As my mom and I made our way from the train station to the hotel, we got a not-so-good first impression of Rome. We were packing our luggage down the sidewalk, and there was blood, dirty clothes, trash, urine and feces everywhere. We got a little nervous about how clean and safe Rome would be in other places, and some of the horror stories we were told started coming to life. But after a little searching, we found our hotel and rested for a bit to catch our breath. Our schedule for Rome was going to be pretty busy, so it wasn’t long before we were back on the streets and down at the metro. I had heard and read about lots of thieves and crowds on the metro, so we were on guard and literally watching each other’s backs when we pushed ourselves through to the crowded train.
We got to our stop and as we climbed the stairs from the underground, the coliseum peeked its structural ruins out into view. For the first time, everything — the whole trip — felt real. My heart was beating fast and there was a smile on my face that I couldn’t get rid of, nor did I want to. We stopped to soak everything in and try to comprehend the mass and beauty before our eyes.
But, before we could tour the coliseum, we had to walk to the Palatine Hill to buy our “Roma Passes,” which would save us a lot of money and give us free transportation on the metro and buses. While we were at the Palatine Hill, we decided to walk through it along with the Roman Forum, which would eventually lead us back to the coliseum. The Palatine Hill and Roman Forum covered a much larger area than I had expected; the ruins scattered along the hillside and overlooked the city below. Walking through the ruins was an amazing feeling — to see a glimpse of how parts of ancient cities functioned and were built, to imagine the Romans using the different spaces. My mom and I took our time wandering through the ruins, sitting up on the hill, it was a separate world and so peaceful and clean compared to the chaos of the city below.
Our walk through the ruins took us back to the coliseum, and we still had some time for a tour before it closed. It was around dinner time, which was perfect, because as we walked through, the sun was lowering in the sky and sending rays of light through the arches and walls. There were many things to appreciate about the coliseum, but my favorite part was looking down at the maze of walls below and imagining the events that took place, then looking up to the spots where crowds of spectators would sit. It made everything come alive in my mind. The coliseum seemed like an optical illusion — when I was inside, it didn’t feel that big, until I looked across the arena and saw how small the people looked.
When we were done with the tour, my mom and I decided to walk to Hard Rock Café for my mom’s birthday dinner (we are a Hard Rock family)! The walk was so much longer than we had expected, but we wanted to stay away from the metro as much as possible, it was just a smelly and creepy place to be. Well, on our walk, we passed a building that had quite a few security officials standing out in front. My mom, who was intrigued by the uniforms and government vehicles, wanted to slow our pace and take a longer look. Within a matter of minutes, crowds started forming and people were swarming the men in uniforms, asking to take pictures. After a few snapshots, the men got in a car and left. One lady was clearly very excited about the picture she had taken, so we stopped her and asked who the person was. It was their president! I guess we should have taken a picture after all.
We had dinner for my mom and I told our waiter it was her birthday. A little while later, he came out with another worker holding a brownie sundae with a candle, singing to her in an awful but energetic voice. There was a crowd of students sitting in the same area as us, and they all sang along and clapped and cheered. Everyone was so enthusiastic and excited for her birthday, it was really sweet. After we finished eating we were stuffed, so we went to the souvenir shop and bought my dad another pin to add to his collection and then headed back to the hotel with full bellies.
Day two was an early wake-up morning due to reservations we had for the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. As we walked toward the entrance, we got snagged by some sales promoters for tours, and we decided why not do it? We would learn more about the history and bypass lines for the adjacent basilica of St. Peter’s. The tour guide itself was a bit of a joke — we waited around for at least an hour before getting started and had a group of 50 people! We got inside and every space was packed full of people from wall to wall, making it hard to stay close to our tour group, and find peace to fully appreciate the chapel and its art. We were more focused on staying together, not getting stepped on, and watching for pickpockets. When we made it to the chapel, our guide walked us right through without even stopping until the very end of the room, which was gated off, forcing you to view the room through bars. Nevertheless, the paintings were still beautiful and it was mind-blowing to think of Michelangelo painting that giant space. One thing the tour guide was good for was giving us some history about Michelangelo, the process of painting the chapel, and the stories that the paintings tell.
My favorite part of the day trip was St. Peter’s Basilica, a massive and highly ornamented church. We somehow got lucky and arrived during mass, which was performed in Italian. We watched for quite some time before continuing our walk to see some of the relics and tombs throughout the space.
We rode the metro back to the hotel because my mom and I were both totally exhausted, and I didn’t feel good at all. My illnesses were catching up with me, possibly from the lack of sleep and heat. My ears hurt and I felt like I had strep throat, that sore throat was getting worse. So we decided to take the rest of the evening slow. We hung out in the hotel for a while before heading to the nearby National Museum of Rome. I read some good things about it, but I personally wasn’t really impressed. It was practically empty so my mom and I were the only ones, but we realized that was for a reason, because there wasn’t much to see. They did have a massive collection of ancient coins, though, which reminded me of my dad, because we are small coin collectors and have an appreciation for that sort of thing. My mom and I quickly made our way through the museum, grabbed dinner, and then spent the evening in the hotel.
My mom and I were getting very homesick at this point, but tried to make the best of the night. We snacked on some m&m’s and crackers, junking out with some soda, and hung out and talked. We seriously considered our options for leaving a day early and going back home, but realized the penalty fees just weren’t worth it. But it was a little disheartening knowing that not only did we have another full day in Rome, but then another full day of travel after that. We missed our family!
Luckily, day three was a sleep-in day since we had done pretty much everything we wanted, except for a few monuments we wanted to see at night. After lunch, we wandered to the capital and sat in a shady piazza while I sketched for a few hours. Then, while we were walking to find gelato, my backpack got pooped on by a pigeon! I was lucky to not get hit, but was totally grossed out. So we stopped for my mom to clean it off, and then we continued our way to gelato. As we finished our snack, it started raining. We worried that we would get a downpour of rain on our way to the Pantheon, mainly because we were not prepared at all and maybe bad luck would catch up to us since we had such good weather our whole trip (although Rome had in general a grayish sky and humidity the majority of the time). But, our good luck continued and the rain eventually stopped. We made it to the Pantheon, but again arrived during all the crowds, so we made a quick walk through then lingered outside of its doors for a while.
We followed the street markets toward the Trevi fountain. The fountain was 2-3 times bigger than I expected (not the first time this has happened during our trip – everything is huge!) and absolutely beautiful, but crowded. So we didn’t stay long because we knew we would be coming back that night. I then found out that my old boss from HDG was in town so we met him and his wife for dinner. They just arrived a few days earlier to start their month-long trip through Europe. Seeing some familiar faces in such an unknown place was the best feeling and definitely cured some of my homesickness. We ate pizza at a café on the top of the Spanish Steps, and it made me excited to think it was one of my last meals before going back home. I was ready for some home cooked meals and a little more variety in my diet, which is saying a lot considering I love pizza and pasta. I always have said that I could eat it every day for every meal, but I realize now that isn’t true!
After leaving the Spanish Steps, my mom and I made our way back to the Trevi fountain since it was getting later and the sun was setting. The fountain was much less busy than it was earlier, so we actually found a spot to sit and watch people taking goofy pictures. As the sun went down, I noticed how white the marble carvings were and how it brought out the turquoise-sea foam color of the water. Then, I realized it matched perfectly with the ring I had bought down the street at the market earlier that day! That ring will always remind me of our night at the Trevi fountain. The night next to the sound of the water and the shimmery reflections it made on the stone was so serene and a perfect way to end our time in Rome.
We went back to the hotel, packed our bags, and went to bed excited and relieved for the next day’s adventure back home.
We woke at 7am to get ready for our flight, and 24 hours later (with no sleep), we arrived at the Spokane airport, welcomed home by my dad and Connor, which was a total surprise. Connor had gotten off work and drove to Spokane to pick me up! Both boys were holding flowers and had big old smiles on their faces. Coming down the escalator seeing dad and then seeing an extra person (who I was secretly hoping would be there but also trying not to get my hopes up) was the best surprise. They drove us back to my parents’ house and we gave them the gifts we had bought for them. Two hours later, we finally got to sleep. It was such a good feeling to close my eyes and sleep well while being home in my own bed. Such little things we take for granted sometimes!