Below is the continuation of my Europe trip blog. If you don’t start at the beginning, they don’t make much sense! Thanks for reading! :)


Back on the bus we drove off the ferry, drove across the bridge, and started on our way to our final destination on the tour: Roma! Although the drive was quite long, it wasn’t as long as I expected it to be. We stopped at another Aggrip gas station/rest stop after Fritz woke everyone up… and we ate at Ciao again. Not amazing but not bad. Definitely fast food quality. Ally and I ate alone this time, and intensely planned what we were going to do in Rome from maps and brochures.

Outskirts of Rome

Upon arriving in the outskirts of Rome I woke Ally up and said “we’re in Rome! When in Rome! When in Rome!” I know, I’m so annoying. I’m not sorry. It is so fun to say “when in Rome” when you’re actually in Rome. You have no idea. Or maybe you do. Ally was pissed off and said “this isn’t Rome.” Right then we passed a car junkyard that Jelle proceeded to tell this joke about: “My friend always says that’s not a junkyard, but the woman’s parking lot” Ally fell back asleep. I don’t blame her. The outskirts of Rome aren’t very impressive. It’s hard to see the epicenter of Rome from the outskirts, there aren’t any skyscrapers or distinguishing tall landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Eye in London.

Upon arriving at our hotel, the Prime Area Hotel (what kind of name is that for a hotel?) which was very ironically named because it was nowhere near the “prime area” of Rome. More like the ghetto. The hotel itself was very nice, but it was in a very shady part of town that the cabbies couldn’t even find with detailed directions. Another lobby with beautiful mod white furniture and flat screen TVs… but no internet in the rooms. Just the lobby! When we got in the elevator to go up to our room, 208, we shared it with Mohammed’s mom, who was so sweet but couldn’t speak English. It’s funny how easily humor transcends language boundaries though, because when I went to push the button for floor 2, I got very confused by the number pad the elevator had because it was vertical instead of horizontal, and the numbers were placed in a very odd way on the buttons with weird stripe designs all over them. It still couldn’t find the button for two, and finally Mohammed’s mom held up two fingers and started laughing at me, followed by Ally laughing and calling me an idiot and pressing 2 for me.

Hotel Room in Rome

When we got in our room we were pleasantly surprised how nice it was… marble tiled bathroom, huge leather floor to ceiling headboard on a beautiful, super comfy king sized bed with a flat screen TV. Even in what was a very nice hotel, the shower was so small I was banging my elbows on the walls again!

We didn’t stay in the hotel long before we had a bus call to do our included excursion of Rome.

Spanish Steps

First we got dropped off near the Spanish Steps, which I must admit I knew nothing about before the tour, despite them apparently being one of the most famous landmarks in Rome. They are quite beautiful and humongous… I was very thankful we only had to walk down them and not back up. At the base of the steps there was a mob of people sitting on them, and a cute fountain that people were filling up their water bottles in. All the fountains in Rome, big and small, have safe drinkable water flowing out of them.


We followed the road past the Spanish Steps down a ways before coming across the magnificent Trevi Fountain. Much larger than I expected, it looks more like a huge swimming pool with fountains flowing into it than a fountain. Ally did the honors of throwing coins in the fountain, while I video taped. All around Rome we spotted recently married couples getting wedding portraits taken, but my favorite was here at the fountain… a gorgeous Italian couple were getting their portraits done by a very professional looking photographer, and along with many other tourists I snuck a few shots of them. Thankfully they didn’t seem to mind at all. What else can you expect getting your portraits done at one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions?

Italian Couple at the Trevi Fountain

Next up on the walking tour was Hadrian’s Temple, which looks so archaic and beat-up you wonder how on earth it survived so long. It’s pocket-marked all over not because of war or decay, but because over the years the metal serving as structural support between the stone and the stone itself had been removed to be re-used… the same reason the Colosseum is in ruins. Earthquakes and wars contributed slightly, but these structures would be in much better shape if not for neglect and recycling of their marble and metal. Hadrian’s Temple was remarkable to behold… simply knowing you are in the shadow of a building that’s been standing since the year 145 is incredible.

Temple of Hadrian

Next on the tour we walked through a restaurant and shop filled alleyway and came out into a huge square – Piazza della Rotonda, home of the Pantheon. I had to take a deep breath and just stand in awe for a few moments at this one. Having studied the Pantheon and it’s brilliant dome and oculus in Professor Zaho’s Art History class, I felt like I had stepped into my text book yet again. I wanted so badly to go inside and behold the marvelous oculus, alas it had just closed to visitors about a half hour before. Another thing to do next time!

Pantheon b&w

Moving swiftly along we passed through another alleyway filled with shops and restaurants… by this time knowing full well around every corner we would step into another fantastic square with something else to marvel at. The next one didn’t disappoint – it was Piazza Navona, home of the Four Rivers sculpture/fountain and the something Palace. Our local guide told us the history of the fountain, and how each of the four rivers and four men represented the 4 continents (back when they thought there were only four)… as she was speaking I walked all around the fountain taking pictures… then I scooped up some water from the fountain and splashed it on my face… quite refreshing and clean! Our guide then announced we were free for an hour to eat before the our bus call to take us back to the hotel.

Piazza Navona

To Ally’s delight just a stone’s throw away from the fountain was a restaurant on the square that she had wanted to eat at (she researched a few of the best restaurants in Rome before we came and it just so happened to be one of them) The place was called Tre Scalini and like all the other restaurants in Rome most of the seating was outside on the square, with a picturesque view of the fountain and the twilight sky sourrounding it.

Tre Scalini's Fettuccine Alfredo

Our waiter was absolutely adorable and very funny. I ordered the Fettucini Alfredo. It was the most delicious Fettucini Alfredo I’d had since the first and only other time I had it at an authentic Italian restaurant in ‘Italy’ at Epcot. It’s a shame that Olive Garden, Maccaroni Grill, Maggiano’s and all those other American Italian chains can’t get Fettucini Alfredo down. After having the first entree in Italy that lived up to (and exceeded) the hype of authentic Italian cuisine it was time to order desert… what else but some chocolate gelato? Around this time we realized that we had only 5 minutes until we had to be at our bus, yet we had just ordered our desert! Since we were in a very convenient location on the square it just so happened Jelle walked right past us on his way back to the bus… and we told him we weren’t going to make it and we’d find our way back. This made our desert much more enjoyable knowing we didn’t have to cram it down our throats. We took our precious time finishing up our first dinner in Rome, and by the time we were done night had set over the square in a lovely shade of cobalt blue. The fountains and shops were all illuminated and bathed the square in a lovely warm light…

Tre Scalini Dessert

We paid for our dinner and parted ways with our fantastic waiter and strolled through the artists and merchants throughout the square to a toy shop at the opposite end. It was like stepping into a weird, small FAO Schwartz. The shop had a spiral staircase to a second floor overflowing with stuffed animals… the bottom floor had a few life size knomes and horses you could sit on or pose to take pictures with… not to mention a lovely collection of toy cars, mostly Italian sports cars. We bought a few gifts for our brothers and then we were on our way.

The Pantheon at Dusk

Since we had missed the bus we decided to trace our steps back through the city and eventually catch a taxi back to the hotel. We passed by the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain and night, both of which have a completely different look lit up at night. We finally came up on a street corner with lots of cabs, but before grabbing one we decided to stop in a cute little gelateria Ally spotted. As if we hadn’t had enough gelato, Craig and Ally both ordered more. I was just too full. The gelateria was owned by a wonderful man named Valentino, who guaranteed us it would be the best gelato we had ever tasted. He was so passionate about his gelato and was such a delightful man… we stayed and talked to him a few minutes about where we were from and he showed us some awesome old pictures he had on the walls of his shop. Ally and Craig both agreed it was the best gelato ever.

Fontana di Trevi



After Ally and Craig finished the gelato we finally got in a cab and headed back to the hotel, and upon turning a street corner a few minutes into the drive we saw something coming up in the distance we all started screaming like little girls about – the colosseum! Up until this point we still hadn’t driven past it or seen it, and here it was! We were about to drive right past it, and our nice cab driver drove nice and slow after realizing our excitement about seeing it. It’s partially lit up at night and is apparently still open, because they’re were crowds of people still gathered around it.


Upon waking up the next morning we grabbed some food in the lobby and made our way to the bus for our final full day on the tour. Our first stop: the Vatican. Francesco gracefully took our huge bus through the winding crazy streets of Rome until we came to the fortified entrance to the tiny country, which doubled as the entrance to the Vatican museum. There was a humongous line to get in, but as usual, we skipped the lines and got right in with the tour. I almost felt bad for the people in line.

Entrance to the Vatican

After going through the metal detectors and all that fun stuff, we had entered our 6th country of the trip! Our local guide took us through corridor after corridor of ancient treasures, each hallway more ornate and glittering than the last – the walls and ceilings were just as or more impressive than the artifacts and art being displayed on them. Some of the highlights were the finest and best preserved middle ages tapestries, and ancient maps of Italy. After what seemed like a mile of walking through the museum, we came upon the Sistine Chapel. You walk through this relatively tiny door/ staircase and come into the ethereal space that’s covered in the greatest art ever produced. The room is abuzz with about 100 people all gapping and gawking at the art encompassing them, but since it’s a chapel the guards like to keep it quiet for prayer. So about once every 2 or 3 minutes all the guards would issue a loud SHHHHHHHhhhhhh… and the volume of the room would drop to a whisper, only to gradually rise back up again to conversation volume… and this cycle occurred about 10 times while I was in there.

Creation of Adam

Even though you weren’t technically allowed to take pictures or video, this didn’t really stop anyone. The guards were fairly strict if they caught you, but they were very outnumbered and it was still very easy to get pictures without them noticing. I simply kneeled down in the crowd of people so my camera would be invisible while I took dozens of photos and videos.

Eventually we had to leave, but it wasn’t too sad since the next stop was St. Peter’s Basilica. My brain was already on overload but it was pushed over the edge here. I took about 150 photos in the 10 minutes we were in there. The Pieta is housed inside, as well as almost all the pope’s tombs and countless works of art and beautiful things to stare at. You could spend a day in this building and still not see all of it. We took a tour all the way around the central alter, and as we were leaving a choir started to sing and a mass procession began down the aisle.

St. Peter's Basilica

Bernini's Baldacchino


Next we made our way out to St. Peter’s Square. They were setting up for something and thousands of chairs were placed in front of St. Peter’s. We hung out for a while in front of the church, waiting for a few of our tour mates. We were then given some free time to get some food or roam about the Vatican & Rome… so we hopped across the border back into Italy, which was just across the street, and ate some pizza or something at a little cafe. Then we went in the Vatican gift shop and bought a rosary for my mom, which is then blessed by the pope and delivered to your hotel later that night.

Swiss Guard


Then we headed off to the Colosseum! We parked well above it on a hill and got a nice view of it, and then had a fun little walk to get there. Upon arrival we got in very quickly, as usual, and took an elevator to the top to work our way down. Our local guide told us the history of the place… but I had long since zoned out and was meditating in the thoughts and emotions of this crazy building… where the first Christians had been thrown to the lions for sport. Where gladiators battled for freedom. Where mock naval battles had been staged by filling the arena with water. We slowly made our way down level by level, and plotted our upcoming free time with our tour friends.

Inside the Colosseum

Arch of Constantine Pseudo Tilt-Shift

Next we decided to head over to the ruins of ancient rome across the street. I grabbed some gelato along the way, which was delicious and refreshing in the very hot Roman sun. It was a long and sometimes steep climb to the top of the hill where the ruins were, but we made it… and surveyed the remains of the city that literally laid the foundation for modern city life as we know it.


Some areas of the city were in such good shape, you could imagine ancient Romans still living there… it felt a little spooky, since these ruins are essentially an ancient ghost town. There are no guards, no people patrolling and no guides through it… and it was surprisingly deserted up there. I walked around the corners a few times by myself, wondering what I’d find…

Abandoned Roman Ruins

Circus Maximus

After a half hour or so in ancient Rome, we headed back down the hill, sweaty as can be, and had the option to go back to go back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner, but as usual, we didn’t take it. We decided to take the few hours we had off to try and find Vespas to rent. Emphasis on the word TRY. We ended up convincing our friends Chanel and Rob to come with and we trekked what seemed like miles through the city trying to hunt down a Vespa rental shop. When we finally found it, they wanted an obscene amount of money for 3 hours when we only wanted to rent the Vespas for one hour. We made the smart but unfortunate decision to not rent them, and went a few blocks down the street to a “Mackers” to drown our sorrows in Big Macs and fries. Yes, we ate at McDonald’s on our last day in Europe. And I don’t regret it at all. Finally we caught a cab back to the hotel (not surprisingly, our cab driver got lost trying to find it).

Colosseum at Sunset

We then returned to a restaurant on the other side of the Colosseum for our farewell dinner, with a view of the sun setting behind the massive ruins. Dinner was strange but delicious, a more traditional Italian meal that I had never had before. We spent a lot of quality time with our tour mates, and one of the Aussie families gave us all little Koala bears. We reflected on all the awesome things we had done in the trip, said our farewells and took pictures together, then boarded the bus and headed back to our hotel.

Tour group in Rome

The next morning was a very sad one. Only a few people were actually flying home from Rome that day, most everyone else was spending another day there or continuing on to other European destinations. We traveled to the airport with only Val, Pam, Jelle and Francesco.

At Fumiccino/ Leonardo Da Vinci Airport (the airport in Rome has two official names) Ally and I had some time to kill and Euros to spend, so I bought my only souvenir of the whole trip – a Ferrari pen – and Ally bought some cool stationary stuff and a tiny little pen (we like pens I guess?!) and then we waited, and waited, for our flight to London.

Upon arrival in back in London we got a killer view of the city from the air, and the sky was clear almost the whole flight so I also got a good view of the Alps as well, and pretty much our entire route that took two weeks by land I got the see again by air in just a few hours.

Flying into London

To save money on our flights Ally and I had to schedule our return flight to include a stay overnight at LaGuardia in NYC… little did we know that they don’t let you pass through security back into the terminal until just 3 hours before your flight, and our flight was 9 hours from then. We had planned to simply sleep on the floor at the gate, but this destroyed that plan and rendered us homeless in NYC for the night. Needless to say we had no other option than to find a hotel, so we waited in the hour long taxi line and stayed in one of LaGuardia’s “airport hotels” which was actually 15 minutes away in the ghetto of Queens. We checked into the hotel at 1:00am, and we found out we had to get the 5:00 shuttle back to the airport if we wanted to play it safe to catch our flights. The woman who checked us into the room checked us out 4 hours later with a puzzled look on her face.

After two weeks of travel, six new countries and lots of new stories and adventures under my belt, I made it safely back to Nashville (and Ally back to Orlando) at 9am, and was picked up by my coworker and driven straight to work. Good thing I love my job.