Easter Monday, we woke early when it was still dark. Brendan’s hay fever had taken full hold, and I found some Aleve and Claritin to give him to help him breathe a bit better. However, it was a mostly sleepless night before we groggily got ready and headed for the bus to Brignole station. Off to Rome!
I was a bit apprehensive after checking the weather all week. Rome — usually sunny and beautiful in the spring, was showing a soggy forecast. All of Europe seemed to be stuck in unseasonably cold and rainy weather. My students and colleagues told me that it was usually possible to swim this time of year. I felt so guilty because I had told Brendan it would be a good time of year to visit. But all of this is part of travel.
I checked my transit ap to see when the next bus would arrive at our stop, growing a bit nervous because it looked like it would cut it close. “Should we take a cab?” I asked. “Whatever you think is best,” he said. I decided to take the risk. The bus dropped us off in plenty of time, we got to the platform, and as the sun began to rise, we saw our train was delayed. “Good thing we didn’t spring for the cab,” Brendan said.
Now we both felt like zombies. It was cold and quiet as we waited for our train, moods tense. I felt like I was on an episode of Amazing Race . . . these things happen. And with both of us tired from long workweeks, we both just needed some peace. I was hesitant to book such an early train, but this was just over 4 hours instead of 7 hours, and would give us more time in Rome.
Eventually we boarded, and napped our way along the Riviera and down the coast to Rome, pulling into the station around 1pm. It wasn’t raining. In fact, the sun was shining! Brendan was finding it impossible to breathe and still feeling epic jet lag, but we both knew we had to get out in the sunshine for some wandering before the downpours. We dropped our bags off at the hotel which was right by the train station, then saw the Colosseum, The Forum, and other iconic landmarks.
I had a Frommer’s Rome Travel Guide, but instead of trying to navigate to one of the suggestions, I figured we’d pop into one of the little cafes on a side street. The food was ok, but mediocre and didn’t impress me or my foodie friend. The price wasn’t too bad, but I knew that Brendan was waiting for some mind-blowing Italian food. Having been spoiled by years of Arthur Ave (Little Italy in the Bronx), featuring the best of all of Italy, he may have been expecting all of Italy to be like that. In addition, Rome is known for many things, but not necessarily their cuisine, especially for lunch.
We found a pharmacy where, hurrah! they gave Brendan some antihistimanes that helped him breathe with sweet relief. He took a long nap, then we wandered out again at dinner time, once again finding a disappointing dining experience. Mediocre and slightly expensive pizza. “It’s all pizza and pasta, everywhere,” he noted. Yeah . . .
Toting my takeaway Quattro Formaggio, we looked at the tourist map, trying to find the Ice Bar. The winding backstreets of Rome were quaint and a bit empty due to the holiday. If it wasn’t cold and rainy, it would have been more enjoyable but we weren’t really feeling the scene. We wandered into the Ice Bar, where we were the only folks. “Come back tomorrow, for open bar for 20 bucks. There will be a crowd,” they advised. Sounded good, so we left and tried a few other places, but couldn’t find a seat or a good scene. We eventually ended up sitting at the bar of an Irish Pub, talking to the Australian bar tender over Guinesses. We walked home past the ruins lit at night as Brendan entertained me with his comedy.
Tuesday 2 April, we got to sleep in a bit, waking up just in time to head to the free breakfast upstairs in a sunny room. There was good variety as we woke up and hoped the rain would hold off. We had “Skip the Line” tickets to the Vatican. For a nominal fee, you don’t have to stand in line for hours. Perfectly worth it.
We took the metro and arrived, wound our way through the halls filled with art, peeked out the window at a massive thunderstorm, and eventually found our way to the highlight of our visit, The Sistine Chapel. This was my third visit to Rome. Both other times, I had been on EF Tours. 1997 as a high school Junior and last year as a teacher, bringing my own students. in 1997, we were not able to get admission to the Sistine Chapel, which was a major disappointment. Last year, we did get to go, and I found it to be so moving and one of the most amazing works of art I had ever seen. This time, it actually brought tears to my eyes. It was less crowded than our Easter time visit last year, and I didn’t feel squished and pushed through the room while trying to look up and enjoy. I could really take it in and absorb the wonder as it was meant to be appreciated. Splendid.
Upon our exit, I went into a little gift shop to get pink rosary beads for my great Aunt Minnie. We almost left the premises to get online for admission to St. Peter’s, which we had to do last year. That line was winding around the giant square. But first, “Let’s just pop into that pretty chapel,” I said, peeking through a door featuring lots of marble inside.
We walked in and Brendan immediately said, “Wow!” This was not some little chapel . . . it was St. Peter’s, and we had entered without a line.
We went straight to Michelangelo’s gorgeous Pieta, and I explained how someone had smashed it in the 70s, so it doesn’t have the original glow, even though it was carefully repaired. It’s still amazing.
We wandered around, and Brendan was excited because he got to “see a dead pope!” in one of the many tombs.
After some pictures and prayers, we exited into torrential rain. First I sent my parents and my friend Kat postcards with the Vatican postmark.
Where to now? Rome is enjoyed by wandering, walking and soaking in the beauty — not by actually soaking. It was so disappointed because last Easter it rained a bit, but we had a sunny day that was just splendid. To stay dry, we hopped on the first tram we saw, and figured we’d go on an adventure, not knowing the destination. En Route, we skimmed Frommer’s for ideas for aperitivo later. We stopped for gelato and saw this:
Eventually, we made our way back to the hotel, cold and wet, and each had a warm bath trying to get our body temps back up. When we departed for dinner, we had plans to head to the Ice Bar, then the Disco after, so I took a small purse and no guidebook. We headed to Spagna, the neighborhood where the Spanish Steps are, and wandered in the rain until we found an amazing, trendy cafe with stadium seats for chairs.
There were tiny snacks for aperitivo (that came out with our wine), then I ordered Ceasar Salad and Brendan got meatballs and some pasta. The meatballs were absolutely divine, and as much as I try not to eat lamb, we think there must have been some inside. “This is the pasta I’ve been waiting for!” Brendan exclaimed with pure joy, finally having found the Italian meal he’s been craving.
Next, off to the Ice Bar, touristy but fun. Again, we were the only ones there as they draped us in capes. Nobody looks good in a cape. We waddled into the icy room and settled into a little igloo, drinking our vodka mixed drinks out of ice glasses. While we waited for others to arrive, I noticed some glasses left behind and began smashing them like a disgruntled wife. Eventually, a bunch of college-aged kids arrived, and we made small talk. We each had 5 or 6 drinks, and there’s only so much time you can spend in the ice bar, so we waddled on out, but not before taking some photos that made us look like Bond villains.
Drunk on vodka, we were too beat and money conscious to spring for the disco, so headed for the hotel and Brendan wandered into a kebab shop for a late night delicious snack. Tomorrow we would depart Rome for the Swiss Alps!
We didn’t really get the best vibe from Rome or give it the best chance, but we saw it. I had visions of visiting the fountain of Trevi, Trastevere, drinks in piazzas, wandering along the Tiber, maybe even a boat cruise. The weather was a real damper. I felt bad and almost responsible, but Brendan reminded me to relax and that he was not mad. (Although clearly disappointed). Rome deserves another chance with more time and better weather, but we enjoyed our mini adventure. This is all part of travel, and overall, it was fun and we saw a lot. 🙂
Brendan’s been thinking about Rome for years.
Check out one of his many comics, Hannibal Goes to Rome.
-written 26 June but posted in April for timeline purposes
-continued in Part 3