On Learning to go with the Flo in Rome
Just days before The Vatican ignited in the media, I watched Woody Allen’s, “To Rome With Love” and although I wouldn’t give the film two thumbs up, the golden scenes of the Eternal City made me yearn for the Rome I missed out on. The budget-friendly Italy trip I painstakingly orchestrated during my semester abroad unfortunately left me with a lack-luster impression of the Italian capital. The travel lesson was clear; not all trips are paved in perfection, but one should always search for the silver lining.
Up before the city awakes, my best friend Flo and I bus to the Sevilla airport and fly the dreaded budget airline, Ryan Air to Bergamo, Italy. From Bergamo we bus to Milan and take a six-hour train to Rome. Tired and confused we blindly board a bus to take us to the other side of town. Our hotel is no more than a five minute walk from the bus stop, but our sense of direction that has been working overtime today is beginning to fail us, so we hail a cab. We breathe a sigh of relief as the driver lets us off at our hotel, finally finishing the day’s travel puzzle.
Wanting nothing more than to settle into our room, we climb the six flights of stairs because there is no way we were fitting into, or surviving for that matter the contraption that appears to be an elevator. Our packs heavy upon our backs, we open the door drained to find our roommate snuggled in bed typing away on his laptop.
Now there is nothing abnormal about a cash conscientious co-ed booking a shared hostel room. There is however, something strange about sharing it with a middle-aged man with a creepy gleam in his eye who is doing research about a book he is writing. I can feel Flo’s blood pressure rising and if I hadn’t been sweating enough after our tortuous climb to our quarters, I am now. Our young, naïve selves were not about to be a part of our roomie’s next novel. Suddenly starving, we say an awkward, “see ya later” to our new buddy and back out the door, our backpacks still attached.
Have I mentioned that our trip to Rome just so happens to coincide with Pope John Paul II’s funeral? Yep, quite a historical time to be touring the Eternal City for the first time, but hotel rooms are non-existent. Famished, Flo and I discuss our options at the pizzeria across the street where we can see the soft glow from our room six stories up and know there is no way in hell we are going to get a wink of sleep if we go back.
It’s late, we are exhausted, Rome is a madhouse of tourists, and so we settle on taking the hotel’s last private room, turning our heads from the astronomical price of our “up-grade.” Catastrophe avoided, we fall asleep relieved a strange man isn’t watching up sleep.
The next morning we awake ready to sightsee. The weather seems to mirror the somber tone of the city on the day of the beloved pope’s funeral. We cling to our umbrellas as we do as tourists do at the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Later in the day we maneuver the metro and as we rise step-by-step from the trenches, the Coliseum grows grander and grander until it’s smack dab in front of us. As trash billows in the breeze at our feet, we sense the place is closed for the day, and we wonder where the Rome we have envisioned is hiding.
But we’re twenty, in Rome on our own. This is the life. Certainly some Italian cuisine can cure the letdown of crummy weather, crowds and closed tourist attractions. (The most upsetting being the Sistine Chapel.) I tell Flo about a restaurant my mom told me about that we just have to eat at, but I don’t have the address. It was like a sign from Pope John Paul himself when I notice there, across the street, “Trattoria.” I’m in disbelief. “There it is,” I yell, “the restaurant my mom told me about.” Things have a way of working themselves out.
We call my mom after dinner to share our good news, and I barely get out my sentence before she erupts in the loudest, most endless laughter I have ever heard come out of her body. “Kara, trattoria is Italian for restaurant,” she can barely explain through her laughter.
So there it is, I went to Rome and ate in a restaurant. It rained a lot and the Coliseum and Sistine Chapel were closed. Yet, my best friend and I managed to meander through all the obstacles on our own and came out true travelers able to, pardon the pun, “go with the flow.” The sun did grace us with its presence as we threw our coins into the Trevi Fountain, so I suppose I’ll be back one day to see the Rome I know is there and catch a glimpse of Pope Francis in his popemobile.
Have you ever been disappointed by a city with a lot of hype? Would you go back?