Ladíspoli to Rome (28.67 miles in 2 hours, 25 minutes moving)

This morning was strange. I woke up at the usual 7:00 a.m. hour, but knew that I only needed to bicycle about thirty miles to the hostel in Rome, and check-in didn’t start until 2:30 p.m. so I had plenty of time before I needed to get on the road.  I was feeling a little sad and introspective at the thought of my journey ending, and wanted to make the most of my limited time in Rome, so I lazed around in my tent all morning, re-reading my Lonely Planet guides, my hostelworld.com Rome guide, and checking out the (free to download from the iTunes App Store during the volcano air-travel shutdown) Lonely Planet Rome iPhone application. It was a so much more useful and easy-to-access information source than the PDF book chapters I had been using on the iPhone, with interactive maps that can even interface with the iPhone’s GPS.

I finally started repacking my bags and taking down and putting away my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat for what would be the last time, after five weeks on the road. It seemed like only a week or two ago that I had been setting out from Lisbon, into the unknown, and it had definitely been a trial-by-fire experience, with so many firsts. First time traveling in Europe, first bicycle tour, first solo travel experience without a group of people to provide safety, camaraderie, and moral support. And before this trip, I probably could have counted the lifetime number of night’s I’d spent in a tent on two hands. Yet, through some combination of luck, perseverance, and preparation, I had actually survived the adventure, and in a few miles, would be riding to my final destination, still the same person, but with completely changed perspectives on the world which we inhabit. From the solitude of the pine forests in Portugal, to the beautiful blue-green waters of the Mediterranean coast, to the busy Italian highways of the last few days, I had seen the diverse landscapes in slow motion. I had smelled the fresh citrus air of orange groves in Spain, and the sweet perfume lavender of France.

And yet, there was still so much that I hadn’t even begun to experience in the history and culture on my transient passage over the land. With an extra day or two in each location, or shorter planned daily distances, I could have explored so many museums, savored long mid-day breaks for lunch in outdoor cafes. With a larger budget, I could have sampled more authentic local cuisine, instead of frequenting the supermarket so for the quick and easy bread/cheese/yogurt/chocolate which had become my food staples. These changes and goals will have to wait for my next travel escapades I guess.

The road out of the campsite took me along the coast to Ladíspoli before dumping me onto the busy SS1 highway again, and I covered the distance quickly with few breaks. I could feel the hot sun beating down on my neck, and my shirts quickly became soaked with sweat from the heat, in addition to the effort required from the constant rolling terrain.

For the last couple miles through the streets of Rome, I relied on the voice-guidance of my GPS, which just happened to bring me right past the Spanish Steps, with vibrant bright pink flowers in bloom, and a busy vibe of excitement as hundreds of tourists and locals congregated there. When the GPS finally told me that I had arrived at my hostel, the “Freedom Traveler”, I thought there must be some mistake. I was looking at a building with the correct street number on the right street, but there didn’t seem to be any large sign or any clue that this was the popular hostel only a few minutes away from the Termini station. Finally, I saw the name printed next to a tiny door buzzer for the building’s heavy wooden door. A buzz unlocked the inner metal gate, and I struggled to lift my heavy bicycle up the five or six marble steps to the office. When I finally got inside, it looked more like the hostel I expected, with two computers on one wall, and a common room with tables and chairs for eating, hanging out, or using the free wifi.

The guy at the front desk checked me in, and gave me a keyring with four color-coded keys (heavy wooden outer door to the building, inner metal gate, 2nd floor door from the stairwell to the rooms, and a room key) and I unloaded my bags for the last time, and folded and locked my bicycle in the locked luggage storage shed.

The first order of business was a shower and a completely fresh change of clean clothes, because while I don’t mind being recognized among the guests as “the bicycle traveler”, I don’t want to be known as “the smelly bicycle traveler”. Then my thoughts turned to getting a cardboard box and starting the process of disassembling my bicycle  for the airplane flight back to the States. I had researched a few bicycle stores ahead of time, and headed about a half-mile from the hostel to the closest one, hoping that they would have extra cardboard boxes that had been used to ship new bicycle frames to the store. They didn’t, but the owner pointed me another half block down the street to a “Mailboxes Etc.” store, which sold me their largest cardboard box (advertised as 80 x 60 x 60 centimeters) and a roll of packing tape for about 10 euros.

It had begun to lightly rain during this trip, but thankfully I was able to navigate back to the hostel without getting the flattened box too wet, as a wet and disintegrating box would do me no good. I spent the next hour measuring and remeasuring and calculating to try and figure out how I could reduce the size of the box to fit within the airline’s 158 linear centimeter luggage limitation.  Earlier in the morning, upon realizing that I did not have a measuring tape or stick, in a fit of ingenuity of which I’m rather proud, I had used a 5cm ruler on my iPhone’s screen to mark a piece of nylon cord at 5cm intervals until I could cut a 158 cm long cord, making it easy for me to measure and verify that my luggage fit the size requirements. I had to take a break though, because at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday nights, the hostel throws a free pizza and beer party for their guests! I sat with two friendly brother and sister Canadians, Pete and Miriam (honest-to-goodness French-Quebec Canadians, not Americans who say they are Canadian when traveling abroad). It was a delicious meal, although I would have loved for the pizza to have more red pizza sauce, even if that isn’t the tradition.

After dinner, I got to work disassembling my bicycle, taking off the front and rear fenders and racks, unscrewing bottle cages, removing the handlebars, and folding the frame.  I forgot to unscrew the pedals until I tried to put the frame in the bottom of the box, and and it turned into quite a spectacle while I tried to explain to Pete and a German father and son who were watching about the reverse threading which is confusing enough to complicate the process, especially when the bike is already folded. By this time it was starting to get dark in the courtyard where I was working, and I still hadn’t managed to procure any newspaper or butcher paper or other protective stuffing to place around and between the individual parts in the box, so I decided to call it a night and finish the task the next morning before heading off for a day of exploring.

When I went upstairs to my room, I was talking to my roommates, two girls from Poland and Argentina, and another guy from Egypt/Hungary. I expressed interest at seeing some of the monuments lit up at night, and we decided to head out as a group.  It turned out to be one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip. I was the only native English-speaker, but all of my new companions spoke great English, and as we walked the streets of Rome, it amazed me to think about our new group of friends, brought together by a shared room, communicating and sharing stories and anecdotes of our lives and travels in English, despite the fact that noone spoke the same first language. It was so nice for me to finally be having a conversation with other people my age, after so many days of interactions that had been reduced to the basics of getting food and checking in and out of campsites.  I also quickly realized how many cliches, phrases, and pop-culture quotations/references I rely on in my speech, and it was fun for us to explain these references to each other and find out if there was a similar phrase or meaning in our respective cultures.

Roman Forum at Night

Roman Forum at Night

Rome at night was gorgeous. There was a nearly-full moon, with scattered clouds in the sky to filter and add mystery to the light. We wandered to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, the Roman Forums, and finally finished at the Colosseum before beginning the trek back to the hostel. The streets were alive and brimming with people, despite it being after 10:00 p.m. and the photo opportunities were boundless. There were pizzerias and gelaterias open on nearly every street, and I ended up having gelato twice, to celebrate my safe arrival in the final destination of my trip.  Or at least, that’s how I justified it, but in reality, I just have a huge weakness for gelato, especially the delicious fruit flavors. I was disappointed not to find any watermelon gelato, but the banana, mango, and cantaloupe were scrumptious. I had been lamenting the fact that I hadn’t gotten to do much photography at night and during the “golden hour” on this trip, but this night of exploring nearly made up for it.

Colosseo By Moonlight

Colosseo By Moonlight

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