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Rome and Vatican City

We awoke early in Dubrovnik for our last morning before setting off for Rome however we soon came to realise our flight tickets we not printed off. Okay, I swear I’m more organised than this. It’s definitely teaching me to triple check everything for our next trip. So we headed down the stairs to the old town to grab a quick bite to eat and find a print shop. After some hunting around and stopping into a few shops we finally found a printing shop nearby. Luckily for us one of the customers visiting the same time as us actually owned a taxi service. He overheard us talking about finding a way to the airport and not too long after we had organised a lift to the airport. It was a rather crazy morning, running around trying to get our plane tickets and find a way to get to our flight on time but once we were on the plane all seemed well.

We should have really understood that our troubles that morning were going to be a precedent to our time in Rome. We arrived in Rome and were sent to a few different luggage bays before finding the right one. After an hour of waiting we finally had our bags in our hands and were off to our accommodation. We eventually settled into our accommodation and were off on our way to explore the city.

I have to tell you, I didn’t expect a culture shock but I sure as hell got one. I think the previous cities we visited were rather tame in regards to tourism. Dubrovnik, the most tourist city out of the last three, was still a really calm and relaxing place. Walking through the streets of Rome was perfectly okay at first. We walked through Piazza Navona, made our way to the Pantheon and glared at the architecture in amazement before continuing on to the Trevi Fountain. This is what everyone had been warning us about. Street vendors on every corner immediately took away from the magic of the city, the unbelievably packed piazzas didn’t appear to be anything special as they were riddled with tourists – however this was all still clouded by having to keep a weary mind on the strangers looming around us and the offers people were throwing at you (Would we like a photo taken by a stranger? Yes but at what cost?). I had heard of all the horror stories but for some reason I was still unprepared for how much attention you had to pay to your surroundings. Maybe I’ve just been pre-warned too many times. We took a photo at the incomplete reconstruction of the Trevi Fountain which was unfortunately another let down, threw a penny in the little kids pool sitting at the front and walked away happy to be out of the tourist trap. We got a little bit lost leaving but as we turned a corner the noise from the Trevi Fountain was immediately diminished and we found a peaceful little restaurant where we decided to sit and eat and have our first Italian pasta meal. I have to say it was probably the best pasta I have ever eaten and ever will eat, but where’s the surprise?! We are in Italy after all. We ended up walking home in the dark and the best part of the whole night was seeing St Peter’s Basilica lit up with lights along our path home.

The next day we woke up early for breakfast at a nearby café before boarding the bus for our Colosseum tour. I studied Italian in high school, and whilst very few things stuck in my head, the Colosseum was one of the main aspects of Rome that interested me. We were at the front of the bus so riding along the Roman streets was wonderful but turning the corner and coming into view with the overwhelming sight of the Colosseum genuinely brought a tear to my eye. We got off the bus and immediately lined up in the pre-bought ticket line (would recommend doing this) and were let in within 30 minutes which was fantastic compared to the other line where everyone had to line up to buy tickets.

Walking around the ruins was just an experience in itself. We decided to purposely fall for the tourist trap and treat each other with a small present each from the little shop inside. Jamie bought me a necklace, which had a little gladiator’s sword pendant, and I bought him a gladiator’s helmet figurine. We spent our morning walking around the colosseum and taking more photos than necessary, before finding our way to the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum is essentially a park of ruins but you can genuinely sense the different era as you’re walking through. There was a tour group near us and I managed to pick up some interesting facts about the place whilst walking near them (free information, awesome!). There is a marker in the Roman Forum called Milliarium Aureum (the Golden Milestone). This spot apparently marked where all roads coming in and out of Rome met. I believe it also has a listing of all the roads leading up to it and the miles between them.

The sun was beaming down on us so we decided to make our way to our final stop of the day which was the Mouth of Truth. It was nearby but it was still a hefty walk. After reaching our destination the line was just too large for our patience at the time so we peaked through the barred wall to have a look, then continued on our way to the bus stop nearby to make our way home. We weren’t prepared for the public transport system to let us down this day. It was a melting 38 degrees, the bus stop didn’t have shelter or seats and we were overtly dehydrated. During our wait for the bus we didn’t have any Wi-Fi or any way to find bus timetables so we decided to stick it out, knowing the bus does arrive at the bus stop, and after a two hour wait our bus finally turned the corner – it was very much like reuniting with a long lost friend. Note to self: keep public transport timetables handy.

We headed back to our hotel room to refresh and change. We had booked a night tour of the Vatican Museums. I was beyond excited for the museums and this tour guaranteed a small capacity of people so we knew it wouldn’t be overrun with tourists. As we arrived and climbed to the top the sun was just starting to set and we were greeted with an unbelievable view of the nearby St Peter’s Basilica lit up against the sunset. We spent the next few hours roaming around the museums, astounded by the art and history and perfectly happy with the freedom to explore without feeling claustrophobic against other people. The last room of the museums was the incredible Sistine Chapel. This was an entire room filled wall-to-wall with people, but it really didn’t matter as the main sights were on the ceiling. We were informed upon entering that no photos were allowed to be taken (boo!) and that we had to be quiet and respectful of course. We stood in the middle of the place and craned our necks upwards. Now, I like to think I’m a smart woman, but I have my moments… a lot of them. I openly said to Jamie “I wonder where the Creation of Adam is on this” and after looking for it for a good 50 seconds I realised it was sitting straight bang above us, in the middle of the ceiling. Duh! Of course it was. Michelangelo was honestly a master. What a beauty!

We made our way out and down a beautiful spiral staircase that I just needed to take photos of and walked the roman streets back home. We stopped by a gelateria and had a delicious scoop each. We spent the rest of our walk giggling at ourselves attempting to speak Italian in horrible accents.

The following day was reserved for Vatican City itself. We made our way to the beautiful St Peter’s square and lined up in the unbelievably short line to enter the Basilica. Quick tip: Get there at the opening hour, or just a bit before. You’ll save yourself hours by not having to line up behind hundreds of people. We spent our time slowly walking around the Basilica which was absolutely haunting and paid our respects by lighting a candle at the end. We finished up rather early in the day and decided to stop by a café for brunch and apparently a pint of beer (we had both asked for water and got beer somehow. Modern day Jesus turns water into beer instead!). We continued on wandering the streets and came across Gianicolo Hill, at the top we were presented with a beautiful view of the big city. We finished up back at our hotel again before getting ready to go out for dinner and drinks.

That night we went down to Trastevere to explore the little neighbourhood. We stood on the bridge and watched down below where there were street vendors lined up all along the river and crowds of people walking past. Finding a restaurant nearby we treated ourselves to more pasta and a number of delicious cocktails.

 

Our last full day in Rome was upon us and we made plans to start our day at the Spanish Steps. I have to say, even though the steps were inundated with tourists it was a beautiful little resting place, filled with people relaxing with friends, eating gelato. We stumbled upon a fountain called “Fountain of Dea Roma” and I just had to visit my fountain, right?! Of course, Dea directly translates to “Goddess” but we can happily pretend it was a fountain made only for me.

Unfortunately we were stopped in our tracks by another vendor carrying roses. We repeatedly tried to get away, to interrupt him and what not but he was a rather persistent fellow who continued to follow us. Not wanting to be rude we made the mistake of humouring him by talking to him. By the end of our 5 minute conversation we somehow both had a bracelet on our hands and 3 roses each, all for free apparently. But of course how could we leave without donating any money to the church nearby, for which he apparently works for. Luckily we literally had only €5 on us. The guy’s face was instantly furious, he demanded that we donate at least €50 and after literally showing him our empty wallets and throwing the roses back in his face he walked away rather angrily and muttering profanities under his breath. In the end I guess he left us with three roses and the bracelets at least? Completely overcome with anger, and without saying a word to each other, Jamie and I started tearing off the bracelets off our hands and dramatically threw them in the bin. Not wanting to waste the roses I decided to go back to the Fountain of Dea Roma and leave them there. We had decided that being nice to vendors and even some strangers wasn’t going to work for us so from that point on whenever a vendor approached me with anything, whether it was roses, fake chanel bags, selfie sticks, my go to response was “no thanks, I’m allergic” as I walked away. Gave me a few seconds of escape whilst they stood there confused.

We finally found out way to our destination; Villa Borghese. We found the pedal cars we were hoping to ride and hired one for the hour. It was a tough choice between hiring segways and hiring the pedal cars for the park but we found that the pedal cars were a good chance to sit together whilst we explored. We spent the next hour or two crying from laughter at ourselves and our lack of speed. We were, however, overtaking other pedallers and laughing at how much fun we were having in comparison to the segway-squad (as we dubbed them) who looked utterly bored on their automatic transportation. It was such a fantastic way to explore the park, it was a beautiful little place with a lot of things to see.

We headed home in the afternoon to get ready for dinner and our last pizza in Rome. After dinner we wandered around some more and stumbled across some markets near the Castel Sant’Angelo where I bought myself a new hat and some small souvenirs.

The following morning we awoke early to pack our bags as we had a train ride out of Rome to Florence. We got the train station with some time to spare, which was lucky as we got a bit lost trying to read the signs to direct us to the right stations. A lady saw us confused and offered to help us in broken English. We had just started to talk to her when a scene then folded out in front of us, leaving us rather dumbfounded for a few minutes. An elderly man started shouting in Italian at the lady trying to help us. She kept waving him off and trying to talk to us in between his yelling. It got to a point where he was pushing her away from us and it wasn’t until the lady completely snapped and her face changed entirely from friendly to rude did I realise we would’ve been without tickets if the man hadn’t intervened. We quickly realised she was a gipsy and was trying to take our tickets from us – we saw her a bit later on with a few friends scouring around for other clueless tourists. I thanked the man in my best Italian and found a legitimate person to help us. This was just the ending that topped off our feelings towards the city.

We actually had a great time in Rome, however with the culture shock, the street vendors, and the number of people trying to dupe us out of money, unfortunately it left a bad taste in our mouths. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to visit and explore Rome however I don’t believe I’ll be heading back. Not for a while anyway.

But all was well as we ended up safely on our train to Florence, and Florence was just amazing.

 

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