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Coming from a country whose natural wonders are basically all it has (forgive me Jørn), whose original inhabitants were still patting themselves on the back for eliminating the continent’s megafauna before boatloads of Europeans arrived to massacre them, and whose modern culture is a pretty vulgar imitation of America’s own cultural train wreck, a city like Rome is a mind-bending experience. Thousands of years of history and hundreds of years of literary and cinematic expectations suddenly crystalized in a very real, very tangible collection of buildings and people and plazas; a city literally built for exploration and adventure. It’s incredible. And it lives up to the hype.

As the penultimate stop of our world tour and the last in a non–English-speaking country, Rome was something of a last hurrah for us. Knowing we were booked to spend the following week in London with friends —about as close to home as you can get anywhere else in the world— Rome became, at least in our minds, the end. We were getting homesick and we were way overblown on our budgets, but we needed to see the Empire’s crowning glory first. In particular, we needed to do our own Angels and Demons tour of Rome, since we’d all gone Dan-Brown-crazy over the course of the trip.

For those who haven’t read it, Angels and Demons is pretty typical Brown fare; it isn’t bad, just formulaic, but over all remains a decent holiday read. Robert Langdon traipses around Rome solving a thousand-year-old riddle that takes him through all manner of well-known (and not-so-well-known) Roman landmarks: the Pantheon, Chigi Chapel, St Peter’s Square, the Vatican, Santa Maria della Vittoria (housing the Ecstasy of St Theresa), the Fountain of the Four Rivers at Piazza Navona, and finally… Castle St. Angelo. We followed in his fictional footsteps, noting discrepancies along the way, and had quite a time of it. What can I say? We’re dorks.

The Vatican was, shall we say… disappointing. I’m not real big on frescoes, and I’m even less impressed by herds of unappreciative gawkers trampling through hallways in a manner completely hostile to stopping and looking, but such is life. The Sistine Chapel was impressive, but again… frescoes. The remainder of the sights (as above, plus Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the ruins, and Circus Maximus) were a delight, and ones I would gladly see all over again.

Loud and enthusiastic recommendations from a friend who had been to Italy with his girlfriend the summer before said there were plenty of great pub crawls to be done, particularly the Colosseum Pub Crawl — starting, oddly enough, right outside the Colosseum. We took his word for it, obviously, and matched the right flyer to the right pub crawl (there are dozens spanning the entire city, every night of the week, it’s incredible) before donning our now-overworn fancy pants and shirts… shellacking our hair as is the custom of our people. On approach, the sky was dark but for the amphitheater’s lit arches, and we found five or six strangers of various nationalities drinking beer and chatting amongst themselves. Obviously pub crawls aren’t real big business in the dead of winter, but a fresh case of beer and a few bottles of wine made the night shine with promise.

Things became kinda blurry right after that. Our tall, thin, Nigerian guide (name forgotten) knew how to drink, and he knew his way around Rome in the dark, so it was comforting to know he was in charge. Riding buses with beers in hand in lieu of tickets would probably be more cause for concern if he hadn’t given us his sage advice, “if the guy comes to check tickets, just follow my lead. If I’m off the bus already, it’s too late”. If I could tell you which bars we went to, I would. Every now and then we’d spot a familiar landmark, but we were ultimately at the mercy of our gracious host. Walking home at four in the morning without him: not so cool.

The remainder of the time we spent in Rome was a blur. Scotty and Jimmy decided to ‘pop over’ from London for the weekend (for just a few quid, bastards) and join us in our adventures, swelling our ranks even further than the two Aussie girls we’d picked up had already done. There was fine dining, shopping, throwing parties in our room (much to the hotel manager’s displeasure), and a helluva lot of walking. It might just been the nostalgia talking, but I’d have to say Rome was one of the highlights of the trip. Ah, Roma.

(PS- I’m very much aware at how overdue this entry is)