Day 1 of Our 3-ish Days in Rome

I’ve been surprised by the number of times I’ve been asked why two months after we returned from our trip to the Mediterranean, I still haven’t blogged about it.

The answer is pretty simple: We had a WONDERFUL time, but a lot of things didn’t go our way and even though I put more time into planning this vacation then I did our wedding, there is a lot I would have done differently.

I’ve been hesitant to write anything because I don’t want to sound like a spoiled baby. The Mr. and I feel so blessed! We experienced things we had only dreamed of – things that many of our friends and family members have never and may never see with their own eyes. We actually visited places Sean will teach on later in the year. That is amazing!

But the thing is, many moments were not kittens and rainbows, and it’s hard to talk about our trip without that coming through. 

So…Why Rome…in July?

Even though my porcelain skin would make you think otherwise, I am a legitimate, Italian American. In High School I even qualified for a Sons of Italy scholarship. My great-grandparents immigrated from Italy through Ellis Island, and to my knowledge, no one from my family had been back to Italy since.

My brothers and I have always been intrigued by this mysterious part of our heritage and for as long as I can remember, we’ve wanted to go to Italy. We dreamed of going back to Italy together, but I got tired of waiting for everyone to get their act together and make the trip a priority.

Last January I found a pretty good deal on a Mediterranean cruise in the middle of July (perfect for Sean’s teaching schedule) that peaked our interest. As an extra bonus, the cruise started and ended in Rome! Naturally we added a few days to our vacation so that we could site see before we boarded the boat.

So without further adieu (and at the risk of sounding like a spoiled baby), I bring you Day 1 of our 3-ish days in Rome.

Arrival

What we did:

Like many US flights to Europe, we flew overnight and arrived in Rome around 9:30am. On the recommendation of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide as well as Rick Steves, we used the AirPort Shuttle, which ended up being a complete disaster! Our hotel was approximately 30 minutes from the airport. I estimated we would be at our hotel by 11:00 at the latest, but thanks to AirPort Shuttle we didn’t arrive until 12:30….and we had a Colosseum tour at 1:30.

When we arrived at our hotel, I hadn’t eaten since the 6am, American Airlines economy-class breakfast. I was past the point of hangry and well into sick, and the first thing I did after check-in was puke in the bathroom of our hotel room. Then I washed my face, changed clothes, and we were off to find the Colosseum.

What I would tell a friend to do:

Spend the extra money, risk being ripped off and get a cab upon arrival.

The Colosseum

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What we did:

The Colosseum was supposed to be a 15 minute walk from our hotel, but streets in Rome aren’t marked that well, the route wasn’t very straightforward, I had just puked my guts up, and I was in full panic mode, so….it took us a bit longer than 15 minutes. But by some form of a miracle we made it to the Colosseum a few minutes before our tour was scheduled to begin.

If you’ve done any research whatsoever, you know that buying your tickets in advance allows you to “skip the line.” In reality, it works more like a Disney Fast Pass. You don’t have to stand in the SUPER long line, but you do have to stand in the “skip the line” line, which is still a line, and although it moves quickly, it’s not exactly short.

Then because we booked the (significantly cheaper) official Colosseum tour instead of one through a private company, once we made it through the “skip the line” line, we had to stand in a second line for a ticket counter where they exchange your tour confirmation for a sticker. We skipped this step. I’m actually still not sure how we were supposed to know this step existed. Instead, we showed up at our tour meeting point sticker-less.

Even though we had our confirmation print-outs, our guide refused to let us join the tour until we had the sticker, but because we were already inside the Colosseum there was no way for us to exit, join the line at the ticket counter, and come back in. So with the half-hearted help of another tour guide and after missing the first 10 minutes of our tour, we finally had our sticker and could join the group.

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There were about 50 people in our tour group and we were given headsets so we could hear our guide. Her English wasn’t that great and the tour didn’t cover very many sections of the Colosseum. Sean and I both agreed – our tour was a complete waste!

In short, we simply weren’t prepared for how chaotic a visit to the Colosseum can be! Every inch of space is packed with hot, sweaty and frustrated people all trying their darnedest to enjoy the moment and not pass out  – a lot like Disney World.

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What I would tell a friend to do:

Even though it’s a complete zoo, if you’re in Rome you have to see the Colosseum! Be sure to eat before you go, bring lots of water (or at least a bottle that can be refilled at the fountains inside), be prepared to be blessed with an opportunity (or 10) to practice patience, and give yourself plenty of time.

Even though I wouldn’t recommend the tour we chose, I REALLY wouldn’t recommend walking through the Colosseum without some kind of tour. You simply won’t get anything out of it and you will have no earthly clue what you’re looking at.

If you feel like you just HAVE to have a human tour guide, strike up a deal with one of the MANY private tour guides standing out front and negotiate your way to a good deal on a private tour.

If you’re fine with foregoing the human tour guide, purchase your entry ticket online ahead of time so that you can get in the “skip the line” line and then use Rick Steves’ audio tour. We can’t say enough good things about his audio tours and bonus – they’re FREE! I wish we would have done this!

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Post Colosseum

After we left the Colosseum, food was my #1 priority.

RECAP: It was approximately 3:00 and I had not eaten since the American Airlines economy-class breakfast served around 6am. That’s 9 hours folks!!!

After “lunch” I knew I had hit my limit and I simply could not go on. So we went back to the hotel and we both crashed.

Around 7pm I woke up feeling like a new person, ready to take on the city again. After a good 30 minutes of coaxing Sean out of bed, we set off to see the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

The Trevi Fountain

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What we did:

Armed with our map from the Lonely Planet Guide Book, we set off in search of the Trevi Fountain. When we exited the Metro we spotted another couple with the same destination in mind, but they were using their smart phone to find it. We decided to join forces with them, but after 45 minutes of wandering with no fountain in sight, we set off on our own.

Around 9pm we FINALLY found the Trevi Fountain! To our complete horror, the entire area surrounding the fountain was PACKED with people. I wish I had taken a photo of the crowds. I found this one online which is a pretty accurate representation of our experience, except it was 9pm and not the middle of the day.

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I heard later on there was some kind of photo shoot that drew the large crowds, but blocks away streets were equally as packed so I’m not sure the photo shoot had all that much do to with the crowds.

After 30 minutes of feeling like we were at a concert pushing through gobs of people to get to the stage, we snapped a few photos, gave up on the idea of getting close enough to toss a coin in the fountain, and set off for the Spanish Steps.

img_1578What I would tell a friend to do:

Don’t be scared to ask strangers for directions and if it feels like you’re going the wrong way, reassess sooner rather than later. Also, mentally prepare yourself for large crowds at major sites no matter the time of day or night.

The Spanish Steps

What we did:

Even though it should have only been a 10 minute walk, it took us significantly longer to find the Spanish Steps. We blamed it on the fact that navigation has become a lost skill. We later found out we had a terrible map.

When we finally found the Spanish Steps, we discovered we could not climb them or even get that close to them. I thought maybe they closed them down at night, but after some further research I found out they’re actually closed 24/7 for renovation. So we stared at the steps from behind this see-through, makeshift wall and then headed back to the hotel.

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Sean was border-line outraged that we walked all that way to see some steps. I kept trying to tell him they are a big deal, but my reasoning fell flat. I’m still not really sure why the Spanish Steps are a big deal. I should probably look into that. Either way, we can now say we saw the Spanish Steps.

What I would tell a friend to do:

Find out how the renovation project is going. A few weeks after we returned home I read that during the day you can take an alternate route to the top of the stairs. So if that’s the case, then make sure you go during the day. Definitely make an effort to go so that you can say you saw them, but don’t expect much from the whole Spanish Steps experience.

Day 1 Consclusions

Travel Lessons from Day 1:

  • The transportation process from the airport to the hotel sets the tone for the trip. Spend the money to make it as seamless and stress free as possible. Vacations are supposed to be fun. Spend the money to make sure it starts on a good note.
  • Avoid pre-scheduled tours on day 1 of your vacation. If your schedule absolutely forces you to book an organized tour on day 1, schedule it for late in the day. This ensures you have PLENTY of time to take a nap, shower, eat, find an ATM and get acquainted with your surroundings before you absolutely have to be somewhere. Even if we had picked the 3:30 Colosseum tour instead of the 1:30 Colosseum tour, it would have made a world of difference.
  • Ask for directions as soon as you feel lost. There is no reason to wander for 45+ minutes when the streets are packed with people who are happy to help you out.
  • If you’re in a touristy area, expect crowds ALL THE TIME! No matter what time it is, just expect you will have to face the crowds. If you accept it ahead of time, it’s easier to handle.
  • If your map is causing frustration, get a new map! A little bit of a spoiler here, but on Day 2 of our 3-ish days in Rome, a stranger gave us a new map and it made all the difference in the world. Turns out, our Lonely Planet map totally sucked. Find a kiosk and get a map specifically designed for tourists. It will most like include everything you need to know.
  • Give yourself PLENTY of time for EVERYTHING! On Day 1 everything took 3 times longer than it should have – no exaggeration! As we spent more time in the city it got better, but if you try to pack your first day with sites and activities, you will probably end up very frustrated and disappointed.
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