pretty much did from the outset. Mish and Gis tried to play along, but they didn't want to sink to the Canadians' level. So, they tried to set me off on the girls, you know, to "take one for the team." And really, one of the girls was really attractive, but it was perfectly clear that she was solely concentrating on Alex and no one else. So, defeated, I stood to the side, and in the name of fair competition, let the four girls fight for him equally.
Since I really didn't care much for Alex in that way, I just simply decided to enjoy the tour for what it was worth, which actually, was pretty good. This dude knew his shit. To be precise, he wasn't completely Scottish; he was half Roman, half Scottish. Mish and Gis didn't care. Like I said, the two of them formed a new religion around Alex. The other girls did those OBVIOUS things, like trying to get him to notice their cleavage, or dropping things on the ground, or pretending to be hurt. Shit like that. I think Alex knew what was going on, but he just let them do their thing. Deep down, I think he was just getting a kick out of the whole thing.
Eventually, the tour ended, and the four girls ran up to him to duke it out over who he was going to spend his night with. He told them that he had to work at some bar called "Magnolia" and gave them the place's address. He even walked us over to it. The girls became Tour Guide groupies. It was sad. Mish and Gis were all about seeing him later on that night, and I was dragged along for the ride. We headed back to the hostel, changed, got all posh, and then walked back out to do some damage. My plan was to simply woo one of the girls away from Alex so Gis and Mish could spend some more time with him. If it all worked out, hey, we could all have our fun for the night.
We got to Magnolia, and sure enough, Alex was there doing his thing. While Mish and Gis gawked at him, I was looking around for the Canadian girls. I really wanted to try to woo one of them away. After awhile, they were nowhere to be found. Alex walked up to us and was like, "I guess those other girls couldn't make it. I didn't give them much of a chance to find their way back here, anyway. They didn't seem too good with directions." I was kind of down after that, I really wanted to see the girls to give it a go. Then, out of nowhere, the Canadian chicks appeared. And soon, it became clear to me; they weren't playing around. They had one thing in mind; bag the shit out of Alex or else. Upon seeing the girls, Mish and Gis began to lose hope. I was like, "c'mon, girls, don't give up. It's too obvious to Alex that these girls are too loose." Almost to confirm what I was saying, the Canadian chicks threw themselves onto him (never mind he was working). Mish and Gis couldn't take the sight, and so we walked out to find a cheap bar to get fucked up. We found some place that was doing cocktails for 2 Euros, and so these chicks got some drinks, and before you knew it, they were nice. We reunited ourselves with Alex at this other bar he told us he was going to after work. The Canadian chicks were also there, as well. I was introduced to Alex's cousin, Ian, who was another tour guide in Rome, but he was straight from Scotland. Mad cool people, indeed. We chilled until the place closed down at four in the morning, and then we all left together to roam the streets of Rome. Three guys and four girls. Jes chillin.
After awhile, Alex, Ian, and I bonded. At one point, Alex asked for advice on what he should do with those Canadian chicks, who at this point, were both just teasing the shit out of him. He kept on saying, "Ray, you gotta help me." I was like, "Man, those two girls are just out to get you, and no one else." You could tell that although he was playing it smooth in their faces, on the inside, he kinda wished he didn't have this situation following him around. Ian was clearly annoyed with the girls, and was just about ready to tell them to fuck off, but, he played nice, and smiled in their faces while they practically screamed at the top of their lungs for so-called "casual" conversation. If any of us had a choice, there was clearly one of two girls we would've gotten with, but, because of the fact that BOTH the girls were on him, we all knew that if he chose one, the other would be hurt, and in the end, there would be nothing but conflict. And if there's conflict between girls, that means there's no buns for you, my man. So, by the time we parted ways, I was under the impression that he was going to go home without the chicks, but it was clear that the chicks were determined to go home with him. I don't know what came of the whole thing. We were supposed to reunite at some point, but we never saw him again after that night. Mish and Gis bonded with Alex and Ian, as well, so it was a shame that we left Rome without seeing them again. I seriously thought that Alex and Ian could've been just "one of the guys" and we could've chilled and bagged bitches n shit, but alas, it just didn't work out that way. For the rest of the trip, Mish and Gis just kept the fantasy alive by dreaming of their favorite tour guide every chance they got.
As for the girls, well, we got their e-mail addresses...I plan on e-mailing one of them soon. Hey, she offered a place to stay should we ever take a trip to Canada. Who am I to turn down an offer? :-) Imagine, me, Morgan, Pedro, and Edwin show up at this bitch's doorstep like, "Hi!" Doesn't sound like a bad idea now that I think about it...
We wound up seeing the girls again two days later, but Mish and Gis clearly didn't want to see them, so they turned the other way as they walked right past them. I was like, "damn, son" It was like that. I guess all is fair in love and war. :-)