When in Rome - My 5 Day Italian Adventure

Wednesday, May 13, 2020




Sitting down, writing this post, I feel positively giddy just thinking about how INCREDIBLE this trip was! I always say that Travel has taught me sooooo many things, about myself, about life, about the world, etc. If I could go back and change anything, I wish that I would have started traveling sooner. But as everything in life, things happen for a reason when they are supposed to...at the right time, and traveling as an adult has truly changed me for the better ( Read my post What I Learned Traveling Abroad )
Before this trip, I had previously traveled to Scotland, Paris, and England. Funny thing, is that I actually registered/booked this trip to Rome while on a layover in New York during my trip to England with my sister last spring (see here & here, plus watch the Vlog here). Up until Rome, all of my trips involved me either meeting a friend in another country (Scotland / Paris) or traveling with my sister (England). However, my trip to Rome revolved around traveling with a group of strangers!!

A bit of backstory: 
After I got back from traveling to Scotland & Paris in December of 2018 (and into January 2019) I self diagnosed myself with the "Travel Bug" (an intense desire to hop on a plane and travel to another country ASAP). My dad randomly mentioned that I should look into the possibility of planning a student trip in the future and within a few weeks I had started planning a trip to London, Paris, Florence and Rome with an educational tour company called EF (I Love EF so much & am sure I will share more about them later). That student trip was scheduled to take place this summer (June 2020) but with the Coronavirus it is now rescheduled for next summer (July 2021)....it is actually sandwiched into between two other International Trips I have planned for 2021. Anyways...my reason for sharing this, is that as a Teacher, when you book a student trip with EF as a Tour Leader they send you on a training trip (it is actually a complimentary training trip, so the cost is covered by EF). The training trips happen in different countries around the world, but I decided to book the Rome trip, mainly because the dates fit my schedule. 
Backstory complete! 

The crazy thing, is that before I booked this trip, I hadn't even ever considered traveling to Rome. I don't know why, but I guess Scotland and England were always high up on my list. However, I can honestly say that Rome was INCREDIBLE! Truthfully, I think out of all the trips I have taken so far, my trip to Rome might have been one of my favorites, and I really think it was because it put me so far outside my comfort zone! 

Traveling on the teacher training trip with EF meant that I would be traveling around Rome with 40 other teachers (plus 5 EF staff members) who were all strangers to me....our trip essentially partly simulated what a tour with our students would look like. If you have been around my blog for awhile, you know that I am not a fan of people I don't know or unfamiliar situation (#introvertlife). The whole trip was even more outside my comfort zone than just traveling to another country. However, the 5 days I spent traveling & the 3 days I spent in Rome were truly life changing (and also allowed me to prepare for a trip with students)! There is something so magical about traveling with others (especially people you do not know), and there is something that automatically bonds a group of strangers together. Within one day our group was more than a group of strangers, we were kind of like family and it was so cool to see that unfold & look forward to that happening when I take students abroad. 

I found myself never once feeling insecure about my Introverted Personality because I was so enthralled with everything I was seeing around me & the experience allowed me to talk and bond with others who were there for the same reasons I was, because they were teachers & loved to travel. Rome truly took my breath away and I would go back in a heartbeat! Being in Rome brought all my my childhood History lessons back to life and I found myself in awe that I was walking in the steps of Ancient History.

You can watch my Rome Travel Vlog of the trip here:
There is so much I could say about this trip, but I thought I would share a breakdown of all I saw and did in case you ever get to visit Rome. What makes me even more EXCITED is that next summer (2021) I get to visit Rome with my brother in sister in June and then see my students experience the historic City in July.

The trip to Rome in total was 5 days. 2 Days of travel and 3 days in Rome. It felt like such a long time and yet such a short time. Our days were packed and we really did get to see so much. 

Day 1 - Overnight Flight to Italy

This was my secondish trip Internationally and while I am never a huge fan of the plane ride to get there, I have to remind myself every hour on those long flights gets me closer to the adventure! While I was technically traveling alone, one of the teachers from my school happened to be on my same flight, on her way to her training trip in Germany and while we were boarding I met 3 other teachers who were headed to Rome with me. We flew out of Houston and Landed in Amsterdam for our connection to Rome. The Amsterdam airport is really cool (I find that when I travel I am always intrigued by the airports). Our connection to Rome was technically in the AM on day #2. 

Day 2 - Arrive in Rome + Walking Tour of Rome

One thing I have learned from traveling abroad, is that Jet Lag is REAL!!! I think I always thought of Jet Lag as being extreme exhaustion, but to me it feels more like my body is shutting down & the only way to combat it is to keep moving, and as soon as we landed in Rome that is exactly what we did! 
I love that EF has an hour by hour schedule for trips, which helped us make the most of our first day and also allowed us to see so much of Rome upon arrival and do a bit of exploring. 

Our first day we took a walking Tour of the city center of Rome and saw many iconic places:

Central Piazza Navona - The Piazza Navona is a public plaza kind of in the center of Rome. It has two fountains in the center and is surrounded by shops and restaurants. The Piazza Navona is a oval shape and is actually built on the Stadium of Domitian from the 1st century AD. This is the perfect place to relax, grab a bit to eat at an outdoor table, buy a gelato or meet up with people you are traveling with (we came here nearly every day). I will say, that the restaurants in the Piazza Navona are more expensive than those outside the city center.  
Pantheon - We didn't actually go into the Pantheon on day 1, but we did stop by it to see on our way to the Spanish Steps. 
Spanish Steps - This is a very well visited spot of Rome. On your way to the Spanish steps you will walk along the 5th avenue of Rome with all the designer shops. 
Trevi Fountain - What says Rome more than the Trevi Fountain (and the Colosseum of course)! I was very excited to visit the Trevi Fountain. Due to the time of day that we visited, there were a LOT of people.....honestly there are always a lot of people there (if you don't want people around you will have to go early in the morning). FYI, this is also a prime pick pocket spot so hold your belongings tight. The trevi fountain is so much bigger in real life and it is truly breathtaking. If you visit, you have to make sure and throw a coin over your right shoulder....legend has it that if you throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain you will visit Rome again (funny thing is I threw 2 coins into the fountain & I am visiting Rome 2 times next year!)
Gelato - Because Gelato is actually a tourist destination! After you visit the Trevi Fountain there is a Gelato shop right next to the fountain. I got the Coffee Gelato and it was delicious....also I ate it about 15 minutes before dinner (but who is keeping track). Italian Gelato is nothing like you have ever had in before...it really is just frozen air and melts so quickly. (there is also a really good Gelato shop at the Piazza Navona)
Dinner at a Restaurant - I honestly don't remember the name of the restaurant we ate at for our welcome dinner. Our EF Tour Director arranged it for us & it was amazing! We had 4 plates of food in the time we sat down to eat (plus a glass of wine). Our dinner started off with eggplant parmegain, then we had Rigatoni pasta with a cream sauce, then a serving of veal and potatoes, and we finished dinner with a sponge espresso cake! 

Day 3 - Vatican City

Since this trip was a teacher training trip, we actually had a classroom learning session in the morning on Day 3, so technically on a normal trip you would also have the morning to explore Rome. If I didn't have a classroom learning session, I would have wanted to go get coffee in the city & then walk around exploring or shopping. 
On Day 3 we woke up and ate breakfast with consisted of coffee, croissants, the most delicious honey I have ever had, pastries, cheese, and ham. Then we had a couple hours of learning sessions, a coffee break, and then we hopped on the bus and headed into the city (our Villa was about 30 minutes outside of Rome in the Italian hill country)

Pantheon - Our tour leaders gave us time for a bit of exploring when we got into the heart of Rome and I ended up with 3 history teachers at the Pantheon...it was quite interesting seeing the Pantehon through the eyes of History teachers who literally breathed ancient history. Visiting the Pantheon is free and it is quite a site to see. One thing you will notice in Rome is the incredible engineering and architecture of all the buildings. After thousands of years the ancient buildings are still standing, and when you study them you can see the brilliance of why. The Pantheon was a former Roman Temple, which means it was originally made to Pagan gods, so when you visit, you will notice the places that pagan statues were removed because it is now a Catholic Church. 

FUN FACT: outside the Pantheon there is a large fountain and right behind it there is a small water fountain the comes out of the ground. If you bring your own water bottle you can fill it up here with spring water from outside the city (there are actually a number of fountains in Rome like this)

Lunch - After we visited the Pantheon we stopped into a restaurant to have lunch. Sadly I don't remember what restaurant it was, but I do know that they had delicious pizza. There are so many cafes, restaurants, bakery's, and coffee shops around every corner and when you walk through the streets people will call out to you from the Restaurants, telling you to come eat there. 
Vatican city - The majority of Day 2 in Rome was spent in the Vatican City. The Vatican City is actually the world's smallest city! (Tip: buy your tickets ahead of time or prepare to stand in a VERY LONG line). Because we were meeting a local tour guide at the Vatican Museum we were able to skip the line. (be prepared to go through metal detectors & if you have any glass bottles on you, you will have to check your bag & pick it up later). The Vatican City houses the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel an St. Peter's Basilica....so you honestly will spend a LOT of time there. 
Vatican Museum - This is truly a marvel full of marvels! The Vatican Museum houses treasures that Popes throughout history have collected, but the museum itself is a treasure and the tiled floors are amazing, not to mention the carved and painted ceilings....there is so much to see it overwhelms the senses. 
Sistine Chapel - BREATHTAKING! That is literally all I can say. I grew up hearing about the Sistine Chapel, and learning about Michelangelo who painted the Frescos on the ceiling of the chapel. The History of the paintings themselves is something to research. Before we went inside our Tour Guide actually told us all about the history of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo and the paintings (because you are not allowed to speak in the chapel). Because you cannot talk in the Chapel it is silent...but that is also what makes it so wondrous as you look up, taking in the painted ceiling (which you are not allowed to photograph). 
St. Peter's Basilica - St. Peters Basilica is a church built in the Renaissance style & is located within the vatican city. It is truly a bigger than life Church and full of such history, including mummies of past popes, the most incredible mosaics that look like oil paintings, & stunning architecture. 
Dinner at a Restaurant in the Piazza Navona - We ate dinner at Monteforte 
**Funny Story: On day 3 a group of us ladies went to dinner at a restaurant in the Piazza Navona (Monteforte). It was a great dinner outside watching people walk by. One of the ladies convinced our waiter to give us free Lemoncello...which didn't come till the end of dinner right before we had to leave! When we got to the end of dinner we realized it was getting close to the time we had to be back at the bus & we were made even later by a misunderstanding about tips. When I finally got back to the table after paying, our waiter had brought the Lemonchello, but we also had to leave right then. I didn't want the Lemonchello to go to waste, plus I really wanted to try it (it is a famous liquor in Italy) so I shot the entire tiny glass as we took off walking (it tastes like lemon cough syrup)....only to realize time was running out and the bus might leave us. I then made the executive decision that I would run ahead of everyone to catch the bus....and by run ahead I mean I literally sprinted through the streets of Rome, at night, in the dark, right after drinking Lemonchello. Needless to say the bus didn't leave us, but it took me awhile to catch my breath & I will forever remember that night...it was like a scene from a movie**

Day 4 - Colosseum & Roman Forum

Day 4 was the day I was really looking forward to because we were going to the Colosseum! We had training sessions in the morning with a break for espresso (seriously, Italy knows how to do coffee) and then we were headed out on our bus. 

Lunch & Coffee - We arrive at the Colosseum around lunch to have a quick discussion before we all split up for lunch. I ended up going with a group of 6 other teachers...we walked around for at least 10 minute trying to decide where to eat, before we finally settled on this quaint "Ristorante" (called: Massezio) that was a 5 minute walk up from the Colosseum. It was there that I discovered that ordering Feticcini in Rome is not like America....but it was delicious none the less. 
After lunch we stopped off to grab coffee on our way back to meet our group at the Colosseum. 
Colosseum - The Colosseum was the one thing I was looking forward to the MOST on this trip! I remember always being intrigued by the history lessons of Rome & the Gladiators (and even went to a Gladiator exhibit at a museum with my brother a year or so before this trip) so visiting the Colosseum was truly like walking in the steps of History. It's one of those places that you can't quite believe you are seeing in real life, but that also brings history to Life!! While the history of the Colosseum itself is intriguing, seeing the architecture of it is incredible. 
Roman Forum - The Roman Forum is directly across the street from the Colosseum (and you have to have tickets to get in). The Roman Forum is essentially the center of the city of Rome and while it used to be a marketplace back in the day, it now hold the ruins of ancient government buildings (that even in their ruined state are spectacular)
Vittoriano / Capitoline Hill - As our tour guide said to us "this is the real capital hill!" The Vittoriano is a truly stunning structure right up the cobble stone street from the Forum. It really does look like a Capital and is surrounded by many statues. 
Shopping - After Capitol Hill we headed back to the Piazza Navona for free time and shopping! Up until this point we hadn't had enough free time to actually shop, so I joined 2 other ladies and we headed out to buy all the pasta, coffee, wine, and souvenirs we could find (and carry). Since the Piazza Navona is such a central part of the city, there are shops in every direction around it. One of my favorite shops was a leather shop which had the prettiest leather purses. The main things I would say you should always bring home from Rome are pasta, coffee, and wine! 
Dinner - To complete our last official day in Rome, we had a farewell dinner at a restaurant (again, I can't remember what it was called). Dinner was delicious! We had Brochette and fresh mozzarella, pizza, ham, wine, and Italian ice cream. It was the perfect farewell dinner, and also very bitter sweet since we had all gotten so close over just 3 short days. 

Day 5 - Early morning flight back home.

Myself and the other ladies who were on my flight to Rome were the lucky ones to have a 5:00am flight back home (said with all the sarcasm). We had to wake up early, say farewell to our Italian villa in the dark, and head to the airport. We had a connecting flight in Paris and then we were back home. 

Rome truly stole my heart, maybe even more than Scotland, Paris, and England! I don't know what it was about the city, but it captivated me. I also think this trip was so noteworthy because it truly put me outside of my comfort zone, but as I have been learning over the years, when I get outside my comfort zone, I often am shocked by what I discover and learn. 

I CANNOT WAIT to go back to Rome and make memories with some incredible people next year. Until now, I will just continue reliving my Italian Adventure by eating all the pasta, consuming all the pizza, and drinking wine (plus dreaming of Gelato). 

Have you been to Rome? I would love to hear about your Italian Adventure!

Would you ever want to visit Rome?

Ciao! 
Madison

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