After Milan, we hopped on a train down to Rome. Don’t I make that sound easy? It really wasn’t – I spent an hour and a half on the Trenitalia website the night before booking tickets. You can make the site in English, but it’s often poorly translated and crazy confusing.
We started out at the train station in Milan, where we went to go buy some cappuccinos. (Because it was morning, of course). I sat at a table while Dave went to purchase them, only to be shoo’ed away by a waiter angrily pointing at a sign. Whoops. Apparently most people stand up at the bar to drink their coffees, and tables are only for waiters to serve. Which would be fine, but the place looked like a 7-11 and I had absolutely no idea what the protocol was. Meep.
After standing and gulping our coffee, we dashed off to our train, only to get on the 2nd class car by mistake because it had a big number “2” on the side, and our ticket said car “2”. Meep. We finally found our proper car and got settled into some super comfy chairs. Not as nice as 1st class on a plane, but still nice. Plus champagne for a welcome drink. Are you seeing a theme here? We took the fast train (not to Clarksville) and got from Milan to Rome in 3 hours. Driving time is 6, so you can see what a speedy train this is. It goes roughly 300km/hr which is cool, but it also goes through a ton of tunnels which is murder on the ears. Chew gum if you can! They also pass out a LOT of caramel mints, which I think is maybe why.
We get to Rome and find a taxi, and the driver speaks NO English. Which is fine by me, I am the visitor to his country. But then there was a bit of confusion because we were staying at the Hotel Scalinata di Spagna, which is a bastardized way of saying Spanish Steps in Italian. The Spanish Steps is a HUGE tourist attraction, and the driver couldn’t figure out why we wanted to go there with all of our luggage. After some pointing to Google Maps, we were good to go, and found out that yes, our hotel was right on top of the Spanish Steps. Seriously, it was pretty freaking amazing. It had a gorgeous rooftop patio that we had breakfast every morning, and where I learned how to battle pigeons.
After dropping off our stuff, we were ready to tour Rome. We walked down the Spanish Steps and found . . . about a gazillion people. Honestly, it was the most crowded place I have ever been to in my life. (And no, I have not been to Heathrow as Dave pointed out).
There were guys with fake designer purses on tablecloths and swarms and swarms of people everywhere. Everything I had read about Rome before I left warned about pickpockets and muggers and people riding by and stealing your purse right off your arm. It was so hot, humid and crowded. I was stressed, and I will admit that I HATED it. I told Dave I wanted to go straight to Florence and skip our three days in Rome.
Dave suggested we get something to eat, and while I ate THE BEST PIZZA I have ever had, I started to cheer up. After we left we needed an ATM, but the first one we found wouldn’t accept our cards. So using Google maps, we found another a few blocks away. Except in Rome, the blocks are windy and crooked and it’s incredibly easy to get lost. So it took us about 1/2 an hour to find it, and by then I was stressed again. As we were walking down the sidewalk, two tall skinny guys holding bags of laundry RAN past us almost knocking me over. I didn’t figure out what was going on until I saw the police car racing down the street. Then all the shop owners started coming out of their stores and I turned back to look back and saw the men crouching behind a car, right NEXT to us! They had ran down the street, then doubled back hiding behind the parked cars. Suddenly the police car started reversing and I just spun on my heel and started walking away. Get me out of here!
After that little bit of drama, we went for some afternoon wine and suddenly I was more mellow and relaxed. We went to the Pantheon and I absolutely loved it there. It wasn’t so narrow and crowded and it was really super old and very cool. We found a little wine bar tucked into a corner side street and spent a couple of hours just chatting and drinking Chianti. I had had a very intense feeling of culture shock arriving in Rome, but I was finally getting to know Rome’s beauty and charm.
We walked to Trevi fountain and threw the requisite coins in to ensure we would return to Rome. What I think happened though, is that it just ensured we would keep coming back to Trevi fountain, as every time we got lost we would somehow end up back there. While there, Dave was asked by a cute blonde girl to take her photo at the fountain as she was traveling alone. It’s funny, almost everywhere we went, someone asked Dave to take their photo. They must have known that he is married to a professional photographer, lol.
That night, we were eating dinner at a cafe by our hotel and started chatting to a girl alone at the table next to us. Um, it turned out it was the girl from the fountain! Her name was Olivia, from Los Angeles, and we had such a good time chatting and drinking with her, it was so nice to have an almost-connection to home.
The next day we went to the Vatican, and got a tour. It was really well done, we would have had NO clue about all the art inside. It truly was incredible. We spent the entire afternoon there, about 5 hours, and you really could spend more. The Sistine Chapel was amazing, we saw the Swiss Guard, and even mailed postcards from the Vatican post office. (They only took a week to get to Canada, I was shocked!)
One of the most amazing things we saw was the tomb of Pope Jean Paul II. People leave flowers, and tons of handwritten notes there. It was incredibly moving to see how much he was loved.
We walked around the city some more that afternoon, and I was tickled to see a very large amount of well-dressed businessmen just standing on random street corners talking on their cell phones. They all looked like something out of an advertisement.
Another neat thing about Rome is the light. Right before sunset, there is THE most amazing light. Golden, soft and magical. It’s like nothing I have ever seen before, the cobblestones just glow. What I would give to live there and do portrait sessions. Ahhhh.
The next day was the Colosseum, and who should we run into but Olivia, haha! We made plans to meet up again for dinner. Now here’s a tip that no one told us, but we would have been VERY glad to know before going. The big attraction is the Colosseum, but there is also the Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum. One ticket gets you into all three, but the longest line (around 30 minutes) is for the Colosseum. Go to the Palantine Hill or the Forum to purchase your tickets and avoid the lines. Then when you want to visit the Colosseum, you can walk past the long line to the special door for ticket holders. Ta da!
Our last night was dinner at a small restaurant with Olivia and then walking to the Trevi Fountain again. We were off to Florence the next day and I was surprised to find that I was really going to miss Rome. I was also really going to miss saying “When in Rome!” and “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” to Dave every 10 minutes or so. Hahaha! It still makes me laugh.