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May 19, 2016–

We all couldn’t fit. The subway was CRAMMED and pocket-pickers galore! On the South (arbitrary cardinal direction) outskirt of the metro subway station was a taxi pickup area where, supposedly, only the legit taxis could pick us up. We split ourselves up into a handful of four people per group and dean marks gave each group 50 euros thinking that a taxi ride to the Vatican city would only be 20 euros max. Me and three other small Asian girls were initially picked up by a scruffy looking man whom saw my friend putting away a 50Euro bill [in retrospect, maybe this wasn’t the best choice—this should be a protip #0.5, its probably best to travel with a guy or at least don’t travel with girls who are all shorter than me—I’m 5’4 by the way]. He asked “need ride?” and we replied “si”. He responded with “10 euro for each? 40 euro total.” I hesitated and asked my group “wait! I thought it was only 10 euros as a whole group—did she say EACH?” of course with my doubt, my group and I assumed that dean marks meant 10euros/person so we followed the man into the parking lot (which traveler pro tip #1 NEVER FOLLOW A MAN TO HIS SO CALLED “TAXI”) On the way to his car, I turned around to see if the rest of the students had left, but I turned to see everyone exasperatedly flailing their arms, motioning us to come back! I was in a panic—now realizing that the man had scammed us—I quickily shouted “SORRY” and grabbed my group of grils and briskly walked back! (I never turned back to see the man again—we didn’t follow him very closely; we were far enough from him that he couldn’t catch up to us if we ran) When we got back we promised we wouldn’t take an unofficial taxi—that we had learned our lesson. [what a great mind set] as the first group boarded their first taxi, we hailed the second taxi to take us to “San Peiter” (AKA St. Peter). The driver, a big bald man, quickly gestured us to take his taxi. The moment we sat down, we noticed he didn’t have a meter. (RED FLAG!!! Pro tip #2, which is quite obvious, but DON’T GET IN A TAXI WITHOUT A METER!!!) As he drove out of the station, he started speaking in Italian about the strike that was happening with the general public (I could only catch a couple of words here and there with only a measly background of some rudimentary Spanish and some survival words of Italian). He said that because of these protest all public transportation will be shut down—meaning that no buses or taxis will be available. (of course this is all BS, but what could use amateurs do but just believe) Haplessly, he told us that because of this all travels around town would be a fixed price of 50 euros. FIFTY! Dude that’s more than the first guy. We knew something was up. Maryum started texting Dean Marks, explaining that this guy did not have a meter and that the price was exorbitant. I, on the other hand began to record him as we began to raise some questions about the price. He exclaimed that the price sheet was located at the station and that we should’ve look at it before boarding—we argued and asked him where was the meter?


He said he didn’t need one because everything was “fixed”. Then she asked for the receipt and he said he would give it to us later. Arguing with him was futile, so Maryum dialed up Dean Marks. So you’re probably thinking at this point surely he was surely at least heading towards the direction of the Vatican—actually he were heading the completely opposite direction. We were suppose to head south be he was taking us up north, and in this area there was HEAVY traffic. The dude was trying to buy time. When Maryum asked Dean Marks if everyone had arrived, she replied that everyone had long arrived—we were 20min behind everyone else even though we were one of the first  that left first. When Maryum got off the phone, the dude couldn’t lie any longer—he quickly said “there ees ah problemo—get out of my car” but we replied “well we told our instructor we’re on our way. Just take us there and we’ll pay you” he vociferated “no! there’s a hotel right here with parking—get yourself another taxi!” he turned sharply and kicked us out on a curb on the side of a busy street. We had lost valuable time. We walked to the nearest taxi stop. I tried to hail an OFFICIAL taxi with a woman driver but she rejected me. Then Ghaid hailed, one of the girls I was with, a taxi whose driver’s first response was “I have a meter. I can take you to San Peiers” (Aside: this guy had much better English than that other dude—he had broken English which should also mean pro tip #3 OFFICIAL TAXI DRIVERS ARE USED TO THE INFLUX OF TOURIST. THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO SPEAK ENGLISH AND UNDERSTAND IT WITHOUT TOO MUCH DIFFICULTY AND WITHOUT HAVING TO RESORT TO SPEAKING IN COMPLETELY ITALIAN ABOUT STRIKES) the man was fortunately, able to get us to st. peters basilica, but he didn’t drop us off at the place where Dean Marks wanted to meet us at, nonetheless we paid him 20euros and even allowed him to keep the extra five euros for his “coffee” then we asked for the receipt (which is called rech-aye-voo-ta in Italian) and he more than happily gave it to us. We walked another block to reach the basilica and found Dean marks. This entire taxi escapade took 45min! Everyone had waited 20min with Dean Marks, but they all left when they realized we were not coming back anytime soon.
Finally, we were able to experience the grandeur of what we had been anticipating for. At the entrance of the front door a sign read “Please be mindful: Remember that Jesus greets you at the door”. There was even a man, that upon reading that, melted to knees and kissed the door’s intricate designs of the Jesus’ life and death. The moment we stepped inside our breaths were taken away. Words cannot describe how magnificent the splendors of the basilica were. Not a single inch of the wall, floor, or ceiling was bare. Everything was extravagantly ornate. The moment you enter in immediately on your right was Michelangelo’s Pieta: a sculpture of young Mary holding the dead Jesus in her laps. Apparently Michalango (or I will call him Michy for short) created this sculpture when he was only nineteen! And of course at this time he was not famous yet but he was considered a child prodigy so the Metachi family took him.

As we neared the atrium (err maybe it was the nave) of the basilica we saw the splendors Bernini’s alter made of bronze and gold. This altar looks uncannily similar to the Ecstasy of St. Theresa (lol probably because it was also designed by Bernini). Furthermore, the multifaceted Bernini also designed the entire asp of the basilica—which meant he had control of the lighting and color and everything in-between the transepts to obtain the optimal view of the bronze-gold altar piece. Did you know that the basilica was actually the third basilica built for the pope? The first two were torn down because it wasn’t good enough to satisfy the splendor the popes were seeking. This chapel was built during the baroque era (around 1600s) however most paintings and sculptures (like Michy’s) are from the renaissance. After the mini tour of the basilica (it was relatively small as compared to the grand scale of the exterior wings – which one wing was used for security and the other was an exit) Also, there’s a clock located on left top of the basilica that chimes quarterly. Additionally, the pope continues mass at this chapel! (image coming here every week with the pope!) Afterwards we ate some sandwiches for lunch at the nearby food truck—the bread was nothing less than perfection! Joining us for lunch were a flock of pigeons, which if you haven’t known, are ubiquitous in Rome. They are big city dwellers! But of course I only attracted more by feeding them with some crumbs of my bread [poor Maryum—she was intimidated by the birds lol ironically]. After eating we met up with the entire group of students who were astounded that we were still intact and alive! We all walked to the Vatican museum that housed the Michy’s Sistine Chapel. Michy, originally known for his works in sculpting was supposed to sculpt the pope, Julius II, a tomb however pope was never present long enough to pay him.

Unbelievably breathtaking we anticipated the moment we would be able to walk inside the Sistine chapel. When the moment arrived we were astonished by the size of the building. Tucked away in a far corner of the Vatican museum was a one-man entry doorway that led to the Sistine chapel. But once we got in, guards were guiding people to not stop and stare at the walls covered in Michy’s hard work but to keep walking until we got to the middle of the room where everyone was huddled together to stare up in awe. We were also forewarned not to take pictures otherwise the guards would confiscate our phones and fine us some odd lump sum of euros

After our visit through the Vatican city we got the nerves to take a taxi back to the hotel but this time we were much more precarious. We chose a taxi driven by a woman whose English were impeccable. On the trip back she gave us a mini history lesson through the streets of Italy. With every historical piece of artwork located at every corner of the melting pot of history, Rome was impossible not to talk about. Most importantly, she got us safely back to the hotel and because of her kindness and her willingness to teach us so much of the history behind Rome we chipped in a small tip for her service. Frankly, while she was sharing the history of the city I kind of fell asleep. I woke up to my head hitting the window when she ran over some rough cobblestones.

When we got back to the hotel, we were all exhausted. We all took separate paths and went into our rooms to take a nap. Hoping to meet up before seven, my crew planned on going to dinner together. However, after a deep nap—sleeping through my alarm—I woke up at 6:45 with a terrible wife connection. I was unable to get in contact with them so I laid in bed bit longer hoping the Wi-Fi would come back. By 6:55 I received a message telling me to meet them downstairs—however when I replied back at 657 they had already left. I was left behind. Apparently I wasn’t alone, another guy had done much the same thing and his mates had left him to his endearing nap. So we decided to go eat on our own to the nearest restaurant where I had my third margarita pizza of the week in less than three days and we both split the check.

Italian word of the day: ricevuta: receipt