When your son gets to study abroad, it is only appropriate that you find a way to share the experience. But how do you make the most of a long weekend in Italy?
Four days in Rome was all I had. I visited Rome briefly back in 1984 when I did the 2 month Eurail pass with a friend in college. We had stayed overnight in a hostel near the train station which was a notoriously bad area. Wary of pick pockets and crowds, I recall the dirty streets and crazy traffic. So I admit, while I was excited to go back to Italy, my expectations for Rome were pretty low.
Wasn’t I in for a wonderful surprise!
Rome is Beautiful!
I was impressed at how clean the city is. Modern buildings with scattered Roman ruins carefully preserved and hidden among narrow alleys. Happy tourists and attractive Italians walking the streets dressed conservatively in chic dresses, designer shoes and fitted masculine attire.
I arrived into the city around 9:00 pm on Friday evening. I had left New York the night before at 11:30 pm and spent 4 hours in the Dusseldorf airport before reaching my final destination FCO airport in Rome. The taxi had a set price of $65 Euros to anywhere in the city. The well lit streets were lively with people out walking or sitting in outdoor restaurants.
As a solo woman traveling I was a bit distressed to find out that my room was no longer available at 9:00 pm. The front desk made a call and a small car pulled up outside the hotel. I was driven a few blocks away where a room was waiting for me. The new hotel was centrally located and full of people.
The lively atmosphere was inviting. I felt safe enough to walk around by myself and was directed toward the Trevi Fountain. I was impressed with how clean the cobble stoned streets were. People were milling about. One restaurant was packed with live music and everyone singing and dancing. I threw a coin into the fountain and then found a restaurant to eat a bowl of Pasta Carbonara with a glass of Chianti. It was delicious. Eating solo in a restaurant with so much people watching was fun.
I made it back to the hotel around midnight and the action was still going full swing.
The next morning I took a walk around to see the Spanish steps and look for a pharmacy. I had left some medication at home and was hoping to get some here. That was a problem. They wanted me to visit a doctor in a hospital to get the medication. I did not want to deal so I was given something over the counter that helped me get through the few days I would be away. I should have reread my previous blog: 10 Ways to Alleviate Anxiety when Traveling Solo
3 days in Rome
I met my son for lunch and we took a nice afternoon walk over to the Colosseum. The excavation of the Forum is impressive. You can buy tickets for all sorts of tours or you can walk around and enjoy the historic architecture and imagine thousands of year ago when Cesar and the gladiators marched along the stone paths. We walked around and took photos. It was amazing.
While Rome is a big city, you can see a lot of it by foot. I believe I clocked over 17,000 steps each of the 3 days I spent sightseeing.
We found a busy square near our hotel for dinner on Saturday evening then turned in so we could get an early start at the Vatican on Sunday morning.
The Pope gives a blessing in St. Peter’s square every Sunday at 12:00 noon. We arrived around 10:00 am and toured inside St. Peter’s Basilica. The interior is decorated with gold and marble, sculptures, paintings, numerous tombs of popes, several chapels, and an impressive altar under which St. Peter is believed to be buried. My favorite is Michelangelo’s Pieta.
After witnessing the procession with the cardinals for the morning service, we joined the crowds, which included several German marching bands, in the square. We anxiously watched to see where the Pope would come out to speak to us. He looks out of a high window on the third floor and is filmed so you can see him better on big screens. My son was able to translate quite a bit of what he said to me, so that study abroad program in Italy was well worth it.
The blessing was especially meaningful as I had brought along some of Mike’s ashes with me to Italy. He had grown up in the Catholic church, and although we raised our children in the Episcopalian faith, I think he always considered himself a Catholic. Having his remains blessed by the Pope helped me put closure on an important part of his death and I felt now I would be able to scatter his ashes as per his wishes when I returned home. The night my husband died
After the Pope left, we went outside the square to line up to see the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately, there was a sign that read it was closed at 12:30pm on that Sunday. I had read it was free to visit the Vatican museums on the last Sunday of the month, but didn’t realize that they would be closed so early. Oh well. Next time.
We had lunch and then walked around the city. I took my son to the Capuchin Crypt. I had visited this small church on my first visit to Rome and the images stuck with me, as I am sure they will remain with my son. The crypt has the bones and skulls of Capuchin friars arranged along the walls in elaborate designs.
Monday morning we joined a Walks of Italy tour with 12 people. We met at 7:00 am at the Piazza Republica for our All Day Pompeii Tour From Rome With Amalfi Coast Drive. This was well worth the cost of the trip and made the visit to Italy over the top!
We headed first for Positano on the Amalfi Coast. The amazing vistas of colorful houses on the cliffs, green hills and tight curvy roads were intoxicating. After a few stops to take photos we ended up at the top of the sea side cliff in Positano. Each stop was more picturesque than the last.
Having sandals custom made to your foot is the thing to do here. It takes approximately 2 hours, depending on how busy the shop is. There are numerous designs and colors of leather to choose from. My foot was measured and I selected my style. I was told to come back after lunch and to have the straps fitted to my feet. I love my new sandals.
My son enjoyed our amazing lunch, as did I, then stepped across the hot black stone beach for a dip in the clear, salty Mediterranean Sea. I could definitely spend more time in this spot!
We met back at the van for the trip to Pompeii. Our tour guide gave us a thorough account of what the city was like in 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius erupted. We started the tour at the new entrance that has the preserved bodies in a climate controlled observatory. We walked through the ampitheatre then down the main street and into some homes.
Amazingly, some of the mosaics and signs are well preserved. Since Pompeii was buried under ash for 1500 years before excavation began, many items were protected. However, our tour guide explained that each year while more parts of the city are excavated by archaeologists, more parts crumble due to exposure from the elements.
We returned from our tour back to Rome and I invited one of the solo female travelers to join us for dinner. We took a cab to a highly recommended pizza place to the Trastevere section called Pizzeria Ai Marmi. The tables were full of locals and the pizza was authentically awesome and tasty.
After a fun filled weekend, it would have been nice to stay and travel more, but time and money wouldn’t allow it this visit. I was overall impressed with Rome and would definitely go back. My son and I parted ways and traveled back solo. This time my lay over was in Berlin. A connecting flight had been delayed and after making us all wait about 45 minutes, the jumbo jet took off with less than half the seats filled. That was perfect for an 8 hour flight. I spread out, watched movies, read, ate and snoozed. Traveling solo is good fun. It was nice for me to meet up with my son too, but Rome is a welcoming city for solo travelers as well.