I recently made my first trip across the Atlantic to Italy and I had the most marvelous time! I’ve been across the Caribbean Sea to various islands and my beloved isthmus of Panama as well as across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. This time I traveled to Rome, Italy. I’ve been wanting to visit the country shaped like a boot for a long time and I decided that Italy would be my first stop in Europe.
Italy was everything I expected it to be and more. From the sculptures in the squares to the narrow cobblestone side streets to the food. And especially the food.
I went with my sister on this voyage. It was a celebration of our birthday as well as a celebration of each other.
Arriving in Rome, it was what many would call a dreary day. It was overcast with off and on rain. That didn’t stop us from venturing out into the city immediately after checking into our hotel and dropping off our bags. Our flight left Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport a little after 5:00 pm arriving at Fiumicino International Airport at 8:30 am the following morning. We had arranged for a car service from the airport to the hotel and we arrived at the hotel at 10:00 am. Had we known ahead of time how close our hotel was to the metro station, we would have saved a lot a money by just taking the train from the airport. The hotel staff greeted us warmly and kindly got us situated, having sent our bags to our rooms so that we could enjoy the breakfast since the breakfast service ended at 10:30.
Although the weather was cold and damp, we decided to start off our visit in complete tourist mode. We bought all-day tickets on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus and toured the city, stopping at every major site we could. I highly recommend doing this in large cities with lots to see. The Hop-on-Hop-off bus allowed us to visit every major site, spend some time there, even take a tour of the area before getting on the bus again to the next site. This also allows the ability to decide which sites you want to go back to and spend extra time in. The buses ran every 20 minutes, more or less, and you just had to show your all-day pass. The bus also provides earphones to listen to the prerecorded tour in your preferred language. You do have to be mindful of which Hop-on-Hop-off bus you are using. We were on the red line. There was also a pink line and a white line that was run by different companies.
We took a day trip to Florence. The train system is fast and very orderly. You get assigned seats which eliminates the pushing and shoving for available seats. We purchased our tickets in advance for the day we wanted to travel. The trip from Rome to Florence by train is only an hour and fifteen minutes. Florence is a beautiful city. It’s a perfect blend of the old world and the new. The streets in Florence are even more narrow than those in Rome which doesn’t allow for a Hop-on-Hop-off tour. However, the city is not so large in terms of territory. Walking is very easy, just make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes because the cobblestones are not high-heel friendly. If you are a lover of art and architecture, it is a must that you visit Florence. You can always visit a museum or gallery, but the sculptures that adorn the exterior of many buildings and the public squares are breathtaking. Many of the sculptures that you would find in museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are small study versions of the ones seen in Florence. The city itself is a museum. You can say the same for Rome.
When navigating through Florence, you should definitely have Google Maps on your mobile device. It came in very handy. We had purchased a map of Florence but ended up using Google Maps because many of the side streets were not on the map, which made it very easy to get turned around. Also, whenever you found yourself at an intersection, it’s a good idea to look up at the corner of the buildings. That’s where you would find the name of the street you are on. They are not like the street signs here in the U.S. and can be easily missed.
The food in Italy is, to say the least, amazing. Nothing like what I have eaten here, and there are many Italian restaurants in New York. Restaurants come a dime a dozen in Rome. Everywhere you turned there is a restaurant, so needless to say that the servers and even the restaurant managers will be outside of the restaurant greeting passersby trying to entice them to enter and enjoy a meal in their restaurant. They are very proactive. Once they get you inside they do all that the can to make your meal very enjoyable. From linguini and prawns to fettucini with clams to individual servings of pizza with a crust so thin that you wonder at how it doesn’t fall apart. The dishes are simple, yet very flavorful.
You would start with an appetizer followed by the first course and then the second course. The servings were often so large that we would order a pasta dish as our first course and a pizza as our second course and split them between us, especially knowing that we wanted to leave room for dessert. At the end of the meal, many restaurants would serve a complimentary digestif, typically a limoncello or Sambuca in little-frozen shot glasses with biscotti. Heading to a pastry cafe after dinner was also always an option where you can get your fill of cannoli, biscotti, and other goodies to have with a cappuccino or a latte macchiato.
When you enter the Vatican City you can tell that you are no longer in Rome. The Vatican City has its own vibe. There is a pristine quality to the Papal residence. The streets are cleaner. The walls of the various buildings are cleaner. There is also a quiet reverence to being in the place where the Pope resides. Some parts are currently under construction but it’s done in such a way that you barely notice. What you do notice upon entering are the statues of saints high up on the perimeter wall of the outer courtyard. You get a sense that they were looking down and blessing each visitor from every angle. There was a line to the Sistine Chapel and one to Saint Peter’s Basilica. We chose to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica and I’m glad we did. I was immediately struck by how large the place is. I would say that at least two Saint Patrick’s Cathedrals can fit inside. If giants existed they would feel at home walking through the very large doors and the wide and long passageway towards the front of the church. There were several small church settings where many masses could be held, possibly at the same time. There were works by the old masters as well as sculptures depicting saints and past popes. Even the paintings on the ceiling are amazing to gaze at. The next time I go there I will bring a small telescope to be able to see the details more clearly. Although Saint Peter’s Basilica is not the Sistine Chapel, it sure deserves the same attention, if not more.
When it was time to return home, we decided to take the train to the airport as opposed to the car service. From the station in Rome to Fiumicino the trip was less than an hour and the ride was pleasant and stress-free. Not having to deal with traffic jams was also a plus.
There is so much more to say about Rome to put into words. It is an experience worth having and revisiting over and over again. I fell in love with Rome. It is now on my list of home-away-from-home.