Rome. The city of dirt, grime, and that one Lizzie McGuire movie that somehow convinced an entire generation that they needed to go there.
I kid, I kid (kind of). Rome ~the eternal city~ is arguably the most learned about city in any US classroom. From Nero, to Caesar, to the senate, to the Colosseum, to the Vatican, to Latin, and yes, to that famed saying “all roads lead to Rome.” Although, in my case the “road” was a 30-euro round-trip ticket courtesy of www.omio.com. I’m telling you, BOOK AHEAD! A same day one-way ticket from Milan to Rome (3hr ride) can cost up to 90 euro!
Side note! When you create an account on www.omio.com and use my code gunnal1s0x7x you’ll get 10 euro off your first booking! Free dough, yo!
Any who, to borrow a line from T-Swift, the city’s reputation (as a cultural Mecca) proceeds it. Every person dreams of walking the ancient narrow streets and (after a blister or two), speeding through them instead on the back of a local’s Vespa *insert romantic sigh.* But there’s one inevitable thing that all visitors seem to overlook. And that is…………OTHER FREAKIN’ VISITORS.
Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world, which makes sense considering all of the various historical sites, but STILL, there are like a trillion people there. Streets are crowded, gelato is overpriced *tear*, and open spaces are few & far between. Well, that is unless you know this one *free* trick………..
Explore. At. Night.
I know, I know, you’re probably thinking “Gunnar, that is insane, unsafe, inconvenient……….and positively genius.”
And to that I say: you are 100% correct.
But don’t take my word for it, the proof is in the pudding (this pudding happens to be in the form of photos).
“But Gunnar, how did you come across this weird, awesome #travelhack?”
Well, it all started with a pub crawl, thirteen annoying “study abroads,” and an Adonis-like plumber from SoCal named Thad trying desperately to hold onto his youth (zoinks).
In my earlier days of traveling, I LOVED pub crawls. They’re a great way to meet other young, fun, budget travelers from all over the world. However, I’ve had some experiences that proved to be rather lackluster– Rome was the epitome of these experiences.
The pub crawl was sponsored by our hostel, Alessandro Palace Hostel & Bar. The hostel was $21 a night per person and was close to the train station (really good price for Rome).
Side note: For hostel booking, I always use www.hostelworld.com. It’s cheap, easy to use, and has flexible rules when it comes to cancelling a booking.
Anyway, back to the pub crawl. Rome was the first city I had been to where I really ran into other college students from the US, and when I say, “ran into,” I really mean “was completely inundated by.” Everywhere I turned I ran into an “Ashley” or “Lauren” who was having “Oh my god, like, honestly the best semester of [their] life *insert concerningly long sip of Long Island Iced Tea*.”
Gone were the token Australians, physically-intimidating-female-German backpackers, and perennially chill Canadians. Oh no, I was surrounded by Lululemon and Vineyard Vine wearing, “No way bro!” shouting, and first-time legal drinking AMERICAN. COLLEGE. STUDENTS.
Now, I love a taste of home just as much as the next person, but this is *exactly* the type of “college culture” I wanted to avoid by going to university abroad. It was as if an entire frat party had been transplanted from a Big 10 University to a Roman dive bar (gross sticky floor included).
Side note: This in no way describes all study abroad students from the US. I know a lot that seek out a completely different “study abroad experience,” and in all honestly they hate these types of students just as much as I do (if not MORE! Considering they often have to do an entire program with them).
While I was completely out of my element, there was another pub crawl patron who seemed more than eager to supply the room with nearly endless Jager Bombs– and that, my friends, was Thad.
I’m not actually sure if his name really was Thad, but he bore an uncanny likeness to Thad Castle, the well-known Blue Mountain State star, so I’ll just call him that (picture attached below for reference).
Thad was a proud plumber (and he should be, they make bank!) but his constant boasting, pec flexing, and whipping out of hundred-euro bills, made even *the thirstiest* of attending sorority girls cringe.
I did end up making really good friends with the guide though! I asked her, in my very clear, confident, fluent Italian (wink wink) for recommendations of what to see in Rome, and she quickly confessed that she was actually from Florence– and what luck, I have been to Florence (and enjoyed it much more than Rome)! We spoke for a while and now I follow her on Instagram, nbd (still waiting for that follow back though).
Roman or not, she did give me an invaluable piece of advice before we went to our last planned bar– “The Trevi Fountain is right around the corner, just go out and explore.”
So, my travel partner @demetriawren and I linked up with two other fed-up pub crawlers, and we began our nighttime exploration of the city.
Despite what you may think, it really wasn’t that sketchy, and the Trevi fountain was still lit up and eerily empty– aka very pretty. The Spanish Steps were completely vacant, and with all the hordes gone it really was a sight to behold.
Side note: I still would not recommend exploring at night by yourself, Rome is a lot safer than people assume, but there is still crime– SO BRING A FRIEND (or two).
Rome reminded me a lot of a Six Flags theme park with its long lines and hurried, conveyor belt museum experiences. All of the historical significance seemed to take a back-row seat to my constant internal monologue saying, “Can’t this line move any faster?!?” (it took three hours just to get inside the Vatican Museum) or “My god, I just need to get OUT of this mob ASAP” (I actually muttered the latter while staring at Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling). My desire to see what I had previously only read about in textbooks was hindered by hours of waiting and a constant lack of water (so bring lots to drink!).
In conclusion– pub crawls and paid tours be damned! I could never really marvel at the historical magic of Rome until I has some peace, quiet, and yes– darkness. If your main attraction to Rome is the historical and educational aspect, I highly recommend seeing the sights doused in moonlight (I just cringed typing that). If, however, your main attraction to Rome is to relive Lizzie McGuire’s 8th grade field trip, well, STAY HOME.
So, that’s it. That’s my one *free* trick to explore Rome tourist free. It’s still by no means my favorite city– and I much prefer Naples and Florence to it, but we all know you’re going to go anyway (I mean it is Rome after all).
Other trip highlights include:
-Circumnavigating the Vatican City in an attempt to see the Sistine Chapel (note to all, it is inside the Vatican Museum)
-Watching (and recording) Demi do a drunken self-duet to “What Dreams are Made Of” at the Trevi Fountain
-When a pigeon pooped on Demi’s iPhone while we were eating gelato outside
-Walking for hours by the river because the weather was beautiful, and it was free to do
-The Roman Forum! Some of the best ruins I’ve ever seen, and a great panoramic view of Rome.
Got any questions, comments, suggestions? Feel free to reach out! And until next week,
SING TO ME PAOLO!
Written by GunnarLundberg
Edited by Emily Weninger