2014 was a milestone year. It was the final year of university and I was at a period of time where I was sure yet unsure of what I wanted to do. I was also starting to get itchy about wanting more life experience under my belt. Imagine my surprise when this trip came about as part of a volunteer experience.
Now, a general warning. Most of my time in Rome was spent in the office so there wasn’t a lot of sightseeing being done. You can ask what I did outside of the office, but most of the details are quite murky. Come along if you like to read tales of meandering around town and getting lost in small streets. Take a walk along the streets of Rome with me as I try to recollect what happened in that eventful week.
The first thing that I recall is the absolute hurry of packing. It was my first overseas trip alone—no family, no friends. Just me, myself and Google Maps. I was absolutely terrified the week before I left. Pesky ‘what-ifs’ plagued every second of every day. It’s one thing to travel somewhere alone if you, or someone you know, have been there before. It’s absolutely another to go in blind.
I wasn’t naive enough to believe that reading articles on the web would perfectly capture the essence of what it was like to be there. I was also aware that my experience could be totally different: I was a lone hijab-wearing female travelling alone. Granted, Rome was pretty safe, but I was coming from Singapore which is renown for being safe, even with its ‘low crime doesn’t mean no crime’ warnings.
I took a twelve-hour long flight to London before making my way to Rome. On the way to London, I was lucky to sit with a couple of students from Malaysia who entertained me with their study and travel plans. Most of the time I slept. Other times I stared at the flight details on the inflight entertainment center.
The British Airways flight from London to Rome was full of air stewardesses who were absolutely wonderful. Perhaps they saw the fear and exhaustion on my face, but they were absolutely wonderful and made me feel welcome. The food might not be A++, but the service was warm and personable.
I arrived in Rome at noon. Finally, finally after two years I was set to be in Rome and not just the airport. The airport was pretty deserted, at least until we got into the border control area. There, a crowd teemed about and I followed the crowd to the relevant lane.
I quickly grabbed my luggage. After 24 hours of travel, I was ready to fall asleep on my feet. But not yet! I still had things to do and places to go. Seeing that I had about 2 hours before my train into central Rome left, I roamed around the FCO terminals looking for a telephone carrier to grab a data SIM card. No such luck. Most of the stores were closed, probably because it was a Sunday.
I wasn’t about to buy any of the SIM cards offered by one of the vendors at the entrance of the arrivals section–they were terribly overpriced. Off I made my way to the train station. One thing I found amusing about the airport was that in certain areas, elevators are slow to come by.
I’m embarassed to admit that it took me awhile to figure out how to get to other levels without the elevators. I was daunted by the ‘no luggage on escalators’ sign despite seeing other travellers do exactly what they were told not to do. It was my first time alone, and I sure didn’t want to get in trouble on my first hour there.
Instead, I asked one of the locals there how I was to get to the other floor.
“With my luggage? It’s kinda huge.”
He shrugged. “Sure, that’s how everyone does it.”
Off I went to the train station. There was a heckload of people there. In all the articles I read, they cautioned me to be wary of pickpockets. I took all the necessary precautions I could. People bumped into me despite my standing at a corner. I held on tightly to my backpack, now carried on my front like a book baby and gripped the handle of my luggage.
Thankfully, I arrived safe and sound at Termini train station. There was about en times more people than at the airport. This was clearly where the action happens. Trains, busses, taxis, the metro–all handy dandy located in one massive station.
Again, I got lost from the train station in Termini to the metro. My hotel was located a ten munute walk away from Termini, but by then I was exhausted and just wanted to get to the hotel and freshen up. I took the metro to Castro Pretorio station, where I was met by the hardest challenge thus far on the trip: a daunting, tall set of stairs to the road level. Silly me, I had forgotten that there was going to be a lot of stairs and walking in Rome.
There I was, lugging my 25kg luggage up the stairs. Thirty stepps doesn’t seem like a lot in hindsight, but it’s a mountain after 24 hours of travel and when you’re exhausted. Luckily my hotel was located around the corner. I was met by a chirpy and welcoming reception guy at the San Marco Hotel. It’s a budget hotel but with A++ service.
The reception guy too kthe time to fish out a map and introduce the best restauurants, shopping districts–pretty much the where’s where and what’s what in Rome. Best of all, he led me to the 3 store where I got my data SIM card. I mean, there was wifi at the hotel, but it’s great to be connected once I was on the streets.
I set off early to #roamaboutRome. The wind was cool in the early morning and quickly died out as the day passed. Coming from a tropical climate, I relished every bit of cool breeze I could get. The colder, the better.
The everyday things that nobody really notices are what makes a city special.
My daily view of Termini station. There’s a certain calm in walking through the station during the morning rush hour with the locals and fellow tourists. I walked across the large expanse of Termini, along the many shops, to the bus terminal.
The bus terminal is large, I hurried across the bus lanes to where my lane was located. The morning rush wasn’t hectic and buses weren’t zooming around, but I still wanted to be cautious. The bus comes at very regular intervals. I didn’t have to wait more than ten minutes for another bus to appear. On board, I saw that most of the passengers were fellow tourists like myself heading into the city center.
The city center is only five to ten minutes away from Termini via bus. That’s where the morning rush is apparent as buses, cars and scooters made their way on the roads.
Look at the blue skies. How can a photo perfectly capture the beautifully clear skies and not the intense heat that came with it? I wasn’t used to such heat—36°C was too much, even for someone who lives near the Equator where 100% humidity is the norm.
A kebab store. Oddly, I didn’t try any kebabs from this store, instead subsisting on the myriad choices of pizza.
The Central Business District (CBD), I suppose. One thing I enjoy is to look out for banks and multinational companies in a city’s CBD, brands that were easily recognisable. There’s nothing like seeing how the city functions. And the best way is through seeing global brands written in the local language, or seeing how the main office looks like.
Warning: the following section consists of multiple photos of food.
Amazingly, the above photo is a dish of clay ‘pasta’. How scrumptious does it look? Kudos to our hosts who brought us to only the best restaurants in Rome.
We had quite some time to sightsee in the last few days of our trip. Here’s the view on our way to the Roman Forum.
Even as someone with no architectural background, I could appreciate the grandeur of the site and its ruins.
The Colosseum: too massive to fit in one photo frame.
One of the highlights of the trip to the Colosseum, of course. I geeked out at this section for obvious reasons.
The area outside the Colosseum is absolutely stunning. I mean, look at the colour palette and that architecture!
We went to the Trevi Fountain on one of our last days in Rome. Sadly, it was still under renovation though they did keep a coin toss section open specifically for visitors during that period. I didn’t mind–all donations went to the upkeep of such a historical site.
We headed to the Vatican for a tour. I cannot impress on you the absolute majestic sight of seeing the Vatican up close and in person.
The colleagues and I were literally walking faster with every step. We couldn’t contain our excitement at finally visiting the Vatican and of course, seeing the art ourselves. There’s a lot to be said about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, but you can’t deny it captures the brilliance of the art and architecture beautifully.
(Whether it captures the details accurately is another matter.)
Time for lunch! The pasta in Rome is so good, I’ll take it over pizza any day.
Heading out to check a halal eatery. It’s pretty good. The portions are humongous compared to those in Singapore, a fact I truly appreciated as I was on a strict budget.
One of the kebabs below easily made up my lunch and dinner meals.
The last day in Rome, I walked around the city center with no aim or destination in mind. It was scorching hot. I could easily appreciate the beauty, and even now looking at the photo I remember the dreadful heat on my skin.
A couple of Roman landmarks:
Oh, how I miss Rome. Doing this diary recap a couple of years after the actual trip has revived my wanderlust.