I’m sorry for the silence here. It’s been a busy several weeks! I have been working on backing up photos, processing photos from my vacation, and enjoying every possible moment outside that it’s not raining. I think it rained for 3 weeks straight!
At the end of May, my mom and I left for a vacation to Italy! Our itinerary included Rome, Pompeii, Florence, and Venice. We decided a few years ago that I would play tour guide for my mom in Italy (since I have been to Europe before, I felt moderately qualified), and we would go together to see a country that she has always wanted to see. We finally pulled the trigger early this year, and I spent a lot of time planning our route, hotels, and activities.
We landed in Rome, and finally made it to the hotel several hours after we anticipated arriving. Unfortunately, first impressions were not great. We struggled to get through customs. The crowds, line jumping near the front, general herding of people not in lines at all, and the lack of air conditioning was really not the way I would’ve liked to introduce my mom to Italy! But I had high expectations that our trip would get progressively better, and it did!
I have been to Rome before, and while I think you can’t really miss it if you’ve never been to Italy, I also think it’s more city than I prefer, and I’m not sure that I’d go again. Rome isn’t even that big, and the traffic is much better than it was when I visited 10 years ago, but it’s still just not for me. However, we did get to do some things that I wasn’t able to when I visited as a poor college student, so it was definitely an experience worth having again.
Our first evening in Rome post-flight, we traveled from our hotel relatively close to the train station to the Spanish Steps. We walked up a major road to the intersection of the Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains). I remember these being particularly exciting when I visited years ago because here we are, in a city with regular busy traffic, people working, etc., and then BAM here’s some ancient sculptures at a random intersection.
It was also pretty spectacular to view the Spanish Steps from above and make our way down.
Our dinner that night at Cucina & Vista boasted a view of the Spanish Steps, which was really a tiny window across the room. Regardless, it was nice to relax that evening indoors, and mom had the most tender gnocchi I have ever tasted.
Despite our exhaustion after dinner, I suggested we visit some of the sights at night, an activity I had missed out on last time since we had stayed outside the city. I really had a hard time navigating in Rome, but I got progressively better each day (I was a pro by the time we left, of course). We managed to find our way to the Temple of Hadrian and the Pantheon before calling it in for the night. We got back really late as I struggled to find the hotel at night from a different direction.
Oh the hotel. That was an experience on it’s own! We stayed at Hotel Saturnia, and our room had a separate entrance. The main entrance for the hotel was in a fairly wide alley, the size of a regular street but blocked to regular traffic. It wasn’t creepy, but it was different to have to go to the main entrance on a side street, get our ancient-looking key, and go back up around the corner, ring a bell, and enter 2 doors before entering our room. Stairs in Italy were a given, but the rest was new to us.
We also got stuck going in and going out at the door to our floor. There was a trick to pulling and pushing while turning the key that we didn’t observe when they first showed us in, and a button we couldn’t see to get out. It wouldn’t have been pretty had there been a fire! Luckily we had our phones, and mine was on an international plan with T-Mobile, so there was no charge when I needed to use it to call the front desk to help us out.
The bathroom, and really the room itself, was bigger than any of the rest during our stay in Italy, and was remodeled, so it wasn’t bad sleeping or staying there aside from our experience coming and going. We had a nice breakfast in the morning before heading off to see the Colosseum. We had tickets to go inside, and that was also something I had missed out on during my last visit!
Walking to the Colosseum was really easy from our hotel, but disappointing that there was construction along the side of the road as we approached. The Colosseum itself though was relatively unobstructed and still an awe-inspiring sight.
Tour guides tried to get us to buy their services and street vendors were hawking selfie sticks. We may have been asked about 10,000 times but we never bought a selfie stick. We were a little concerned at first because we had bought entry tickets already and the line seemed very long, but even though the line looks long for ticket holders, it moved very fast.
We used Rick Steves’ Audio Guide for the Colosseum. We tried to use it for some other sites, but it was harder in the Forum and Pompeii when you can’t tell exactly what you’re looking at. For the Colosseum it was perfect!
After the Colosseum, we crossed over to Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum. It was hard to tell what we were looking at on Palantine Hill, but beautiful nonetheless. We enjoyed the shade for a bit and the endless supply of ancient ruins. We should’ve stopped for lunch and brought it in with us. We saw a number of people picnicking on the hill (not the Roman Forum section, which was much more crowded). We were really very hungry by the time we finished at the Roman Forum, and I was incredibly dusty and dirty foot to knee.
We tried listening to Rick Steves in the Roman Forum, but the route or buildings had changed a bit and I gave up midway through, picking and choosing when I could tell what we were looking at.
One building we were able to enter was the Temple of Romulus.
We were able to see Caesar’s grave, the remains of the House of the Vestal Virgins, and a number of unidentified (by me) ruins.
This is the Temple of Castor and Pollux below.
For our late lunch, we weren’t willing to travel far! We stopped at Bar Pasticceria Ciardi, which seems to have a variety of atmospheres for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We felt like we had a good meal there despite the proximity to the touristy area (they say the farther you get from those areas, the better the food).
I really loved seeing all the ancient ruins: dust, hunger, heat and all. It felt so satisfying to come back to Rome, 10 years later, and visit some sites I had always wanted to get inside. I finally felt like I was really in Italy after the long travel the day before. Italy, we’re here!