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We Came, We Saw, But We Didn't Quite Conquer

Rome, Lazio, Italy
2 Kudos
Lots of places have differed from my expectations, but Rome takes the cake.

So at the end of the last post, I was headed to Rome-one of the oldest and largest cities in Italy! I had gone old school and actually written myself directions like “Head Northeast on Galleria Termini. Turn right on Via Marsala, 61 meters.” Impressive, right? I was so proud of myself as little ol’ me turned onto the last street in my directions. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Rome lesson #1: Don’t jinx yourself. I walked right passed my hole-in-the-wall hostel and walked almost a half a mile too far, before deciding to finally ask for help. I wasn’t exactly in the best part of town here. The vibe I was getting was an odd mixture of Chicago Chinatown and Chicago South Loop. All the signs were in Chinese and the people didn’t exactly seem happy to help the little blonde waddling through the streets with a 40lb backpack. So, trying out my Italian proved useless, as the first woman I asked didn’t seem to speak Italian or English, but after showing her to address, she made a few exaggerated pointing movements and went back to her work. Confused and sweaty, I walked in the direction of her pointing. 10 minutes later, I realized I’d have to ask again. Getting basically the same type of reaction, this woman pointed in the opposite direction. Cool. Frustrated, dripping in sweat, and starting to second guess my hostel decision, I finally found a giant metal gate with a gold name plate saying “DENTIST” and several little buzzers underneath, one of which, in tiny, scribbled print, said “Friend House”, my hostel!! I buzzed once. Nothing. Twice. Nothing. Three times and finally someone walked out of the doors and I snuck in. Walking up to the first floor, I planted myself next to what seemed to be a check-in desk. Looking around, there were boys lounging everywhere (none speaking English) and the place wasn’t exactly sparkling clean. I waited nearly 15 minutes until someone finally walked in. He wasn’t exactly the sweetest man I’d even met, and curtly led me to my room, patted the top bunk and walked back out. Okay. I threw my bag onto the bed and watched the entire bunk bed sway dramatically. Needless to say, I check for bedbugs here. Anyway, long story short, there were no cool Australian girls here for me to make friends with. The people in my room were less than talkative, and my instincts kept me from venturing out past dark. So, I counted down the hours until Sarah arrived.

Fast forward, I happily checked out of my hostel and, getting lost 3 or 4 times, found the apartment we were staying in I did some laundry and FINALLY the time came to go pick her up! Buying my ticket for the shuttle bus online, I raced to the train station to catch the right bus. Here, I was told that my ticket needed to be printed. Tick tock, bus was leaving in 2 minutes. Printing, not an option. I begged him to let me on. He kept pointing to an internet cafe a few streets down and I started walking away. Realizing I had no idea where I was going and that it was definitely going to take too long, I turned back and offered to just buy a new ticket. He pointed to the cafe and yelled at me to just go print it. Most of you know about how well I handle being yelled at, so logically I started to tear up. Stuck in an awkward limbo, knowing that it I walk away, I’m going to miss the bus, the Italian man finally took pity on me, called me back, and angrily told me to get on the bus. Lesson #2: the “crying trick” really does work.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to see anyone in my entire life, and when Sarah finally walked through the doors, we started waving our hands in the air, ripping through the crowd and dodging small children. I actually pummeled through a few kids but I was just so excited to see the other half of apartment 3R, that I didn’t even care about the 5 year old I had just injured.

We went around the corner for dinner and had the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had, all while making friends with a few older women who taught us some Italian and gave us amazing recommendations. We ate gelato, drank a bottle of wine, and finally passed out.

The next day, we each donned shorts and a tank top to combat the 90 degree weather. Unlike any other city I’ve been to in Italy, I was uncomfortable all day. Similar to Munich, the only difference was that the inappropriate looks and catcalls weren’t limited to older men-it was everyone. Our account of Rome may be different than others, but it’s important to point out that our apartment wasn’t in the city center or the “nicest” area of Rome. We were staying a cheap room in an apartment in the student district. To get to the center, it was a short walk, but a walk through a relatively disgusting area. Once, in the middle of the day, we saw a man peeing in the street. Not an alley-full on, busy street. At times, the street smelled so terribly of pee that we would hold our breath as long as possible. Multiple dead birds littered the sidewalk and every man we passed would smirk at us, whisper something in Italian, or make kissy noises at us. It was definitely not what either of us expected of Rome.

But forgetting how uncomfortable we were, we took a hop on hop off bus tour and reached the Colosseum! Having bought tickets online the night before (for the same price as the tickets at the door), we were told to skip the line. The whole line. The 2 and a half hour line. We just walked right on by, giddy with our little victory. Like many of the other landmarks I’ve had the privilege to see this summer, the Colosseum was breathtaking. No picture will ever do it justice. Sarah and I stayed for over an hour, just marveling at the history that we were standing on. Then, we walked through Palatine Hill, attempted to see Trevi Fountain (closed for construction) and generally just walked about the city. Finally making our way back to the apartment, we went to dinner at the most delicious seafood place. If there is a heaven on Earth, it is filled with seafood lasagna. Mmmmmmmm. We finished our giant meal and sat for almost 3 hours, laughing over some wine and never feeling rushed to give up our table, which was probably much needed in the crowded restaurant.

The next day we went to a world famous market and wandered the aisles for a few hours, leaving with a few precious steals. Overestimating our walking abilities, we walked to Vatican city, only to realize just was we walked up, that everyone else seemed to be walking the other direction. Realizing it was Sunday, we put two and two together. After walking more than a mile, we had arrived exactly 20 minutes before it closed. As students on a budget, we decided, sadly, that it would be silly to spend the money only to be kicked out.

In the end, we saw some sights in Roma, and loved every one of them, but we also learned that we should reconsider staying so far away from the center. As we walked home, with the sun starting to set, men would be screaming things to each other in Italian, nodding towards us and smirking. Multiple times, guys would walk past, turn around, and walk behind us for a bit. I have a feeling this is a normal custom in Rome, but coming from Chicago, we were tensely watching over our shoulders, all while holding our breath to avoid the smell of pee.

Some people fall in love with Rome and rave about the beauty of it. While I definitely loved the beautiful parts, I think Sarah and I also saw a little too much of the ugly.
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Absolutely breathtaking, but make sure you buy tickets online before going! You can skip the crazy long line!

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