I’ve always had a bit of an infatuation with Italy, which why I decided to revisit it. We had really wanted to see Florence, but for whatever reason the flights were obscenely expensive (more than 30 euros) so we settled on Rome instead. We landed in a bit of a sticky situation as the hostel didn’t have 24-hour reception and the lady said she’d leave at midnight. She advised us to take a taxi from the airport to make it in time, but we disregarded that and ended up on a bus for about a third of the price. The bus dropped us off at the main train station around 11:45 and the GPS said the hostel was about a 20 minute walk so we had to book it. The directions were a tad confusing, so we were forced to consider when a taxi driver tried to solicit his services to us. When we told him our address however, he said it would cost 20 euros! We immediately declined so he and his compadre insisted it was a fair fare and that he wasn’t collecting any sort of extra money, but as soon as we started to walk away he quickly lowered it to 15…so much for no extra fees. I realize that as two young females clearly from the States we might have appeared a bit naive, but we refused to swindled and set off on foot. Although we were practically running through the dark streets, the architecture was quite fascinating and it was hard to not get caught up. Anyway, we arrived a bit after midnight, but the lady was still there.
After getting settled into our dorm, we set out to take our first look at the city. Our hostel turned out to be pretty close to the Trevi Foutain, so that was our first stop. I’m honestly not sure what I had expected, but it was incredible! It was so big and grand and really marvelous. Though it started to rain a bit, it was a great experience. The best part is that there weren’t too many people crowded around it since it was nearing 1am. Nola and I of course had to follow tradition, so we each took a coin, turned our backs to the fountain, counted to three in Italian, made a wish, then tossed the coins over our heads into the water. Nola’s wish came true that weekend, and it turns out mine did too! It may seem like an odd wish, but I had just applied for a job at the local Kroger back home, and considering that this year in Europe has literally depleted my finances, I had a strong desire to hear back from them. They called a couple of weeks later, so it worked! Anyway, there was a man nearby selling fruit, so I bought a delicious plum and we simply sat and gazed at the fountain until the rain picked up again; it was pretty incredible.
Nick would also be joining us in this city, but he was staying at a different hostel and his train arrived pretty late that night too, so we didn’t really hear from him for a while. We had sort of loose plans to meet up with him the next morning at the Vatican, but he was going earlier since he didn’t have a reservation. It was only about a 45 minute walk, but the weather wasn’t so cooperative so we took the metro. It was a little confusing when we got off the train, which was weird because I thought the Vatican would be hard to miss; we actually had to ask several people for directions to get there. We eventually found it and were taken aback at the masses of people everywhere. I mean it’s technically the off season for tourism, so I can’t even imagine what that place must be like in the summer or during Holy Week. We gave up pretty quickly on trying to find Nick among the chaos, but walking through a museum isn’t necessarily a group actively anyway.
The first part was a hall of statues. Most of them were missing pieces here and there, but it was pretty incredible to be in the presence of something so old. It was also interesting reading about and seeing the faces of some famous emperors. After meandering the hall for a while, we moved onto a series of other various galleries. There were a few more statues, but there were mostly paintings. The coolest part were the painted ceilings though, I mean the detail was incredible and the scenes actually had impressive dimension. We got really confused when we came to the first counter selling souvenirs because they had all these miniature statues of David. We were like 99% percent sure he’s in Florence, but that kind of threw us for a loop. To be clear, David is not at the Vatican. Don’t worry, we didn’t actually ask anyone in which room we could find the Statue of David, so we saved some face there. Alternatively, I had no idea the School of Athens was there, and I got super excited when I saw them selling posters of it because its basically one of my favorite paintings of all time. As we advanced through more galleries, I could tell we were getting close; eventually we walked into a room, turned around and there it was in all its glory. It was almost overwhelming. I mean this picture was the background of my computer for basically all four years of college, so I had spent enough time looking at it, but it was just so different to be there in person and see this enormous canvas spanning almost an entire wall. They say the Mona Lisa is the number one disappointing sight in Europe (the Berlin Wall is number two), but I think this painting might be one of the most underrated attractions ever.
At the end of each gallery were signs indicating the Sistine Chapel, but the labyrinth of rooms seemed never ending. Don’t get me wrong, it was all great, but every time we thought we were there new rooms kept popping up. We knew we finally made it when we saw angry-looking signs strictly prohibiting photography and loud voices among other things. So there we were. As soon as we entered into the packed room, we were immediately instructed to keep walking and corralled to a specific area. Once we finally reached the middle I stopped to take it in. The whole thing evoked many thoughts, but the one that kept popping up was Robin Williams’ soliloquy from Good Will Hunting when he puts young Matt Damon in his place for being an inexperienced youth. He basically says something to the effect that Will could probably cite so many facts about art, but he had no idea how it felt to stand in the Sistine Chapel and stare up at the paintings. He had a valid point, it’s pretty hard to put into words. It looked different than I had imagined it would though. We stood there for quite some time simply contemplating the nature of life and the universe. Apart from the absolutely indescribable art, the most entertaining part were the guards. They very actively enforced the no photography rule (though Nola did manage to sneak a pic), and they were constantly calling people out on it. On top of that, they would routinely repeat the words “keep moving, don’t stop here”, which were separated by the a “sshhhhh”; I never knew shushing could sound so forceful. Once our necks began to ache we moved towards the exits to open up some space. The whole experience was quite extraordinary, and I still can’t believe we technically crossed into another country!
We decided to walk back to the hostel afterwards, stopping along the way for some wine and pizza. I was honestly quite disappointed. I’m a bit of pizza connoisseur, but I have a pretty low threshold for what I call good; this pizza was not very good. They also didn’t serve free tap water, which I hate. Oh well. We ended up back at the hostel to plan our evening. It was actually really hard to find a restaurant for dinner because most seemed to need reservations and they were booked solid! We made a reservation for the next night, but ended up just grabbing a quick bite that night. We found a suitable pub crawl that left from the Colosseum, so that’s where we decided to rendezvous with Nick. We were only about a 15 minute walk from there, so we enjoyed a nice stroll. We had been studying the directions at one point, then we turned onto what he hoped was the right road. I looked up from my phone and in the distance at the end of the street we could see part of the Colosseum. It was lit up beautifully, and it was really breathtaking. The closer we got, the larger it grew; I had imagined it being somewhat smaller, but it did not disappoint. Of course the pictures don’t really capture the whole thing, but it was amazing. We eventually found Nick then found the guy for the crawl. We actually skipped on the open bar because we couldn’t make it time, so we would be joining with the rest of the group at the second location. We ended up having to wait around for a while, so we thoroughly enjoyed walking around and taking pictures with the incredible site. I’m not sure what happened, but when the guy finally said it was time to leave we were apparently running quite late. The four of us started speed-walking through the streets until he broke out into a jog. We actually had to run for a quite a good distance; I’m not sure they really understand the concept of a pub crawl.
We finally caught up with the group and most of them were already pretty intoxicated. We went to another bar or two, then ended at a rather interesting club. First of all, they played entirely Spanish music, which I found odd but enjoyed nonetheless. Additionally, they only had unisex bathrooms, which was kind of confusing at first. Also, some of the patrons were extremely liberal with public displays of affection, more so than at your average club but hey, when in Rome. Anyway, we had a really good time. Nick left before we did, and by the end of the night we had no idea where we were or where to go. We ended up meeting a young man from the States who was working at the embassy and offered to drive us to the train station so we could navigate to our hostel. His car was parked really far away, so we enjoyed getting to know him on the way. Eventually, he declared that he was probably too tired, not to mention inebriated, to drive so he advised us to take the bus. He was really nice about it and made sure we were at the right stop and knew which one to take!
Nick had planned to attend an audience with the Pope the next morning, but we got in not long before we had to leave, so we missed it. He said he couldn’t see that much anyway. Nola and I took our time getting up then made our way back to the Colosseum. We decided to do an audio guide, and there was definitely a wealth of information. I learned so much about some of the things that went on there and the logistics of it all. Obviously a lot of it was pretty brutal, but gladiators were actually around for much less time than I thought they were as it was outlawed sort of early. It was kind of eerie walking around a place with such a bloody history. It was also pretty cool being in such an old establishment. We spent a long time in there taking in the whole situation. Afterwards I just sort of wandered around some of the shops. My shoes had been torn to shreds, I guess from months of walking everywhere, and for life of me I had not been able to find shoes in half sizes. Well I decided on a whim to check out a thrift shop, and I found a cheap pair that fit like a glove! We had a relaxing afternoon, then we all met up at the restaurant. The food was honestly just okay though. We took Nick to see the Trevi Fountain afterwards, and it was incredibly crowded. Fortunately he was able to make hisen wish anyway! That night we ended up grabbing some beers from the corner store and hanging out at the hostel. It was nice to just hang out for a bit, and we had a really good time. Nola and I had to leave for the airport by 4am the next morning, so we called it around 2. We were reassured in our goodbyes knowing that we’d see him one more time in Madrid.
Overall Rome was more incredible than I ever imagined it would be. Everyone says it’s so old and dirty, but I didn’t think it really was. The food did not live up to my expectations, but all of the sites exceeded them. It rained occasionally, but the weather was mostly nice, so that helped with the whole experience. In the end I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go there and see what I did, and I’m glad I was able to do it all in good company.