Saturday, April 25, 2015

Rome - Saturday - 4/25/15

Thank God we landed in Rome safe and sound!

Air Italia plane

I was very lucky because I slept the majority of the plane ride, which was about 8-9 hours. We landed in Rome at 12:30pm, which was 6:30am our time.  Eric barely slept, maybe 1 or 2 hours, but he's much more durable than I am so I knew he'd be fine.

When we went through customs, the agent sitting behind the glass carried on with a personal conversation on his cell phone while he glanced at our passports.

We were officially NOT in the USA anymore, haha!

We were relieved to find both our checked bags safe and sound, and eager to get to our hotel. We were staying at the Westin in Rome because I have Platinum status with Starwood hotels. In total, we'll be there for 5 nights, and 2 will be free with my points.

I wasn't sure where to go to get a cab, or even how much it should cost. Eventually a decent looking man approached us and offered a ride in his van for 90€. Immediately, I knew he was trying to scam us. That is almost $100 and there is absolutely no way it costs that much to cab downtown. 

I approached the information desk and the lady smirked and rolled her eyes when I told her the price we were quoted to get to the Westin. She pointed us in the right direction and said a cab should cost around 50€, which is exactly what I was expecting.

In no time at all we were in the cab and pulling into the Westin. The cabbie drove aggressively just as I expected, but we made it safely. I paid him 50€ and headed inside.

I didn't see much of Rome during the cab ride, but the entrance to the Westin was quite impressive. The street was wide and lined with large trees on both sides. It looked like we were staying in a very nice area. I was getting more excited by the minute.

Roadside view of the Westin. I love that Italian flag!

Beautiful tree-lined street

Westin entrance at night

We entered the hotel and the interior reminded me of ancient Roman luxury.

Reception and Concierge desks

Tropical birds of paradise in the lobby

Eric relaxing in the lobby

The employee at the check-in desk said they needed another hour or so before our room was ready. We dropped our bags off with the bellhop and headed out to find some of that famous Italian espresso!

We walked about a block and stopped at a cute little cafe.  

Little side-note - If you ask for coffee, you might get a blank stare. I was surprised to learn that they don't typically brew coffee in Italy, just espresso. If you want coffee, ask for an Americano, which is a basically a cup of coffee brewed from espresso beans.

Cafe where we enjoyed our first Italian espresso beverages

It was very pleasant so we sat outside

I ordered a frappe and Eric ordered a cappuccino

We sat at the table, drinking our espresso, and stared at one another. We couldn't believe that after all this anticipation and travel, here we were in ROME. Neither of us had been to Rome before and coincidently, the last time we were both in Europe was May 2006! It's been awhile. 

Soon enough it was time to check in. We headed back to the reception desk at the hotel and within a few minutes an extremely nice lady escorted us to our room. We were on the 4th floor in an enormous corner suite. If I had to guess, I'd say this room was at least 1,000 SF.  Eric said it was the largest room he's ever stayed in.

Entrance to our corner suite

We LOVED this gigantic bed. So spacious

Bathroom was huge too. There was a separate tub and shower

My favorite corner

Large living room, separate from our large bedroom!

We could have thrown a party in this room!

One of our views

Needless to say, we were thrilled with the suite. All my traveling for work sure paid off! After I photographed the room, we unpacked and immediately headed out. We felt anxious to get outside and explore this exciting new city!

Borghese is an enormous park in Rome, similar to something like Central Park in NYC, and it was only a block from our hotel. I had heard great things about the park, so naturally it was our first destination of the day. 

Entrance to Borghese Park

As we began our walk through the park, I kept thinking to myself, "OMG I can't believe I am in ROME!" I have wanted to go to Italy my whole life and felt so lucky to be able to travel to this international destination!

The park was full of people ranging in every age. Families, couples, kids, and tourists were scattered everywhere. This park was happening and seemed like the place to be in Rome! There were stands everywhere selling food and beverages.

Stand packed with people in the park

These cool stands were all over the park

I loved the festive and lively vibe I was feeling. Hanging out at the park seemed like a big part of the culture here. I wished my family was there to enjoy the experience with me!

There was a pretty pond, and people could rent rowboats.

Lots of people having fun in rowboats

At one point, I walked by this mother and her child who was misbehaving. The mother started screaming "Basta Basta!" which means " Enough Enough!" Gosh, I wish I spoke Italian!

Eric and I were experiencing sensory overload. There was so much to see and so many people to watch!

Renting these bikes was a very popular activity in the park!

Happy to be in Italy!

Eric just taking it all in...

Beautiful park

You can legally drink alcohol anywhere in Italy, so many people were picnicking and enjoying a bottle of wine or beer. The best part was that I didn't see a single person acting out of control. It was a very pleasant and fun atmosphere.  In the US, I could see this type of freedom turning into an outdoor frat party. 

Rome is so ROMANTIC

Eric trying to figure out which direction to walk

We decided to exit the park and head into the city. I couldn't believe how crowded it was. We roamed around the streets and ended up in a huge plaza full of people. 

People everywhere!

The very crowded square

There was an enormous group of teens hanging out on the steps of the church. I tried to remember what I was doing at 14 or 15 years old. It definitely wasn't hanging out on the steps of an ancient church in the middle of Rome. The lifestyle is so different here. 

We needed to eat, and picked a restaurant right off the plaza with outdoor seating. 

Where we ate our first meal in Rome

We sat at a great table outside facing all the action. The service was good and so was the food. We ordered water (and you have to pay for water), house wine, soup, salad, and homemade pasta. My soup and salad was fresh and tasty. Eric enjoyed his pasta, but didn't think it was anything special.

Expensive water you have to pay for

Eric's first plate of homemade pasta on the trip!

My soup was full of fresh vegetables

It was an enjoyable meal and we did a lot of people watching. However, we later realized these types of restaurants cater to tourists and aren't authentic. We were told by locals that a "real" Italian restaurant doesn't even open for dinner until 7pm. If you ever see an employee standing outside trying to lure people in, run! That is the classic sign of an inauthentic tourist trap. Throughout the entire trip, we only made this mistake twice and instead used our concierge for recommendations and it really helped!

The weather was beautiful and warm and we still had energy to tour around, so after paying, we walked right into the shopping district. 

To say it was crowded would be an understatement. The entire street was full of storefronts, and there was a wall of people walking in both directions. 

I felt way too overwhelmed to shop, but I enjoyed looking at the window displays. 

Even though the entire street was packed with people, cars were actually allowed to drive through! Every few minutes, a path would clear and a car would drive by at 5 mph honking the horn. Unreal.

Heading into the crazy busy shopping district

I truly don't understand why anyone would want a fake designer anything

Shortly after walking through the shopping district, we found ourselves in front of the Trevi fountain! Unfortunately, it was under construction, but I could imagine how incredibly impressive it would have been.

No water in the Trevi fountain, but there's a ton of pennies in there!

Bummer - Trevi fountain was under construction

It turns out that our hotel was very close to the Trevi fountain, which is quite convenient. We continued our walk and I took photos of everything. 

I used to be obsessed with this store!

Pretty fountain

So far I was impressed with Rome. There's a beautiful park, endless plazas, restaurants, great shopping, historical sites every time I turn, and lots of quaint cobblestone streets. It was better than I was expecting, but more crowded. 

Cool street in Rome

I began to notice quite quickly how much people smoke in Rome. There was a constant stream of second hand smoke being blown into my face from every angle (okay I am exaggerating a tiny bit, but it sure felt that way). I passionately loathe smoking, so this was a problem! The smell actually gives me head and stomach nausea. I found myself plugging my nose and holding my breathe to avoid getting sick. 

Despite the smoking issue, we made it back to our hotel and were ready to shower and sleep. We were both exhausted but super pumped to continue exploring Rome. We decided to get a head start on the next day, and placed a room service order to have our breakfast delivered at 7:30am.

It was very successful trip to Rome so far and I couldn't wait for the next day!

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