Trevi Fountain — the Rome in my head.
We’re off to Rome today.
That should already paint a thousand words.
Lesson 1 : It’s more massive than it looks.
Everything is massive in Rome that you feel like an ant walking down its streets enveloped by how larger than life everything is. Rome was a real-life museum in itself. If you’re lucky enough to travel here while you’re in school studying History and Roman empires, I’m sure you’ll ace your essays.
Since we got to Rome early enough for dinner, we were excited to try Italian food of course! My aunt and I each had a slice of pepperoni pizza at the nearest shop.
Lesson 2 : Italian pizza tastes the same, even in Italy.
It’s good, alright. But nothing special. Maybe the best pizzas are not from this side of Italy.
I’m trying hard to diarize my full day as a tourist today while listening to Cristina Aguilera’s hits played on MTV, the only English channel we have in the room here at Hotel Conte House.
This is more like a time machine than a hotel. Just look at their elevator. It’s the longest-elevator ride you’ll ever have, that is if you figure out early enough that you need to close both the steel door and the wooden door first before you can expect this rusty thing to begin to move.
There are only 6 rooms at Conte House (and they say another 6 at its annex but I don’t know where that is in relation to our current location).
If you’re not paying attention, you’d miss number 191 along Via Merulana where Conte House stands.
This morning, my aunt and I set off before 9am, excited to see what Rome had to offer. A Sri-Lankan hotel staff named Sudat was the first to greet us Buon giorno and was extra kind to lend us a map on which he encircled the places he recommended us see.
We lost that map later on. We did not lose our way in anyway today nonetheless. If anything, we enjoyed the adventure of not depending on a piece of paper to tell us where to go.
To start the day off, we had a 5-euro breakfast, one-euro cheaper than our pizza dinner-for-two last night, at a nearby cafe where we were greeted by a nice Italian man in his late 50’s manning the store. We each had a cup of cafe latte and what tasted like an apricot-filled croissant.
Italy in my mouth. Only for 1 euro each.
After that, we went to the Stazione Manzoni, buying the Metro tickets from a newsstand just above the subway, then rode off towards Stazione Ottaviano from where most passengers alight, as it is the gate to the Vatican.
A violinist played in the train.
We followed where people went. We were too early for our 1PM online-bought access to the Musei Vaticani and Sistine Chapel so we killed time at the souvenir shops.
I just realized I wanted to make a new collection. I did not buy ref magnets this time since my parents bought a gazillion of these themselves when they were here last year which now render our fridge door unrecognisable, but I fancied buying one of those miniature glass dome displays–watchamacallit–with a miniature structure inside where what-looks-like snow falls when it’s turned upside-down. I think I saw it in some TV novela before and I thought it makes for a romantic gift, so I gifted myself one. I will buy an Amsterdam one when I go back to Holland.
We have barely spent our combined 200-euro budget for this trip, having only spent an average of 5 euros on souvenirs. We’re looking content to have managed our budget well.
For lunch? 60.
I guess we spoke too soon.
Here’s what happened: we went into a Cafeteria close by, and probably prodded by the noontime hunger, we ordered without batting an eyelash, not minding to ask how much anything was. We got spaghetti, a fish-cooked-in-tomato dish, sausage & fries, tiramisu for dessert, and a bottle of cola and water.
The accidental 60-euro lunch. So much for budgeting.
We left the restaurant feeling held up.
Lesson 3 : Never eat at the restaurants surrounding famous tourist spots.
Lesson 4 : Never make life decisions when you’re hungry.
So as not to dwell on regret, we just decided to charge it all to experience. Our consolation was that, at least we so far had not lost our way getting to wherever we planned to go.
We spent the entire afternoon inside the Musei Vaticani, literally amazed by the artistry up there on the ceilings, looking up half the time, and gazing at marble and stone sculptures around that just reminded me of the things I learned in History class in high school like pieces used by Nebuchadnezzar, which made me wonder what these middle eastern pieces were doing in a Roman museum.
Apart from that brief encounter with an Italian museum polizia who initiated a conversation with us when he saw me posing and smiling at the camera held by my aunt and who profusely congratulated her (literally “Congratulations, Congratulations”) for having, in his broken English, a pretty niece, the tour was uneventful.
Lesson 5 : Believe it when an Italian museum police tells you you’re pretty.
The seemingly 3-hour walking tour was capped off by the no-camera, sshhed entry into the Sistine Chapel.
Just as I was targeting to take a shot of the crucified Christ at the chapel’s altar, a guard stopped me. In my face. The same guard scolded us for sitting on one of the steps inside.
We shared the shame with a dozen others.
So this was the Sistine Chapel. Marvelous Michelangelo works and Biblical imagery enveloped us. The experience was one of surrealism. It was amazing. I can never give justice to how beautiful, wonderful, enigmatic, surreal everything was through my writing. Even the hundreds of photos I took won’t stand a chance.
By then, we were already at the end of our tour. I was delighted by the notebook I bought for myself at one of the museum shops. It was a bit pricey at 11 euros for a notebook, I know, but it felt right buying it. There are times you just want to write on a paper. Sometimes a good writing notebook just can’t replace any laptop or ipad or mobile phone when you want to express yourself. The palm of your hand longs for the rough, unassuming feel of the paper. Just like a good ol’ friend, paper is patient.
It was only 5PM when we got out, but it felt like fully evening as it was already dark. We took our last tourist shots before heading back to the hotel. The train was a bit crowded, but I enjoyed it still, riding trains being one of my favorite activities.
We took a some-hour rest, mine consisted of leaning my legs up on the wall to relax them a bit after a day inside those knee-high boots.
As the night was still so young at half past 8, we went out for a walk and ended up where the Colosseum was, breathing in its majesty against the backdrop of the night sky and cant-be-bothered countenance like a sleeping but standing giant on one side of that city road roundabout, smart cars and sometimes luxury ones passing by, seemingly lulled into dreamland by the faint sounds produced by the still-open bars nearby.
Lesson 6 : Don’t be intimidated by the Colosseum. It is a gentle giant in the middle of the city.
I was dreaming myself, seeing the Colosseum and the Vatican and the famously-named streets of Rome (I need to take a picture of the Via Galileo Galilei street sign tomorrow). This continues tomorrow. Day 2 of Rome will commence in 29 minutes. I need the shut-eye for now.
“We… ended up where the Colosseum was, breathing in its majesty against the backdrop of the night sky and cant-be-bothered countenance like a sleeping but standing giant on one side of that city roundabout, smart cars and sometimes luxury ones passing by, seemingly lulled into dreamland by the faint sounds produced by the still-open bars nearby.”
We took off at 8am today to explore whatever we could with what’s left of the time we had in Rome. We had a full day yesterday crossing out almost all we wanted to see from the map we were provided with.
We saw the famous Fontana de Trevi, Piazza Spagna, the inside of the Basilica, and heard mass half way through of which I dozed.
It was in Italian no less! Next thing I knew, the homily was over.
We were blessed with good weather, hence the full day outside. Our flight was still at 1705 today so, from Conte House we walked to the Colosseum to see it during the day. We did not have enough cash nor time to get in and avail of the 12-euro fee, so we just took photos from outside, strolled a bit, and enjoyed the presence of the often elusive sun.
Lesson 7 : The Colosseum is photogenic — beautiful at any angle, day or night, DSLR or phone camera.
There were Bangladeshi-looking street vendors calling out “maganda” (beautiful) or “mura lang” (cheap items) trying to get our attention to buy.
But there was an old Italian man from whom I wished I had bought those 24-piece deck of postcards he was selling me, only that I already bought postcards (for my collection) from the souvenir shops at the Vatican vicinity the other day. It was definitely a good deal, and heck, those were made of the same paper, but I wished I had bought from him.
He spoke gently, almost to the point of breaking my heart and not trying to hard-sell me at all. I regret disappointing him but we literally did not have much left in our pockets, thanks to that accidental expensive lunch.
I could only wish he sells a lot of his merchandise today and the rest of his life.
Before we left the vicinity of the Colosseum, we were amused by a man in Roman Gladiator costume who was posing for the camera with some tourists, who, by the presence of the gigantic Colosseum behind us, looked real. We thought, how thoughtful this city’s government is to even station a ‘gladiator’ for the tourists’ amusement.
We took three, four, maybe five shots with him alternately before he started asking for payment. If I remember correctly, he first asked for 20 euros which became 10 when we told him we didn’t have the money to pay him and honestly didn’t think it was for a fee. He kept insisting that we pay him but unlucky for him, however much he pressed, we couldn’t produce even a single euro from our pockets.
Now, thanks genuinely to that accidental expensive lunch we were saved in this situation.
Lesson 8 : Never yield to the charm of a massive guy dressed as a Roman gladiator who volunteers to take your picture with him and the Colosseum. It’s a ploy.
There was the Paletino structure just a stone’s throw away from the Colosseum. We kept walking, guided by our precious map, trying hard to forget that gladiator ordeal, toward Piazza Venezia.
This one was huge! Literally like a white elephant in the middle of the roundabout.
We braved on, skirting our way into narrow streets as if we were a local, trying hard to feign mastery of the place so as not to attract any human predator on the look out for ignorant-looking tourists such as ourselves.
On second thought, there was really nothing much to rob from us.
And then we reached The Pantheon.
To idle on the steps of the Pantheon. I’m done.
I used to build one of these in my Ceasar II games, an old-setting now-obsolete game similar to the Sim City. This one was massive as well.
Now I know why every time I construct a structure like this in my virtual city, I’d always lose a lot of money.
And then I remember, there were always some citizen idling around on the steps of these buildings–the many you see, the higher your unemployment rate.
So, that’s what I did: sat and idled on one of the front steps, leaned on one of the towering pillars, and asked my aunt to take a photo of me, as if an unemployed citizen. It felt good doing that. Somehow I felt I was crossing out an item in my non-existent bucket list.
Inside the Pantheon was a church and the tomb of the artist Raphael.
After that, my camera died.
We had gelato on the way back, one last item that we had to experience here after which we understood why this humble creamy sensation is a sensation.
Lesson 9 : Never ever leave Italy without trying a gelato.
The entire neighborhood was like painted rusty orange it was as if we were walking literally within the walls of the Roman empire, the structures overwhelming if not intimidating.
We were just ordinary citizens in this planet called Rome.
After that, annoyance came over me. I kind of hated how we had to rush to see all these. To sight-see and remain tourists.
I would have wanted to be a normal traveler, stopping whenever I feel like it, to take in all I lay eyes on, to observe people talking on their mobile phones, to listen to their melodic Italian accent, to auto-focus my eyes on whatever crawling bugs there are in this part of the world.
Like any tourist in a foreign place, I wished I had one more day just to idle around a little more, without a map, without an itinerary, without rush, and maybe to make it less predictable, without any cash.
*This is part of a 68-Day Travel Diary called Reflections of a Nearly Thirty. Read the full Reflections Series here.