It’s never a good sign when you start a trip with a canceled flight. But that’s just how our 2015 Eurotour started. (Air traffic control issues delayed hundreds of flights and cancelled many international flights.) When we received the flight cancellation notice in the Uber on the way to DCA, I jumped on the phone with United (who I can’t say enough great things about). United was able to get us on another flight out of Dulles International, another DC-area airport just 40 minutes away. Our first flight out of DCA had a layover in Europe, and since we had booked with points, we were in the cheapest Economy seats. The new flight: direct to Rome and our seats were in Economy Plus—a major turnaround after the rough news of the cancellation!
We arrived in Rome early in the morning and hopped off the metro just blocks from the Roman Forum to head to our hotel. After 10+ hours of travel, we were totally thrown off because we immediately ran into a guy I went to highschool with! After the trip down memory lane, with a whole day ahead of us before we could succumb to jet lag, we were desperate to shed our “turtle shells” at the hotel. (We “backpacked” this trip—our version of it— which means we traveled with just a backpack and messenger bag each, but stayed in “normal” hotels.)
We like to do an initial walk through the area when we arrive in a new city to acclimate and get our bearings straight. This time, our first walk turned into a full day of exploring, including stops at the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and up to the Pincio for sprawling views of Rome.
Late summer is peak time for tourism in Europe and that meant we were just two of too many. But luckily Nick’s a master planner. Our Rome hotel was in such a great location, right near the Forum, and had a coffee shop on the first level where we were able to get a cappuccino and croissant every morning for less than €3. (But the bed was c-a-r-d-b-o-a-r-d! It’s all about balance, isn’t it?) On top of the great hotel location, Nick purchased early tickets to the Colosseum and we were there well before the daily rush began. It almost felt like we had the place to ourselves for about 45min, and when the place became tourist central, we departed for the Forum, which is right across the street.
I had lamented to Nick about my college trip to Italy and how the one day our group chose to visit the Vatican it happened to be a Roman holiday, which meant the only thing open for all of the tourists in the city that day was Vatican City. On that trip we didn’t actually walk through the Sistine Chapel—the push from the back row of tourists moved everyone through the chapel collectively. Luckily, tourists were a bit lighter this trip, and the one-way travel through the Vatican’s collections made the site of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel an amazing reward. St. Peter’s Basilica and the trek up to the dome wasn’t too shabby either.
We really wanted to see the Pope, but it rained on Wednesday morning when the Pope typically delivers his message in St. Peter’s Square. We ended up getting to be a part of a rare opportunity to hear the Pope in the Hall of Pontifical Audiences “Paul VI.” The building was designed by architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi and features a gorgeous 8 metric ton bronze sculpture called La Resurrezione. While the architecture was a total treat, the hysteria and the way the crowds treat the Pope like a rock star was probably worth every ounce of waiting in the rain.
We also ventured a little further off the beaten path this trip. One day we took the subway south to Aqueducts Park, which was easy to get to, quiet, and worth the little adventure. And then on our final day in Rome, we took our longest walk of the trip for some places on our architecture bucket list. Halfway to Zaha Hadid’s Maxxi Museum we realized the busses weren’t running (it was the weekend), so we probably walked 3 miles there, and 3 miles back! We also got to check off Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica and were treated with another Pier Luigi Nervi project, the Palazzetto dello Sport, an arena that was designed by Annibale Vitellozzi for the 1960 Olympics.
Closing this post with our #wheninrome vacay tips!
- Always make a stop in a quintessential Italian ally—especially if you see just a couple glowing entryways and al fresco dining. If it’s quiet, and you don’t hear a ton of native English speakers, sit down and order!
- Italian dinners are long. Eat slow, enjoy the courses, and remember that we have Americanized every common “Italian” dish. You might end up with a dish in front of you that’s different than what you were expecting: roll with it. And you’ll definitely have to ask once you’re ready to receive the bill.
- Purchase tickets online ahead of time whenever possible. (Get to the Colosseum before the daily rush begins; we’re talking first-entry tickets!)
- Be aware of Italian/Roman holidays. That first time I traveled to Rome during a holiday meant the only site-seeing every tourist in the city could do was in Vatican City. It made for some miserable experiences.
- Traveling in the summer/sun? Wear. Sunscreen. It was baking at the Forum and we were jumping from shade spot to shade spot. I stopped to re-apply sunscreen at the top of Palatine Hill and ended up sharing with some new French friends who were looking pretty pink!