Thursday, April 2, 2015

My Euro Trip - Final Stop, Rome

So, as you know by now, just over a week ago I was in Europe. 

Since I've been back, I've been getting a ton of the same questions - how was it?  what did you do?  where did you go?  Etc., etc., etc.  To help myself from being on constant repeat, for the next week I'm going to devote my blog to recapping my trip, posting photos, and telling you all about what went down. 

Each day this week I'll recap one of the aspects of my trip.  Enjoy!

Update:  read all the recaps back to back!  An Overview (and how to pack), Stop One - Amsterdam, Stop Two - Paris, Stop Three - Munich, Stop Four - Rome Day One & Second Day Bike Tour, and of course a follow up summary.


My European Vacation - Final Stop, Rome

Having boarded the night train in Munich, our journey to Rome began.  Unfortunately, the journey did not include a restful night's sleep or a good meal the next morning.  I guess that's to be expected on a train that is moving all night long and making stops to drop passengers along the way, but I wasn't anticipating it to be quite as bad as it was.  I think between the two of us, we maybe got a solid 4 hours sleep total.  Ugh.

Unfortunately, that made our arrival to Rome a bit unenjoyable.  And when you coupled that with the fact that it was a bit difficult to find the metro stand to buy passes, even more difficult to find the bus station we needed to get to our hotel, and when we finally found the right bus it was packed to the brim like sardines in a can ... well, things weren't off to a good start.

Adding insult to injury, as we were on the bus and had been in Rome for all of maybe 30 minutes, someone was already trying to pick-pocket my husband.  To which he responded by clamping a hand down on his pocket and smashing his body back in the direction of the hand's origin.  At least the hand withdrew, so no loss on our behalf.  But, needless to say, we decided to exit the bus after about 4 or 5 stops and just walk the remaining mile or so to the hotel on our own.

Rome Hotel

Thankfully, once we arrived to the hotel, our initial taste of Rome was washed from our pallet.  The staff at Villa Duse were incredibly friendly and immediately got us checked into our room.  Considering the fact that we'd just had a long train ride all night, no shower, and a 1+ mile walk to the hotel carrying luggage in 70ish degree weather ... we were tremendously grateful for access to a shower immediately. 

The room itself was ... well, pretty flashy.  For the price we paid, I wasn't expecting herringbone wood floors, marble counter tops, and a jetted soaking tub.  But, that's what we got!  PLUS free wifi and breakfast.  The entire package was pretty unbelievable, though I suppose the location off the beaten path did kind of require a these little somethings extra to entice visitors. 

After we had a chance to unwind and freshen up, we met up again with the woman at the front counter, who gave us a great walk through of Rome (via map) with instructions of which metro lines to take to various attractions and some general tips about restaurants and the like.  I also asked her for wardrobe advice, since we were thinking of visiting the Vatican that afternoon.  She informed me that my conservative short sleeve, knee length dress with leggings and boots, and my husband's t-shirt and dark wash jeans with casual dressy tennis shoes were OK.  Apparently, the only wardrobe restrictions are that your shoulders should be covered (no tank tops), and no shorts, hats or large backpacks/bags.

Grateful for her assistance, and extremely pleased with our hotel choice, we headed off to visit the city.  (Foot note: the hotel was absolutely silent at night - another great bonus to being out of the main downtown area.)

Heading Out to See the Sights in Rome

Our hotel was a 10 minute walk, at most, to a tram that took you directly to the Vatican.  The best part about the tram was that it terminated at the Vatican, so you couldn't miss your stop.  The worst part about the tram was that they must delegate their oldest cars to that line, because every stinking one was rusting on the outside and vibrated like crazy as it ran.  Honestly, it wasn't that big of a deal - I just imagined the engine vibration as an extension of my hotel's spa, in that it offered a free, full body massage.

Riding the tram

At the tram's terminus near the Vatican, there was a cement island (between two streets with car traffic, surrounded by tram 19's track).  On the island was a little restaurant with green awnings.  Since it was right there, and the Vatican was visually in site, we decided to just eat there out of convenience. 

Don't eat there.  The food is terrible and over priced.

After lunch, we got in line for the Vatican.  There I learned very quickly that:

(1) If you don't reserve tickets for your visit to the Vatican in advance, you will end up waiting in line with the common folk.  And it will be a long, long wait.  Even on a non peak day at a non peak time, we stood in line for 2+ hours.  I had forgotten that reserve tickets were available here at no additional fee, and had somewhat avoided booking them ahead of time since I wasn't 100% sure if we'd even be able to use them (pending late train arrivals, etc.).  After seeing how long the line was, I was kicking myself for sure for not having reserved a ticket anyway.

(2) Don't fall for the skip the line scammers.  I read a ton online that they take your money and get you to the front door, only to find out you still have to buy a ticket into the Museum anyway.  And be prepared to be very firm in telling them no - they are EXTREMELY PUSHY and won't get out of your face the entire time you're stuck in line!  But, if they don't realize you speak English, they won't keep hassling you, or at least as much.  When they speak to you, pretend like you don't understand, and only respond with the word "No" or simply shake your hand in a no motion.  Also, to keep them from approaching you in line, turn your back to them and just stare at the Vatican wall.

Anyway, as you can tell, waiting in line for the Vatican was ... not fun.  At least the fortress wall that protected it was impressive to stare at, however not really interesting enough to keep me entertained for 2+ hours.  Oh well, finally after what felt like forever:

We were to the front of the line and next to get in.

The down side to waiting so long in line, and coming after lunch, was that it was after 2:30 by the time we got inside the museum.  (Oh, and 32 Euros poorer between the two of us.  Blech.)  And while 2:30 doesn't seem so late in the day, there's actually a major problem with this time slot: the Sistine Chapel closed at 4:30 on the day we got there, and with the shoulder to shoulder crowds and the sprawling layout of the museum, it took us close to an hour to get to it - without even really pausing anywhere else to enjoy what we were seeing.  I rushed past everything because I felt like I came all this way and if I missed the Sistine Chapel, it would be a waste.  So I practically ran to get to the chapel before it closed.  It was really unfortunate.

Overall, the Vatican Museum was interesting to see ... and yeah, it was one of those things to "check" off your list ... but, um ... if you have 48 hours in a city that has millions of other sites to see and things to do, spending 4+ hours of your time there isn't exactly a wise budgeting choice.  Especially if you are going to see other historic sites in other areas of Europe, because chances are you'll see just as many other impressive frescos and marble carvings in those places as well.  In fact, I think that's why the Vatican didn't really do it for me - it was the last stop on a week's worth of seeing all sorts of fancy stuff, so being crammed into a museum with easily 5,000+ other people just didn't impress me too much. 

Although the hall of maps was pretty cool.

In addition to all the above, what I realized after the fact was: walking into the Piazza San Peitro of Vatican City was 100% free and way less crowded.  And that's where the Pope addresses the masses, which made it much more significant to me than some overpriced museum ticket.  Having figured that out, I was a little bit bummed that I didn't just go there and roam around more for free rather than spend 32 Euros and 4+ hours on the Vatican Museum.

After I exited the Vatican's museum grounds, I regretted the decision I made to visit this stop.  Instead, I wished I would have gained admission into the Coliseum or something similar.  Oh well, lesson learned.

With our day pretty much shot at that point, and my husband to his max tolerance level due to the pushy street vendors while we waited in line at the Vatican, we decided to head back towards the direction of our hotel.  Actually, what we decided to do was head towards the restaurant street near our hotel, since it was going to be about 6:30 by the time we got there, which seemed reasonable for dinner.

Well, reasonable by US standards.

When we arrived to the restaurant street our hotel concierge recommend to us, which was a few blocks away from the hotel, it was 100% CLOSED.  Every darn shop had its outdoor patio furniture locked up and their lights OUT.  I couldn't believe it. 

Was it some sort of holiday that we didn't know about?  Were all these places closed for the holiday?


Apparently in Rome they don't even consider eating dinner until around 9 pm.  We figured this out when we finally located the plan B restaurant our hotel recommended to us, but more on that in a minute. 

Still on the original restaurant street, we managed to locate a small coffee shop / wine bar that was open, so we decided to kill some time there and see if maybe one of the restaurants nearby would open at 7 pm.  Imagine my surprise when, having only ordered 2 glasses of wine, our server also brought us out this:


My husband and I both looked at each other like ... did you order this?  No, did you?  No.  Well ... I guess we'll see what the bill ends up being.

Truth: two glasses of wine and that "free" appetizer cost us a whopping 10 Euros that night.  I couldn't believe it.  Even more amazing is when you compare that to our second happy hour the next night, which only included 2 beers at a café right by the Vatican, and cost us almost 20 Euros with NO snack.

Note my husband's disgust at the lack of snack.
Just kidding.

Funny story about those beers, by the way.  For some reason, the server felt the need to clarify sizing, pointing at the beers stating: "Large, Medium.  Large ... medium.  Large!  Medium!"  And then walked away.  Thanks, we couldn't tell.

Back to the restaurant story. 

So, we're drinking our wine and eating this unbelievable tray of free appetizers.  And now it's 7 pm, and the restaurants are still not opening.  By now we've finished our first glass of wine, and it's kind of poop or get off the pot time.  After all, if we decided to stay at the wine bar and have another glass of wine, we might as well have just ordered some light sandwich and forgot about dinner.  Or, if we wanted to actually eat dinner at a restaurant, we needed to just close our tab and see what the option B location looked like that the hotel concierge recommended us.  Because sitting there and drinking more wine definitely wasn't making the nearby restaurants open any more quickly.

We decided to close our tab and wander over to option B, a small and locally run restaurant called ... well ... Smol.  When we arrive, it's just after 7 pm, and they are ALSO closed.  What the heck?!  Luckily, they have business cards and a menu sitting out front, so we determine that they open at 7:30 and the menu looks decent.  After a brief stop back to the hotel to relax, we wander on back to Smol at about 7:45 to eat.

Living up to it's name, the restaurant has all but maybe 10 tables, two of which are occupied in addition to ours when we begin ordering and dining at 8 pm.  Yet, as walk ins off the street come in to inquire about a table, the staff keeps turning them away stating - reservations.  Odd, I think to myself ... where are these people?

Never mind, by this point I'm busy eating a fantastic meal.  And a dessert that's absolutely to die for.  Probably my favorite dessert of the trip - a loose custard filled tart topped with fresh strawberries, chocolate shavings in huge chunks, whipped cream ... all set on a plate drizzled with the most decadent hot fudge you've ever tasted.  Yum!

Finally, as we're enjoying the last few bites of dessert and sipping what's left of our wine ... a couple people trickle in.  And then a few more.  By 9:15, every table in the restaurant was full.

So, lesson learned - apparently Romans eat dinner after 9 pm.

I couldn't fathom that concept, as I was practically falling asleep in the fudge residue on my plate, but ... to each their own!  And, my own = a good night's sleep, so off to the hotel we went.  With one day left to tour Rome, I certainly needed my rest!

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