VIP at the Vatican? And Roma travels with Roberto

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After getting sufficiently lost trying to get from Circus Maximus to the Baths of Caracalla, I was ready to call it quits on my solo adventures in Rome and take things slow until meeting up with Roberto. Mr. Muolo and I both went to Monmouth U, but met on the beach in Long Branch after he fell into a newly-purchased styrofoam cooler and smashed it to pieces trying to reach my friend for a cheers. His nonchalantness about the entire thing made me laugh for hours and we’ve been friends since.

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Roberto was born in Italy and “has connects” so it’s not too crazy that we’d end up in Rome on the same day. Despite his jet lag and sleepless plane ride, he came to meet me Tuesday afternoon with his cousin Massimo and Massimo’s wife Cristina in tow. Massimo and Cristina live in Rome and are the most ideal people you’d want to meet if you were to be spending time with locals in the city. We walked about 3 hours around the city, visiting the President’s home, stopping for coffee and seeing the Trevi fountain at night. Roberto and I didn’t have plans for the next day, so Cristina mentioned she was going to the Vatican with her dad and we could come. Since my first attempt didn’t go so well, I gladly accepted the invitation. Maybe the Romans know something about getting in that I don’t. Maybe the fact that I kept getting shit on by birds and Roberto cleaned it out of my hair was a sign of good things to come.

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The next morning I took the metro out to Massimo and Cristina’s house where Cristina’s dad (I can’t remember his name, but let’s call him Papa) picked us up and drove us all through the city. I only understand very basic Italian, but from what I could gather, Papa is important. Like, aristocrat important. And apparently he has what can only be described in English as a Gentleman’s Club card for the Vatican. Wow. I woke up thinking we were just going sight-seeing with Papa.

When we arrived at the Vatican entryway, Papa flashed his special ID card and we were allowed to drive onto the grounds and park the car. Papa is the most refined, sharp, well-dressed man, and following him throughout the gardens I kept looking at him and wondering how I ended up in the right place at the right time, in Rome and with his family on this exact day, walking through the private entrance of Vatican City when just two days earlier I looked at the line and didn’t even bother.

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Everywhere we walked I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single other tourist, just Roberto and I sneaking photos we weren’t supposed to be taking. I wasn’t sure where we were going when we followed Papa into a back door of a building, but when we stepped foot into St. Peter’s Basilica and saw the crowds and I realized where we were, I couldn’t even look around, I just stopped in my tracks and looked to Roberto like “Is this really happening?” As a guest of Papa we walked into a private area with special access to certain displays. I was so completely overwhelmed by it all. I’m a dopey kid from New Jersey, what am I doing behind the velvet rope at the Vatican?

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When we left the Vatican, I literally didn’t have the words to express my gratitude to Papa, because he doesn’t speak English. “Grazie. Grazie.” I shook his hand. “Ciao.”

Roberto and I were starving by this point so we were dropped off by the river and went to look for pizza. It should be pretty easy to find pizza in Rome, especially when your GPS looks like this.

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Despite the 800 GPS pizzas, we couldn’t find any for close to an hour. The wait was worth it though because we stumbled upon Pizzeria Florida where we ordered every possible slice imaginable. At this point all I’d eaten for days was peanut butter sandwiches. I heard the food in Italy was good, but this experience was euphoric. I didn’t find god in the Vatican, but I did find him in my fresh mozz slice with extra pomodoro. Lord have mercy.

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After all that pizza we still hadn’t had enough, so we went on our self-proclaimed “Tour di Pizza” and ate some more. A little gelato and some grappa and call it a day.

Over the past summer at the beach, Roberto and I pinky promised each other we’d go to Italy together. Our plans ended up being quite different but we both followed through, and our day and a half that overlapped in Rome was worth the hype. See you in Jersey, mi amico.

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Rome alone

Going to Rome is a bit like going to Disney World. Everyone goes and everyone takes the same pictures. Still, it doesn’t mean that anyone would want to skip these places or avoid the sights. After wandering off the beaten path a bit in Vienna, I came to Rome to be a tried and true tourist, ready to strap on my proverbial fanny pack and brave the crowds.

On my first day I wanted to get up super early to shower and head out, but unless I have a flight to catch or somewhere to be, I really can’t get out of bed before the sun is fully up and at 7am it still wasn’t. I finally got rolling a little late at 10am and decided to go straight to the Vatican because I heard so much about the lines and because it was one of the farthest places away. As soon as I got there, all I saw were herds of people in some form of a line and couldn’t make out an entrance, so I forgave the idea of going in and just wandered off.

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Walking Rome aimlessly is easy because the free maps are detailed and have huge pictures, so I would mostly just walk in any given direction and find myself on the map later. I walked from San Pietro to Castel San Angelo, crossed the Tevere to Piazza Navina to the Pantheon. It was here that I realized just how many of the sights in Rome are free. Generally on this trip the things I’ve done have been so inexpensive compared to the States. Besides hanging in a park or going on the Staten Island Ferry, what can you really do in New York that is under $10? This is why I never do anything at home at all.

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From the Pantheon it’s just a short walk to the Trevi Fountain and Piazza di Spagna. Clearly I don’t know enough about Roman history because I don’t really get these sites. It’s a fountain. And some stairs. Didn’t I see this in Las Vegas? Whatever, I still took pictures of them. Disney World.

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From Piazza Spagna I was far away from anything I wanted to see, so when I saw a sign for the metro I just jumped on it and went to the Colosseum. It’s a pretty interesting structure, but I didn’t connect with it so much just because it is SO old and over the past 2000 years it has both fallen apart and undergone renovations. I just don’t know how much of what I’m looking at is original. I like to see ruins because they’re… ruined. Not because someone fixed them. That’s just me though. Maybe I’m looking a gift horse in the mouth. Regardless, it’s still absolutely beautiful and I repeatedly thought “holy shit” to myself every time I walked past it over the four days I was here.

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By this point I’d been walking 7 hours and my feet could not fathom seeing another sight, so I found the nearest bodega equivalent and went to stock up on some PB&J supplies instead. 20 minutes and 16€ in basic food staples later, I asked the bodega cashier if they carried any plastic knives I could have. He was about to ring me up and charge me for one when I just pretended it was free, put the knife in my bag, said “grazie, thank you so much,” and walked home.

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Rome for the holidays

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I spent most of Christmas Day in transit from Vienna to Rome. It was a pretty easy trip, but the sun sets so early in December that by the time I got settled it felt like nighttime and I had no idea what to do. The Beehive was serving hot wine and dessert, a really welcoming touch especially when you’re rolling solo on a big holiday.

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I met this sweet boy Gary (literally just a boy, he was only 18) over some Christmas crumbs. He’s in Italy traveling with his grandfather and is probably what most moms hope their kids turn out to be: outgoing, family-loving, well-mannered and friendly. I found it cute that he wanted to go for a neighborhood walk with me so I wouldn’t be cooped up inside my entire first day. We planned on a short walk, but that so easily turned into hours that we both surprised ourselves. Rome is truly magical at night, and this endearing little nugget even bought me flowers in front of the Colosseum.

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I wondered how it would feel to spend Christmas away from home for the first time, especially being alone; I wondered if I’d be flooded with feelings of nostalgia and loneliness and feeling like this was a mistake, but the reality is, all that crap about looking to yourself to find happiness is true. Sure, I miss my mom and dad, and presents under the tree would have been great, but standing in front of the Colosseum on Christmas Day, I couldn’t say any part of this trip was wrong.

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The Beehive

I’m in Rome bunking at The Beehive, sort of a hip American-owned hotel that also has a dorm. I had the most difficult time finding adequate accommodations in Rome, so I owe it all to my friend Katie who asked around and found me this gem. This place has a bunch of perks, boasting a holistic vibe with a cozy lounge, vegetarian cafe and entirely organic menu. The facilities are modern and clean, and the location is completely central to everything in Rome. Having a decent place to rest your head at night can make or break a trip, so I’m really relieved to be in a place like this for this leg of the journey. Bravissimo. Thanks Katie :)

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