[Spring Break Part I: Milano (end of post)]
[Spring Break Part III: Venezia, Padova, & Verona (coming soon)]
[Spring Break Part IV: Innsbruck & Nuremberg (coming soon)]
A summary of my Rome trip in numbers: 72 hours, 80,000 steps…and one 6,000+ word blog post.
It has now been two weeks since I left the magnificent city of Rome after my whirlwind three-day romp in Italy’s capital and I think I’ve finally finished my (very thorough) account. (My sincerest apologies for taking so long to publish this post, but school and work duties have kept me busy since my return to the Real World.)
So grab a warm beverage of your choice and get comfortable because you’re about to embark on over 25 Google-Doc-pages’ worth of espresso, gelato, and sightseeing!
What I did
As soon as I arrived in Rome at Tiburtini Stazione at 7am on Saturday, I felt much more comfortable than I did in Milan. I eased into my day by enjoying free wifi at one of the station’s coffee shops, then took the Metro subway to my hostel, Funny Palace (see Where I stayed below for details).
There’s something about mornings that make cities more approachable. The rising sun casts a soft, inviting glow on the buildings, kissing each row of bricks in turn as it climbs higher in the sky. Only the earliest locals are up and bustling at this time. There is a sense of calm that permeates the air and loosens tense muscles. This is the atmosphere that greeted me when I ascended from the subway station in Rome. I immediately felt welcome.
Once I checked in and dropped off my luggage, I went around the corner to enjoy the hostel’s free breakfast (i.e. another cappuccino!) The hostel had given me a map of Rome and I mulled it over as I sipped my coffee, trying to decide which was the best way to get to the Vatican for my 10:30 tour.
Given my time constraints, I ended up taking the 15 minute Metro ride to the Ottaviano stop, blocks away from the entrance to the Vatican Museums. The Metro was bursting at the seams with tourists on their way to see Vatican City before it closed for Easter Sunday and Monday. I got to know my fellow passengers more intimately than I would’ve preferred as I was packed into the subway car by the hordes pushing to get in behind me. I kept both hands on my purse the entire time, unable to fall over during the lurchy ride only because of the crush of people pressed around me.
We all flooded out of the train at Ottaviano and I found my way to the meeting point for my tour. I had reserved a spot in a skip-the-line Vatican City tour with Italy With Us, paying about 70 USD for a guided tour of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. The skip-the-line privileges were immediately advantageous; the line to enter the Vatican Museum was wrapped around the walls of the city by the time we arrived. It was enormously satisfying being able to bypass the snaking, stagnant line with the tour guide and enter the museums quickly.
I didn’t know what to expect from the Musei Vaticani; I just knew I wanted to visit. Dina, our Italian tour guide, spoke about particular points of interest in the museum, albeit with a thick (sometimes incomprehensible) accent.
The highlight, of course, was the Sistine Chapel at the very end. Photos were not allowed, but I seemed to be one of the few in the overcrowded room that was actually attending to this rule. The vast number of people made it impossible for the guards to prevent everyone from using their camera, and a constant hum of whispers nullified the requested “respectful silence”.
St. Peter’s Basilica
From the Sistine Chapel, we took a “secret passageway” to St. Peter’s Basilica (not really a secret, but supposed to be used just for tour groups), saving us from waiting in another line.
St. Peter’s is absolutely magnificent, a basilica whose simple-yet-beautiful façade doesn’t even hint at the enormity of its interior. A dozen churches could probably fit inside its vast footprint, and they practically do, with all the chapels bubbling out on all sides.
I was particularly excited to see Michelangelo’s Pieta; it was prominently displayed immediately to our right upon entering the church, easily found because of the mass of people packed around it.
The Pieta was commissioned for the tomb of French cardinal Jean de Billheres to be “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could better.” In my opinion, Michelangelo achieved this perfectly; it was breathtaking to see in-person.
The sculpture sits behind a pane of bulletproof glass, placed there after being attacked with a hammer in 1972. In a cruel twist of fate, we happened to visit on one of the two days during the year that it was not illuminated; since Christ died the day before on Good Friday, the sculpture would not be lit up again until He rose again on Easter Sunday (according to Dina). Still, it wasn’t hard to appreciate Pieta’s magnificence in the St. Peter’s abundant natural light.
Dina also informed us that only one real painting is left in St. Peter’s Basilica! It resides in a room off-limits to the public, but we were able to catch a glimpse through a window.
The rest of the “paintings” are actually mosaic reproductions of the paintings that used to hang on the walls. The individual pieces of glass are so small and the mosaics are so detailed that an unknowing observer would never be able to tell:
Over the altar in the crossing of the basilica rises the baldacchino, an immense, intricately-decorated bronze canopy. Compared to the towering domes and ceilings of the rest of the church, it didn’t seem so big, but it’s true size became apparent as we got closer. Dina told us that it’s six stories high! Bernini, the renowned Italian artist whose work embellishes many corners of Rome, sculpted the canopy with solid bronze—some of it from the roof of the Pantheon (which I visit tomorrow).
Unfortunately, we couldn’t get much closer in order to really appreciate its full stature, but the detail was apparent even from where we stood. It’s a truly impressive piece of art that I didn’t know resided in St. Peter’s Basilica until now!
There was so much more exquisite art on display in the basilica, I wish I had more time to admire it all. Normally, visitors can even climb the dome, but it was unfortunately closed for the day when we visited.
Once the tour had concluded, I went to collect my ticket for Easter mass from the “Bronze Doors”, going through airport-level security on the way. With my ticket successfully retrieved, I departed the little country of Vatican City and left for the Colosseum for my next tour.
I met my tour group by the Colosseo Metro stop next to a busy souvenir stand. This time, I had booked with Tour in the City for a skip-the-line guided tour of one of Rome’s most popular attractions. Again, the line-skipping privileges proved to be worthwhile; but even with the tour group, we had to wait in a (smaller) line to get into the Colosseum itself.
Our guide kept us entertained the entire time, though. Even as we waited for our turn to wade through the security portal, he was bombarding us with historical facts and architectural details about the structure around us. Once inside the Colosseum, he described the events that used to occur here in Ancient Roman times and pointed out parts of the amphitheater that remain in their original form. Overall, I found the tour to be quite informative! Not having much interest in Roman history coming into this experience, I knew I would get the most out of this visit with an experienced tour guide. I was not disappointed.
What I ate
When I checked in at my hostel Saturday morning, I was recommended a café where I could enjoy complimentary breakfast and a restaurant that would offer me a discount if I mentioned the name of the hostel. Both were located around the corner from the hostel itself, so once I had dropped off my bags, I headed over to the café for breakfast (see Coffee Tour below).
That night, after my tour of the Colosseum, I had dinner at the recommended restaurant, Ristorante Pizzeria Andrea. Knowing that the owner was friends with the owner of my hostel made me wary of the quality (of course friends help each other out), but I was pleasantly surprised by my meal!
I dined in the chilly evening air on their outside terrace where the waiter helped me choose a “spicy” pasta dish. As an appetizer, I was brought homemade bread with two sauces. This turned out to cost extra, but it was completely worth it! The sauces were quite spicy (finally!): one was a mixture of pepper flakes and oil and the other was more of a tapenade-like consistency. The only thing keeping me from devouring the entire loaf was knowing that I had to leave room for the imminent pasta.
My pasta, rigatoni alla calabrese, was not as spicy as I had hoped; but given the spice from the bread toppings, it worked out for the best. It wasn’t the most spectacularly-flavorful dish, but the portion was huge (very refreshing for a European restaurant!) for its 9 Euro pricetag. (Of course, I wasn’t able to finish.)
The value at Ristorante Pizzeria Andrea is fantastic: their servings are big and hearty and most dishes were priced in the single-digits! I highly recommend it for anyone planning on visiting Rome. Plus, its location close to Termini Station makes it ideal for anyone in want of an authentic Italian meal before or after traveling.
Espresso Coffee Tour 2k17
Perhaps “Espresso” is not the appropriate term to use here. I’m not actually a very avid espresso drinker; rather, I enjoy “espresso drinks” like cappuccinos and mochas. (I’ve found out the hard way that they don’t have mochas in Europe. Ugh.) Throughout my Italy trip, I tried a number of different coffee drinks, though usually just a simple cappuccino.
As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed my first cappuccino of Italy at the nearby Spinelli café.
The cappuccino was delicious and the apricot croissant was also good, though the filling tasted a bit too artificial. Still, it was a fitting start to my Italian Coffee Tour.
Maddie’s Italian Gelato Tour 2k17
While doing research for my trip, I often consulted a Rome travel blog called Romewise, which includes a wonderfully thorough section all about gelato in Rome. It was here that I compiled a list of gelaterias and flavors to try during my stay. Most of the Rome destinations in my Gelato Tour were inspired from Romewise. (It’s a really great resource for Rome in general—check it out!)
Between Vatican City and the Colosseum, I tried a couple scoops of buffalo milk gelato at Punto Gelato. The gelateria has a huge array of exotic flavors and I opted for “Latte Bufala e Pepe Rosa” (buffalo milk and pink pepper) and “Latte Bufala, Grue di Cacao e Amarena” (buffalo milk, cocoa, and Amarena cherry). I didn’t like the flavor of the pepper very much and, in retrospect, I wish I had tried one of the other interesting flavors, like Indonesian Cinnamon or Dark Chocolate Rosemary.
After visiting the Colosseum, I stopped at Fatamorgana where (spoiler alert) I had the best pistachio and dark chocolate gelato of my entire Italian trip! My only complaint is that they were very modest with the size of their scoops…
Where I stayed
I chose the Funny Palace Hostel because that’s where my friends Patrick and Katie were staying that weekend. It’s farther from Rome’s main tourist attractions than I would’ve preferred, but its close proximity to Termini Station made up for the slight inconvenience. (Plus, I got lots of exercise walking everywhere from here!)
The “office” of the hostel was located next door in an internet café and laundromat (owned by the same people), which was admittedly a little strange. But I felt safe throughout my entire stay and the employees were all very helpful!
At check-in, I was given a map of Rome, complete with notes with recommended routes and bus connections that would get me back to the hostel (this turned out to be extremely useful). I was also given the vouchers for free breakfast at Spinelli.
Most importantly for me, since I arrived in the morning but couldn’t get to my room until 14:00, they were able to hold onto my luggage for the day while I explored the city. When I returned to the hostel close to 6pm, they had already brought my luggage to my room for me. (On my last day, they were also able to keep my luggage after check-out until I left for the train station!)
I stayed with three others (two American girls and a Chinese boy) in a decently-spacious, very clean room. We had our own bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink (also very clean!) Overall, I was quite impressed with the tidiness and quality of the facilities. My stay at Funny Palace was quite comfortable and pleasant!
Easter Sunday, 16.04.17
What I did
Easter Mass at the Vatican
When Patrick, Katie, and I left for the Vatican on Easter morning, it was still dark outside. The air was pleasantly warm but clouds in the grey sky warned of rain. (Someone told me that it always, always rained at the Easter mass.) Optimistically, I opted out of bringing my rain jacket or umbrella.
At the beginning of this post, I described the comfort of a city in the morning; this did not apply for Rome at 5am. We didn’t know which buses would get us to the Vatican and the Metro wouldn’t start running until 6, so the three of us had no choice but to walk. The city streets were creepier than I had expected; the wandering Romans didn’t look too friendly in the harsh streetlights. Still, we made it to Vatican City without incident.
St. Peter’s Basilica looked very peaceful in the 6am light.
We had made sure to arrive early to ensure a place in the Easter audience and we were pleased to find ourselves surprisingly close to the front of the line.
Patrick and Katie are also physics students on the BU Geneva trip but not actually BU students; their school, Notre Dame, organizes Easter activities for students who will be in Rome for Easter, so we met up with some of their classmates during our wait.
Throughout the morning, vendors with trays of Vatican souvenirs were hawking their goods up and down the line, strikingly similar to hot dog vendors at baseball games. I caved to capitalism and bought a few rosaries to be blessed by the Pope at the mass since I had neglected to bring any other religious relics.
The line started moving close to 8am; we had been waiting for a little over 1.5 hours at that point, but it didn’t feel long at all. Policemen checked our bags as we were funneled through the first security checkpoint—and then went to stand in another line. After another 20 minutes of waiting, we were sifted through a final layer of airport-level security. (As tedious as this all was, I was appreciative of the careful safety measures.) Finally, we were released to find seats!
Coming to Rome for Easter, I was fully prepared to stand in the back of the piazza during mass—and I would have been perfectly content with that. But members of the Notre Dame group that had gotten through security before us had snagged a couple rows of seats for all of us in the front section of the audience! We were closer than I could have possibly hoped to be:
The mass itself was lovely. I happened to be sitting directly in the line of sight of where Pope Francis sat for most of the service, so that was really cool.
Despite my wishful thinking…it rained. It rained hard. What started off as a lovely morning with blissfully blue skies eventually gave way to grey clouds and a light drizzle. But during the Universal Prayer, it really started coming down. I watched wistfully as umbrellas popped up around me and as prepared mass-goers donned their hooded coats. Fortunately, it was still warm despite the rain, and I was able to protect myself by draping my cardigan over my head.
After about 15 minutes, the rain stopped. By the end of mass, the sun was shining on Piazza San Pietro with full force, evaporating the pools of water that had collected on our chairs and drying our damp clothes. It was as if the Roman clouds had deposited rain on Easter mass out of tradition, for old time’s sake, because it simply must rains during Easter mass!
In our mass booklets, you can see where in the service the rain started and stopped; the pages of the Universal Prayer and the first few of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are warped from the water.
At the end of the mass, Pope Francis came out in his Popemobile! Our seats proved to be even more strategic since we got to witness the Pope drive by from practically the front row. I waved and took pictures as he passed, wobbling atop a tower of three stacked chairs in an attempt to make up for my laughable height.
After the Pope was driven around the Piazza, he disappeared into St. Peter’s Basilica and reemerged a few minutes later, at noon, for the Urbi et Orbi. From his iconic balcony, Pope Francis condemned the violence in Syria and Egypt and prayed for peace around the world. (The entire address was in Italian, but I was proud to make out the general meaning of a sentence about the Congo.)
Somewhere in that Italian prayer, Pope Francis blessed our objects of devotion. Of course I couldn’t tell exactly what he said or when he said it, but it counts. 😉 I am now in possession of rosaries that have been blessed by the Pope!
Next was our mass exodus from Vatican City; I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many people in one place. Patrick, Katie, their friend Jonathan, and I were able to escape the crowd and began walking into Rome to find a place for lunch and gelato. (See What I ate below for details!)
Piazza Navona & the Pantheon
Jonathan, a Notre Dame architecture major, has been studying abroad in Rome since September, so he was full of interesting facts about the beautiful Roman buildings and art all around us. In the Piazza Navona, we marveled at the intricate fountains (also by Bernini) and warded off aggressive street vendors selling selfie sticks and scarves (Jonathan gave us a few tips on how to handle the latter).
A few blocks away was the Pantheon; the line to get into the ancient temple was long but some stealthy (and socially questionable) maneuvering by Jonathan got us in without waiting at all. (Translation: We cut the line.)
The Pantheon is impressive from the outside, but its inside is truly remarkable. The dome is enormous, reaching higher into the sky than I expected after seeing it from the outside. Apparently, the distance from floor to the oculus (the perfectly round hole at the apex of the dome) is the exact same as the distance from wall to wall (142 feet), meaning a sphere could fit perfectly inside the temple:
Jonathan pointed out that the square pattern on the inside surface of the dome is 28 rows around to coincide with the phases of the moon; as a result, however, the windows just below the squares only coincide with the pattern twice, making it less aesthetically-pleasing to the Ancient Romans.
The Pantheon also houses the tombs of the first two kings of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto’s Queen, Margherita (the namesake for Margherita pizza!) The tomb of Raphael (the artist, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) is also in this temple.
Next, we walked towards the Colosseum; on the way, we passed through Piazza Venezia and gaped at the magnificent Altare della Patria, also known as the “National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II” or the “wedding cake building”. This was perhaps the most spectacular monument I saw in Italy, so I was surprised that I didn’t even know it existed until I walked by. It’s a relatively new monument, having only been completed in 1925, and apparently is the subject of some controversy; it has often been accused of being pompous and simply too big. I suppose I can see why locals might complain, but the building is impressive nonetheless.
Right next to the Altare was Trajan’s Column and Trajan’s Forum, ancient Roman ruins I only knew existed because my history-buff brothers, Spencer and Trevin, told me to visit them. (Spencer and Trevin, this is for you!) Trajan’s Column is a towering victory column, intricately carved with a kind of ancient comic strip.
Patrick, Katie, Jonathan, and I parted ways at the Colosseum. I now headed to the Roman Forum where I was excited to try a self-guided tour with an episode of Rick Steves’ Italy Audio Tours that I had downloaded for the trip.
Like with Vatican City and the Colosseum, I knew I would get more out of the visit with a guided tour, even without a physical tour guide walking with me. The Rick Steves podcast was perfect; with the accompanying map downloaded to my phone, I walked around the forum and learned about many of the fascinating ruins, like the Basilica of Constantine (not a church, but a large “town hall”), the Temple of Vesta, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Caesar (built on the spot where Caesar was assassinated), the Curia Julia (Senate house), and the Temple of Saturn. (Ancient Rome, evidently, had lots of temples.)
What I ate
For Easter lunch, Patrick, Katie, Jonathan, and I went to an Italian restaurant called Cul de Sac recommended to us by our Italian computing instructor from CERN, Lidia. There, I got her favorite dish, zuppa alle cipolle (onion soup). It was very flavorful and quite good!
Dinner that night wasn’t as easy. I spent a couple hours after the Roman Forum walking to two of Lidia’s recommended restaurants, arriving at each only to find out that it had closed for the night. (Without readily-available internet, I had no way to check their hours for Easter Sunday.) After two strikes, I finally gave up and walked back to the hostel, planning to eat at Andrea again.
But within blocks of my hostel, I glanced at the menu for another restaurant and saw that they offered cacio e pepe, a pasta dish that Lidia had recommended. Satisfied with that, I sat down on the terrace of Antica Taverna and ordered my cacio e pepe.
I was not impressed by the service I received here. My food took a long time to come out, even though I was one of only three or four tables being served. My waiter seemed very intent on pouring wine for the table next to mine and not so interested in attending to me. Still, the pasta was good and the price was alright. (I suspect I could have gotten better cacio e pepe somewhere else, though.)
My first gelato of the day occurred after lunch at a gelateria called Frigidarium. There, I ordered the special Frigidarium flavor (I think it’s some combination of chocolate, caramel, and cookie) and pistachio. For free, I elected to add the chocolate-dipped coating. It was a visually-appealing cup of gelato but the chocolate coating, unfortunately, ended up being more burdensome than it was worth; the gelato underneath melted and dripped down the sides of the cup before I could eat through all the chocolate. Still, it was a delicious gelato experience.
As I was wandering the streets of Rome looking for a place for dinner, I passed another gelateria recommended by Romewise called Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè. Though this place is known for its exotic flavors, I (regrettably) kept it simple with strawberry and lemon. It was still delicious, but the portion was rather small, even for a size “small”. This gelateria is also quite out of the way of most tourist attractions.
What I did
On Monday morning, I enjoyed a final breakfast at Spinelli with Patrick and Katie before they headed to the Sistine Chapel and then to the airport to fly back to Geneva.
After packing my own things and leaving them at the hostel’s office, I set off towards the Pantheon (again). Today I’d be meeting up with Dan and his family, but their flight from Barcelona wouldn’t get in until later and I wanted to see the Pantheon one more time before they arrived.
Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola
On the way, I stopped into Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola, a Jesuit church just a few blocks from the Pantheon. Having attended Saint Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit school in Chicago, Jesuits and St. Ignatius hold a place in my heart. When I had seen this church on my map of Rome, I knew I had to visit.
Sant’Ignazio turned out to be perhaps the most beautiful church I saw in all of my spring break. The ceilings were covered in breathtaking frescoes and the side chapels were lavishly decorated with intricate statues and sculptures. Despite the lack of an actual dome, the church’s artist, Brother Andrea Pozzo SJ, painted the ceiling of the crossing to create the illusion of a dome if observed from a certain vantage point. The entire interior of Sant’Ignazio was truly magnificent. It’s free to enter and I encourage anyone looking for a hidden gem in the middle of Rome to pay this church a visit!
After leaving Sant’Ignazio, I tried more coffee and a cannolo (described below) on the way to the Pantheon. Once back at the Piazza del Rotonda, I was able to admire the temple’s iconic façade (which I had mostly missed the day before in our rush to get in) before rushing off to meet up with Dan.
It took me quite a bit of wandering around Termini Station to find Dan and his family (the station is huge), but once I did, we were immediately off to Trevi Fountain.
Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps
The Trevi Fountain is not easily accessible on foot; it’s only reachable by navigating a maze of side streets (as is true for most Roman attractions, to be honest). We walked for about half an hour to get to the fountain and found it completely swarmed with Easter Monday tourists.
Still, the fountain was an impressive sight. Dan’s mom and sister tossed in coins in the traditional right-hand-over-left-shoulder form; I, unaware of the ritual, threw mine in overhand. Oops.
Next, we walked over to the Spanish Steps (also teeming with tourists). I’m not entirely sure why this attraction is so famous, but we scaled the 135 steps anyway. At the top, we witnessed a marriage proposal and enjoyed a decent view of the Roman surroundings.
Some repeated attractions…
From there, we walked over to the Pantheon (again!), the next closest attraction. We explored inside and I pointed out the things that Jonathan had taught me the day before. We did a similar thing when we walked over to Piazza Navona after some time in the Pantheon.
Next we walked over to Castel Sant’Angelo, familiar to me as the setting of the final scenes of Angels & Demons by Dan Brown. (A fantastic thriller worth reading, by the way. It takes place both in Rome/Vatican City and CERN!) We didn’t bother to visit the museum inside, but the imposing structure itself was magnificent enough to look at from the outside.
Our last stop of the day was Piazza San Pietro to admire the still-bustling Vatican City. After that, we walked back to Termini Station and we parted ways so that Dan and his family could catch the bus back to their hotel.
What I ate
After three full days in Italy, I still hadn’t tried real Italian cannoli yet. To be honest, I forgot that cannoli was an Italian specialty; it was only upon seeing a row of them in a Roman bakery that I remembered I had to try some while I was in their country of origin!
Fortunately for me, across the street from Tazza d’Oro (see Coffee Tour below) was a pastry shop called Don Nino; I spotted empty cannoli shells stacked behind the glass of the counter and headed in. For 3.50 Euro, I was able to enjoy a pistachio-creme cannoli (cannolo?) that was filled with creme and dipped in chocolate chips in front of my eyes. For 0.50 Euro more, I could sit at a table inside. (While the price annoyed me at first, this turned out to be worth the price since they had free Wifi and bathrooms.)
The cannolo(??) was absolutely divine. Delicious, creamy, and—best of all—structurally sound! The fried-dough shell stayed intact for most of the consumption, only cracking into pieces at the very end. The entire experience was immensely enjoyable. This turned out to be my only cannoli in Italy and I wish I had tried more!
Later, while walking to the Pantheon with Dan and his family, we stopped for lunch at a little pizza stall called Pizzarius. Here they sold pizza deli-style, “by the pound” (or kilogram, I guess). Dan’s sister and parents ordered a slice of simple cheese pizza while Dan and I split a more adventurous pizza topped with arugula, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, cheese, and chicken. We all thought the pizza was quite tasty! (The reviews I read after visiting aren’t so favorable, though, so maybe we got lucky.)
For dinner that night, after Dan and his family had left, I ate at a restaurant in Termini’s food court called Gourmé. Taking another one of Lidia’s suggestions, I tried the panino con porchetta, a sandwich featuring a traditional Italian pork roast called porchetta. Despite its humble appearance, the porchetta was moist, flavorful, and overall delicious. It reminded me faintly of less-fatty brisket. Definitely try porchetta if you’re in Rome!
Between Sant’Ignazio and the Pantheon, I stopped for a cappuccino at the renowned Tazza d’Oro. I had heard nothing but good things about this shop and I was not disappointed! While the café itself was busy and it was hard to find a spot at the espresso counter, my coffee was delicious, topped with milk frothed to perfection. Even the friendly barista matched the quality of the café.
My final coffee of Rome was at the end of the day in an unglamorous coffee shop in the train station, Momento Coffee & Bakery. There, I tried a mochaccino, the closest European equivalent to a good ol’ American mocha that I’ve found. In my opinion, it could’ve used some sugar.
I was disappointed to leave Rome on such an ordinary coffee-note, especially with all the highly-acclaimed cafés I had left unexplored. But I guess that’s incentive for me to return!
Between the Pantheon and Castel Sant’Angelo, we stopped at Gelateria del Teatro, another highly-acclaimed gelateria in Rome. There, I tried their exotic “cheese-almond-fig” flavor. (I love all three of those items separately, so why not all together?) The combination yielded a unique and surprising taste sensation. The fig was certainly sweet, though the cheese added a neutralizing savory shade, and the almond provided texture and crunch.
At the end of the day, I walked to three more recommended gelaterias for my final gelato of Rome. Alas, it was not meant to be. Both Gelateria La Romana and Come il Latte had long lines that I wasn’t willing to wait in, and the third (whose name escapes me now) didn’t seem to exist at all.
Defeated, I settled on another round of Grom in Termini station. The dark chocolate and “crema di Grom” flavors still made for a delicious and satisfying farewell to Roma.
Rome is a beautiful city that’s bursting with fascinating history. The entire time I was there, I kept thinking about how much my brothers would love this place. Ancient ruins reside below every street and there is a new historic monument around every corner. It’s a historian’s dream. (Spencer and Trevin, you need to get here!)
At the same time, there was something unsettling about the city. I think it had something to do with the ubiquitous street vendors: usually men, probably not Italian, who approach you every other minute, wielding key chains and selfie sticks that are undoubtedly worth a tenth of what they’re selling it for.
Some were more aggressive than others (I had to adamantly refuse a rose from a particularly enthusiastic one on the top of the Spanish Steps) and most weren’t too bad, but their presence at every tourist attraction and on every street in between almost cheapened the entire city. Sometimes, Rome didn’t feel “authentic” because of these pervasive immigrant merchants. Somehow, St. Peter’s Square just isn’t as awe-inspiring when a man is shoving a brochure for his tour company into your unwilling hands.
Overall, the street merchants of Rome left me feeling annoyed and a little uncomfortable. I don’t think I could live (or study abroad) in Rome, but it was still a magnificent city worth visiting for a few days.
I even picked up a little Italian! While in Rome, I consistently used buon giorno (hello/good morning), buona sera (good evening), ciao (hi/hello/bye), arrivederci (goodbye), sì (yes), per favore (please), grazie (thank you), scusi (excuse me), and prego (sorry/you’re welcome/welcome/ready/probably more…). At first, I was defaulting to French (I once told a storekeeper “that’s fine” with “c’est bene”, a mix of French and Italian, respectively), but Italian became more natural throughout the trip.
Solo travel felt much more comfortable in Rome. To be fair, I wasn’t completely alone for much of these three days: I had the company of Patrick, Katie, and Jonathan on Sunday, and Dan and his family on Monday. Even on Saturday I felt much better being part of English-speaking tour groups. They provided some solidarity and comfort in this big, strange city.
On that note, tours are a solo traveler’s best friends!! I shelled out quite a bit more money than I would’ve normally spent on vacation in order to go on these guided tours, but I feel like I got so much more out of these sights when I had an expert explaining them to me than if I had gone alone. And as I mentioned above, being in the “group” was a real comfort; it made me feel “noticed”, like I was part of something. There were people I could interact with and talk to (even though I rarely did, to be honest).
For the more introverted and/or thrifty solo traveler, audio tours turned out to be an ideal option. Many museums have audio tours available to purchase for a small fee (often just a few Euros), and some of the bigger tourist attractions have free audio tours available to download ahead of time, like these by Rick Steves. Sometimes I kind of wished that I got to experience some of these attractions by myself so that I could listen to the audio tours without being rude to my companions. 😉
At this point in my adventure, I felt much better about traveling alone, and I was especially excited to meet up with friends in Venice on Tuesday morning.
But you’ll have to wait a few days to hear about that leg of my trip… (Given how long it took for me to get this post together, it could be weeks.) Thanks for your patience!
In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you think of this set-up for my travel blogs. Do you like that I split up eating/seeing/staying, or would you prefer that I describe everything in chronological order? Let me know what you think! Feedback is always appreciated. 🙂