In February 2018 I went to Rome for five days. I was about to start working my first! full-time! salaried! job! and wanted to travel before my new commitment begins (i.e. real vacation policies and no more spontaneous excursions).
Day 1 – Toronto > Dublin > Frankfurt > Rome
I got on a redeye from Toronto and arrived in Rome in the evening. The itinerary probably was a little excessive, but it was cheap(er), and I enjoy checking out airports and these layovers were short so it was manageable… I might have almost missed my flight to Frankfurt because I stood in a slow line at immigration since there was no signage and no one was directing (Lesson #1: pay attention). The Frankfurt airport was nice and I wish I had more time there but I was rushing to the gate and again, had a minor freak out standing in the immigration line that I wasn’t going to make the flight and if you try to tell the guard nearby he would argue with you and ask your boarding time and convince you that you would make it. (Lesson #2: Just ask.) These people are so seasoned and deal with frantic flyers every day so they were right and I made it to my flight.
The best thing that happened at the airport was being asked about my hair:
I stayed at Generator Hostel Rome and the Yellow, both near Termini Station. Almost immediately I noticed the row of Chinese stores on the streets and confirmed that the area was Chinatown, and admittedly I had not considered the Asian population in Italy before that moment. (A few months later New Yorker published a very informative article about the Chinese workers in Italy).
I borrowed a friend’s backpack and brought a Tenba BYOB 10 camera insert with my Canon 6D, the 24-70mm and 50mm f/1.4. I left my laptop at home (which was rare for me), brought an iPad and a book and skipped the data plan! And please don’t do that when you are travelling alone. I am someone who needs a data plan for a four day trip to New York City, but I figured if my best friend had always managed Europe without a data plan so could I. In the end, I got away with free WiFi, a VPN, and Google Maps. It wasn’t the smartest decision in terms of safety, but it was REAL nice to impose a break from social media.
Day 2 – Trastevere
I walked a lot the first day. It was a Sunday and I took a bus to Trastevere to check out the Porta Portese Flea Market and for the most part it was underwhelming with the cheap goods and ripped off tracksuits but eventually I located the antiques and old things. I wasn’t sure where I was so I kept walking along Viale di Trastevere, stopped at a cafe to get a croissant and a cappuccino… all of which cost me a total of two euros that I immediately got another cup.
It didn’t hit me how unprepared I was for Rome until I got hungry… I knew the main things I had to see but I didn’t think many things through! Like the fact I opted for no data plan, had zero Italian preparation to get me around, and the casual racism that made me rethink my safety. So I frantically downloaded some offline maps and an Italian phrasebook while getting a sandwich. I had no idea where or what I should eat since I usually relegate that tasks to my foodie friends, and none of them were with me so nothing’s stopping me from eating anything or nothing, which was Lesson #3 in adulting, take care of yourself.
I love looking at posters.
It started raining.
Day 3 – Snow Day
I woke up to an email from the Canadian Embassy in Rome saying it will be closed due to the snow storm, which seemed quite ironic. I purposefully didn’t bring my winter boots on the trip, thinking I could get away with it. I thought no snow would be too much to handle for this Canadian! Again, I forgot snow is not a regular occurrence. In fact, it was the first time it snowed in Rome in SIX years. So everything was closed. The city was not ready and neither was I.
The snow stopped in the morning and I had bought tickets to the Colosseum so I went ahead with my plan, after squeezing in and out of the very packed metro to Colosseo, overwhelmed by the crowd and the scene and my freezing cold feet, that it took me a little too long to realize that the Colosseum was closed due to the snow, I supposed it had the potential to be a big safety hazard. But it was so beautiful.
Given that the Colosseum was closed, I thought I could proceed with other things on my list. Something indoors… like going to Capuchin Crypt. I took the metro to Barberini and stood at the gate with other waiting tourists until a friar came down to tell us the museum was! also! closed!
Surly it was disappointing, and then there was a sudden breeze that sent a flurry of snow down from the trees and it didn’t feel likes snow it was more like cherry blossom and it was so beautiful it was like magic.
The snow had been melting the whole morning, so my feet were soaked in freezing snow water from walking and then I went into a hotel to warm up and have some ravioli in soup. And then I bought a new pair of shoes from Foot Locker along with some dry socks ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Back in Toronto, I was taking photos and keeping track of these snowmen in my neighbourhood and it continued in Rome. The following snowmen were all spotted near Termini Station, on the streets populated with fashion stores run by Chinese immigrants, and their kids are always hanging around.
Day 4 – Vatican Museums
I went to the Museum in the morning, it was opulent, magnificent, and overwhelming. Here’s a very rough tweet thread:
Prior to the trip I had finished watching The Leftovers, a series meditating on loss, grief, trauma, religions, spirituality and faith. The first season’s opening sequence was based on Renaissance frescos, so I did what an #extra TV fan engineering for a poetic experience would: I stood underneath the Creation of Adam, put in my earbuds, looked up and played Max Richter’s Dona Nobis Pacem.
Can you believe that I almost didn’t go inside St. Peter’s Basilica after seeing the line outside? CAN YOU BELIEVE???
I got there a bit too late and didn’t have enough time to climb up the dome.
Day 5 – Colosseum
I spent the day walking around, going to the sights I didn’t get to. I walked to the Capuchin Crypts in the morning and the Gagosian Gallery afterwards, the entrance was nondescript and I had almost missed it. There was an Andreas Gursky exhibition and no one else was there, just me and the security guard in a spacious round room with those huge prints.
All Romans jaywalk, I was terrified every time I had to cross the road. Here is a crew member holding up traffic for a take.
Colosseum was alright, it was prettier in the snow.
Day 6 – Gallery Borghese & MAXXI
My ankles were bleeding from my new sneakers so I went in a supermarket for some bandaids and used a self-checkout machine (completely logical in a foreign country), realized there are cheaper ones but I didn’t know how to cancel the transaction, so I used another machine to complete my check out. On your way out, you scan your receipt to be let out. Almost as soon as I stepped out, a woman chased after me thinking I didn’t pay and I had to explain what happened and waved my receipt and probably said words like sorry and mistakes.
I went to the Galleria Borghese where all the Bernini sculptures and Caravaggio paintings and I am not not impressed! Surprised that it was possible to get real close to the sculptures because the details are stunning, you can’t quite unsee it.
I took a very long walk to the MAXXI (National Museum of Contemporary Art and Architecture) and spent the rest of the day there. In contrast to the rest of the museums I’ve visited so far, this was the most under the radar (i.e. not crowded). The favourite thing I came across was Lebanese artist and musician Mazen Kerbaj‘s comic diary.
For dinner I was craving Chinese food so I went back to Termini searching and got a generously plated fried rice. There was another table of Chinese tourists and in Mandarin they asked the owner how long he had been in Rome and with a chuckle he replied, almost 30 years, since 1989. And then I sat with the fact that 1989 was no longer 20 years ago, but 30. They also asked quite personal questions, like the rent. I watched the owner and his daughter (who was also working) spoke in Italian and I was convinced they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about. The next morning I flew to Munich for a day before heading back to Toronto.
Italy wasn’t on the top of the list. I was looking for somewhere slightly closer and cheaper, Amsterdam was a strong contender. Italy was always on a list, the passive one, the one that you knew would eventually happen somehow (unsurprisingly, this is also how I approach life). I was nervous about the prospect of spending so much time with my own thoughts. I can’t help but to see time everywhere I look. People, places, things, everything has a story and a place in time. When was the last time, what happened when that happened. I have great memory and my sentimentality felt like a burden and became a flaw I berated myself with. There were things I couldn’t think my way out of, and Rome turned out to be the relief. Rome was comforting, in the Eternal City time was everywhere on display, it’s a feature not a bug.