To start off, I’m no expert on Rome! I realize I was only in the city for a three-day weekend as a tourist, but I will say I learned a lot about seeing the sights of Rome in those three days. I bought a flight to Rome after many late nights of staying awake talking to one of my best friends (and fellow exchange student) here in Bilbao about how much we just wanted to travel every weekend we could while living in Spain. My friend and I made a list of our top five European cities we just had to see during this semester, and it just happened to be that Rome was on both of our lists. So we looked for the cheapest flight to Rome and booked it that very night.
This spur of the moment flight purchase gave us less than two weeks to plan for it. I had the bright idea of only looking for a place to stay about how close it was to the city center. Other than that the only real planning we did was figure out what places in Rome we really needed to see during our visit. The list consisted of The Colosseum, The Vatican, The Trevi Fountain, and as many gelato shops we could possibly stop at. So we assumed because our list was a fairly typical and simple Rome tourist sight-seeing list that we would have no problem seeing each one of these with ease. We assumed wrong!
In the days leading up to leaving for Rome we asked some of the other exchange students at UPV Leoia what bus takes you to the Bilbao airport. We thought we would test out the bus, and make sure we did it correctly the day before. Of course when we got to Moyua (the biggest area of Bilbao) to test out the buses we thought “Hmm we don’t actually need to test this bus route. Let’s go get a latte and hot chocolate like we do every single time we are procrastinating, and forget about it.” I honestly think we just got too confident in this whole “We take buses and know what we are doing just like a real European” mindset.
So the night before we leave for Rome my friend spends the night at my apartment. We plan on waking up at 4am in order to leave my place in time to walk to the bus stop to get to the airport in time for our flight. We get to Plaza de Federico Moyua and look for the bus stop. It sounds really simple until you realize this plaza is a giant circle with about eight different bus stops. I was very quick so say let’s just pay for a taxi and get there the lost American student way. But fortunately my friend speaks much better Spanish than I do and she was able to ask this girl that suitcases walking to this bus stop if it was the stop for the airport. We were incredibly fortunate and this girl was very helpful and we talked to her the whole way to the airport. Nothing far too interesting happened on our flight to Rome, another than me handing my friend on of my ear buds and desperately trying to find the perfect take off song for the start of our flight. After sleeping with my head awkwardly smashed against the mini fold down table for two and a half hours we land in Rome.
We land in Rome and I look at the time to only realize it is two hours later than the time I told the owners of the flat we were renting for air b&b that we would meet them. So as soon as we get out of the plane I message the owners and apologize for my mistake and ask when the would open it up for us. Unfortunately, they would not be free for two more hours. My friend and I packed out backpacks to the so full it was painful just to avoid paying for a bag for the flight. So because we had these wildly large turtle shells strapped to our backs and we thought about the fear of pick-pocketers we thought it was best to chill in the airport for those two hours. My friend and I sat there and got sort of realized once we got to the apartment we really didn’t have any plan of what do to after that. So my friend gets on her laptop and quickly researches somethings to do. Me being the helpful travel partner that I am went to the well-lit bathrooms and did my makeup.
Our two hours of waiting goes by relevantly fast for our overwhelming exciting to just be in Rome. We realized our best option to get to the flat we rented was to take a taxi. We assumed you could just walk up to one of the dozens of taxis parked outside and get in. We soon got rejected by each one of them due to the fact that they were all reserved. We go to the help desk to ask about taxis and get sent to the bottom level of the airport. As we get off the escalator we are approached by two men asking us if we need a taxi. My friend answered yes and we showed them the address to our place. The both got together and google mapped it, and said yes, they could take us there. We were told to follow the older man to his car. As we walk through what felt like a mile of the airport and go down to the tunnel to the parking garage I begin to think about the movie “Taken” and how neither of these men have name tags and are parked in a parking garage. I quickly start to worry and tap my friend on the shoulder and tell her I don’t feel right about it. We decide to tell the man that our friend was going to meet us at the airport and we didn’t need his service anymore. The man didn’t know English so he called his boss to have us explain and after much frustration we just walk away from him. I’m not trying to claim these men in the airport were harmful or frauds, but everything was very suspicious.
We then got to that bottom floor once more, go outside, and instantly have tons of taxis to choose from. We get into a taxi and just sigh with relief. We made it and we are on our way to our flat. We soon realize that The Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport is incredibly far away from the city. If you have ever been in a major city and taken a taxi from the airport you know that the price is normally outrageous. We cringed the whole ride to the flat as we watched the price rise. By the time we got to the flat our bill for the ride was nearly sixty euros. As we step out of the taxi the man we are renting the flat from is waiting for us on his Vespa all Italian-like and everything. We walk into the most beautiful little villa full of luscious greenery and sunshine. We get a quick tour of our adorable little flat. As the owner leaves my friend and I quickly start to unpack and as usual let our moms know we have arrived safely. All of a sudden my friend begins to panic and realized we can’t find her phone. We both search franticly through our bags, the sofa cushions, the walk way into the villa, any corner we could think of. We soon come to the conclusion the cell phone got left in the taxi. My friend like any young adult six thousand miles from home would be, was super upset that we would never be able to track down the taxi for her phone.
We kind of just sat in the flat hour about an hour and regretting the whole spontaneous adventure. I thought that if there is nothing we can do to make this day any worse we might as well go walk to the coliseum and see one of the sights we had talked so much about. I guess in my mind because we got a flat in the city center that we could walk to every major point of Rome without too much trouble. We walked out of the flat and literally started walking. We just meaninglessly starting walking, and following people assuming we could get to the coliseum. After nearly an hour of walking, I use many international data (very bad idea) for google maps. I realized we were still another hour from the coliseum. We got about fifteen minutes from the coliseum and it was getting really hot and confusing, so we turn around. Now because I could I could write about six thousand words on what we did the rest of the trip I thought I would make the rest of this blog about my personal Do’s and Don’ts of Rome.
DON’T: Use uber or taxis unless you have to in Rome:
Some cities are small and it’s much cheaper to uber everywhere. Rome is not that city! Rome is very spread out and not cheap to get from one sight to another. Our second day of being in Rome and racking up uber charges we walked to the Train/Metro/Bus station. This station alone was about ten times the size of the Bilbao airport. This station is also full of pick pockets so keep an eye on your backpack! We asked around and found out that this tiny little newspaper stand sold 24,48, and 72-hour metro, tram, and bus passes. Yes, I said a newspaper stand! When you live in Europe for a little while you begin to realize nothing is sold where you expect it to be. We bought the 48-hour pass for only twelve euros. This was a great investment and with a little street smart and decent map reading skills you can get all around the city.
DO: Eat wherever and whatever you want in Rome:
Some major cities often have overpriced food near major touristy sights. This is not the case for Rome. Everywhere we ate was fairly inexpensive for the locations. In addition, the food in Rome never once failed my expectations. So calorie counting is beyond unnecessary here. With all the walking you can eat carbonara and gelato for every meal without gaining a pound.
DON’T: Fall for the people at the Vatican or the Coliseum that make you pay to “skip the line”:
I’m not going to say they are all frauds, because I have heard that if you buy these passes online ahead of time you really can skip the line. But these people will harass you the whole time in line speaking any language you can imagine offering line skips and occasionally a tour. This is tempting with the long lines for either of these places. But we witness that many people who skipped the lines had to not only pay the person offering this too good to be true deal, they pay extra at the gate, and the tour doesn’t really exist.
DO: Go to the Coliseum on the first Sunday of the month:
This day is free for entry and although many websites try to claim the coliseum is not open on Sundays, that is far from true. We got incredibly lucky and went unknowingly on the first Sunday of the month. We went two hours before closing and made it in with about an hour to spare. From photos I have seen I the past I don’t believe it was nay busier than normal that day either.
DON’T: Try walking back to your flat after dark:
This completely depends on where you are located. We personally had a flat in a fairly nice area. But as I have mentioned before Rome is quite large and you will more than likely see that the areas of town you walked through during the day soon get much scarier at night. My friend and I got chased and cat-called may times and learned to walk as close as we could to out flat, and order an uber from there.
DO: Go to hole in the wall places:
Rome has many hidden antique and bookstores. If you are anything like my friend and I this will become one of your favorite parts of Rome. Our favorite place was this little antique bookstore called Acquisto Intere Biblioteche located right near the Vatican. This place has some high quality and very unique postcards, posters, and old Italian magazine reprints. That is not to mention the thousands of antique Italian literature that lines the walls.
DON’T: Stay in a hotel:
In Rome air b&b is much cheaper and more spacious typically as well. The flat we stayed in was amazing and only 183 U.S. dollars for three nights. This was a full sized flat with a kitchen, pull out sofa, and bunk beds. If anyone would like to know more about the flat we stayed in feel free to contact me for information.
Overall out time in Rome was incredible! Nothing compares to seeing the Coliseum for the first time at night and nearly crying at the sight of it. You will love the history, architecture, food, and the kind people of Italy.