Chasing Trains Day 3: Buongiorno, from Rome

Nothing ruins a vacation more than great expectations. That's what happened to me with Rome. I guess with all the history, I expected a very "ancient" feel. Instead I was welcomed with a very busy, crowded, stuffy train station. But in hindsight, what the hell was I expecting? Centurions marching down the streets?

The Coliseum on a winter morning

Since hotels were (relatively) cheaper in this city I managed to book a hotel right across the train station. It was too early to check-in - too early to be awake, really - so I just left my bags and decided to take an early city tour. Somehow I was convinced I can reach all the landmarks on foot - evidence of what a terrible traveler I was am. Thankfully my Kindle still had free mobile internet (I love you Amazon), so I was able to browse the travel forums for instructions on how to get about as I wandered about Roma Termini. I have this nasty habit of walking about while surfing the net; I just can't stay put! Does anyone else do this or is it just me?

Anyway, as I was walking I caught a glimpse of my reflection on a storefront and holy crap. It's a bit hard to describe, this effed up face of mine, but let's just say if the haggard little girl in the mirror could speak, it would say "Hello, I'm a lost idiot. Would you like to rob me?" No way was I taking the bus to Vatican city which, according to my newfangled research, is also known as the "pickpocket bus". Thankfully, there were plenty of hop-on, hop-off buses right outside the station. I spotted a red one and boarded it, thinking it was the City SightSeeing tour bus. Tanga. But I already bought the tickets so I had no choice but to wing it.

Rome was warmer than the rest of Europe, and on this particular winter morning it was comfortable enough to sit in the open upper deck of the bus. I skipped all the stops and headed straight to Vatican City. This early in the morning, there were no lines at the entrance of St. Peter's Basilica.

When I visited a friend in Brussels (hello, Eva!), I mentioned I planned to go to Rome and her husband warned me to be extremely careful. I believe his exact words were "that is where thieves are born" or something to that effect. Well I kinda thought the Vatican was exempted from all that, being the home of the Holy See and all. Me and my hasty assumptions. This was probably the most unsafe I've ever felt for the entire duration of this trip (if you don't count that time when my paranoid brain thought there was a bomb on the train in Switzerland). And it doesn't help that to enter St. Peter's Basilica, you had to go through a security inspection, complete with an x-ray scanner. To be fair, most of the security personnel are, ehmm, gwapo, but they have such grim, determined, angry faces. Like one time I turned to what I thought was the exit and came face to face with a huge burly man who slowly shook his head from side to side. It was all I could do not to run away in fear.


St. Peter's Basilica is as grand as Catholic churches come. Tucked away in one corner is Michelangelo's Pieta. Like the Mona Lisa, it can only be viewed from a distance, behind a layer of bulletproof glass. But you can't really blame them, considering what it's been through (it was previously attacked by some crazy person with a hammer and had to undergo reconstruction). I have forever been conflicted with the opulence of the Roman Catholic church, but that's not something I am prepared to discuss.

From here I was planning to proceed to the Vatican Museum. According to my maps (yes, plural) it is very very near, but I could not, for the life of me, find the entrance. After walking around in circles and getting approached by a hundred dozen strangers - some offering tours, some asking me to sign petitions, some selling holy water and rosaries and things - I decided I was too hungry and tired for this and went back to the hotel. My room was ready, so I thought I'd take a nap and freshen up before I wander about again.

When I woke up it was getting dark. Whoops. I did one round of the hop-on hop-off bus, with the intent of crafting my itinerary for the next day. I ended up just staring at the city outside the window, wondering what it looked like before the modern world took over.

Dinner was in one of the restaurants near Roma Termini. It's never a good idea to eat in very touristy places, but it was getting dark and I'm feeling a bit frazzled (and scared). The waiters were very charming, and even served me some free appetizers, but my carbonara had what appeared to be thin filaments of scrambled eggs; I knew enough from Anj's cooking that it was not properly made. Tsk. It's not too bad though.

Rome has, admittedly, been lackluster so far, but I still had one train-free day to make friends with it, and I was determined to make it happen. But after plowing through a giant mound of pasta, sleep beckons.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

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