Saturday night: After getting thoroughly frisked at security and pushed by crazy Hungarians trying to secure seats near each other, my friend Isabelle and I were off on our way to Rome. The plane ride was uneventful, although RyanAir sells some strange items aboard, such as “smokeless cigarettes”, which we found hilarious. Additionally, there is no seat pocket in front of you containing any useful information. There is a plastic sticker with safety info on the backs of each seat, and a life jacket folded at your feet. How comforting! We landed around 11pm, only to find no ATMs and no people willing to take our credit cards. Sadly, Hungarian Forints were not accepted instead of Euros, so we had a moment of panic that we might be stranded in Rome’s budget airline airport, a good 50 minutes from the city. After much wandering we finally found and ATM and were able to snag seats on one of the last buses of the night. We arrived at our hostel, which after walking up 6 flights of stairs, we found to really be some woman’s apartment with a ton of bunk beds in it. Needless to say I slept with my purse under my pillow that night.
Sunday:Despite its creepiness, our hostel was in a great location. We woke up and within five minutes we were at the Colosseum. However, after realizing that the line to get in was longer than Space Mountain at Disney World, we got upset. Big tour groups got to cut the lines, but we weren’t sure if we wanted to pay about $40 to get a tour. Then I luckily remembered an off-hand comment I had read in a Rick Steve’s travel book, he suggested that if we enter the Roman Forum (area of ruins that contain the Colosseum) from the other side, we could get the same ticket but often there was a much shorter line since people don’t care as much about the other ruins. We found this back entrance and there were only about 20 people in line ahead of us! We had a wonderful stroll through the ruins and up Palatine Hill and then back down to the Colosseum. I think that Palatine Hill might be one of my favorite things we saw in Rome, so I am quite glad that we entered the Roman Forum where we did; it’s possible I would’ve missed it entirely and just seen the Colosseum otherwise. The ruins in Palatine Hill were covered with gorgeous flowers and preserved amazingly well; it gave me a great sense of what life was like in that era. But don’t get me wrong, the Colosseum was pretty damn cool as well. It was overwhelmingly large, I can’t even imagine how they built it without all the machines we have today. And the construction took less time than the Boston Big Dig!
Ruins in the Roman Forum
After a scenic lunch over looking the Roman Forum (tomato and mozzarella panini. yum) and a quick pihen (nap) we headed out in search of the Pantheon. Now, we quickly realized that we had NO idea what the Pantheon looked like and weren’t sure what we were looking for. We knew there were columns and a big dome, but that’s about it. Embarrassing right? We saw a bunch of tourists going into an old building with columns out front and a domed roof. It appeared to be in the right location according to our map, so we figured we found it! Isabelle and I turned to each other and both noticed that it was a lot smaller than we thought it would be, but perhaps that’s because we couldn’t remember what it looked like? Well after going inside and seeing a large crucifix, we realized we were in fact, in a church. A gorgeous chuch! But not the Pantheon. After we left we found the Pantheon a mere 2 blocks away, and yes, it was as big as we expected.
Pantheon. The real one.
Afterwards, we wandered around and got some delicious gelato. We had been hoping to go to the world famous gelateria called “Grom” but the line for it was on par with that for the Colosseum. Seems that nothing is a secret in Rome! Luckily there are about 3466 gelato places on every street in Italy, so we had no trouble finding another place to have some without waiting for an hour. After prying ourselves away from a fabulous leather bag store, we stopped by the Trevi Fountain, tossed a Euro in, and made our wishes.
For dinner, we decided to treat ourselves. Our trusted Rick Steve’s said one of his all time favorite restaurants was in Rome called Al Bric. He said it wasn’t cheap-but worth it. So we made a reservation and boy, we were NOT disappointed. We entered the restaurant and saw a large wine cellar on our left and the most cheeses I had ever seen on our right. The wine list was hundreds of pages long, and it included bottles that were 6000 Euro! Insane. We ordered wine (not the 6000 Euro bottle though, don’t worry) and an Italian cheese plate to start. We then had Cacio e Pepe (a FABULOUS pasta dish with cream, pepper and tons of Parmesan), a delicious veal dish (yes I ate a baby cow, this one time only!), and a dessert that was some sort of flour-less chocolate cake with a vanilla cream sauce that was TO DIE FOR.
Finally after months of terrible Hungarian cheese, I found my holy grail. These are only SOME of the options at Al Bric
Dessert. No further explanation needed
After dinner, we wandered around Rome some more, found some weird bars and then on our way home, we passed a Grom gelato shop! We were elated to have our second dessert of the night. We tried Pistachio and Crema de Grom (sort of like chocolate cream with cookies and caramel). It was amazing, but my lactose intolerant stomach was not too happy with me.
Monday:We started off the day by exploring the other side of the river in an area called Trastevere. This was the most gorgeous, idyllic part of Rome. It was full of cobblestone streets, adorable bookshops, amazing shoe stores, wisteria covered apartments and of course, great food. We had lunch at a place called Dar Poeta which was recommended by my camp friend who is studying in Rome. After a delicious salad and eggplant pizza, we had a ricotta and nutella filled calzone. I was in heaven.
We then headed over to Vatican City. After a brief sing-a-long with some fake purse vendors on a bridge (we were trying to get them to stop harassing us to buy their wares) we saw St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance, it was breath taking.
Since it was the week before Easter, the lines to get into the Vatican Museum and the Basilica were crazy. We saw them setting up chairs for Easter Mass (where our dear friend Maribeth would find herself on Sunday) and we were overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the crowd they were expecting. Being short on time, we decided that it was more important to see the Vatican Museum than the Basilica, so we waited in line for the Vatican Museum. After realizing how much our feet hurt and how little patience we had left for crowds, we agreed once we were inside the museum we would go straight to the Sistine Chapel and then leave. Little did we know that the museum is designed in a linear manner, thus to get to the Sistine Chapel, we had to walk through ALL the other rooms of the museum first since the chapel is at the end. We found ourselves asking “are we there yet” quite a few times, and had some trouble appreciating the 900th statue of a naked man we saw. However, the room of map murals turned out to be quite cool and I am very glad we got to see it. The ceiling was the most beautiful piece of art I had ever seen, and the maps were so detailed, they looked 3-d.
Map painting of Italy
We finally reached the Sistine Chapel which was beautiful of course. No pictures are technically allowed but I was able to sneak a few blurry ones. I actually think I liked the map room more than the chapel, but both were gorgeous. We then found ourselves going out of a back exit that seemed kind of questionable. We weren’t sure where we were going until we realized that we had entered St. Peter’s Basilica. Sweet deal! We didn’t even have to wait in line. After getting chastised by some guards for having too much kneecap showing, Isabelle and I quickly pulled on the leggings we had so cleverly packed in our purses. In the process, we may have flashed some tourists, but its no big deal. The basilica was gorgeous and I am so glad we go to see it. There was even a boy choir in there practicing for Easter Mass, which was a beautiful thing to hear while touring around.
We then made a quick trip the Spanish Steps, but were too tired and blistered to make it to the top. We did however see the filming of an Italian documentary and were allowed to be in the background as “tourists”, type-casting right?
After a very busy day we arrived in Florence by train in the early evening. We were pleased to find that our hostel wasn’t too scary and had a delicious Tuscan dinner. I ordered a vegetable pasta dish and Isabelle got a Lasagna Bolognese that she liked so much, she actually ordered a second dish! The waitress thought we were hilarious.
Tuesday: Isabelle and I started off our morning by getting the keys to the apartment we had rented in Florence where we met up with our other friends Margot, Charlotte and Zoe. They had been traveling earlier in the week as well, and we were all so happy to be in a home and not a hostel. We had a great view of the city, a clean bathroom, kitchen and even cable TV! Sadly all the channels were in Italian, but at least it was not Hungarian. We then headed off to see the famous David statue. Luckily we had reservations for this museum because the line seemed endless as we cut our way to the front with the rest of the ticket holders. The David has to be one of the most stunning statues I have seen. It is massive and flawless. We also got to see some of Michaelangelo’s unfinished statues, which were quite cool. We all used our best imagination power (something that’s hard for math majors) to guess what the artist might have been envisioning as he chipped away at the marble. Sadly no pictures were allowed…but I bought plenty of postcards! After a pihen we had dinner near the Duomo. I meant to order a vegetarian lasagna but accidentally pointed to a different dish instead when the waiter came. This turned out to be a happy mistake. I ended up with a delicious rigatoni in red sauce with swordfish and vegetables, a meal I would love to have again right now. After dinner we had Grom gelato (yes, locations in both Rome and Florence) and hung out around the Duomo which is stunning at night.
Moon and the Duomo
We then met up with one of Charlotte’s friends from school who is studying in Florence. We all walked around the city and we went to a bar with famous mojitos, which happened to be right by our apartment! Perfect.
Wednesday: We woke up early(ish) to try and beat the lines to climb up the Duomo. We found breakfast at a tiny little shop where the most adorable old Italian man made us sandwiches on fresh ciabatta bread with pesto and cheese.
Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea about the Duomo and the line to climb to the top was wrapped around the massive church. We decided to just walk around and take some pictures of the area instead. We even found horses!
Duomo by day
We then walked along the river and saw the gorgeous bridges of Florence. We window shopped in the amazing jewelery stores along the Ponte Vecchio and tried a tiny little gelato place that turned out to be AMAZING. They had some interesting flavors, but each was better than the one before it. My favorite was ricotta with fig, but sesame and passion fruit were amazing too! We had pizza for lunch, which was amazing but I was starting to grow sick of pizza, hard to believe I know! We then headed to the Uffizi Gallery, home of Italy’s most famous Renaissance art. We had luckily booked ahead for this museum as well, because the line to get in was even longer than the one for The David. The museum was gorgeous but Renaissance paintings start to all look the same to me after awhile. Luckily the museum also had a cool tapestry collection and a beautiful view of the river, so I enjoyed myself.
Have you ever seen a more perfect reflection?
View of Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery
I spent the afternoon with my friend Margot trying to find a pair of leather shoes for her. After countless stores with the most beautiful leather goods, we found her perfect pair! It’s tiring work, but someone’s got to do it. I also found my new obsession il Bisonte. This store makes the most perfect handbags I have ever seen. Check it out: http://www.ilbisonte.com/eng/. After much deliberation, I decided I could not spend over 200 Euro on a purse without more thought, so I walked away empty handed. But have no fear, they have an online store and shops in Massachusetts! After an afternoon drink and more gelato, I had my last meal in Italy. I ordered Cacio e Pepe again, and it was just as great as it was in Rome. We finished our night with a stroll around Florence and then I went to bed early to get ready for my flight to Israel the next day. More about Israel to come in my next post!
Florence by Night
PS: I have about 8 million more pictures, so let me know if you want to see anything! It just is very slow work uploading them onto the blog, so I can’t put up all of them (and that’s why some have to be kind of small). Also, you can always see most of them on Facebook!
PPS: Shout out to Kelly and Riley! Since I know you read this together 🙂