Rome take two, and the end of my Contiki tour

Our second day in Rome was better than the first. We had more time to explore, and though the weather was scorching and the tourists were rampant, we were finally able to see the city by foot and have some free to wander the streets on our own.

We began the day with a ride on the metro to the city (see my post, The downside of Rome, for why the metro was, uh, not the best experience we could have had). Then, we embarked on a brief walking tour during which our wonderful tour guide, Josie, took us through the Roman Forum and around the Colosseum, where we had to navigate through crowds of tourists while being accosted by peddlers offering “exclusive” tours. The Colosseum is as big as I had imagined. Standing next to the massive structure made me think about how small I was not just in size but in relation to to the world’s history. This amphitheater is 1,400 years older than my entire home country, and more major events have occurred there than days that I have been alive. Tourists and peddlers aside, standing outside the Colosseum was my favorite part of being in Rome.

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Our walking tour dropped us off along Via del Corso, a long street with a bunch of shops. A few friends and I  broke off from the group and visited the Disney store (my friend Sasha is obsessed!) and looked into a few other shops along the street. Afterward, we grabbed lunch at a small restaurant nearby. We were surprised by the quality of the food at the restaurant — Sasha’s pasta closely resembled Easy Mac and my pizza was nothing more than a tortilla covered in tomato paste and a few shreds of mozzarella. But we were starving and swallowed it all down, ready to get back to exploring. We stumbled upon a charming street market where we found a few souvenirs for friends and some great street art. Euro Trip Summer 2014 - Contd 151 Euro Trip Summer 2014 - Contd 160

 

After making our purchases, we continued walking down the street, shocked to find that it dropped us off right at the Trevi Fountain! Well, what was left of the fountain.

The Trevi fountain is currently under construction as the Fendi fashion house pours 2.18 million euros into restoring the historic site. While I’m glad that Rome is actively upkeeping its monuments, it was a bit of a bummer to see the fountain gutted and covered in scaffolding. But..I snapped a few pics with it anyway.

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After all of that walking around, we realized we were hungry again (that  wasn’t the most filling). So Sasha, our friend Kharah and I wandered down a few more streets until we happened upon an alluring restaurant. It was called Dakota Cafe, and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling to Rome because of the fantastic wait staff. We ordered espresso and Kahlua drinks, which were perfect and cheap, and when I spilled my friend’s drink on my white dress, a server immediately came up to me and offered to help clean up. She ran across the street and came back with a spray can and a brush. Apparently, the spray had some magical stain removing powers and I was to spray it on my dress, wait five minutes, then give the spot a good brush and I’d be good to go. It worked wonderfully, and I thanked the waitress profusely. I’m not sure if helping customers get stains out of their clothes is customary of the Roman restaurant industry, but I was blown away by the kind act regardless.

We soon left the cafe, and with only an hour left before we had to meet up with the rest of the Contiki group, we wandered around the street some more. We were not using any maps and did not know where we were, but the same way we stumbled upon the Trevi Fountain, we happened to walk right into the Pantheon. We were crunched for time, so we could not go inside, but we walked through the plaza and took in the huge, grandiose building.

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Minutes after we arrived at the Pantheon, we watched police chase down a street merchant who had been caught selling illegal merchandise. It was a riveting burst of action at the end of our day, and definitely added excitement to the adventure. And don’t worry, the police caught the guy.

We then headed back the Colosseum to meet up with our tour guide and snapped a few more pictures with the extravagant structure. All three of us were disappointed we did not have enough time to go inside, but we figured we still had a great day and we would just have to come back and visit again some day.

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That night, we celebrated our last night on the Contiki tour with a huge bash with our comrades. Everyone adorned themselves in “I Heart Roma” t-shirts and went to the on-site club to drink, dance and write notes on each other’s shirts with permanent markers. It was a great way to end our trip, and we all got lovely souvenirs out of it. I retired early that night, needing to get some rest for the next day, when I’d be packing up and leaving for Switzerland!

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Vatican City to Piazza Navona: My first thoughts of Rome

Ah, Roma. A city so decadent in history, yet rendered poor with the apathy of today’s peddlers. Our time in Rome had its ups and downs, to say the least; but Rome was a beautiful city and I just don’t think I had the chance to get to know it to its fullest extent. I’m sure I’ll go back someday — though now, I think I’ll travel to a few other paces on my bucket list first.

So, okay, from the beginning. We left Florence in our usual style — bright and early — and headed straight to the Vatican. The ride was short, and most of us slept on our way there. When we got to Vatican City, all 45 of us got dropped off at a bus port in a few steps away from the entrance to the Vatican Museum. We met the guide who would be escorting us through the museum, and received our headphones for the walking tour she’d be narrating. Then, we stepped inside. Immediately, we knew that this was a bad day to visit the Vatican.

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Apparently, the next day was a holiday and the Vatican Museum was closing early. Consequently, everyone and their mother was at the Vatican to celebrate the holiday and get into the museum before it closed. Tourists from all over the world surrounded us as we embarked on our tour through the grounds. Our tour guide had to hold up a purple umbrella for use to see her above the other tourists’ heads. Inside the museum we could not see much of what lined the walls because there were so many people crowding the tiny hallways. We could at least see what was above, which were beautiful ceilings intricately composed with Christian paintings and sculptures. Though I could not see the majority of what we were walking through, I was still humbled by the pure fact that we were inside the most significant building in the Christian world.

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We ended our tour in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo, you do not disappoint. Talking was not permitted inside the chapel, which finally gave everyone the opportunity to peacefully soak in the beauty surrounding us. We stayed inside long enough to look at every panel of the Renaissance masterpiece, and then headed back outside into the square. A few of us had a quick glimpse into St. Peter’s Basilica, another humbling and surreal experience, but quickly had to rejoin the rest of our group and hop back on the Contiki bus.

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After leaving the Holy City, we took a quick driving tour around the Rome, passing the Colosseum, Palatino and Piazza Venezia Vittoriano. Rome is unlike any city I’ve ever seen. The city is speckled with Ancient ruins, yet has a Starbucks or Zara on every corner (okay, maybe not every corner, but you get the idea). Looking at the  buildings whose heydays were nearly 2000 years ago (the Colosseum opened 80 A.D.), I could not believe that they were preserved for centuries. It was almost saddening to see people walk by these ruins with their headphones in, playing on their iPhones, completely desensitized to the history surrounding them.

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Our coach dropped us off for dinner in Piazza Novona, a beautiful city square on the site of the Stadium of Domitian. Knowing the restaurants along the Piazza would be pricey, a few friends and I ventured outside the plaza to find a nice quiet place to eat. We settled on a cute little corner café with outdoor seating and friendly Italian waiters. Craving something somewhat healthy after days of engorging on pizza, I ordered a caprese salad. It was exquisite.

Sitting at that corner café, enjoying Italian food and watching locals zoom by on their Vespas, I realized I had been pretty critical of Rome so far. While some parts disappointed me, like the crowded Vatican and the complete modernization of the areas surrounding the ruins, I recognized I had set my expectations too high. I needed to forget about my preconceived notions of the city and just focus on what was in front of me. Rome is truly charming, with cobblestone streets and picturesque crème and preach-colored buildings that look exactly like the movies. There was beauty all around me, I just had to look through the bad stuff to find it.

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After dinner, we grabbed some gelato (of course), then hopped back on the coach and headed to our campsite. This was the last city on the Contiki tour, and our last time setting up camp together. Back at the site, my friend Sasha and I grabbed our iPads and went to the on-site bar for WiFi so that we could Skype with our friends and family back home. Though everyone else was drinking, it was a quiet and peaceful night for us and we got much-needed rest for our next day in Rome.