If I had to sum up Rome in two words, they would be “sensory” and “overload.” I took 600 pictures in four days, which seems excessive to be honest. But that’s just how I operate. Shoot first and ask questions later. Let’s all hope I never have access to an actual firearm. So here’s the story of the trip to Rome, it gets long, but there are lots of pictures so… onwards!
I met up with O, my Russian Sprachduo/tandem partner, early on Saturday morning at the train station. We hopped a train and were off on our way to the “Munich West” airport, aka Memmingen, aka not actually anywhere near Munich. But that’s where Ryanair flys out of, so that’s where we were going.
I had always wondered who those people were who run around the train station trying to find extra people to share on their Bayern tickets, and it turns out that O is one of them. I mean, I’m not going to argue with a lower price, and if you can find up to five people to share, that sounds great to me. But then when we got to the airport, she still wanted to try and sell the ticket off to someone else. Is this standard practice in Germany? As long as you don’t sign the ticket, you can just pass it off, but it seemed a little odd to me. Sadly, she didn’t find any takers at the airport, and we got ourselves checked in and through security in no time flat.
A cool one-hour flight later, we landed in the sunshine of Rome’s Ciampino airport. There are an abundance of shuttles to the center, so we bought tickets and got moving. The shuttle deposited us outside the main railway station, where we decided to walk around a bit. Instead of a hotel or hostel, we were Couchsurfing and our host wasn’t home yet. Since we had some time, we wandered off in a likely-seeming direction.
We walked to the Piazza della Republica, which had a huge fountain and a church. So, pretty much like every other piazza in Rome. It’s kind of a theme there. We were a bit hungry, but since it was mid-afternoon and we planned on having dinner, we thought we would just have a snack. So what does one have as their first food in Italy? Well if you guessed McDonald’s chicken nuggets, you would be correct! Shameful but true. There were a few other cafes and such in the area, but O deemed them all too expensive and we didn’t really want to sit down anywhere. So McD’s it was.
We made our way back to the bus station and found the first bus we needed. O’s boyfriend had helpfully written out directions for us, and even drew a little map showing the walk from the bus stop to our host’s home. Once on the bus, I learned the first Fun Fact about Rome: the buses don’t announce the stops. There are no signs, and if there is no-one waiting at a stop, and no-one pushes the button, they don’t stop, (which is true in Germany as well, but here the stops are ANNOUNCED). This wasn’t a problem on our first bus, as we were going to the final station, but this got tricky on the second bus.
The second bus we needed had just left, so we got to wait around for about 20 minutes for the next one. This would also be a theme of the trip. While waiting, we had some time to try and puzzle out the stops listed on the bus route. Unfortunately the time was no help as we couldn’t make the sign in front of us line up with the directions we already had. Also, after the name of our stop on the sign, it said: (7 fermate). I’m sitting there going, “fermate, fermate…. that sounds familiar but I have no idea what it means. Any Italian speakers know where I’m going with this one? No? Stops. It means stops. So what this meant was that there were SEVEN STOPS with the SAME NAME. They were labeled 1-7 along the bus route (which we didn’t know at the time), and we wanted number 4.
According to the sign, the first of the Seven Similarly Named Stops was the fifth stop on the route. But as I already mentioned, stops aren’t announced and if the button isn’t pushed, that bus isn’t stopping. We must have blown by three of the stops because suddenly we stopped for the second time, and I realized slightly too late that the dark sign outside said our stop with an indiscernible number after it. We jumped up, O asked the driver to stop, and he told her we could get off at the next stop. At the next of the Seven Similarly Named Stops we found the number 6. But we had no idea what number had been on the previous sign, or how many stops we might have blown past already. We decided to walk up the hill to the next stop and see what that sign said. It said 5, so we kept on walking to the next one. Lo and behold, number 4.
We then followed the map through the neighborhood, down some crumbling brick stairs with no lights, and finally to our host’s home. And he wasn’t home yet. Well, at least we weren’t the only ones that were grossly later than we thought we would be. He showed up about five minutes later, and welcomed us into his home.
I’ve had lots of friends who have couchsurfed before, and lord knows we hosted our fair share of house guests in Prague, but this was my first time actually surfing someone else’s couch, and I’m so glad we had a nice experience. Our host, E, had a GREAT apartment… it was huge and beautiful, with plenty of room for two extra people. He had been helping his brother move all day, and he put us straight to work putting the cushion covers back on the couch he took from his brother’s old place. Helpful hint: don’t take those things off, because they are a pain in the ass to get back on. But we managed, and now he has two nice, big couches for his surfers. Bonus points because now we didn’t have to share.
O. had intended for us all to make dinner together, but it turned out that he didn’t have a kitchen; it was coming, but not installed yet. I swear that his Couchsurfing profile mentioned that fact, but she didn’t remember reading it. Instead, he headed off to his parents for dinner (insert stereotype about single Italian guys here), and he invited us to relax, shower, watch a movie, etc., promising he would be back at 10 o’clock and we could go “make a party.” We took him up on those offers, and had some good relaxation time after our day of travel.
A few hours later, E came home, and his friend came by a few minutes later. They did some quick moving of furniture, and then we were off. Riddle: How many cars does it take to transport four people in Rome? Answer: If your host drives a Smart Car, two. I can also confirm that all the stereotypes about driving in Rome are true. It is terrifying. And this was at almost midnight… I think I would have lost it in the daytime. Especially in a Smart Car. Scary stuff. But we survived, parked, and headed to the nightlife area.
On the way we crossed a bridge and had what the boys said was the best view in Rome. It’s a bit dark, but here you go…
That’s the dome of St. Peter’s in Vatican City. I promise. It’s just dark.
We wound through tiny, narrow streets in the city center, looking for E’s friend that we were meeting. The whole area we were in was basically bars, clubs, and restaurants, and it was packed. People spilled out of every doorway, smoking cigarettes, clutching cocktails, and generally having a good time. I felt decidedly under-dressed, because 1) I don’t really own “club” clothes, 2) I didn’t bring anything remotely “going out” appropriate with me so I was wearing a t-shirt, and 3) I was wearing color. I’m pretty sure O and I were the only two people I saw the whole trip NOT wearing a black jacket. Way to stick out, Heather.
Finally we located E’s friend, and followed him into a bar. Inside we had to fill out a little piece of paper with our vital stats, presumably in case of emergency. Because of that, I was expecting an underground labyrinth of a bar… the kind of place where a fire or other situation would leave people trapped three floors below ground (U Sudu, I’m looking at you), but this was possibly the smallest bar I’ve ever been in. Like, maybe the size of my flat (37 square meters). And one of the loudest. I don’t know if it was a regular thing, but it was karaoke night and WOW was it loud. We got a drink and E told us that some of the songs were big Italian hits, but some of them definitely sounded like mainstream songs… it was just hard to discern from the Italian-karaoke-ized version. I found the whole thing quite entertaining.
After a bit, the guys were ready for another club so we headed back outside. We ended up at a pretty swank kind of place, which the guys said was one of the nicest clubs in Rome. Now, I am not a club person… I’m more of a beer and a table kind of girl. But we were there, so I figured what the hell. O loves to dance, so she was quite content to bop around in a small area at the edge of the dance floor. I can handle clubs, but usually I have to do two things: 1) switch to hard liquor and 2) drink a lot of it.
My first clue should have been the fact that almost no one was drinking. But I chalked that up to the fact that people here just like to dance. Or at least they don’t feel like they need to be off their faces to do it. But I do, so I went to the bar. I ordered a double gin and tonic. The bartender said a double was 30€ and I fell over in a dead faint. No, not really. I just downgraded it to a single for the bargain price of 15€. That’s right, despite the fact that just last week I refused to pay a $20 cover charge at a club in Milwaukee, I forked over 15€ for a cocktail. And not even a fancy one. But, I was on vacation, and in a club for an indeterminate amount of time. And you better believe that I enjoyed the hell out of that gin and tonic.
At about 4:30am, a few hours of Italian fist pumping and LMFAO songs later, we finally headed for home. I think I may have fallen into a coma when we got there because that was one, looooong day.
Our plan on Sunday was to get up early (hahahaha), and go to the Vatican museums. They are open free on the last Sunday of the month, so we thought we would take advantage of that. But we hadn’t accounted for being out all night either, so we didn’t get quite the early start we had originally planned on.
We got to the Piazza near the Vatican at about 10:30am, and the line was out. of. hand. We were told later that the Pope was making one of his “waving from the balcony” appearances that day, and so that added to the amount of people. We couldn’t see the end of the line, so we decided to find the beginning of it, so we could judge just how long we thought we’d be in it. On the way to find the front, we were barraged by about 10,000 people trying to sell us tours that would skip this 2-3 hour wait. This would also be a theme of the trip. Anyway, here’s a shot towards the beginning of the line…
We walked past people for about 10 minutes before I took this picture. O wanted to go to the front and slip into the line somehow, and I absolutely put my foot down on that one. If I’m going to skip a line somewhere, it sure as shit isn’t going to be at the Vatican. I don’t need any extra tally marks on my rap sheet from the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Not happening.
At this point, my stomach was eating itself since we were up all night and hadn’t actually eaten dinner, so we decided to try and find something to eat. Unfortunately it was a bit too early for restaurants to be open, so I settled for some mediocre street-pizza, while O went to find an internet cafe. Another Couchsurfing host had offered to show us around the city and she had forgotten to write down his phone number.
When she got back, we decided to go to the Colosseum instead, and try the Vatican the next day. We slowly made our way across the city, with several detours, picture breaks, and a stop for lunch. So… pictures!
St. Peter’s looks much better without the enormous line…
Castle St. Angelo….
Sadly I slacked on the food pictures on this trip. However, this bruschetta served to remind me exactly what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. I eat tomatoes darn near every day, but these were fantaaaaaaaastic.
Art market in the beautiful Piazza Navona.
Stealth photos of creepy cowboy street performers.
Rome wins for the amount of people selling useless crap. Example 1: these balls of goo that flatten and reform. Why oh why would you need this??
When you take a break as a street performer, shouldn’t you go somewhere out of sight? Doesn’t this take away from the mystery??
The Pantheon was pretty amazing. I was trying to take photos that would give a sense of how high it is inside, and I don’t think these quite do it. I guess you have to go.
Rome is apparently famous for cats. I might do a whole post about the cats that hang out in the ruins at the Area Sacra Argentina… I have about 20 photos of them. Apparently up until very recently, the city fed them. Draw your own conclusions about the economic state of Italy…
The Vittoriano, the national monument to the first king of Italy. It was one of those things that made me say, “Holy shit,” when I walked around a corner and saw it. I was sitting and waiting for O a few days later outside it, when the guy next to me introduced himself as a Ph.D. archeology student and told me how they were just finishing a 10-year project to clean this thing off. I guess 10 years ago it was completely gray and brown from all the pollution. I’d hate to be the guy with the toothbrush scrubbing out the cracks of this puppy….
View of the Colosseum and Forum from the top of the Vittoriano. The view was pretty sweet, and only costs 7€.
Inside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, next to the Vittoriano.
Count the chandeliers in this picture. Go ahead… I’ll wait….
Heading up the steps to the Capital Museum and City Hall.
More of the Forum from behind City Hall….
And finally, six hours later, we made it to the Colosseum. Just in time for my camera to die. It was too late to go inside, so we just walked around a bit before walking aaaaaaaaall the way back to the Piazza Navona, where we were meeting G, another Couchsurfing host, and his surfer, L, for dinner.
Before dinner though, we had a nice, long walk. G took us back to the hill to show us the Capital building, and then back down to see the ruins of the Marcello Theater and through the old Jewish ghetto.
After a long, long, long walk, we finally arrived at our dinner destination. We went to a place that G highly recommended for pizza, called San Marco. We had some appetizers, including suppli, which is a fried ball that is filled with rice, cheese, and in our case, spinach. We also had another appetizer that was (I think), fried cauliflower with cheese and anchovy. Sounds questionable, tastes fantastic. I really wish my camera hadn’t died, but you’ll just have to believe me on how good it tasted, and how pretty my pizza was. And I even pulled the American thing and took some home because I could not eat the whole thing. It was just not going to happen. We parted ways for the evening, planning to meet up with G and L later in the week, and rolled ourselves home at a reasonable hour so we could take another crack at the Vatican in the morning.
Something to know about me: if I don’t set an alarm, and you don’t wake me up, I will sleep forever. Also, keep in mind that I had just flown back from the U.S., so my sleep schedule was severely jacked up. We set an alarm, but O decided to let me sleep. It must have been the day for that though, as our host overslept and was late for work as well. By the time we were ready to head out for the day, it was already almost noon, so instead of the Vatican, we decided to go straight to the Colosseum and do the tour there instead. Are you sensing a theme here? Me too.
At the Colosseum, we ran right into L from the night before. L and I decided to go on the English tour, and O opted to get an audioguide in Russian and do the tour on her own. The tour was well worth the extra 5€ on the entrance fee, and I was happy to pay it.
This was not the only owl I saw in Rome. The ancient Romans were totally hipsters.
Helpful hint: If you are traveling with a non-native English speaker and you do an English-language tour, you might want to pay special attention. Because the non-native speaker will ask you questions. A lot of them. And you might feel like you are extra-obligated to remember every detail because you were able to understand the first time. Just a tip.
At dinner the night before, we had actually joked that they were all working so hard because they were speaking in another language, while I was able to sit back and relax. This was totally false though, because I had to find other ways to explain things if someone didn’t understand, O was asking me for equivalent words in German or some other situations. This happened quite a few times throughout the trip, but when you’re at a table with an Italian, a Russian, and a Taiwanese, and they are all able to communicate that well, it’s pretty amazing. It was a lot of fun, but there was definitely work involved.
The light was beautiful as the sun was setting; it was a perfect time for a walk.
G’s recommendation for gelato was a place called Fiocco di Neve, and it’s about a 30-second walk from the Pantheon. I recommend sticking to the small, 2€ size, which they pack FULL of delicious gelato.
We also stopped in a shop selling all sorts of marble goods, and neither of the girls understood why I found this funny….
Seriously, what does that look like to you? Right? And the translation? Hilarity. What are they trying to tell us??
Afterwards, we decided to walk over to the Trevi fountain, and then to the Spanish steps…
What are all those people taking pictures of??
Why this super-impressive fountain, that’s what! Don’t forget to throw in a coin and make a wish… if you can get past all the people, that is.
Here I am being super-cool in front of the Spanish steps.
It was pretty late at this point, so L decided to call it a night. O and I headed for dinner nearby the Piazza di Spagna. I had wine, prosciutto and melon…
… and a delicious vegetable soup. I assume that it was a more authentic version of the minestrone we all know and love at the Olive Garden.
On our way home, we walked down the “ritzy” shopping street, and through St. Peter’s Square.
I’m not a big fan of LV, but how great is this window display??
Authentic Italian version of the Jersey Shore GTL?
St. Peter’s Square is a lot better with no one in it. Just my opinion.
Vatican attempt #3: success! There was no line. Score. However, there were a million people inside. Boo. We got there at about 10:30am, O wanted to do the audioguide again, whereas I was set on leaving by 2:30 at the latest. Our Colosseum entrance from the day before also included the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill, which could be used until 4:30 the following day. So we went our separate ways, agreeing to meet near the Colosseum around 5pm.
I did the “accelerated” Vatican Museum tour. This consisted of me whipping through rooms to get to the Sistine Chapel, taking pictures inside (whoops), getting busted, leaving, not being able to find the way out, going backwards through the whole other wing of the museum, finding a courtyard, wandering around some more, and finally making my way back to the entrance/exit. Tip: Ask for a map. They don’t give you one when you arrive, and that would have been helpful. However, I did look at O’s map later, and I don’t know if that would have made much of a difference. Anyway, here are some pictures….
Even the chairs in the galleries are branded with the keys.
Sadly this Pieta is just a copy, the original is in St. Peter’s.
I do have pictures of the Sistine Chapel, but I’m not posting them because I don’t want the Swiss Guard to come kick my ass. Sorry. When I finally escaped from the Vatican Museum, I planned on going to St. Peter’s Cathedral. But when I got over there, the line made me change my mind. So that’s about the one thing I missed, or at least the one MAJOR thing I missed in Rome. Guess that means I’ll have to go back.
See that line? No thank you.
So instead of St. Peter’s, I walked to the Metro and got over to the Forum much earlier than I had planned on. And sure, there were still a lot of people there, but I was much happier to be outside where at least all those people had some room to spread out! We’ll start up on Palatine Hill, where the rich folk lived…
People were running around shaking the orange trees looking for snacks.
… and now we’ll head down into the Roman Forum, formerly the center of city life in ancient Rome.
See that street? I’m predicting that a leading cause of death in ancient Rome was from infection after a broken ankle. Especially if they were running around in sandals all the time. Tip: Bring comfortable shoes.
The city symbol is a wolf, so you see them everywhere.
It was a beautiful day so I was happy to be able to spend a few hours outside wandering around.
I met up with O afterwards, and we walked around a bit more before dinner. We met up with G and L again in the Piazza del Popolo, and went to a nearby restaurant, Il Brillo Parlante, which G recommended for some pasta. I had some absolutely amazing pasta with pesto, and the most fantastic tiramisu ever. It was more along the lines of a pudding than the cake-like version you see in the freezer section, and it was to die for. I recommend a trip to the restaurant if only for that reason.
Then it was time to head home… so some shots from the last night…
Piazza del Popolo…
Love me some Lady and the Tramp…
Locks on Ponte Milvio. I’ve seen lots of “lock bridges” in Europe, but I don’t think anyone has ever cleared this one off…
We flew out at 3pm on Wednesday and made our slow way back to Nürnberg. I pretty much collapsed onto the couch when I got home and am still in recovery mode here. Whew.
To sum up the trip, I compiled a short list of pros and cons:
- The food. Of course.
- Beautiful scenery and lots to see.
- Lots of public transportation.
- Everyone is super friendly and we met some nice people.
- Warm weather!!
- Way too many street vendors. You can’t walk 10 feet without someone shoving a scarf or a paperweight in your face.
- Lots of tourists. I think winter is the time to visit.
- The public transportation is not necessarily going where you want to go, and as I said, they don’t announce where you are.
Everyone I know said that Rome was dirty and too busy and so on, but I didn’t really think it was all that dirty. Busy, yes, and the street vendors made me completely crazy, but I don’t think it’s a deal breaker by any means. It was a good trip and a lot of fun. I just need a nap now.