Eyes open, eyes closed, eyes open and closed again. The day before the flight to Rome. The flight is scheduled for the afternoon, so there’s no rush with the pre-flight activities. The night before the flight I watch action movies and continue to watch them in my dreams, which I am aware of when I wake up from similar scenes where I am the main character. The main theme of my dreams is betrayal. I think a lot about digital security and its importance in my daily life and work. I think that people should be more educated in this area, but I am aware that I could also be dealing with digital fraudsters.
When I wake up in the morning, one of the first messages I get in the travel chat is about a topic I have been thinking last night. Our booked accommodation in Rome is not real and we are victims of fraudsters. We are thinking of solutions to quickly find a new place to stay for the next week, but we postpone these questions to the meeting at the airport. We discuss our little accommodation incident with humor, and we are ready to fly to Vienna. Yes, Vienna, because our flight is a one-stop.
The weather in Latvia is great, with unseasonably warm days for autumn, although there are some people whose clothes are already noticeably reminiscent of the season. The first part of the flight goes quickly. Even the landing in Vienna is so gentle that a fellow passenger wonders whether we have really landed yet. The airport is calm, but bigger than Riga.
Our small group of four, having explored the twists and turns of the local airport, greets the sunset and is ready for a new flight to the right destination. While waiting for the next flight, the new accommodation is sorted out.
We are on a plane with night on one side and an orange sunset on the other, which is what we tend to see in Latvia on hot summer days or, on the contrary, on cold winter days (this is what we conclude in a small group discussion).
At the start of the flight, as with every flight, we are instructed about safety. This time I mention it because the voice on the speakers informs us that it will be done by two Italians, who are not very beautiful, but pleasant people. The little attractions and the darkness take over all the sights outside the plane. To quote my paraphrased saying in my last book of poetry, where all my roads lead to the digital world. This time, without paraphrasing, my roads lead to Rome. A thousand years ago and more, I doubt if any Roman could have imagined that the roads to Rome would even lead through the air.
You would think that the next paragraph would already put my feet on the warm Italian soil, but no. Stuart throws the next joke away by selling lottery tickets where you can win as much as a million. He expresses his willingness to share the big winnings, but one of the passengers will have to share, because it is they who have to buy the lottery tickets. I listen carefully to the repetition of the joke in Italian, but my language frequencies do not work and there is only noise.
About Rome. Our group of travelers are dance friends, and we are going to Italy to visit an Italian friend who lived in Riga for about a year, and only returned to Italy the day before. You can only guess where we met her, on the dance floor of course. I have mentioned her in my previous articles, this is Valeria. She will be our hostess for Rome. Before getting off the plane, I have to mention another joke, this time from the pilot himself. We arrived in Rome 15 minutes ahead of schedule and, according to the pilot, not even the comic book character Flash could have done it so quickly.
Rome! The plane empties quickly and the air typical of southern countries rushes into our lungs. First purchases in Rome. We buy train tickets to the city center , after three attempts at one of the ticket machines we realize that we can’t make it because the machine doesn’t work. We go to the train station, which is in the next building. The next ticket machines are right next to the train checkpoint. We buy four tickets – that means we are a mini-group and instead of 56 euros we pay 40 euros. A train, a chat and we are in the center of Rome, where Valeria is waiting for us.
Valeria informs us that the metro in Rome is currently undergoing renovation works and at night the metro is replaced by a bus. We get our metro/bus tickets and are ready to go to our temporary home for the week. The bus is quite crowded, as in the busiest hours of the city Riga. A few stops and we are in the apartment area and can go and settle in.
In the apartment block, the facades of the houses are being renovated. Also our house. Our windows will be closed for the next few days, but we’re not worried because we’re only home at night and our eyes aren’t open enough in the mornings to use the windows by its primary function.
Valeria not only met us at the train terminal, but she came with us to the apartment and stayed with us overnight. And most importantly, she cooked us dinner. It is hard to imagine a better welcome. We are very lucky to have Valerie with us, as it will be invaluable in the days to come. We are eating pasta and drinking our first Wines, which will be like water with every meal during the week. We divide up the rooms and beds.
Not everyone’s first night is filled with sweet sleep and colorful dreams, but for me it passes quickly. The first day tourist attractions are here. Thanks to Valerie, we were able to take it easy on what to see and in what order to do it. We actually only scheduled time to visit the Vatican Museums when we were in Latvia. Everything else was just thought on the spot in Rome. We walked towards the sights and enjoyed the warm weather.
Before going sightseeing, we need to recharge our energy and we do that with an Italian-style breakfast, i.e. sweet breakfast and cappuccino. This will also be the only morning that is distinctly sweet, as the other mornings we stick to our mentality and eat saltier things for breakfast. We choose wine as a side dish already at breakfast.
We cross the border of the Old Town of Rome, a real wall preserved on every corner, and arrive at our first sight. The Basilica di San Giovanni, which doesn’t quite impress with its large size, as all historic buildings in Rome are very large, but it’s the various small artefacts on every corner that catch the eye. The entrance to the basilica is by the baggage control, which in Rome is at the largest and most important buildings. As well as at several buildings, men with automatic rifles were seen, mostly at the exit points.
Like all empires, the Roman Empire brought many artefacts from other cultures to its home. In Rome, you can find an obelisk decorated with Egyptian symbols on every corner (13 ancient obelisks in total). On the courtyard side of the Basilica is the first obelisk we see. We are educated that all the Roman obelisks decorated with so-called pagan symbols (according to the Catholic religion) are topped with the symbol of the cross at the top of the obelisks, i.e. to preserve them as a historical testimony, because they wanted to demolish them so that Rome would not have pagan symbols. An interesting way of “getting around” this contradiction.
The next basilica (Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore) is here. An obelisk at the entrance door. Entrance through security. And the jewels delight our eyes.
Watching and walking can make you tired, very tired, so we need to recharge our batteries with a little food break. Let us not forget that wine is an integral part. We try the local crispbreads. In addition, we eat a slice of pizza. And we are ready to move on.
Over hills and valleys, the terrain of the region is just like this, we arrive at the Coliseum. Crowds of people, both passing by and queuing to enter. Valeria says it’s not worth going inside because the queues are enormous, it’s enough what we can see from the outside. We walk around the area around the Colosseum and are taken to the best places to see the Colosseum and its surroundings. Historical evidence on every corner, viewed by thousands of tourists, including us.
Walking around, we regularly meet people who want to sell something. One of them thinks I’m Chinese and John is African. Very typical Latvian features. So for the next few days we use these new identities. Including my new Roman name – Maximus Sicilius.
As we reach the top of another hill, we have reached Rome City Hall. A beautiful plaza with a great view of the city.
On every corner there is a building to see, sometimes building after building. Next to the city hall is another basilica (Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli), with lots of steps to get inside.
Up, down and on to the next building. Huge building (All white marble). In front of the building there is an impressive statue in honor of Victor Emmanuel || (the first King of Italy). As many steps as the church stairs, or even more. It is notable that the more challenging places to reach are less visited, as it takes some effort to reach the top, as with any thing in life. Reaching the top of the building, we enjoy the views of the city and catch our breath for the climb down. The way down is organized through the inside of the building. So the hot weather outside doesn’t bother us, as the buildings are pleasantly cool.
We had a good run on the first day, and the energy is still there. We are taken in search of our first ice cream. Fast forward, I think the best place for ice creams we ate. Great choice, long queues and very tasty ice cream. I try to repeat my new Italian words to get to the gelato I want, but end up not getting one of the flavors. The most delicious one, because I tried it from other buddies. This ice cream place specializes in chocolate flavors and it’s good here.
There are so many places and buildings to see in Rome that you might think you’d have to stick your head in the air and just look. The next attraction is different. You will have to look down, because there is an elegant fountain (the Trevi Fountain), which enchants with its size and splendor. The pool part of the fountain is full of coins, as this is the place where wishes are dreamed by throwing coins. The first for returning to Rome, the second for finding love, and the third for marrying the love you have found. The coins fly and everything is done according to plan. It will be worth it to return to Rome. The next wishes will have to be worked on.
Time for a more serious meal break with wine or a cocktail. Valeria said that if we eat and drink wine, that’s what you do in Rome, and if we talk about food and what we’re going to eat later while we’re eating, that’s 100% Roman. We polished these skills well during the week, because at the beginning, like Latvians, we are silent when we eat and sometimes we throw out some random words. Our outdoor café has its own name, but… at least I thought I saw the actor Benicio del Toro there, and in our group the place is unambiguously named after the actor for the next few days. Here was the most delicious Negroni cocktail, I had tasted it in several places, including outside Rome. Tasty crispbreads and snacks with drinks. Darkness falls without you noticing, as sunsets come quickly here and the sun hides behind the horizon, literally falling into emptiness.
At dusk, we go to the Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti), where we make our own selfie and climb to the top. The number of steps is at beginner’s level, compared to the number of steps on the day’s sites. At the top of the hill, you can still see the last attempts of the sun to illuminate Rome.
We go towards the park, which is close to the Spanish Steps. At the edge of the park there is a wonderful terrace with the lights of the sunset. Beautiful! Once again, Valeria is leading the route, and we follow and enjoy.
As the sun disappears, we walk down the hill to the square. There are a few fountains in the square, arranged around an obelisk.
Before going out on our last food and drink tour of the evening, we meet two more Latvian dance friends who have been living in Rome for some time and will continue to do so. There are seven of us. We go to the wine restaurant. Wine, snacks and wine. Time moves a little “faster” at times like this.
It was such a day! Before going to the apartment to recharge our energy, we pick up more wine at the wine restaurant, because that’s our equivalent of water. Valeria takes us to the bus, where we learn to use public transport on our own. The last meters and we are ready for bed.
Wednesday morning starts quietly. The fridge is not quite empty, as we have wine, which is used as a breakfast snack, to go on into city after breakfast. We know the approximate meeting point with Valerie, so we look at the map and choose the nearest café for breakfast. This time it’s Latvian-style bread, without sweets.
Our first attraction is the Fort (San Angelo), which was used as a prison for a while. A circular structure (only the central part is round) on the river bank. We meet Valeria at the fortress, but she doesn’t come in because she has been here before and there is an entrance fee. There are not many exhibitions to see in the fortress, but from the fortress itself there are good views towards the city. There is a café at the top of the fortress. There you can enjoy the views of the city at a leisurely pace. The most impressive view is of St Peter’s Basilica, and the café is on that side. The daytime air temperature stays around 30 degrees, and it’s a bit hot in direct sun. It is pleasantly cool in the embrace of the fortress walls.
We finish our visit to the fortress and cross the river of Tiber to meet Valerie and continue our journey. A new idea of the ice cream is planned and successfully realized. The best ice-cream places are recognizable from the distance, as you can see a long queue. Our chosen place is no exception. This time we have chosen different flavors and colors.
With ice creams in hand, we go to the next square (Navona Square), which has an obelisk in the center (it would be a surprise if it wasn’t there), but this obelisk has a beautiful fountain at the bottom (Fiumi) and is definitely different from the others. At the end of our ice-cream break, we have a closer look at the fountain and enter the nearby Church of St Agnes.
We go to the Pantheon, 100 meters further. There is a long queue. The Pantheon is a circular building with a hole in the middle (a light opening) in a huge dome, through which water was historically stored. The visit to the Pantheon is quite short, but memorable because of its size. A building of all the historical deities/idols united under one roof. Even today, almost two thousand years after its construction, the dome of the Pantheon is the largest structure of its kind made of concrete. It is 43 meters in diameter, 9 meters for a light opening and 22 meters high.
Time for eating after walk. We are taken to the nearby market square, where we plan to take a break with local goodies. Directly translated from Italian, we’ll eat in the Flower Square.
There are not many plans for the rest of the evening. So we go wait for the sunset, enjoy the warm weather and see the surroundings.
The number of objects viewed per day decreases rapidly in proportion to the energy level. Thoughts of the next day’s plans come to mind. Before putting an end to the day’s activities, go for something to eat. The evening is devoted to meatball dishes. Five different types, three main ingredients – meat, cheese and sauce of choice. There are also veggie balls. Valerie’s friend Kristina joins us. Eating, drinking wine and new Italian words. Some dirty words Italians use regularly. This desire to teach foreigners something indecent is present in all cultures, we do not resist it and use the newly learned words as part of our inside jokes.
After the meal we go for a short walk. Everything eaten settles into place and we can stop for a last drink in a café. We say goodbye to Kristina and go to accommodation.
The day of the Vatican visit. Individual tickets must be purchased very early as they are simply not available. We bought them through a company who actually charge a 100 percent mark-up. The original price is €17, but through company it is €35.
First breakfast in the flat, because we packed the things we needed the night before and started the morning at a leisurely pace. The trip to the Vatican is not difficult as the metro runs from our place of residence and stops exactly where we need it. We are exactly one minute before the appointed time at the building of the ticket company, where we receive instructions on how we will be taken to the Vatican entrance. Stickers on a t-shirt and the whole group (~50 people) is taken on a walk of about 200 meters to the Vatican entrance. We go through security, follow the group flag, get our entrance tickets and all cooperation with the company ends. The tour can begin.
We use the central café to refresh ourselves a bit, as we have thought about visiting St Peter’s Basilica, but realizing that there will be long queues and a few hours spent in the Vatican Museums, we postpone this idea. The Basilica has free entry, which guarantees long queues for such a popular place.
We started the day without Valeria, as this was a new one just for us. Next we plan to meet her, and together we will explore the villages outside Rome. Metro, meeting and off we go to Nemi, a village well known to Valeria. We drive Valeria’s car and she is our driver. The village is next to a lake. Sunset is approaching. The journey itself takes about an hour, but I spend most of the way napping. There were good views towards the lake.
After Nemi, we have dinner planned in the next village (Ariccia). Where we enjoy five different versions of pasta, with different fillings. Before that we warm up with wine and snacks (local meat).
After a tasty meal, we stay a bit in the village, at the infamous bridge where a lot of people have committed suicide. Safety nets have been installed on both sides of the bridge to prevent people from jumping. The bridge offers a spectacular view of the center of Rome. The magic of the bridge itself cannot be seen in the dark, but the numbers are impressive. 312 meters long and 59 meters high. The highest bridge in the region.
We go to the car to go back to the apartment. The trip back is quicker. This day felt like it went by quickly, but these feelings will intensify everyday and each day will seem to go even faster.
The fourth day is now completely scheduled outside Rome. Already overnight we are planning how we will drive and what time we will drive. The morning is quite calm, but there is a slight rush, as we have to catch a train, and we still have two metro rides to get to the scheduled train station. We will meet Valerie at the train station. We take the metro and get to the station, as if on time. We have less than 10 minutes, no ticket, no platform and we have not met Valerie. While John is on the phone with Valerie, I find out the platform. The minutes tick by. We walk very smoothly to the platform. We arrive at the last minute and the train doors are closing, but we get in. I buy tickets on the Internet, which theoretically have to be registered before boarding, and for this particular trip, they cannot be bought at all because time has run out. The ticket control starts right next to us, but the controller is understanding and allows us to buy tickets for the next trip, register them and start the trip. Also, the trip started three minutes late, which doesn’t happen often here because the trains leave on time. Valeria says we are very lucky, but we say we have contact with the driver and the trip to Tivoli can start.
The Tivoli stop arrives quickly. A visit to Villa D’Este is planned. Sample the local delicacies before starting the day sightseeing tour. We start with ice cream, but then see more… piadine – tortilla bread (slightly salty), with vegetables, meat and other goodies in between, in a variety of ways, all you have to do is choose your preferred set of flavors.
Fed and watered, we can go towards the villa around the corner.
From the outside, there is nothing to indicate the size of the villa, especially the size of the gardens. Paid entrance. Not all areas of the villa are open to tourists, but those that are open contain artworks. The rooms themselves are not super impressive, as the greatness of the Vatican Museums still comes to mind, but the atmosphere is pleasant. There are not many people. Everything changes when the indoor tour is over and the gardens of the villa open up to our view. This is something we have not seen before. Labyrinth-like passageways with dozens of fountains. In the middle of the garden, several pools and a central set of fountains. Beautiful!
After the tour of the villa, we have to eat to recharge our energy reserves. While having a snack, we checkout what time the next train goes back to Rome. We have dinner planned for the evening and a social dance event after dinner. We will dance Salsa.
Everything is going according to plan. We’re on the train back to Rome, going to the apartment, change clothes, ready for dinner and later the Salsa party. The preparations are going smoothly. We are ready to feast on local pizza, various other local snacks and wine. Two of Valeria’s friends join us for dinner. Giulio and Claudia. Each with their own type of pizza, one tastier than the other.
After a good meal, we can move a bit. We plan to do this at the Salsa Party, where Valerie’s parents will also be dancing (they have been dancing for 13 years). Giulio and Claudia are going home. A quick goodbye and the party is coming up. Here the parties start a bit later than in Latvia. Normally around 23:00. We stay until the last song and would be ready to dance even longer. The party was very well attended.
We go to bed later each day. After the salsa party, it’s closer to morning. The next day will be a real rest day, so an hour here or there means nothing to us.
We are awake and ready. Valerie and we have arranged a meeting point at one of the metro stations, where we will take the car to the sea. The main feature here is that the seafront is divided into paid and free zones. Not quite the sea itself, but in the paid areas, the black sand is divided into blocks managed by different companies. Residents can buy single-entry cards or subscriptions. Valeria has two subscription cards, which include umbrella. We buy three entry cards and we are ready to sunbathe. The day is spent very calmly and leisurely. The place closes at 19:00, but we leave a little earlier to watch the sunset from the nearby terrace, as sunset is just before seven. The sun disappears. We return to Rome for our last evening walk, as our flight is at 6:00 am.
There are some dishes we wanted to try in Rome but haven’t yet. Last night to make it happen. Trapizzino is on our minds. A street food made of pizza dough. The shape is a triangle, i.e. half of a toaster bread. Toppings of your choice.
The week passed quickly. The last thing we plan to do is eat ice cream. This was definitely the longest walk for ice cream. We walked about three kilometers from the trapizzino eatery to get ice cream (not the first one, as there were several ice cream shops). After eating the ice-cream we had to take the same route back, as Valeria’s car was near the trapizzino eatery.
Last trip to the apartment. Farewell to Valeria. We really enjoyed her company. We look forward to seeing her in Riga!
I put the alarm clock on because there is not much time left for sleep. 61 minutes and I’m getting up.
The trip to home is leisurely. We take a taxi from the apartment to the central station (Termini). Then a train to the airport and two flights. We are home.