My first pilgrimage to the land of pizza

I arrived in Rome in my usual fashion when going somewhere new, disorganized and with no expectations whatsoever. It was amazing that I got there at all. My journey had begun with me arriving at Bristol airport 50 minutes before my flight was due to take off. I was ushered to the front of the check-in queue, pissing everyone off in the process. This was followed by a frantic run to the gate, resulting in being the last person to be seated in the plane. Yup I was THAT person!

At the airport train station I bought myself a sandwich which was much better than railway sandwiches in the UK. This is a good sign, I thought. Once on the train, my excitement began to grow as we neared our destination. The train stopped, but we were not in Rome yet. It had broken down and we all had to get off at some random station that the train was not scheduled to stop at. I had all the time in the world and this was the perfect opportunity to make my first observations of the Italian people. They passionately shouted at the train officials, who at first, just wanted to leave us stranded there. A new train was sent for us an hour later. It was at this point that I knew I was in love with these beautiful, well dressed, passionate, pizza and coffee loving people. I was going to like Rome…..

I arrived at the Mosaic Hostel and was greeted by a friendly Brazilian man who worked at the front desk. My first observation was that the common room did not look very inviting. Since I had come to Rome alone, this made me slightly apprehensive in that I might not meet anybody to hang around with. Luckily, it was not long before I plucked up the courage to talk to someone and we agreed to go out and explore the city that evening.

Rome is like a museum, it is just breathtaking building after breathtaking building. At night time they are all lit up, this makes them all the more spectacular. The next morning we added a gentleman named ‘The Son of Neptune’ to our existing group of myself and the guy from Texas I had met the previous night. The second day was spent enjoying the sights. We saw the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Del Popolo and many more fountains and buildings with columns. The pantheon was my favorite sight, mainly because you can take an elevator to the top of it and enjoy spectacular views of the city.

Most of the main attractions that Rome is famous for are situated within the old city walls. They are all very close together and you can walk around and see most of them (at least from the outside) within a day. Within the walls the food is….well quite frankly rubbish and overpriced! Since pizza was one of the main reasons I had wanted to come to Italy, I decided to avoid eating in this area for the rest of my trip.

On the second evening in Rome, I had arranged to meet a friend of my brother’s who goes by the name of Ania. I had never met Ania before but since I had left my phone on the plane, we had full descriptions of each other and had arranged to meet at a square, near a church in the neighborhood of Trastevere. The son of Neptune, the guy from Texas and I set off to meet Ania. On our way out of the hostel we added a fellow Englishman and another Yank (this one from Boston) to our group.

We sat at the square drinking beer and having the occasional shot of absinthe (provided by the Son of Neptune) but Ania never turned up. The bitch! ******** Nonetheless, Ania had conveniently placed us in an area saturated with great and affordable restaurants! Our group enjoyed pizza, wine, side dishes, coffee and lemoncillo all for less than €15/head. It was a fantastic night, lots of booze was consumed and a great night was had by all. I think!

The next day was spent wondering through Villa Borghese and then strolling through random neighborhoods such as Prati and Borgo. Again the food in these neighborhoods is much cheaper and more authentic than within the old city walls. Having arranged a second attempt to meet with Ania, we journeyed to our destination through one of the Seven hills of Rome known as Gianicolo. The views from up there were spectacular and I highly recommend venturing up there if you are ever in Rome.

Ania, the Son of Neptune, the English guy and I met at a bar called Freni e Firenzoni and it was lovely. Ania was full of local knowledge and it was well worth the wait to meet her.

The following day was spent wondering through more neighborhoods in the north east of the city soaking up the culture, eating more great food and developing a great love for espressos. That evening we made trip to the Vatican. Ania had recommended that we go in the the evening (they open on Friday evenings) to avoid the 1,276 hour long queue that people normally endure to get in the pope’s gaff. It was cool. There were lots of good paintings and statues of babies with leaves covering their bits.

My final day in Rome was extremely lazy. My new found friends and I ate, drank and enjoyed each others company in this magnificent city. It was blissful.

I love Rome. I will return to Italy as soon as I can and if I live long enough to go back to Rome itself I definitely will!

******** It turns out that Ania, who is a far more intelligent and well organized human being than myself, had been very specific in her email and said to meet her, and I quote……

‘in the middle of Isola Tiberina (easy to find as it is an island in the middle of the river) – it has a small square and I can sit in front of the church?’

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