We had just moved into our first apartment together in Boston and were spending our first holiday season together. Since we were going our separate ways for Christmas Day, we agreed to exchange gifts with each other on the weekend afterward. That morning Brittany had a small, single envelope as her only gift, dwarfed by the pile of neatly wrapped boxes in Rico’s corner. After he opened his gifts, Brittany carefully unwrapped and opened the envelope to find two round-trip plane tickets to Italy.
That next spring we were off! This was our first European adventure together and we were excited to spend time exploring and making memories with each other. After a long transatlantic flight and a brief layover in Dublin we landed in Rome, where we would be spending less than 24 hours. We wanted to spend more time exploring the Italian countryside, so our one-day stay in Rome was a bit of an afterthought.
After hitting some travel snags at the airport (something always seems to happen!) we jumped into our car and made our way from Fiumicino Airport to Hotel Villa San Pio in the Roman rione of Ripa. From that point we knew we had a tough task ahead of us: squeeze in as much sightseeing as possible into the remaining hours of the day. Though it’s not the ideal way to travel, it’s all we had and we wanted to make the best of it!
We started our adventure off with a stroll toward the Colosseum, which was only a 20-minute walk from our hotel. Along the walk it began to drizzle which didn’t help much to lift our tired and damp spirits. It’s always difficult to adjust to a new place when you first get there, but nothing makes you feel better like a fashionable 10 € orange umbrella under which to take refuge for the rest of the day! We walked through the Roman Forum, admiring the beauty of the juxtaposition of ruined man-made structures and thriving plants and flowers. As we got closer to the end of the maze of paths, our focus quickly redirected to the imposing enormity of the Colosseum.
That sense of enormity is only enhanced when seeing it from the inside. There is something to be said for the artistic impact of walking through dank, dark tunnels and staircases to emerge through an arch into the warm sun and fresh air with an amazing work of architecture, engineering, and art sprawling out in all directions. It’s moments like these that make you realize why certain cultural icons are as famous and beloved as they are.
We continued on through the city center to our next destination of the Spanish Steps. We were utilizing a crude and mostly unhelpful Roman map to find our way around and found ourselves wandering through sleepy streets and piazzas as unintended detours. We quickly realized that the beauty of Rome didn’t lay wholly on its most treasured landmarks, but also on the small things that make a city a city—or that creates an identity for any place in the world. This is a lesson that we found applies to any place we visit.
After sharing our first of many gelatos on the Spanish Steps, we set out to find the small leather shop where Rico had bought a purse for Brittany a year earlier. Matteo Fabris crafts and sells leather goods out of his Via Belsiana shop and is a pleasure to talk with, though his English is limited (much better than Rico’s Italian though!). Walking into his shop is like stepping back in time and we had no trouble finding an expertly crafted and beautifully handmade big sister for last year’s gift.
Next up was a brief stop at the Trevi Fountain, where we lined up with all the other steadfast travelers to get a chance to throw a few coins behind our backs into the fountain. From there we weaved through backstreets in an attempt to find the Pantheon. While we took a very circuitous route, we stumbled upon more picturesque sights along the way and did finally reach our destination.
At this point the gelato started wearing off and we were ready for our first true Italian meal! We focused our sights on a restaurant that had been recommended to us by someone from home, but upon arriving we were informed that there was not a table for us. Not to be discouraged, we continued up the street and found a pleasant restaurant on the corner called Panella where we settled in and filled our bellies. There’s nothing like a hardy meal after a long day of traveling!
We hailed a cab to take us back to our hotel and slept very well that night. We knew we had to get up early to head to Tuscany and were excited to truly start our Italian adventure with our first full day!
Trip gelato count: 2