La Dolce Vita-Or is it?

Rome, Italy 
April 2006

Italy had always been a dream of mine to visit, and when I finally did, I was having a terrible time. We stayed at a hostel and while a hostel can usually be lumped into a hit or miss experience, the one in Rome was definitely a miss. Accommodations were “sparse” to say the least, and the washroom facilities made me shudder every time I used them. The only plus side was the many wonderful people we met while staying there, a true joy when one travels. Hanging out with new people was also nice because it gave me a break from Tricia, my traveling companion who I was truly on the verge of hating by the end of the trip. Helen, a New Zealander, was traveling all across Europe by herself (I greatly admired her for this). Maura and Shannon were two Irish students who had been studying at a university in Marseilles, France, but ended up having an “extended” vacation due to the many strikes and civil unrest (their host campus had been completely trashed) that was taking place throughout France that spring. So they traveled to Italy. Who wouldn’t?
One of the first things we did when we got to Rome was see the Spanish Steps. Although we were “there,” we really couldn’t see anything due to almost every last inch of space on them being completely covered by people. On the day we left, I actually set my alarm early to walk there, just so I could take a picture of them without hundreds of tourists. Throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain was next to impossible, at least if you wanted to do it the traditional way, which is throwing it from behind. There were so many people there that if I had thrown it the non-traditional way not only would I not have been ensured a return trip to Rome, I probably would have reamed someone in the process. The lines for the Vatican Museums and to climb the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica were so long that they made the waits for some of the rides at Disney World on its busiest day seem like a breeze in comparison. 
Needless to say that when our last day in Rome arrived, I was looking forward to returning to Spain. That is until we met up with two other people from the program who were also in Italy. During the entire semester Nick was always a ray of sunshine for me. Never in a foul mood, always full of hilarious stories, it was wonderful simply being around him. Alana was from the same college as Nick back in the States and she also happened to be Tricia’s roommate in Spain. By the time we met up outside of the Coliseum metro stop, we were all happy to see each other, namely because we were fresh faces.  

As we had all already done the “most touristy” Roman things, Nick made the suggestion to return to Citta Vaticana and visit Castel Sant’ Angelo. Although I had brought with me to Italy a Rome guidebook that would have made a decent paperweight, I hadn’t read all of its pages and wasn’t familiar with the sight. I would come to learn that the Castel or its official name, the Mausoleum of Hadrian had been initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and family. It would later be used by popes as a fortress and a castle. Pope Nicholas II actually had the castle connected to St. Peter’s Basilica by constructing a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo (the Borgo Passage). This was used by popes when needing to secretly flee the Vatican. 
            As we walked along the banks of the Tiber after leaving Castel Sant’Angelo, I thought to myself that this is how one’s first trip to Italy is supposed to be. A trip filled with laughter and good times, not standoffish silence and feelings of animosity that constantly lingered on the surface. We eventually made our way to Piazza Navona, perhaps one of the greatest squares in all of Rome. It is home to the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Gianlorenzo Bernini which was built in the 17th century. The fountain is an extremely imposing and awe inspiring sight. On the corners of the fountain are four statues of gods representing the four major rivers of the world that were known at the time, the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges, and the Plate (or Plata as it is known in Spanish). The design of each god figure also has symbolic importance. While we were there we decided to have lunch. Although it was the most expensive meal of the entire trip, and I received a slightly disgusted look from the waiter when he saw that I had removed the olives from my “four seasons” pizza (a tomato pie which features mozzarella, tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes, cooked ham, olives, oil, and half a hardboiled egg), it was totally worth it to be dining al fresco amongst a sight as gorgeous as the Piazza Navona. 
            When we ended up at the Trevi Fountain, I was happy to see that although it was still extremely crowded, it was nowhere near as mobbed as it was when we had gone there on our first day. It was at this point that we separated into “pairs;” Alana and Tricia went off together and Nick and I hung out, finally giving me a much needed opportunity to gossip about my traveling companion (and most likely she about me to Alana). I finally had the chance to throw a coin into the Trevi the “right” way. I knew that now I would be ensured a return trip to la dolce vita, just next time it would hopefully be with much better company. 
            Aware that it was our final day in Italy and I hadn’t purchased anything souvenir-wise all trip, I realized that I would have to make up for lost time prontisimo. I ended up buying a tee-shirt that said Roma on it and featured the Italian flag in sequins, as well as an extremely glittery magnet of the Trevi fountain, but it was my purchase of a bag of basil from an Italian food store that I was the most pleased with.  Every time I travel abroad, especially to a “foodie” destination, I always vow that I’m going to come home with unique food purchases, and not a junky souvenir. I never do, but since I am ensured a return trip to the Eternal City, hopefully next time I will follow through on the promise I always make to myself. 
Before we knew it (or any of us wanted to admit it), it was time to say ciao. Tricia and I were to return to our rather dilapidated hostel in one of Rome’s seediest neighborhoods, Termini. It was here when walking back from the metro that a sub-Asian immigrant actually came up to us and said “you want to f**?”(A disturbing scene that I still vividly remember to this day). Nick and Alana went off to their campsite. Yes, those two actually traveled to Rome and stayed in a tent. But before we said our final arrivederci, we had one last gelato. So you could say the trip did indeed end on a “sweet note” after all.

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