I missed an opportunity to see Italy two years ago, so I made it my duty to see Rome on my way to Berlin. With five days to myself, I had plenty of time to wander in the eternal city.
I landed a tired man, burdened by over 16 hours of plane and bus travel and a lack of sleep. Typically, this is when you make the most frustrating mistakes, and that night was no exception. Eager to reach the hostel and catch up on sleep, I got off a station too early, over 30 minutes away from my destination. It was now 10PM, and I had to check in by 11. Needless to say, I cursed a few times under my breath waiting for the taxi to show up.
A 70 euro fare later, the taxi dropped me off at Bologna station, a few minutes from the hostel. The square was filled to the brim with students. Every Friday, they gather there with their friends and enjoy a few drinks outdoors.
I quickly dropped off my luggage and invited my Italian bunk mate to go for a beer. In Rome and many other European cities, it is perfectly normal to walk around with a beer in your hand, something that would get you arrested in Montreal.
The next day, I decided to simply wander around the city, try a pizza and visit the shops. I walked in front of the gigantic Altare della Patria. Although it is generally disliked by the locals, I loved it. I later stumbled upon the Trevi fountain. Unfortunately, it was being repaired, so all I got to see was a platform, construction equipment and hundreds of confused tourists. I later realized I walked past the ruins of the Circus Maximus, but I'll be the first to admit it's a rather underwhelming sight.
In the middle of the afternoon, I stopped for a quick meal and went back to the hostel for a nap after walking several kilometres on a few hours of sleep. I wandered some more in the evening, finding many great places I would only identify later with Google Maps. Although I was used to the new time zone, my stomach was not. I ate the first of many midnight meals before returning to the hostel. My bunk mate later told me that April 25 was Liberation Day in Italy.
The next day was fairly uneventful as a vast majority of the restaurants, boutiques and markets were closed. If you have to visit Rome, don't do it on a Sunday! I took the opportunity to rest and upload the pictures I had taken over the past two days. I had vastly underestimated how long it would take to upload, tag and caption all those pictures.
Since I only had 3 days left in Rome, I also made plans to see the rest of the city. Using Nokia HERE, I was able to download the local maps for online use, something I should have done much earlier. The app has a neat feature that lets you save points on the maps and put them in different lists. This way, I'd know exactly where to go and what to see.
Fully rested and well organized, I headed for the Colosseum. I loved how it was the first thing you see as you come out of the train station. It's right there, across the street! A quick glance at the queue almost convinced me I didn't need to go inside, but I'm glad I soldiered on and got my ticket. It's still one of my favorite sights.
Since it was not to far from there, I returned to the Altare della Patria so I could get a high vantage point.
As recommended, I waited until about 2PM before even thinking about going to the Vatican museum. Even then, the line was several hundred meters long, so I took the easy way and bought my ticket from a "skip the line" booth. It was 33 euros instead of 8, but I had plenty of time to see the museum.
Although the museum was gorgeous, it was poorly organized, making it very difficult to "just follow the line". The audio guide was mostly a waste of money. Nonetheless, you cannot visit Rome and skip this museum. The architecture alone is impressive, and the Sistine chapel is at the end of the tour.
If you like large, inconspicuous monuments like I do, you will be severely underwhelmed by the Sistine chapel. It's tiny and rather austere compared to every church I have visited in Rome. I was far more impressed by the Sant'Ignazio church, among many others.
On the 28th, I wandered some more, hoping to find a unique menu among a sea of identical restaurants. One of my biggest gripes with Rome is that no matter where you stand in the city, every boutique, restaurant and kiosk is exactly the same. I wasn't able to find a restaurant worthy of mention that day, but I did find a great spot to finish my book, and that's all I wanted.
My last day in Rome was a blessed one. I woke up to a bright sun and a clear sky with only two things left to see: the Pantheon and St. Peter's square.
Making my way to St. Peter's square was fairly simple. Unfortunately, I was not able to enter the square as they were still evacuating people from the mass. Nonetheless, the sight from the outside was just as good, especially under the perfect lighting of a clear day.
From St. Peter's I walked all the way to the Pantheon through the narrow boutique-lined streets. I came across a small shop filled with German military memorabilia. The walls were lined with Wehrmacht and SS uniforms and several second World War plane models hung from the ceiling. Despite our common interests, the shop owner seemed eager to see me leave, so I didn't stick around for long.
The Pantheon was another highlight of my trip. I have already uploaded the photos on Ping, and I urge you to look at them.
Finally, I had seen what I wanted to see in Rome. With a few hours left before my flight, I wanted to make my last meal in Rome worth my while. However, I was still unable to decide between the hundred identical restaurants, so the first place that grabbed my intention was an Irish pub near the Altare della Patria.
Sean and Collin
I walked into an exchange between the Irish bartender and an American patron about the "7 steps from Kevin Bacon" theory. They already called each other by their first names, so I knew they had been at it for a while. As I was visibly amused by the exchange, the extroverted American quickly included me in it.
As Collin was pouring my Guinness, I asked more about Sean, the American patron. He was a chaplain in the Navy and was touring Europe while on leave. A few more hours of conversation had us talking about everything from antique snowmobiles to philosophy. The equally kind bartender often joined the discussion, and at some point another American couple - a man from Texas and a lady from Idaho - started chipping in.
Although I had a great time in Rome, the previous 4 days paled in comparison to these few hours with a rag-tag group of foreigners gathered in an Irish pub. We parted ways at the last minute, 3 or 4 beers in, and I made my way to the airport.
So, how was Rome?
In all honesty, it was disappointing. I spent so much time planning for Berlin that I didn't think much about Rome, save for booking the hostel. I had no expectations, so I can't chalk it up to a variation of the Paris syndrome.
The people in Rome were very friendly and patient, a rare quality in a tourist destination. I was never harassed or scammed and I had no unpleasant interactions with the locals. The public transit system was easy to figure out, the architecture was gorgeous and the weather was perfect.
However, every street felt like a copy of the previous one. There were gift shops, gelato shops, street vendors and restaurants. Nothing else. Every plaza looked the same, lined with the same gift shops selling the same trinkets. Every restaurant had the same menu and most food tasted the same. All in all, it fell like I only got a shallow rendition of Italian culture.
I still had a fantastic time in Rome. I am glad I got to have seen it and I recommend that other people see it too. Rome at night is very charming and many of the monuments will leave you in awe.
As usual, all the photos are on Ping, so you can see where I've been and what I've seen.