My image was of ‘roaming’ aimlessly round Rome, was to experience breathtaking historic architecture on every corner. Yet, after being bundled into crammed train and dropped into a station that makes London Euston seem like a tranquil spa, before getting seriously lost off a good old google map print out and being greeted by possibly the rudest receptionist in the world, let alone Italy, (interrupt an Italian watching YouTube videos, at your peril) my vision of Rome was somewhat skewed. In fact, Im pretty sure if someone had offered us a cheap flight back to Budapest and the friendly arms of Lavender Circus, we would have abandoned the Freedom Traveller Hostel and our poor cabin bags held up in their ‘luggage room’ (which was in fact a ‘locked’ outhouse which had seem better days….) and been on that flight quick sharp. A hunt for a local Starbucks (there isn’t a single one in Italy so don’t even bother looking) led us to the hub of the train station McDonalds, complete with children harassing us for money for Mcflurrys and random women asking to help us in exchange for cash. Why were we looking for such American eateries? Free WiFi of course. Wifi would equal a map, which our evil hostel host couldn’t offer us, and a ticket out of here, to the nicer part of the city. But travellers aren’t entitled to free wifi- oh no- you want free wifi in local hotspots? Then grab your purse, head to Vodafone and buy an Italian SIM card. No joke, I promise. Gathering together our gutsy selves, we headed back to the hostel, petrified of what rude converse we had ahead to check in. Only to find, once she was accompanied by her friendly colleague, the hostel bitch (as we had quickly renamed her) was as happy as Larry. Even offering us a free map… After we’d begrudgingly bought one for €4 minutes earlier. Typical!
One bout of free hostel wifi later, and we joined one of our travel favourites a free walking tour! Now, all of our walking tours have been guided by a young, travel lover with a great sense of humour (ignoring the Hungarian enthusiast), but today, we were met with a middle-aged Italian man, who hated Brits, when we reached the famous Spanish Steps. And we weren’t the only ones. After enjoying our past tours with 15-20 fellow travellers, today’s was 50 people deep, with 50 being the average age. 2 hours of being insulted on our poor knowledge of Latin, nearly run over by insane Roman drivers countless times, and the disappointment of finding the famous Trevi foundation to be closed (due to refurbishment work required due to the calcium levels in Italian water) we grabbed a bottle of wine, ordered traditional spaghetti and meatballs and settled down to watch the World Cup final. Supporting our favourite cities team of course- go Germany!
Walking shoes on, and a new hope for our Roman adventure, we grabbed some tasty breakfast Gelato from Dolce Vita on route to the Roman Forum and Coliseum, exploring two churches on route. After much travel blogging research (our golden bible to each and every adventure) we headed straight for the forum, and I suggest you do the same. A ticket to explore the forum, coliseum and palatine hill costs €12, but purchase at the coliseum and expect a 2 hour queue ahead of you. We headed straight for the forum main entrance and waited around 20 minutes, but on hindsight, if you walk around the outskirts of the forum, you can find ticket booths with no queue at all. There is no better feeling walking past hundreds of people straight into the coliseum, in blistering heat, believe me! An exhausting day of exploration, whilst gaining historic knowledge, deserves a tasty Italian pizza. However, if you like a good old veggie pizza, beware. Mine arrived with no sight of the tomato layer- simply, cheese, carrots, broccoli and aubergine. Tasty as it was, it was the oddest pizza combination I have ever tasted, and probably not one I plan to repeat.
When the weathers nearing 30 degrees by 10am, with not a cloud in the sky, its rather hellish to be donning a calf length dress, with a high collar and midi sleeves. Yes, our day at Vatican City had arrived, and knowing their strict rules in St Peters Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, we were taking no chances! Not with our penchant for bad luck on this trip. A quick take out breakfast from a gorgeous coffee bar (although remember latte in Italian is simply milk, don’t make my mistake!) we had plenty of time to catch the metro A route, arriving at Vatican City fresh as an air conditioned daisy. But no, that bad luck penny followed us once more- all metro’s on A route closed. Leaving us praying our disastrous map reading skills can navigate a way from one side of Rome to the other, within 40 minutes. Luckily (and hugely surprising, believe me) we made it, sore footed and sporting a delightful ‘glow’ from our midday power walk, in time for our 1pm entrance and audio tour. We booked these tickets online a week before, and simply showing the booking on a smart phone takes a huge queue out of the equation. Even the nuns were queuing to get in, so they seriously don’t let anyone in quickly!! However, bypass the audio tour, it quickly became dull and the people don’t half drown on about stuff you can’t even see properly. Plus, they take your passport off you in exchange for the audio gadget- not exactly a fair exchange in my book! Especially when they ‘misplaced’ the guy in front’s ID. To say my heart was literally in my mouth was an understatement. I have never been so happy to see my horrific 8 year old passport mugshot.
So, the Vatican City- basically the richest place I have ever stepped foot in. Their museums seem to own ten times more exhibitions than any other, and it was a little overwhelming. You almost find yourself ignoring the smaller pieces you’d probably be mesmerised with in a local city museum just because its overcrowded with stuff. It’s insane to see. The museum’s lead to the famed Sistine chapel, which, sit down for this one, I found a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, and Michael Angeleno’s work is seriously stunning, but it didn’t take my breath away. Perhaps my reaction was due to the hundreds of tourists packed into such a small space, the hushed silence or screaming guards warning people of taking pictures, I just hope you don’t feel the same way on your visit. I was however mesmerised by St Peters Basilica, situated in St Paul’s Square. After yet another security check (the Vatican City is pretty hot on it), I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the beautiful art which adorns the church, witnessing what looked like monks and priests simply walking through, smiling at those who greeted them. The vibe was a lot less ‘money making’, and much more peaceful. A sunny walk along the waterfront, followed by delicious ricotta and spinach ravioli and homemade tiramisu there was just enough time to meet a lovely Swedish girl starting her mid twenties Italian adventure, before we headed back to an airport once more for our last adventure. Sunny Split and hip Hvar- we are coming to get you!