Tuesday, 24 September 2013

When In Rome... Don't Do Anything I Did.

Hello world, and welcome to another exciting episode of Amy's Travelling Life. I've not been on my travels in a while (unless you include the seaside towns of northern England, which, no offence to them, I don't really), so it was a good feeling when I woke up one morning and found myself in Italy. (I didn't find myself there in the Alice in Wonderland sense - my sister and I had booked it a while ago for her birthday and then we got on a plane, so it wasn't really a shock...) I'm glad that the universe has not yet given up on trying to traumatise me every time I go to the airport - it's nice to know that there is something reliable that I can depend upon when the rest of my life descends into chaos. The first strike happened just as I was walking through the security checks at Leeds Bradford airport. I can't be the only one that feels nervous walking through security - it's the same feeling of overwhelming and yet entirely invalid guilt I get whenever I see a policeman. I know I've not done anything wrong, just like I know I'm not smuggling five kilos of cocaine through customs in my luggage, but I still feel like they're looking at me with their knowing eyes, watching me sweat profusely, patiently waiting for their sniffer dog to pounce on me and pin me to the ground, ripping bags of drugs from my underwear with its teeth whilst I pretend to look shocked and insist that I'm wearing somebody else's pants. As I repeat my mantra to myself, ('you're innocent, you've not done anything wrong, if Kezia gets taken down for having tweezers in her hand luggage, it is not your fault!'), I feel something strange happen. I can't tell exactly what it is at first, I just know something's wrong. It's like getting in the shower with your socks on - at first, you can't put your finger on what feels different - you just know that something isn't right. It takes me about ten seconds, just enough time for me to get to the metal detector, to figure out what it is. My bra has come undone. If you're a woman, or a bra wearing man, you will know the feeling of panic that floods through your body as you realise this has happened and there is no way to do it back up without drawing a lot of attention to yourself and exposing way more of your midriff than is acceptable in public. As soon as the realisation has dawned on me, everyone knows. I know they do. I can feel airport security looking at me quizzically, trying to determine whether or not I have something suspicious going on under my top. I close my eyes and walk through the metal detectors, praying that they don't go off and prompt the terrifying security guards to start prodding and patting me, discussing between themselves whether or not it is believable that my bra wasn't hiding any drugs and just happened to 'spring open of its own accord' as I walked through security. (Which, by the way, it just did.) Thankfully, the alarms didn't go off and I was able to rush off and grab my backpack, then stand there with my arms folded, hissing at Kezia to hurry up so she could come and discreetly re-do my underwear. A good start, if ever there was one.

Strike two came not too long afterwards, approximately 32,000ft above strike one. As a general travelling rule, Kezia likes to indulge in crappy magazines at the airport so she can be entertained on the plane and ensure that, by the time she lands, she will be well informed of the sex lives of the oddly inhuman women that write into Cosmopolitan. As for me, I'm only in it for the free gifts. (OK, I'll admit it, I like reading about the weird women's sex lives too, but that is neither here nor there.) Anyway. One of the free gifts with this month's Cosmo came in the form of a little sachet of cocoa butter, my favourite of all the body butters, partly because it smells like what I imagine heaven to smell like, and partly because it makes my skin as soft as the silk robes of an Indian prince. As I applied it to my hands, it became apparent that the hand to cocoa butter ratio was not well proportioned and I would have to dispose of the excess butter by rubbing it on my arms. This is where the fun begins. As I stretched out my arm, ready to liberally apply this delightful substance, my cocoa butter-covered hand accidentally made contact with the head of the bald man sat on the row infront. There is no guide to life that could ever instruct me in what to do in this situation. Do I acknowledge it and apologise, thus owning up to what just happened, do I ignore it and feign ignorance if questioned, or do I make up some elaborate story about what it might have been - for example, a raindrop, bird poo, the tears of a flying squirrel (a completely non-fictitious member of the animal kingdom, scientifically referred to as pteromyini)? I opted for the second option, admitting it only to Kezia in a mortified whisper as she gave me a look that was a mix of both amusement and the kind of shame reserved for family members only.

We managed to make it to Rome without any further hiccups and, after dropping our stuff at the hostel, set off to explore. We'd both been told it was a beautiful city so decided that, whichever direction we took, we would end up somewhere nice. Wrong. We managed to take the only street that wound up taking us off the map and into the Italian ghetto, in the pouring rain, with no grasp of the Italian language and only a 3Euro umbrella I bought from a slightly dodgy man outside the train station to shield us from the torrential downpours. It took us well over an hour to make it back to the hostel - we were wet, cold and tired, but ultimately just pretty glad to have not been stabbed. The next day, after a girl in the hostel warned us not to go down the street we had ventured down the night before, it was sunny and warm and we managed to find the real Rome, which, I'm relieved to say, actually is pretty bloomin' beautiful.

As our duty as embarrassing English natives demands, we spent the following week speaking terrible Italian and discovering that there is absolutely no correlation between ordering in Italian and getting what you thought you were ordering. Apparently, a breakfast board saying, 'cappuccino and toast' really means, 'cappuccino and weird ham sandwich', and latte is Italian for milk, not coffee and milk like Starbucks has tricked us all into thinking. When we discovered this, we were too embarrassed to admit it to the waiter and were so determined to shake off the ignorant English-speaking stereotype that we pretended we weren't surprised at all and proceeded to drink a nice cup of warm milk in the middle of the day in 30 degree heat.

As if this wasn't punishment enough for being ignorant, we spent a significant amount of time the following day looking for the Pantheon in order to reinstate our titles as cultural, educated young women. As the designated map reader for the week, I took us down every side street and through every corner cafe before declaring that we were taking a cappuccino break (no more warm milk for us!) in a nice little square with a pretty fountain and a majestic looking building until we were ready to go looking again. We ate pizza and talked about how pretty Italy was, how we loved the little shutters on every window, the cobbled streets and the mopeds, the sunshine and the great coffee. We talked about how beautiful all the buildings were, the one we were sat in front of was particularly beautiful. We wondered what it was. So beautiful was it that we took photos before spending a further 45 minutes walking around the city looking for the Pantheon.

Here is one of the photos we took of the building we were sat in front of.

Yep. That's the Pantheon, alright.

We're really not ignorant. Really. My sister is one of the most intelligent people I know. She can speak Arabic. Arabic, for God's sake. It's just, sometimes, we struggle with things that normal people don't. And neither of us had ever seen a photo of the Pantheon, so you know... We're not entirely to blame in this. I, personally, blame it on a mixture of going to a pretty rubbish comprehensive school and the fact that for the majority of my adolescence I cared more about Nirvana and Harry Potter than learning about things I probably should have been learning about. Kezia got an A in History. She should have known better.

Anyway. Once we discovered that it was the Pantheon, we sheepishly wandered inside and spent more time than was really needed reading the little placards in an attempt to rectify our mistakes. There were some pretty impressive tombs in there and it got me to thinking that, when my time comes, I wouldn't mind being buried in a majestic looking tomb. I realise that it is doubtful that I will ever do anything that has enough impact to warrant me being buried in a tomb, so instead I have made a contingency plan. In the event of a premature death, I will play one last practical joke at the expense of my mother and insist she dispose of me in any of the following ways:

  1. Scatter my ashes in the Bronx area of New York, wearing a Celine Dion t-shirt and neon leggings
  2. Climb all the way to the top of Mount Everest and then fling my ashes off in the most flamboyant manner possible
  3. Take me to the Australian outback in the middle of summer, mix my ashes with water, and then hold me up towards the sun and sing me personalised songs of worship until I evaporate
I know it's a bit farfetched, but given that she never took me to Rome as a child or showed me a picture of the Pantheon, it's really the least she can do.