Rome: Day 11 & 12
(29.8.14 – 30.8.14)
Continuation from here.
“If you could be stranded in any part of the world, where would it be?”
I bet most people wouldn’t mind being stranded in Rome for a day or even a week. But being in Rome was an accident for us, a little splotch of surprise in our itinerary because we hadn’t even included it in there. Now before you scoff, “You kidding me? You went to Italy and you didn’t even think about dropping by Rome? That’s like going to France and not bothering to see Paris!”, we’d heard a lot of nasty rumors about Rome that made us cross it off our list of places to see.
Rumors like: “There really isn’t much to do or see in Rome – the whole city is severely overrated!”, “People in Rome are really racist against Asians” and “Too many gypsies loitering around, waiting for victims to pounce on.” Well the last rumor is actually a fact – there are plenty of gypsies who are experts in the stealthy art of pick-pocketing, so I’d advise hiding a money belt around your waist or even stuffing cash in your socks to avoid being robbed.
But yes, being on a really tight budget and all, Gloria and I thought we’d skip out on Rome and head straight to Florence after Sicily, but that didn’t go as planned and we ended up being in Rome by force – which actually turned out to be one of the highlights of my Italian adventure. I fell in love with it the very next day when we started exploring the streets of Rome for the first time. But first, the story of how we got stranded in Rome and how we narrowly escaped a rather sketchy situation involving an illegal cab driver.
So how did we get stranded in Rome? We missed our train, and what irritated me about it was that it wasn’t even our fault – it was the train line’s, but they denied it profusely, of course. We spent an entire day traveling out of Sicily on the slow-moving train. It didn’t take long for the view from our dirt-streaked window to bleed into a dull canvas of flat greens and browns. The entire trip was badly delayed due to prolonged stops at several stations in between.
The journey was actually simple. Sicily – Napoli (transfer) – Florence.
We arrived in Napoli just shortly before our connecting train departed, and then we were stuck for another 15 minutes in the narrow corridor because we had to wait for people to leave the train. By the time our feet hit the platform, we were racing to our next connecting train, only to be told that it had just departed for Florence a couple minutes ago. So as an alternative, we were put on the next commute to Rome. We were told that we could still catch a train to Florence from there. Our first night in Rome was quite a story in itself.
The First Night in Rome
By the time we got to Rome, it was almost midnight. I recall the train station being huge, but neither of us was in the mood to explore. We just wanted to be on our way to Florence, as we had an AirBNB booked for the night. Bad news came once again – the train company refused to take responsibility for the initial delay, which had caused our missed commute. Instead, the Italian woman stared at me with cold eyes and said flatly in Italian/English: “Our record says the train arrived at Napoli on time. It’s not our fault you missed the connecting train.” Well, if the train had really been running on time, it would’ve arrived in Napoli a long time ago and there would’ve been sufficient time to catch our next train.
Anyway, I was too beat to argue and with my feeble Italian, my argument would’ve been pathetic anyway. Defeated, exhausted and disappointed, Gloria and I decided that the best option would be to put up in Rome for a night. We went online and a quick search generated an affordable bed & breakfast about 10 minutes away from the station. But since we were unfamiliar with the streets, it didn’t seem like a good idea to try and navigate our way to the hostel at 12.30 AM. Plus we had our heavy backpacks and a few other smaller bags in tow.
So when a scrawny Italian old man approached us to ask if we wanted to use his cab service, we didn’t hesitate.
“Follow me,” he said, and led us across the street. We followed… until he started walking for another minute or two, bringing us deeper into the dark alleys and away from the blasting lights of the train station. I felt uncomfortable. Where the heck was his car?! Why was it so far away?
Before I could tell Gloria to turn back and run away, he brought us to his car. It did not resemble a cab at all. It looked like any ordinary vehicle that looked about as old as he was. He popped the boot open, and motioned for our bags. A siren was going off in my head – this didn’t seem right. I wasn’t comfortable with this. I stole a quick look at Gloria, and she was also hesitating. We’d watched Taken and heard too many horror stories of human trafficking being rampant in Europe.
“Can I see your driver’s license?” I asked the man.
He grudgingly produced it from his front pocket – a shabby piece of laminated paper that was supposed to serve as his driver’s license. I handed it back to him, tightened my grip on my bags and said, “No thanks, we’ll just walk.”
He could’ve just been a regular guy who didn’t have a proper cab license and was trying to make a living chauffeuring people around the city, but there was no way we were taking that risk. We walked away from him and checked ourselves into the nearest hotel down the street. When the receptionist – a stony-faced man with gelled black hair who looked like he hadn’t smiled in years – demanded to keep our passports for the night, I reluctantly obeyed after he flatly explained that it was part of the procedure commissioned by the Italian police. I was becoming increasingly paranoid. Italy was turning me into a skeptic.
One Full Day in Rome
The next morning, we packed our stuff and moved to the bed & breakfast that we’d originally intended to go to before the encounter with the fake cabbie happened. It was B&B Casa Serafina.
After placing our bags in our room, we set out to explore Rome. It definitely helped that we had zero expectations of the city, so it was easier for us to be charmed by the old buildings lining the streets and all that Rome had to offer.
Romans are big on vespas, and it was common to see people riding on those stylish things throughout the city. We checked out a vespa museum, which housed some of the coolest vespas I’d ever seen.
For lunch, we simply stopped by Barrique on via Cavour. We ordered the spaghetti a la carbonara and the Diavola pasta. Read about the full experience on my food blog 🙂 In a nutshell, the food was delicious.
Rome is huge on gelato as well. I looked up the best gelato places and Fatamorgana popped up, with a whopping 9.1 rating on Foursquare. That’s high, people. After some navigating, we found the little gelato shop tucked in a back alley. People were sitting outside, enjoying their gelati. We got the mouthwatering pistachio and rich Madagascar chocolate. I knew we’d be pleased – pistachio and chocolate’s always a fantastic combination.
Fatamorgana carries some pretty exotic flavors, so if you’re a very adventurous foodie, you’d love flavors like basil and ginger. I’d like to consider myself adventurous, but when it comes to ice cream, I’m quite happy in my comfort zone.
We kept walking. We saw huge Nutella jars displayed on the sidewalk. At first I thought they were oversized props, but then I learned that those were real and I had to snap a pic. We arrived at the infamous Vatican City, a hub of history and architecture. We checked out the exteriors of some buildings, not really knowing what they were but basically most of Rome looked like something out of a postcard anyway. Every building we passed had a regal beauty about it. Quiet bookstores packed with secrets, the list goes on.
We also found this warning taped to one of the poles. Pretty ironic, isn’t it? I’m glad we didn’t hop into the illegal taxi last night.
In the evening, we arrived at one of Rome’s brightest jewel – the Coliseum. If I’d been in Rome and not gone to the Coliseum, I’d have kicked myself. It was teeming with tourists when we got there, and the line to get in was incredulous, so we just admired it from the outside. It was beautiful, especially with the evening sun casting a nice golden glow upon its walls.
And that marks the end of our day in Rome. I’m already yearning to go back for another visit!