Consistently traveling has opened me up to qualities in myself that I never thought I’d develop. Those include, but are not limited to:
1. Going to a country alone without knowing the dominant language
2. Looking for a friend without a phone in said country
3. Only having a street name to give the taxi driver
Smart. My friend Erica decided to turn her Paris Marathon into a euro-trip and naturally I invited myself along. Her and a few other friends that I’d never met were at the Vatican while I was landing at the Leonardo da Vinci-Fuimicino Airport (FCO). The “plan” was to use the airport internet to text her friend Jamie (who turned on her international data) and let her know when I caught a taxi. Great plan had the Internet at the airport allowed me to. Fast forward and I’m in a shared taxi, everyone is speaking French, the driver doesn’t speak English, and all I had was a street name with no house number. Once he dropped me off I sat on my luggage attempting not to freak out and stared down the street hoping I’d see them. 10 minutes later I did. How this worked out I have no idea. Turns out Jamie’s phone died so they went back to wait outside hoping I’d show up. Convenient.
Apparently the group was mildly hungover so they stayed behind as me and Erica went to get wine and pizza with a patio view of the Pantheon and 35,378 selfie sticks.
Lesson 78 ½: In Rome it’s easier to find street vendors aggressively selling selfie sticks than it is to find a bathroom, a trash can, a midget or a minivan.
You think I’m kidding about the selfies sticks but trust me, it’s a thing. After lunch we went inside the Pantheon, which was absolutely gorgeous because like everything in Rome, the city is well preserved. They had a quiet area with pews near the rear of the temple but with 200+ people crammed into this space, nothing was quiet.
We spent the day walking around the city and I gave out a cigarette to a local, who in return, gave me a piece of chocolate. No Mom, I didn’t eat it. We walked through (yes, through) Trevi Fountain via the walkway they built for passers by since the fountain was drained and under construction. They said not to throw coins in considering there were construction workers down there but yeah right! I’m in Rome, this is the Trevi Fountain and your machine guns don’t scare me. Well they did scare me but I made sure to discretely chuck a dime in the opposite direction of the workers and the noise.
After a day of wine, pizza, site seeing and venturing around, it was about that time. NAP! I went and laid in our tiny, attractive AirBNB apartment that sat just around the corner of the Pantheon. There was a ladder to get upstairs, the kitchen was the size of my closet, the patio was in the middle of the building and toilet worked via a pulley system. Right on. It just so happened to be Jamie’s dirty 30 that evening so obviously after an hour of lounging we were showering and getting ready for dinner.
Fun Fact: This is (about) when I was robbed. I don’t know specifically when, how, or who but once I went to pay for dinner I was short $58 and €89. It shocked me that I didn’t freak out but I was in Rome, I was drinking wine and worse things have happened.
Most of the restaurants advertised free wifi so it was very convenient for our social media crazed generation and it allowed me to text and FB my mom to ensure her I wasn’t “taken” yet. Earlier that day I posted a picture of my plane ticket on FB and Instagram and before I go through the 7° of separation the only thing that matters is a mutual friend of a mutual friend that I met once several years ago lived in Rome.
Lesson dirty 30: Always post your vacations on social media outlets if you’re okay with spontaneous plans while there, you never who is in the area.
One tag lead to a message and next thing I know, Andrea and his friends are meeting up with mine. This is probably the best case scenario of going to a different country for the first time. We had no idea where we were or what to do so when they arrived we introduced ourselves, hugged, and caught up as we took their lead on a good place to celebrate a birthday.
Lesson 642: Not every local is trying to kidnap you, some people genuinely want to show you a good time.
The guys were awesome and it helped that they all knew English. Someone once told me if your trilingual you know three languages, if you’re bilingual you know two languages and if you know one language then you’re American. Sounds about right. We sat and drank and talked for what felt like five minutes but was in fact a couple hours before we made dinner plans and attempted to find our apt without using a map.
The next day I woke up early and since they’d already seen the Colosseum, I decided I would write down directions and walk the two miles there all on my own. Best decision ever. The weather was perfectly spring and I was able to fully engulf myself in the city and scenery without any distractions. I also almost got hit by a car.
Lesson 1,562: Drivers in Rome give negative zero fucks. Wrong side of the road? Meh. Sidewalk? Forget about it.
After nearly getting killed, avoiding being sold a tour I didn’t want, asking people to take pictures because I didn’t want to buy a selfie stick, my solo adventure turned out to be a success. Walking toward the Colosseum is a very surreal feeling if you’re from somewhere as new and young as the states. We don’t have thousand year old buildings. Hell our grandparents are older than most of our buildings. Seeing how well preserved the dome is and knowing that battles once took place where a stood was a surreal feeling.
The stairs to the Colosseum are constructed much wider so that when exiting the building people had to take their time; they couldn’t run down and trample each other. Up the stairs, through the archway, and looking over the side of the amphitheater, I saw the Palatino and Arco di Tito. So much history in a quarter mile. Since I was on a time crunch and our apartment didn’t have a doorbell we had to schedule when they would let me in considering I couldn’t text to say I was outside. This meant I was saying goodbye and using my navigation skills working backwards. Naturally, I got lost. But it’s okay.
They didn’t view all of Vatican City the day before (due to the hangover) so once I got back to the apartment we hot tailed it across the city to explore the Vatican and surrounding areas. There were plenty of illegal street vendors, priests around every corner, and Vatican City looked like something out of a movie.
The buildings and streets were so clean and well kept as if asking to be photographed. There were stone drinking fountains on numerous blocks and I’m pretty positive this is the moment I fell in love with Rome. While sitting and having lunch before our museum tour, I made a deal with myself that if not today, I will get baptized at the Vatican.
Lesson 1.3: Do your homework if you’re really set on doing something. Turns out the Vatican DOES baptisms daily, for free. All you have to do is call and make an appointment.
Once we got inside of the Vatican Museum we split up, agreed to a meeting spot and dispersed with our iPod like tour guide in hand. I could go through everything that I saw but I don’t have enough time and the story won’t do the work justice.
The Sistine Chapel, or Sistina Capella, was just as beautiful and twice as small as I’d ever imagined. It was rectangular shaped and the ceiling looked as though it were 3D. There was a dress code to enter and I’d even seen someone turned away for having her shoulders bare but that was besides the point. After this Erica and I bought a cheap tour bus ticket so we could see all the monuments we’d been walking by with an explanation of what it was and to get a ride closer to our apartment considering it was miles away.
Later in the evening our new friends sent us a message with dinner reservation plans and asked the simple question of whether or not we liked fish. All we had was a business card with directions and a name of a restaurant but other than this we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Like most of my trips where bizarre things happen, my flight attendant friend KK just so happened to be in Rome on her days off the same days as I and met us at dinner. Once we arrived, our little dinner gathering turned into 10 people from the states, Rome and Russia, several bottles of wine, laughs regarding cultural differences and over four courses of amazing, authentic Italian food. The night couldn’t have been any better. We, and by we I mean Americans, almost had a heart attack when one of the girls at the table said that someone recommended Olive Garden as a place in the states to try if you like Italian food. Olive Garden. OLIVE GARDEN?! We immediately told her that whomever recommended it either wasn’t American or wasn’t a friend and that when she goes to hold it to a much lower standard compared to great, Italian cuisine.
At this time we were overly stuffed, on food and wine, and learned that nearing midnight was a perfectly normal time to go to the bars. Unlike in the states where you eat dinner at seven and go out at ten they eat dinner and drink until late before heading to the bar at a couple hours before close. We suggested we go at 10:30pm and they laughed considering the four “appetizers” we ate weren’t our main course yet. Silly Americans.
Once dinner was over the guys took us all to a club called Shari Vari that sat about135-7,346 long strides from where we ate dinner. (I couldn’t give you directions if I tried, see how I’m always getting lost?) We walked down streets that looked more like alley ways, cut through a small crowd and before I knew it we were inside. Much different than the too small clubs I’m used to in Wicker Park, this place was much larger. There were several different rooms, hidden hallways, and each room had a mildly different yet cohesive décor. We stayed as long as time allotted and once we realized we all had to wake up in four hours to find our way back to the airport we figured, we’d better start being responsible.
My group had to leave about an hour before I did so they left me with check out instructions while I was half asleep. Smart. This meant meant when I awoke I frantically packed my bag and brushed my teeth while I messaged KK, using the wifi, so we could meet up before our flight. Warning her that I’d probably get lost (again) I ran outside, stood and cried for about four seconds because I didn’t want to leave, found a non English speaking cab driver, mumbled my mispronounced street names and sat in the back hoping that I was going in the right direction.
Lesson .12: If you’re on a time crunch, don’t be too proud to ask for directions or take a taxi; sometimes you just have to get there as soon as possible.
To my surprise I didn’t get lost. KK and I took the train to the airport while discussing our very different, yet similar experiences and within 11 hours I was back state side wishing I had had more time. Visiting Europe has only fueled my pipe dream of living there for a summer but until then I’ll just have to visit 2-5 days at a time whenever my funds allow.