They say it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Since I started by leaving EVERY form of payment in my apartment (fortunately, realized that before getting on the bus. Thank you, Jesus!) and finished by vomiting twice this morning (went too long without food/caffeine, oops), I’m going to define this trip by the middle. 🙂
If Rome was a person, we probably wouldn’t get along. It’s because it’s neither my opposite nor like me, but some weird, confusing mash-up in the middle. The airport and roads of this ancient city are ill-marked, or inconsistently marked, or not marked at all. It seems to expect of you innate knowledge of the place. The lifestyle/people, too, seem unrushed but also impatient, which is just downright exasperating.
Rant (almost) over. I booked my trip in March and got a heck of a deal. The hotel ended up being the main reason why I could swing it – it should’ve been called Hotel Hellhole. I don’t consider myself a princess, but shampoo, a washcloth, a bath towel, and working toilet in a hotel I was paying for were expected. But since I don’t travel for the hotels anyway, I decided to make the best of it, assuring myself I’d feel better about it all after some food and sleep.
Mornings. For 2 euro, I’d get an Americano (black) and a delicious pastry filled with either cream, chocolate, or both. Real Italians shoot their coffee at the bar (they’re tiny cups bc the coffee is strong and delicious…all you need) & are on their way. Since it was my one time to hook up to wifi, I lingered over my coffee like a true American. I already miss that coffee – it was as good as you’d expect.
I headed off in the brilliant Roman sun for my 1st day, which consisted of a walking tour, booked so I’d be sure to see the things I cared about most (the Colosseum, Michelangelo’s Pieta and Sistine Chapel). I left extra time to get lost, which I promptly did. After a few re-routes – keep in mind I had zero cell service, so I navigated everything off of directions I printed before my trip – I turned a corner and caught my first glimpse of the Colosseum, our meeting point. This 2,000-year-old masterpiece is the whole reason I came (Ancient Roman history is my 2nd favorite, right after Egyptian), and as cliché as it sounds, my breath literally caught in my throat. I choked on the emotion of seeing it in person. Now reflecting on my trip, that one moment made all the hiccups, frustrations, and hours of travel absolutely worth it. It’s magnificent.
Our tour guide, Ivanna, was great & we discovered our group consisted entirely of Americans. One of them – Marcus – is also a PNW’er, so we buddied up for the day. Super fun! I touched the Colosseum and tried to take it all in while listening to our tour guide and not getting separated from the group. We walked along cobblestone streets, taking in architecture ranging from centuries to thousands of years old. Statues lined the Imperial street, including the two dudes who really got me into Roman history, Julius Caesar and his nephew, Augustus. We saw the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona with Bernini’s fountains, ate gelato (whiskey mousse was my favorite, YUM), and wound our way through circuitous, narrow streets. After a lunch break – pizza, prego & grazie – we headed to the Vatican. I was informed the museum contains millions of artifacts and spans 9 miles, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see my favorite statue of all time, the one of Augustus with children about his feet. We DID see Raphael’s The School of Athens piece as well as a breathtaking room of intricate tapestries. My bubble was burst to hear the kind of men Raphael and Michelangelo were – not terribly scrupulous – but it was a good check on reality. These guys were regular dudes with great talents – no different really from the rest of us!
The Sistine Chapel. No photos are allowed in there, but that’s for the best as it forces you to just drink it all in. It’s bigger and taller than I thought, and incredible. I spent the most time in the center of the room, head rocked back all the way on my neck under The Creation of Adam. I couldn’t stop looking at it. While Michelangelo painted the ceiling, the paintings lining the walls were by other notable artists, including one my favorites, Botticelli. I was the last to rejoin my group as I just wanted to stay there.
The tour concluded, Marcus and I zipped over next door to St Peter’s Basilica to see the jaw-dropping Pieta, sculpted by Michelangelo when he was just 23. St Peter’s is amazing in its own right, containing more gold filigree than seems possible in one place. We hopped on the metro back to the center of Rome, and Marcus showed me a Roman grocery. It was fun to see how the Romans really live, like how you weigh and sticker your own produce, they don’t like major bills, and apparently there’s a separate line if you want to use cash. Marcus laughed at me when I got stuck in self-checkout prison, trying to manually bust through the gates, not knowing you’re supposed to scan your receipt to be let out. Yeesh. A funny moment that was a highlight from my trip.
The food. A whole lot of pasta! I got gnocchi Bolognese with prosecco my first night, and it was tasty. And to borrow from Julius Caesar, I came, I saw, I ate gelato every day. Usually as a mid-morning snack. I had spaghetti twice in one day and limoncello, a tasty Italian drink I’m going to look for in the States. Fruit drinks are delicious there, too, and which I recommend since produce is hard to find.
I spent my next day getting hopelessly lost before finding Piazza Navona again – but eating gelato at Rome’s best gelateria in the process, and then went waaaay in the wrong direction looking for Campo d’Fiori, a centuries old street market. Happily, getting lost allowed me to see more of the city, including mind-boggling architecture and Egyptian artifacts from when Rome and Egypt were quite cozy (I’m looking at you, Cleopatra). At last I found it and grabbed a quick lunch from Forno, Rome’s best bakery, munching it perched on the edge of a fountain. Romans call to you from their booths and restaurants, trying to get you to purchase from them. I spent the remainder of the day shopping the stores before hopping the metro – exactly like NY subways and very crowded – back to my hotel.
My final day. I decided to live like a true Roman and take my time. The goal was to hit the Roman Forum, and happily I had to go by the Colosseum again to get there. This time I perched on the high wall and just stared at in the morning sun. I was very content and became more so when a middle-aged Italian man who drums up business for tours stopped to talk with me, even after I told him I’d already done a tour. He stopped by again later to talk some more, really making a great morning even better. Then, the Roman Forum. Wow. Ancient ruins of Roman life, unsurprisingly just as random in the roads as the rest of the city. 🙂 Above the forum is Palantine Hill where the royals and officials lived, like Augustus. To walk in the same places as those people 2,000 years ago was pretty incredible. Next was the obligatory gelato stop (twist my arm) before venturing out for Knights of Malta, which spoiler alert, I never found. But! I saw Circus Maximus along the way, the place where chariot races a la Ben-Hur took place. I finished the day at the Spanish Steps before enjoying a big dinner of more spaghetti.
The people. Friendly up to a point, and then you sense impatience. Loud. And yes, the Italian men are very pretty. Some of the soldiers and/or polizia were ridiculously good-looking. I joked to myself, “This is Marcello, automatic-rifle-carrying soldier by day, Armani model by night.”
I ended the trip very grateful. Grateful for my life, my city, my country, and the means to be able to have incredible adventures like this Rome trip.