After a pre-dawn carpool, we arrived via taxi to Charles de Gaulle Airport for our flight to Italy. We were finally on our way to my “other” hometown! Being that I am from Rome, Georgia and we drove through Rome, New York on our way to JFK, it was only right that we wrap up our trip in Rome, Italy. All roads lead to Rome, right?
Unfortunately, since we arrived around 5:00am, most of the airport shops weren’t open (with the exception of one coffee shop with some amazing chai tea lattes). It was the perfect time to see how well Google Translate worked overseas as I used the app (in conjunction with the airport’s free Wi-Fi) to highlight text for translation by using my phone’s camera. By using the app, I was able to purchase a delicious cup of tea and a salmon quiche without speaking English to the employees.
After we (and the plane) fueled up, we were en route to Rome, Italy! During the flight, we crossed the breathtaking Alps mountain range and learned that on flights to Italy, the flight attendants offer you 3 drink options: wine, beer and coffee. Joel & I were surprised as we asked for tea and were given several confusing looks; but eventually, we were served 2 cups of tea, as well as two of the strongest cups of coffee we’d ever had. It definitely helped the tiredness from the early rise time subside.
It’s the French Alps!
Once we landed on the ground, Joel & I decided to take the local buses and trains to our hotel while our travel buddies decided to take a taxi. We really wanted to have the full experience, so we grabbed our duffel bags, screenshot the directions from Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport to Hotel Donatello on Rome2Rio and made our way to the public transportation. I will admit, it was a bit difficult figuring out the transfers and knowing which part of town we were in, but thanks to some friendly locals, an experience that could have been anxiety-inducing for most turned into a photo-worthy journey through the streets of one of the world’s oldest cities.
As we walked into the lobby of Hotel Donatello, our vacation buddies were checking in (so we were proud of the fact that we saved money on our journey from the airport, we got a scenic view of the city and it took the same amount of travel time). After one of the members of our party paid 5 Euros ($5.80) for the Wi-Fi password (and shared it with the rest of us), we all relaxed in our respective rooms for 30 minutes before setting out to enjoy our first day in Rome.
Our first stop was grabbing lunch at Pizza Rustica. A 10 minute walk from our hotel, it was a perfect way to get acquainted with the neighborhood while building up an appetite. Also, since many of the restaurants didn’t open until after lunchtime, it allowed us to indulge in an Italian favorite. There were plenty of flavors to choose from as fresh pizza pies were cooked on a wood-fire oven in front of us. Although the owner was accommodating, he did give Joel an annoyed look when he asked for more tomato sauce on a white sauce pizza… but Joel made it work by ordering an additional slice of pizza. The one sad part of the day (and the trip in general) was when I looked up at the TVs inside the restaurant. Although none of us speak Italian, we were able to understand the chyron at the bottom of the screen stating that a plane had crashed in the Alps a couple of hours prior… the same Alps we had just flown over an hour before the crash. Using what little Wi-Fi we could find, we all attempted to call our families in America to inform them we were safe. It broke our hearts to witness the callous nature of the pilot, but we hope that all the souls that were on board rest in peace.
Once we were able to reach our families, we browsed the open-air market outside of Pizza Rustica before starting our 12 minute walk to the Colosseum. Along the way, we marveled at the ancient stonework, aqueducts and candy-colored architecture. With every step we took – past fountains, stone stairs and immaculate parks – it was easy to see why this European city is one of the most fashionable in the world.
Our travel buddies!
About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the breathtaking Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheater). Built of concrete and sand, it is the largest amphitheater ever built. It is estimated the Colosseum could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, with an average audience of around 65,000. When in use, it was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on classical mythology. Luckily, there weren’t 65,000 people in line when we visited, so the wait was about 10-15 minutes from purchasing the tickets to entry.
The tickets to enter the Colosseum are €12 ($13.93), €7.50 ($8.71) for European Union members aged 18-25, free for all citizens under 18 years and valid for 2 days! The ticket can also be used until the end of the year and allows entry to the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
The historical building details its origins, through the influence of the Church, to the present day, all while preserving most of the original architecture. Filled with illustrations, carvings and stonework, you will be able to virtually feel the gladiators marching through the halls toward battle. For an increased experience, tours are offered that take visitors through the Colosseum’s underground (where the tigers & lions were kept).
Some people don’t follow directions.
After exploring the ruins of the Colosseum, we made our way across the street to Palatine Hill (which is included in the price of your ticket). On the way to Palatine Hill, there were several vendors selling “one-of-a-kind” paintings. Although Joel & I didn’t fall for it, one of our travel buddies did and she ended up paying €20 ($46.44) for the painting. However, at the next cart over, another vendor was selling the EXACT same painting for €10 (11.61). Word to the wise: beware the street vendors and shop around before making a purchase – even if it’s only 5 feet away.
Once we made our way into the Palatine Hill park, we explored the vast, lush grounds. From orange groves, to the former quarters for the members of the royal family, to temples dedicated to Romulus and Remus, this outdoor museum perfectly encapsulated the visions of ancient Rome we all learned in school. All roads truly lead to Rome.
The most awe-inspiring view was when we got to the top of the Parco Del Colle Oppio. I was so blown away that I told Joel “If you were to propose to me right now, I’d probably say yes.” The side eye he gave me was epic! He later said he wished he could make my parents instantly appear (bamf for you Marvel fans) so he could’ve proposed at that moment!
Our travel buddies!
The fragrant orange groves!
After exploring the Roman ruins for a few hours, it was time to eat again! For dinner, we devoured a delicious pasta meal with gelato and cookies for dessert. Even though London blew us away with breakfast, Rome was held its own when it came to lunch & dinner. At the restaurant, I ordered spaghetti with swordfish in a red sauce… it was phenomenal! For dessert, Joel & I had tiramisu and chocolate gelato – respectively – with some savory cookies for the walk home.
Once we finished enjoying some of the best food Europe has to offer, it was time to walk back to the hotel and prepare for our visit to the country-within-a-country: Vatican City.