Updated: Aug 18
Welcome back Pilgrims,
So since Coronavirus has put a pause on most of my travel plans, I thought I would take a moment to 'revisit' some of my past journeys.
I recently took a poll on my Instagram on which travel story to tell and the consensus was Rome (vs my solo road trip in New Zealand).
Previously I've spoken about the magic of the wall, and how I ended up at the Trevi Fountain and now you guys get to hear what else happened during that trip.
During my semester abroad in college, I spent a 5-months in Innsbruck, Austria. There were a handful of Americans in my program including 4 other students from my university.
UCF put us in contact with each other because we would be placed in the same location. We got in started an email chain to try to help each other with some of the information and we ultimately decided to arrive together. This was my first time out of the country so I was all for it. The more the merrier the less likely you are to get taken.
Alex, Amanda, Brittany, Jessica, and I were fast friends. All excited to spend the next few months in Europe. During the semester we each took small jaunts to different locations across Europe. We each had different flights back home, so Amanda (the super planner) coordinated one last hoorah in a tri-city trip to Rome, Athens, and Santorini.
This entire semester, I didn’t want to plan anything. Also, I really trusted these guys. I didn't feel the need to micromanage for the first time in my life. I was down to just follow this crew around. For this trip, I showed up, paid my dues, and went where they told me. I went in with low expectations, lest I be disappointed. Honestly, I doubt there was anything that they would have suggested I wouldn’t have enjoyed. It is Italy and Greece after all.
As the semester went, everyone had travel plans. So immediately before the trip, most of the crew were in different locations. Carly (from Nebraska...remember her from Paris?) and I were the only ones actually leaving from Innsbruck. The plan was for Carly and me to catch a train down to Rome from Innsbruck. We were going to meet the others on a connecting train somewhere in the middle of Italy. All roads lead to Rome, right? Now, neither Carly nor I had working smartphones.
My phone wasn’t ‘unlocked’ so when we arrived in Innsbruck, I got a simple burner pay-as-you-go phone for basic calls and texts. I used my smartphone when I had wi-fi. As we were traveling in Italy my minutes on the plan didn’t work.
No Big Deal right? We are just taking a train. One connection and we’ll be with our crew again, right?
You know what they say about making plans….
Carly and I are on the train it’s all fine and well until … they start making announcements on the speaker in Italian. I hate to be ‘that American’, but I hoped that they would do an announcement in English following the Italian. You know they sometimes do at airports and whatnot. No such luck. As the announcements ended, people started a collective murmur. You don’t have to be fluent in a language to know that that’s probably not good.
Carly and I tried to find someone that spoke English and that would explain things to us. Someone reluctantly took pity on us. He told us that they found a bomb along the railroad tracks and we were being diverted and that was causing delays.
I’m sorry, come again?
Now all thoughts went through my head, and I started to panic. Why is this man so calm? He just told me a bomb was found along the tracks. What. The. Fiddlesticks?
Someone else explains it's a leftover World War II undetonated bomb that was discovered. Okay, a little less panic than before because at least it’s not a potential terrorist attack. But also… What the fiddlesticks? Everyone was so nonchalant about having to divert the train because of a discovered WWII bomb… As if this is normal. I mean, maybe it is.
Next panic, what does the delay mean? We are meeting the rest of the crew on a connecting train. How will we tell the others when neither of us had a phone. I hate to be ‘that Millennial’ but how did our parents do this? You say you are going to meet someone and just hope they turn up when and where you agreed? How do you in a world when you can drop a pin or at least send a text?
I digress… So Carly and I are both friggen out. More Italian announcements were made. A conductor came through and was checking tickets. He checked Carly and my tickets. He told us to get off at the next stop. We tried to ask questions but he brushed us off and kept checking tickets. We asked the Italian stranger from before and he confirmed that Carly and I had been told to get off at the next station.
After some confusion, anxiety, and doubt Carly and I grabbed our bags and got off the train. There were only a few other people who got off. There were no attendants at this train station. So, there we were. Carly and I in the middle of Italy. We had no idea where when or if this train was coming. After 40 minutes of waiting, I started to get worried. The sun was setting. We were in a (seemingly) deserted train station. We don’t speak Italian!
I started to worry that we would be able to meet the others on the connecting train. Meanwhile our traveling companions would have no idea what happened to us. Carly and I went through it.
not my best photo, but I promised you guts honesty.
After 15 more minutes, the train came. We ultimately find the other travel companions and we take the night train down to Rome. We arrive early, drop our stuff to the Airbnb and then we are off to see the Coliseum.
First Day in Rome
We are using a little map of Rome. So we are navigating old school. We get a little lost. Remember that we are all Americans so sometimes the metric system gets away from us. As we are roaming around (see what I did there?!) we passed many a nuns and priests. I thought it was hilarious in the ‘where am I’ kind of way.
I was in Rome, in sight of the Vatican. After a beat, we stopped a nun and asked directions. This sweet little nun didn’t speak English (which she isn’t obliged to).
It’s rude to assume that someone speaks English in a foreign country. Not going to lie—I love it when they do, but I don’t expect it. I’m so thankful for Google to translate (and maps) and my now unlocked-sim accepting-phone. I had left the country for the first time only three months prior. It didn’t take long for me to get spoiled, but I was. I was used to traveling with TFFs, especially locals who speak the language.
Okay, off my soapbox. Back to the nun.
After this nun told us that she doesn’t speak English, she offered español. Amanda throws up her hands and is ‘Welp, we tried. Let’s go.”
Carly and I simultaneously said, “no, wait!”
I've always wanted to learn a second language and since this trip, I have really put in the effort to learn Spanish. However, at this point, I only had a very rudimentary understanding of Spanish. Just like in Paris, it is amazing what a brain can recall under duress.
The conversation went something like this:
Carly and I: Dónde está… The Coliseum?
Nun (After a moment of confusion): “Ah… el Coliseo?”
Carly and I: “Si!”
Nun(pointing): “ blah, blah, alli… blah, blah, blah… derecho. Blah. Blah. Blah. Izquierda.”
Carly and I (to the nun): Gracias!
Carly and I (to the group): She said something about a right and then left.
We followed the nun's general directions and as soon as we got to the end of the block we were on, we say the Coliseum. We were headed in the right direction, there was just a wall obstructing our vision. (I feel there is a deeper lesson there…).
"Now that the Coliseum was in sight, it hit me. I’m in Rome."
Did I mention that Rome was magical? Because it is. The weather was wonderful. Being there was such a surreal experience.
Now that the Coliseum was in sight, it hit me. I’m in Rome. All of the lectures from my history courses hit me. All the movie scenes based on Roman culture hit me. Reading Julius Caesar in English class hit me. (It’s a shame what they did to my boy Julius).
When we got the tickets to the Coliseum, I found out that the tickets granted access to the Roman forum as well. Remember what I said about not having expectations? Everything is a wonderful surprise. We took in the amazingness that is the Coliseum.
We go to the Coliseum and I am on cloud nine. Okay. Because he learned about these things in history books. That's cool so far off place, but then for me to be there, it was just I felt cool. I felt cooler than I probably am. Look at this marvel, something that was built in 8 AD.
We then went to the Victor Emmanuel II Monument (Altare della Patria). It’s down the street from the Coliseum. Inside were exhibits showing the garb of Italian military over the ages. In the lower levels I saw these amazing light fixtures and took two of my favorite travel photos.
I followed the crew around Rome. Amanda’s itinerary dictated that the next stop would be the Trevi Fountain. I asked what that was (remember: no wi-fi or data). Brittany offered that it’s the fountain from the Lizzie McGuire movie. Ohhh… Gotcha.
I was on this whole c’est la vie-free-bird tip. I worked hard all throughout college. Even more in preparation for this semester abroad…This was my senior year, I wanted to enjoy this. I found with trying to control things only bred disappointment. I knew that I would enjoy whatever because I was in friggin’ Rome! I genuinely trusted the people I was with. I knew they would not lead me astray.
Alex and Amanda just kept talking about the Trevi Fountain. So determined were they to get us there. I don’t get the hype but I’m down for the adventure. I'm here, just taking in life.
And we get a little lost …again. We were back to asking people oh, where's the Trevi Fountain? Eventually, I look right and then there's the Trevi Fountain which was a whole full-circle moment because the Trevi fountain was on my vision wall (there's power in the wall) For me to be here in this place less than two years after I put on my wall was surreal in the best of ways.
One thing I never considered was the pollution in Rome. I hadn’t realized how bad it was because the weather was perfect. I didn't see any smog. By the evening I felt I’d been hit by a bus. I was congested, had a headache and felt lethargic. Don’t you hate getting sick on vacation? I hate it. My ears popped and remained so for days after leaving Rome.
Before then, I’d never been to a city with such high pollution. That was a quick hard lesson to learn.
The great thing about the Coliseum admission is that the ticket is valid for 24 hours and gives you access to The Roman Forum as well. Some people in our group who had been to Rome before and didn’t want to go to the Forum. Um, what!? How are you going to skip the place where Mark Antony’s famous funeral oration?!
I, however, was not going to let this opportunity pass. (Reason number 3 to have a TFF). And the plan was in the morning, get up 7 am to be able to go to the Colosseum, wake up, go there for three hours and then start the rest of the itinerary.
I set off and search for the Coliseum. I'm following this little map, get lost…again. I get lost again and at seven o'clock in the morning, there weren't as many people that I could stop and ask for directions. I someone who's walking their dog. Dog owners aren’t kidnappers, right?
Unfortunately for me, they didn't even know Spanish. On the flipside, I had learned ‘Il colesseo’. I said that with a hopeful glint of hope in my face, and they pointed me in the general direction. I was headed in the wrong direction (of course I was).
With my corrected course, I navigated my way through the early morning streets in Rome I found the Colosseum and on my way there also, I just happened to find, these ruins that were just in between two different apartment complexes in a random neighborhood and that had a fence in front of it. I was amazed. Rome just has ruins is in the middle of the city… and it’s not even a tourist attraction. That's wild.
Eventually, I found the Forum. I thought it was really cool that there was hardly anybody there at seven o'clock and I'm a morning person. I was just in hog heaven. I was a daredevil where I set my camera on auto timer. Got a couple of really nice photos from that.
Then later that day went to go find meet up with some of our friends who were also in Rome from Innsbruck, and we met up with them for what could be the last time that we saw them before the semester was over.
We went to the Vatican where one of those guys flag us down was just, hey, if you pay money, we'll give you a special tour. And it’s an extra $50 plus admission for the Vatican.
The Vatican had a line zigzag wrapped around the building and then some. If I remember correctly, it was a four-hour wait to get into the Vatican. So, we went to follow this man to his tour office to buy the ticket. And he looked a moment I thought I was going to get ‘taken’ like my grandmother put that fear in my head. It was low-key a worry of mine the entire time. As we followed this man from the Vatican down a little backroad. I thought, 'Oh my Jesus, don't let this be it.'
As you probably guessed... I survived. He took us to the office we buy the ticket.
We skip all of those poor souls that were. I'm, but the crazy thing is there wasn't just a special door that we had to go through. It was him literally leading us, through an under ropes and through the throngs of people who had been waiting for hours. And as you see these young college kids skip the line, and people waited for hours.
I feel like some of those people tripped me on purpose. But you know what, it’s cool. I would have been upset too.
The tour lasted about an hour. It led us through the Vatican. As someone who had only been in a few Catholic churches before this, the opulence of the Vatican was shocking. The juxtaposition of the homeless people just a few meters from the Vatican doors and the gold-plated statues was jarring. Now, I am not Catholic. So maybe some of this was lost on me. Even though I wasn’t moved especially, I can say that I have done it. I could appreciate those around me having their profound moments. That was a nice experience.
Sadly, I wasn’t aware that you can’t take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel. I didn’t want to chance an international incident by sneaking one… So no pics but I promise I was there. One benefit was I was forced to be present in that moment. I didn’t have to take myself out of the moment to stage a picture.
The rest of the day was spent roaming around (whoops, I did it again). We ate gelato and Pizza and walked the cobbled paths.
In the evening we went to the Pantheon again and the Spanish steps. The pollution was hitting me so by the end of the day I was lagging. I skipped the ascension of the Spanish steps and waited at the bottom for the rest of the crew to return. As I was looking at my photos from the day on my camera, a flower vendor approached and slid a rose in my hand.
Me: No, thank you. (I’d already known how to avoid street vendors).
Vendor: It’s for you. A gift.
Me: Is it free?
Me (handing the flower back): No, thank you.
Vendor refuses to take it back.
Amanda (comes back snatches the rose from me hands it back to him) :“She doesn’t want it” We as a group leave and the flower vendor kind of follows us agitatedly for a short distance. He starts speaking another language. I’m not sure what language, but I am sure he was cursing us out.
Shortly after we made our way back to the Airbnb and we left for Athens the next day.
All in all I enjoyed my trip to Rome. We were only there for less than three days, but it was such a great experience. Ever since I left, I’ve been waiting to return.
I hope you enjoyed my story about Rome. Let me know what was your favorite part 😊
Until Next Time,