Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rome, Italy

Since May 1st was a holiday in Prague and most of Europe, all the students in our program got the day off, and almost everyone used it as an excuse to create our own spring break by skipping Thursday classes too. With a 4:25 am wake up call, me and 4 of my friends headed out to the airport for our flight to Rome. When we got there around 10, we dropped off our bags at the hostel and immediately headed back out to do some major sight seeing.

Our first stop was obvious--walking to the Coliseum. On the way, we stopped by a flea market to look around. I came to the quick realization that Italy is very sunny so I grabbed a pair of sunglasses before moving onward. Seeing the Coliseum was beyond exciting. It exceeded my expectations, and it was so crazy to be somewhere that I've studied for so many years. We ended up deciding to buy a 25 euro pass that would get us tour of the Coliseum and of the forum and to cut all the lines. It wasn't the most riveting tour (a lot was what I already knew), but walking around the Coliseum was incredible. Plus it made for the perfect opportunity to make USC puns, which everyone seemed to be definitely be enjoying. Witnessing such a huge ruin from ancient Rome was the perfect way to truly realize that we were in Italy and wake us up from travel grogginess.

One of the things I was most excited about in Italy was the food. Eating Italian food in Italy is on most people's bucket list, so all of us were a little anxious for it to be around noon so we could run over to the nearest restaurant. Since it was a holiday, the place we looked up ended up closed, but we went to a nearby restaurant that had a tripadvisor sticker in the window. We ordered a bottle of wine, and my friend and I split a goat cheese salad, pizza with mushrooms and prosciutto, and carbanara pasta. The pasta was amazing--it was fresh and creamy and had perfect bacon in it. The salad and pizza were good, but didn't live up to my high Italian expectations (not to worry later meals would fix the pizza issue!).

After the huge lunch, we continued to walk around Rome past the Forum. It was closed because it was a holiday, so our tour of the area would be on Thursday, but just walking down the street gave us a good view of all the ruins. It was incredible to be walking in modern Rome next to ancient history. Our next stop was past the huge building which is nicknamed "The Wedding Cake" because of its size and white color. The statues were huge, and like everything else on the trip the pictures did not do it justice.

Our next stop was to hunt down a famous gelatria called Gelatria del Teatro. My USC roommate had warned me about gelato places that weren't legitimate in Italy if they heavily decorated and mounded up their gelato to attract tourists. This place was hard to find and had only gelato in it's windows, but had a long line even on a rainy day. I got three flavors--white chocolate, cheese and cherry, and kiwi. It was by far the best ice cream I ever had, and the kiwi flavor blew me away. It tasted exactly like fresh kiwis, and after (reluctantly) letting everyone have a taste it was voted the favorite. When we left, we could see a bowl of fresh peeled kiwis in the kitchen about to be made into ice cream.

The gelato shop was down the street from the Pantheon so we made our way their next. Sadly, this was also closed for the holiday, but we made plans to come back later. The outside and size of the pantheon was already impressive to look at it, so we were still glad we stopped by.

We continued to the Trevi fountain, and fought our way to the front through the hundreds of other tourists. There we took turns putting our 1 cent euros to good use and making wishes by throwing them over our right shoulder into the fountain. It took a few times to make it a picture worthy experience, but it was fun (and reminded me of the Lizzie McGuire movie).

Since we had been going since 4:30 am and it was past 6pm, we finally all headed back to the hostel to check into our room and take a nap. After the nap, the rest of the group decided to meet up with one of our friend's sorority sisters for dinner, but sadly I was feeling sick with a headache and stomachache so I stayed in and slept (you know you're really sick when skip on a meal in Italy).

The next morning we (mainly me) woke up starving. We stopped by an Italian bakery and picked up a roll/pastry as well as a split decision mini cannoli to accompany breakfast. We ate them on the way to meet for our tour of the forum. We met at the Coliseum, and were happy to see we had a young, Australian tour guide (compared to an old, boring, although enthusiastic tour guide the day before). Our tour of the forum was probably the best thing we did in Rome our entire trip. I didn't even know the area existed before I came here, and would have had no idea what I was looking at. We saw where Julius Caesar was killed, where the vestal virgins kept the fire going, the inside arena for the emperor in his palace, and many more. The tour guide was really interesting, and the forum was over all just an amazing place.

Since it was our last full day in Rome, we knew that it was our only chance to see the Vatican. We heard that the Vatican closed its doors at 4 and actually closed around 6, so we started to make our way over to that area. It was a ways away (metro transfer and a long walk) so by the time we got to the vatican it was around 3:15. We went to go see St. Peter's basilica, but realized that half of our group was wearing shorts and tank tops. A few stops to souvenir shops later and everyone properly clothed with scarfs, we made it inside to look around. It was a huge and church and very pretty, but we quickly realized that it wasn't what we were looking for and a separate area for the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel entrance was a ways away. Since it was 3:48 when we realized this and a 15 minute walk, we decided to actually run all the way to the entrance. Despite people making fun of us and the hot weather, we made it in the entrance a minute before 4, and was the last group to buy our tickets. It ended up being even more lucky because we had no line to see the Sistine Chapel (although it was very crowded) and we heard that lines could be up to four hours long.

After walking and running around today in shoes that are not meant for that type of activity, we splurged and paid a taxi to take us to dinner. Tony's was the restaurant that 3 of our group had been to the night before--and they had not stopped talking about it since then. I was really excited to see what the best Italian food they've ever tasted was actually like. The owner of the restaurant loves American students so he often takes bottles of wine off the bill or doesn't charge for water or bread. Diana and I had done our research so we knew that on Thursdays all the restaurants make fresh gnocchi. After with bread and olive oil, a shared cheese pizza, the best and most decadent gnocchi ever, and a few bottles of wine, I could barely move. As embarrassing as it was that I nearly ate myself sick (actually not nearly, I'm pretty sure I did), that was probably one of the best meals of my life. We walked around laid on benches until we felt good enough to make our way over to the Coliseum to see it lit up at night. We took some ridiculous photos and called it a night.

That morning we woke up bright and early to pack up our stuff, grab a hostel breakfast, and head to the  station to take the train to Naples (and then another to Sorrento). Sorrento was absolutely incredible and felt like an entirely different trip and place, so I'll leave that for another blog post.

We got back to Rome around 5 on Sunday, and our mission was to make it to the Pantheon before it closed at 6. The open air dome was really interesting, and being back at the Pantheon also meant we were close to the gelato place we visited before. We were all excited to have it again, and I got kiwi and coconut (once again kiwi was the best). We spent some time arguing deciding where to go for dinner. A lot of places in the guide book were closed on Sunday, so we ended up again at Tony's. While I wanted to try another place, ultimately, the ravioli with truffle sauce convinced me that there was no reason to go to another restaurant ever again.

We finished dinner and did a last walk through the city past the lit up forum to our final sight seeing stop at the Spanish steps.
It was a great end to our last night in Italy, and I still can't believe I got to go to Rome. Italy was definitely one of my top 2 trips of the semester, and I can't wait to go explore the country more. 

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