An Air Transat flight carried us from Toronto Pearson International to the Eternal City. Having never heard of the airline, we were wary of it at first. However, a brand new plane equipped with the newest technologies was in store for us. The amazing flight attendents offered meals and regular refreshments and the captain even arrived in Italy half an hour early! The Roman airport was just like any other airport, albiet a little dirty. We exited and waited for a bus to take us to the center of Rome, specifically to the Roma Termini train station. From there, our hostel was only a 5 minute walk through the winding streets. We lodged up in a comfortable room and slept off our jet lag for about three hours.
In the evening, we were hungry for our first Italian food and went looking for an acceptable restaurant to eat. We decided on Babbo’s Steak and Grill and ordered pizzas. However, we were unaware that they would just hand us an entire pizza each and not even cut it into slices! I had to go at it with a fork and knife, and despite my appetite, I was unable to finish the monstrosity. We paid our check and left a little tip for our hostess. Italian restaurant workers don’t depend on tips, so it is customary to just round up the bill. Sometimes restaurants even attach a gratuity, in which case a tip isn’t necessary at all.
We decided to walk off the calories and headed toward Trevi Fountain, a popular tourist attraction. We visited Rome’s Republic Square, Quirinal Square and National Street on the way there. Glimpses of the local population were small and infrequent, as the city was just teeming with tourists. We even managed to run into one of our fellow passengers from our flight. How odd. We grabbed some coffee gelato and lounged at the fountain, then headed back to our hostel to call it a night.
Waking from a sound sleep the next morning, we took the metro to the Circus Maximus and spent the day walking along the Tiber River into the Trastevere neighborhood, a good area for a morning stroll. However, most shops were closed due to the weekend and we ended up just admiring the various viewpoints of the city we encountered on our walk through the Gianicolo park. Our guidebook suggested that we visit the Vatican after lunch, but it was still crawling with tourists. We were tired after a the day’s walking and decided to just have lunch and head back for a siesta.
In the evening, we took the metro to the Villa Borghese Gardens, a huge public park which used to be someone’s backyard. The Pincio by the gardens offered more viewpoints of the city to enjoy. Instead of walking through the gardens, we decided to tak a tandem pedal powered buggy and zipped around the park just enjoying ourselves and taking pictures. We came upon yet more viewpoints and an expensive Italian wedding.
After returning the buggy, we walked down to the Spanish Steps, yet another guidebook recommended spot. But it seemed like every other guidebook recommended it too, as it was PACKED! We lounged for a bit and then went searching for dinner. Despite the throngs of tourists hovering around the Spanish Steps Plaza, two streets over, the city was desolate. We chanced upon many designer stores that were all closed but had great window displays. We grabbed dinner in a fancy looking restaurant and then headed back to the Trevi fountain to get gelato from the same place. By this time, we made an observation. It seemed like Indian people were present everywhere, not as tourists, but as street hawkers trying to sell cheap toys and useless trinkets to all the tourists. They got quite annoying rather quickly, so we headed back to our beds.
The third day in Rome turned out to be hot, with the needle climbing to the high 70s early in the morning. We showered and walked to the Colosseum, noticing on our way how the city was certainly divided into sections that were clearly catered toward tourists and others that were borderline slums. Not surprisingly, our guidebook did not mention this. Our walk through these myriad neigborhoods deposited us next to the awesome masterpice that is the Flavian Ampitheatre (Colosseum). It looked just as majestic as I had imagined it to be, despite its ruinous state. Apparently an ongoing event delayed the opening which meant that we had wasted our chance of skipping lines by getting there early.
So, we decided to stroll to have breakfast in Campo de Fiori, a local market popular for its fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, cheese, and of course, wine. I had my first espresso along with toast for breakfast, and I can tell you, the first sip surely woke me up. After the initial bitter kick, I got used to the drink and enjoyed some bread smothered with apricot jam and nutella.
We went exploring further and here I made a second observation. Rome is a city that combines modern life with old architecture in such a superb way that it blows you away. You would be walking through narrow streets lined with scooters and laundry hanging above you on clotheslines. Suddenly, you turn a corner and there in all its majestic glory is a giant open square with a huge church in the middle. This was my experience of the Navona square (and other Roman squares in general). The square was teeming with tourists, from the boisterous Spanish high school groups to the camera trigger happy Asians. The square was also full of painters displaying their wares for exorbitant prices and of course, Indians selling cheap trinkets. All in all, a typical Roman tourist attraction.
We left the square and headed for the Pantheon, repeating our experience of the Navona square. Dark narrow alley full of construction equipment, turn the corner, and the best preserved temple of ancient Rome rests between modern hotels and restaurants. I was just awestruck by the ability of the Romans to construct such huge buildings that are still standing. Unable to get inside the Pantheon, we headed back toward the Colosseum and encountered perhaps the most majestic building in the center of Rome. Called the wedding cake or the typewriter, the Ottavion Palace completeley dominates the center of Rome. Built during the unification of Italy out of white marble that does not yellow with age, the monstrosity stood out stark white against the blue sky. Inside, there is a museum/memorial for soldiers who have fought in the various wars in Rome’s history. You can also pay some money to go to the top for an awesome viewpoint, but having seen enough viewpoints, we left the Palace and headed toward the Colosseum.
We were approached by a tour guide for a skip the line tour, which we decided upon after glancing at the line that snaked around the Colosseum. However, our tour did turn out to be a little shady, as the guy told us to enter individually without mentioning a group tour and meet him at the elevator. After a few frantic minutes, the group was together and the guide started with the whole story of the Colosseum. I had read many books, played games, and watched movies about it, so I was familiar with most of it. And I won’t bore you with much either, just know that it used to be an awesome place, and even thousands of years later, remains an amazing ruin. The tour also took us to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill, both of which were nearly not as glamorous, and we were tired, hot, and hungry. So we skipped the rest of the tour and went home and relaxed and packed for the next leg of our trip…