As I mentioned in the Italy chapter, I have so much information about Rome, and so much to say about the city that I’ve created a special chapter about my experiences there, in higher detail. I have also included the Vatican and San Marino, the former because it’s inseparable from Rome, and the latter because we visited the nation during our stay in Rome.
Silence isn’t something that happens in large, enclosed spaces with many people. Therefore, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport was bustling. After a chaotic exit from the plane, and relatively smooth customs, things were going pretty well. We went to the baggage claim. My eyes swept around, and fell on a playground. Perfect. We wouldn’t have to worry about my sister crying. My mom went with my sister, and me and my dad got the carts, and I scanned the conveyor belt for our luggage.
“It always seems like we get our bags last,” my dad said. I thought I knew why we were always last. We always came to the airport an hour before the recommended time, and that estimate is high. The wait wasn’t exhausting, thanks to my dad’s shiny Priority Passes that let us in the lounges without paying the fee there. Plus the lounge hot chocolate wasn’t half bad. Because we went early, however, they packed our bags first, and that’s how they ended at the bottom of the pile.
My dad heaved a huge suitcase. “Thank goodness! Our first bag has arrived!” he exclaimed. “You go get the stroller. I hope it isn’t lost” Our stroller has been mixed up in the baggage countless times, and it was plausible that it had happened again. I walked over. The stroller wasn’t there.
“Dad!” I said, jogging towards him. “The stroller isn’t there yet” My dad came to the odd-size baggage claim, which compared to the modern conveyor belts looked old and rickety. I had to help him get there, as he was pushing two baggage carts filled to the brim. We parked the carts there, and waited for a little bit. I was getting a little bored, so I asked “Dad, can I go check on Amma?” Amma is Telugu for Mom. He said yes, and I went over to the miniscule playground, which was vividly painted in bright shades of green, yellow, red, and orange. I also saw a grand piano, which was mildly confusing. My sister was sliding down the slide, and my mom was standing there. There were no seats in the playground, which was a bummer, because my feet were killing me. I ran back and told my dad everything was fine.
“Has the stroller come yet?” I asked.
“No,” replied my dad, and at that very moment, the stroller came down the belt. What were the chances of that?
We went to the exit, and my dad showed us where to go. I was amazed with what I saw next. A full size van. We had so much to carry that a normal car wouldn’t do. It would’ve been even more if we didn’t pack wisely: we took all packaged items out of packaging, refrained from packing food, and packed our clothes as close together as possible. Even with all of that, we were lugging three suitcases, a stroller, and a car seat to the airport, and that’s not mentioning all of the carry-on bags; three hulking backpacks filled to the brim, and a handbag. The van was very spacious, and the trunk even had enough room to store all of the suitcases and carry-on items. For the first time in forever, the trip from the airport wasn’t cramped.
I wish that we came to Rome during the daytime. I wasn’t able to see anything on the way to the AirBnb, unless you count a few jumbled roads as a view. I almost didn’t care. We were in Rome! The city of gladiators and ruins, the Pantheon, and the Senate. My mind was swirling in daydreams of a city whose past was defined by the empire.
Those expectations were completely wrong, but the night sky couldn’t tell me that.
If our van was majestic, the apartment that we were staying in was anything but. We were met by the owner of the Airbnb, and she showed the apartment. First of all, it was ages old. The steps were yellow, the paint was cracking, and overall it looked haphazard. The second thing was that we couldn’t use the elevator.
“Tenants only,” said the lady. In a way, I was relieved to not use the elevator. It looked like it was from the 1800s, tops. However, my dad wasn’t. He had to carry all of those suitcases up three stories. Rough.
One of my favorite things about arriving in a city at night is seeing how different the city looks at daytime. Rome didn’t disappoint. I woke up to the sun seeping through the windows and my dad urging me to wake up. We needed to eat our breakfast quickly, and start looking around the wonderful city of Rome.
“Today we should visit the Spanish Steps,” my dad said.
“What are the Spanish Steps?” I replied. I thought that we were going to see the Colosseum, the Roman ruins, maybe the Forum, and some of those Roman flats for the plebians, whose homes were owned by Crassus.
I knew about the Renaissance, but I didn’t know how much it affected the city of Rome. When I thought of the Renaissance, I thought about Florence, Venice, Turin, Paris, and Milan. I didn’t think about Rome. I flipped the pages of the book, and found the page for the Spanish Steps. When I discovered that they were just some steps made by some Spanish person in the Renaissance, I lost interest. Perhaps it might be interesting, I thought, as my dad usually chooses the best spots to visit.
After a nice breakfast, we got out of the apartment, which was now a brick home, and looked around at the breathtaking city of Rome. We weren’t in a very crowded street, which was a good thing, because the street right next to us was bustling. This was the modern area, where there wouldn’t be any pickpockets to steal tourists’ money. My dad looked around.
“We need to remember some landmarks here, so that we know where to turn,” he said. We decided that a bakery was the best choice, and went on. We stayed on the same street for a while, looking at my dad’s navigational app. After about a half hour’s walk, we reached the Spanish Steps.
“It isn’t very crowded,” my dad remarked. That was true. We were the only people there, except for a few locals. I thought that perhaps people agreed with me, and thought that the Spanish Steps sounded very boring.
“This can’t be right,” said my dad. So the Spanish Steps were popular after all.
We turned the other direction, walked, and sure enough, the app told us that we were getting closer. It took about another hour and a half to find the steps, but I didn’t mind. Rome was a lovely city, and I wanted to know all of its secrets. We looked around, and after a lot of walking. We found the Spanish Steps.
The fist sign that we were near anything substantial was the crowd. There were about four hundred people there, all packed into that tiny little plaza. Next to the Spanish Steps was a big column, and on top of it was a lovely pewter statue. We took a photo of it. We moved through the crowd like a marble on top of jelly. In other words, very slowly. Thankfully, the crowd began to disperse when people saw the shops of the plaza. In Italy, however, a plaza is called a piazza. That information proved to be very useful, because whenever we looked at a map, we saw piazzas, and they were always indications of historical sites. Even walking into one guaranteed some statue, fountain, or at least a gelato shop. We were in the center of tourist Italy.
The second sign that we were near the Spanish steps were the vendors. With the crowd, there was a massive opportunity for both business and crime, and therefore both were common. The shops near the destinations looked both more rustic, and richer, and the prices were almost always higher there. The thieves and pickpockets were unseen in the crowd, but you could always tell they were there because of the vendors selling stolen goods. I think that behind the streetside mats with vendors that sold sunglasses, purses, and phones that there was another business where people exchanged stolen items with other stolen items, which eventually produced enough of the same items to make stores. Anyways, it’s always wise to keep your backpack where you could see it. Past the pickpockets was another business; selling those cheap slingshots, frisbees, and glow up toys. It wasn’t illegal as far as I know, but it was definitely a money-spinner. It wasn’t demand that led to the success of all of these stores-it was the crowd. It was always guaranteed that somebody would buy something in that huge crowd.
After a lot of unintentional pushing and shoving, we reached the Spanish Steps. It wasn’t really that impressive in my opinion, just a cathedral and a few steps, but people loved it. Maybe it was that I had seen a lot of cathedrals in my life, and that the crowd heightened my expectations too much, or maybe it was that the Spanish Steps were really boring, and nobody else realized it. We went up the steps.
“You said that the Spanish Steps were there,” my mom said.
“But I realized that we were wrong. You didn’t,” my dad teased. That was true. I thought that those were the Spanish Steps. But how could I have known? I’d never seen photos of the steps, and I didnt know anything about them except that there was a building and some steps. That other place had both.
It didn’t matter, however, and we took some photos near the steps. The more I looked at the steps, however, the more I really grasped the true beauty of how the buildings, the cathedral, the spire, and the steps all melded into the perfect combination Portugese and Italian architecture, The only reason that I knew about Portugese architecture was that the plane that we arrived on was coming from Lisbon; I had gone to Portugal just a few days before. We took many photos, but the cherry on the top was seeing Rome from the sky for the first time. We climbed the steps one at a time, looking back at the view. At the top, I was amazed. Rome is a city with history deeper than Paris, London, Milan, New York City, and Berlin combined. When I saw the old town, that really sunk in. But there’s also a newer aspect to every city that people dislike examining. It was there where the aspect really sunk in. It was kind of like being at the center of Paris, visiting the Sacre-De-Cour, climbing up, and realizing that there was a place called the Concorde full of skyscrapers and high-rises. That didn’t apply to us because we used the metro to get around that time; our apartment was farther away from the city center, and generally speaking, Paris is more spread apart than Rome- which really proves how old Rome is.
“Nice view, huh,” my dad remarked. He was right in one way; you could see quite a lot from the top of the Spanish steps. It’s just that the things that you saw were rooftops with laundry on them, crowded streets, and the occasional piazza. The modern look of Rome.
To be fair, the view was pretty nice if you looked at the areas nearest to the steps, but that was just one giant piazza.
“Let’s go down,” I said. I thought there was nothing more to see, but my dad proved me wrong.
“Wait,” my dad said. “We need to take photos of the church.” I looked back, and he was right. The cathedral was quite beautiful by itself. We took a few pictures and went down the famed Spanish Steps.
Since we had seen what we needed to for that day, we decided to eat something. The question was, where to get the food. Fortunately, we knew where to go. Carrefour, a French supermarket, can be found all around Spain, France, and Italy, and it was a guarantee that there was one around. Besides, the worst we could do is to find a Subway instead. Luckily, there was a Carrefour very near, and we entered the store.
Stores are universal, ubiquitous, and timeless at the same time. A store in America is the same in Italy, China, or Brazil. Therefore, going shopping was very boring. We exited the store with a lot of food, and a lot less time to sightsee. After a relatively calm day, my three year old sister began to act up. There was an ice cream store nearby, and I wanted ice cream, so I asked, ”Can I have some ice cream?”
“Yes,” replied my mom, ”That shop seems like the right place.”
“If you want ice cream,” said my dad, ”Then I know where to go.”
After a lot more tiring walking in the June heat, we reached the shop. The sign read Venchi’s and it was very modern. The lights, the atmosphere, and the ice cream all seemed to be in the right place, and above all, the store looked very, very rich.
When I looked at the prices, I knew exactly why. Nothing in the store was below seven dollars. I thought that would mean the ice cream there was really good.
Luckily, I was right. I don’t really like sweet ice cream, as there’s usually more artificial flavoring in them and way too much sugar, so I asked for my usual pistachio ice cream. I thought, maybe this ice cream might be a little too sweet, but at least it will be good. I also thought, boy, this ice cream is expensive. Usually, ice cream with a cone is more expensive than ice cream with a cup, but when I asked for a cup, the person must have heard, and charged more for the cup than the cone. Once I tasted the ice cream, however, I stopped complaining.
“This ice cream is amazing,”I said. It was the perfect combination of nuttiness, cold, and sweet that left my taste buds begging for more. I could clearly taste the pistachio in the ice cream. That didn’t happen very often in the states, where they put bags of sugar into the ice cream. I was amazed by how much warmer the gelato was when compared to ice cream. We had to eat it indoors, and very fast, because it would melt faster. The temperature was a double edged sword, because even though it released the nutty taste of the gelato, it didn’t provide enough cold to mitigate the sweltering heat of Rome, though that probably increased their sales even more. After finishing my very tasty gelato, we went back into the streets of Rome.
It was nearing evening and my mom was getting exhausted. My sister was getting a little crankier, and if we kept exploring, it would be impossible for us to get back home in time. Our first day in Rome was almost over, but it wasn’t finished yet. After a look at the streets, we turned at the curb, reminded by the bakery that we denoted before.
“Do you want to see something?”my dad said.
“Yes,” I agreed. I wanted to end the day on a happy note; at least then we could say that we saw something interesting. It was back to the bakery and onto the streets for me, my dad, and my sister, who was coming in a stroller. We took a different turn this time, and even though we were headed towards the general direction of the Spanish Steps, and that wonderful Venchi’s store, I knew that wasn’t our destination. My mind quickly made a list of pros and cons while I jogged along with my dad, almost struggling to keep up with his giant leg span. Pros: We were going to the old town. Cons: We aren’t getting any more Venchi’s for the day.
We went into a bigger road, which quickly widened even more. We were in a…big circular piazza with a big obelisk. What was special about that? Then I looked around. The walls. That’s what brought the tourists in. The walls of the Piazza Del Popolo were dotted with statues, flowers, and unless my memory has betrayed me, a few fountains near a cliffside. The cliff was also special, I learned.
“Do you have some energy?” my dad asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“So should we go up the cliff?” He pointed towards the stairs.
“Ok,” I replied.
“I’ll be using quite a lot of energy here,” my dad remarked. That was true. He needed to carry a stroller all the way up about fifty stairs, and those stairs were rather steep.
I needed to hold my sister’s hand, and make sure she was safe during the climb up, which was a simple task when compared to my father’s. After about five minutes of my dad climbing up stairs, we were finally there. I understood why people came up here. First of all, it was about ten degrees cooler than sweltering, eighty-degree Rome, and second of all, the view of the city was amazing. It was like being on top of the Spanish Steps again, but this time, we saw more of the old city, and less of the new city.
“Look over there!” my sister exclaimed. Or at least that’s what we heard past her strong baby accent; she was two, turning three that fall. There was someone selling those bubble making kits, and as was common in big cities, it was quite a spectacle. As the person waved bubbles across the dirt and sand ground, children ran from afar to pop them. It looked quite fun, and I understood why they used that tactic to sell them. After a solid ten minutes of waiting for my sister to come back, the bubble show ended, and the fun was over. My sister returned, so we continued on our walk above the piazza, where you could see surprisingly many things.
“Look at that huge church over there,”I said. “I wonder how big it actually is.”
“I don’t know,” my dad said “It might not actually be such an important place”
I agreed. Scale could betray you in historical cities such as Rome, where a skyscraper wouldn’t be anything to look at, but a few pieces of rubble would be something momentous, something turned into a tourist site. My dad snapped a few more photos, and we looked around the city from the bird’s eye view that we had.
“We should go,” my dad pointed out. “It’s getting dark”
“Yes,” I agreed. By the time we were home, it would probably be pitch-black. In other words, we needed to go.
“What is that person doing?” I asked. Someone was putting gasoline on the ground and setting the area near the obelisk on fire; I knew the fire wouldn’t hurt me, but it was disconcerting to see someone set something on fire, even though that thing was a rock.
“I don’t know,” said my dad.
The tourist crowd quickly moved, sensing trouble, and so we left too. It was time to end the day, and I was so tired after approximately eight hours of walking, that I didn’t even think about anything but sleeping once we reached our Airbnb. It was a calm end to a long day.
The next morning, we ate a quick breakfast and rushed to the streets. The now familiar alley was bounded by a street, and we learned to memorize at least one to signify that we were near. Past the more commercial areas of the city was the renaissance area. You could call that the old town, even though the Roman areas were much farther away.
Yet again, we left sidewalks, and entered a road, but this was the tourist area, so there was little to no traffic the whole way there. We then entered a narrow road where there was an intersection, where we saw a pinocchio on a bench.
“Let’s use this as a marker so that we don’t get lost on the way back,” my mom said. We all agreed, and carried on with our journey. Eventually, the road got wider, more crowded, and more commercial.
I didn’t think it was possible, but it had happened. I saw a crowd larger and denser than the Spanish Steps could have ever dreamt of. We were at the Trevi Fountain, one of the most beautiful fountains in the world. The Trevi Fountain is in a piazza, but that piazza was way smaller than the one that was at the Spanish Steps. The crowd overflowed into the streets, and I strained to get a closer look at the famous fountain. We were at T-30 feet away from the fountain, near enough to get a picture perfect view of most castles in Europe (exception: Neswatchenstein Castle).
At T-10 feet, I was still at the back of the line, and here the view was even worse; there was a balcony at T-20 feet, but you wouldn’t be able to get a photo there unless you wanted a hundred others in the background.
At T-5 feet, people were pushing and shoving to get a better view, and finally at T-2 feet, I got my first view of the Trevi Fountain.
Most fountains are for decoration, adding more pizazz to a building. But in the Trevi Fountain’s case, it was the fountain that was the real attraction. The fountain was wider than the building that it surrounded, and perhaps larger. It was a three dimensional painting, and in more glory than the Mona Lisa (The Mona Lisa was definitely as crowded as the Trevi Fountain). It was in only two glorious colors, turquoise blue, and marble, yet it was so regal, you’d either want to bow to it, or take yet another photo of it. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to take another photo of it. There was a giant crowd vying for the best spot, which was in the very center and very edge of the fountain.
“Quickly, let’s get a picture!” my mom exclaimed. I wasn’t happy to turn my back to the art of the fountain, but I wasn’t going to get this good of a view in another half-hour- if we went all the way to the back of the line, and immediately came pushing for another picture. I turned and my mom managed to snap a record four pictures until the crowd exerted so much pressure that we were forced to leave. We tried a few more angles after that, but either there was too much of a crowd, or the angle was so bad that we weren’t able to get a view of the story being told by the fountain at all.
After the great wonder of the Trevi fountain, I was all for some more Renaissance art, so I was pretty happy when my dad told me that we were going to see an art museum.
“It’s very close to the Airbnb,” my dad remarked, while I ate another scrumptious Venchi’s ice cream (we made a stop there after visiting the fountain).
“That’s good,” I said, after I’d finished my gelato. That didn’t take long considering how wonderful the ice cream was. I’d visited the Louvre just a year before, (during the FIFA world cup, which France won) and I had really enjoyed it. There was a lot of information about the art that I saw, and visiting one of the largest museums on the planet was very interesting.
We walked quite a bit, made a small stop at the Airbnb, and continued to the museum. When I saw where it was, my expectations dropped quite a lot. A museum in the center of a historic city is good, but ones that are farther away are usually less interesting, and more about trivial things, like toys. I knew it was an art gallery that we were visiting, but that gallery was farther away from the city than I felt was comfortable. When I actually saw the building, however, things changed again. It was one of those fancy marble ones that are almost pure white, and I was sure that this building would amaze me.
When we entered the building, we were met by sculptures, and possibly famous paintings. I didn’t know any of them, but then again, I didn’t know many paintings at all. It was all on a marble staircase leading us to a booth. Apparently, we had to pay to see the rest of the paintings, and my dad decided we shouldn’t pay. I agreed. It’s one thing to look at paintings you don’t really care about, and it’s a completely different thing to pay to look at paintings that you don’t care about. We also didn’t know what the paintings ahead of us were, and it was possible that it was all a money making scheme, so in the end, we decided to leave.
Now that we had covered all of the things in our daily agenda, we needed to fuel our bodies that had to walk all the way across one of the largest cities in the European continent. We hadn’t eaten Italian food for a while, and we were in Italy, so we decided to eat in an Italian restaurant. Finding a restaurant wasn’t hard, which wasn’t unexpected; we were in the capital of the nation. There was a restaurant very close by, and it didn’t allow smoking, which was great. Even though I didn’t mention it, the whole time that we were there, there was almost always a cigarette near us. In America, smoking is banned in most public places. In Europe, smoking is only banned on private properties that don’t allow smoking. We had to cover our noses about half of the time during the trip, which included sleeping, eating, and doing other things at the AirBnb, where there were no smokers. I suppose I was used to living in the suburbs of Washington D.C, where the chance of meeting a smoker was lower than the chance of finding a live tortoise while in my bedroom. In other words, very very rare.
The first thing I learned about food in Italy was: the pizza is better in America. We were going to Milan for a day trip (which was a completely different story), and we saw a pizza shop, and decided to stop for some. Bad idea. The pizza there was completely different; the pizza was chock-full of cheese, and barely had any sauce, and lacked any ingredients that I enjoyed. I personally disliked it. We resolved to stay with Dominos. However, we had no experience with pasta, spaghetti, and lasagna. We decided to try some.
“Delicious,” I said. The bread that came with the olive oil before the meal was a hit. I don’t know why people like bread with oil, but the food tasted delicious. Perhaps I was hungrier than I thought I was…
We had to wait for a rather long while before we got the pasta and lasagna that we actually ordered, but just the wonderful aroma of fresh baked lasagna, macaroni, and pasta told us that it was completely worth it.
Nobody said anything until after their first few bites. This was because we were very hungry, and really didn’t want to miss out on the wonderful Italian food. The only exception was my sister, who really wasn’t in the mood for food, even though she was hungry, and as a result we were left with a very cranky toddler. That was clearly a recipe for disaster, so my mom gave her the phone. We always save some offline videos on Youtube to shush my sister, and it always pays off. It is a completely different experience traveling with a toddler when compared with traveling with adults or older kids. We ate the food, which was a wonderful experience, by the way, and proceeded back to the hotel. Yesterday was a very long day for us, and we wanted a break. After the half hour walk from the museum to the hotel, we settled for a relaxing afternoon.
“I’m bored,” I said. My mom was working, as she didn’t get enough off days from work.
“I know what we can do,” my dad said. “We can go to the Trevi Fountain, and get some photos. After that, we could go to the Spanish Steps and see how it looks at night.” I agreed. When I was six years old, I went to Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Poland, and Hungary. When we went to Vienna, Austria, we walked around the city during the night. I was amazed with how good a city could look in the dark, and it was also a big factor in my decision to rate Austria as the favorite country I’d ever visited.
“Ok, lets go!” I said, now excited for the next few hours. This was a much better way for me to spend my time in Rome. We just needed to get back home in time for bed,
I was right. Rome was a completely different city at night. It wasn’t desolate, or dangerous; we were in the center of the city, where there were mainly tourists. We continued through the Trevi fountain path. Though it was harder to see, the pinocchio on the bench was still visible in the narrow alley on the way to the fountain. We passed the ice cream shop, the piazza, and other landmarks of our journey before. It was all of the standard journey. Finally, we reached the fountain.
However, I couldn’t see a thing. Even though it was eight o’clock in the night, many people were still outside, and it was definitely not the time to sightsee.
“I think it’s better if we go to the Spanish Steps instead,” my dad said. “It’s too hard to get any photos here.”
“You remember where the Spanish Steps are, right?” I asked. My dad had gotten quite lost when returning from the Trevi fountain last time.
Since the Spanish Steps were in a bigger piazza, we were able to look around, and get a good view of the architectural beauty. We took a few pictures, ran away from some people trying to sell us some useless toys, and returned before 9 o’clock. Overall, it was a very successful photoshoot.
“WAKE UP” I was rudely awakened from my slumber.
“W-w-what?” I asked, yawning.
“We’re going to the Trevi Fountain to get some good photos,”My dad said.
I supposed it was true that the only time anybody would be able to get any photo of the Trevi Fountain would be at five o’ clock in the morning. I slowly rose, got dressed, and was soon at the table, where we were eating breakfast; cereal with milk. We went down, and locked the white door of our AirBnb, and just like that, we were off. It was a long three quarters of an hour walk, but we had done it before, and the now familiar route wasn’t that hard to follow; you just had to keep in mind some important landmarks (usually shops; one of which was the toy shop with the pinocchio). Soon enough, we were there, and because it was 6:00 in the morning, we got the photos they desperately wanted; after about ten minutes of waiting, as no matter how early we were, it appeared as if there would still be someone there. We got some photos, and since there was nothing else to do, we left.
When my sister starts crying, things become bad. My sister started crying just after we left the Trevi Fountain, but luckily, my mom thought of a solution.
“Let’s go to that candy store,” she said, pointing to the candy store just across the street. We went to the store, and there it was. The gargantuan, indestructible lollipop. It was about three inches long, and three inches tall, and it was a massive ball of sweetness. Of course, that was exactly what my sister desired. My mom asked if she wanted it, and of course my sister replied with yes. She left the store with the lollipop.
Now that my sister had satisfied her sweet tooth, we all wanted to satisfy ours.
“Can we get some ice cream?” I asked. Venchi’s was just so delicious. I wanted more.
“Okay,” my mom relented. She must’ve wanted something sweet too, so she asked my dad to buy an affogato, one of those coffees that have ice cream on the top of them.
My dad searched up “Venchi’s” on Google maps (we had to enter the closest store for wifi), and it turned out that there was actually one that was closer to us. After a small walk to the store, my dad entered with his credit card.
Apparently that day was an especially busy day, or maybe it was the searing summer heat that pulled us into the store, but the store was chock full. We had to wait outside, and I began to sit on the nearest platform that I saw.
“Wait!” my mother shouted in panic. They just painted those stairs. I looked up. Please Do Not Lean On Or Sit On Building: Wet Paint. The sign was in both English and Italian, which surprised me until I remembered that I was in the center of tourist Italy, and that the locals were probably aware of that too. Luckily, I hadn’t sat on the paint, and therefore I was safe. The bad thing was that now we couldn’t sit anywhere; the ground was littered with cigarettes.
“How much longer can it be?” I groaned. Maybe buying some ice cream wasn’t worth it if it meant tiring my legs even more than they already were; keep in mind that I had been walking for four hours straight. Standing in one spot for twenty minutes was almost as wearing.
“Can I see how long the line is?” I asked. By that time, I was so tired that I had resorted to standing on one leg, which had the effect of making me look like a flamingo.
“Ok,” my mom said. She probably also wanted to know how much longer she had to wait with my sister, who was happily sitting in her stroller. At least my mom had her phone. If I were her, I’d be looking at some offline app, but my mom had her phone stowed in her pocket.
I looked at the line. Twenty people in the line: my dad was in the middle, plus twenty more browsing the sweets. That might not sound like much, but every transaction took about a minute, and since there were forty people that were going to buy things, that totaled up to ten more minutes of painful waiting. I returned to tell her that it was going to take a while, and I returned to our vigil of waiting.
It turns out, coffee with ice cream doesn’t taste as good as it’s advertised. At least, that’s what my mom said. The ice cream was the same, but somehow knowing that we wasted a half hour of our time getting it made it taste substantially worse. The ice cream melted in the sun, so we went inside, where I finished my ice cream.
After seeing the Trevi Fountain properly, we decided to look more deeply around Rome. We wandered across piazzas, and looked around churches, and had a lot of fun exploring the city. However, we didn’t find what we wanted to find: the Pantheon of Rome. It would be the first Roman thing that we were going to visit, and therefore, I was hyped up for it.
“Quickly, lets go!” I exclaimed, thinking about how wonderful it would be to see a properly ruined thing that actually looked like it was from ancient times. Unfortunately, we were lost.
“This is the right way!” my dad said surprisingly confidently, considering he’d already made a wrong turn, leading us to the same intersection we were at just a few minutes before.
“Are you sure?” my mom questioned.
We turned, and we were back to the now familiar intersection.
“Now are you sure?” my mom asked, exasperated. “You’ve led us in a circle three times. Three!”
With some more careful direction-following by my mom, we managed to find the Pantheon.
I was surprised yet again. Didn’t the Pantheon have a triangular roof, supported by columns? I thought again. Right…I was thinking of the Parthenon, not the Pantheon. Why were these names so difficult?
I knew about the Parthenon, but I didn’t know that much about the Pantheon, so I did the natural thing: I looked through the crowd, spotted a tour group, went close, and listened in.
…The original temple was designed by Marcus Agrippa in 27 AD. The building that you see in front of you replaced it, and was built by Hadrian in 126 AD…
After this, they went into some stories about how the Pantheon survived the ages, but I came across some startling news.
…In 609, Pope Boniface IV turned the Pantheon into a church after asking the Byzantine emperor at the time, Phocas…
If the Pantheon was a church, would it look like a church instead of a Roman building? We hadn’t seen anything Roman, and one of the main things on my world travel bucket list was to see some Roman ruins. On the other hand, the outside looked rather Roman, and very ruined, unlike some piazzas that we had discovered along the way.
In the end, I was half right. I walked near the columns in front of the uniquely Roman building, which was jam-packed with security guards and tourists, in contrast with the more comfortable piazza. We moved along with the crowd to the former Roman temple, and current church.
“Wow,” I remarked, gazing high into the sky.
The first thing that I noticed about the Pantheon was its signature circular gap at the top of its dome. The other thing that I saw was the many different objects alluding to it’s religious presence. There were the benches, with kneeling stools, and there were statues of Mary, and Jesus, and other religious figures. The last thing that caught my eye was how new the Pantheon looked from the outside. I didn’t know it at the time, but most of that newness was genuine. The Pantheon is the most preserved Roman building in the world, and so the floor, which had a peculiar circle-in-rectangle pattern that resembled modern art, glittered, and the patterns on the roof were clearly visible. It was like Rome, but too new for myself to believe it. That was a shame, because if I had, maybe my thoughts of the place might have been different. This place isn’t even a twinge Roman, I thought. But I was just the tiniest bit intrigued, because the Pantheon didn’t look like just any old church. You could still tell that there was still a temple behind that church, and that encouraged me to look closer. I had the slightest bit of hope that there was something Roman above the church.
I decided to look around a little bit more, and this time, I was surprised to find that there were Roman signifiers inside the building. I noticed the exquisite Corinthian columns of the building, which looked old enough to be Roman. Below the dome, and above many altars that held statues of apostles, I also saw carvings into the stone. I looked up and realized there were many features that made this building uniquely Roman.
“Let’s sit down,” said my mom, breaking my train of thought. My sister had just woken up, and therefore, she was in a very bad mood. We would have given her the gigantic lollipop, but we couldn’t eat in the church. It was definitely time to sit down for a bit.
“The benches are over here,” I whispered, pointing toward an open bench. I really didn’t know any church etiquette, so whispering seemed like a safe thing to do. I looked back up at the ceiling. I wondered what the Romans planned to do if it rained. It was funny to imagine the conversation that could happen in that situation.
It is A.D 100, and the Roman emperor, Trajan, is preparing the ceremony for Jupiter.
“Sir, we have to cancel the ceremony!” an advisor suddenly exclaims.
“Explain,”the Roman emperor says menacingly.
“The Pantheon is flooded!”
I had a good time thinking about that, but I was interrupted by the prayers, which reminded me that the building was a church, not a temple. After the prayers were over, I thought about the beauty of the church/temple, but if I were there now, I would have thought about the Hagia Sophia, a recently turned mosque and former museum. If the Pantheon were a museum, and if someone were to turn it into a church, would there be any objections? I thought not. Being a western country has its advantages.
It turns out that once you’ve seen a place completely, there isn’t much more to do there. We took a few photos, but I was quickly getting bored.
“Can we eat?” I asked. I was getting quite hungry.
“Yes,” said my mom. “There’s probably a Subway nearby”
I love Subway sandwiches; they are my second-favorite fast food (after Chipotle), so I agreed, and after snapping a few photos, we were on our way to the Subway, which was nearby. We ordered a vegetarian sandwich with the usual toppings; cheese, bread, leaves, tomatoes, and sauce, which was good as always. We decided to go back to the hotel afterwards, and go rest for a half hour.
“Do you want to go see the Colosseum?” my dad asked.
“Of course!” I exclaimed. The primary thing on my Rome bucket list was seeing the Colosseum. In my mind, the sooner we go to the Roman places, the better.
We embarked on our journey, passing by the bakery, yet there was one familiar turn that we missed. We definitely weren’t going to the old town, which made sense. All of the sights, sparing the Pantheon of the old city were from the Renaissance, which suggested the Roman center of Rome was somewhere completely different. At one point, we passed a humongous highway. At another, we had to go through a large tunnel. One factor, however, stayed constant: we weren’t anywhere near the Colosseum. After much more walking, we had something in sight…nope, that was a fast food restaurant. But a few seconds afterwards, we were met with the Colosseum. In the early sunset, it looked like a hunk of cheese, with its many holes being the arches supporting the humongous arena which we could only vaguely see from our faraway perch. We walked closer, and just above us was a bridge. I wondered what purpose the bridge served; it wasn’t large enough to support a car, and it definitely wasn’t there for pedestrians; there was a road crossing which served the same purpose.
“Let’s take some pictures!” said my mom. Typical.
“There’s a platform up there to get them,” my dad said. His explanation made much more sense, especially because I could now see many cameras and phones out, and the people on the bridge were suspiciously slow for pedestrians. We got on the quite narrow bridge, which was made of metal, and was very constricting, considering that the bridge was made for tourists, who often have cameras a foot long. An advantage of being closer to the Colosseum was that I was able to see the details of the edifice. At least, I would have if I had a chance; the old fashioned bridge had about twenty people on it, which was probably more than it was made to hold.
It took about five minutes in the end, but we were able to get photos. The Colosseum was an especially easy subject. It was a single building, which fit into the frame perfectly. The trouble was taking the photo without anyone else in the way. I squatted until I was almost lying on the ground, and stood on my toes, but it was an especially hard task. Then I came up with the simpler solution of cutting out the background a little and just featuring the Colosseum, which was the photo my dad wanted anyways. My sister had fallen asleep yet again, so we woke her, and of course, the first thing she did was cry, and the second thing she did was ask for her lollipop, which hadn’t shrunk that much since the last time I saw it, even though she licked it every day.
Now that we were done with photos, there was nothing left to do on the bridge, which we promptly exited. My dad put his backpack on his belly, which was a deterrent for pickpockets; they were definitely there at the biggest tourist site of Italy. We strolled on, closer and closer to the structure, and many things became apparent. Firstly, the Colosseum wasn’t just huge. It was brobdingnagian, herculean, and massive. I could see why the construction of the building took three years for the largest civilization of the era. I noticed how the arches both kept the building standing, and how it was also an aesthetic part of the building. Looking at the stony structure of the arena, I could also see how old the building truly was, being built in the 70’s AD. What would the Colosseum look like if it weren’t renovated? As anyone who travels in Europe knows, buildings are renovated for most of the summer tourist season, which is a shame, because it would be interesting to see a building that looks its age.
“Here we are!” my mom said, which interrupted the story my dad was telling to my mom (the story was about the Cold War).
“Wow.” I said. If I had a close look from the bridge, or the road, then this would be looking at a microscope.
We got my sister out of her stoller, and snapped a few pictures, but some stairs caught our eyes. The route to the Colosseum was there, so we went down and took a look. Past some yellow tape that told tourists where to go, there was a big lot of land with very little obstruction. From this sideways angle, we could also see a few details that weren’t visible from the bridge; above all, we could see that crack in the colosseum which is so often photographed. My mom had to pull out her camera for this. She started capturing photos of the Colosseum from every possible angle. She took the photos that took a long time, but gave really good photo quality, she took a few videos, and overall, she utilized her memory space very liberally. Meanwhile, we either were busy posing for my mom, or looking at the view. When she was finished taking the photos, we played some balancing games. It soon reached sunset, and my mom was very happy about this.
“This will be the perfect opportunity to take a photo in the sunset!” she said very happily. I enjoyed photography myself, and I knew that nighttime photos were great for cities and lighted areas. My mom pulled out her camera and set it to a high exposure. I sighed. These photos lasted forever-what high exposure meant, so I expected that, but it didn’t make the wait any less boring.
In the meantime, my dad was looking around, browsing his phone, and absorbing the view. He was also searching up some more things to do in Rome. I looked off into the distance, searching for other activities of interest, but I came empty handed. That was until before I looked at the different ways tourism affects the area. I turned around, and behind my back were some people in segways, which was an unusual sight, until I saw a sign. Segway tours: Only 100 Euros! Okay, so maybe the price wasn’t 100 Euros, but it was still very expensive, and in my opinion, not worth it. I noticed that the person giving the tours was smiling broadly.
“Look out for pickpockets. There are some of them up at the top of the hill,” my dad remarked. So that was what my dad was observing while my mom was taking photos. It was an interesting claim, though. How did my dad know if somebody was a pickpocket or not?
I looked back up the hill and saw some people that I hadn’t noticed before. Unlike the others, they weren’t moving from their perch above the hill, and they weren’t happy, a stark contrast from the smiles of the crowd, regardless if they were genuine or not. They didn’t look menacing; that would’ve been a giveaway feature of a thug, not a thief that relies on stealth. Instead, they were hidden away from onlookers, drawing attention away from them. My dad explained how they worked.
“That guy there, you see him? He’s the boss. The other people do the dirty work for him,” he reported.
Night encroached on us, and after about a megabyte of storage used, we were back to wandering around the Roman district, and along the way, we saw something huge. It was an arch, and to be more accurate, Constantine’s arch.
“Wow,” I gaped. The arch was monumental, so large that it was hard to see the top in the less lit area of the Roman district (the areas further away from the Colosseum). I had seen other arches (such as the Arc De Triomphe in Paris), but it felt completely different, knowing the history ingrained in that arch. I don’t know if I should have felt that way, however, as the Arch of Constantine was built during the reign of Constantine, during 312-315A.D, and was much less worn than the Colosseum. We took even more photos, and continued on our journey back home. It was a quiet night for us; we were knocked out by tiredness.
The next day, however, I was not only awaken by the light of the sunrise, but by some news:
“We’re going to the Vatican, and tomorrow, we are going to San Marino on a train. We need to be well rested, because the train arrives at 6 o’clock AM,” said my dad. My heart rose. I had always wanted to go to the smallest nations of the world, and the Vatican, or Holy See, was one of them. We had already gone to Monaco, the second smallest nation on Earth, as well as Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and St. Kitts and Nevis, the smallest nation in North America. Going to San Marino also sounded very interesting, as I had seen some very famous photos of the nation. One stood out, however. The photo was a view of a cliffside castle, surrounded by lush trees and wilderness, though at the corners, you could see wonderful villas with orange-clay roofs. In the distance, if you peered far enough, you could almost see the sea off in the east, past the flat plains that neared the Adriatic. That image epitomized San Marino to me.
What really sweetened the deal, however, was going to the Vatican. Not only could we see the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and other amazing views, but we could also explore the rest of Rome while doing it.
Thirty minutes into walking to the Vatican, however, I was sweaty and very tired. I longed to taste the cool, refreshing, reviving Venchi’s Ice Cream, or at least take a break and rest somewhere with air conditioning, but we couldn’t rest for too long, unless we didn’t want to reach the cathedrals of the Vatican, so we stayed on track and only took the shortest of breaks.
“Are we there yet?” I complained. My foot started to ache, so I hopped on one foot. That must have received
I think that it would’ve taken a much shorter time if we didn’t have the stroller with us; the stroller was very hard to carry up and down road crossings, which stole valuable resting time. However, I stopped my complaints when we reached a bridge. It was clear from the influx of tourists, and from the walls that surrounded the bridge, that we had finally arrived at the smallest nation in the world. In a way, crossing the bridge felt like crossing just a bridge, but in another way, it felt like entering another dimension. Here, everything would be perfect and everyone would be kind in the name of religion. Or so I thought. It turned out that the tourists there attracted the thieves of Trevi Fountain, and they weren’t Catholic. I wasn’t Catholic, but I wasn’t a thief. They were thieves.
“Help!” an old lady exclaimed in horror, which startled all the people surrounding her. I turned to see what had happened, but I didn’t see anything.
“Look over there!” I saw a man with the lady’s bag. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do anything about it; the person might have been armed, and he was running very quickly. There were armed people nearby, however, and this was when I thought to look around. First, I saw the Swiss guard, who wore colorful clothes, armed with bayonets. They were mostly busy with taking photos with tourists. Then I looked around, and once I stopped to look at the basilica, I was at loss for words. The main part of the basilica was surrounded by two symmetric entrance ways with marble roofs, and Corinthian columns supporting it. It led to a basilica larger and grander than any that I had seen before. It’s design was similar to the design of the Reichstag in Germany, excluding the modern top that was replaced with an eroded stone roof. The size of the basilica was deceiving. From afar, it looked almost insignificant when compared with the more modern buildings in view just behind us, but that was because of the huge square that was a runway, a podium for the real trophy. Now that we neared the basilica(we had to take breaks while doing it because of the sheer size of the building, and because my mom insisted on taking photos every ten feet), we saw the real power, the real grandeur of the building. The castles that I had previously compared this building to would look like ants in front of it. The only building that I thought was a just comparison to the St. Peter’s Basilica was the Capitol building, in Washington D.C, and since we live in the D.C suburbs, I know the size of the Capitol.
“What are you waiting for?” My dad asked. “We should get inside the Basilica!”
“I need to get some more pictures,” said my mom. She beckoned us to move left, while she stood at uncomfortable angles, all to capture one building in an angle without that many people.
“Can we go?” I asked. I was getting very tired, and the Basilica was sure to have a bench; all churches had benches.
“Wait!!” my mom said. “I still haven’t gotten the long exposure shot!” It turned out that the long exposure shot wouldn’t move because of the constantly moving crowds, so instead she gave in, but not before taking about ten more pictures of the details on the columns.
I was hyped up to see the inside of the building. I was even ready for the torrent of pictures that would come after we entered the basilica. I imagined paintings everywhere, marble and stone statues, and maybe something special. After all, the pope resided there.
That was going to have to wait, however. Before we took a step into papal residence, or posed for a single photo, we needed to get a mandatory security check. I should have known. They had the same procedures everywhere. But I set aside my thoughts, and got ready for the check. We put all of our things into a conveyor belt, which led to an X-Ray. I was looking forward to meeting a Swiss Guard member on the way there, but it turned out that the Swiss Guard only guarded the entrances, and didn’t do the security. That made sense. According to a sign above me, there were only 135 guards. I thought again. That was 13.5% of the nation’s population (the Vatican has a population of about one thousand). That didn’t matter, though, because we were past the security check, and now we were being asked to stow our stroller somewhere separate(this was another standard security check). My dad groaned. No matter how slow the stroller was, my sister walking was ten times slower. We stowed our stroller away, and we were finally able to enter St. Peter’s Basilica.
I didn’t think I would be able to be more shocked than I was earlier in the day, but yet again, I was wrong. Whatever I thought was going to be in the Basilica was there, but ten times fancier. The statues weren’t just marble, as I thought I saw a few made of silver. The scattered paintings that I expected weren’t just scattered. They were everywhere. The marble columns that I saw outside were even more ornate, this time with inscriptions on them, and with gold at the top. Everywhere I looked, there was a sight to behold (even outside, as the crowd was definitely a sight). One thing was missing, however. In the whole hour we spent looking around the Basilica, I didn’t see any bishop, cardinal, pope, or even priest. I blame this on the crowd (some of the things that I wanted to see weren’t visible, so I sat on my dad’s shoulders). My dad, who knew a lot more about Christianity than I did, pointed some things out to me.
“Do you know what that is?” my father quizzed. I followed his gaze, and there was something that looked like three wooden boxes with doors on them.
“Somewhere with benches?”I asked hopefully. I had no real guesses, so this was the best I could do.
“No!” my dad said. “This is where people go to apologize for things that they did wrong.”
“Oh,” I said sadly. I was really hoping that there were some benches nearby.
There was also another thing missing from the basilica. The cross with the dead Jesus on it; it was there at least once in every other church that I’d ever visited. Then I noticed that the gold speck that I assumed was solid gold was actually an orb with the cross on it. The orb looked like it was made of gold. The cross with the dead Jesus on it didn’t. It was a sight to behold in both cases.
I looked back into the ceiling. The paintings showed a lot of things I didn’t know about. I decided to remember what the paintings looked like until I got back home (Spoiler Alert: I didn’t), so I could do some research on them.
It was annoying, not knowing about my surroundings. If we were in the Roman area, I’d know everything there. If we were in the old town, I wouldn’t, but looking at the statues wouldn’t really use brainpower, so it didn’t matter. In the Basilica, the paintings told a story in a language that I didn’t understand. Ignorance may be bliss in some situations, but here, it led to frustration.
But then I remembered, I had a good plan B! If I didn’t know enough about a subject, I could eavesdrop on a tour group…until I remembered that there weren’t any tour groups in the Basilica. It wouldn’t help, anyways, as the crowd moved as if it were on a conveyor belt (They actually had to install a conveyor belt in Mexico to get people going in one church that we went to, but that’s a completely different story). I had no way of learning anything new, so I decided that the best course of action was to stick to things that I already knew.
“Come here!”My mom exclaimed. Well, I thought, if Plan B didn’t work, I could always follow Plan C: Go with the flow.
“What is it?” I asked, hoping that it wasn’t another photoshoot.
“There is an exhibition here with the bodies of previous popes!” I don’t know if I was supposed to be excited because of that, but I was. There was bound to be some information about previous popes if this was an exhibit about them.
“Ok! Let’s go!” I replied enthusiastically. Another plus about going to the tombs was there wouldn’t be any opportunities for any more constant photoshoots. They were tombs. You cannot take photos of tombs. My mom proved me wrong about that.
We entered another huge crowd, waited for another ten minutes, and finally reached the dungeon of the basilica. Or at least that’s how it felt like. The bottom part of the basilica was cold, damp, and unwelcoming. Made out of stone, it felt like the halloween graveyard, which so often decorates houses during the times nearing halloween, the only difference being that these unwelcoming slabs of rock were indoors and lit up. The good thing was that my mom did give up on taking photos after she noticed that all of the tombs were the same, but she found a way around that.
“Come here! Let’s take a photo with the sign!” My mom was quite fond of taking photos of signs, so we could read the signs later. The only problem was that we almost never got to the reading-the-signs-again part of the process. I obliged, and after a few more photoshoots, my mom seemed to acknowledge that there was no opportunity to take photos here, so she read the boards herself. There were quite a lot of these boards, since were biographies of the most important popes, but we just skimmed through them. The trip through the dungeon was a lot less scary than I anticipated, and a lot more sign reading was included in the process. However, the next thing that we did was almost as memorable as seeing the ornate golden columns of the basilica itself. We exited the building and went into a courtyard that I hadn’t noticed before. Connected to it were two features: the exit, and a few stairs that mysteriously led to a wall. However, I soon noticed that I was very thirsty from all of the walking I had done.
“Can I please have some water?” I asked.
“We don’t have any more,” my mom replied, looking at the empty water bottle.
Rome, however, is known for having drinkable water throughout the city, and this is because of the fresh springs near it that supply Rome’s water. We could see people filling their own water bottles in a fountain nearby, and some people were washing their hands. The water there was definitely safe, so we filled the bottle up, and sure enough, I was rewarded with reviving water.
“What should we do next?” I asked. However, that question was cut short when I looked at the sign that explained those mysterious stairs with people that I had mentioned before. It said that we could climb to the top of the basilica for a few euros, or at extra price if you took the elevator.
“I know,” I said, answering myself. “We should go to the top of the basilica!”
My dad, however, was a little more skeptical.
“Do you have energy?” He questioned. “And what will Arianna do?” Arianna was my little sister. Those were good questions, I thought.
“Yes, I do,” I replied after a little rest. “Can we two go ourselves if Arianna can’t come?” I asked.
He discussed this with my mom for a solid five minutes, but after that, the answer was yes! I could go up the basilica, and see the square from afar. The line, however, was rather long, so the beginning of the trek did take a while. We entered the basilica, but couldn’t see where we actually were. The stairs swirled and twirled around the center, until we got our first view.
“Wow,” I remarked, completely astonished.
My dad started taking some photos while I was saying this, which proved to be difficult, because we were in the dome of the basilica. We could see the paintings above us, and the golden statue below us. The building didn’t look as huge from this godlike angle, but I knew the opposite was true. We could only see a fraction of the basilica, so it looked smaller, but it was still as impressive. We spent about ten minutes just sitting there, enjoying the view, and snapping some more pictures for my mom’s benefit (so she could see them later). We then left the old stairs and climbed towards the top.
“These stairs are getting really steep,”I remarked. It was true. They were by now very steep and narrow, and people were starting to slow down. This led to a type of traffic jam where everyone was trying to get to the end, but were all unable to do so because of blockage. It became quite slow, and caused a little trouble.
After a few long minutes of waiting for people to climb the stairs, we reached the roof of the building. I almost grimaced when I saw it. Made of odious concrete, and in construction, the building looked half built, and statues roof in the wrong places. Even though it was beautiful in a way, it didn’t fit in. But I realized how the basilica wasn’t just a relic from the past. It was still a living structure that would mold according to history. We just stopped there and looked out for a few moments, and saw the statues.
“We should take a picture,” said my dad. We snapped a few photos, and I examined the area a little more.
It turned out that there wasn’t anything else to see, but the image of the concrete stayed in my mind, and whenever I think about cathedrals, I know there is more to them than just the first level.
We continued on our ascent, and there wasn’t much else to note from there on, because we were climbing metal stairs outdoors, which was a very sturdy way of traveling. We reached the top, and I was out of breath, not out of tiredness, but by the magnificent view in front of me.
Ever seen a single photo, gone to somewhere, and seen it with your own eyes? I hadn’t, but on that very day, and the day after that, I did. I saw a whole nation from the high perch that I was standing on, but I also could clearly see the picture St. Peter’s square that is so often used as the photo of the nation. It was incredible, knowing that a photo that I thought was only accessible by drones, was visible with my very own eyes, and just stopped there for a minute, and looked. Until-
“Can you move a little to the side?” My dad asked. “Then I can take a good picture.” My dad wasn’t as much of a photo-fanatic as my mom, and I thought that the pictures might have come out much better if my mom was there, but I moved, and then took a few pictures of my own using my dad’s iPhone. They weren’t perfect, because I didn’t have enough space to capture my mind, but it was good enough for then. It wouldn’t matter anyway. The photo already was stuck in my mind twice, once from the photo, and once from my memory.
From then, we saw no purpose in staying up, so we repeated the journey, which took a solid thirty minutes, and I sat down on a stone ledge that somewhat resembled a chair. My leg was completely worn out, and I couldn’t think of anything but: My legs really hurt, and they did.
“I’m hungry,” I groaned silently. “Is there anything to eat?”
My mom came to the rescue and said, “Yes, I brought some couscous for us to eat.”
I was really happy because of that. When we were in Strasbourg, France, we ate the best couscous I’d ever tasted. I realized that since couscous was a Middle Eastern food, and that there were many immigrants from those countries in Europe. I put two and two together and concluded that the couscous was probably of a similar quality all around western Europe because of that. Therefore, I had high expectations for the couscous. It met my expectations. I learned that just because you’re in a certain place doesn’t mean that you have to eat food from there. I personally enjoyed Italian couscous more than Italian Pizza, and pizza is the epitome of Italian gastronomic tourism.
We decided to get some more couscous for the next day, and we left the St. Peter’s basilica, feeling satisfied with our discoveries(My mom entered the square while looking at our pictures).
The basilica was so huge, so important, and so magnificent that I had almost forgotten that there was more to see in the Holy See. I was referring to the Sistine Chapel, the place where the new pope is chosen, and where Miachelangelo painted the ceiling for many years.
“What else should we do?” I asked, while hopping on one foot. All of the climbing really took a toll on my legs.
“We still can see the Sistine Chapel,” said my dad. It didn’t take long for us all to agree that it was better to see something than nothing, but we didn’t know where the chapel was. My dad pointed us to the right. There was a modern building with glass panes, and concrete walls. My dad entered it, and asked the person there where the sistine chapel was, but apparently the place where he walked into wasn’t an info center. It was an office. My dad left, embarrassed, and we reported that we didn’t find the Sistine Chapel. I just hope that wasn’t captured on camera.
We decided that the day’s adventures were to end, and concluded a very papal day on a high note: I could finally rest my exhausted legs, who were by then too tired to go back home. We asked for a taxi, and even though we were ripped off, my legs stayed intact. I thought about the next day, and thought a good load of rest would be good for another day ahead.
Whatever I was thinking along the lines of at least I’ll sleep well would be dramatically proven wrong in about two sentences.
“GET UP!” My dad shouted (he did this as quietly as he could in an attempt to keep my sister asleep). I was still in deep sleep, and it took me a few long minutes to come to my senses.
“Wh-wh-y are we waking up so early,” I asked, stifling a yawn.
“The train to San Marino comes at 6 A.M”
“Then why are you waking me up at 4?” I said groggily
“We need to order a taxi, be early to the train-”
“Be early?” I interrupted
“Yes, for the same reason we need to be early to a flight‘
“-and we need to eat breakfast, and get past security”
“Fine,” I relented.
By now, however, my sister had woken, and was starting to cry, so my dad ran back to the other room, and passed her the huge lollipop that we had bought a few days before. By now, this lollipop had lost about a quarter of its size, and it still went strong when we left Rome.
The morning went almost exactly the way that my dad had pictured it. We got ready, and ordered a taxi to the train station, which was huge, modern, and made of glass. From there, we ordered a little food at the local McDonalds, which was always a safe bet for food. During this time, I looked at the departure and arrival table, which I had done countless times in the airport, but barely once in a train station. The board was covered in one company’s name: Trenitalia. It would be the company that we would be using, and it serves many routes. In a way it was like the mainstays of Delta, United, or American Airlines of the Italian train industry. We continued to security, which was considerably faster than airport security, and by then, we were at the home stretch (or so I thought). We got into the terminal for our train (I had done this countless other times in the metro), and waited for it to arrive. By then, I was energized, and felt as if I was caffeinated in anticipation for the day ahead. We waited in the benches in silence (the exception was my sister, who played a color clicking game, while sucking on vanilla milk).
“Look! The train’s here!” I said. Nobody really needed that reminder, however, as everyone had heard the gushing of wind that was a prelude to the arrival of the train.
I beckoned my sister to get up, and after she obliged, we entered the train, which was usually a mini logistics problem in and of itself. However, this time we were only bringing a few items, because it was a day trip. The train was similar to the other long haul trains that I had seen before, but instead of the seats facing each other, they seemed to be designed for a family. Four chairs faced a central table, two on each side, with a huge glass pane as the window. It almost felt like a more spacious and comfortable airplane, which didn’t say much (you’d know this if you’ve ever been on an airplane).
It didn’t, however, feel as luxurious three hours into the journey. Since we were traversing nearly half of Italy, the trip took a long time, and so I was left sleeping for most of the time, which really gave me airplane vibes, if you know what I mean (infinite boredom, failure to feel lethargic when most needed).
But it would only be a single hour of mundane nothingness until we reached our destination. Or at least we were halfway to reaching our destination. See, there were no direct trains to San Marino, so the only place we were able to go to was a little town named Rimini, famous for its rocky beaches.
“How do we get to the bus from here?” my dad asked himself. We had been pointlessly walking around the town for about a quarter of an hour, and still had no sign of finding the tickets, or the bus stop for the bus to San Marino. He looked back at his phone, which apparently gave him the answer, judging from his satisfied look. We entered a road junction, crossed a road, and entered a convenience store. My dad exited the store looking like the happiest man on earth. He had received the tickets! We just had to wait at the bus stop, a five minute walk away, and the bus would come to pick us up.
The bus eventually picked us up, and on the way, we met two tourists from Belarus, a nation ruled by a dictator, so it was interesting to talk with them. Tourists come from everywhere. They came to Rome, but because of the heat, they were taking refuge in Rimini, the town that we stopped by, and because of its proximity to San Marino, they were taking a day trip there, just like us. We were at the home stretch of getting there, and I was hyped up for what was to come. I looked at the fields that we approached, and saw that we were getting higher into the Apennines. We began our ascent, and I thought about the trip ahead, and compared it to other micronations that we had gone to. So far, our experience resembled our trip to Liechtenstein, whose defining moment was a steep ascent into the Alps. However, I knew that the Apennines were a much lower mountain range than the Alps by observing my surroundings, and I hoped that meant that the weather would be a little warmer. The Alps were a little too cold for my liking. When we arrived, it seemed like my idea was generally correct. It was warmer than Liechtenstein, and there was a small, dominating town. However, when we ventured to the heart of the nation, I was better able to draw parallels to the renaissance area of Rome, because of the sandy texture of the buildings, and the architecture clearly designed to attract tourism. The seventy degree weather, however, made all the difference. If we had been walking as long as we did in San Marino back in Rome, we would be panting with exhaustion, probably indulging in some Venchi’s ice cream. But there was no need for ice cream in cool, sunny San Marino, where we indulged the refreshingly warm sun, which suddenly felt welcoming.
“What shall we do?” my mom asked. I didn’t know any attractions in the micronation, so I assumed that the old town would have something for us, as Rome’s did, and so did my dad and mom. We were already quite near the old town ( everything was close in San Marino), so we turned towards the rather steep hill face, and started our ascent, but before I turned around, I noticed the beauty of the mountains.
“Can we wait here for a moment?” I asked. “I want to look at the mountains for a little while.”
“That’s exactly what we were doing a few moments ago,” my mom replied.
“Oh,” I said. I indulged the view anyways, waiting for a moment. In hindsight, the hills in San Marino were almost identical to the ones of Liechtenstein, sparing a few details. They were grassy during summer, and probably snowy during fall, and were very steep. The only difference was the latter was more rough, with steeper and colder hills.
By the time I had turned back to face my parents, however, they were almost at the end of the road calling for me. I rushed back, and got scolded a little, but I thought it was worth it for a nice view.
It turned out that the old town was very scenic, with two story white houses topped by red roofs of clay. We slowly walked through the area, with a vague target of the center of the city. We passed a few statues (my mom stopped and snapped “quick” photos-these photos actually took a few minutes), and a few signs, but the route to the center was otherwise uneventful.
“Now that we’re here, what do we do?” I asked.
“Look at that museum!” I added. It was a museum of medival torture items.
“I don’t think we should go there,” My dad replied. “It probably won’t be worth it.”
We all agreed not to visit, and considering some experiences we had afterwards, it was a good idea. A sip of water later we were back on the road…but to where? My dad said he knew where to go.
“There are a few castles near here that you might want to see,” he said, after we had walked for a little while inside the town.
“Ok,” we replied.
But we were taken off our track when a distraction appeared. It was some type of soccer club, or so we thought. It turned out to be just a club, and looking back, I highly doubt a soccer club is a real thing unless you’re talking about club soccer.
“Look here!” my mom remarked, suddenly distracted. I could see why she was feeling that way. The view that was the result of the high mountains and flat countryside was breathtaking. I could almost, almost, see the ocean from our mighty perch upon the mountaintop. It felt like being a king.
“Hi! Can you please take our picture!” My mom asked someone. That person was holding a huge camera, and when that’s the case, you can bet that either my mom or dad will ask them to take a family photo for us. This time, however, we hit the jackpot.
“Yes!” The man responded. “I’m actually a photographer,” he said conversationally.
My parent’s faces lit up for a moment, and they strained to hold that smile for the family photo (it admittedly wasn’t perfect, as my sister was crying in all of the photos, except one, where somebody moved), and when it was all done, we got some of the best photos we ever had received from that camera.
After that success, we continued on our journey towards the castle, which soon became trying to find the highest point in the country accessible through roads; the castle was high up in the mountains.
“Look there!” one of us would say occasionally. The scenic town was too hard to resist, so we took many breaks during the journey. I can certify that it didn’t help the travel time, but it was good to see the area, and take in the surroundings.
“Look here!” I said. We had walked for at least an hour in a nation smaller than the smallest state in the United States of America, and we still hadn’t found any sign of the castle. That changed when I literally found a sign about a castle. “There are three castles, so should we go to the nearest one?”
“Yes,” replied my mom. My dad was getting tired from pushing my sister’s stroller all day, and so the less we had to walk, the better.
“Ok,” I replied.
The walk there was quite scenic. The mountains were more visible from the mountaintop that we were perched on, and so we spent quite a lot of time taking extra photos. By then we still had about three hours left, so we figured that we were in no rush. My sister, however, had different ideas about spending time. Ahead of us was a slide, and we knew what would happen next. My sister swooped up with great agility, and promptly wasted about a half hour of our time, but the amazing thing was that she managed to get herself hurt in that tiny window of time. A few minutes into sliding like there was no tomorrow, my sister fell off the slide, a very difficult task, and cried for five minutes more. I thought it was a waste of time. On the other hand, the slide did look quite fun.
“Can we go now?” I asked. My parents were more than happy when I asked this, and we left for the castle.
“Look here!” My dad said. All I saw was a broken wall, but my dad’s reading seemed to have paid off. We were at a ledge with a lethal drop below us on one side, and on the other side was the safety of having solid ground below us. Of course, the one with a good view was the former, and of course my dad would choose me to join him for a photoshoot (my mom stayed well away from the mountainside.) I looked down. I wasn’t usually scared of heights, but this was a major exception. It felt so unsafe, I didn’t know if I wanted to get the photo for a good minute, but after looking back up again, I saw the photo. I saw the photo. The one with the castle that is the backdrop to any atlas photo of San Marino, surrounded with grassy green trees upon what looks like a cliff but is actually a mountain. I saw that very photo with my own very eyes. I was THRILLED. We got the photo (a tedious process, as we had about a yard of leg room), which wasn’t as glamorous as the ones in the atlas, but we knew that those photos were taken with a drone, a vastly superior photography tool in that scenario. But I didn’t care about the photo. I was simply satisfied with the one photo we got. A photo that will stay in my mind for years and years to come. With visiting that fortress, I thought that even if we didn’t do anything else during our whole day trip, even if all we did after that was go to the plaza and watch paint dry, I would consider this day successful. Yet in this period of jaw dropping and nauseating views, we forgot to keep track of one very important thing. The time.
“Come on! We have 45 minutes left! If we don’t come soon we’ll miss the train! Come quickly!” My mom said.
We got off the ledge (I breathed a sigh of relief), and then with a burst of speed, I ran a good 50 feet to the playground. I looked back. My mom was still there, now shouting at me. I looked to see what was causing the wait, and it was the stroller. Of course.
If there is anything that can make a five minute trip a thirty minute journey, it is a stroller. It just decreases your mobility in every way possible. There’s no other way of stating it. You want speed? Well sorry, It takes a lot of effort to push a stroller. You want dexterity? Nope, strollers and steps don’t go together. Do you want to be allowed in tourist areas? I’m sorry to break it to you, but most palaces, museums, and ruins do not allow strollers, at least in Europe. Strollers just feel like a big pain in the head whenever I travel, but there is a flip side to the equation. If we don’t bring strollers, we run the risk of having to carry my sister if she gets tired, which would crash our schedule. As a rule of thumb, multiply the child’s age by ten to get the number of minutes you can last without a stroller.
Yet even with a stroller, and with almost no mobility, we were able to maintain a jogging speed, and this was thanks to the weather, which stayed at a perfect seventy degrees. The other reason was that we were going downhill, which helped greatly when using the stroller. To make sure my sister wouldn’t interrupt our running, she was given the lollipop, which had managed to stay intact, and it didn’t seem like she was going to finish it anytime soon. We rushed down ramps, ran down steps(an almost impossible task with the stroller), and navigated through the maze of streets, but it all paid off, and we were actually early. With fifteen minutes to spare, we squatted at the bus stop.
Ten minutes left.
9,8,7,6,5,4(shouldn’t we be hearing the bus by now?)
3…”Is the bus late?”, my mom asked
2…Probably, I thought
The bus was late, and we had nothing to do but wait. Apparently that bus had a flat tire, and we resumed our vigil of waiting.
But finally, the long awaited sound appeared.
The bus had arrived.
“Go! Go!” My dad said, pushing me into the crowd. I was confused. Why was my dad doing that?
I turned to face him, but he explained himself before I could say anything.
“If you don’t get there, we’ll have to wait another fifteen minutes for the next bus!” he shouted over the raucous crowd.
Perhaps it was my size, or my disregard for manners at the time, but I found myself in the front of the line (or more accurately, blob of people). I quickly called for my parents, and we got ourselves a seat in the bus. My dad told me that he had to do this a lot in India. I added that to my quickly expanding list of reasons why not to go on a train in India. They were overfilled, uncomfortable, people used the rails as toilets (true story), and they were dangerous. Trains accidents are apparently very common in India.
We took the bus back to Rimini fully knowing that our overlay time had been reduced by fifteen minutes (twenty minutes after someone had to get off during the middle of the journey). However, that would become the very thing that would stab us in the back.
“We’re almost here!” I said, my face planted in the window. Bus rides are a great time to take in the scenery, unlike a certain form of transportation which starts with an a and ends with an e (hint:airplane). My dad agreed, though he preferred to watch at a further distance.
We got off after an inevitable stop (my head conked on the glass), and we got off at one of the last stops.
“Does anyone want to look around Rimini?” My dad asked. He surely did, because when my mom said she wanted to, my dad agreed. We heard pop music, urban buzz, and cool air. I thought of Rome, and silently groaned at the sweltering heat there. My mom agreed. She said afterwards that one of the best things in San Marino and Rimini was the weather, and I fully agreed.
“OH NO!” My dad said. His face was stricken. You could tell that something had gone horribly wrong. I saw he was looking at the time. “We have fifteen more minutes to get to the station”
That wouldn’t be hard without a stroller, but we had a stroller, and we also had fifteen minutes. We made the best of them. We ran almost as fast as we had in Rimini, reaching the station in a record ten minutes, panting.
“Did we miss it?” I asked, holding my legs and gasping for breath.
My dad pulled out the phone.
“Five more minutes,” he said. We ran harder than we had before, reached security and waited. It felt like those thirty seconds for every item we had would cost us our journey, but luck was on our side. My dad checked his phone yet again.
“Two more minutes”
My heart dropped. There was no way we could get there on time.
“What’s the platform number?” By now I wasn’t even keeping track of who was saying what.
“Eight’s just ahead!” I said, pointing to a sign (platforms 8-9), which was, to quote myself, “right ahead”.
It looked as if the next few minutes would be make or break.
We rushed to the sign and turned.
We could only run from here. Stopping wouldn’t slow the train.
Thirty seconds later (it felt like a day had passed), we were on a train, thankful for getting there on time. We went to our seat. It was occupied. We asked the people to leave, but the answer was no. We showed them our ticket. Something felt wrong.
“Our train number is 9385,” the lady explained. “Yours is 9832.”
We were on the wrong train.
“So we did miss the train,” I said miserably.
But looking at the tickets again told a different story.
Our train left at 6:16 PM. We wondered why the time was off. It wasn’t a quarter past six, but it was one minute past that. The other train left at 6:15. However, every second we thought took us an extra mile away from the right route. We racked up all of our brains, but came up with nothing, but to tell the train attendants (or whatever you call them) about our predicament.
Again, we breathed a huge sigh of relief. The train would be going to Rome…with a catch. And that catch was in Florence (Firenze), Italy. This train had multiple stops, while our train was a direct route. This would cost us many hours of sleep.
Many sleepless hours later, we had already stopped at Florence, and we were getting very bored. My mom didn’t have her phone with her, as that was with my sister, who was playing a coloring game (Color the turkey! Which color is b r o w n? -the brown bit was in slow motion). I was playing with two straws we had, and my dad, who had his phone with him, couldn’t do anything without wifi anyways.
7:00. I was having trouble sleeping because of the freezing A.C and bumpy train, so I was left playing my fingers, and remembering the day. We had already exhausted any topics for discussion, and boredom was at an all time high.
It was too dark to look outside by now, so I checked the time. 10 PM. That might not sound that late, but I usually slept at 8:00 sharp, at 7:30 if the day was physically taxing, but that day I had woken up at 4:00 AM, and had one of the most hectic days of travel in my life. I was practically a walking zombie.
When we got out of the train, Rome felt like a whole new country. The heat went up by twenty degrees (for a little time, I was happy about this; I was freezing inside the train), and we called a taxi yet again for the ride home. I was simply too tired by then to remember sleeping, though I assume I did so because at about 9:00 in the morning, I was woken by my mom. I finally felt a little rested. However, I was still too tired to think properly. I thought about the strenuous activities we were surely going to do.
I sighed. Did we really have to do anything today? We already did so much yesterday. Maybe we could call whatever we needed to do off…
Luckily, everyone else was thinking on the exact same lines. “Can we rest for the morning?” my mom asked. We came to a conclusion. My dad, who was a little more awake than the rest of us, would go get the groceries, while we could take a little more rest. This also allowed my sister asleep (she hadn’t been awake since before we exited the train). I fell back on the bed and took a nice, long nap.
“Are you awake?” my mom asked. “Good.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, getting out of the bed.
“We need to go and get our passes to meet the pope?”
“The what?” I was in shock. We could meet the pope? I had never met anyone famous before, at least on purpose. I wondered how the meeting would be, and I seriously doubted that we would actually be able to get a look at him. I didn’t know if I was to be excited or not, but I was sure that I was ready to explore. But since we were back in Rome, we needed to remember a few things. Firstly, we needed to look out for pickpockets. We put our bags in front of us. Check. Secondly, we had to get our water out. Check. We put on our caps and sunglasses, and entered the heat of Rome.
It turned out that it wasn’t as hot as we thought it would be, nor was it as crowded as we thought it would be, as we were in some of the less travelled areas of the old town. We walked on the rocky roads (they were rocky to simulate renaissance times). We walked for a few uneventful minutes, and went to a building that looked like a church to me. My dad, however, knew it was the American Embassy to the Vatican. We entered the building, and entered a decorated courtyard with a fountain in its center. The process itself was quite boring, as they asked my dad a few questions for about fifteen minutes, asked me to come for a few seconds, and after that, we were done. We had our tickets to see the pope, and we exited the building successfully.
“What do we do now?” I asked. Now that we had finished the one thing we were supposed to do, what would we do next?
“We will be going to Campo de Fiori,” my dad said/
“What’s Campo de Fiori?” I asked.
“You don’t know what Campo de Fiori is?” my dad said, surprised. “Campo de Fiori is a market in Rome where there is a lot of good Italian food.” My dad pulled up some directions and we were on our way.
“I’m sure it’s this way,” my dad said, leading us in a circular route for the third time. We often got lost in Rome, but it was a lot cheaper to walk, especially in a city where taxis were so expensive. We finally found our bearings, and we arrived at the market. However, it was closing, and it was only open on Saturdays.
“We should’ve woken up earlier,” my dad said, dismayed. I was sad that we weren’t going to see a market, but it was only a market. What could be so great? We were getting hungry, so we went to get some food. There was a restaurant nearby, and so we ordered a sandwich. I saw some tourists nearby, and one of them was playing with a glider. Didn’t DaVinci invent a glider with that design? I thought. I guess you can sell anything when it comes to tourism.
Even though it was fun to look at the pigeons on the streets, and look at gliders with moving parts, we didn’t achieve our goal, and so we left dismayed. We had one chance to make more of the day, and we used that chance. We had to walk a great distance, to an area closer to the Colosseum, yet too far away to see it. It was also quite close to the Renaissance area, and that’s how we got there.
The place I was talking about was the Victor Emmanuel Monument. It isn’t that well known of a sight, but it felt like the definition of regal and imposing. It was marble white, with columns supporting a massive edifice of a monument, two symmetric sides that led to the main building (just like the St. Peter’s Basilica), and a statue at the middle and on the top of both branches of the main building. In a way, it felt like the US Capitol building, but grander. While the Capitol building was bigger, you rarely get to see it’s true size, but in front of the monument, you could almost see the marble columns sparkle in the hot summer light. In fact, the day made the sight even more amazing to behold.
While I sunk in the beauty of the monument, I was left in the dust by my parents, who were waiting and calling for me, as they had crossed the road to a beautiful garden, where two nuns were taking pictures. I didn’t know anything about nuns, except that nuns were Catholicism and monastic, and it was interesting to see a person who had such different values in a place so far from home. We waited until they were done, got our pictures, took some more pictures, posed a bit more… But while all this was happening, a connection flared in my mind. I wondered if different people would be going to be there with the pope. It would be interesting to see different cultures, and see the culture of Rome, something that doesn’t happen by just going to different landmarks and hopping on a tour bus. Perhaps that was why my dad was so eager to visit the Campo de Fiori. He wanted to see the life of Rome. My mood brightened with these thoughts, enough to genuinely smile for the photo.
It was nearing night. The mood had worn off, we had eaten dinner, and I was heading to bed, when my dad told me, “We’re going outside to see some Roman ruins, and because your mom wants to take pictures in the night. Put on your shoes.” he said.
I obliged, and we went down the now familiar three sets of yellowing weathered marble stairs from our room to the ground level. It would be interesting to go and see ruins in the night. We had already done two night walks, but I was no less excited, and seeing Roman ruins was a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity. We went on our usual route, deviating a little bit at the end, and we did the usual nightwalk. Five minute photo breaks, snapping pictures wherever anything remotely interesting appeared, and turning on the flash setting on the camera-flash is the worst, I thought, rubbing my eyes after having to intentionally torture them (apparently looking at the sun is bad but looking at a flash for a photo isn’t).
We reached the ruins, and snapped the pictures. Quite unusually, my dad looked rushed. Though he usually didn’t stop us from taking photos, today was an exception, as he told us to take less time. However I was thinking too much about photos, and too less about the view. I stood on my tip-toes, and gazed downwards(there was a glass separation from the ruins themselves). It was much less of a view than the colosseum, but a view nevertheless. I saw a few stone rocks in mysterious places, the remnants of an arch, and more ruins. Not much, but it felt ten times more authentic than the Victor Emmanuel Monument. We took photos, and since my dad insisted on it, left quickly. Why he wanted us to sleep so soon became apparent a few minutes later.
“We need to wake up early tomorrow,” my dad said. “because there will be a big line to see the pope, and if we have any chance to get a view, it will be because we came early.”
I thought my dad was exaggerating a little bit, but sure enough, the very next day I was woken up.
“Yes??” I said. It was 6:00.
“You should’ve woken up an hour ago!” my dad said “The crowd will be huge by the time we get there!”
Again, I thought he might have been exaggerating, but I was proven wrong; there were at least 25 people ahead of us, and ahead of us were hundreds and hundreds of chairs. It looked like there could be a sea of them, as they almost completely covered St. Peter’s square.. My dad showed us all the slip of paper needed to get in, and we waited. In fact, we waited for a while. Two hours, or 120 minutes to be exact. The gates opened at 9:00 AM, and that wasn’t even when the ceremony (or whatever it was) started. During that time, my mom, and dad checked their phones. Even my sister got some screen time-when she was awake, she got to suck on her lollipop and watch nursery rhymes. All I did was eating Skittles, and getting bored. We all got bored. The initial clump of 25 became a line of hundreds. Hundreds. I suddenly saw why my dad wanted us to rest well the previous day.
Before the gates opened, my dad told me to reserve a seat in the front near an edge. I thought the middle was the best place to see the pope, but my dad proved me wrong later. I ran as fast as I could, saved the seat, and waited for a few awkward minutes. The best seats were in the upper right corner of the setup, but the first hundred seats were reserved for bishops (and cardinals). Again, I waited, now with my family, who arrived a few minutes after I did (I had no regard for manners and weaved through the crowd). Again, we waited for a few more minutes, until some people in fancy dresses (bishops, cardinals, Swiss guard…ect.) came out and were announced by a person who I couldn’t see. In fact, most of the action was invisible, and the only reason I could see anything was our prominent position in line, just as my dad prophesied. The ceremony was starting, and we couldn’t miss anything.
The beginning was a few verses from the Bible, which I wished I understood, but after thirty minutes of verses and introductions in Latin, I was really wishing for all of this to end, but the spare time allowed me to see the diversity of the group. I could see bishops from everywhere from America to Argentina to India. The diversity of the church was amazing, and seeing so many bishops in one place was a unique and unforgettable experience. Maybe that’s why seeing the pope was worth it, because the rest of the ceremony wasn’t.
After the incomprehensible prayers, the pope got into his car, and the crowd tensed. The ground appeared taller just from the influx of people leaning or standing just to get a proper view. Needless to say, once the pope got out, the chaos started. People started talking, and getting their cameras out, and I went with the mood. We all took pictures as the pope went around and around and around, kissing babies, and waving. And then it was over. Just like that, the pope went inside, people dispersed, and we had to take the long journey back. We had spent hours of valuable time waiting for a man to drive in circles. I learned a lesson. If something fails to inspire value or inspiration for you, it probably isn’t worthwhile.
We left, my parents happy (they thought the pope waved/looked at us), and I, slightly dismayed. We had done what we intended to do for the day, and the time was already 2:00. We were all very tired from standing, so I didn’t even have the necessary energy to go back home. We got on a subway in Rome, the first and only time we used public transport there, and arrived near home, where we rested.
Ready to explore and hungry, we returned to the streets, and after a quick debate of what to eat, we decided to give pizza another chance. We walked for a good thirty minutes looking for the restaurant in mind, and when we found it, I thought, Really? This is it? The shop was small, inconspicuous, but it looked quite full. We looked around and found a seat, looked at the menu, ordered pizza, waited for a few minutes, and finally, got our pizza. It was cheesy yellow with red spots, and plain, with a small crust, and I imagined how it would taste.
“How is it?” my mom asked. I took a bite.
“Too cheesy,” I said. It was the same problem with all of the Italian pizzas, or so I felt. Maybe my taste buds weren’t cultured enough to appreciate the pizza. However, if you are used to American pizza, I wouldn’t recommend going Italian. My mom and dad, however, enjoyed the pizza, and we left satisfied.
“Where are we going next?” I asked. An hour had passed, and it was mid-afternoon. We were all sweating, and very eager to get inside.
“I’m tired,” I said as an afterthought. “Can we take a break?”
“OK,” said my dad. “But where should we rest?”
“Look there!” My sister was running towards a small car. I looked at the sign above: Ferrari.
“We should go there,” I said. Everyone else agreed; it wasn’t every day you got to see a Ferrari Museum.
The museum was well lit, with blinding spotlights illuminating deluxe cars, all of which cost an arm and a leg. However, that wasn’t what interested us. My sister veered towards the toy cars, which were actually her size. She hopped in, and so my mom stayed behind. My dad wanted to test driving a Ferrari in a simulator, and I looked around. We were all having a good time, and we didn’t want to leave, but we needed to return home, and my dad needed to get groceries and plan for the day. We felt that the day was over, so we slept. Tomorrow was our last full day in Rome.
We woke up, and the first thing I did was think about our week in Rome. It seemed impossible that we were leaving just tomorrow, yet we were. Rome was one of the most educational, historic, and scenic cities I had ever visited. I looked at the deep blue skies, scrumptious gelato, and overall beauty of the city, and I resolved to make the most of our last day.
“Today we’re going to see if we can look at the Colosseum, or get tickets to the Roman Forum or Palpatine Hill, and take pictures there,” my dad said in the morning, as he always did-planning makes trips so much more enjoyable.
“How much do tickets cost?” my mom asked.
My dad searched it up. “16 Euros,” he said.
We had bought tickets much more expensive than that, so sixteen euros didn’t seem too much for something we would ever see again. We began the walk to the Colosseum, and just took in the beauty of Rome, ate a few sandwiches, and continued on our way. When we reached the Colosseum, it was already past 9:30, and the sun was swelteringly hot. We sat on a bench, while my dad got the tickets.
“Can you move a little to the right?” My mom asked, trying to get the right pose. The extra time was the perfect opportunity for more photos. She snapped another few, but by then we were getting tired. What could be taking my dad so long? The answer was the line. We arrived too late, and so we were only able to get in at 10:30, a solid hour after we left (we had to wait an extra half-hour due to security).
“Where do we go?” I asked.
“We have one ticket to the Roman Forum, one to the Colosseum, and one to Palpatine Hill. Which one do you want to go to?” my dad asked.
I wanted to go to the Colosseum. I had seen what it looked like from the outside. Surely it couldn’t be different from the inside?
My mom didn’t care where we went, and though my dad advised going either to the forum or the hill, I was so eager to visit the Colosseum that my parents obliged.
We went into the building, and I was not disappointed. The arches of the building, though monotonous, were super photogenic, and we took photos from every possible angle there. I trekked through, taking photos in between, and reading the signs, which explained the history of the Colosseum. There were a few billboards with movies about the emperors playing, and we waited to watch, but in the haste of doing all of this, we lost my mom and sister-they were behind, taking photos. What occurred next was chaos. I must’ve run around half of the building, looking and searching for places where she could be. The worst thing was there was no wifi in the building; there was no way to communicate.
“Where are you…where are you…” I shouted, but it made no mark over the shouts of the tourist crowd. I looked up. A hand! Could it be my mother’s?
I rushed in between people like I had never before. She was there. Luckily, I knew where my dad was, near the exit, and we averted a huge crisis. We were all together. However, we wasted an hour of time in all of the chaos, and two hours had already passed. It was 2:00 and we were running out of time to visit the Forum. We could still do it in time, I thought. The gates only closed at 5:00, and we were still safe. Two hours of taking photos later, however, and we weren’t as sure. We ran out, rushed as quickly as we could, and reached the gates of the Roman forum. We were late – it took a while to get there because my sister was uncooperative at some moments. We looked at the closed gates, and I felt despair. The whole reason we were in Rome was to see Roman things. It was our last day, our last chance.
But was it a waste? When I looked back on our walk home on our now familiar route, I thought about all of the great things we did in the city. We got to see how the city grew, and we got to see its art and history, religion and traditions, food and life. We got to know a city.
I asked myself a different question during the evening, when we packed our bags for our next destination. Did it really matter if we missed seeing one landmark, when we spent that time enjoying the city itself, and experiencing its culture and life? Maybe it didn’t. Maybe it did. When you visit Rome, ask yourself: Is it the culture or is it the landmarks? Is it the destination, or is it the journey? Even when we packed our bags, and left the city, even when we were thousands of miles away, I never forgot that question. I feel that we should all try to answer “The journey”, for it is there where we make the biggest discoveries.
Tips and Tricks for Rome:
- Time to visit:
- The weather in mid-summer can almost be unbearable, but since summer coincides with summer break, many people choose to visit Rome then.
- If you plan for a long trip to Rome, I suggest going in early summer, but if you are staying for any time near one week or less, I recommend visiting during spring break.
- One thing to keep in mind when travelling in spring is the increase in rain you will encounter during the trip: we had no rainy days.
- As for when not to go to Rome, the worst month weather-wise is November. The combination of it being the rainiest month, having gloomy temperatures, having no long holidays during the period, and low amounts of daytime make it sub-optimal for travel.
- Time to Visit:
- Taking too long makes travelling unenjoyable: when you have experienced everything, sometimes you might want to move on.
- However, taking too little time would mean not covering anything, or having a schedule so hectic that it would be impossible to take everything in.
- Considering all of that, and how long we travelled for, I would recommend anywhere from 6-9 days.
Things to keep in mind:
- Walking: Walking was our route of transportation in Rome, and we did this because we could just see so much more. If you want to take things in, and see Rome at its fullest, walking is the best mode of transport.
- Train/Metro: If your hotel isn’t near the center of Rome, then this is a good alternate option. Just remember to walk around the city once you get there to see the most.
- Car: Not advised-streets of Rome are crowded.
- Where they are: Pickpockets are located around tourist attractions, especially popular ones. They are also located on the most used tourist roads.
- How to stop them: Keep backpacks in front of you, always be aware, and don’t buy items(stolen purses/sunglasses) from pickpockets.
- I recommend pasta or just whatever you find at the grocery store.
- If you want to try some pizza, do so, but I personally do not recommend it.
- If you want fast food, Subways are common around Europe.