{Travel Tales: Malta & Italy, Part Eleven – Addio a Malta, Ciao Italia}

Disclaimer: I looked up the title of this post on Google translate, so I apologize to anyone who speaks Italian if that’s completely butchered in some way.  I considered writing the “farewell Malta” part in Maltese and the “hello, Italy” part in Italian but that just seemed unnecessarily confusing.

The day we left Malta dawned… well, quite dark actually.  A taxi picked us up at 4 a.m. and so we were up by 3:30, well before the sun, getting ourselves ready and saying farewell to Sarah’s grandmother.  The cab driver was extremely prompt, and had us at the ferry terminal before 5 a.m.  It was important that we make the first ferry so that we could get to the airport for our 8:55 a.m. flight.  We went from the house to the ferry, and then the ferry to the airport.  All the while, we were nervous about our giant suitcases.  We had booked cheap flights on Ryanair, and then heard horrible stories of people having lots of trouble with their baggage because it was overweight.  Thankfully, this turned out not to be an issue – we simply paid the extra fee and went on our way.  Once settled in the airport, we had a long wait – the drive was made in excellent time – and so we got breakfast and coffee and wandered around the little shops until it was time to board.

Once on the flight, there were no issues.  I spent the entire time reading, since I was in the middle of the row, though I did manage to get some glimpses of the Italian coast towards the end of the flight when the plane was turning.  Sarah was on the aisle, so I didn’t want to be that creeper leaning over the stranger in the window seat.  (Generally, I’m a window seat person, though I always want the aisle if I’m flying alone.)

The culture shock that had faded away while in Malta returned tenfold in Rome.  As soon as we arrived, everything was nuts.  The airport was crowded, the baggage claim took what felt like hours, and the cab driver we hired in advance to take us to the hotel seemed like kind of a tool the whole time.  Most of the drive from the airport to the city was the highway, and it was not Italy’s best scenery.  However, once we crossed into Rome, we started passing all the monuments and got our first glimpse of the colosseum and the fact that I was really, finally getting to see Italy became real.

We checked into the hotel, but as we were a little early the rooms were not ready yet.  We decided to wait to go out and instead get some food and drinks at the hotel’s rooftop bar.  And although it was crazy hot (hotter than anything we experienced in Malta), we sat in the shade and had aperol spritzes and pizza with spicy salami.  It was the greatest damn pizza I’d ever eaten in my life (up to that point… just wait).

When the rooms were ready, we headed down to change and enjoy the air conditioning a little bit before heading out to orient ourselves we Rome.  We had a bucket list, of sorts – just things we wanted to see before we left.  We knew we had plenty of time to see it all so we decided to start with a walking tour from a Rick Steves book that would give us a good overview and cover three of the list items: the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.  Armed with a map from the hotel, we set out on our journey.

Can I just take a moment to ask: what is with Italy’s vendetta against street signs?!  We had so much trouble navigating at first because the street signs were hard to find.  We knew they were mostly on the sides of buildings, but that didn’t guarantee that they would actually be there when you needed them!  Often we had to walk a block or two our of our way before realizing we were on the right street in the first place.  Even so, I got the hang of the map, taking a page out of Joey Tribiani’s book and going “in the map.”  Basically this just means that I have to hold the map in the exact direction we’re moving and I follow it that way.

We slowly made our way to the Spanish Steps, and immediately had to avoid the barrage of people who tried to give us free things.  Men with roses, people selling selfie sticks – it was a constant marathon of avoiding people or saying “no” very loudly, otherwise they would follow you with these roses and not leave you alone.  They also claimed these roses were free, but I kept wondering what the catch was.

We took some pictures and kept walking down streets with designer stores.  We window shopped a little, but otherwise didn’t go into any of the stores.  However, it was here that we got ourselves turned around so much we ended up walking in the opposite direction of the Trevi Fountain.  A closer look at the map revealed our wrong turn, and we were soon back in the throng of people headed for the Trevi Fountain.

The crowds in Rome made some of the landmarks really difficult to enjoy.  The Trevi Fountain was one of them.  It was beautiful, but there were so many people it was nearly impossible to get a good look at it.  We viewed it from the side, and managed to make our way to the front of it to throw a coin in, but then we quickly wanted to get away from the crowds.  We also couldn’t figure out what people kept getting in trouble for doing, but we heard the police whistles often.   My best guess was people trying to get in the fountain or maybe trying to drink the water?

My outfit was chosen purposely to resemble Audrey Hepburn’s costume in Roman Holiday.  Technically I should’ve taken these pictures at the Spanish Steps rather than the Trevi Fountain, but does it really matter?

Our walk continued to take us through the heart of Rome, through piazzas with obelisks and statues and churches.  Rome was a strange place – some streets very commercial and lines with stores with others full of old building and monuments.  You could always tell where the more popular places were because the crowds would almost instantly get larger.

Did I mention that it’s approximately 560 degrees in Rome?  By the time we neared the Pantheon, we were feeling the heat and ready for some cool treats.  Sarah chose a coffee shop where they made a coffee granita with whipped cream, the closest thing she could find to iced coffee, which is not really a thing in Europe so much.  Though I must admit the granita was excellent (I tried hers), I was all about the gelato at this point.  My first gelato in Rome was hazelnut and dark chocolate, and it was amazing.  I vowed to try as many different flavor combinations as possible while we were in Italy.

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The cafe and the gelateria were literally steps from the Pantheon, so we were able to enjoy them while we took some pictures outside, and then we went inside.   It’s very impressive and beautiful.  The building itself is a former Roman temple and it became a church.  It has somehow survived despite other buildings in Rome being destroyed, and most people visit to see the dome, which was the largest of its kind for a long time.

After leaving the Pantheon, I became obsessed with a salami store just next to it.  Yeah, that’s me… go all the way to Rome and the store where you can buy cured meats becomes my favorite place.  They had samples!!   Samples!!

(It’s quite possible that I have a cured meat addiction.)

We continued walking until we reached the Piazza Navona, and although there were a fair amount of people here, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as our previous stops.  There were also no cars and it was, in fact, quite peaceful.  The piazza is home to three fountains, and a church (St. Agnese), as well as small shops and restaurants.  We visited the church, but other wise just spent the time enjoying the relative peace in the piazza before continuing our walk.

Piazza Navona was also where my obsession with statues with pigeons began.  Italy is crazy full of pigeons, and they have no fear whatsoever.  While not exactly a FAN of pigeons, they at least seemed better than New York pigeons… but then again, that could just be the foreign country talking.  Even so, the amount of pigeons on the statues amused me, and I took an abundance of pictures of them.  I particularly enjoy the horse on the bottom right and his look of horror that a pigeon has landed on his head.

We continued down the prescribed path, looking at streets, architecture and statues along the way.  One statue was a common area for people to write complaints, which was amusing.  They were all in Italian but I’m sure they would rival the complaints that I find on my building’s Facebook page!

The end of the walking tour was at Campo de Fiori, which is a marketplace in the mornings and a more or less empty piazza in the evenings.  We never did see it as a bustling marketplace but we were able to enjoy a meal there.  We chose to stop and eat at this point because it was still pretty hot and we knew we had wandered far from the hotel and had to walk our way back.  We figured a meal would help us do that.  I had my first pasta carbonara in Rome and it was… just okay.  It was a little thicker and lumpier than I like my carbonara, but the dry white wine was excellent.  I developed an obsession for good, dry white wine while in Italy (technically this obsession already existed, but now I know some good ones to buy now that I’m home).

After dinner, the fact that we had been up since 3:30 that morning really started to sink in and so we decided to make our way back to the hotel and turn in early so that we could be bright eyed and bushy tailed for our trip to the Vatican the next day.  We studied the map and found our way back to the hotel, and we ended up memorizing the route so that we could remember it as the days went by… we got really good at navigating our way back to the hotel very quickly.

Because we had our other two trip members cancel, we had two rooms (in both Rome and Florence) so we went our separate ways for evening.  I amused myself with The Simpsons and Friends in Italian before falling asleep, excited to explore everything that Rome had to offer!

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