After being in Lucerne for three days, I was sad to leave such a beautiful city, yet excited to arrive at my next destination, Zürich, where I would meet up with my mom. She met me in Switzerland so that she could join me on the trip for the final week I would be in Europe, and I couldn’t have been more excited. The plan was that she was going to meet me in Switzerland, and then we were going to fly over to Rome for five days. We were then going to fly back to Switzerland where we would explore the country a little longer before we would make our way back to Houston. The other exciting part was that while in Rome, we would meet up with my cousin Sadie, a teacher, who decided to come see the Eternal City during her spring break. So, it just so happened that on my final week across Europe, I got to have two of my favorite people in the world by my side, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. After nearly two months of traveling alone, it was nice to be around people that I could be silly around and laugh with…and that is all we did for the five glorious days that we were together in Rome. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I had to get to Zürich so that I could meet the Little Nugget, a nickname I gave my mom a long time ago since I tower six inches above her. I arrived to the city the night before she was set to land, because she was originally supposed to arrive early the next morning. However, due to her first flight being delayed by several hours, she was unable to make her connecting flight. So, she got rerouted, and in turn, didn’t arrive to Zürich until late that afternoon. By the time I finally got to see her and embrace her in a great bear hug, she had been on planes and in airports for nearly 24 hours. The poor thing was exhausted, but she still put on a smile as we walked around the city and caught up on two months worth of talking.
She made it!
Just like that, Traveling Cara had turned into Traveling Cara & Cheryl, and everything was right with the world. Talking a mile a minute, we toured Zürich for the rest of the day and indulged in a Swiss favorite, Rösti, that is basically a giant hash brown in a skillet topped with cheese and a fried egg. Delicious? You bet. Shortly after, we went back to the hotel because Mom had some serious jet lag, and the Little Nugget was out by 9.
The next day, we hopped on a plane to Rome: one of the destinations I had very much been looking forward to. Ever since I had seen Gladiator, I was fascinated and in awe of the city…and Russell Crowe. I think my mom was even more excited than I was. Being both an artist and art teacher, she was thrilled to get to finally see some of the world’s most well-known landmarks and art, including one of the items on the very top of her list: the Sistine Chapel. When we landed in the airport, we met up with Sadie. Just one year apart from each other, I guess you could say we’ve been best friends our whole lives, so I was thrilled to finally see her. It was like a mini family reunion in an Italian airport.
Since Sadie had already been to Rome twice before, she was a professional and knew what she was doing, so she got us the perfect apartment to stay in while we were there. It was spacious and smack-dab in the middle of the city. We were in the perfect location for all of the major sights we wanted to see.
Although Sadie and mom had some major jet lag, we had just a few hours of the day left so we decided to go on a night walk to see some of Rome’s main attractions: Campo de’Fiori, Piazza Novona, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. NOTE: The night walk was recommended by Rick Steves, an European travel guru. My mom brought his Rome travel book along with her, and it was actually very useful. He has books on all of the major European cities, as well as a website complete with all of the information you could ever need. The guy even has his own television show. So if you ever go to Europe, at least check out his site. You can thank me later. Any who, the walk was absolutely beautiful and the Roman landmarks sparkled at night. It seemed to make the city even more magical, if that is even possible. Wide-eyed and amazed, we ended the night with some gelato, something that would become quite common throughout the rest of our trip.
The Pantheon dome
Sadie making a wish at the Trevi Fountain
The Trevi Fountain
Gelato with a view
The next morning, mom and I woke up bright and early so that we could beat the crowds at the Colosseum. Since Sadie had already been, she did her own thing and met up with us later that day. The Colosseum was one of the main things I wanted to see. I was fascinated about the whole premise behind the giant arena. Luckily, we went on a weekday right when it opened, so we were able to skip the lines and walk straight in. The oval amphitheater was massive, and having been completed in 80 AD, I was amazed at how much the structure was still in tact. In its prime, the Colosseum could hold up to 80,000 spectators. I could just imagine everyone piling in, both royals and peasants alike, to see the most popular (though very gory, violent and twisted), sporting event in Rome. Citizens would watch and cheer as other human beings fought for survival in the arena. Humans fought humans, wild animals fought humans, and animals fought animals…to the death. Although disturbing, there was so much history in that amphitheater.
Right across the way from the Colosseum was the Roman Forum, the next thing on our agenda. The Forum is a rectangular plaza covered in ruins—what used to be the center of the ancient Roman city. It was magnificent, and once again, it was hard to believe that some structures were still standing after all of this time. Ruin after ruin, we weaved in and out of the Forum, as we saw various basilicas, monuments, and structures from the Roman empire. I would also like to note that it was absolutely gorgeous outside and made it even more enjoyable. The sun was out, and I didn’t have to wear my purple Michelin Man jacket, so I would say it was a successful day. When we met up with Sadie, we walked around the city and once again, ate gelato. Surprise!
The next day was more focused on the arts and museums. It was recommended that we go see the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, so that was our first destination of the day. The palace was home to a large art collection that dates back to the 16th century. It was complete with several galleries featuring beautiful pieces of art, as well as a family chapel, large and intricate tapestries, and a peaceful courtyard adorned with blooming orange trees. It was a one-of-a-kind experience and we were there for the most of the morning and into the early afternoon. Afterwards, we took a quick lunch break to refuel and grabbed some pizza by the slice, and then the three stooge-ettes were back at it again. Our next stop was the National Roman Museum, which was good, but compared to the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, it couldn’t compete. The museum had a lot of statues and busts of different people throughout the Roman empire, and there was a whole floor dedicated to just tapestries that was absolutely amazing.
After knocking out two museums, we all walked over to Castel Sant’Angelo. The giant cylinder that towers over the city has been used as a mausoleum, castle and a fortress over the years. The most stunning feature about the structure was the view overlooking the city. The Roman skyline was spectacular, and you could see St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance. It was one of those moments where I couldn’t look away, and I never wanted to leave the Eternal City.
Our next stop was Villa Borghese Gardens, one of the largest public parks in Rome. It reminded me of Central Park in a way, complete with a carousel, a café, street entertainers, and towering trees along the shaded pathways. The sun was starting to set, making for a beautiful view. I couldn’t help myself and stopped at a dessert shop while we were there and ate a super tiny and adorable cannoli.
Her “Jackie O” look
Day three was all about Vatican City. Once again, we woke up bright and early to beat the crowds, with an agenda to see the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. In order to get to the Sistine Chapel, we had to weave through the museums. It was packed, but definitely well worth it as we saw an immense art collection accrued by the Popes over many centuries. And then, there we were: face to face with the Sistine Chapel. Pictures were not allowed, but my goodness it was breathtaking and exceeded all of my expectations. Being an artist, I think my mom was in awe the whole time we were there, with her head pointed straight up at the ceiling that was painted by Michelangelo. I’m not going to speak on her behalf, but I think that was one of her favorite moments while in Rome. After staring in amazement at the intricately painted frescos in the chapel, the next stop of the day was St. Peter’s Basilica. By this point, I had seen many churches and cathedrals over the past weeks, with each being beautiful in its own right. St. Peter’s, however, took the cake. The Italian church displayed beautiful Renaissance architecture and amazing artworks. One of the largest churches in the world, it is no wonder why so many people from all across the world make the pilgrimage to the Catholic church each year. St. Peter’s Square was just as amazing, complete with an obelisk, massive columns and marvelous fountains, all overlooking St. Peter’s Basilica. We had spent nearly a full day at Vatican City, and it was well worth it, too.
St. Peter’s Basilica (photo taken by Sadie)
…she took this one, too
St. Peter’s Square at night
Mom, Sadie, and I walked back to the apartment after a long and adventurous day. I think we were all still in amazement at what we had witnessed. We stopped by the local market to grab some fresh bread, mozzarella, and wine, where Sadie had the brilliant idea to make some appetizers before dinner. We opened the apartment windows as we could hear the bustling crowds on the streets below us, and we talked, laughed, ate, and laughed some more. It was our last full day in Rome, and we were going to take full advantage of it. Just like that old saying goes, “It’s not where you are, but who you are with.” Although, where we were was pretty amazing, but it was even better that I was surrounded by my two best friends. I was finally with people who understood me and my weird, sarcastic humor. So, there we were on our last night in Rome. For one final time, we walked around the city as the sun started to set. We ended the night at an Italian restaurant, that in my opinion, was the best meal I had eaten during our time in Rome.
The next morning was the last day that my mom and I would be in Rome. We had to fly back to Switzerland where we would be there for the next two days, and then we would make our way back to Houston. Sadie decided to stay a few more days in Italy, and the time had come where we had to say our goodbyes…but not before one last adventure. The day before, Sadie and I had wanted to climb the stairs to the top of the dome at St. Peter’s, but it had closed right before we got there. So we crawled out of bed at the break of dawn so that we could get to the top. As we climbed up the steps of the dome, the stairs got smaller and smaller as we got close. It definitely wasn’t made for tall people, but Sadie and I (both right under 6 feet), were bound and determined. We finally made it. The weather was perfect, the view was spectacular, I was slightly out of breath, and my legs were feeling nice and toned. The city’s skyline seemed to go on for miles, and it was the perfect way to say farewell to the Eternal City.
The view from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica
Just like that, it was time to leave. Out of all the cities I had visited on this trip, Rome quickly made it to my list of favorites. We were able to accomplish a lot during the time we were there, but there is still so much I would like to see and do, as well as visit other parts of Italy. You can bet that I will go back someday, but for now, Arrivederci, Roma.