This is a story back when I was doing study abroad in Paris, 2015. We took a weeklong trip to Italy, with our third stop being Rome and Vatican City. We stayed a few nights, touring, walking around for probably a marathon’s distance over that time, and checking out some watering holes. Two of the folks on the trip, Matthew and Nick, are Italian-Americans so we had the joys of experiencing it through their lens, as well. This bit’s somewhat lengthy so I divvied it up into five parts; three in Rome itself and two in Vatican City. Again, it’s always fun to note what you thought was important to note, back when. Old writings can be commented upon on their own merit, even separately from the topic at hand. In any case, enjoy!
From Florence, [the second stop on our trip] our train took us to the main train station in Rome, Termini, and our hostel was right there south of the station. I thought it was a central location, but not really knowing Rome that well (i.e. at all) it wasn’t the best place as the Vatican was a four mile walk and the Coliseum, two. Further the area we were in was pretty crummy, and for a while I was very disappointed and underwhelmed by Rome.
To some degree I still am, but that doesn’t really detract from Rome does have to offer. It’s just a very different place from any sort of a totally romanticized city I may have had. The area we stayed in seemed to be full of hastily built apartments lacking any charm as the population began to rise. It’s near the train station (which are rarely bastions of architectural wonder or havens of safety) and there’s just more trash, graffiti, and general filth that you don’t expect from a place like Rome.
It’s not as if it’s an unlivable place by any stretch of the imagination, or that the trash is overwhelming or anything even close, it’s just a very different place, beautiful for different reasons. People worship Rome as the most beautiful place on earth; in fact, you need to go find those places. This is also largely applicable only to this east side of the city. (Really only the very city center and the Vatican are stunning.) Some of the girls we met actually volunteer at a homeless shelter and they drove us by an entire group of maybe 100 homeless people at night near the train station sleeping, while incredibly wealthy folks reside not super far away. Really eye opening.
Anyways, we dropped our stuff at the hostel and began walking around. We basically took the hostel map, charted out a course and just began walking. I honestly don’t remember the exact order of everything since I lost the map, so this again may just be a smattering of random moments and sights, but I’ll try and elaborate on some of the cooler ones.
We began walking to this place called the Repubblica, which was a rotary with a massive, gorgeous fountain in the middle, two arcades on one side, and a church on the other. The Church was called Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was a mixed bag. Some of the churches in Italy had absolutely stunning facades but were mediocre inside, some vice versa, and some were both. This was the second option. The outside was just a brick overlay, and it looked fairly rundown, but on the inside the ceilings were high, the marble clean, the gold shiny, and the smell like new.
It’s incredible how much the zodiac and astronomy played into early Catholic lore. Partitioned off by ropes was a section of the floor that was essentially a really long sky map, from one side of the church diagonally to another. It showed the degrees of height in the sky of certain stars and constellations, and had several pictures of the zodiac. It’s remarkable how many beautiful churches there are. Pluck any one of 30 churches in Rome and plunk it down in Anytown, USA and it’s the most gorgeous church in the country, easy. So much detail and effort went into these.
We continued on to Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a marble building with three arches and a bunch of steps, which paled in comparison to the Spanish Steps, a popular site for many tourists and for those trying to see a sunset (we were both obviously). The Spanish Steps were built in the 1700s because the Pope wanted stairs, instead of a steep sloped hill to the church. Sound logic.
The bottom of the steps opened up into this square with a little fountain. Later that evening, we saw footage of this fountain from the weekend (a few days prior) where Feyenoord fans (who just played Roma) came out and vandalized the place. Broke stuff. Bottles everywhere. It’s a shame hooliganism still exists so heavily, especially in Italy it seems.
Since we arrived, we were searching high and low for an ATM in the city and only found one 4 hours after walking around, and it was tucked away in this square. ATMs seem to be ubiquitous in ever other European city we visited; Rome was apparently different. After getting cash, it’d been hours since we ate so we figured we’d find the first decent, cheap place we could find.
On the way, we found a whole slew of orange trees, which aren’t actually native, but were introduced from North Africa. I was told, and my hunch was, that oranges wouldn’t be ripe in March. Generally when they fell to the ground, that’s the moment when they were finally good. In the face of this advice, We hoisted Matty up and picked them off the tree anyways, and much to our dismay they were incredibly sour and bitter. A stream of saliva and orange pulp soon hit the ground.
We found a decent enough looking pizza place so we jumped at it. Should’ve know better. The whole street seemed to be owned by one man, which should’ve been a tip off; prices were slightly higher in this monopoly. He kept trying to make us purchase more drinks and more expensive food and more bottled water and the whole works. We just wanted some pizzas, which we got; when they were brought to us, we wish we hadn’t. Of all the meals I’ve had in Europe, this was – bar none – the worst. Ingredients that weren’t fresh, burnt food, just overall very poor, and pricey.
Fortunately you live and learn and we never even came close to coming back to a place like that, and every subsequent meal was increasingly delicious. Til next time.
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