Rendezvous in Rome: My Friends finally Arrive!


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Our First day in Rome was a rollercoaster of a day that began with a groggy awakening in Rome's Termini Station, fresh from memories of Milan's charm. A chilly morning and a futile hotel hunt set the stage for a day full of unexpected twists.

At DaVinci Airport, the wait for my friends turned comical with my touristy attire drawing attention. We reunited, only to face the drama of missing luggage and a hilarious encounter with an overzealous security guard. The adventure continued with an impromptu hike to Hotel Romulus and a night of enchantment in Rome, marveling at the Colosseum's grandeur.

The day concluded with a toast to spontaneity, as my friends ditched their original plans, embracing the backpacker spirit for an unplanned journey through Europe.

In the heart of Rome, surrounded by its ancient whispers, my newly arrived friends and I realized that the best adventures are those that unfold spontaneously, turning unexpected moments into cherished memories.


Dawn Reflections: From Milan to Rome

As the overnight train from Milan gently rumbled to a halt at Rome's Termini Station, I was jolted awake from a restless slumber. The early morning light filtered through the windows, casting a soft glow on my surroundings. Lying there, my mind wandered back to the whirlwind of experiences in Milan - the majestic view of the Milan Cathedral, the unexpected adventures that unfolded in the city's vibrant streets, and a particularly bizarre moment on the train that left me chuckling to myself.

Reflecting on my time there, I realized how each place I visited wasn't just a pin on the map but an integral part of my travel saga, setting the stage for the coming weeks of shared laughter and exploration.

Chilly Mornings and Hotel Hunts

As I stepped off the train and into the crisp morning air of Rome, I felt a mix of excitement and apprehension. I was here, in the Eternal City, ready to embark on another leg of my journey. But first, a minor battle with the cold - shorts in the chilly morning was a miscalculation. Despite the temptation to immediately lose myself in the city's ancient allure, I decided to wait for my friends. After all, Rome wasn't going anywhere, and the anticipation of exploring it together added to its charm.

My first order of business was to find our hotel, the elusive Hotel Romulus. Yet, after a short-lived and fruitless search, I found myself instead gravitating towards DaVinci Airport to meet Matt, Mike, and Zen. It was there, amidst the airport's bustling ambiance, that I learned our hotel's inconvenient truth: Hotel Romulus was a distant dot far from the heart of the city. A mental note was made: next time, opt for a centrally located hostel.

Airport Antics and Friends Reunion

The hours ticked by, and I sat there in my mismatched ensemble - sandals, a bucket hat, a fleece over my shorts, and unshaven - a sight that must've screamed 'tourist' from a mile away. I could almost hear my friends' laughter echoing in anticipation of their arrival.

Their plane touched down on schedule, and as I eagerly approached the gate, an Italian security guard, machine gun in tow, firmly suggested I reconsider my approach. A slightly unnerving yet memorable welcome to Italy.

In a twist of fate, only Zen's backpack had made the journey successfully. Mike's and Matt's - who, inspired by me, had embraced the backpacking lifestyle - were stranded somewhere in the skies. Thus, our Roman adventure began with an unintended airport rest break, waiting for the next London flight to reunite us with our wayward luggage.

Misadventures on the Way to Hotel Romulus

Once armed with all backpacks, we embarked on a train journey towards Hotel Romulus, only to impulsively disembark miles before our stop. This spontaneous decision led us on an unintended hiking adventure along a local highway, our backpacks weighing heavily as the sun began to set.

We arrived at the hotel as night fell, stomachs growling louder than the distant city sounds. Despite my yearning for authentic local cuisine, the hotel restaurant became our makeshift dining hall. We dined in a communal spirit, sharing dishes that ranged from delightful to questionable, but it was the company and the laughter that flavored the meal.

Rome After Dark: Exploring the Eternal City

Post-dinner, refreshed and reenergized, we hailed a cab into the heart of Rome. The city at night was a spectacle of history under the stars. We wandered around outside the giant Colosseum, its ancient stones whispering tales of gladiators and spectacles. In a moment of youthful folly, we etched our names into its historic walls, leaving a tiny, rebellious mark on history.

Our night evolved into a quest for local bars, meandering through Rome's labyrinthine streets. Each turn revealed more of the city's nocturnal charm, and eventually, our quest was rewarded with the clinking of glasses and the taste of our first European beers together.

Embracing Spontaneity: Changing Travel Plans

Returning to the hotel, my friends informed me that they had abandoned their initial plans of renting a car and staying at fancy hotels. Inspired by my plans of backpacking for the summer, they’d agreed to embrace the unpredictability of travel, opting for hostels and train rides over structured itineraries. They weren’t staying the entire summer with me, but for the next 2 weeks they would be riding the rails and sleeping in hostels by my side!

Reflecting on the day's events - the airport saga, the unexpected hike, the nocturnal explorations of Rome, and the revelation of my friends’ changed plans - it struck me how perfectly imperfect the day had been. It was the beginning of an unforgettable journey with friends, a shared tapestry of experiences that we were only just beginning to weave. The excitement was palpable. Europe, with all its unexpected twists and turns, was waiting for us.

Rome Relocation

The next morning, we decided it was time for a change. We left our hotel to find a hostel closer to the center of Rome. Luckily, we found one near the famous Stadio Olimpico. Carrying our backpacks, we took a taxi to the heart of the city. When we got to the hostel, we were in luck – they had beds available. For 20,000 Italian Lire (about $13 US) each, we got a spot in a big dorm room. We put our bags away at the check-in area and then went out to see the city.

Stadio Olimpico Surprise

As we strolled by the famous Stadio Olimpico, home turf of Lazio, our eyes caught sight of numerous fliers plastered on its walls. They seemed to be advertising a soccer match. With none of us fluent in Italian, the task of figuring out what they said fell to me. I managed to piece together that it was an All-Star charity match scheduled for the next night. It was going to be a face-off between Serie A's top non-European players (World All Stars) and the best European players (Europe United). This was exactly the kind of event we'd dreamed of when planning our trip to Italy! We were set on getting tickets, but it looked like the ticket booths wouldn't open until the next day.

Our plan for the day was to soak in as much of Rome as we could, leaving the Vatican for exploration tomorrow. It was a perfect plan to balance our time in this historic city.

Exploring Ancient Rome

We decided to catch a bus to get to our destination faster. Our first stop was the Colosseum. This time, we weren't alone; the place was crowded with tourists just like us. We even saw people dressed up like Roman gladiators and soldiers. One person was even dressed as Caesar! We couldn't resist taking a few photos with them, even though one of the 'soldiers' playfully poked me in the groin with his very real sword.

Thanks to some tips from Rick Steves' book, "Europe Through the Back Door," I knew a little secret about getting tickets. Instead of waiting in a long line at the Colosseum, we bought combination tickets for both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum from a kiosk nearby. We saved some money by touring the Colosseum on our own instead of hiring a guide. Inside, we were amazed by its size and thought about all the historical events that took place right where we were standing. Sadly, a lot of the Colosseum was under construction, which was a bit of a letdown.

Next, we wandered over to the Roman Forum. We tried to imagine all the famous historical figures who might have walked these same streets thousands of years ago. We didn't stay there very long, though. Looking back, I think we were too young to really understand how important this place was in history. Our last stop was the Circus Maximus. I was expecting to see an old chariot racing track, but it turned out to be just a big oval of dirt and grass. That was a bit disappointing, but it was still cool to see.

Piazza Navona to Vatican

After exploring ancient Rome, our next adventure led us towards the Vatican. But first, we found ourselves wandering into the charming Piazza Navona. As we stepped into the bustling plaza, the air was filled with the enticing aroma of Italian cuisine wafting from the surrounding restaurants, each promising a taste of authentic Roman flavors.

Piazza Navona was a feast for the senses. Its elaborate fountains, masterpieces of baroque art, dominated the scene. The most impressive was the Fountain of the Four Rivers, with its intricate sculptures towering over the square. Street artists and performers added to the lively atmosphere, their music and acts breathing life into the historic space.

Around us, the piazza buzzed with activity. Tourists mingled with locals, everyone drawn in by the unique charm of this Roman landmark. The architecture surrounding the piazza was just as captivating, with grand buildings and ornate balconies telling stories of a rich past.

After soaking in the vibrant energy of Piazza Navona, we continued our journey, meandering through Rome’s winding streets. Our path eventually led us to a bridge that spanned the Tiber River, pointing the way to the Castel Sant Angelo and closer to the Vatican.

Vatican First Impressions

Crossing the picturesque Ponte Sant'Angelo, with its line of angelic sculptures each holding instruments of the Passion, was like walking through a portal into history. This ancient bridge, leading to the formidable Castel Sant'Angelo, offered stunning views of the Tiber River and the city beyond. The castle itself, a towering cylindrical building, was a remarkable sight, its history as both a fortress and a papal residence adding layers of intrigue.

As we continued our journey, we soon found ourselves in the bustling St. Peter's Square. The atmosphere was a vibrant mix of spirituality and tourism, with Catholic priests, nuns, and visitors from around the world all mingling together. Drawn by the reputation of the Vatican Post's reliability, I joined the line to send some postcards back home. It was here that I caught my first sight of the Pope's Swiss Guards. Their colorful, Renaissance-era uniforms and halberds were so strikingly out of place in the modern world, yet they stood with a solemnity that commanded respect.

The vastness of St. Peter's Square was awe-inspiring, but as my gaze turned towards St. Peter's Basilica, my excitement was tempered by a veil of scaffolding. The grand facade of the Basilica, which I had longed to see in its full, unobstructed glory, was hidden from view. This extensive scaffolding, covering almost the entire front, deeply dampened the experience. While I understood the need for preservation, the disappointment was palpable, overshadowing the sense of wonder I had anticipated. The anticipation of seeing one of the world's most iconic religious structures in its entirety was met with the reality of renovation, a stark reminder of the constant care these ancient monuments require.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

After a patient wait in line to enter St. Peter's Basilica, we caught a glimpse of the renowned Holy Door, sealed shut until the Great Jubilee of 2000. This door, rich in symbolism and tradition, was a poignant reminder of the special year ahead. We then proceeded through another set of doors, these ones welcoming visitors with open arms.

Stepping into the church, a wave of awe washed over us. The sheer magnitude of St. Peter's was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The vastness of the interior was breathtaking. Every inch of the space was adorned with art and decoration so intricate and profound that it seemed almost surreal. The grandeur of the architecture, coupled with the meticulous details of the sculptures and altars, left us in a state of wonder.

The beauty within the walls of St. Peter's Basilica was overwhelming. From the towering columns to the majestic ceilings, every element told a story of artistry and faith. It was an experience that not only dwarfed us in its physical scale but also humbled us with its spiritual significance. This wasn't just a church; it was a masterpiece of human devotion, standing as a testament to centuries of religious and artistic history.

Exploring the Vatican Museums

After immersing ourselves in the awe-inspiring atmosphere of St. Peter's Basilica, we made our way to the Vatican Museums. The art housed within these walls was beyond description. I had been impressed by the Prado Museum, but it paled in comparison to the splendor and richness of the Vatican's collections. The detailed maps along the corridors, the golden frescoes adorning the ceilings, and the countless artifacts showcased the incredible wealth and artistic heritage of the Catholic Church.

Navigating through the bustling crowds, the museum's narrow hallways were filled with tourists, all mesmerized by the artistic and historical treasures. Eventually, we found ourselves being funneled towards a particular doorway, along with a throng of other visitors.

As we passed under the arch of this doorway, we entered into the Sistine Chapel. There, surrounded by a sea of people, all eyes were drawn upward. The sight was breathtaking - Michelangelo's 'Creation of Man' stretched across the ceiling, depicting God reaching out to Adam. The experience was almost surreal; I was surrounded by the iconic images I had only seen in books. The vibrant colors, the sheer scale, and the power of the images were overwhelming. I couldn’t resist the urge to capture this moment, sneaking a quick photo despite the rules.

Zen, less discreet than I, also attempted to take a photo, but his actions caught the attention of a vigilant guard. In a scene right out of a movie, the guard approached us, took Zen and his camera, and led him out of the chapel, confiscating his film. It was a classic Zen moment, getting escorted out of the Sistine Chapel for breaking the rules!

We spent a few more moments in awe of the Chapel's beauty before heading out, eager to share a laugh with Zen about his unexpected adventure.

Rome's Nightlife

After our day filled with sightseeing, we headed back to our hostel, ready for a quick refresh before diving into Rome's vibrant nightlife. However, we learned about the hostel's curfew - the doors would be locked at 10 pm, leaving late-night roamers stranded. Undeterred and eager to experience the city's nocturnal charm, we decided to risk it. The thought of potentially sleeping under the stars, especially with the upcoming soccer match attracting long lines, seemed like an adventure in itself.

Our night unfolded in the lively streets and bars near our hostel, where we stumbled upon a group of local youths, seemingly as carefree as us, with no particular place to stay for the night. The night air was filled with laughter and camaraderie as we joined them in an impromptu soccer match right there in the park, under the glow of the moon and the shimmer of stars. Amidst our playful game, Zen, emboldened by a little too much Jack Daniels, attempted a dramatic corner kick, only to trip and land face-first, adding a bruise to his collection of travel memories.

The game wrapped up, but the night was far from over. The locals, in true Italian spirit, pulled out musical instruments, creating an impromptu street concert. Mike even got a chance to strum a guitar and later, to my surprise, found his rhythm on their bongos.

Exhausted from the non-stop travel and sleepless nights, my own energy was waning. Finding a quiet spot, I pulled out my sleep sheet, perhaps from my daypack, and made a makeshift bed on the concrete. As the music and laughter continued around me, I wrapped myself in the sheet, surrendering to a much-needed rest under the open Roman sky.

The Morning After

The first light of dawn broke as I awoke, gently nudging me out of my makeshift cocoon on the concrete. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I found myself alone, my friends nowhere in sight. A mix of confusion and irritation set in. I gathered my things and began to head back to the hostel, hoping it was now open for the day.

As I rounded a corner, to my relief, I saw my friends coming towards me. They explained that they had gone to the hostel and, realizing I wasn't there, came back to find me. They reassured me that they had only left for a few minutes. Despite their assurances, I couldn't shake off the annoyance of being left alone in a park. For a fleeting moment, I considered going off on my own to Interlaken, just as I had originally planned before they arrived in Europe.

The Challenge of Daytime Lockout

After our early morning return, we crashed into our bunks at the hostel, eagerly surrendering to sleep. However, our rest was short-lived. The hostel staff woke us up to inform us about the 'lockout period'—a time when guests must leave so the hostel can be cleaned. I knew such policies existed in some hostels, but in our rush the previous day, we hadn't realized this place enforced it. Frustrated by this unexpected interruption, we decided it was time to find a more accommodating place to stay.

Before leaving, I headed out on a quick mission to the stadium to secure tickets for the night's Serie A All Star match. To my surprise, the ticket office was quiet, with barely a line in sight. This made me wonder about the attendance for the match, but I shrugged off the thought and bought four tickets. They were surprisingly affordable, and the prospect of watching the game had us all thrilled.

With our plans for the night set, we trekked to Rome's Termini Station, our backpacks in tow. Not knowing how long it would take to find a new place to stay, we opted to store our belongings in the station lockers—a convenient and familiar practice from my travels in other cities.

Our search for new accommodation didn't take long. Close to Termini, we discovered a cozy, privately-run pensione named "Mama Marini's." It was an economical choice, especially when split four ways. The place was small, tidy, and the owner was incredibly welcoming. Opting to maximize our time in Rome, we decided to spend the day sightseeing instead of immediately retrieving our backpacks. The plan was to explore, return for a quick shower, and then head out to enjoy the soccer match—an ideal way to spend our last night in this captivating city.

Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps

Having secured a place to stay, we embarked on a journey to explore Rome's iconic landmarks: Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Spanish Steps. Our route was anything but direct, leading us through a tapestry of Rome's rich history. We wandered past the grandeur of the Victor Emanuel Monument and strolled through streets lined with an array of ancient ruins and exquisite Catholic churches, each as awe-inspiring as the last.

Our exploration took us to the Pantheon, where its grandeur left us speechless. a testament to ancient Roman architecture and engineering. Standing beneath its massive dome, we gazed up at the oculus, the sky peeking through, casting natural light that danced around the ancient temple’s interior. The Pantheon, a marvel of antiquity, stood as a powerful reminder of Rome's enduring legacy.

As we approached Trevi Fountain we were presented with a unique challenge. A group of street artists quickly tied bracelets around our wrists, demanding payment for their swift craftsmanship. I firmly refused, aware of the common scam, but Mike, caught off guard, ended up parting with a small sum. We navigated past these opportunistic artists to get a closer look at the fountain's intricate details.

Eventually we reached the bustling area in front of the Trevi Fountain. It was a sea of tourists, making it almost impossible to get close to the fountain itself. The atmosphere was vibrant, with street performers and gypsies mingling among the crowds. When we were finally able to get through the crowd, we were greeted by the majestic sight of the fountain, an artistic masterpiece. Its grand sculptures and cascading waters portrayed an ensemble of mythological figures, each intricately carved, telling tales of Rome's aquatic history. The sound of water echoing against the stone, combined with the lively atmosphere of the crowd, created an enchanting aura. We joined in the age-old tradition of tossing coins over our shoulders, a gesture symbolizing our hopes of returning to this magical city.

Our adventure continued down a boulevard of luxury fashion boutiques that felt worlds apart from our current travel-worn state, to the famed Spanish Steps. This was an elegant staircase that bridged the gap between the Piazza di Spagna and the Trinità dei Monti church above. The steps, bustling with tourists and locals alike, offered a picturesque view of the city's urban landscape. We climbed the steep steps, observing the vibrant street life. At the summit, we paused to take in the panoramic view of Rome.

In the midst of this historic setting, our amusement was sparked when Zen tried to communicate in 'American' with a stranger, only to discover the man was American himself. His correction, delivered in a tone tinged with disgust, was a simple yet firm "We speak English." This amusing mix-up quickly turned into a humorous and slightly embarrassing story, one that would become a cherished and frequently recounted tale in our collection of travel adventures.

Each of these iconic locations - the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish Steps - provided a unique and immersive experience, weaving together the historical tapestry and contemporary pulse of Rome. These landmarks, more than just tourist spots, were vibrant stages where the past and present of this eternal city intersected, leaving us with memories that were as enduring as the monuments themselves.

Realizing time was slipping away, we hurried back to our pensione to refresh and regroup before the soccer match. While Zen and I decided to retrieve our belongings from the Termini lockers, Mike and Matt chose to rest. Their decision to nap and retrieve their bags later would soon prove to be less than ideal.

With our gear in hand, we set off for the soccer match, our excitement palpable. Unfortunately, our unfamiliarity with Rome's metro led us astray, but a quick taxi ride brought us to the stadium just in time. The atmosphere was electric, a dream come true for any soccer enthusiast. We watched in awe as star players like Batistuta and Baggio dominated the field. Europe United's victory was the icing on the cake of an already thrilling experience.

Post-match, as we basked in the afterglow of an unforgettable evening, we faced a new dilemma - finding our way back to the pensione. While pondering our next move, two local girls offered assistance, but their small car couldn't accommodate all of us. So, we set out on foot, determined to navigate our way back in the vibrant Rome night.

“I Want to Hold the Map!”, or Lost and Frustrated in Rome

After deciding to walk to Termini station to retrieve Matt's and Mike's bags, we embarked on what seemed like a straightforward journey. However, the lack of sleep and uncertainty about our direction soon began to take a toll. We looked like typical tourists, conspicuously carrying a giant Lazio flag through streets lined with bars loyal to Roma, Rome's other major football club.

Our only guide through the city's maze was a tourist map, clearly not designed for the less-trodden paths we found ourselves on. The map, focusing on Rome's major attractions, lacked the street details we needed, leaving us to navigate through guesswork. This led to tensions rising within the group, as we all struggled to agree on the right direction.

The situation intensified when Zen challenged Matt's map-reading abilities, leading to a heated dispute. "I want to hold the map!" Zen insisted, frustrated with Matt's navigation. This squabble over who should take the lead only deepened our collective frustration, as trust in each other's sense of direction diminished.

Eventually, Matt and Mike, fed up with the bickering, chose to hail a taxi back to the pensione. Zen and I, determined to find our way on foot, continued our journey. I was particularly mindful of my budget constraints and believed that we could manage without incurring the extra taxi cost.

When we finally reached the pensione, we found Matt and Mike already there. They recounted their unsuccessful trip to Termini station, where they found the station or the locker area closed, thwarting their efforts to retrieve their bags. That night, we all retired to bed, drained not only by the physical exertion of the day but also by the emotional strain of our disagreements and frustrations.

What To Do When You Lose Everything?

Waking up rejuvenated after a restful night, we packed up early from the pensione, ready to catch a train to Naples, before heading north the following day. But fate had other plans. Arriving at Termini station, we rushed to retrieve Matt's and Mike's bags from the lockers, only to discover the unexpected: Matt's locker gaped open, shockingly empty. His bag and Mike's daypack had vanished, likely stolen. A mix of anxiety and relief hit us as Mike found his main backpack still safely locked away.

In a chaotic blend of hand gestures and broken Italian, we tried desperately to communicate our plight to the station staff. Their response, in fragmented English, suggested a possible power outage might have popped open the locker, leaving its contents vulnerable. Matt, feeling defeated, completed a police report, clinging to a slim hope for some insurance remedy.

The mood was somber as Mike and Matt weighed the idea of cutting the trip short. Mike's daypack had held personal items like CDs and camera film - not mission-critical but still a loss. I urged them to reconsider. Sure, Matt was down to the basics - his passport, the clothes he wore, and a lighter wallet - but I felt these setbacks were surmountable. I proposed we all tighten our belts financially and support Matt as needed. Gradually, the group's spirits lifted, and we agreed to press on with our journey.

The locker incident, compounded by the extensive scaffolding that marred much of Rome's iconic scenery, put a damper on our experience in the city. Once a highlight, Rome now felt like a bit of a letdown. I couldn't help but hope that my return visit with my cousin would be a more positive experience.

In light of the day's events, we collectively decided to redirect our adventure to the Cinque Terre instead of Naples. The serene Italian Riviera, I believed, would be the perfect antidote to our recent troubles, offering a chance to recalibrate and enjoy our travels on a tighter budget. The promise of Cinque Terre's charm and tranquility beckoned, offering a much-needed reset for our spirits and our adventure.

Roman Reflections

Reflecting on that first voyage to Rome from the vantage point of twenty-five years later, my perspective has shifted significantly. Back then, the pervasive scaffolding felt like a blight on our photo ops and sightseeing, a visual nuisance marring the city's historic beauty. But time has lent me wisdom. The scaffolding was a sign of preservation, ensuring these ancient marvels would endure for future generations to admire. Rome is a city alive with history, not just a backdrop for tourists. Its ongoing restoration is a reminder that these historical sites are living entities, not static relics.

With the passage of time, even the less savory experiences have taken on a new hue. The street scams, the occasional heated disagreements among us, and the unfortunate theft of our belongings - these incidents have morphed from frustrations into valuable lessons and humorous tales. They've become part of the rich tapestry of travel stories I share, offering both amusement and advice to other travelers. These experiences underscore the importance of flexibility and resilience during travel. They remind us to prepare for the unexpected, whether it's devising a plan to manage stress or being open to changing accommodations.

One of the most important lessons I've learned is the power of perspective. It would have been easy for my friends and I to let those early setbacks sour our entire journey. Instead, we chose to embrace the adventure, turning potential disappointments into fond memories and stories to laugh about in years to come. Our resilience transformed what could have been a disastrous trip into a wonderful two-week exploration filled with unforgettable moments.

Now, as I look back, the scaffolding that once obscured the beauty of Rome's landmarks stands out as a symbol of the city's enduring charm. It's a reminder of the resilience and ongoing life of places steeped in history. This journey taught me to find beauty and lessons in every experience, no matter how challenging they may seem at the moment.


Waking up in Rome after nostalgic musings in Milan, I braved a cold morning searching for our elusive hotel. The day turned comical at DaVinci Airport, waiting for friends in a quirky ensemble and facing a machine gun-wielding security guard. We navigated lost luggage, a spontaneous hike, and a magical night exploring Rome's streets and the majestic Colosseum. Embracing the unexpected, my friends decided to ditch luxury for backpacks and trains, diving headfirst into a thrilling, unplanned European adventure.

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