Also known as the Eternal City, Rome is a romantic city where public displays of affection are nothing out of ordinary, and musicians fill streets, restaurants, and subway stations with their music. My friends and I thought there would be no better place to spend our Valentine’s Day weekend than in Rome, and so we planned a trip. The high speed train that runs throughout Italy makes traveling much more efficient, which is especially useful since most of our trips are confined to the weekend. Though the journey itself can be nice, especially when traveling through the scenic countryside, cutting down on travel time gives you more time to enjoy your destination. Since we were traveling in a group of 6, we decided to rent an apartment that was owned by a husband and wife and would accommodate all of us. When traveling in a group of this size, an “Air B&B” is a great option, as there is not only space for everyone, but there is a kitchen, which allows you to prepare some of your own meals and spend less money on eating out.
When we got to the apartment, we were greeted by the wife who was very welcoming and showed us around the apartment. After we got settled, we went to the store that was just up the street from us to pick up a few groceries to cook dinner later on. After that, we went out to explore the city. First, we stopped into a bar (In Italy bars are where you get coffee, not alcohol) where I had a mochaccino, which is essentially a chocolate flavored cappuccino. I believe they use real cacao to make the drink, as it is not nearly as sweet as the mocha flavored drinks one would find in the States. The owner of the bar spoke some broken English, but was very funny and was having a great time making fun of us. One of my friends bought a donut covered in sugar and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate here is much thicker than what we have in the U.S., and quite rich. She was breaking off pieces of the donut and dipping it into the hot chocolate, sort of like you would do with a churro. When she looked up she saw that the owner was watching her with an amused look on his face, and when they made eye contact he said “Weirdo”. We all laughed, including him, and she tried to explain that it was good and he should try it himself.
After our snack, we made our way to the subway station, where we tried to navigate the different lines and find the one that would take us to the Colosseum. When we finally found the right track, we made our way to the platform. Everywhere you looked there was graffiti. One the walls of the station, and on the trains themselves. I never realized how much I liked graffiti until coming to Europe, where it seems to me to be more of a form of expression than a form of destruction. When we got to the Colosseum it was closed, but we were still able to explore the ruins around it along a walking trail. The trail was beautiful, and it led us up to a church, which we entered. Inside the church was an alter of candles, and I lit one, saying a prayer for my loved ones. We made our way back down along the trail, and walked a little further past the colosseum where we saw even more remains of forums that were once used as meeting places in ancient times. Eventually we made our way back to the apartment, stopping into shops along the way. We made dinner, and spent the night in to rest up for the day ahead of us.
Our first destination was the Vatican City. When we got there, the line to get in to the city was at least four hours long. We wanted desperately to go in, but didn’t want to spend our whole day waiting in line. When we learned that you could buy online tickets, we went into a nearby cafe to use their wifi and buy tickets that would get us a reserved entrance time. Doing this cut down on so much time, and we couldn’t believe that everyone else standing in line wasn’t doing the same thing. Walking through the Vatican Museum was incredible. Some rooms were dedicated to Egyptian artwork and mummified remains, while others were filled with sculptures of Roman Gods and important figures. The ceilings were adorned with religious artwork, and the floors were made of intricate mosaic tiles. The museum leads to the Sistine Chapel, which was overwhelmingly beautiful. There was no picture taking allowed and staff shushed the crowd into reverent silence. Later on I learned that Michelangelo painted the chapel at age 70. I tried to imagine a 70 year-old man bending and craning his neck to create the images adorning the walls and ceiling of the chapel. The whole thing was truly awe-inspiring.
After the Vatican City, we went to find the Spanish steps. When we finally found them, there were people covering them eating lunch and talking. If you didn’t know that they are a historical monument, you could easily mistaken them for ordinary steps. We could tell that it was going to start raining, so we made our way back to the apartment and had dinner. After dinner, we went to a night club called Shari Vari, which looked like an old house with elaborate staircases and different rooms. We felt very underdressed as everybody was dressed very formally, and one girl was even in a full gown. There were multiple rooms and levels in the club, and each room had a different style of music. It seemed to be a melting pot of locals and study abroad students both young and old.
The next day was our last in Rome, and we had a limited amount of time before we had to catch a train back to Florence. After checking out of our apartment, we made our way towards the colosseum once again, and found a place to have breakfast. After breakfast, we waited in line to get into the colosseum. Walking inside the Colosseum was overwhelming, especially when you think about how and when it was made. We walked around the two levels that our ticket allowed us access to. From the second level you could see out over the Colosseum to some of the ruins that we had seen before. You can’t help but feel so small when standing in a place like this. Before we knew it, it was time to go, and so we made our way back to the train station. The owners of the apartment we stayed at had generously held our bags for us after we had checked out earlier that morning so that we would be free to enjoy the city until we left. When we collected our bags, they called a taxi for us and saw us off. I was so thankful for the warmth and kindness of the couple, and wondered if this kind of hospitality is just another part of Italian culture. At last, we headed back to Florence, knowing that Rome and all its treasures were just another high speed train ride away.