Ancient ruins, weary feet, thunderstorms, meeting super human beings, beautiful fountains and gin
I arrived safely in Rome, and in style, thanks to my Italiarail Pass which upgraded my seats free of charge to Premier. Woohoo! Whilst this might seem like an unnecessary treat for a backpacker, it is really rather handy as there is more luggage space in these carriages and you can even fit cases behind the seats, therefore they are always near you, which is so reassuring when you want to sit back, relax and enjoy the view and not be worrying about your stuff going off with strangers. It meant I also got free water, coffee and snacks. Not bad eh. The trains are very easy to navigate, even if you have to change at stations. Although watch out/listen out for last minute changes to platforms, I’ve been almost caught out twice already.
As for Rome…. I arrived with some trepdiation. A busy city, known for pickpocketing, sprawled out over several Kms so not quite as easy to walk around as Florence and Siena were. I didn’t fancy the local public transport and so braced myself for some severe walking, especially as I only had one full day there to squeeze everything in.
I was welcomed at the hostel by a couple of super friendly and knowledgeable young guys from the Philippines and offloaded my stuff into the 4-bed female dorm, finding myself once again in the top bunk. I was getting a little negative in my head as I realised there was only one bathroom between appx 12 people and a small kitchen, which was handy, but wasn’t quite offering the space to relax and chill out that I felt I really needed. I needn’t have worried though as it worked out to be a very cosy and super friendly place where it was much easier to get chatting to the others than in a larger hostel, or hotel.
I was feeling a little displaced and uncertain about what to do with myself and didn’t really feel like hanging around on my bunk so forced myself out into the streets with my trusty GoogleMaps, HappyCow app and an old fashioned map. Not wanting to venture too far as it was already late in the day, and it would seem no-one liked walking around Rome after dark, I opted for the nearest place to eat listed on HappyCow which turned out to be a pretty good idea as their vegan menu was pretty extensive! Took me a while to decide what to have, but in the end went with two arancini balls (yum) and a tumeric and lemon risotto with seitan pieces (which really didn’t look very appetising, but was actually very tasty) and a small Peroni. Well, when in Rome 😉
Eating by myself had really become quite a chore by then but the people at the tables next to me provided some light entertainment (not that they realised) thanks to their loud Southern American drawl, and an older couple who were sat ahead of me spent the entire time barely speaking, with her flicking her finger on the table repeatedly and staring into space… awkward. Was pretty relieved to be dining solo compared to all that.
After dinner, despite wanting to crawl into a ball and hide, I forced myself out back on the streets away from the hostel and headed into ‘town’. A storm was coming (think it was following me from Siena!) and heavy rain had been forecasted which some local entrepreneurs had swooped on the potential to make more money and adorned every street corner selling umbrellas. Passing Palazzo della Republica, the fountain and then many, many shops, I came across a sign for ‘Hollywood Icons’ and experienced a wonderful sensation that I had done the right thing by forcing myself to go out as this was a photography exhibition that I had wanted to see but had missed in London last year! I sat on the steps of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni wondering if I should go in or keep walking and then decided it was fate, and that if I didn’t go in now I would probably forget about it and miss the show again. Plus, it was a Saturday night in Rome – what could be more fitting than visiting an exhibition! And also a great thing to do when you are alone….. And it was marvellous. Lots of famous, classic photographs of course, but also lots of information about the stills photographers who worked in Hollywood from around the 1920s – 50s, who were largely responsible for making the Hollywood stars the famous icons that they became. Everything was so glamorous and stylish, it was just great.
When I came out of the exhibition however, darkness had descended, it was raining and a full on thunder and lightning storm had started. It was a short walk back to the hostel, maybe 15 minutes or so, with only one spookily quiet road to walk down (I fastened my pace even more so) and only a slight need in my heart to grab my camera from the hostel and head back out to some iconic landmarks to capture the lightning. This soon dissipated as my shoes and socks became soaked through (and the rest of me) and returning to the hostel found a couple of the other girls winding down and ready for bed. Any adventures for the day were surely over.
The next day was the only full day I would have in Rome, so I was up bright and early and ready to go. Well, that wasn’t the plan at all as I was fancying a lie-in with the duvet over my head but the two girls who’d had an early night were up and about, ready for their next journey to Naples, and I found myself picking up their positive energy and wanting to get out there and see the world too. So up I was, ready to leave the building by a surprisingly early 9am. Still not early enough for a trip to Vatican City though. Apparently you need to be there and queuing by 8am. Not gonna happen. Although in hindsight I wish I had made the effort to go as it truly does look astounding.
However I settled for the Colessuem, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Ponte Fabricio, Ponte Sant’Angelo, the beautiful long alleyways filled with cute little shops and lined with flowers and plants, Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna before heading back. Quite a filled day! So what did I think, how did it go?
Well it was both pretty awesome and weird to be walking down the road and suddenly there are some ancient ruins popping up out of the ground. And I became acutely aware of how little I knew about what it all was and thinking a guided tour would probably be a good idea. The way I’d walked meant I’d arrived at the ticket office for Palatine Hill and seeing only a small queue was thinking about getting a ticket there, except I didn’t know if it would include the colosseum as well and instead of finding out I just walked off heading in the direction of the colosseum where I found the entire area packed heavily with queues for all kinds of different versions of tickets. Feeling quite flummoxed I figured it might be easier to just walk back to the first office and hope the queues are still quite short, but instead of returning the way I’d come, I decided to head up a pathway that looked like it would be a shortcut.
Up and up and around we went, bumbling over paths made of huge, gappy cobblestones (tip: don’t come here with pushchairs, wheelie cases and the like, it will be impossible) climbing further up rather than along, I soon realised I was on the ticket-less route of Palatine Hill, often peeking a glimpse of those lucky ones on the inside who would be able to enjoy the best views and close-ups of the ruins. However, us weak paupers stuck on the outside were treated to some beautiful music played on what looked like an upside down wok by a lovely, smiley man just as we got to the end of the road and had an opportunity to sit down and catch our breath in the Convent of S. Bonaventura at Palatine before descending back down the way we’d come. A bit of a detour, enough to make me rethink bothering to get a ticket to go inside. Do I regret this? A little. But not loads. I’m not sure if ruins look better on the inside or pretty much the same. I’d image as the interiors are also ruins it isn’t that much more impactful than seeing them from the outside. The only difference is perhaps the colosseum and similar amphitheatre style buildings what with their scope and layout making for an impressive sight.
The fountains (especially the Trevi) were gorgeous as were the little alleyways and the imposing Castel Sant’Angelo. What I realised I liked about the city, after not knowing how I felt about it, was the amount of history on every corner, every road, the architecture, sculptures, the passion and love that the city obviously has in abundance. But I wasn’t so keen on the noise, the amount of people EVERYWHERE and the obvious issue with homelessness that I hadn’t noticed in the previous towns. It also took quite a lot of walking to get around all these attractions and I still missed a few; particularly somewhere to get up high and view the city from above would have been nice.
The downside to the day was losing my glasses, either through carelessness (which I doubt) or from pickpocketing (highly likely). So most of the early evening was spent in the local opticians getting my eyes checked and fitted for some cool new glasses. An expense and inconvenience I hadn’t banked on, but it could have been much, much worse and was easily rectified. I expect the pickpocket was pretty surprised to find it was a glasses case, complete with prescription glasses, rather than a purse filled with money and bank cards after the swifty swipe. Annoying, but like I said, could have been worse.
But what ended up making my time in Rome ultra-special wasn’t the landmarks – or the pickpocketing – but the people back at the hostel. The staff and fellow room-mates were just lovely, open and friendly and brought about a wonderful ending to an eventful day. I hung out with two in particular that evening, Saori, a girl from Japan who’d been travelling around a large chunk of Europe over 3 weeks, and a boy from Argentina who’d lived in Australia and was staying in Rome whilst organising his residency. Both were warm and kind with funny stories and a playful nature that saw us cracking open a small bottle of Gin (thanks Lolo) getting the guitar out and enjoying an evening of music (thanks, again, Lolo!). We even had to sneak out for more beers, but soon after crashed. It was very late. But it was the most social I’ve been since I’ve left home, and these two felt like instant friends which really made the trip so much more sparkly and magical.
The next morning I had a train to catch to Naples, a town I had come to dread as I’d heard so many bad things about it (it’s poor and you’ll get robbed for sure) even Lolo was winding me up saying there had been three murders (thanks yet again Lolo :D) So it was with fear and dread I left my new friends in Rome and boarded the train for my last stop in Italy.