Arriving in Rome and what an experience. My first flight on RyanAir Airlines and I had been warned from friends that it was different…but I really had no idea. This was the most “get your hustle on” airline I have ever encountered. The first item of the day (flight) that was up for sell, even before the plane took off included the following announcement, “This is a non smoking flight and FAA will punish you with a fine for tampering with the smoke detectors in the laboratories….however for your comfort, we do offer smokeless cigarettes that you can smoke during this flight.” Okay, what? Never in my day have I heard of such a thing. Then it went into a free for all 7-Eleven store…they were selling sandwiches, magazines, packs of gum and lottery tickets….yes, lottery tickets. Okay, when in Rome, right?
I met my driver Marcello at baggage claim and he led the way. As a big bright beautiful full moon welcomed me to Rome…I was surprised to see familiar sights. Like the fact that McDonalds has it on lock in every country…so far I’ve seen it in England, Ireland and now Italy. I guess the phrase chicken nugget knows no language barrier.
While riding in the backseat of this passenger van, I’m also noticing that the rules of the road differ here and I’m so glad I decided against renting a car. I mean, I see what looks like stop signs…but my driver isn’t stopping at them. I thought stop was universal…guess not.
So I’m dropped off at my hotel about a block away from Vatican City which was pretty cool. I go inside and I’m met with this antiquated Devinchi Code type elevator system that I need to go back to the year 1901 to learn how to operate properly. I’m a little nervous to even get on it, cause I don’t know if it actually works or if I’m going to be dropped 5 stories to my death. I say a quick prayer, get in, lock up and hope for the best. I made it to the top. The hotel was quite unique in the fact that it was in a large residential and office space building. When I got to the 5th floor, opened the door and went inside…the front was set up like a small lobby and the hotel consisted of about 6 private rooms all with their own private baths. The rooms weren’t very big, but I expected that of Europe. Perfect for just me however. The biggest challenge was the bath room. I had my first encounter with a bidet and was completely clueless on how to use it. First I have to explain…there was a toilet, a bidet and the toilet tank was hanging on the wall near the ceiling. Never in my day, have I seen anything like it. I had to call the innkeeper into my room to basically teach me how to “go to the bathroom”. So when I asked him which to use and how to flush…he pointed at the toilet and said, “use this…flush here” and then he pointed at the bidet and said, “this here…this is not important” and he turned and walked away. I guess that meant, if you don’t know how to use it already…I’m not going to teach you. So I turned to Youtube for a quick bidet lesson…needless to say, that was too much information and I decided to follow the innkeeper’s advice.
It was getting pretty late so I decided to inquire about where to grab dinner before everything closed up. After getting some quick directions and recommendations, I pulled out a few Euros and my travel translation book and headed into the night. I stopped at a quaint little Italian pizzeria…they even had the checkered tablecloths. The entire menu was in Italian and that was really my first sink or swim moment. I knew enough about the Italian language to know the words ham and mushrooms when I saw it. So that’s what I ordered. Didn’t get what I expected…but when in Rome, right. My pizza was scattered with mushrooms and two sandwich slices of ham where laid across the middle of it. Okay, that was different…but at least it didn’t taste bad. I didn’t say it was good…just that it didn’t taste bad. Next to my dessert, which was one of my favorite parts of Rome. The Limone Ripieno, which was a frozen lemon that had its insides scooped out and replaced with lemon flavored sorbet. Delicious and it reminded me of why lemons are one of my favorite fruits.
The next morning was my 3 hour walking tour that somehow turned into 5 hours. Booked via Viator, this day tour was comprehensive and priced right for my budget at just $30.00. The main highlights of the tour included the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Piazza Navona.
Where do I start when I describe the magnitude of the Colosseum. As I left the subway station I automatically knew I was in the right meeting area for my tour. From the subway station stairs, I could have thrown a rock and hit the Colosseum. It was just right there…in your face…big, bold and classic. When you see it in all its glory, all those days spent in history class just come rushing back. To see, touch, visit a symbol of Rome that is so globally recognizable, I was in awe to say the least. It had a gravitational hold over me. I could not stop staring and snapping pictures of it. Even when it was time for the group to move on, I had an overwhelming sensation to stay and just soak it all in. It was starting to sink in…where I was and what I was doing—alone. The tour guide gave a great refresher history lesson about the Colosseum as well. We were able to walk inside and see what was left of the ruins and guage an idea of what it must have been like to witness the Gladiator fights of the day.
The other sites where just as grand, but didn’t move me as much as the Colosseum. I did however take my coin over to the Trevi Fountain and toss it in to stick with tradition. As legend has it, if you toss a coin in the fountain, someday you’ll return to Rome again. Perfect for me, I can always use another passport stamp.
After 5 hours of hiking through the Roman ruins, I could only save room for a hot shower and a soft pillow. I passed out and slept like a baby. The morning had an early start as I was scheduled to take a three hour bus tour to visit Naples and the Island of Capri. Both places where described in my life guide, “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”. Naples didn’t have much to offer, but Capri was something out of a fairy tale. The island was mostly vertical with a little village tucked away near the top. The perfect get away from it all type of destination. This is where you go, when you don’t want to be found or bothered by no one but God himself. It was a serene and peaceful place with friendly locals that aimed to please. On a good day, if the weather is clear and the water is calm, it’s worth spending the extra Euros to take the ride out to the Blue Grotto Cave. The day I was there, the weather decided not to cooperate. To get the best view of the island, you can take the aerial tram which takes 30 minutes to the top and 30 minutes back down. Capri itself is a village full of boutiques. It’s a great place to shop for things that you may not find on the mainland. There are also plenty of fine dining restaurants plotted all over the island that serve local Italian plus other international cuisine. I was able to pick up several gems throughout the shops, some for friends but mostly for me. This village was a shoppers paradise.
When I returned back to Rome from the bus tour, I decided to skip the lines and visit Vatican City after hours. I walked all around and even at night it was a beautiful area. There were fountains and an 83 feet Egyptian obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square. It was an indescribable feeling to be there in almost total isolation and solitude. It was a wonderful place to find peace and collect my thoughts of the day. Then I strolled up the block and made my way back to my hotel…had to pack up and get ready for my next flight to Morocco.