I only got about two weeks of Christmas break this year, which I decided was not enough time to warrant the stress, money, and jet-lag of flying to California and back. I know several people who did, as well as lots of people who had family somewhere in Europe. Instead, I decided it would be best to do some traveling with somebody else who would be spending Christmas in Europe without family. So, Paul and I agreed to spend Christmas break together in Rome, and then fly to Madrid for New Year's.
And so, at 3:30 am on December 22nd, I made my way in the freezing cold to the airport to take an easyJet flight to Rome, by way of Milan. We were worried that our flights would be majorly delayed or canceled (mine more so than his), since this was at the time that Frankfurt and Heathrow airports were closed due to weather, but my flights were both smooth and only 10 minutes late, and Paul's flight was exactly on time. Really, the only notable thing was that, in Milan, I was able to order a sandwich in Italian.
Paul and I met in the airport without any problems and headed over to the train to take us to the center of Rome and the to our hostel. Normally, this wouldn't be blog-worthy, but the weather was absolutely GORGEOUS! 17 degrees Celsius (about 63 degrees Fahrenheit). What a lovely change of pace from Berlin weather. I loved not having to wear the winter jacket that I've been wearing every day since October.
We made it to the hostel and immediately went out to try to find some good Italian pizza, since we were both starved. We came across one street block that had three pizza places, two of which had the maitre d's standing outside, trying to get us to come in and have dinner in their restaurants. Naturally, this made the decision pretty easy for us: Go to the one who specifically wasn't pressuring us to go inside. That was probably one of the best decisions we made the entire week. The pizza was delicious (and cheap!), the restaurant was small, quiet, and family-owned, and the place that looked like a whole in the wall from the outside was so fancy inside.
Thursday was the day we went to Vatican City. Being Catholic, that was like Mecca for me. We went through to the museums, and my guide book suggested to go straight to the back and go to the Sistine Chapel early in the day, and we followed its advice. The chapel was mind-blowing. All of the paintings were incredible, especially the Creation of Adam. It was a little disappointing that we weren't allowed to take pictures in there, but that probably could have taken my entire card memory. Afterward, we tried to get back to the beginning to go through the museums again while trying to avoid the exit, as we wouldn't be allowed back in once we left. Somehow, we managed it, and I still am not quite sure how, but we were able to see the other museums that we were interested in.
After the Vatican Museums, we walked around the majority of Vatican City, looking for St. Peter's Square. When we finally found it, we went in to see St. Peter's Basilica. It was absolutely beautiful, easily the most beautiful church I have ever seen in my entire life and likely will ever see. They were setting up for the Midnight Mass, so we couldn't go all the way to the front, but we walked around the sides. The paintings were beautiful, the statues were grand, and the entire place just made me speechless. At the end of our round, we came across the Nativity, which is the most spectacular Nativity ever.
Friday, we went over to the Colosseum and the ancient ruins, where we were greeted by a million street vendors, most of whom were trying to sell us umbrellas. They also would not just stop at, "No." Hence, we learned the actual meaning of the phrase, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." As determined as they were to sell us something, we had to be just as determined to NOT be sold something. A few times, I pretended not to speak English (so glad I can actually do that now!). We walked around the Colosseum and the Forum, the latter of which we spent more time trying to find than we actually spent walking around in. Afterward, we walked around the city a little bit and saw the Spanish Steps as well as several fountains and plazas.
As we were hungry and it was Christmas Eve, we wanted to go out and have a nice pasta dinner. Where did we end up? The same restaurant we went to on Wednesday. I had pasta with mussels and clams, Paul had house-made ravioli, and we shared some of the house wine, and everything was absolutely delicious.
I woke up early the next day to go to Christmas Mass at Santa Maria Maggiore, which is a church owned by the Vatican. List of things to do before I die: Celebrate Mass at the Vatican. Technically done? I met Paul back at the hostel and we headed out to a very deserted Rome. Very few places were open, so we basically just walked around the city, going to all the outdoor attractions, such as the fountains and statues. Somehow, we walked all the way over to Vatican City, where we had just missed the Papal Blessing, but managed to see the marching band leaving. Yeah, who knew? We then walked over to the older part of town and walked the narrow, non-parallel streets for a few hours. After we grew tired, we walked back to the Metro (another 45 minutes of walking-ouch!), just to find out that it was closed. So, we got on a bus, figured out we were going the wrong way, and got off the bus in an area of town we didn't know. One other person got off the bus with us and asked us something in Italian. As it turns out, this person (still don't know if she was male or female, but we referred to her as female) spoke some English and was also going to the main train station, so she offered to show us the way. So, we walked a little farther, crossed a bridge, noticed how dark it was and ended up at the entrance of a deserted park with a complete stranger. Since we didn't have a ton of other options, we looked at each other, shrugged, and followed the lady into the park, sticking close together and on the opposite side of the path from this stranger. Fortunately, we didn't have to go very far before we were at the bus station, where we could get on the bus that would take us directly to Termini Station and we could go home just fine. After more awkward conversation with the lady on the bus ride (a lot of it centering around smoking), we finally get back and can buy our Christmas dinner: Döner Kebab! Where, as it turns out, the guy that took our order speaks German, so at least I didn't go the entire break without practicing.
Sunday was the day filled with more confusion and mayhem than actual sight-seeing. We decided to take a day-trip out of Rome, so we looked at my "trusty" guide-book for an idea. The suggestion was to go to Trivoli, "A beautifully preserved medieval town boasting villas once owned by Latin poets Horace, Catullus, and Propertius." We wouldn't know-we never actually made it there. We hopped on the Metro to get to the bus stop that would take us there, and tried to buy our tickets at the bar next to the stop, just as the book said. The guy had no idea what we were talking about. So, we figured we would get on the bus and just ask the driver to buy our ticket there. Nobody else bought or showed a ticket, so...we didn't either. We just started driving, and kept going and going and realized we had gone too far. So, we stopped at the next small town the bus came to and got off the bus. It was a nice little town on a hill, a place where everybody seemed to know everyone else and likely none of them spoke English. (To be fair, we never asked.) We got back on the bus, the bus going the same way, as the bus going back to Rome wasn't showing up. We then asked the driver how we could get back to Rome and he took us to the bus terminal way out in the middle of nowhere and said the bus going to Rome was leaving in 40 minutes. Soon enough, we got back on the bus and headed back to Rome. It's true, all roads really do lead to Rome. Once you're there, though, just TRY getting out of there. The entire ordeal, as long as it felt, only took about 4 or 5 hours.
After we got back to Rome and grabbed some lunch, we went to go see Trevi Fountain, as we had yet to see it. After studying the map for how to get there, we hopped back on the Metro and went over. We got there at sunset and saw a huge mass of people around it, throwing their coins in the fountain so they could come back to Rome at some point. Despite the crowd, we were able to get up next to the fountain pretty easily and took a ton of pictures. We walked around a little longer, looking for a place for dinner but couldn't find anything that wasn't way out of our price range, so we went back to the Metro to get back to our hostel's neighborhood with cheaper places to eat. That was, at least in my case, a bad decision. The Metro train was extremely crowded, and my camera was in my pocket with my hand over it, but in order to get into the train, I had to take my hand out of my pocket for about 30 seconds. When I put my hand back, my camera was GONE. Somebody had pick-pocketed me in that short amount of time. Hence, I have no pictures from my time in Rome. And so started my search for the Italian police office and then my attempt to report the theft. There was pretty much no hope in getting my camera back, but if I didn't report it, I knew there would be absolutely no hope.
Monday was another day of walking around the ruins. This time, we also looked at the Arc of Constantine, the Circo Massimo, and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (not a ruin, but in the area). We walked along the river for a while before deciding to head back to the hostel to figure out our trips back to the airports the next day. Yeah, for some reason, I was flying out of Rome from a different airport than I arrived at. I found my shuttle, Paul found his train, and everything seemed simple enough. As it was then time for our last dinner in Rome, we went back over to our favorite restaurant, but sadly it was closed. We went next door and found they had a 3-course meal (pasta, meat, and dessert) for 10 euros, so we still had a good, rather cheap meal for our last night in Rome.
And so, our trip to the city of fountains and churches ended. Paul flew back to Madrid, and I hopped on my plane (Ryanair this time), not headed back to Berlin, but rather also to Madrid to celebrate the new year in España. That will have to wait for another entry, though.