Rome: A City with Some Pretty Cool History
May 21st to 24th
After meeting up in Florence with Lauren and Ryan, we all decided to go to Rome together. We booked a place for the four of us to stay, and met there since Lauren and Ryan had gone to Pisa the night before (and Meghan and I were still in Florence.) Meghan and I arrived in Rome around 1:00 in the afternoon and made our way to the hostel, which was conveniently close to the train station. We dropped our bags off since it wasn't check in time yet, then decided to wander around for a little bit until Ryan and Lauren arrived later in the afternoon.
We picked a street and started off down it. We were just wandering aimlessly, killing time, and stumbled upon a little park-like area that had some old ruins and cool sculptures in it. We paused and took a quick stroll through it (which is all you needed since it was a very small area) then continued on our way down the street. Eventually we turned around and headed back towards our hostel and the train station to try fine Ryan and Lauren, who we happened to bump into with perfect timing as they were just leaving the train station.
We checked into our room and decided to go try join a walking tour that I had found out about online. One company had tours that went three times a day and we tried to catch the last one. The meeting point was at the Spanish Steps, but once we got there we had no idea what we were really looking for. And there were so many people packed into that area that it would have been hard to find anything, let alone a tour guide when you have no idea who that person is. So we got there, decided we were S.O.L. ('s*** out of luck' for those of you who don't know what that means) and decided to wander around ourselves. There was always the next day for a walking tour. We wandered around the Spanish Steps for a little while, then set off down some other streets in search of more tourist attractions. We ended up coming upon the Trevi Fountain, which was jam packed with people around it, paused for pictures and to admire it, and kept walking. After wandering for a while longer, we started to get hungry and thought some food was in order. We found a restaurant and ordered some pizza for take-out. (We have discovered that it is cheaper to do take out and find somewhere to sit and eat rather than stay in the restaurant because then you don't get the service charge. And a penny saved is a penny earned, right?) Beside the restaurant was a little grocery store, so we stopped and picked up some drinks to go with out pizza. Now we had our meal, and just had to find somewhere to sit and eat. We wandered a little further down the street, then found a quiet little area that seemed to be in a back lane sort of thing that had a big ledge we could sit on, so we sat, opened our pizzas and chowed down. Just as we were finishing up our meal and cleaning up the boxes, two men walked over to us, one in uniform. Then, one of them pointed to our pizza boxes and said "No! No, no, no," followed by some other things in Italian. Not being able to understand Italian, we didn't really know what was being said and looked blankly at the man, and said "Sorry?" Once he realized we had no clue what he was really saying, he said 'Okay' and just pointed again to the pizza boxes. We got the idea that we had stopped somewhere we should not have, so we apologized as best we could. Luckily for us, the man was very nice about it and said 'Its okay!' I think he could tell we were sorry and didn't realize what we had done. And with that, we finished grabbing our boxes and made our way out of that area. Next stop: back to the grocery store. We figured that a pretty good evening would consist of drinking wine at the Trevi Fountain, and in order to drink wine we first needed to buy some, which we had smartly scouted out in the grocery store when we were in there the first time. So we got a couple bottles and wandered around for a bit more, then made our way back to the fountain.
When we got to the fountain, it was still incredibly packed. We thought for sure that we would see lots of people drinking there as it seemed ok to drink in public in Florence. But we didn't really notice too many people drinking and there were police officers in the area watching, so we didn't want to do anything wrong, so we sent Ryan to ask one of the cops if we could drink in public. The answer? Just don't make a big show of it and clean up after yourselves. And so we found a place to sit, cracked open the first bottle of wine, and opened a package of strawberries that we had also bought. While sitting there, I happened to be looking around, doing some people watching, and noticed a couple over to our right. The woman was beaming and staring at her hand. I looked at the others and said 'Did those people just get engaged?' Sure enough, Meghan and Lauren look over at the woman who is all smiles and confirmed what I thought just happened. We were so excited for the couple that we couldn't stop staring after that. The poor woman though noticed that we saw what happened and that we couldn't stop staring, and I think we made her nervous. After a while, the couple moved over a little so we couldn't see them so well. We didn't mean to creep them out, but we were just so excited for them that it was hard not to watch her reactions! (Points to her new fiancé for picking the Trevi Fountain as the place he proposed! Good job, man!)
The next morning we set out to wander some more, and headed in the direction of Piazza Venezia and the Victor Emmanuel Monument. We wandered in that area and along the area where the Roman Forum is. The Victor Emmanuel monument is the huge white cake-topper building that sits on a hill in Rome, and has statues of men in chariots and another on horseback (often seen in pictures of Rome). It was a pretty impressive building as it's huge. The Roman Forum is an area of ruins now and was the hub of the Roman empire. We had decided to do a walking tour early that afternoon, so we didn't stay in that area for too long as we had to go back to the Spanish Steps to find the tour guide.
On our walking tour, we learned some pretty cool things about Roman history. I wish I could tell you all about it, but frankly, I don't remember a huge amount of it. One thing I thought was pretty cool was that the Roman Victory Column is actually hollow. The Victory Column is a huge column that has Rome's history engraved into it. Each layer of engravings tells a different part of the history of the empire. Most people think it is solid, but it is actually hollow and has a winding staircase inside it. I thought that was interesting. He also told us that Romans don't actually like the Victor Emmanuel monument because part of the Roman Forum, if I remember correctly, was destroyed to build it. Not cool. But too late now to do anything about it I guess.
The tour ended off outside the Coliseum, and so we took a few minutes after the tour to wander around the outside of the Coliseum. We opted to not actually pay to get into it - Meghan and Lauren had both been in it before and agreed that the outside was cooler than the inside. So we walked around the outside and caught glimpses into it from different places. Even though I never went in it, it seemed to me that they were right - the outside was pretty cool, and the inside didn't appear too amazing. Mostly just packed with tourists. The thing that amazed me was the size of it. I am always amazed at how people manages to make such large amazing buildings without modern tools. I would have loved to see them build it and to see it in it's glory days. That would be amazing.
After staring at the Coliseum, we decided to go off in search of some food. Thinking we were being smart, we headed out of the tourist zone to try find some good restaurants that don't rip off the tourists. We picked a street and down we walked. And walked. And walked some more without really finding any restaurants that looked appealing. Then we noticed that the clouds were starting to form. It had rained every day for the past few days, so we figured that the clouds were probably going to result in yet more rain. We picked another street in hopes that it would lead us closer back to our hotel, restaurants and the tourist area. Eventually we found a restaurant that served kebabs, which is what we were on the hunt for, so we made a stop. As we were sitting there enjoying our kebabs, the rain started coming down. And down it came! It was pouring! So we tried to eat slowly, thinking maybe we could outlast the rain and stay in the restaurant until it had passed. But we finished our meal and it was still pouring. We waited a little bit longer and finally just decided that rain or no rain, we were going. But since it was pouring rain and we weren't sure how long it was going to last and we were probably going to end up in the hotel for the evening, it would be best to pick up some wine for the evening. Besides, We were not really sure what was open on Sunday evenings in Rome. As we were running back through the pouring, completely soaked by this point, we spotted a little grocery store, and since most grocery stores there have wine, we made a pitstop. It was still early evening, not even being six o'clock by this point, which meant that we still had a log evening ahead of us. That lead us to the thought that a bottle each would probably be best. Wouldn't want to run out too early in the evening! And besides, it's Italy! The wine is cheap. A few minutes later, with our four bottles of wine, we continued through the rain back to our hotel.
Now, before I go any further, I would like to share with you our experience with our hotel. The hotel we were staying in was nice enough (well, maybe the beds weren't the most comfortable ever as there were springs digging into you if you didn't sleep in the right place, but it was okay) except for our bathroom. We didn't have a shower curtain in the bathroom. For anyone who has ever been to Europe, you may have noticed that in some places there are no showers really. The showers are just sort of open to the rest of the bathroom, or there may jus be a shower head in the middle of the bathroom without so much as a tub. So, since it is Europe and we were at a budget hotel, we didn't think too much of the fact that there was no shower curtain, other than to laugh. But, the kicker was that there was no drain in the floor. So when we showered, water got all over that floor and just puddled up. Also, our room wasn't cleaned at all while we were there, so the puddle on the bathroom floor just kept growing. We couldn't figure out why on earth the hotel wouldn't have shower curtains in there, but looking back now, maybe we should have just asked for one. Maybe they washed it and forgot to put up a clean one. Or maybe there wasn't one. Who knows. Anyways....
So we get back to our hotel, dripping wet from being out in the pouring rain, only to arrive back to our damp smelling, puddle filled, mess of a hotel room. Wasn't the most thrilling thing ever, but at least there was wine! Once into dry clothes, the wine bottles were cracked open. Wine was a solid decision. And with that, the evening was passed drinking wine and calling a few people back home via skype.
The third day in Rome was when we decided to visit the Vatican. A trip to Rome is not complete without seeing St. Peter's Basillica in the Vatican. That place is unreal. The amount of wealth that it took to build that basilica is astounding. It's enormous in size and is completely decked out from head to toe, so to speak. The number of sculptures and paintings and detail... It's incredible. I was in awe the entire time we were there. We thought about going into the Vatican museum to see the Sistine Chapel, but didn't feel like waiting in line. From what I am told, the Sistine Chapel is gorgeous too, but after seeing the Basilica, I was content.
As we were leaving the Vatican, clouds once again started filling up the sky. Since we hadn't eaten lunch yet and it was middle of the afternoon, we decided to seek out a nice little restaurant where we could enjoy a nice meal and avoid any rain. Since we had been drenched the day before, we didn't want to get more clothes soaked. We found a little place, ordered our food, and then the rain came, even more of a downpour than the day before. We were sitting at a table outside under the awning and the staff were preparing for the rain as the clouds got darker, so by the time it started they had some plastic panels in place that came down from the awning. That was good, and they continued to put more up as it poured. One of the servers had on a rain suit so they had him outside adjusting everything. And we sat there, listening to the thunder, watching the lightning and the pouring rain while eating pasta and drinking a glass of wine. And by the time we were ready to go, it had pretty much stopped. Perfect timing.