After a delayed flight in Belgrade, another brief stop in Zurich, and a frantic gallop to our gate, we were safely on our way to Rome. Or as safe as you can be, when you’re 30,000ft in the air and have seen way too many disaster movies.

We had only brought carry-on luggage for our trip, thinking this would save us a maddening wait at the baggage claim, but Swiss Air had other plans, unpleasant ones. Being the quasi-robot people that they are, the Swiss attendants determined our baggage to be a centimeter or two oversized. Alas, we spent our first hour in Rome at the mercy of FCO’s baggage claim.

Still, after months of waiting and daydreaming, we were finally in it. Surrounded by the Eternal City. Just two people among the masses. The ghosts of an empire haunting our every turn.

There’s a saying: Everything that is old becomes new again. And this was indeed the case when we arrived in Rome’s Centro Storico area.

DAY 1:

The history books, the travel guides, the restaurant and neighborhood suggestions, all of it, or at least the snippets that we somehow managed to retain, swirled in our collective heads, as we dumped our bags and headed out into the night.

Maria and I had decided on the flight over, that our first day, albeit an abbreviated one, would begin with a stop at the Pantheon. Then it would be dinner near Piazza Navona, and a long walk through the city, afterward. Of course, there would also be occasional stops for wine, when we needed to cool our heels and maintain our buzz.

Our hotel was a couple of blocks from the Pantheon, and when we stumbled upon it, our jaws dropped. It was a juggernaut. Standing ancient and proud on one end of the piazza. It dwarfed the tourist cafes that surrounded it. We stared up at the ancient temple for a time, taking it in, as street vendors tried in vain to sell us selfie sticks and glowy thingys (more on that later).

I was fairly opposed to spending money at the touristy cafes, wanting to opt for more authentic Roman trattorias, but an opportunity to sit and enjoy a drink while the Pantheon loomed over us, was too tempting an offer to pass up.

Next up, was dinner at a small hole-in-the-wall pasta shop near Piazza Navona. We had a carbonara dish, and it was everything we were told it would be. The piazza was electric with tourists, locals, and a fairly perverted clown. We people watched, while also dodging the selfie-stick guy’s advances (he’ll get his, just wait).

Soon, we were strolling down ancient streets, stopping here and there for a drink, and that’s when it happened, nature called, and I was its captive audience. The thing about Rome is the public toilet situation is less than ideal. I had read about this in one of the travel guides, but paid it no mind… until now. It took a few euros, two drinks, and a seat at a busy trattoria, but I found the washroom, seconds before impact. This is what I was faced with:

Et tu, toilette?

Yep, no toilet seat. Like most of the public restrooms we encountered, something was always off. There might be a seat, but there was no sink, there might be a toilet and a sink, but you wouldn’t be wiping with paper in that one.

It was as if the public restrooms were a staging point for some strange experiment on bodily functions in foreign environments. And we were their unknowing test subjects. Still, this was a small issue, and from then on, I meticulously timed my body’s more disgusting operating systems.

All in all, our first night in Rome exceeded even our lofty expectations.

DAY 2:

Our day was planned. Cappuccinos to start, and the rest of the morning would be spent exploring the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. I purchased Roma passes from one of the kiosks along the way. This was paramount in evading the longer ticket buying lines, but we still had to evade multiple selfie stick guys (Just wait).

I had downloaded the Rick Steves audio tour for each ancient attraction. We ear budded up and explored the ancient empire. And while the audio tours were a tad cheesy, they were also informative and added to our overall experience.

The weather was quickly climbing toward a balmy ninety degrees, but regardless of the heat, both the Colosseum and the Forum were sights to behold. Even Indiana Jones must’ve been clapping like Gilbert Grape the first time he toured these ruins.

The Forum be like: “I’m gonna photo bomb these suckers.”

During our sweaty walk back to the hotel, we hydrated at various street fountains, and ate what was possibly the best pizza of our lives… and we’re from Chicago.

Upon reaching our room, soaked, pizza stuffed, and exhausted, we decided to follow a typical Roman schedule. A siesta was in order. Napping is not something I do frequently, but I took to it like Caesar to knives (Too soon?).

After a brief recharge, we wandered the streets of Rome once more. When our legs and stomachs couldn’t go any further, we stopped in for a bite at a trattoria in Campo de’ Fiori . Later that night, Maria and I planned to stop in at the Trevi Fountain, and toss a coin for our guaranteed return. Unfortunately, the fountain was closed for repairs.

I couldn’t help thinking this might prove an unfortunate omen for a return trip to Rome. I quickly pushed the thought away, deciding instead that a busted fountain counts as a ‘do over’ in our favor. When in doubt, revert to schoolyard tactics.

DAY 3:

We began our day, like all of our subsequent days in Italy, with delicious cappuccinos. We channeled our inner Fellini, as we sipped the morning away. Once the caffeine took hold, we walked to the Spanish Steps. There we realized, that in Rome, like most major cities, very rich people enjoy shopping for very expensive things.

We walked up the steps, and enjoyed the view. Soon, a flower salesman of the highest order (this guy could bring timeshares back) was congratulating me on marrying such a beautiful woman.

He then tried on multiple occasions to sell me a rose for her. When he realized I wasn’t going to fall for his advanced sales techniques, he offered Maria a rose at no charge. This guy was good, I thought.

She accepted and I cringed. He had won this battle.

Moments later, he was taking our picture, as Maria held a dozen of his roses. All in all, I was down a couple euros, and Maria was stuck carrying a couple of roses for the rest of the day. Hey, at least it wasn’t selfie stick.

That's the smile of a beaten man.

That’s the smile of a beaten man.

After a pasta lunch, and a siesta, we were back at the Pantheon. Ready to enter it, and take another audio tour. On the way in, the selfie stick man once again blocked my path.

This time however, I didn’t need to brush him off, or perform a well-practiced sidestep. A guard, noticing that the selfie stick man was selling too close to the Pantheon, clapped him on the neck, and tugged him away by his shirt, shoving him further off into the piazza. All the while, he hissed Italian curses in the selfie stick man’s direction. S.S.M (At this point an abbreviation is in order) hurried off, clutching his selfie sticks like a 20 year old girl with too many Instagram followers.

Normally, I wouldn’t want to see a struggling street vendor get treated like that, but there’s something about selfie sticks that brings out the worst in me. I turned and smiled gloriously at Maria. She shook her head disapprovingly, and we went on our way.

Later that night, we strolled over the Tiber River to Trastevere, in search of a local Roman scene. I refused to check the map, two days in Rome and I had it all figured out.

We got lost. Or at least that was Maria’s version.

Two older ladies, who spoke no English, helped me with directions.

We got lost again.

One of the things that we came to understand about Rome that night, was that you always end up somewhere interesting, and you’re guaranteed a small adventure along the way. It wasn’t so much about getting lost as it was about discovering something new. That’s my version, anyhow.

Continued next week in 3 Days in Florence

 

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