“Rome is the best city in the world.”
I knew I couldn’t leave Italy without going to Rome. This was a must. But, none of my friends or Italian family could come with me so going alone just did not sound appealing in the biggest city in Italy. But, of course my Italian mom said, “You must go to Rome. You are going to Rome.”
So off to Roma I am!
I hopped the bus to the Catania Airport and jumped on my plane for Rome with Aitalia Airlines (If you are 26 or under you fly for cheaper prices! My Ticket was 47 Euros). I booked a shuttle ahead of time for (6 Euros) from the airport to the city center and my hostel at “The Yellow” recommended by my amazing friend, Marina Kagan and printed my ticket for my flight back on RyanAir (This is a must, or else you will be charged!) I felt like I was all ready, but at the same time, coming off my flight, I was like, “This is such a big city…why would I do this alone?!”
But little do I know, “alone” would only mean for a few hours, until the adventures of new friendships began.
I headed to the hostel and could already tell that it lived up to it’s “party hostel” reputation, but not in a gross fraternity way, in a “this place looks really social, fun, clean and modern.” I put my stuff in my all-girl 4 dorm room (you have a choice between mixed and all girls, most girls opt for the all-girl rooms) and headed back down to reception, where I asked them how to be the most efficient with my time. (I had 3 days in Rome, but the map was very overwhelming.) They told me I should start my trip in Vatican City because it was the farthest away. I headed to the Piazza de San Piedro and I was stunned. It was beautiful. It was breathtaking. It was unbelievable. How was this built in the ancient Roman times without technology or the resources we have today and still standing?
I ended up meeting two Italians and asked them to take my photo and they asked if I was alone. I said, for today, yes and they told me to come along with them! This was fantastic, I love being with Italians at all times in Italy- they know so much about the culture and even though they weren’t from Rome, they knew so much about the city already. We went inside the Chiasa de San Piedro and they explained the details behind the history of the church.
Later, we headed to the Trevi Fountain together and the Spanish Steps. It was so easy navigating the city with them because they knew where to go and what transportation to take. They had a romantic dinner planned at the Hard Rock Cafe at night and invited me to join them- I said, no way, they were already too gracious and told them I would grab some pizza somewhere They were so gracious to let me tag along with them, when it was a romantic getaway for her birthday!
When I got to the hostel I met my Italian roommate and told her we should grab some dinner somewhere and meet more people. We ended up having cheap, yet delicious food at “The Yellow” – I stuck with salad and fries this time (wasn’t too hungry and was eating too much pasta and pizza!)
Well this little dinner for 2 turned into a dinner for like 15. I kept seeing people eating by themselves at different tables and figured they were probably traveling alone too so I just started inviting people over to our table. It turned into a fantastic international bunch where we were all sharing our personal travel stories. Afterwards I headed with an Italian and Spainard to go dancing at a latin club and then one with more American-style music called, “Caruso.”
I realized that so many people travel alone and that there is no “one way” to travel.
Some people had done the Israel birthright trip and payed the extra $250 to extend their trip and travel. Others were pilots, flying very cheaply, others were teachers and had a few months off, some just graduated college or were taking a gap year, while others were committed to a life of travel.
One thing was for sure, everyone was gusty and whether they found themselves in a crazy situation abroad or whether everything went smoothly, we were all getting this amazing international experience with no rules or standards as to how we should do things. We weren’t confined by anyone’s plans or having an easy trip where we just followed a guide. Every decision was our own and our days and nights were determined by what we wanted out of the trip. Some of my Korean friends detailed their trip out 3 months before with every single place and times they wanted to see everything, while some of my friends just hopped on other people’s plans and went with the flow. I’ve seen it all.
Travel Tip #1 : Planning Your Trip Without Getting Overwhelmed
I’ve decided that I think the best is to figure out your transportation and accommodations and the top 3-5 things you want to do/see in each city. These may not even be the most popular sites or things, but it doesn’t really matter. Do what you want, that’s what is going to remember the most anyway. My friends and I have said that we all feel like a part of us always feels like we need to be doing more and seeing more (you see millions of tourists around you and feel like, they must be seeing/doing something that you NEED to do too). Just do one thing at a time and you will really see how much you have learned and done in a short amount of time, instead of thinking, “Wow, other people are probably having the time of their lives. You can too. You’re in Italy.”
Travel Tip #2: Never Take a Moment or Person for Granted.
In my case, it was Saturday morning. I had to leave my luggage in the storage room because I hadn’t booked a second night yet and I ended up meeting this Canadian, Naomi. We headed to grab some breakfast and was again met by another 5-7 people. I decided that I could chill and eat breakfast with them and go from there or just go off by myself. I decided on breakfast. Best decision.
I met my little “best friend” on the trip- another Canadian, Amanda whose family was Italian and was doing a very similar journey to me- taking a month to explore Italy solo and meet up with friends and family along the way.
My ended up heading to the Colleseum Forums together and tried jumping on different tour groups.
And then something we heard struck us. As we were looking at one of the churches in the Colleseum Forums was originally a temple, we learned from the tour guide that the marks at the top of the large pillars were from the Roman Catholics trying to tear down the temple. The temple pillars were the only parts of the structures that were too heavy for them to tear down, and were therefore turned into part of the church.
You can clearly see the heavy lines at the top of the pillars and could envision the Christians, with dozens of men and thick rope trying to tear down the massive temple. It made me sad, but also gave me an incredible eery feeling and left me with a new lesson.
Travel Tip #3: A painting is just a canvas with some oils on it until you learn what it’s actually about. The next day I saw sorority girls going around the Colleseum and taking selflies and complaining that the tour guide is giving them too much information. They were complaining and disrupting the tour while I was trying to ask a million questions about the details of the spectaculars of the games.
It made me so mad. Are you in Rome to learn about the city that once ruled the world or are you in Rome for cool pictures? It’s your choice. Sometimes I know that there just isn’t a lot of information or you’re just too tired to learn about every single little thing, but when you have the opportunity to learn about a place as historical as Rome, try to soak up as much as you can.
Now I want to be more prepared before traveling. I want to watch documentaries and read books and articles on different places.
If you want to avoid the stereotypes of Americans being the ones who don’t know anything else about the world, do yourself a favor and get out of your head. You are in Rome. (in my case) If you want to have a deeper, richer experience, then sign up for tours, read the books and try to learn more about the area you are exploring. Sure, its “pretty,” but Rome is so much more than that. It is a city that allows for one to dive into history from the AD era and truly feel the presence of the souls that walked the Earth during this time.
For me, being at the Colleseum the next day was magic. I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t want to leave. I could envision the gladiators, who were chosen from a group of prisoners and were forced to play in these games created as a form of propaganda to show unity among the Roman Emperors and the Romans, symbolizing man’s control over wild forces. It reminded me of Hunger Games, everyone cheering on these insane spectaculars while men fought off lions, tigers, panthers, cheetahs and beasts from the Nile for their life and ambassadors came bringing gifts to Roman Emperors to form alliances in fear of the Romans conquering the rest of the world and demolishing their neighboring countries. It is one thing to look at photos of the Colleseum, but another to be inside. You can hear the cheers of the thousands of Romans that stood in the crowds, envision the all-marble dome with hundreds of animals waiting under grown to be brought to the stage to entertain the masses and feel the power of the Roman Empire. They say if the Colosseum was ever destroyed, Rome would be destroyed, and lucky it’s still standing today.
Rome changed everything for me. It made me realize that there is so much more to learn about the world, and there are so many places I want to go to and things I want to learn about. The world isn’t a stage of “Ashley Time, look at me.” It’s billions of different little stories, people and journeys outside our scope that we can’t even comprehend unless we push ourselves constantly and become “students of life.”
Later that night we formed another group at the hostel and headed to the Pantheon, which was also a temple built for Roman pagans and now used as a church to honor St. Mary’s, Trevi Fountain and the Piazza del Popolo to see the Obelisk. Afterward we headed to dinner at Navona Notte, which is a fabulous restaurant in the Piazza Navona (Via del Teatro Pace, 44, 00186 Rome, Italy) and all had different pasta dishes.
As I look around at our bunch- 1 from Chile, 1 from Germany, 2 from California, 1 from Canada and 1 from Argentina I smile as I munch on my pasta con salmone.
We are all from opposite sides of the world- yet because of this beautiful English language we are able to communicate without hesitation with each other. It’s incredible. To think that if you know English you can communicate with so many people from different cultures makes me see how important my work in helping others with English is important. It’s not a language you learn for fun- it has such international benefits.
On my last day after the Colleseum exhibits I met up with my Sicilian friend, Francesco and her friend Manuella and we ate the best tiramisu in Italy at Pompeii and headed to the Piazza Venezia where we climbed stairs to see all of Rome in a park overlooking the city. It was a beautiful ending to my time in Italy and I am so happy I was able to see Rome before I leave to go back to the States. It’s a city that reminds me of states like Los Angeles and New York; a historical site with so much history and yet has a way of mixing the old with the new, with restaurants oozing with pasta and formaggio tucked in between the chaotic walkways of foreigners, workers, and students alike within the midst of the ancient St. Peter’s and Colleseum, bringing the city which was once a masterpiece of the Ancient Roman Imperials to life in the modern world.
Grazie miei amici et Grazie Roma.