The third leg of my tour of "The Big Three" cities in Europe. It so happens to have the most beautiful light!
After a week of cold and rain in London and Paris, I was ready for the sun! We took a plane from Paris to Rome's Fumiccino Airport. Whatever sinus problems I was experiencing were made way worse on the plane. I lost hearing in my left ear which is very disorienting. And felt intense pressure and pain while we were descending. We landed on the tarmac and it was amazing to step out into 80+ degrees and sun. It's about an hour into the city by charter bus and we have an hour to relax before an evening tour and some wine tasting!
We take the metro to meet up with a woman named Linda for a tour of the city. The metro in Rome only has two main lines. They are building a third, but are running into problems with disrupting the ruins! Linda is awesome. I immediately like her. She is like your cool aunt who tells you the things your parents won't tell you! She takes us through the Piazza di Spagna, we see the Spanish Steps (which are under construction). The city is scattered with historical monuments and structures. She gives us recommendations for dinner places and other hidden gems. We make our way to the Trevi Fountain. Stop for pictures, obviously! The streets are filled with vendors selling to tourists: Italian leather shops, gelato shops, shops where you can buy pasta and oils, tacky souvenir shops. It's a mad house. People crowd and fill the area. We move on to the next hot spot on the tour. Along the way we see artists painting or singing, trying to make a buck. We walk past The Pantheon and I am surprised at how it just appears in front of you when you step out from the side street. Next we visit Piazza Navona and learn about The Fountain of the Four Rivers and enjoy some street performers. This piazza is large and picturesque as it used to be a stadium where Romans would go to watch games. From there we ended at Campo de' Fiori which is a public square where they have a daily food market!
Linda told us about some of the foods and drinks that Romans enjoy. She told us about the pasta dish Cacio e Pepe (literally, "cheese and pepper") and the aperitif Spritz (which is served before dinner to stimulate the appetite). We had a half an hour before Marco was to take us to our wine tasting event, so a few of us hit The Drunken Ship (a classic destination) for some Spritz! It was delicious and I even made some once I got back to the states! So refreshing!
Our wine tasting was held at a restaurant and they had two long tables for our group. Doors were open and wine was flowing. We were served six different wine and food parings which started with white wines, then red, and finished with a dessert wine. I was in heaven. We all were! Cheese and meats. Veggies and dips. Bruschetta. All was incredible. We had a good time together as a group and we all really fell in love with the magic of Rome.
After dinner, Marco takes us all to one of Rome's most famous gelato shops and buys us all a round of cones!
Horns honking. We slept with our window open, because it's Rome. But now we are awake. You get the full Italian effect! Yet, it is still loud and aggravating, as it should be. And even better than waking up in sunny warm Rome? We have a free day! I meet up with Ann and Jessica and we head out for some shopping! We hit a little mall in Termini, Rome's central transportation center, and shop for some cute clothes for our evenings out in Rome. After a while we head to the metro and take two stops to Spagna. The plan is to take the same route we did yesterday on our tour, only get lost in the sightseeing and the shopping!
We get to the Pantheon and stop in the square for espresso, gelato, and to soak up some sun. We weren't able to go into the Pantheon yesterday on our tour, so we join the line to enter. At the front we are stopped by a white haired Italian man who says we can't enter as he motions to our shoulders. Tank tops. Your shoulders have to be covered if you want to enter a holy place in Rome. We are disapointed and return to the steps by the fountain. Jessica notices that Ann is wearing a light sweater around her waist. We decide to get in line one at a time using her sweater and take our turn viewing the architecture and holy artifacts. Sitting on the steps we marvel at where we are and how beautiful it is. Inside the Pantheon we marvel at it's history and it's beauty.
We stop for lunch and have pastas and wine. I ordered Cacio e Pepe, the dish Linda told us about - a delicious classic! After lunch there is still much shopping left to do. We venture down some side streets and come to a shop with nick-nacks. I love trinkets and such, so I tell the girls that I want to go in. But I am pretty sure the shop owner doesn't want us there so we hurry out and back to the street. Turning the corner, we happen upon a cute boutique. We go inside and love about every piece inside - jewelry, purses, scarfs. All three of us buy the same purse in different colors. It's blissful wandering these back streets. We even come to a small art gallery as well as a small designer boutique. I love seeing the art in different areas of the world - what inspires and influences them.
Once we have had our fill from shopping, we venturing back to our metro stop, Spagna, and the girls convince me to stop in to the pharmacy. I have been sneezing all day. I ask the clerk if she has something for allergies. "Yes," she says. 14 Euro. Ok! It better be worth it. I pop a pill and hope for the best.
Entering the metro hub, we see signs pointing towards Villa Borghese, the park! We take the left and follow the signs to take Jessica up on her idea to go to the park. We take a series of escalators up up up. Wow it seems to go on forever, maybe that's because these escalators are super slow! But on the plus side, these drugs are a miracle worker. Within minutes of taking it, I start to feel cleared up! Thank you European medicine. We see daylight and climb a ways more to get to the park. We stroll through the greenery and determine that we must rent a row boat on the pond. We buy our tickets - only three euro each for a twenty minute ride- and wait in line. We sit on a bench and are surrounded by all locals. It's not crowded. It's serene and the cap to a perfect day in Rome. I get my Italian phrase book out and look up the number "5." They are calling parties up by number and I realize that I do not know any Italian numbers. There's a few families waiting. A group of Italian teenagers who are dressed really well. As well as the two young men that help guests in and out of boats. Cinque! Five! It's our turn. We get on the boat and I volunteer to row first... It's hard. Way harder than it looks. All these Romans are out here looking like they've done this before, and I can barely get off the dock! Once I get a feel for it though, we are out in the middle. We take tons of selfies, mostly because it feels like we are in a movie and we can't get over it! Ann and Jessica take their turns rowing, and we almost collide with a few other boats, but we are giddy with ourselves afterwards.
We leave the park radiating and head back to the hotel for an hour or so to freshen up before heading to dinner. We take a cab to the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome, which is said to be where locals and young people hang out. We explore the streets. It is just getting dark and the city is transforming. We pass by street vendors and small boutique shops, restaurants are packed full. We venture in to a book store and talk with the young shop keepers and they recommend a restaurant for us in the area. Finally arriving at the restaurant, with the help of an American who is living in the area, we are seated inside. We order wine for the table and our meals. I have a gnocchi dish and it is filling! This is how the Romans live. I get a true sense of the people of Rome, away from the super touristy areas.
After dinner we grab some drinks at a little hip bar. There aren't too many people out, as it is a week night, but there's a good atmosphere. There is a pool table up front where some locals play and drink, and some seating to the right of the game area. Then just past the bar are a few more seating areas where another small group of locals sit. After we grab our drinks, we stand outside. A man approaches us with a polaroid and in broken English says "5 Euro." Ann speaks and says "No, 2 Euro." He says no and walks away. We giggle as Ann continues to play this game with the man over 15 minutes or so. Eventually he gives in and takes our picture, she pays him with coins and we go inside to sit. A little nook in the back opened up. There is a sofa against the wall with a world map over top of it. The three of us sit and sip on a second round of drinks. The table in front of us is an up-cycled snare drum. There is random small graffiti on the walls. This dingy but yet somehow colorful atmosphere at this bar is how I have come to understand Rome as a whole. After a bit, another man approaches with a Polaroid camera. We laugh at the persistence of these guys, and how they have come to seek us out as Americans. This time Jessica barters with him and we get another photo for three Euro instead of five. After a bit we call it a night and the end to what we deemed our perfect day in Rome.
Author's Note: I spent five days in Rome. To share in writing what happened each and every day would be a lot to ask of you as a reader. So I am choosing to curate which stories I share and to let the photos fill in the missing pieces.
On the third day we went to the Roman Forum and the Colosseum and I spent most of the day being lead by a tour guide while dodging the sun. Being outside all day in the open forum and colosseum, I kept looking up and noticing the clouds. The clouds in Rome are beautiful, as I am sure they are throughout Italy. Maybe you can say I had my head in the clouds, but dang! I was inspired.
I did tear up in the Sistine Chapel - seeing The Creation of Adam - as well as at St. Peter's Basilica. I am not Catholic, so I did not buy any souvenirs to be blessed by the Pope, but damn that church is incredible! If you are ever in Rome, do spend the time to go see it.
After spending the day on our tours, Jessica, Ann, Serena, and I went out again for dinner as well as a couple drinks and gelato to celebrate Jessica's 25th birthday at midnight. Here's a photo of me at what I though was the coolest bar we went to in Rome, which was located a few streets off from Piazza Navona. It was probably just because I enjoyed the music, but there was a deer head on the wall and I liked the vibe of the group of Roman hipsters at the next table over. Or maybe it was these cool leather chairs...
Roman Forum & The Colosseum
On the fourth day (which was the last official day of the tour), a group of us had signed up ahead of time for a pasta making class. We all took taxis to Campo de' Fiori and had some time to shop at the market before we met up with the instructor for class. I bought some pasta and some Pecorino Romano - the cheese used to make Cacio e Pepe, the classic Italian dish I had enjoyed during my time here. I love a good market and tried to take it all in as it was my second to last day here.
For the class we walk to an apartment just off from the square. It is owned by an American who rents it out when he is not in Rome. It is a rooftop apartment - the third floor, more specifically - but in Rome, the buildings aren't that tall, just close together! The view is amazing and we are all in heaven as we sit and enjoy some Prosecco provided for us by our hosts. One of the men gives us an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting before the class. We learn history and the intricacies of making oil or balsamic. Each sample has a different flavor and comes from a different region in Italy. Again - pure bliss! It's noon on a Tuesday!
We begin class and enjoy learning from an Italian instructor on this beautiful day. We go through each step and watch carefully to learn how to do it right! Getting hungry... The chef cooks up the meat, boils the pasta, and warms the sauce as we wait. Finally lunch is ready! We feast on our creation and leave culturally and physically satisfied.
In the evening we take a charter bus to a restaurant for our farewell dinner! We talk on the bus about what our favorite parts of the trip and what our favorite city was. Marco even sings some Justin Bieber for our entertainment. At the restaurant, we have a four course meal, wine, as well as shots of limoncello to end the evening.
Pasta Making Class
On my last day in Rome, I woke up and said goodbye to my group members who were off to the airport to head back to the States, or to another city in Europe. But not me. I chose to stay an extra day in Rome, just as I had come a day early to London. At this point in the trip I am regretting that decision. I am pooped, and now I am waiting outside of Termini - the busiest area in Rome - for Gaia, the woman who's Air BnB I am renting for the night. She is 20 minutes late and it is hot. I am waiting patiently but annoyed with the now three bags I am carrying all over Europe! She arrives with the key and tells me to take the little yellow train at the bottom of the hill to the eighth stop, Torpignattara.
I walk my bags down the hill, get a ticket for the above ground train, and hop on. As the train starts its slow journey, something has shifted in my internal atmosphere. This isn't the romanticized tourist version of Rome that we had lived the past four days. This is the common person's Rome. Apartment building after apartment building, laundry hung from every balcony, and an increasing prevalence of graffiti. The people on the train with me are commuters, and I am definitely the only American. The train is small, each side of the train runs rows of single chairs and the two sides face opposite directions. I am constantly checking the signs at each stop, the map inside the train, as well as counting up to 8, so I don't miss my stop! I stand in preparation to exit the train once we are about to reach the eighth stop. I get off an pull out the paper map Gaia printed for me. I head to my right and hope this is the right way. The apartment is further from city center and further from the train line than what I assumed when I booked the room. I feel lost. But I remember her telling me to take a left when the road forks. I continue on, and see the little garden that she told me was out front of her building. If I wasn't already sweating, I climb two flights of stairs with my luggage and struggle to get the door to her apartment to open. There are two key holes, one key! I try a combination of things before I call Gaia and she tells me the trick.
Settling in to the apartment, after a stressful morning I look around and see the reasons why I booked this apartment. Turquoise walls and orange bedding. Great art work and good books on her shelf! I start to look at my list of things to do in Rome as well as her guide book she keeps in the room for guests. Just as I am planning out my day, I hear a man out in the streets speaking into a loud speaker - reciting something over and over again in Italian. I obviously don't know what he is saying and Google Translate can't pick it up, but I know he is repeating something. It sounds like a protest, but it could be as simple as a call to the neighborhood to say his food stand is open! Who knows?
I head out and walk through the neighborhood to the subway. The walk is long and no one is around. Everyone must be at work. First I head to the park and to an art museum located on the outskirts of the park. After, I sit and read on a park bench. I people watch and see a group of Roman teenagers, who rented bikes, chase each other through the park. I leave the park and head back to city center to finish up some gift shopping. I write my last post cards to Nick and to my parents and eat my last gelato in Rome while reflecting on this adventure I have embarked on. I call it a night early, as I have a flight to catch in the morning. I am ready to go home!
When the morning comes, I wake and meet Gaia's friend downstairs who has agreed to take me to the airport...
Below is a link to a story about my taxi ride to Rome's airport. I am working on developing it in to it's own short story, therefore it stands separate from the rest of the blog. It is a work in progress so feedback is welcome. Thank you for reading!
As with each city I visited on this trip, Rome was not as I expected. It was more touristy than I expected. It was more colorful than expected. And it was less modern than I expected. I am coming to understand Rome as a city that its residents are proud of and want to keep the way it is. They have the aqueducts that make perfect drinking water pour from baths and fountains on the streets - they don't need modern drinking fountains! "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is a lesson observed from the Romans. As well as my own: if it's not broken, then enjoy it!
This trip taught me not only to appreciate what I have, but to also live every aspect of life and culture to its fullest: clothing, entertainment, food, drinks - you name it - just make sure you experience all that thing has to offer you. It's easy to let things get in the way and to make excuses as to why you can't do x, y, or z, but you will regret it. I want to get the most that I can out of this life. I am a person of the world with an adventurous heart. I have an eye for unique people and things. And I will not leave any stone that interests me unturned.