National Geographic : 1955 Jul
Europe Via the Hostel Route from California; and others. We described our native lands, told what we did back home, and engaged in political debates. Here was one of the biggest advantages of hosteling, the fruitful contacts with the youth of the world. Florence contains many art treasures, but the one which I recall most vividly was the statue of David by Michelangelo. As I en tered the Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, I saw the magnificent marble figure bathed in light at the end of a subtly lit hall. I was so moved that, like many others around me, I sat down and gazed meditatively at this immortal creation of mortal man. Trouble at the Post Office The shops and stands of Florence bulge with all varieties of leatherwork from match book covers to handbags. A little haggling with the vendors yielded three attractive handbags at bargain prices. The bags were too bulky to carry with me, so I wrapped them for mailing. For 45 min utes I worked on that package, finishing with a double binding of very strong cord. The next morning I brought my indestructi ble package to the post office. "But, signore," the clerk said politely, "it must be registered by the customs officer." After half an hour's weary search I found the customs office on the other side of town. "It is necessary that we inspect the con tents," said the unsmiling clerk. "You will please unwrap the package." "But it was not required of me when I mailed a similar parcel in Switzerland," I protested. "Perhaps, but now you are in Italy... please." Sadly I cut the cord. I had made the knots so tight they couldn't be untied. After the inspector okayed the package, I repacked everything. The last cruel blow came when I was charged 50 lire by the official for a new piece of cord! In Rome, History Is Beside You I was confident I could hitchhike to Rome in one day, but my luck ran out. Dusk found me in the lonely mountains of central Italy, halfway between Florence and Rome, stranded near a small village with the closest hostel miles away. My luck smiled again as I met a young Frenchman who had also run out of rides. He had a pup tent, and within half an hour we were eating our supper beside our newly erected shelter. The next morning a car finally responded to my wave, and in three hours I was in the City of Fountains. With palm trees and tables set in an attrac tive patio, the Rome hostel had a country-club atmosphere, but it was full. I went to a pension. There was much to see in the Eternal City. In the United States we marvel at colonial homes perhaps 200 years old, but in Europe the far older past is always in view. Here ancient history can be touched, entered, prayed before, lived in, eaten at, walked on, and sailed over (opposite). While haggling with a vendor of guidebooks near the Colosseum, I saw three girls in familiar green outfits. I rushed up to Anna belle, Marilyn, and Red, the Girl Scouts. "What are you doing in Rome?" I asked delightedly. "You were on your way to Paris when I left you in Switzerland." "We were halfway through Switzerland," Red answered, "when we decided our trip would be incomplete if we didn't see Italy. So we took a train down here." The four of us toured the magnificent ruins and agreed to meet the following day at St. Peter's Piazza in Vatican City.* Two Coins for the Fountain There, in the vast piazza where the Pope speaks to crowds from the balcony of St. Peter's Church, we brought each other up to date on our travels. Then we explored the Vatican museums. That evening blond Marilyn and I walked down to the world-renowned Fountain of Trevi and, like countless others before us, tossed coins into the water (page 148). "I'll meet you in Rome in a couple of years," I said. "Okay, it's a promise." I hurried Marilyn home to the YWCA just before the midnight curfew. The next morn ing the eight wanderers set out for Paris. On my last night in Rome, two friends and I followed the crowd to the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla along the Appian Way to see the opera Aida. The vast stage was set between two colossal columns of the bathhouse, com pleted A. D. 217. A capacity audience sat on wooden seats under the clear night sky. * See "The Smallest State in the World," by W. Coleman Nevils, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1939.