There is something I need to admit right up front. My only expectation I had for Rome never was fulfilled. I was not discovered by a Roman back stabbing pop star as an Italian singer’s doppelgänger and forced to play a sold out concert at the colosseum. But I guess Rome was still pretty cool.
If you aren’t a girl born in the 90’s then the above reference probably meant as much to you as whatever the creepy Italian men yelled at me on the street this weekend. Scusi? Anyways, what I knew about Rome before this trip consisted of a mixture between Roman Holiday, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and facebook stalking my “Big” who studied abroad there last year. I arrived at the airport late Thursday night and quickly realized why my flight was so cheap. Besides the fact I flew the classy RyanAir, I also flew into the other airport. Let’s just say they seemed to struggle to even get taxis to show up there. My girlfriends and I waited in the obnoxiously long cue for one to show up. After 20 minutes of ignoring our frozen bodies and the gypsies trying to get us to go in their fake taxis, a cab finally came our way. It came through the designated “Official Taxi Area,” had all the right markings outside, and had a meter inside. We told him the address to our hostel and we were on our way or so we thought. Silly us thinking all the official taxi signs meant anything in Italy. After driving for about 10-15 minutes the driver pulled over to the side of the road. “Here is zee uh metro. Should be openuh. You need to gettazt here.” Great, because the three American girls decided to wait 20 minutes for a taxi so he could instead take us to the metro in the middle of the night in a foreign country. Let me just grab my bag and be on my way! Since I had no desire to change my “Lizzie McGuire” experience to “Taken” we refused to get out. After pointless arguing, he finally took us to a different taxi and said he was his friend. Of course having his sworn personal reference set all of our minds at ease. We told this new dude that under no circumstances are we leaving this cab until we were at our hostel and that we are not paying more than the originally promise 30 euro cab fair. The guy ended up being nice enough and explained to us in broken spanish that the other driver was not a regular cab driver and if you do not have your taxi license, you cannot enter inside the city. We were still confused, but decided to take it for what it was. We finally made it to our hostel, “The Yellow,” frustrated and tired. How to explain The Yellow? The Yellow is like “The cool mom” that every friend group has. Let’s you get drunk at the house, be as loud as you want, encourages safe sex, and makes a mean breakfast. But no matter how cool she is, she’s still your friend’s mom aka place was good, but still a hostel.
After a great night of sleep, we woke up ready to do as the Romans do. To me, this meant pasta, pizza, and gelato (yes, and not or). Our first stop was the Colosseum. We joked while walking out of the metro that this place better be staring us in the face when we walked up. We weren’t laughing two seconds later when we emerged from underground to see the overwhelming site of the Colosseum right in front of us. After messing up nearly all of my touristy trips before, we finally remembered to buy all of our tour tickets ahead of time. We got to run past the insanely long lines and go straight into one of the most incredible structures of all time. I tried imagining what this place looked like back in its day, the amount of bloodshed that happened in front of me, and the excitement that filled the stadium. The Romans definitely weren’t afraid to party.
After another pasta lunch followed by some Nutella gelato we went to go find the metro to head to the Pantheon. Some blind turns later, we saw an enormous roman “ruin” standing in front of us. Well this looks promising. Once inside the Pantheon, we looked at all of the statues of the gods and took a few pictures. It was very different than we expected and I think we left about 15 minutes later a little disappointed. We blamed this on our our exhaustion and decided to go back to the hostel for some rest. Instead of finding the nearby metro stop, we ended up accidentally running into the Trevi Fountain. Convenient. Luckily, I came fully prepared for my wish at the Trevi. I dug through my bag to find the single quarter I had brought with me from the states, closed my eyes, and let it fly.
We woke up the next morning rather early. Courtney’s dad had very generously gifted us with a private tour of the Vatican State. We rushed over to our meeting spot where we met our adorable tour guide. “Hi, my name is Angelica. Like the angel!” Precious. The Vatican is something I have wanted to see my entire life. I could not believe I was actually about to go inside. All I could think about was my late grandmother on my dad’s side, Lola. My great uncle, Tito Benny, was the ambassador to the Vatican for the Philippines. Lola was his only sister and he loved to spoil her rotten. One day, he showed up on he door step in Pennsylvania and told her he was taking her to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. Lola left with the clothes on her back and let her big brother take care of everything. Here, she shook hands with one of the most beloved popes of all time, played the piano for him (she was a concert pianist), and even got to meet Rod Stewart. Who, by the way, met the Pope in pink pants. Our tour guide took us through the Pope’s private gardens, Rafael’s apartments, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peters Basilica. One site was even more spectacular than the next. It was life changing. Also, our tour guide was hilarious and told us about all of the different scandals that have gone on here through out the years. The past popes really did like to party. They used to be way more of a political figure, almost king-like, in comparison to the religious influence they hold today. They would live in the Vatican with their mistresses and many children even. Some popes were poisoned, assassinated, and lived the lives of the rich and famous. Also, she told us about the people who worked at the Vatican. Personally, I really enjoyed all of her stories about Michelangelo. He was a sassy little feller. I think I would’ve liked this guy. We learned that pretty much every time he was asked to do something, he was pretty pissed about it. Poor Michelangelo, always having the pope asking him to come decorate the Vatican state. Turns out, he never actually knew how to paint since he was a sculptor and architect. One of his competitors at this time knew this and when the pope asked who he should hire to paint the Sistine Chapel this guy suggested Michelangelo. He figured Michelangelo would start painting so horribly that the pope would fire him immediately and Michelangelo would never be hired again. Instead, the stubborn Michelangelo decided he was going to paint this place and that it was going to be damn good. So his first shot at painting was the Sistine Chapel. Talk about beginners luck. Walking into the Sistine Chapel was incredible. It was silent besides the security guards screaming over the loud speakers for everyone to be silent. They are very strict about not taking pictures inside and are more than willing to knock your camera on the ground or take away your memory card (challenge accepted). Our tour guide informed us that this had nothing to do with the preservation of the artwork, but was just a way to make people buy their photos. So I decided to use those years of secretly snapchatting in class to my advantage and snuck in some classic selfies.
Now it was time for one of my favorite parts of the trip. St. Peters Basilica brought tears to my eyes immediately. It was beyond beautiful. I’m not overly religious by any means, but you could just feel how powerful this place was. The soft light shone through the massive windows and danced across the different precious metals. We walked slowly through with our necks craned in every direction. We even got to see some mummified popes, cool! I am not nearly a good enough writer to describe St. Peters Basilica, but whether you are religious or not, you should go there. It is breath taking. A few rosaries and bottles of holy water later, we finally forced ourselves to leave.
That night we stuffed ourselves with more pizza, desserts, and wine than you could imagine. Courtney, Cindy and I sat at the table laughing and sharing abroad stories for hours. The musical sound of Italian and the smell of fresh baked pizza pies filled the air. It was the perfect evening. We woke up early the next morning with a nice headache to remind us of this and a serious dent in my wallet. We rushed off to St. Peters Basilica once again to try to make a morning mass. Turns out people line up at about 5 am to get in so we were ushered into the square along with everyone else. We didn’t really know why everyone was waiting out there since it was obvious no one was getting in. With our curiosity peaked, we decided to wait it out a few minutes. Next thing we know, the crowd erupts and the Pope walks out to the window second to the right waving to the audience. He then read something in Italian for the next 20 minutes blessing the crowd. We were beside ourselves. We had no idea that the pope would be up there, outside of the church, and were in complete awe. Did I really just hear the pope speak live? This is the one time I will ever say without sarcasm that I felt blessed (without the #). Okay, so with a little sarcasm.
After one last stop at a nearby pizzeria I was off to the airport. Turns out the shuttle was full and a dozen of us were left stranded and short on cash. I yelled out that I was grabbing a cab to the airport if 3 others wanted to split the 30 euro fare with me. Next thing I know I am in a cab with 3 travelers from Dublin, Paris, Brussels and an angry Italian cab driver. The lady from Ireland was fluent in both English and French. The driver spoke to me in Spanish, I spoke to the Irish lady in English, she spoke to the Parisian in French, and the Brussels lady seemed pretty hung over and snoozed. I had to laugh to myself a bit. This was my last trip abroad and I know this is something I would never have done 4 months before. Here we are, five different countries sharing one cab ride to the airport and speaking all these different languages to communicate. The only thing strange about this was how normal it all felt. Within four months abroad, I’ve been to 9 different countries, a countless amount of cities, and met people from all over the world. I’ve embarrassed myself more times than I can remember. I have tried more food than I ever could have imagined. I learned how to say hello, thank you, beer, and bathroom in over 5 different languages. And here I am, ignoring the angry grunts of our cab driver and the funny sounding languages surrounding me in this little taxi in Rome. Smiling to myself, I realized once again how small the world truly is, how similar people really are, and no matter what color the passport, sometimes everyone just needs their own Roman holiday.