Chapter 35: When in Rome
Back in Italy (after nearly missing my flight). Let the fun begin.
Hello from Sicily, and welcome to Backpackin'! If you want to follow this weird trip around the world, add your email below:
While there were a few road bumps (read: I am an idiot) that almost kept me from making my flight, I am writing to you from Italy. A bit of context before we dive in to my favorite online diary.
My grandma, who we affectionately call "Mama Ruth" (her real name is Ruth, for those who were wondering), takes every grandkid in my family (6 of us total) on a trip anywhere that we want to go when we're 11-12 years old.
As you have probably figured out, I am not 12. I'm actually 25, and I am the oldest grandkid in the family. My younger cousin Grady is 12. He was supposed to go to Japan with Mama Ruth last year, but that didn't happen. Something about a virus shutting down international travel, idk.
Anyways, they redirected and decided to go to Italy and Spain this summer instead. As it turns out, I recently spent a few weeks in each of those two countries, making me a potential tour guide! So Mama Ruth invited me to tag along. Unlike last fall, when I slept in random hostels (and occasionally on a train or two), I get to sleep in nice hotel rooms.
For two weeks anyways. They are flying home from Spain in two weeks. I will not be flying home in two weeks, because there is too much cool stuff left to do, and not enough time to do it.
For those curious, I wanted to go on an African safari when I was 11. It was sick. We got chased by an elephant. We also took a hot air balloon over the Serengeti National Park, which was cool until our pilot (?) hit a tree on the way down and almost killed us all.
(I was just as much of a nerd as you would assume from the pictures. Probably more so.)
So back to Italy.
I'll be spending the first two weeks of this trip entertaining my 12-year-old cousin, which means we will be eating our body weight in pizza and gelato and looking at cool old stuff like the Roman ruins. It (probably) means we won't be going out (as much), but that really depends on whether 12-year-olds are allowed in local watering holes. Honestly, there's probably a 50/50 shot. Kid has a big vocabulary, he can pass for 15 at least.
After those two weeks, I'll be headed to Sevilla to see some friends, then to Barcelona to crash on Mike's couch, and then probably Greece. I am very excited to take a plethora of basic white girl pictures on a Greek island.
BOOMERANG INSTAGRAM STORY OF CLINKING DRINKS ON A BOAT INTENSIFIES
But for now, Italy.
Sunday, May 22nd
Today was my flight to Italy. Mama Ruth and Grady took a shuttle from Middle Georgia to the Atlanta airport, arriving four hours+ before our 7:40 PM flight. I decided to be very responsible, and went to sleep relatively early on Saturday after one of my best friend's engagement parties (congrats Trey and Savannah, very cool 🤝).
So Sunday comes around, and I hit the gym, grab some lunch, finish my laundry, and pack my bags. And yes, I am sticking with backpacks for this trip. This blog isn't called "Suitcasin'."
Now to enter Italy, you either have to be vaccinated or have a negative Covid test. However, vaccinated doesn't just mean vaccinated. It means vaccinated within the last 9 months. I was vaccinated exactly 9 months and 5 days ago, which means that I am, at the current moment, an existential threat to nations around the world.
Luckily negative Covid tests work too, so I popped by CVS, picked up a rapid test, and knocked it out at home.
I took a timestamped picture of the results, and assumed that I was good to go. As you can probably guess, I was not good to go.
I wasn't able to get my mobile boarding pass to load, because I kept having issues verifying my Covid test (naturally).
My other grandma, Janie, scooped me and took me to the airport. I had to wait in line at the check-in desk for an hour to get my pass. When I finally made it to the front, the lady told me that I couldn't board the plane because they won't accept my test.
I was vaccinated 4 days too early, and my negative test, which I could verify by both a live photo and CVS receipt was from the day before, apparently wasn't good enough.
For those who may be in a similar situation, get your test done at a test center lol.
"Well my grandma and cousin are at the gate. I'm vaccinated and I have a negative test which apparently isn't the right kind of negative test, and my flight leaves in 2.5 hours. Now what?"
"I'll go ahead and print your boarding pass and hold it here at the desk. You better go get a rapid test at a clinic."
At this point, it's 5:00, and my flight leaves at 7:40. No bueno.
So I call three clinics, and the only one that is both open and has rapid tests is in Buckhead, the neighborhood that I live in, which is on the opposite side of Atlanta from the airport.
I walk out of the airport, say a few choice words, call an Uber, and offer the driver $100 cash to floor it to the clinic and wait for me in the parking lot. Luckily, they were ready for me when I walked in, and I was able to go from airport to clinic to airport in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Back at 6:15, I scooped my ticket and made it to the gate by 6:45.
I even had time to grab a double roast beef cheddar sandwich from the airport Arby's, which is as greasy as it sounds.
(An aside: I mentioned earlier that the desk worker printed my pass but wouldn't give it to me until I came back with my test. Well when she printed it, the mobile pass appeared on my phone. I seriously considered rolling the dice and just going through security with the QR code after she told me to go get a test lol. Glad I went with the test anyway.)
Mama Ruth probably thought I was an idiot. I thought I made great time, all things considered. After previously missing a flight from Scotland to Copenhagen last fall because I didn't spell my name right on a ticket, this was but a minor road bump.
Oh, and our flight got delayed by over an hour so it didn't matter anyway. But whatever. We finally took off at 9, and I watched Grady take about a million photos of the window. As someone who has also taken a million photos out of a plane window, I think that must be one of the most shared human actions.
All in all, not a terrible Sunday. Tomorrow I shall resume my journey of only eating pizza for every meal when I'm in Italy. Apparently Domino's is huge over there.
I also found out that my study abroad roommate from 2018, Mason, is in Rome right now as well! I'm currently 4 hours from Rome, but I hope that we'll be able to link mañana.
Monday, May 23rd
We made it to Rome (and I probably slept 30 minutes total on our 9 hour flight), and got through customs no problem. Mama Ruth had booked a van to scoop us from the airport yesterday, since there was a non-zero chance that I would miss the flight, and she didn't want to be stranded.
We got the our hotel (Doubletree by Hilton in the middle of the city, great spot) around 12:30. On the flight over, I had booked a tour of the Vatican for 3 that afternoon. We got a taxi and headed straight there.
Grady and I were sleep-deprived and almost passed out in the car on the way over. We were supposed to join a larger tour, but we ditched the group once we entered the museum. It was like 35 people, and honestly our guide wasn't great. We sorta speed-ran the whole thing (or as much as you can speed-run with your grandmother) until we hit the Sistine Chapel.
Side note: I hate how commercialized they've made the Vatican. Nothing screams "holiest place on Earth" like 27 gift jobs littered throughout the corridors. Maybe God is a raging capitalist, but I think there was something in the Bible about Jesus overturning merchant tables out of anger in the courtyard of the temple. Fate loves irony, I suppose.
Mama Ruth took the elevator back to the bottom while Grady and I took the stairs, but we ended up in different locations somehow. Took a good 20 minutes to link back up. We headed back to the hotel and took like a three hour nap.
We were also sharing one massive hotel room. Grady and I shared the king bed, while Mama Ruth was on a twin bed in front. Still way better than hostel lounging.
That night the three of us grabbed dinner down the road, then I headed out to meet up with my buddy Mason.
As mentioned above, Mason was my roommate when I studied abroad in Spain four years ago. He recently quit his job to travel a bit before starting med school, and he solo backpacked all over Spain for a month or two before going home for his girlfriend's and sister's college graduations. Then his whole fam + girlfriend (Paulina) flew out to Italy for a couple of weeks. Worked out well that we all ended up in the same town.
I met them at some dive bar 15 minutes from my place. I probably talk to Mason once a week, but we haven't seen each other in a while. Always good catching up with old friends.
So we're putting down some adult beverages when a group of Brits walks up. Five dudes. Honestly don't remember all of their names, but one of them had two nicknames: Gay Dan & Sloth. His friends called him Gay Dan when he wore a fedora, Sloth otherwise No idea what his actual sexuality was, I'll let you guys be the judge.
You can probably guess which one was Gay Dan.
Anyway, we start chatting and doing the usual "Oh you're American? *insert some sarcastic reference about America*" and "Oh you're British? *insert some sarcastic reference about the UK*."
They asked Mason and I if we wanted to smoke some fags (read: cigarettes, it is the British slang for cigs), as is tradition.
We all hung out for a good three hours, and we decided that we would hit the casino the next night.
I got home around 3 AM or so.
Tuesday, May 24th
Big touristy day! I had booked us a tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. We headed to the Colosseum first. The Brits from the night before had a tour at a similar , but I didn't see them. I did, however, see Jonathan Munneke on a tour with his family. Jonathan and I interned together at GEICO in 2019 and we actually lived in the same apartment complex for a year in ATL. Small world.
Wild Jonathan siting.
Another girl named Anna that interned with us flew to Rome the day we left. Really small world.
After the Colosseum tour, I took Grady to see the Forum and Palatine Hill while Mama Ruth sat in the shade. We walked around and saw all the ruins, and Grady did a bunch of typical 12 year-old stuff like talking about random things and making jokes that aren't all that funny.
I also spend most of my day-to-day doing the same typical 12-year-old stuff, to be fair.
It was scorching outside, and the terrain was quite hilly. Not a great combination imo. I also ran into Jonathan two more times at the Forum.
After we finished the tour, we bought tickets for one of the "Hop on, hop off" buses to get an incredibly touristy view of the city without having to use our feet. They sat in the shade, I got fried in the back. Then we hit an Italian restaurant near the Spanish Steps for lunch.
At this point, all of my non-breakfast foods have been pizza.
We headed back to the hotel for dinner, and Grady and I grabbed some gelato 🤌🏼I had a couple of meetings at 9 PM (I do, unfortunately, have some responsibilities now. Unlike the last time I was in Europe.)
I was supposed to go the the casino with Mason, Paulina, and the British dudes, but it turns out that Rome doesn't have casinos! We hit another dive bar instead. One of the Brits was named Jack, but he sadly did not make it out on night two. Apparently he had a rough Monday.
We met a couple from Wales who was in town for a wedding, and all ~9 of us went to a karaoke bar to close down the night. Nothing attracts Americans like a weeknight karaoke bar in another country, and we ran into a ~dozen or so Americanos once there.
Feat: Paulina, me, Mason
Made my way back home around 3 AM, had an early train to Venice in the AM.
Currently writing to you from Palermo, Sicily. I'll send another update on Sunday about all things Venice and Palermo. Until then, ciao ✌🏼
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