When in Rome…

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Years passed by since the last experience. Meanwhile, I changed jobs, and I got into IT, but I was still an intern, earning just the minimum wage.

Yes, IT can also be like that. And no, not everyone earns a lot of money if their job is in this field. And yes, everyone works hard, no one wastes time playing computer games, as some people think.

I was already in a relationship with the guy that’s now my husband. I was in one of the best moments of my life when we decided we could go somewhere, taking into account that, from Romania, you can find plane tickets for 10 euros to some destinations.

And, considering my financial situation at the time, I couldn’t afford more than that anyway. I had never flown before that moment, so he could have taken me even to Cluj (city in Romania) and I would have been excited.

And since we had to choose between Bologna and Milan, we choose Rome. I mean, we didn’t exactly buy tickets for 10 euros, but it was something similar, like 100 euros for a round trip for both of us. A small price to see Rome, for sure.

And because it was my first time going to more interesting places, of course, I looked into everything that we could do there. And I mean we had a list with what we want and what we can do, organized for each day, with advice from people, with links to websites, maps, and details about how to get to certain places. Yes, Switzerland is the perfect place for me, considering my fondness of lists and organizing them.

One thing was consistent on all sites: for us to avoid the queue from the Vatican and Colosseum, it was a good idea to buy the tickets online. Since our time was so limited (four days are not nearly enough for the things you would like to see and do in Rome), we decided it was worth it to pay an extra of 8 euros.

This was also the occasion we needed to create a Booking account, which we still use, even though we know it’s not the best choice every time. We did this after talking to absolutely anyone who we knew that went to Rome, like our friends that were going to become our godparents (which had the accommodation next to the Colosseum, but it felt kind of expensive for our small budget), my sister-in-law (she had accommodation next to the Vatican, and it felt too far away from the rest of the things we wanted to see) and another friend of mine, who was in Rome when she was a teenager and didn’t remember anything but the catacombs and that she should have seen the Pope, but something came up and their group didn’t meet the Pope after all.

Our chosen place to stay was somewhere near Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, somehow closer to the train station, and close enough to the touristic attractions. We found a way to get there from the Ciampino Airport (nope, we didn’t have money for the Fiumicino airport), without us spending a lot on taxis like we usually also proceed today.

Of course, we also had the offline map on our cell phone; it was the first time I did this, considering it was my first smartphone and my first serious journey. Also, I invested a lot of time in finding out what we’re allowed to take into our cabin bags so that no one stops us at the security check-in (a panic specific to first-time flyers, I’m sure), but also in finding an option to squeeze everything in the two bags we had – we spent 100 euro for the tickets, of course, we didn’t take checked baggage with us for four days.

The flight

After a long waiting period, a large amount of nervousness and excitement, some massive panic in my case because the flight kept approaching, the big day has come.

To make things clear, I’m the most scared person alive. I’m afraid to use a swing at a little bit higher speed. I’m afraid of ziplines. I don’t ride roller-coasters. I find it hard to learn how to ski because I’m afraid of speed. I wouldn’t even think about trying bungee-jumping, paragliding or skydiving. I know how to swim, but I’m afraid to go to places where the water is deeper than my height. So, every time I say I’m afraid of something, please remember the whole context.

We passed security check and passport control easily, even though I think I was shaking and looked not so good, despite going to the hairdresser and having a manicure the day just before the flight; I was also wearing makeup and tried to look my best, like I was going to some kind of party, not to four full days of covering tens or hundreds of kilometers by foot. Yeah, those were the times when I used to make myself look nice before going somewhere.

And we got to the plane. (Un)luckily, we also had a window seat, which I used, since it was my first time and all. I say “luckily” because it’s nice to see everything. I say “unluckily” because, considering my fear of speed, it’s not such a good idea that I was able to see how fast the things were moving outside.

I was the only one in there that was looking at the flight attendants when they were doing the security presentation. I still pay attention to it, even today, and I always know where’s the nearest exit and where’s the life vest stored. I held one hand against the side of the seat and the other one I held on my boyfriend’s hand.

Oddly, he didn’t have any broken bones, but the seat seemed to have some traces of my hands digging into it, created when the plane accelerated for the take-off. The worst sensation in the world. My partner also explained that the plane needs to accelerate quickly like that because the take-off path is not very long, so the plane needs a high speed so it can go up fast.

And, after it got up, I was somehow afraid of how it’s going to be when landing, but I soon realized I couldn’t change anything, it was too late to leave the plane, so I had to calm down.

I talked non-stop, because that’s what I do when I’m nervous, and we eventually landed, which was probably the moment when everyone was relieved and happy about not hearing me anymore. Now, looking back, it was the calmest and relaxed take-off and landing I ever encountered, like they knew they had an emotional wreck onboard which they should handle with care.

Getting in Rome

After landing I had to take a short break to call my mother, who knew my state of mind. After a while, we started our walk to the Casabianca train station, with our small trolley and the backpack.

On the website, I found this information it wasn’t stated that the road is a national one or even a European one, and at a certain moment, it just stopped having a sidewalk. After some more time, it also stopped having a usable side of the road altogether, but the cars didn’t stop using it and their number seemed to even increase.

We kept walking with our luggage through the grass from the side of the road while being sure we looked like two homeless people, and we finally found the train station. Which was closed. Abandoned. Looked like no one worked there in the last few years.

Lesson learned: when you’re looking for information online, you should also look at the date when that information was valid. Of course, I panicked, especially when a train passed without even stopping in that station. Our offline maps proved themselves useful starting with that exact moment.

Using the same road as in the beginning, but leaving it behind at one point, we found the Ciampino Town, where we could take the train, but not before taking a picture with the bus schedule for the line that could have taken us to and from the airport. We took the train for two stops, right beside some aqueducts built thousands of years ago, and we finally reached our destination, after we also walked the small distance between the central train station and our accommodation.

The accommodation was as expected. Our low standards were the same as the ones we have today. The nice lady from the reception was Romanian. Still, she was in Italy for ten years already, so she didn’t speak proper Romanian anymore (not intentionally, but still). But she did help us with maps, and advice, and recommendations where to go and eat, including a supermarket to buy fruits, nuts, and other stuff for breakfast, or biscuits to carry with us during the day, and also water.

Yes, we do this often, going to a supermarket and buying fruits, nuts and some other stuff for breakfast, or snacks to have with us all day and, of course, water, because I don’t feel safe if I don’t have water nearby. After we bought everything we wanted, we went to the Spanish steps to start a free walking tour we had reservations for.

The bad news: apparently, the plane tickets were cheap for a reason – Rome was celebrating a centennial and almost all touristic places were under renovation.

The good news: the Spanish steps are not a big deal, from my point of view.

I know, it’s not exactly good news, but I managed to get lost on the way to the hotel; I deserve something to hold on to.

Still, the tour was superb. Alessandra, “un Romano da Roma”, like she introduced herself, had a degree in archeology and also had some history studies, so she was able to talk for a great amount of time about Rome. She advised us to enter every church we see, no matter if we’re Christians or not because churches in Rome are true works of art.

She told us we can give up on buying bottled water and use the drinkable water from every drinking water fountain in the city, that water being provided by the old Roman aqueducts that don’t use any motorized tools, but only their ramp and the gravity. She took us to the Fontana di Trevi (which is absolutely worth it, even though it’s very crowded, like expected), where we found out that all money thrown in the fountain are collected during nighttime and used for charity, that it’s not actually a fountain, but the end of the water columns that goes through all the fountains in Rome and that she learned during college that there are 40 types of flowers sculpted in the fountain, but she never found more than 38.

She showed us where was Pope Joan Paul the second displayed after his death and how she stood in line, in the rain for three days and three nights, just to say “Goodbye!” to him. She told us how, at the Colosseum, everyone came for “Panem and Circus” (“The Hunger Games” reference alert!), how the word “Palace” comes from the Palatine Hill, the place where Romulus and Remus, the founding fathers of Rome, were taken care of by the female wolf, and where lots of rulers had their residences, including Nero (before the fire, of course).

We learned a lot from her that day and it was a good idea to start with a tour so that we found out what’s there to see except for the usual, well-known stuff.

The Vatican

The day after it was scheduled that we see the Vatican, starting at 10 AM because the online bought ticket is not only nominal but also scheduled by entry hour. We went there by metro, and it was the only situation in which we used it, and then we walked a little bit, avoiding the people who were trying to “guide” us through the Vatican Museum or sell us tickets to the Basilica San Pietro.

We already knew we weren’t supposed to care about them, because there’s no entrance fee for the Basilica San Pietro, and that a guide which is not IN the museum is probably not a good deal for us. Still, it stuck to our heads the image of many guys selling selfie sticks and power banks, and also the image of a girl who was asking, in a whole bunch of languages, if, by any chance, we were speaking her language – one of the languages used by her being Romanian.

Well, we saw the walls by far, but it wasn’t very clear where was the entrance. We followed the walls, from one corner to another, until we reached to end of the line. While having our printed vouchers in our hands, we started using the free path, specifically designed for the people with online paid tickets. And we walked. And we continued walking. We just kept on walking, and we were passing other corners of the building, and the line next to us was not moving at all.

We finally reached the museum entrance, where we encountered a small line for the security check; the entrance in the museum also represents an entrance into a new country, so a small check is required for them to see if everything is OK and if your ticket is valid. Well, considering the big line we saw outside, we felt that the tickets we bought, while being a little bit more expensive, were worth it.

The museum was amazing. I’m not a religious person, and initially, we thought of not going to visit the Vatican, but I’m very glad we did it. There were only a few places where we saw objects connected to the church’s world.

But there we found lots of works of art, including modern art. Starting with Roman sculptures with naked people (yes, the church doesn’t care those people are naked; art is art no matter what our social norms tell us these days), and ending with “paintings” done out of PET caps, we saw it all.

We saw a huge hallway with the golden ceiling full of paintings and ornaments so complicated it was mindblowing. We have a video of it, but it’s horrible, so it’s better not to show it to anyone, I don’t want you to get blind by seeing something that bad, but it looks something like this:

We also saw a gallery about all the transportation ever used by popes, from carriages to Mercedes.

We saw many scientifical projects and models used in educational purposes over time, like obvious proof that the Earth is round. Well, the place is extraordinary!

The only little disappointment was the Sistine Chappel. The place is very crowded, the painting is very high, and you cannot stay there for a long time and enjoy it. The tour is somehow created so that you reach it last, like a firework, and it’s quite disappointing the way it ends. It is possible that our expectations were too high for what we got, I don’t know, but I felt very bad about being disappointed.

What impressed me, and I know it shouldn’t have, was the fact that the entire museum was full of ramps and elevators. If you had a stroller for your child or if you were in a wheelchair, you were able to move independently through the whole museum. It’s very bad that this impressed me. I shouldn’t even observe these kinds of things. It should have been something normal, something I could see anywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not like this in Romania, and I got very sad the moment I realized I was surprised about something so normal.

After a well-deserved coffee and lunch break, we went through the streets nearby to search for an ice cream place recommended by my sister-in-law. But she’s a little bit “lost in space”, how I like to call her, and she’s not so good with navigation and being aware of the surroundings (I know, it’s strange that I say that, considering how was the beginning of this trip), so we weren’t able to find what she recommended, but we went into the first place we encountered.

Disappointing, I might say, it was not what we expected. But well, this is what happens if you just enter the first place you find.

We then entered the Vatican again to visit Basilica San Pietro, with all the special buildings we knew from the Christmas and Easter live transmissions. Everything here was impressive.

Starting with the dimensions of the church itself, and ending with the works of art present in there, everything was hallucinating beautiful.

And that was the end of the day. We walked back home, so that we could also see other stuff on the way home, and we covered some good kilometers; and back then we didn’t have phones so smart or trackers to tell us how many steps did we do, but we felt the feet hurting on the spot and also the next day. After we had got home, we slept like two babies at 9 PM.

The Colosseum and Roman Forum

The Colosseum

We woke up the next day at 6 AM. Not that we’re morning people, but when you fall asleep at 9 PM, you will wake up early. It was perfect, still, because we already had a difference of an hour compared to Romania, and we did wake up rested and ready for another day.

While I was taking a shower, my husband looked up the best ice cream places in Rome; he didn’t want to just leave things like that, in this matter. After that, we went to the Colosseum, for which we already had the tickets bought and the visit scheduled for 10 AM.

Advice: the ticket to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum is the same, so it will be shared between the places. At the Colosseum, there will always be a line. But not so much for the Roman Forum. So it’s easier to stay in line at the Roman Forum to buy the ticket and use it after for both the places.

After we validated the ticket at the smaller line, specific for online tickets, we tried to get into the Colosseum. But, because we woke up very early and were there well before 10 AM, we found out that 10 AM means 10 AM, not earlier or later. So, while holding our online tickets, we just waited near the entrance until exactly 10 o’clock. Meanwhile, every other person was entering, and I mean people that didn’t have online tickets, but tickets bought right there, on the spot.

While we were waiting there, I also saw something impressive, and it shouldn’t have been too impressive after all. A family of three adults and five children, coming from Asia (probably India or close-by), was waiting to get in. Three adults. Five children. One of the children was still in the baby stroller and was discovering his feet, another one was sleeping in a wrap, close to his mother, another one was holding his dad’s hand and was asking millions of questions, and he received all the responses soon, the other two were almost sleepwalking, but were at least big enough to walk. And those three adults and five children came, from thousands of miles away, to visit Rome.

Note to self: nope, it’s not “normal” for you to not leave your house if you have children, and to not enjoy anything until they leave for college. Yes, you can also travel with your kids. Sure, you’ll have to adapt your schedule so that it also matches theirs. Yes, you’ll have to answer a lot of questions.

But this is how they’re going to see history, not learn history. This is how they’re going to become responsible tourists. This is how you’re also going to be a human, not only a parent.

We finally got in at the established time, and we could see the Colosseum which was, of course, under renovation. It wasn’t that bad, I mean you could see something, but we only have semi-decent photos of it. It’s an impressive building, a small engineering miracle at that time; it was kind of an ancient television to keep people distracted so that they don’t realize how much they work for other people’s benefit.

Just like now, but with more blood. Still, no matter how impressed I was, the visit didn’t last more than an hour. And we were a little bit surprised since we planned the whole day for Colosseum and the Roman Forum. So we went, a little bit confused, to visit the Roman Forum, wondering what we’re going to do all day.

The Roman Forum

Well, the Roman Forum was something else. It’s a big area full of temples, palaces, ruins of different buildings, gardens and museums. A beautiful place where we spent the rest of the day like it tried to compensate for our worries about the big amount of free time we were going to have left.

They even have digital museums, where they created some simulations about how those places looked thousands of years ago. You can walk on the alleys, and you almost can see things with your own eyes, while the smell of oranges tempts you to just sit there, with your eyes closed, and just enjoy the amazingness of this place.

We even found a well-grown bunny that was wandering around, and my poor husband had to stand between the ruins, asking people to walk slowly so that they don’t scare it while I try to take some pictures. Everyone was nice and understanding when they saw it, and other husbands and boyfriends took mine’s place so that their wives and girlfriends could also take pictures.

We left the place dizzy of tiredness and of the number of things we saw since we didn’t have a place to rest at all since six in the morning. But we went to the Fontana di Trevi again, because I wanted to see it without the entire group close by. We also went to one of the ice cream places my husband has found, to not let his work go in vain, and the ice cream was a huge improvement after the one from the day before, but, as we would eventually find out, it was not as good as it could have been.

What we also observed, since we wandered around without a specific target, was the tourist nature of everything in this city. I mean, I admit, Rome has things to brag about, and I’m sure they gain a lot of money from tourism, so it’s OK to invest in this industry, but everything is phenomenal. Almost every street corner has a statue, a painting, a water fountain, even a rock surrounded by chains. Each of these has a small sign saying: “This event happened here.” or “this statue was executed by this guy, at the order of this guy, in this time.”.

I honestly expected to see a rock with a sign saying that “once, Caesar spit on this rock”, it was just so much of this. But, in their defense, everyone was taking pictures of everything, so it does work. So, who am I to criticize their way of doing tourism?

The food, because we survived like in college, with icecream and one decent meal a day (actually, you don’t want to lose so much time eating during the day, when there is so much to see), was not a lot, but it was extremely good. Almost every meal consisted of pizza or pasta, which were amazing, especially because we always went to obscure places, where they didn’t have a menu in English and had only a few tables, a cook with his clothes full of tomato sauce and some house wine to die for.

On the way home, as we walked, we also had the chance to see the not-so-beautiful Rome. The less touristy places are quite dirty (in the evening at least, because everything was clean in the morning), and I had the chance to see a giant rat crossing the street (please add, to the list above, the one with things I’m afraid of, my deepest hate and repulsion for rats).

Anyway, on our way home, we passed every day by the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, without entering, because we don’t usually go to churches at night, especially since we rarely go during the day. We found out, after a month, that the church was already famous for the works of art inside and for the movie Spotlight.

The third day in Rome

The third day has come, when we went to see the long praised catacombs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all impressed. Yes, it was a little sad to see a place where a lot of people died because of their religion, and this included smaller graves, made for children. It was equally sad to find out that the organizers had to remove all of the human remains from there because tourists used to take bone fragments as souvenirs from there.

What kind of a sick mind do you need to have to do such a thing? What exactly is in your mind that, when this “great” idea appears (it’s already weird you have the idea if you ask me), your brain says: “sure, this is a good thing to do!”.

After this, still being sad, we wanted to see the Pantheon. The building is monumental. It was made so many years ago, and it’s so tall without having supporting pillars inside, that you wonder how it keeps on not falling.

That was the place where I found out the panoramic pictures are not what I thought they were. I tried to have the whole dome in a single picture, and I managed to take a picture of a long string of the dome’s margins, curling like a snake, which didn’t look like a half of a sphere at all. Well, I was just that technically challenged at that time.

Near the Pantheon, on the first street on the right, in a small building, we went to another ice cream shop found by my husband. And while I was trying to choose only three flavors and was having a hard time choosing, the nice man told me I could choose how many want, and he’ll just adjust the quantities so that I can have a taste of more flavors.

We thought he was Romanian. He wasn’t, but he was able to speak Romanian. We spoke, and I’m sorry to say this, better than many Romanians. His parents were Romanians; his mother was from Bacău and his father was from Constanța. He was born in Italy, but in their home, the used language was Romanian, because his father insisted that he knew Romanian, especially since he was going to learn Italian easily because he lived there.

He even had a light Moldavian accent, which felt unexpectedly beautiful. He went to Romania a few times, and he tried to open his business in there, but it wasn’t possible due to the summer that only lasts three months. So they stayed in Italy and he told us that together with his brother, they take care of the business and their income is in the area of the medium wage.

And from this discussion, we somehow got to a subject related to the people working in public cleaning in Romania and the fact that their salaries are quite big, because they also have something called “a shame bonus”, which is an amount of money added to the base income, granted for the fact that the job is considered shameful. His response to this was priceless: “Ashamed? Ashamed of what? It’s honest work; it’s not shameful. I would work in this field here, in Rome, and I would probably earn more than I do now, but I can’t do it because this job is inherited from one generation to another.”.

I was mesmerized. All thought all my life I thought that working, in no matter what field, is not shameful at all, the fact that I heard it from someone else, made me think I was one of the people with proper opinions. We left the place feeling rich because of this man.

If you’re in the area, search for Ci Gusta. You’ll find amazing icecream and a great man, which is the owner of the place, and he also works there, as a seller, and not staying in the back, only counting the money.

Getting out of Rome

The final day was a sad one for us. Sad because we were leaving, sad because there was so much left for us to see, sad because we didn’t eat all the ice cream we wanted, sad because we didn’t have a lot of time so see anything, since or flight was at 4 PM.

We went a little bit to the Piazza Navona, which wasn’t very interesting, especially since it was a normal farmer’s market in there, with fruit, vegetables, and cheese. We kind of expected something else, I don’t know why, because no one made us believe something else.

On our way to the accommodation, where we had to go back to take our luggage, we stopped at San Crispino. A small and obscure ice cream place, hidden in a small street that we thought was only for pedestrians, but it wasn’t (like many streets are in Rome, I was actually surprised Google maps knew about those), without a big and shiny sign outside, without icecream being displayed at the window, for everyone to see.

Everything was shiny clean, you could have thought you were in a doctor’s office, and the ice cream was in aluminum containers with lids on, so you couldn’t see it from outside. We had a hard time deciding and after we finally did, we went outside, with what I still believe was the best ice cream I have ever had.

It wasn’t colorful, so you could hardly distinguish between the flavors from a visual point of view, and it wasn’t very interesting to photograph, but oh God, how good it was! The grape one also had some grape seeds in it, the pear one had fruit puree and the chocolate one had huge chunks of chocolate in it. I’ll say that again: San Crispino, must-see and must-try! We were in a hurry to catch the flight back, but we still didn’t move very fast, that’s how fascinated we were.

We left Rome filled with regrets. We used the train and the bus after like normal people do, without getting lost in obscure train stations.

I was still panicked about the flight; it didn’t pass after the first experience. He was just daydreaming about the places we saw and thinking about the places we were coming back to.

A not-so-well educated girl in the airport woke us from our dreams. She was video calling someone, and everyone in the airport could hear her. Half an hour later, after she finished the first call with a loud kiss sent to the phone display, we heard her calling someone and saying that she was going to Romania.

I thought that considering my usual luck, she’ll probably sit right next to us. She didn’t sit right next to us but in front of us. But, before the take-off, she managed to have one other conversation with a friend and she was saying that her lips were swallowed from the Hyaluronic acid treatment she just did.

Her friend said something, and then her reaction was: “Well, I hope it IS herpes!”. Of course, everyone in the plane was looking at her, and probably everyone was asking, just as we were, what other options were there if herpes seemed like the desired outcome.

Thanks to the regulations she had to put her phone away, and she was quiet the whole journey, and after landing, we left immediately, so we didn’t hear anything else from her.

After Rome, for almost a month, we thought it was a dream. I couldn’t believe that I, a simple girl, managed to go to a city break, by plane! Still, with all my anxiety, I was always aware that I would have to be brave if I want to go, and that it’ll be worth it. I was right, it was worth it!

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