I had been pretty indifferent about going to Rome until I had a conversation with my host dad one night in the kitchen during first semester. After telling me about how much he loved the city, despite how touristy it is, I decided I had to go. I found a decently priced flight in January and sort of forgot about it until a week or so before I was going. I quick google search lead me to a small eco-hostel about 30 minutes outside the city. It sounded like the perfect place to stay. Since I wasn’t going to check in until Friday night and had an inconveniently early flight home on Monday morning, I threw a romper and some PJs in my backpack, grabbed my three essential travel items: my camera, my journal, and my toothbrush and hopped on the plane.
My game plan was to “do the Vatican”, that is the museums and St. Peter’s, on Friday once I arrived. I bought my ticket ahead of time so I was expecting it to be pretty easy. Unfortunately I had been feeling sick since I got on the plane and was light-headed the entire afternoon. I was also very overwhelmed by how crowded it was. I’m not sure if you remember but since the terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, I’ve had a hard time riding on the metro. Rome was no different. I had to take the metro both to and from the Vatican. On the way there, there were some guys smoking in the metro, but with very big/smoky electric cigarettes. I thought it was weird but then a mother turned and looked at another woman with this horrified look on her face. I don’t know what it was, but it made me sick. I had to get off at the next stop and then get on the next train. On the way back I was in a very full car and there were two men with camo backpacks. I’m sure they were perfectly nice guys but I was convinced that something bad was going to happen when I saw them texting a guy a few seats down. Again, I felt sick but made myself stay on the train.
Anyway. The Vatican was overwhelming. It was huge and crowded and frustrating. I didn’t like it at all. I definitely feel much more “holy” in my little church at home or in the streets during Semana Santa than I did there. It was too much. I headed out to my hostel around 6pm. It was a 30 minute train ride…for some reason I can do trains, just not metros. When I got to the little town of Zagarolo I walked the 20 minutes to the hostel even though they had free pick up. I didn’t feel like calling them and wanted to walk anyway. The sidewalk was sketchy at best, so I got rides all of the other times I went to the station.
The hostel, Wiki Hostel, was perfect. I absolutely loved it. As they were checking me in they told me that since it was Friday there was a pizza party for only 6 euros. They had a wood-brick oven and these Italian guys to cook tons of pizza/teach us how to do it. And they were made with all local ingredients. The bar was also stocked with local wine, by the bottle only. It was exactly what I needed. While I waited for the cooking to commence, one of the employees, a British expat, gave me a map of Rome and helped me plan out the perfect two day itinerary complete with pizza and gelato suggestions. During the pizza party I ate so much of the best pizza I’ve ever had/made and met a bunch of cool people (yay hostels!). We finished off the night with a Nutella pizza J
The next day I got up for breakfast at the hostel before heading into Rome around 11. I followed pretty closely the itinerary that the guy at the hostel gave me, stopping at a few churches and parks before walking around the Coliseum and Forum. I didn’t pay to go in since I have seen Roman ruins before (in Italica, a Roman center just outside of Sevilla). It was super fun to people watch. I especially liked watching this one older couple who were carrying around Teddy Bears taking pictures of them in front of the ruins. It was adorable. I went to lunch at the recommended pizza place and got the truffle pizza. Wow. It was good. On my way to get gelato I stopped in a Nepalese store and talked for almost an hour with the guy who owns it. He moved from Nepal ten years ago to open the store and he took the time to explain a lot of the Buddhist symbols and theory to me even after I told him that I wasn’t going to buy anything. The coolest thing he showed me were these “singing bowls” which are used for meditation and relaxation. It was really cool and he showed me how to use them and explained how they are used in different cultures. It was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. I love things like that; if I hadn’t decided to walk in just to browse I would have missed out on all of that. It was also kind of funny, who would have thought I’d get my first introduction to Buddhism in Rome?
After my intro to all things Nepalese I made my way to the gelato place. They sell gelato on every street corner in Rome so it’s really hard to know where you should go. I’m sure it’s good everywhere but I’ve ended up with sub-par gelato too many times in my life. The place I went to, Giolitti, is super popular/old and they have something like 70 flavors. It's the oldest one in Rome having opened in 1890. It’s literally insane if you go during the day. I walked by at 11pm on my last night and it was a completely different story. After waiting for ten years/literally being pushed out of the way by those annoying people who go up with ten orders, I finally got my first Roman Gelato: Caramel and Stracciatella. It was beautiful and everything I needed after a hot morning of walking around the city. At this point I was pretty tired, so I took it easy, wandering around a bit before getting the train back to the hostel. I knew the next day would be a long one so I took advantage of the “order-in” service that my hostel provides, you can order from a number of local restaurants and they bring it right to the hostel. I got eggplant parm and chickory. It was great. I went to bed pretty early, though I had some trouble falling asleep because one of the women in my room breathed really, really loudly. I had lucked out the first night because I was the only person in my room…but that’s life. I do love hostels, but I also love sleeping in peace and quiet.
The next morning after breakfast we went on a tour of the “old town” of Zagarolo. The town history is really interesting. It’s older than the Roman Empire and they were constantly at war with the Vatican because “those who rule religion rule everything”. There’s also a wine festival in the fall where they have local wine running from the city fountains all weekend! I need to come back in October! My favorite part of the city was looking down all of the little alleyways. They were adorable and felt like “real Italy”. It was also interesting because there were a ton of cars on the tiny streets and the tour guide told us that all of the town residents insist on driving their cars to church on Sunday even though the majority of them live less than a mile away. There’s a petition to ban cars from the old town. After the tour we went to a farmer’s market which is still relatively new. There are a lot of people in the town interested in sustainability and being eco-friendly. There are a bunch of projects in their beginning stages right now; it’ll be interesting to see where they go!
I headed into “town” (lol that sounds so casual. Rome. I headed into Rome) and went straight for the gelato place. I had been thinking about it since the previous day and I was super excited to try champagne and blackberry. Of course by the time I got up to the front of the “line” they were out of champagne. I settled for stracciatella and mint which is my go-to combination. Despite not being the combination I had been dreaming about <3 it did not disappoint. My afternoon was largely spent exploring Trastevere a neighborhood on the Vatican side of the river. I absolutely loved roaming through the tiny streets and sitting in the plazas and people watching. The front part of the area (closer to the river) is pretty well developed touristic-ly but not so crowded that it’s overwhelming. It maintains its charm for sure. A bit farther back I found a plaza full of locals. There was a mini open air market (I got to try some cookies!) and lots of kids playing soccer and just fooling around while the parents were socializing. It was very similar to Sevilla and one of the things that I have loved seeing over here. People just relaxing and playing on a Sunday night. Ugh that’s the life.
I found a cute restaurant on a side street for dinner. It was warm enough to sit outside even though it was like 8:30. One of the things I like to do when I’m eating alone is write in my notebook so I don’t get bored. It’s also fun to see what I write about after a bit of wine. So, here we go (translated from Spanish-I’ve been journaling in Spanish recently):
Dinner- “Sette Oche in Altalena/Reclamavano la cena”
· The sky is a wicked pretty navy blue right now
· Bread, grilled zucchini, and olives as the “with your drink snack”
· White wine, a “mini jar”
· There are a lot of English speakers but it’s a quiet street. There are some French speakers next to me (I think?)
· I ordered “Linguine al lemon” for dinner
· I really like listening to other people’s conversations. Is that creepy? Lol at this family talking about choosing a college. Been there done that.
· I kind of feel like a food critic writing in this notebook. I wonder if I pull it off well? Probs not. I look like I’m 16.
· The pasta is very good, I’ve never had pasta with lemon…honestly it kind of tastes like a dessert. But I like it a lot. I’m kinda full but I’m definitely going to have a coffee and dessert. I need to stretch this out as long as I can.
· I really like this place. Minus the fact that there was a piece of meat in the app dish. But I’ll survive.
· Dessert: Café Latte (unfortunately café con leche does not seem to be a thing here) and “tortino caldo al cuore di cioccolato”, whatever that is.
· Thanks to this wine I have lots of energy right now and am excited to go see Rome “by night”
· There’s this group of old men laughing with the waitress. They look like locals. The couple next to me is smoking…typical. I feel like I’m definitely sticking out right now. The sky is black now and there are some stars.
· The group of women to my left (that I thought was French) is speaking some weird language. Sometimes it sounds like Italian but also French, English, and German. Maybe it’s Dutch? What’s going on here?
· This dessert looks good!
· OMG it’s an Italian lava cake…there’s chocolate on the inside!!!
· 24 euros for the meal. It was good, too much food for me but very yummy.
After I paid I went and sat on the couch with the restaurant cat for a bit to use the wifi and plan my route. I had to catch the bus to the airport at midnight so I had about two hours to go see all of the “sights” lit up. I made it to the Coliseum, the Forum, and Trevi fountain (much less crowded by night but still a lot of people). At midnight:15 I got on the airport bus and arrived to the terminal around 1. I got cozy and watched 5 episodes of “Ranch” on Netflix and ya esta. My plane left at 6:30, I landed in Sevilla at 9:30 and then unfortunately had to get a taxi since it was down pouring and I have a 20 minute walk home from the bus station. The taxi driver was nice to talk to though, speaking Spanish is always a good time.
So Rome. Loved it. You should go. Stay in Zaragolo. Eat Pizza. Drink wine. Be happy.