When in Rome: Exploring Italia

By Maddie Rosa*

Rome panoramic shot
Bella Roma

Well, I’ve passed the halfway mark and I am officially in panic mode.  I finished my first class, took the final, got to spend ten days with my mom while she visited, have started class #2, and now only have 23 days left of this once in a lifetime adventure. I feel like a broken record… but WHERE is the time going? Cheesy, but time really does fly when you’re having fun.

Where to even begin… my mom came to visit me during our ten day break between the June and July sessions and we had the absolute best time.  Having her in Italy made me realize that traveling is an amazing experience, but it’s an even more amazing one when you are able to share it with the people you love. It made me so happy to see how much she loved it here, especially Florence and all of Tuscany. We began our trip together in Florence and stayed here for three nights in a cozy apartment owned by a charming older Italian couple, Mario and Maria.

two women by the Colosseum
Sight seeing with my mom at the Colosseum

Maria spoke no English and Mario did the best he could, but the two of them were so warm and welcoming that the language barrier did not even seem like a barrier at all. Our apartment building was actually a transformed medieval tower which only added to its character.  I took her to my favorite places to eat and all of the must-see tourist attractions and museums. She couldn’t believe the large, grand scale of this beautiful city and it made me think of my first days in Florence which now, looking back, seem so far away. 

After spending a few days in Florence, we took the train to Rome. A piece of advice, get your train tickets in advance, and by advance I don’t mean the night before (like we did). Italian culture is extremely laid back and slow-paced, so no one behind the counter or standing in line next to you cares that you want to get out of there, you just have to go with the flow while they talk to their colleagues for 15-20 minutes “just because.” It’s very hard to explain to someone new to Italy/Europe that this is just the way things work (sorry mom). 

view of infinity pool in sunset at hotel
The view from our hotel

One hour later, we finally have our tickets for the next afternoon to Roma. The “Eternal City!” We could hardly wait.  Also, keep in mind my mom reserved our tickets to the Vatican Museum literally months ago, maybe even before I had my plane ticket. Since we packed the night before, we were feeling very proud and organized and had a relaxing day of shopping and browsing.  Well, it turns out we were a little too relaxed because my mom forgot the credit card she wanted to use (of course the one with no international fees) at my apartment in Florence and did not realize this until we were on the train. The train was very nice and a quick, smooth ride, and when we got to our hotel we couldn’t even believe how beautiful it was.  There was a rooftop terrace with an outdoor infinity pool, white curtains, and the sunset definitely helped.

One of my roommates also was able to make it to the post office before they closed to overnight the credit card to us in Rome… so we thought.  We knew Italian post was not very reliable, but there was no FedEx office in Florence and we had to take the chance. My roommate said“overnight” and “tomorrow” a dozen times, but when the shipping costs only came to 1.10 euro, we knew it was a lost cause. We shook that one off and decided to shower and freshen up for dinner at cute little restaurant right next to our hotel.  I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but I was actually a little sick of Italian food and decided to order an Italian style cheeseburger, and boy am I glad I did.  It was basically a caprese salad (tomato, mozzarella, basil) on top of a fresh, delicious burger.  Only in Italy could a cheeseburger be so gourmet.

Moral of the story, when in Rome remember your military time

The next day, we made the short 20 minute walk to the Colosseum and were blown away the history and culture that lingered inside its walls.  We knew it was old… but not 500 A.D old! The feeling of standing in something so ancient and still in-tact is indescribable.  Later that day, we were to tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, or at least we thought.  As you may know, Europe operates on military time.  Our tickets said our entrance time was 15:00, so the whole day the two of us are saying “great, 5:00!” Wrong, 15:00 is 3:00pm, and we did not realize that until we had already walked over an hour to get there. So, the sole reason we went to Roma, to see the Vatican museum, was an epic fail.  On top of the lost credit card and missing our tour, on our hour-long walk back towards our hotel, I noticed my mom’s legs had broken out into a red, blotchy, hive-ish disaster.  Good thing there’s a pharmacy on every single corner in Italy. Moral of the story; when in Rome, learn your military time!

 Chianti hotel

The next morning we took a taxi to the Hertz rental car office so we could spend the next five days in Chianti.  Now, I’m so glad we rented a car for the week, but at the time, we were both looking at each other thinking… how on earth are we going to get out of this jungle? Rome is comparable to the New York of Italy in the sense of its traffic and population. The street signs and directions are all different, and people in Italy drive as if there are no traffic laws or lanes between vehicles.

Inside the Hertz office, there was an older gentlemen who we thought worked there, but soon came to realize he was just passing by for a visit (typical Italy). We got to talking and told him we were very nervous about making it out of the city center in one piece and finding our way to Chianti.  He said that he just happened to be heading that way and would be more than happy to let us follow him.  Hallelujah!! Finally, a light at the tunnel to this disaster of a trip in Rome.  Luckily, my mom knows how to drive stick and just happens to have a bit of road rage, so she had no problem keeping up with Sandro. He pulled over on the side of the highway to tell us that is where we need to go, but first said “it is lunch time, so you will come and have a sandwich with me before you leave.”  He took us to one of his favorite panini shops and we enjoyed lunch and a coffee with this lovely man. Even though he thought my name was Mary (as many Italians do), he was our guardian angel for the day. 

I could go on about the beauty and our amazing stay at Villa Campomaggio in Chianti for days, so I will just leave you with pictures instead so you can see for yourself! Chianti was and will always be one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever seen.  The rolling hills lined with vineyards, Cyprus trees, and olive trees is a view I will never forget.  The people, food, wine, and views made for the most amazing and relaxing end to our ten day trip.  

view of vineyard from car
views of the vineyards

*Madeline Rosa is a UI junior majoring in communications and human relations. She is currently studying abroad on the Lorenzo de Medici program(link is external) in Florence, Italy.

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