Over my first few weeks of travel, I came to the realization that I wanted to be outdoors and explore more than anything. Unfortunately, not all of what I had planned before leaving for my trip around the world catered to that desire. I adjusted as much as possible, and did it where I could, but sometimes it just didn’t happen.
I had mixed feelings about going to Rome for this reason. There were a ton of things I wanted to see, and was told by many to go, but a crowded city was the last thing I wanted to deal with. It was more work than I wanted to cancel my reservations and train tickets to do anything else, so I found myself on a morning train pulling away from the station after a beautiful dream stay in Venice.
My experience with Italian trains was pretty great. I booked my tickets a month or so before leaving via Raileurope.com with decent prices and options. My rides from Venice to Rome and from Rome to Salerno were particularly great rides. Snacks and beverages were provided 1-2 times per trip (the longer ride from Venice to Rome got 2 snacks). There was also a vending machine on my way to Rome that had parmigiano reggiano and crackers. Parmigiano reggiano! And it was delicious! Those Italians sure know how to live. I traveled Comfort Class (mid-priced option) only because I found times where it was the same price as the Economy Class (cheapest) at different times of the day that worked best with my schedule. I only opted for first class on my last two train rides before my LONG flights/travel day because I thought it might be nice to feel rested and very comfortable on the first leg of my journey to get to Nepal. It wasn’t worth it. The seats weren’t any bigger, there wasn’t any difference in service, and the train ride from Rome to the Airport had all of the same seating, much like a city transit train. Seats were also not assigned. I also noticed a difference between train companies. Italo won, hands down. Their service, presentation, cleanliness, updated interior, roominess, timeliness, and simplicity won me over. Trenitalia was older, a bit dirty, first class felt like economy, there weren’t any snacks, and the overhead compartments weren’t as big. My Comfort Class experience with Italo was much better than my First Class experience with Trenitalia and was a bit cheaper. Altogether, I spent $150 USD for four train rides. This included $25 USD for insurance in case of a strike or for a one-time ticket change. I thought it was worth it for the peace of mind being a solo traveler, and this being my first international trip and using the trains. You live and you learn. Overall it was a great first experience and after seeing first-hand what Italian driving is, I am so glad I did NOT opt to rent a car…I for sure would have had an accident or scratched/dented my car on the coastal roads…the car I hired to get me from the Salerno train station to Montepertuso was literally inches from other cars or busses at times. You do not want that kind of stress on vacation!
After arriving in Rome, I found myself in the “queue” for a taxi. Lines don’t really exist in Rome, or Italy for that matter. People will walk in front of you and go next if you aren’t being proactive. Don’t mistake it for rudeness, it’s just how things work. I didn’t have an exact address right away and the taxi driver just told me “no” while moving on to another in need of a ride. The little Italian that I knew wasn’t helping. I had google maps pulled up for the next driver and we were on our way. He was much nicer anyway and liked to talk about me being from the US, italian driving, and pointed out some things on our ride to my AirBnb.
I had a small walk down a cobbled hill to where my AirBnb was. Keys were left atop of the mail box and I hauled my luggage up three flight of stairs to a lovely and spacious studio apartment over looking the small square below. I briefly rested and scheduled all sorts of tours to ensure I saw as much of the city as possible. That night I ventured back up the cobbled road to meet my driver and guide for a pizza and gelato night tour of Rome. A black Mercedes van pulled up and I climbed in to meet my guide and the two other guests. They were sisters from the States (Arizona, I believe) who do a yearly trip when Groupon offers an insane deal for a multi-city European tour. Our guide pointed out sights along the way to dinner, was very knowledgeable of Roman history, and then dropped us off at the restaurant while he found parking. We had a beautiful dinner near the Panthenon, watching the city pass us by while having nice conversation about our travels between the chirps and honks of the passing motorbikes, mopeds, and cars. After dinner we saw many of the world famous attractions either zooming past in the van or sometimes getting out for a stop. It was a great first glimpse of the city and I was definitely smitten by the twinkling lights that made the mingling between old and new even more beautiful. We ended the night with gelato and a trip to the Trevi Fountain. I tossed my coin over my left shoulder ensuring I’d be able to come back again and visit the city that stole my heart.
The next day I woke very early to meet my private tour group and guide to go through the Vatican. I made sure to take only a small bag as there are restrictions on size and security is taken very seriously. We made our way in very quickly because tour guides go through special lines and we were whisked through long ornate hallways with sculptures, paintings, tapestries, and optical illusions of hung paintings that were actually completely painted, frame and all. It was a beautiful and sunny day, and the light filtered through the windows making everything come alive. My favorite part, of course, was seeing Michelangelo’s Sistene Chapel. I couldn’t believe I was seeing this spectacular masterpiece in person. Seeing that and watching a service being performed in St. Peter’s Basilica (American men were officially becoming priests) where the standout moments.
From there I walked to meet my tour group to see the Colosseum. It was a warm day, but the route I took ended up being such a fantastic way to see more of the city. Via Del Corso (downtown modern city feel with lots of restaurants, shops, businesses) led to Piazza Venezia and Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. Taking Via dei Fori Imperiali, I walked along side Foro di Cesare-Viaggio nei Fori under the shade of some very Italian trees. I continued on navigating through tourists, locals, and all types of street performers while finding myself marvel at how well the old and new intermingled. Rome is definitely the most beautiful city I have ever visited. Present and past are a good looking couple, and of course, you would only find it in Rome.
I reached the Colosseum and my breath was taken away. I had a hard time breathing all day while seeing things that I had only paged through in books without ever believing I would see them in person one day. I was ushered in with my tour group and we were then let loose to take as much time as we wanted wandering through the ruins. It was very busy and I was unsatisfied with all photos…I couldn’t get a moment to take it in, so after a bit of wandering I decided to grab a taxi and hop over to Piazza dei Re di Roma where I would be meeting my next tour group to travel outside of Rome for a wine tour. I grabbed a bit of lunch from a deli like restaurant. The older Italian man who was waiting on me was very kind and patient, allowing me to try my Italian and gesture when I had no idea. I sat in the park while eating my lunch watching ring necked parakeets softly fall to the ground from tree branches above. I though they were someone’s lost pets at first, but then saw even more of them flutter to the ground from the trees. I’ve learned that there are populations of these domesticated birds that have adapted to living in Rome. I don’t blame them one bit. It’s easy to do.
I remembered passing a gelateria on my way to the piazza and decided to brave crossing the street. Italian streets are places where cars don’t seem to stop unless you walk in front of them with the confidence that they will stop just short of hitting you. I watched others go first, to make sure I hadn’t witnessed a previous miracle. Sure enough! The cars stopped. It still took all the courage I had to do it. All the fear was worth it after having the most amazing sorbet flavor combinations: Peaches & Wine and Pears, Port, and Elder! I was now ready for some wine tasting!
So, the wine tour ended up being a bit disappointing. It was a very large group, a bus full of people. I wasn’t too thrilled with one of the guides as she made me feel as though I was on a school field trip, and that’s not how I want to experience a wine tasting. We toured the grounds where the grapes were grown and where the wine was made. Unfortunately, it was just past the time to see grapes on the vine. We then made our way to the tasting room and had 5 tastings: 2 white, 2 red, and a delicious dessert wine. It was nice to get outside of the city and venture into the countryside. Although I had only a day with Rome, it definitely wooed me. It is a magnetic place that changed my perception of what a big city experience can be, but I think it is specific to Rome (at least as far as I know). I have never had such a busy and relaxing experience, so I hope the coin I threw into the Trevi Fountain brings me back someday.