Touring Rome Like a Roman

Check out my last article about our big day in Venice!

Trevi Fountain

In the late afternoon Italian sun, we arrived at our monastery-turned-luxe-hotel somewhere in the suburbs of Rome. With some time to kill, Dounia and I walked to a nearby park that reminded me of NYC’s Central Park. After walking through an unquestionably picturesque field of flowers, across a local creek, and to a small pond filled with turtles, we decided to head back for the walking tour.

Hello, Rome

We took a bus into the city center, where Nikos began the traditional introductory walking tour. He pointed out major sites and gave tips on how to get around. He led us through narrow alleys filled with restaurant tables and souvenir tables. We visited the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and even the Piazza Navona! They all seemed jammed packed with sweaty tourists just like me, desperate for a picture. After splitting up for dinner, we made our own ways back to the hotel for yet another early morning.

 

Pantheon
Pantheon

 

We woke up bright and early for a continental breakfast, one of my favorite parts of my days abroad (no joke, I have paragraphs upon paragraphs dedicated to the breakfast quality of each place we stayed). After breakfast, we followed Nikos to a traditional market square where we met an Australian woman and another tour group. We had all signed up for a pasta-making excursion. We were led through a winding apartment building. After so, so, so many stairs, we emerged onto a covered rooftop terrace with an undeniably great view of Rome’s skyline and a few chefs.

A Lesson in Italian Cuisine

After a lesson in the many distinct variations of olive oil (one that leaves me an olive oil prude to this day), we sipped on some white wine and began working on our pasta. We mixed the egg and flour together to create our pasta dough. With a dash of olive oil, we began kneading. I had used too little flour initially and wound up getting dough all over my hands – a trend that continues to this day in all my bread-making endeavors. Nobody heard my cries for flour until a chef spotted me and teased me.

handmade pasta

After rolling them into balls, we wrapped them in saran wrap and allowed them to cool. We watched the chefs make traditional marinara sauce in the meantime. Once we received our dough once more, we flattened it out and put them through the pasta maker to make fettuccine. After boiling everyone’s pasta, voila! Lunch was served!

Newsflash: Italy Is Just As Hot As Florida

After lunch, we made our way to the Roman Colosseum. We had to hurry, because we planned to meet the rest of our group there. The pasta excursion had taken longer than expected. We finally arrived out of breath and dripping with sweat. One of the most unexpected things about Europe was that its heat index matched Florida’s. I had always assumed the entirety of Europe was this pristine 70°F garden.

Colosseum
Colosseum

 

After meeting the group, we waited in one of the Colosseum’s many tunnels, which funneled a very welcome breeze. We met up with a tour guide, who began to talk about the undeniably rich history of this infamous arena. He explained that the reason why the Rome Colosseum was pock-marked was because over the centuries, people had come to steal the valuable metals that were encased in the stone. He also explained that the Colosseum was made of travertine that had been stacked onto itself, held together only by gravity. This explained why the bottom of the Colosseum looked like a maze of ruins: they had been a series of tunnels underneath the floor of the arena to get from side to side.

After noticing a few sun burns (i.e., me), our guide let us put some sunscreen on before we headed to the Rome Forum, which I’ll talk about in my next post!

Roman Colosseum
Roman Colosseum’s Tunnels.

 

Colosseum tour

 

 

The First Night in Venice After a Pit Stop in Verona

If you haven’t read my last article about our trip up the Swiss Alps, check it out!

After a stunning day on the mountain, we returned to our fancy hotel for a night of each other’s company. We broke out spare wine we had collected in the previous cities. We spent a good half hour looking for a wine opener while trying alternative bottle-opening techniques. The next morning, the hotel provided us with a gourmet breakfast (twelve different types of bread, six kinds of cheese, fresh fruit preserves, and more!) before we headed out at 8:30 AM. 

verona italy

An Afternoon in Verona

Everyone had forgotten that there was a planned stop in Verona before we finally landed in Venice. For me, it was a welcome pit stop as the very first Italian city on our tour. Italy was warm and gorgeous, and the architecture felt rich and ancient. Nikos took us on a quick tour of Verona, showing us several points of interest. We started with the Portoni della Bra, a large clock nestled in the gates of the old medieval walls of the city. This served as our landmark and meeting point later on.

portoni della bra clock verona

Nikos led us down cobblestone alleyways and Via Mazzini as he guided us past fancy restaurants, boutiques, and brand-name clothing lines I’d never heard of. We passed a giant coliseum that had red curtains hanging in the archways, suggesting its history of entertainment was far from over. We stumbled into the courtyard where Romeo and Juliet supposedly fell in love, and saw Juliet’s balcony. Nikos bought everybody gelato as a treat before we visited Statue Dante and broke up for the afternoon.

Freetime While Touring Verona

After a long wait in a bathroom line, I found that most of the group had left. Only Emily, Alyson (and one other person, but their name escaped me when I wrote my journal entry at the time), remained. We meandered through the market before we wandered into Via Mazzini to explore. I looked at the marble ground that lined the street with horror. I could only imagine how slippery in the rain it must be (I have a high propensity to slip and fall in public). Luckily I had an inkling of which alleys to take to get back to the Portoni della Bra, and we popped out in front of the coliseum. Considering its age, it was really in fantastic shape. 

coliseum flavian amphitheatre

Emily offered to take pictures of me in front of it, which is exactly when I realized that most of the pictures I’d been taking the entire trip lacked an important element: people. Anybody can Google a picture of Europe and see the same images I had been frantically running around taking. But what makes pictures special after a trip is the fact that you’re in them, or that people you care about are in them. I felt silly that I hadn’t realized that until halfway done with our trip. 

Panic at the Alleyways of Venice

the mainland of veniceWe all eventually made it back to the Portoni della Bra, with an exception to Dounia and Georgina, who got lost trying to make it back. Nikos left the group to find them and guide them back, which made us 30 minutes late leaving Verona. This mattered because Nikos had made a dinner reservation for everyone at 7:00 PM in Venice. 

Once we finally arrived at Mestre (the mainland of Venice), we dropped our luggage off at our hotel. We immediately left to hop onto a bus that would drive us over the bridge that connected Mestre to Venice. I felt thrilled to be in Venice. In the setting sun, it was everything I wanted it to be. In fact, I was so excited about visiting Venice that I didn’t realize that Nikos — our faithful guide — was lost! 

I had been so caught up in racing around the window displays and photographing public squares that it was only once it was finally dark did I realize that we were seriously turned around. Nikos kept ducking into stores and restaurants to ask for directions. We didn’t show up to the restaurant until 9:00 PM, two hours late. While I’m sure he felt bad about getting lost, I had a great time taking the scenic route! Besides that, finding your way in Venice is incredibly challenging. The alleyways are so narrow and winding that keeping track of where you are or where you’re going is impossible, especially as someone who doesn’t know the area well.

Summer Heat Affects All Cultures

After a great dinner of pizza and pasta, we left to take the bus back to Mestre. Apparently, however, we had arrived during the driver’s break! We wound up waiting on the bus for over twenty minutes. We piled into the bus, packed like sardines amongst tourists and locals alike, sweating in the Italian summer heat. Nikos refused to take off his jacket for fear of “being stinky.” I tried opening the bus window, and when I couldn’t get it because of the angle, the passenger sitting next to it helped slide it down. The entire front of the bus cheered as the cool outside air swam in.

venice italy

Finally the bus driver arrived and we took off. The bus lurched back and forth and we all quickly realized the bus malfunctioned! The tension while the bus driver restarted the bus was palpable. When the engine roared to life and we were finally on our way, the entire bus cheered again. 

Join me next time as I talk about our next day in Venice, my favorite city of the trip!

shopping in venice