…do as Romans do and give foot massages to female travelers. I was going to end the post with my rant on Italian men, but it made for a depressing ending, so I think I’ll start with the worst.
Overall, I LOVED Rome and I really liked Italy, but there was one thing there I absolutely could not stand. I don’t know if I just had a bad experience, but I find the majority of Italian men to be some of the most annoying, most irritatingly persistent and even downright gross men I have had the misfortune to come across. By the end of the trip, I was walking with headphones in everywhere, regardless of whether music was playing or not, just to have an excuse not to respond to people. One stopped me and told me I was wearing good walking shoes. Okay.. apparently he was a “doctor” who knew about these things, although in the course of the conversation he demoted himself from doctor to podiatrist to pedicurist. I humored him by trying to show him that my feet hurt anyway because the soles of my shoes were worn down. As I picked up my foot to show him, he grabbed my foot and started to tell me how important it was to have a good arch in my shoe… and then started massaging my foot. I told him that I did not want a foot massage and he goes “You don’t like? It’s free!” “American women like foot massage.” NO! I told him I was leaving and denied his request to get coffee the following day. There were a few other less annoying but still persistent guys, like the one who very nicely led me to the Spanish steps (although without me asking him to) but then made me very awkwardly say that I was going to continue on by myself after that, thank you very much. One got me hooked into a conversation by asking me the name of the street we were on. I tried to get rid of him by telling him I had to go grocery shopping and walking into a grocery store. Oh lucky me, he told me he would accompany me! How sweet… I stayed in the grocery store choosing between brands of mozzarella for a stupidly long time trying to get him to get bored and leave. He slobbered all over my hand when I held it out for a handshake. The fact that we both liked pistachios warranted him to laugh and grab my waist…he then tried to accompany me back to my hostel, as I am getting more rude by the minute, but he still didn’t get it! Even with the language barrier, you would think my body language would get the point across as I spent the majority of my time cringing away from him…but no, he kept awkwardly touching me and following me and would not take not for an answer. Finally, when I told him definitively that I was going to walk alone and that he should not come with me, he gets the point, although not before asking for my number, which I refused him. Finally, he holds his arms out for a hug and instead tries to “kiss” (read: slobber on) my cheek as I am literally trying to break free of his grasp. Yes, he seemed more or less harmless. But yes, I am mad. And I am angry at myself for being mad. By the time I got to Florence, I was already wary of every Italian man and turned down another coffee date without even really thinking. I always feel like an asshole for saying no and for being rude, and I feel like the last one genuinely wanted to learn about other cultures and actually practice his English. But I was just so fed up. It’s not age – while most of them were older, the creepiest one (grocery store guy) looked to be my age or even younger. Is it really Italian culture? Is it the reputation American girls have? The whole situation simultaneously makes me feel annoyed and like a shitty person for being rude, but it really was the only thing that got through to them. But anyway, even skeezy Italian men cannot take away from my experience in Italy.
I actually got to Rome on Saturday, the 18th, but by the time the flight landed, I got from Ciampino to Rome, found my hostel after a lot of searching because my phone was showing me the wrong place, it was around 7:30. So I basically just took a short walk, got some pizza (I accidentally ordered an entire pizza instead of a slice… good thing the hostel has a fridge), and then went to bed fairly early so I could hit the ground running on Sunday.
Sunday morning I woke up and was out of the hostel by 7:30 for an approximately 45 minute walk to the Borghese gallery. I tried to make it a nice leisurely walk since my reservation wasn’t actually until 11:00, so I stopped to see the church Santa Maria Maggiore and passed through the Piazza della repubblica. Even so, I got to the gallery around 8:45. Luckily they let me change my reservation to 9:00. One of the many perks of being in Rome in the winter. There was some pretty good art there, lots of good Rennaissance stuff in particular but my favorite was a sculpture by Bernini of the Rape of Prosperpina. It was crazy good- I don’t understand how you can carve marble and have it look as though there are indents in the woman’s skin where she is being grabbed. There were also some Raphael works in there that I really liked. No pictures were allowed, so here’s a googled assortment of my favorite stuff from the Borghese gallery.
After that I walked around the park there for an hour or two, and tried visiting two churches but I went during the few afternoon hours they were closed – I thought only Spain did the siesta! I wandered towards the Trevi fountain – wow! The most impressive part was the sheer size of it. I really do love traveling alone, but this was the part where traveling alone sucked the most. I watched as everyone else tossed their coins with their friends and loved ones…and I did it, well, alone. And to make it even more embarrassing, I had to capture the moment by myself. So not only was I coin tossing by myself, I was doing it in selfie mode while talking to myself. Not my best moment, but here it is:
I walked from the Trevi fountain to the Spanish steps, although unfortunately they were doing maintenance work on the fountain so I didn’t get to see it. Nor did I get to eat gelato like Audrey Hepburn on the Spanish steps, although I did eat plenty of gelato on my trip. I walked up the steps to the church Trinità dei Monti, and then started walking along the park towards the piazza popolo. It started POURING so I decided to make a trip to seek out nearby Fata Morgana, a gelato place I read about on a travel blog. It was amazing! First of all, they are really inventive with their flavors. I sampled a flavor called “Basil, walnuts and honey” which was actually amazing. They also had Chocolate with Rosemary, Wine, Poppyseed, and something with horseradish! I finally settled on half blueberry cheesecake, half sunflower seed. It was incredible! I went back and got a flavor called white almond, which was also ridiculously good. I would say that the gelato at Fata Morgana was definitely the best I had all trip, I wish I had gone back more than twice! The rest of the afternoon I ducked in and out of some random churches, saw the Pantheon, and ended up that the Piazza Navonna with another Bernini masterpiece- the four rivers fountain. By that point I was exhausted, and by the time I got back to my hostel I had spent about 11 hours walking.
While munching on leftover pizza in my hostel, I met three Mexicans who were also studying abroad in Spain, and we decided to go to the Vatican museum together the next day. I had planned on going to the Colosseum, but the chance of rain was 90% so I decided to stay indoors as much as possible. Also, I really liked all 3 of them and I always jump at the chance to practice more Spanish. Throughout the trip I met and talked to a lot more Spanish speakers from Mexico, Argentina, and Chile. Honestly, it made me so happy because I could see concretely on this trip how far my Spanish has come. At the beginning of this year, I never would have even considered starting a conversation with someone in Spanish, but now it doesn’t scare me at all, and I am able to hold my own and understand almost everything. Actually, what they say about Andalusian Spanish is true – it’s so difficult to understand the Spanish here that everyone else’s accents are not a problem! And just in general, everyone I met at my hostel in Rome was amazing! That is one of my favorite parts of traveling- being able to meet people from all over the world. I ended up watching Zoolander with two super nice Australians- one of whom gifted me his pass to the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour in London!! He said he got it as a present but didn’t think he was going to make it to London. The generosity of strangers is astounding – aaand I’m saving 29 pounds- what is that, about $40?
The Vatican museum was pricy, but wonderful! We spent over 3 hours there, and 30 minutes in the Sistine Chapel alone. It was awe-inspiring. I would walk to one end, crane my neck to look up, walk to the other end, turn around, look sideways, look up again, pace or stand still… I also had Rick Steves free audio guides for some of the larger attractions in Rome and Florence, which, although I do not like his style, were fairly informative. So I was listening along to the explanations of the work while I was seeing it. Also amazing were the frescos by Raphael- I have been learning about them over and over again since European history in 10th grade, and to finally see them was so fulfilling. Even the ancient Egyptian stuff was interesting – I did not expect the collection to be so expansive and varied. On the way out, I accidentally lost my travel companions, but it might have been better because I had planned to have lunch at a very vegetarian friendly crunchy granola hippie restaurant, where I had an amazing salad with basil tofu (How is this even possible? I must try and recreate it!) for only 5 Euro.
After lunch, I wandered into Vatican city and into St. Peter’s Basilica. Well, it certainly is worthy of being the capital of Catholicism. Like with the Trevi fountain, the size alone is awe-inspiring. There is a tiny dove at the very end of the Basilica, which my audio guide told me was 6 feet across! How is that even possible? There is also a door that apparently only gets opened every 25 years, and only by the pope. The rest of the time it is cemented shut. Even not being religious, the artwork of Saint Peter’s Basilica was amazing – especially incredible were Michelangelo’s Pietà and the Baldacchino designed by Bernini. When I emerged from the Basilica, the rain had all but stopped and there was a rainbow arching over Rome. It doesn’t get more perfect than that.
The afternoon I spent walking along the river a little bit and climbing a hill for a great view of Rome. And I mean great. Like awe inspiring (have I used that adjective too much yet? It’s just that it’s true!). I tried to capture it.
After, I wandered through the neighborhood of Trastevere, a really cool neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber. On my way back, I got to see a little bit of Rome by night- some of the ruins as well as the more modern buildings. Even the ones I had already seen or was going to see were worth seeing by night- the ambiance is completely different. I got a glimpse of the Colosseum by night and went back less than 12 hours later to see it by day!
First, though, I woke up early to swing by a few more churches I want to see. I’m not having any religious epiphanies, but the churches in Rome have some really good art. I particularly liked San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) because of Michelangelo’s Moses statue, part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. After, I went to the Colisseum and the Roman Forum. It was crazy to actually see Roman ruins in Rome. There are Roman ruins that I have seen throughout Spain, but to see them in the center of everything, the center of their empire, was awesome. I tried to put myself back centuries but it was hard to imagine them how they were back then. Unfortunately, I wanted to see the Piazza del Campidoglio so I existed without seeing Palatine Hill, not knowing my ticket was only good for one entry! So instead I decided to see the mouth of truth, although apparently nowadays you have to pay to wait in line to take your picture with it, and I wasn’t having any of that so I wandered back towards the center and into the Victor Emmanuel II monument where there is a free Italian History museum and some expeditions. The final thing I did was go back to one of the churches that was originally closed, Santa Maria della Vittoria, to see Bernini’s masterpiece Ecstasy of St. Teresa (I guess many things by Bernini can be considered his “masterpiece”). Then I stopped back by the hostel to grab my things and catch my train to Florence! More on Florence and Tuscany later…