Ok, remember where we left off? Good. So, after Laurel and Alison left, I felt a little bit like a lost puppy. What would I do all alone for seven days? But then I mentally slapped myself – and remembered that I had originally been very excited to take a vacation all by myself! I got back into independent woman mode, and started one of the best weeks of my life!
Day 1 (Tuesday)
I spent the day walking around and taking buses to various places I had found online and in the Rick Steves guidebook Alison so generously gave to me. I got what turned out to be my favorite cappuccino in Italy at Sant’Eustachio – so much foam! Pay at the counter and get it with sugar. Also stopped by Pizzarium and was pleased with my potato-mozzarella and ricotta-onion-arugula choices. I like the concept at this place: the pizzas are long rectangles, so the person working there will slowly move their knife and you tell them when to stop when the piece is as wide as you want it, then they warm it up and afterward they cut it with scissors into bite-size pieces!
After my day spent wandering around, eating, and window-shopping, I made my way back to my hostel. I wanted to go out, but I didn’t want to go out alone, since the area around Termini (the main train station in Rome, located on the east side of the city) is a bit sketchy at night. After hanging out in the common room for awhile, I met two very nice guys from Boston. We went out to an Irish pub for drinks and later ended up at a karaoke bar full of students and young travelers from all over the world, where I sang one of my favorite Queen songs, “Don’t Stop Me Now” for a large crowd!
Slept in but I did make it out to the Trevi Fountain and San Crispino for gelato (which lives up to the hype).
I went to Forno and bought pasta to make my favorite Italian pasta dish (cacio e pepe), and mini bottles of limoncello and Disaronno for souvenirs. Then I walked to the Piazza di Santa Cecilia because I had read that Roma Sparita makes great cacio e pepe, and it’s only 12 euros. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a reservation and they were full, so instead I walked around (happily as it’s a very cute neighborhood) and found Asino Cotto who were more than happy to serve me!
This was my first time dining at a real restaurant alone. I was scared to do this; eating street food or getting something to-go alone is one thing, but actually sitting down somewhere by yourself intimidated me. At first, I felt a little bit awkward and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I kept thinking that the other people eating would see that I was alone and judge me in some way. However, the other people in the restaurant didn’t even seem to notice me. It was actually nice, because it all went much faster and I didn’t feel guilty about looking at my phone and camera while waiting for my food. Plus, I got an amazing dish that ended up being my favorite meal during my whole trip! So, if you are traveling alone, I encourage you to nudge yourself a bit outside of your comfort zone. People won’t judge you, because if they even notice that you’re alone, they probably don’t care! It’s not like people expect you to fly all your friends and family with you on every trip!
Ever since my roommate in Prague went to Florence and came back with a really cute, custom-made leather jacket, I regretted not doing the same. Since I was already in Italy and it’s so easy to just hop on a train and go somewhere for the day, I decided to go for it and buy myself a leather jacket. The weather in Rome had been perfect, and Florence was no different. I arrived around noon and had a not-too-expensive lunch in the main square. I saw the Duomo, which was so beautiful! It’s so colorful.
I didn’t have time to go inside since shopping was a priority. But it is worth going to Florence just to see the outside in person. Then, I found Via Ricasori, where all the leather shops are, and started my search. It was pretty fast; I went to about 3 or 4 shops and quickly noticed that they all had pretty much the same thing. I found 2 jackets at separate stores that I loved and went for the cheaper one, since the more expensive one had a weird lining that fluffed out of the bottom. The salesman working at the other store gave me 100 euros off the total price as a “student discount” but I’m sure they do that for everyone. I am so happy with my jacket and I hope I have it for years to come!
After walking to the Ponte Vecchio (mentioned in the lyrics of the aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi by Puccini, which I performed in my voice recital last summer) and taking a few pics, I headed back to Rome.
Back in Rome, I was staying in another hostel that I LOVED. That night, they were hosting a pub crawl and it was ladies’ night! I participated and ended up having a great time! I met people from the US, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Denmark, etc. and we all had so much fun together.
The cheapest room in the hostel was a 6-bed mixed dorm, so I was with two Argentinian guys, one guy I never met, and two British guys. This sounds sketchy (Mom, calm down!) but once you meet people, you just create a certain level of trust that is hard to explain. At all the hostels I stayed in, this was the case. Of course, I did feel a little nervous leaving my stuff in the room all day, but nothing was stolen my whole trip. I believe this is because I made an effort to at least meet all the people in my room, if not befriend them. Next time I will bring a lock (I’m a spaz and just plain forgot to buy one before my trip) but most people staying in hostels seem to be just like me: broke, with few valuables. I kept my passport, phone, iPod, and wallet on me at all times during the day and even slept with my small purse under my pillow.
I bought myself a Roma Pass which I highly recommend if you are spending time in Rome. You pay 30 euros for a pass that allows you to gain access to several major sights in Rome for 3 days. You get into the first two sights for free, and then you get a discount on all the others that you visit after. Also, the pass acts as a ticket for the metro or bus during the three days. It’s a great deal!
I started at the Colosseum. I bought the audioguide which made it that much more interesting! I especially enjoyed it because the man and woman on the audioguide spoke with a British accent, which I find so soothing. It was crazy to learn about what the Romans used to do for fun (watch warriors fight to the death, set vicious animals on one man who has to fight them off) and think about how similar it is to modern day entertainment (WWF anyone? cockfights? Bad Girls Club?). Also, elitism has always existed – senators and other VIPS had special seats in the stadium, with their names carved on their seats. In fact, every citizen had their own assigned seat according to their rank in society.
After the Colosseum I moseyed over to the Roman Forum, which was the downtown hangout area of ancient Rome. I did the self-guided tour in the Rick Steves book. I HIGHLY recommend that you do the same – it was free, and he puts just the right amount of information that is interesting but not too long to stand there reading in the hot sun. I plan to buy a Rick Steves book before I go anywhere now!
I loved the Roman Forum. I spent a long time reflecting on humanity and history.
Are you getting tired? At this point in my trip, I was EXHAUSTED – mentally, physically, financially. In the future, I think I will be keeping my trips to less than 7 days. But, since I was there, I rallied and kept going! I went and bought some cheap sneakers, drank some water, and headed to the National Museum. Thank goodness it was just a few blocks from my hostel. The museum has five levels, but after doing two of them with my audioguide, I could not focus anymore and I left. I got a lot out of this museum. My favorite exhibit featured a film of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen created by the Queen of Denmark. One of her hobbies is decoupage, and she used this technique to create the backgrounds in the film. I am a scrapbooker myself and I love fairy tales so I was very interested!
There was also an extensive collection of sculptures. I did not used to be a fan of sculpture, but they have grown on me recently. I like how they help you transport to the past; what was important enough to culture to create a replica of it and place it in someone’s home or in a public place? I imagine future cultures will see the same in photographs and now, the internet. But I almost prefer how there are so many unanswered questions with ancient art…
After the museum, I walked leisurely through Rome to Vatican City. On the way I had gelato at Giolitti and saw a lot of cool streets and stores. I also stopped at the Pantheon.
By the time I got to Vatican City, I was very tired. But, I had come all that way! So, I entered the Vatican Museum (they make you go through the whole museum before you can see the Sistine Chapel) and joined HUNDREDS of other people in the slow crawl through the museum to the Sistine Chapel. Honestly, I would skip the Vatican Museum unless you are religious or enjoy religious art. Maybe if I had gone in the morning I would have appreciated it more, but I was tired and not interested in feeling like I was in a club. It was so crowded! Luckily it’s spring, because in the summer I hear that it’s even worse. When I got to the Sistine Chapel, I enjoyed it and spent a long time sitting on a bench on the side of the room, taking in every inch of the art on the ceiling and walls. I admit, it’s pretty cool. Now I can cross it off my list! I’m sorry, I don’t have pictures because I respected the “no photographs” rule, unlike everyone else around me. I want to keep it well-preserved! I also went into St. Peter’s Basilica and listened to a bit of the 5pm mass.
That night, I laid low in the hostel and hung out with my new Canadian friend Jaquie, two girls from Santa Cruz, and two French girls. It was fun to see how similar all us girls in our 20s are!
Jaquie, my British friends from the hostel and I all went out trying to find this market where one can find huge figs. Unfortunately, the market seemed to only be selling cheap clothes. So, we wandered around and found a restaurant serving traditional Italian food. I finally got my cacio e pepe! It was delicious, but a very small portion because in Italy, it’s considered to be an appetizer rather than a full meal. After wandering around a bit more, drinking water from the lovely fountains to be found everywhere in Rome, we unfortunately had to part ways. I said goodbye to all of my new friends (it felt like the last day of summer camp!) and headed to another hostel for my last night.
I spent the evening wandering around the neighborhood, enjoying my last bit of Roman sunshine and gelato. I found a tiny market and bought some zucchini and pasta to cook at the hostel for dinner. After hanging out with some people staying in the hostel (girl from Singapore, a couple from Quebec, and a guy from Belgium) I went to bed early to wake up for my 7am flight back to Paris.
During this trip, I learned so much about myself, about traveling, and about Italy! I saw so many beautiful things and ate so much great food. It was so fun to get out of France for a bit and have a real vacation, even though I feel like I am sort of always on vacation here anyways. My goal for the trip was to eat as much gelato, pasta, pizza, and drink as much coffee as possible. I definitely accomplished that goal. But one thing that was unexpected was that I made all these new friends! It was interesting to meet people from so many different cultures against the backdrop of Italy. It’s funny to learn new things about yourself based on what new people perceive from meeting you; according to the Brits, I speak like I’m stuck in the 90s (hello? I’m from California!). It was also so interesting and funny to meet alllll sorts of people, such as the guy from Quebec who skateboards and hopes to one day come to California to check out all of our skate parks, or my new friend Michael who prefers tea as a hangover cure.