Monday, August 20, 2012

Rome, Italy

One day, we all decided to go to Rome for a week. Each person had their own reasons. Me? It was incredibly cheap, I don't like to work and am always up for taking a little vacation break, and the best part- I'd get to see Venice for 1 day on my way back!

And so it began. Quite a weird bunch of us got together, having almost nothing in common, except being under 30 and living the life of a student. I've decided to forgo the hostel lifestyle and for a couple bucks more shared a very decent double- bed room in a 3-star hotel located 15 minutes walking distance from the Colosseum, which was totally worth it. I've outgrown hostels about 8 years ago. My philosophy is that you can always find a hotel deal which will give you more value for your money, rather than staying in a hostel where you literally cannot even leave anything valuable- I watched the other people in our group towing their giant backpacks on their sweaty backs in 30-degree heat, thinking "i bet they wish they would've taken my advice and stayed in a normal hotel room"- and yes, they did. The lesson here is, the cheapest option is not always that cheap-especially if you end up with a stolen cell phone, camera, wallet, etc- it's always better to stay on the "median" side of spendings, especially when it comes to a place to rest, sleep, recuperate- let's be honest, you will not enjoy any of your daily sightseeing if you didn't manage to get a good night's sleep due to 4 other people sharing your room/uncomfortable beds/noisy location. The things I look for when booking a room without splurging is, first of all, location- close to the metro/bus station and most sites; it's a huge bonus if they offer breakfast of some kind, even if it is just a coffee and a croissant, so that you can get up and go on with your day, without having to lose precious time in the morning. 

This is especially important if you're in Rome in August- it got almost unbearably hot during the day, hitting close to 40 centigrade, so we tried to schedule our activities accordingly- that would mean seeking shade in the mid-day, whether at a park or a museum, and covering most of the ground outside only in mornings and evenings-that worked out really well, and by the time the sun started setting down, we were refreshed and ready to go and explore more sights. But I'm not gonna lie, there were a few times I've had to take an extended leisurely lunch or a midday siesta, to be able to cope with going out later on. Just do whatever suits your mood and style, I guess- which brings me to my next point- the idea of travelling with a group.

I knew it would be hard even when I'd signed up for this, but I thought hey, it's worth a try- everyone else is doing it, and if you happen to be in a situation where your partner is unable to travel with you due to prior obligations, it's still better than to go alone. Boy, was i wrong!
I found so many things irritating and often enough, I ended up feeling alone or left out anyways, simply because I have my own way of doing things, in a more rational manner, that would make the best use of limited time in such a huge, culturally rich city with so much to offer.

As a result, while I was grateful to have a group there when I wanted to join them, I found it was best when taken in few-hour intervals. You really have the best chance of making sure you get to see exactly what you want and for as long as you want to when you do it on your own time, especially in a city like Rome. I chose to explore the city completely on foot, due to my central location, never taking a bus or metro once, in a span of 5 days (ok, excluding my trip to the beach, but that was obviously outside of Rome)-but I've never had my feet hurting as much as they did here in Rome- ever!(I did good by selecting to wear my ugly, utilitarian-looking summer hiking shoes with any attire-even then I could not feel my heels every night!)-so I strongly suggest you forgo any fashion trends and instead splurge on some sensible walking shoes :)

That said, each day I planned my daily route in some sort of a loop, so that I could hit as many sights as I could on the way, never going on the same road twice, unless that was the intention. Thus, after 2 days, comparing notes with the other people in my group of what they've managed to see that day, I always ended up having covered more ground, while remaining casual and relaxed, not stressing about the time spent at each place, opening hours...and even having time for leisurely cafe visits and lunch stops!
My advice to anyone wanting to travel as a group in a large city is-don't. Unless you have a strict schedule that everyone agrees upon ahead of time or you just happen to be one of those people who don't care what they get to see, as long as they're "having fun"-clearly, I'm not one of them.

My experience of travelling alone in Rome had showed me that there is nothing to be afraid of, even when I ventured out past midnight on a Friday night, all I got was a few looks/whistles/comments-more of a funny "what was I thinking?" type of thing, rather than anything to be intimidated about.

And after all, in a city full of people where almost everyone out there is also a tourist, just as clueless and disoriented as you are, you never really do feel alone. I found that  as soon as I would break away from the group, little unique things would start to happen: a local would start a conversation with me in the street in Italian, while I would simply smile and nod; I would tune into the sounds out there, get lost in the little curving neighborhood streets and discover something that no guide book will ever tell you about...most of the time, I found myself with a little soft smile gracing my lips...t
here is something to be said about being able to trod this life at  your own pace:) 

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