When in Rome….

–          Don’t stay in moldy hostels

–          Try to avoid pickpockets

–          Beware of Volcanoes

Three biggest lessons. We rolled in the Roma in the early afternoon and set out to find a tourist center that it turns out had closed a few years back (also beware of out of date travel guides that you borrow from the previous hostel). Somehow we got a hold of a list of hostels and sat calling them in a McDonald’s to check availability. After a bit of maneuvering and calling, we found a hostel near the coliseum. Somehow the booking got screwed up though and while we were waiting in the sketchy hallway to get it sorted, these girls poked there head out and whispered “Don’t stay here if you can. We can smell the mold in our sleep.” We made our excuses and booked it out of there. It ended up costing us quite a bit per night, but we found a place near the train station and set up camp. The mess with the hostel pretty much wiped us out on Day 1 in Rome, so we decided to hold all sightseeing until day 2.

Inside the Coliseum

            We started with the Coliseum and took a tour, on which, among other things, we learned that it was cultural week in Rome so everything that normally charged an entrance fee was free! Bingo- I love unplanned free stuff! The Coliseum tour was one of my favorite things on the trip, too – despite the fact that it’s mainly just a ruin, the tour was really interesting. I could have stayed in there for a while. That and it really inspired me to watch “Gladiator”. The Coliseum tour came with a bonus tour of Nero’s Palace and the Roman Forum, with a different guide, Greg the rocking Romanian.

Ruins of the Roman Forum

            The second day, we took another tour with Greg- the Rome walking tour. That Sunday- the 18th – and the first day we actually saw the effects of the Volcano. Despite the fact that it was cultural week, the city was really empty. The tour ended at St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, where we were supposed to be blessed by the Pope, but unfortunately he was pretty much the only person in Europe who had access to the airways and had taken the Pope-copter to Malta, so we were blessed by a TV screen. Which was still nifty. And if we hadn’t sat on the square to be blessed by a pixilated Pope, we wouldn’t have met Nancy, the high school chaperone from Napa Valley. She was chaperoning a group of 25 kids who were supposed to be flying to Paris but couldn’t and were about to be forced out of the convent they were staying in because of another group coming in. She was a fascinating person to talk to. We sat with her and some of the high school-ers for about an hour and half before we parted ways to take Nancy’s advice and make the climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Now, I don’t believe I have mentioned thus far that my knowledge of Rome comes primarily from 5th grade history and Dan Brown. The 5th grade history has faded a bit, but “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” gave me a little bit of background/perspective on what the Vatican and Rome were like. Regardless of your opinion on the films, just as I suggest “The Thief Lord” for Venice, I suggest Dan Brown’s novels for Rome.  

Sightseeing Stop on the Walking Tour- The Trevi Fountain!


Another sightseeing stop- the Spanish Steps

 I also suggest a good pair of tennis shoes. I suggest that for all of Europe however. On the climb to the top of the Basilica, I especially got a kick out of the woman who was carrying her espadrilles. Apparently for some, fashionable footwear is required everywhere but climbing up 521 stairs. I did not and still do not share this perspective. My New Balances saw me across 7 countries and I will remain a loyal fan. That climb was treacherous- at points the ceiling slanted so much and the steps were so narrow that it felt like a funhouse. But the view of Rome was breathtaking- literally you saw for miles. I also got a kick out of the little kid who pointed at a rain cloud and shouted “Look Mom, it’s the Volcano!” People began to get Volcano crazy.

Angels and Demons ran through my mind as I stood all those feet above St. Peter's Square...


The inside of St. Peter's was absolutely incredible as well