Brace yourselves for a long one – lots and lots of tea needed.. 😉
It was about a three hour flight to Ciampino airport, a smooth flight – thank goodness. We arrived at about 8:30PM local time and unfortunately it was too dark to see the surroundings, all the more excited I felt to wake up in the morning. The airport was small and I found my way to the shuttle to Roma city centre in just moments. My shuttle fare had already been paid for via Ryanair, so I boarded easily and struck up a conversation with an Irish couple from Dublin who were on my flight, they were also visiting Rome until Thursday, leaving on the same flight as well. We made a pact to meet up at the airport and share our Rome stories. 😉
Finally got off the shuttle in Rome city centre, my phone was dying, but I managed to use up the battery to its last moments in order to pinpoint exactly where my hostel was. It was about a 5 minute walk from the main Termini station where the shuttle dropped us off. I found Papa Germano, my hostel, with not much trouble. I signed in, went upstairs to my 4 bed dorm (it was more like a hotel room with extra beds, quite nice). Greeting me in my room was Luke, a guy from Australia, John, from Georgia and another guy from Japan who was too sleepy to tell me his name and I, too sleepy to ask. I was chatting with the boys for a few minutes “I gotta get some food..” was pretty much the last thing I mumbled before I dosed off in my bed, clothes still on.
I woke the next morning forgetting where I was for a moment. It was about 6:30am and I could hear Rome come to life as the minutes carried on. I laid there staring at the beam of light shining through the window and was glowing brighter. I felt like a child on Christmas morning; and so, like a child on Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait. I got up around 7am to brush my teeth, wash my face and went outside to meet Rome.
I stepped outside Papa Germano and my jaw would remain dropped for the remainder of my trip (I amaze real easily because I’ve never really traveled). The first thing I noticed was how different and old everything was, especially from home. I took the first few hours to wander wherever I felt like going. While roaming and taking pictures, I really began to think about how much I’ve been missing out and how much other people are missing out on when they don`t get to travel.
I started to wonder where I was after a little while, so I pulled out my map and realized I had wandered out of the city centre, I quickly went back on track and began to make my way to the Colosseum. Along the approach, I passed through a nice park, Parco del Colle Oppio, which is filled with ancient ruins – a marvel of a site (which was free – also jaw dropped even farther). It was there when I noticed how majestically odd the trees and greenery looked.
(Photo on the left: The Dancing trees in Parco del Colle Oppio)
Wandering through the park, I spotted the Colosseum as it slowly emerged from the tall trees of the park. As I anxiously headed closer, there were more and more “souvenir” and snack stands which had eager salesmen waving tourists in to spend money. I found it funny how there were men dressed up in cheesy Gladiator costumes accepting money for a picture – I debated on getting a picture with one of them, but I didn’t have any spare change. Nothing could be distracting enough from the great Colosseum, though! I took out my camera and started taking pictures like a madman as I headed on inside for a gander (jaw is now dragging on the ground). It was about 18 euro for admission with an English tour. I ended up staying in the area for a good 3 hours, explored in and around the site with the guide. The guide herself was a local lady, who was very informative; I found it to be so crazy that they found preserved food in the centre pits of the Colosseum from when spectators used to chuck their left overs into the centre of the show. Also, just so you’re aware, a “gladius” is a type of short, broad sword which the contenders of the period often used in battle and this is actually where the term “gladiator” comes from. But one of the most amazing facts is that there is nothing between the giant stones that make up this structure to hold it all together – obviously there was no kind of cement used in that time, it’s all gravity; the weight of the massive stones is what keeps everything standing strong! So cool. Turns out my A.D.D was out-to-lunch that afternoon.
(Photo above: The Colosseum of IV Templum Pacis…)
(Photo above: Colosseum Interior..)
(Photo to the right: A nice friendly Scotch couple took this shot for me – getting this picture made my day.. The one thing I don’t like about travelling alone – it’s hard to get proper pictures with you in them. P.S. I won’t do arm-extention shots – sorry.)
After the Colosseum, I wandered some more and took many pictures along the way. I stopped in a cafe along the way for a quick cappuccino, which costed 5 euro plus tip! Now, I’m going to give ye a little tip, if you’re ever touring Rome (this goes for any other touristy spot, I’m sure) and you’re fancying a bite to eat – don’t go to a place located too close to main attractions. If you do, the cost is sky-high. Do yourself a favor and take a gander down a side road for 5 minutes, you will find a place offering the same goods for less than half of the price of the busy areas – mark my words! I unfortunately learned this the hard way. On a good note, I’ll know for next time.
After a long day of roaming, I headed back to the hostel for a seater. Luke, the Aussie was there taking it easy when him and I started to hit it off a bit – we decided to get some food at a restaurant close-by. We got seated and ordered some good old fashioned Italian food and split on (the cheapest) bottle of red wine. I was relieved to see this place was reasonably priced even though I was probably still spending a lot more than I would be in Ireland. I ordered a mushroom pizza, Luke had pasta. Now, unfortunatly, from this experience alone, I will never be able to apperciate Canadian/American pizza ever again – and I’m okay with that! This was when I was remembering Massimo telling me about how different the pizza is in particular, it’s the truth. The crust/dough on the pizza is a lot thinner, light and crispier, they use little tomato sauce, generous amount of authentic mozzarella cheese and the arrange of toppings of your choice – very gourmet! I liked the thin, crispy dough, the flavor has no where to hide 😉 . I think Luke and I ended up hanging around there socilizing for a decent amount of time, just taking in the Italian restaurant atmosphere, exchanging jokes about how we probably looked like a couple – not a single f**k was given that night, I assure you. One last thing, if you’re ever in Italy, make sure you tip generously. Our waiter rolled his eyes at us when he saw how much we left (he wasn’t amazing, we gave him 15%… we’re travelling, what do you expect?) – we left with no intension of coming back just because of his reaction. Food was top-tier though!
(Photo to the left: Cheers, Rome!)
After bromance dinner, we got back to the room and fell asleep instantly due to said bottle of wine combined with a belly full of amazing Italian cuisine..
Okay, I used this morning to catch up on sleep, but just a tad. I woke up at around 9:30AM everyone in my room had left already. I had a nice long shower which was revitalizing in itself, got ready and headed out again – next stop, the Vatican.
It was pouring rain this day (no umbrella) and I had a map given to me by the hostel manager, which was very needed, as the Vatican was at the other side of town and I had my hike made out for me. The map was very helpful, yet somehow I got very lost that morning and wandered about a block away from being off the map. The roads in Rome are very windy and some are very narrow, so it’s hard to tell if some of them are even on the map. I couldn’t use my phone to navigate because roaming charges had already racked up my minutes to sh**. All in all, I wasn’t too upset being lost in such an amazing place, but I often needed to rest because blisters on my feet were getting unsettlingly large and probably infected – but what can you do?
Along the way to the Vatican, getting soaked with rain, I stopped by Altare della Patria, a massive white monument, made almost entirely of white marble – this monument also holds the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” circa World War I. This site is incredible to see, a must visit in Rome.
(Photo above: Altare della Patria)
(Photo on the right: Looking out from the top of Altare della Patria)
Onto the Vatican, I knew I was getting somewhat close. I found myself referring to my map almost every block to make sure I didn’t get lost again. However, I found a river which would lead my right into the Vatican city – so I followed along the side for a good half an hour after stopping for a quick bite at a small bakery hidden away in a side road (cheap!). When in Italy I was always sure to thank the Italians in their native tongue, after any satisfactory service I was shouting “ciao! thank you, grazie – grazie!”. When in a foreign country, I find that the locals appreciate if you try to speak their language. Try it; you’ll learn something new, it breaks the ice and builds a little banter with the locals! But I digress, I continued up the river and headed up to Vatican city. Et Voilà!
(Photos above: soaked in Vatican city – loving every moment)
And headed on inside..
(Photo above: Vatican interior)
(Photo above: The belly of the beast – in the Vatican)
There were some audio guides available but I didn’t learn this until afterwards. The museum was closed due to the commotion with the Pope election – but hey, I explored Vatican city and enjoyed it thoroughly. I was absolutely amazed at how a place like this exists, the detail put into building these murals, statues and altars alike must have taken ages to perfect. Everything tells a story. You truly have to be there to understand what I mean. A side note as well; I’m writing this blog as I’ve just found out a new Pope has been sworn in – and I’m a little disappointed that I just missed the white smoke! Ah well.
After a good while at Vatican city, I made my way back to the hostel, hitting a couple of attractions along the way. It had been raining all day, but at this point, on my way back to home base, the weather was starting to get a lot worse. A downpour. If you’ve ever been in Rome, you’ll know there are tons of people around every crevice trying to sell you things, in this case, umbrellas! I can’t even begin to tell you how many guys came up to me (can’t speak a lick of English) “YIS, HALLO HALLO – YOU BUY – YOU BUY”. There was actually one man who thought I couldn’t hear him cause I had my headphones in and he actually ended up chasing me down a street – yes, I started sprinting away from him! I found the best thing to do in dealing with these annoying people; just raise your hand and shake your head – I totally left my chipper polite Canadian persona at the door for the rest of that day. Anyways, here’s what Trevi Fountain looks like..
(Photo on the left: Fontana di Trevi)
I was running below my budget during my trip (due to spending on food – it adds up quick!), so I got a cheap take-out dish from a restaurant near the hostel and had a lazy night in chatting with Luke and writing emails.
I was on Facebook that night when a good friend and former co-worker from Fionn MacCools, Melissa, who had been to Rome before, was online and told me about a “must see” church / museum – the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini / Capuchin Monk Crypt. This is a mass burial place located beneath a church in the city, I was instantly interested. Though I didn’t have much time on my day of departure, I made sure to set aside the time to fit this in the schedule…
Woke up bright and early at the sound of my alarm, which I dread at this point – but I was in Italy so it was all cool, man! I got up, washed up and packed my things – said so-long to my roommates and took off, next stop; the Capuchin Crypt. But first, food, I’m starving! Being on the third day of my trip, I had an arrange of different types of Italian foods; pastries, pizzas and deli sandwiches – but what? No pasta!? Come on man, this had to be dealt with immediately, I thought to myself this morning. So I first tracked down the church which was about a 15 minute walk from the hostel (I made sure to stick to my map religiously this time). I stood in front of the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini and oh, how convenient, a restaurant right across the street! In I went and ordered a full on, good old, spaghetti and meatballs…
(Photo above: This was unreal – and this time, the server was nice, so I tipped him generously “grazie, grazie”)
I finished up quickly and took off across the way and to the Crypts. To go in, it was about 8 euro. They have it set up so you walk through a museum and then the actual Crypt is at the very end on the way back out. The museum itself was pretty interesting, but needless to say I was interested in reaching the crypt, there was a loud crying baby and I was running out of time. So I tried to gather as much info as I could in the museum and I headed to the crypt. I was feeling a bit like Indiana Jones at this point (“Genius of the res-to-ration!” – pretty sure only Dad will get this reference, sorry guys). But, no. It turned out to be a bit more grim than that, guys. Everything went super quiet when I stepped inside. I began to feel light-headed at the sight of the remains of 4000 human bodies decorated on the walls and ceilings in a mosiac-like pattern, chandeliers, altars, etc – all of skull and bone with a number of full preserved monk bodies there, resting. It was cold and dark inside and you can’t help but just be so shocked at such a sight. Just death. There was a security guard patrolling the chambers to stop people from taking pictures, but I managed to sneak a quick shot, just for you guys.
(Photo to the left: Fallen Capuchin Monks – sorry for bad quality, this was a stealthy quickshot.)
Now, you all must be thinking “Wow, what a jerk. You must have zero respect taking a picture like this and posting it.” Well, to tell ye the truth, I felt the same way. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to post this – until I exited the crypt through a Capuchin gift shop.. with Capuchin crypt memorabilia and postcards featuring close-up shots of the fallen monks – 80 cents each! … After briefly passing through that, I laughed to myself – yeah, I guess I’ll post it…
Alas, I have to go back to Ireland. I quickly made my way back to the Termini bus shuttle station and wandered around the area in a hunt for gifts for my family. I was feeling hungry afterwards, I was looking around for a decently priced pizzeria when a man jumped out in front of me while walking on the sidewalk. “HALLO! You sir, Are you hungry?!” he says with utmost enthusiasm. “Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I am.” I respond calmly. “Well great! We have a margherita pizza / bread combo with a glass of wine for only 10 euro, pasta and cappuccino for 8, and we also have gelato this afternoon for only-” — … “whoa – time out” I interrupt. “you got wifi?” … “Si! Yes friend, we do!” he answers with a smile. “Giddy up, let’s go!” I say to him with a chuckle. He swings his arm around me and smiles at his successful recruitment. My last moments in Rome took place in this restaurant with the most friendly Italians who often came by my table to chat – they were so curious in their foreigner guests and their service was great. The whole thing made for a nice farewell.
I took my shuttle back to Ciampino and flew back to Dublin with the company of my two Irish friends from the flight coming in.
Despite my undeniable anxiety being quite off the handle before the beginning of this trip, I remain unscathed. In this case, facing a fear of flying and the unknown has turned out to be one of the most rewarding adventures – I urge others to do the same. On another note, I really love how being back in Ireland feels like home after having lived here for half a year. I feel comfortable, among good people and familiar grounds.
Thanks again Massimo, your land is exceptionally beautiful with so many ancient secrets around ever corner. I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat to see more of Italy. If there was one thing I did wrong, it’s that I didn’t stay long enough. As far as you guys go, well, it’s never too late, lads – go to Italy at least once!
w j walsh
“veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered“) – Julius Ceasar, 47 BC