After a surprisingly stressful week of impromptu illnesses and tedious midterms, last weekend’s fall break seemed like the perfect time for me to escape on a Roman holiday. Unfortunately I was not accompanied by Gregory Peck, or Lizzie McGuire’s sidekick Gordo for that matter, but I was fortunate enough to have my roommate Kelly with me for our adventures.
Planning our trip to Rome was both daunting and exciting, especially for a planning and organization freak like me. There’s so much to see and, as college students, so little money to spend! I pride myself on finding the best deals for airfare, housing, transportation and food on my travels. But to be honest, I owe that all to my mom—I think she’s secretly been preparing me my whole life to travel through Europe on a budget. So, being the bargain-hunter that I am, I found us amazingly cheap airfare to Rome. The best part was that the flight left at 7 a.m., which would mean we would get to Rome by 8 a.m. and have the whole day to sight-see—and it would also be one less night we would have to pay for a hostel. But while the bargains I find might seem like a gold mine to any college kid traveling on a budget, let’s just say my bargains are, apparently, not without their consequences.
First of all, the low-cost airline I found only lets you bring one carryon, which even includes a purse. So for the sake of saving money on checked baggage, I stuffed my Longchamp bag to the brim, and when that wasn’t enough room for my 4 days in Rome, I actually made an incision in the pockets of my trench coat and stuffed some clothes in the lining. I may have looked like a well-dressed burglar or a crazed traveler, but I like to think of myself as innovative. Another challenge arose when we realized that, unfortunately, Milan’s public transportation does not run 24 hours. So our only option was to sleep in the airport—stuffed trench coat and all. I would love to be a trooper and say it was fine; I’m young and adventurous and I can do anything. However, it was actually quite miserable. So with 35 minutes of sleep, a stuffed trench coat, fuzzy socks, a pashmina around my head and a brioche in hand, I boarded our plane to Rome right on time the next morning.
Being in Rome is such a humbling experience. You’re not just looking at beautiful paintings or amazingly constructed buildings—you’re literally standing in, what was at one point, the center of civilization. We made sure to hit all of the big sites we wanted to see, including the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and The Vatican as well as the lesser visited Baths of Caracalla, the Catacombs of San Domitilla, the Camp dei Fiori markets, the Piazza Navona and tons of churches and basilicas. While at times such a tight itinerary might seem overwhelming, we definitely made sure to just sit back and observe sometimes.
In “Roman Holiday,” Gregory Peck tells Audrey Hepburn, “One sidewalk café? Coming right up, I know just the place,” which practically mimics exactly what I said to my roommate when we got to Piazza Navona. My dad had always told me about this amazing cafe’ there, which just so happens to have been the birthplace of my favorite Italian dessert, tartufo. So, we figured with all of the budgeting we had done, we could afford to eat the most expensive dessert of our lives. And it was worth it, just to sit there for a while in the sun, listening to Italian music, people watching and listening to the water coming from the Fountain of Neptune and the Fountain of the Four Rivers. I had a few moments like that, moments where you just kind of have to pinch yourself because you can’t believe where you are and what you’re seeing. Like when we found this incredible spot that had a view of the entire Roman Forum, the top of the coliseum and even the mountains in the distance. We sat there, just as the sun was setting, listening to a street band play some jazz music. An even better example is when we were having tiramisu and wine one night at a restaurant next to the Trevi Fountain, and out of nowhere this short, little old man came over to our table with his fiddle and started playing “Finiculi, Finicula.” It’s moments like that where I realize how lucky I am to be having these amazing experiences and seeing all of these amazing places.
Out of all of the things we saw in Rome, my favorites were probably the Baths of Caracalla and the Catacombs of San Domitilla. The Baths of Caracalla are amazing because there is practically nothing left, and at one time it was like a giant country club; the ultimate society gathering place in Rome with marble floors and ceilings, statues, fountains and even hot tubs. It’s amazing to me that something that grand could have just been pillaged and left to crumble, like so much of the ancient world was. I also can’t believe how advanced the Romans were, to have not only built such an amazing structure, but to then be able to construct hot tubs and steam rooms.
The Catacombs of San Domitilla were a bit of a trek, but so worth it. After a metro ride, a bus ride and a deathly walk along the oldest street in Rome, the Appia Antica, we finally made it to the largest of the Catacombs. San Domitilla is 11 miles of catacombs underneath what is probably the oldest Christian church in the world; the church where the original martyrs were buried. Since we got there early, we were lucky enough to get a private tour (on Halloween day, no less—creepy). I have to say, out of all of my years in Sunday School and religious ed. classes, my trip to Rome gave me the most insight into my religion, particularly after my visit to the Vatican and the catacombs.
I ended up loving the city of Rome so much more than I thought I would. Not that I expected to dislike it, I just thought I would be overwhelmed by all there is to see, maybe suffer from what my dad refers to as “cultural overload.” But I didn’t. In fact, I had a small love affair with Rome. The Roman people are just so nice, the ruins are breathtaking, the food is wonderful and the history is humbling. It really forces you to have an appreciation for your beginnings; for the beginnings of politics and government, architecture and construction and even religion. Princess Ann of “Roman Holiday” said it best, “By all means, Rome! I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”