It was our second day in Rome, and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I got a glimpse of the breakfast buffet at our hotel. Hands down the best part of Hotel Mozart. Take that, every continental breakfast in America.
Today was the day we would tour Ancient Rome. My father booked a tour with Through Eternity, an Italian touring company with groups in Rome, Vatican City, Florence, Pompeii, Amalfi, and Tuscany. We’d been told the tour would be five hours with a 30 min lunch break. Five hours of walking in the heat to see some of the oldest structures in the world…worth it. Tip: bring a water bottle. Throughout the tour (and Rome), there are many natural water fountains that are fed by the aquifers that run in and around the city. I brought a bottle and filled it up every time we stopped by one so I could sip along the way. If you go in the Summer, trust me, you’ll want water.
Our tour guide’s name was Cinzia. We met her outside of the Roman Forum with another four-person family. She prefaced the tour with an introduction of herself, explained what we would see (and why we saw scaffolds on everything *tear*), and how long the tour would be. She also handed out our walkie-talkie/headphone set that we would carry, so we would be able to hear her if we got behind. It was scorching hot but I was all good wearing my mom’s nautical dress from a boutique in South Tampa. It was super light and flowy, perfect for the day ahead. My shoes, however…well, I regretted those at the end of the day. Tip: wear sneakers.
There is no way in hell I can reiterate the endless amount of history we heard that day. But, this is definitely the way to go. If we hadn’t chosen to take a tour, we wouldn’t have known what anything we were looking at was. It was so interesting, too. So much history. So much brutal, scandalous history.
One of the more interesting ruins was the house of the Vestal Virgins. This was a fifty-room palace that housed the Vestal priestesses or Vestal Virgins, young women who vowed to remain abstinent and to devote their life to being responsible for the fire in the temple of Vesta. If this fire were to die, Romans believed that the city was no longer protected and that the Roman empire would fall. If this offense was committed, the Vestal Virgin(s) would be flogged.
For our lunch break, we separated near the metro station and found a little cafe; a little cafe full of hungry Italians and tourists. By this time, we were all starving. We each ordered a sandwich – salami and mozzarella, caprese, the usual. When we were handed our plates, the sandwiches contained about 80% bread and 20% meat/cheese. This was probably the only food disappointment we experienced in Rome, but I was so hungry, I didn’t care.
Before we all separated, Cinzia made sure we all knew to keep our belongings close to us. The metro station is where most of the pick-pocketing in Rome occurs. If you’re wearing a wristlet, don’t let it hang down from your wrist. If you’re wearing a cross-body purse, make sure it’s in the front, and make sure your back pockets are empty. She also told us that the gypsies try to blend in by standing looking at maps, or holding babies in their arms. It’s hard to distinguish in such large crowds, just keep your things close!
Our entire last two hours were dedicated to the Coliseum. Even though I’d seen a million pictures of this structure, it is absolutely nothing compared to seeing it in person. It is amazing. Huge. Complex. Intriguing. While I for some reason had never seen The Gladiator (watched it on the airplane on the way home), I would definitely recommend watching or re-watching before you visit Rome! Or better yet, watch it after. You will have a much better understanding of everything in the movie.
One thing I loved that Cinzia provided were before (computer generated) and after photos of the Roman ruins. It was insane to see what the structures looked like at the time they were built. It made me wish I could travel back in time, even just for a day, to see everything live. The Coliseum even has a small museum area with various artifacts; it was insane to think about how old the pieces displayed were. Really, really, really old.
After our tour we stopped into a church that Cinzia had recommended we see, then stopped at a mini shopping mall my parents had visited the year before to order some espresso, thennn we finally ventured back to our hotel. A couple hours of relaxation were definitely needed. For dinner, we decided to try a restaurant our hotel concierge had recommended – Osteria St. Ana. We didn’t usually like to sit outside when we ate out because everybody smokes (not a fan of inhaling cigarette smoke while I’m eating my pasta), but it was such a beautiful night, aaand all the tables inside were full.
From the moment our waiter greeted us, he was extremely pleasant and accommodating. It was so interesting striking up conversation with the restaurant staff in Rome. In Cefalu, everybody was either from the North, Palermo, or born and raised in Cefalu. In Rome, you never know what you’ll get. This instance, our waiter was actually from Rome, but a couple other members of the wait staff we had conversations with were from Hungary and…Philadelphia. That was a shocker! They all had smiles on their faces all night, something we noticed among most of the restaurant staff in Italy.
This night I ordered a black rice dish, while my family each ordered pasta dishes, along with a seafood appetizer. Everything was delicious. Since we sat outside for this meal, we were next to the street and cars that were parallel parked. As I’m sure many of you know, people don’t give a crap about road rules in Italy. So when the waiters placed a tray table in a parking spot that people kept trying to occupy, the parking attempts did not cease. People would literally park in the middle of the street because this tray table was occupying the parking spot. It was hilarious seeing the frustration, along with the lack of discretion from the Fiat and Smart Car drivers. Dinner and a show!
After our meal, one of the waiters we had a conversation with earlier brought us each a shot and a bowl of sugar cookies, free of charge. This happened to us a few times on our vacation. We weren’t sure if this happened often or not, but we definitely appreciated it!
After an extremely long day of walking, and a big dinner, we were all certainly ready to crash. The next day was going to be another long day: five hour tour of Vatican City.
Happy Friday, and enjoy your weekend! Keep it balanced 😉