When in Rome…Do as the Tourists Do?

In late October of last year, I dared to venture to the city of love all by my lonesome (although 2018 is the year of self-love, right? So maybe I was just ahead of the trend). I figured Rome was the perfect city to see solo, as there are plenty of things to do, interesting people to meet, and carb-loaded food to eat. I was not disappointed. I stayed 6 nights in Rome, with two day trips during that time — one to Florence and one to Pompeii — but there was definitely still a lot that I was unable to see.

As I went in mid-Fall, I expected thinned crowds and fewer tourists, but even during the off-season the city seemed to come to life. Shadows from streetlights danced to the chorus of late-night diners and early-morning risers. Ancient fountains and romantic statues stood proudly in cobble-stone plazas, reminding the modern hustlers and bustlers to take a break every once in a while to enjoy the view.  So whether solo traveling or not, you can never truly be alone in a city of such vibrancy.

Day 1 — Rome By Night

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American #1 and American #2 in front of the Trevi Fountain

I arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport in the early evening, opting to take a train into the Termini station. My hostel a five minute walk from the station, I was quickly checked in and making evening plans with a few of my newly-acquainted roommates. After freshening up, we were soon out the door, rome-ing the streets (pun intended). My new friends included two Chilean girls currently studying in Venice and a fellow American college student currently au pairing in Paris (small world, huh?). We passed by some key tourist destinations that were even more beautiful by moonlight, including the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps.

My favorite spot was the Trevi fountain, as with the toss of a coin and a heartfelt wish, my Lizzie McGuire fantasies finally came true. I later found out that the steps in front of the fountain were only open to tourists at night, as the crowds were too overwhelming during the day. So, if you end up visiting Rome and can’t get close enough to the fountain to toss a coin in during the daytime, I’d definitely suggest a return trip after the sun goes down.

To close off the night, I headed to a bar around the corner from my hostel, where I made a couple more friends and learned that a glass of beer goes down even better with some jazz music playing in the background.

Day 2 — Vatican City and Halloween Night

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My second day in Rome happened to be the most sacred of American holidays — Halloween — and I spent it exploring the Vatican City. Was I testing fate by visiting the center of Christianity on a traditionally Pagan holiday? Perhaps, but I like to live on the edge. I booked my tickets ahead of time, which ended up being a very good idea, as shortly after getting off at the metro stop, the insanely long line forming around the city wall came into view. I toured the Vatican museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica, although I was not able to climb to the top of the dome. I headed out around 3pm for a late lunch at a nearby family-run café, and then I started preparations for my evening.

I hadn’t originally planned to celebrate Halloween, as outside the States there aren’t many other places where the holiday is hyped up to the same extent. I had resigned myself to a costume-less night in the beautiful city of Rome. Poor me. However, when one of my hostel roommates told me she had signed up for a Halloween pub crawl, I decided that I had to tag along. The only problem was, I didn’t pack anything remotely resembling a costume.

In the end, I decided to go as Frida Kahlo, a wonderfully bold and iconic Mexican painter. I bought some fake red roses from a dollar store to put in my hair, wore the one dress in my suitcase, and put my eyebrows on thick. Only a few people I ran into actually understood my costume — American art students studying abroad — but at least I was partially recognizable. My American friend and I met up with two guys staying in a nearby hostel, and we were off. Our night involved beer pong, jello shots, free t-shirts, a very crowded club, and some chocolatey midnight snacks. I won’t disclose more details in case my family is reading this, but let’s just say it was lit like a candle in a jack-o-lantern.

Day 3 — Day Trip to Florence

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View from Giotto’s Campanile (bell tower)

My day trip to Florence was probably my favorite part of the week, so much so that I’m planning to write a separate post devoted to the Tuscan capital, so stay tuned! 🙂

Day 4 — Rome by Day

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From the top of the Spanish Steps

By happenchance on Day 3, while scrolling through my Instagram before bed, I came upon a picture taken by one of my classmates. The location? —Rome, Italy. I decided to reach out, and after a few dm’s we decided to meet up the next day to explore the city together. It turns out she was staying with her friend from high school, who was in Rome for a semester of study abroad. The three of us met up on the Spanish steps, and then we proceeded to wander past most of the must-see tourist stops.

We strolled past the Trevi fountain, wandered into the Pantheon, promenaded through the Piazza Navona, made our way to the Jewish quarter (highly recommended), crossed the Tiber River, and finally reached the vibrant neighborhood of Trastevere. Highlights of the day included a visit the most crowded McDonald’s I’ve ever seen (sorry, but with three Americans the fast food French fries were beckoning to us), my first taste of arancini (fried rice balls descended from heaven), and fast friendships.

Day 5 — Day Trip to Pompeii

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If you’re into history, architecture, or sci-fi shows about time travel, chances are you will love Pompeii. One step into this ancient Roman city and you’re immediately taken back to a time when the wine was flowing, the theatre was booming, and togas were at the height of fashion. For those who don’t know, Pompeii is a city-town near Naples that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, the volcanic ash from this eruption preserving the town for archeologists to rediscover it a millenium and a half later. Other nearby towns, namely Herculaneum, have also been uncovered and established as tourist destinations, but Pompeii is by far the most expansive of these sites.

One word kept coming to mind as I wandered through the cobble-stone streets — palimpsest. It was one of the vocabulary words in my high school English class Junior year, and it refers to something that has been reused or altered, but that still bears visible traces of its earlier form (thanks Oxford dictionary). For instance, the most common example is a piece of paper where you have written over words that were previously erased. The faint shadow of the words that were once there is a palimpsest. So, in the context of Pompeii, it was as if the whole city had been partially erased. The faded traces of murals on ceilings, walls, and pillars give the impression of a once thriving, and colorful city. As much as time and natural disaster have tried to erase this city and its people from history, they still leave their trace.

The transportation to Pompeii as a day trip from Rome is a bit complicated, but definitely worth the hassle. The best (and cheapest) way to get there is by taking a train from Rome’s Termini Station to Naples, and then hopping on the Circumvesuviana at the Naples train station (one level below the regional trains platform) and taking the Circumvesuviana on the approximately half-hour trip to Pompeii. Once arriving in Pompeii, you will see many signs for guided tours. I opted out of these tours, as I wanted the freedom to explore at my own pace. However, I did download the audio tour for Pompeii on Rick Steve’s travel app. The app is free and has audio tours for tourist destinations all over the world, so I’d definitely recommend it to any traveler.

If I have any regrets about my trip to Pompeii, it’s that I did it alone. Even with over 2.5 million visitors per year, the site is so massive that its easy to find yourself wandering alone for a while on the maze-like streets. Sometimes it’s also nice to take in such a surreal place with someone who can share your sense of awe. Overall, though, it was an amazing (if tiring) day trip that I would highly recommend if your staying in Rome for more than a few days.

Day 6 — Colosseum & Roman Forum

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For my last day, there was one last iconic Roman destination I had yet to see — the Colosseum. I booked a tour online for the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill in order to avoid the lines, and again I think this was a solid decision. I stayed in the Colosseum for about an hour and a half, following Rick Steve’s audio tour, and mentally recreating regaling stories of gladiators, exotic animals, and dramatic battle reenactments. If I’m being honest, the best view of the Colosseum is probably of the outside, so if you’re short on time in Rome, the tour inside might not be worth your time or money.

Following a quick lunch, I headed to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, just a five minute walk from the Colosseum. This was the hub of Roman life, and for me where the history of the Roman civilization truly came to life. Palatine Hill offers views of the entire forum (and the city of Rome in general), so if you don’t mind walking up a slight incline, that should be stop number one. Afterward, strolling through the forum itself, the everyday life of the Romans is evident in the details (much like in Pompeii) —from the grooves in the Via Sacra where chariots rushed by to the 17-centuries old bronze door of the Temple of Romulus to the Temple of Julius Caesar, where the body of perhaps the most infamous of Roman statesmen was burned. The forum has so many stories to tell.

In the evening, I headed to Eataly with the girls I traveled with on Day 4 and few of their friends. This  high-end Italian marketplace happened to be hosting a cannoli tasting event, where about a dozen local vendors brought their finest cannoli to enjoy. This night was probably the gastronomic highlight of the entire trip. Holy cannoli, it was delicious.

Day 7 — Return Home

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As I headed back to Reims and my academic life started up again, I reflected on the past week and all I had experienced. I made several close friends with whom I would love to travel in the future, I ate like I was going into hibernation, I relived countless scenes in history, and I checked off one more destination on my travel bucket list. Apparently, if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you are guaranteed to return to the eternal city someday — I’m hoping that prophesy plays out.

2 thoughts on “When in Rome…Do as the Tourists Do?

    • lparadis says:

      I’d definitely recommend it! It’s one of those bucket list places where you know you’ll be one among thousands of tourists, but there’s a reason so many people flock there 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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