Big cities make me lonely so after the first few hours in Rome, I quickly realize being here by myself just isn’t as much fun as being alone in a smaller village learning about the customs from the locals. Rome seems slightly more like a hodge-podge of different cultures, like the Italian version of America’s New York City.
American cities, like New York, Chicago, and Dallas can be lonely when you’re traveling on your own too. People are more skeptical of strangers and less likely to go out of their way to be friendly, talk or even smile at you, which makes me wonder if they’ve been victims of crimes or if they’re just worn out from dealing with so many people. Big city people isolate themselves from conversations by plugging their ears with headphones and burying their faces in their smartphones, making connecting with them much more of a challenge.
There are benefits to being in a big city especially a foreign one; for one thing most everyone speaks at least a little bit of English, Barcelona, was my exception. The novelty of not being able to communicate wore on me and made feel really isolated at times, luckily though, I have no issues in Rome. Not only are the Italians fluent in English, but the tourists I meet from other countries are as well.
After squeezing through the crowds of people, I leave Termini train station in search of my hotel. I’m tempted to take a cab, but have been warned many the cab drivers both here and throughout Italy are scam artists, especially to foreigners, so instead I walk several blocks dragging my suitcase behind me, praying I’m heading in the right direction. I pass by tired graffiti-covered buildings, bars and cafes, none too quaint. I step over occasional tumbleweeds of trash blowing by my feet. And with the streets less crowded than I’d like, I avert my eyes as I pass by several small groups of men in leather jackets. No one smiles.
It’s almost dark when I finally arrive and check in at the Hotel Roma, a boutique hotel with outstanding reviews on Venere travel site. I drop my bags and venture out, but Francesco from Sorrento’s voice is ringing in my head, “Termini station area is not very safe,” so rather than go far, I decide to check out the pub across the street to cash in my free drink ticket from the staff. I join a large group seated outside, all Kiwi and Aussie surfers, who have been traveling for months and are staying at the inexpensive hostel next door to the bar. Their thick accents, surf stories and banter keep me laughing.
With the cool October air giving me a chill, I finish my Mojito, say goodnight and head back across the street. My room opens to an outdoor courtyard, which means it’s exposed to the elements, but it’s spacious and clean with four beds all covered with thick white comforters. Within an hour I’m shivering cold and cannot find the thermostat controller, so I call the front desk to ask how I can turn on the heat.
“Maintenance has to come turn it on and that doesn’t happen until the very end of October.” Apparently I’m a week too early.
I ask for a new room, one that isn’t exposed to the outside, but the hotel is completely booked. I cover the bottom of the door with towels to keep the draft out, gather comforters from all four beds and climb in to watch TV. It’s broken, so instead I just lay there dejected and buried beneath four thick comforters listening to the noise from the bar and hostel outside of my window. Sleep eventually comes, but only a few minutes at a time.
Bleary eyed and still chilled the next morning I check out in search of a better place to stay. It seems whenever I try to be a responsible tourist by planning ahead and making reservations, I have a bad experience and am reminded to stick with my old travel traditions of just showing up.
Right in the city centre, I spot the Grand Hotel Traiano, just a few steps from everything. Determined to have a better night sleep, I go in and ask Luigi at the front desk about rates. He offers me a warm room for just a little more than I paid to shiver all night at the noisy Hotel Roma. I say yes, yes, yes.
I’m re-energized and ready to tour the entire city of Rome. I climb on the Double Decker sightseeing bus, which allows me to hop on and off all day. I highly recommend doing this, in every city. I used to think it was too much of a touristy thing to do, but after coming home from a few trips and realizing my stubbornness caused me to miss a so much, I started deciding to suck it up and ride the bus.
Rome is surprisingly compact and a great walking city. I hop off at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, hoping to go inside, but with the line looking to be a few hundred people long, I opt instead for just the outside view. I’ve seen tons of advertisements for tickets that would have allowed me to skip lines, but didn’t pay much attention. Next time, I tell myself.
I stroll past dozens of buildings all Intricately carved with sculptures of Angels and Gods adorning the sides, each more remarkable than the last. I give up on identifying structures with my confusing map and set out in search of the Spanish steps. I’m not even sure why I have a desire to see them and it takes me some time and effort and lots of stopping to ask for directions to find them. Once I do, I climb to the top and sit, still unsure what all the hype is. The only thing I know about them is they were built in the 1700’s.
The ruins are surreal to me. Being from America, a baby city in comparison, I just can’t wrap my head around Rome existing some two and a half thousand years ago. When I see the colosseum, even from a distance, it takes my breath away. I stand there with hundreds of others in awe of its enormity, imaging the gladiators inside fighting each other to the death. Even though it’s depicted in so many movies, standing right there in front of it, the real thing, is magical, something I wish I could share, if only I wasn’t here alone.
I walk along the Tiber River admiring the ancient structures and bridges before settling down on a bench to have my lunch- a tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella sandwich I bought from one of many sandwich carts throughout the city. I top off my lunch with some too-die-for Italian cookies.
I’m beat, so I head back to the hotel and ask Luigi for a restaurant suggestion. He insists I go to “A great little seafood restaurant just around the corner.”
A large display of whole fish on ice takes up the entire foyer. I’m seated in the tiny restaurant and watch as a plastic tub of fish is brought around to different tables. This, I learn is the Southern Italian way, the waiter brings a tub of fish to the table and you choose your own. The selection is then buried in sea salt and baked, bones, eyeballs, and all before being brought out and cleaned, tableside by the waiter who then drizzles on olive oil and then serves it. I’ve seen this done throughout Southern Italy in the nicest restaurants and am told it’s incredibly moist and delicious. I don’t have the courage to order it, mainly because it is priced by the gram and can be so expensive. My waiter offers to price the smallest fish for me and it comes out to €42- ouch! I opt instead for homemade pasta with a fixed price and a glass of house white.
I can’t help but notice a family with a barely pubescent boy at the next table asking for wine recommendations. Apparently his previous glass is a “bit too strong” for his taste. Even though, this is fairly common here, it still seems odd. I should be grateful that children drinking alcohol (legally) hasn’t taken off in the states, I complain when I have to buy a $3 soda for mine. The thought and the ambiance of the restaurant full of couples and families makes me miss my family back home.
This being my last night in Rome makes me wish I had the courage or company to go out and see Rome at night, but since I’m alone, I opt to be safe and stay in. Unless I’m comfortable with a group of people I might, I try to avoid being out in foreign cities alone at night. I head back to my room to pack and hopefully get a good night’s sleep. I’m looking forward to getting home to my family, but am a little sad I didn’t have more time in Italy. Then again, I’ll come back again soon, maybe I’ll even bring the family to share the experience.
WHERE TO STAY:
Hotel Traiano http://www.hoteltraiano.com
Via Fabio Filzi, 1 00053 Civitavecchia Rome, Italy 0766 544282
(Ask for a quiet room not on the main st.)
WHERE TO EAT:
I prefer the coffee bars/sandwich shops which have hundreds of fresh sandwiches, foccacio bread pizzas piled high in display cases. They’re everywhere. There’s also food carts throughout the city with high quality sandwiches and desserts.
WHAT TO DO:
Eat. Eat. Eat.
Ride the sightseeing bus. There are several different ones, all go to basically the same locations. Ticket salesman walk around the lines offering deals sometimes half price, so pay attention.
If you plan to go inside any of the attractions, buy tickets ahead to avoid long lines.