An Amateur’s Guide to Rome

Ciao and benvenuto to another installment in my amateur’s guide series where I, an amateur, give you an insight into my travels where I’m not really sure what I’m doing! 2017 is the year of visiting countries I’ve never been to before, and this time it’s Italy; probably one of the most romanticized countries ever. Cute cafes on each corner, mopeds speeding along beautiful tree-lined roads with beautiful villas on hilltops.

I knew I wouldn’t be going to this idyllic scene. I was going to the capital, Roma. A place filled with rich history and ruins,

In & Around

Rome is definitely a lot bigger than I thought, but it’s still super easy to get around. The metro, while not like the underground with it’s mainy lines and routes, is still super helpful and inexpensive.

The main station of Rome is Termini station, this great big thing slap bag in the middle of the city with a shopping centre inside. Coming from Fumicino airport, The Leonardo Express is your best bet right into the city with no fuss. But taxis and buses are also readily available.

There are two lines on the metro; red line and blue line. I didn’t even set foot on the blue line, but I assume it operates in the same way as red but only going a different route. The metro is perfectly safe, and I often saw armed soldiers roaming near ticket booths and information points which – seemed a little excessive. But, considering there was a terrorist attack on the London underground while we were away, I can’t say that it didn’t make us all feel a little bit better.

Doing Stuff

I think the main sites of Rome, the ones in all the guide books, are The Vatican and The Colosseum. These were, without even opening up a website about Rome, places I knew for a fact would be huge, busy and need a good portion of a day to do.

For both, without a prebooked ticket, you’re going to be queuing a lot. I saw lines so long they stressed around the walls of The Vatican and I’d heard from previous holiday goers that they had regrettably not bought a ticket and queued for as long as 4 hours. FOUR HOURS OF YOUR HOLIDAY. STANDING AROUND DOING NOTHING. So buy a ticket if you want to get in and spend that time actually sight seeing.

The Vatican and The Vatican museum was by far the most boring part of my trip. As a family of non-religious people, we were hoping to at least be enamored by architecture and paintings and the history behind Catholicism but instead there was just a lot of shuffling around hot corridors and being pushed through The Sistine Chapel. It was very disappointing, and the crowds made my anxiety flair.

St Peter’s Square was a little different; it’s free, more spacious, and much more impressive. We sat there taking pictures, eating ice creams, and ignored the men selling roses.

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I feel like they need a whole paragraph. Throughout Rome, there are people selling crap you don’t need. They do not respect your personal space and will shove a rose or fidget spinner or anything into your face even if you’re sat down, speaking to someone, or taking a picture. There are also people hired by tour companies around major sites that make it seem like they’re just offering friendly, free advice, but will eventually coax you into purchasing expensive tours that you don’t necessarily need, especially if you already have a tour prepared and paid for. The whole walk to The Vatican we were accosted by people standing a few feet from one another, attempting to sell stuff. It’s fine to be polite at first, but eventually you’ll want to punch one of them in the face. Just ignore them, just keep walking, and even if you have to stop for some reason, keep ignoring them when they come up to you. Some got angry when we did that, calling us rude, but trust me, they are being much ruder.

The Colosseum was also a little different. The queues were the same, the annoying people selling things were there, but the history, the sites, the ruins were so much more interesting. There’s the Colosseum and Palatine Hill (which I accidentally called Palpatine Hill and then just continued for the rest of the trip) and the Roman Forum, and it’s honestly beautiful. So much history and culture and quiet in the middle of a bustling and cramped city. If you’re thinking the Vatican isn’t your thing, then definitely keep the Colosseum on your list.

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I found while walking through Rome, that Rome is not exactly what I expected. Despite being in the cultural centre of Italy, it didn’t feel very…Italian. However, that wasn’t the case when we visited the stunning and the quintessentially Italian district of Trastevere.

Trastevere is filled with narrow, cobbled streets filled with music, food, drinks and lights. Sometimes you feel like you’re getting lost, but it’s the fun part of a holiday; getting lost in a beautiful city. It felt like a world within a world with it’s own culture and life. It had small cafes with people spilling out of them, fountains, entertainers and small museums. I would recommend coming here for something to eat and peace and quiet from the horrific traffic and graffiti of the rest of the city.

Views

The best place to go for views, without a doubt, is Villa Borghese Park, above the Spanish Steps and overlooking Rome. The best time to go is at dusk, with all the buildings looking orange and the city itself looking so peaceful, while it’s always busy wherever you go, people are chill and quiet, taking nice photos and enjoying the cool breeze up there. I found that it’s popular with couples too so if you’re a couple in Rome then you’ll feel right at home making out on a bench in a park. Seriously, it was like heterosexuality was being shoved in my face but the view was worth it.

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There are also other places with spectacular views, including  the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, Castel Sant’Angelo and Palatine Hill.

Safety and Expectations

So at this part of the guide, I usually go into sleeping arrangements, my hostel/hotel experiences, but as we just stayed in an apartment outside of Rome, I thought to use this space to talk about safety, and the realities of Rome which I found out during the planning and researching of my trip.

Unlike my trip to Copenhagen, I did TONS of research about Rome. I am always mindful that, as a tourist, I am automatically a vulnerable target; I don’t know the language, I’m carrying lots of bags, and I’m in unfamiliar surroundings. Rome is a very popular place to get pickpocketed or robbed. I watched countless footage of it on Youtube actually happening, and of people talking about their experiences. The most popular places to get pickpocketed are as follows; train/metro stations, crowded tourist areas, just after you’ve been to an ATM. But, you should always be vigilant. I wore a money belt which, to be honest, wasn’t really necessary when my mum had a backpack that she defended with her life, but it reassured me that to get to my phone and card, pickpocketers would literally have to feel me up to get to them – which is quite common on public transport. We also avoided Termini station altogether, which is known to be a hot spot for theft. Like I said, Rome is easy to get around on foot and the only time you should have to go through Termini is getting on and off The Leonardo Express.

There are also a lot of street sellers. These aren’t beggars or buskers, they’re just guys trying to sell you stuff and do not care about your personal space. They are mainly in large tourist areas, and are similar to the commissioned fake tour advisors. They’re pushy, relentless, and will trick you into buying things. At one point I was on the Spanish Steps when an American couple asked me to take a picture of them. Right as I was taking the picture, some guy shoved a fake rose into my face saying “1 Euro? I Euro?” and would not stop until I physically pushed him (gently) and yelled “No!” in his face.

And that is my second amateur’s guide of the year! Let me know where you’ve been recently and recommend any places I should visit next!

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An Amateur’s Guide To Copenhagen

Hello, and welcome to the first in a travel series called An Amateur’s Guide, where I, an amateur traveler, will give you a guide to all the places I’ve been and hopefully share with you some tips and tricks into getting the best out of your trips.

While I may be an amateur (and very poor), I’m determined to visit as many places as possible, meeting new people, and exploring beautiful countries and cities that may not be as far from you as you think. I’m going to be splitting these posts into sections; In & Around, Doing Stuff, Good Views, and Sleeps, but also just talking about how beautiful and amazing each place is.

Let’s begin with Copenhagen, Denmark!

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On Feeling Successful (As Told Through A Trip To Copenhagen)

Two middle aged men sit across from me on the train home from Gatwick Airport.

“So what’s your youngest doing now?”
“He’s just been signed to a modelling agency! He’s only eighteen! What about your Sarah? She still at uni?”
“She graduated with a 1st, and now she’s a top marketing executive in London!”

It’s strange that this story starts at the end, when I’m tired and greasy and starving. The flight from Copenhagen to Gatwick was only 1 hour 40 minutes but adding on the waiting and the queuing and the scanning of tickets and passports I’d say it feels like an all day shindig. I rarely eavesdrop on people’s conversations, even if they’re sat so close on an empty train in the middle of the night, but the conversation between the two proud dads got to me.

As a young person who can find fault in everything I do, I find it difficult to feel like I’ve achieved something. I’m unemployed, living at home, with dreams and ambitions that can often seem out of reach. While these things aren’t things to be ashamed of, they certainly pale in comparison to others.

The feeling of success is subjective and ever changing. It can be measured in so many ways, so many little intricate threads that make you proud of the person you are. Success moves with time, and changes depending on the decades, years, months, minutes. I haven’t felt successful in a long time, but on the late night train journey back home from a few days in Copenhagen, overhearing a conversation about the large successes of others in my generation and younger did not stoke the fires of my insecurities, but allowed me to process what I had just been through, or for a better term, what I had achieved.

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Copenhagen was spontaneous. I’d been cooped up in my house, in the little bubble of my life for far too long. I wanted to leave, even just for a long weekend, to experience something else. My friends made excuses (but also valid reasons) as to why they could not come with me. While going to another country on my own is always an option, to me, that was a step too far. But Twitter wasn’t. I tweeted indirectly that I wanted to go somewhere but just had no-one to go with, and hoped someone, if anyone, would take the bait (preferably mutuals of course).

And it worked!

I’d found friends online who wanted to join me and even an old work colleague who heard about my trip. The dates were set, deposits were paid, the flights booked. And then, the anxiety kicked in. Having a ton of responsibility suddenly be hitched onto your shoulders takes a lot of getting used to, and as an impatient worrier such as myself, I found the only thing to calm myself down was to research city maps, how to get from one terminal to the next, what trains to take, where to visit and how long it will take to get there, and to research more into the hostel we were staying in (and try not to let my friend’s exclaims of ‘hostels are dangerous you’re gonna die!’ get to me).

When the morning of the flight came I was a wreck. However, when I’m that nervous, I sort of turn into a shouty army officer who wants things to be done quickly and efficiently without any mucking about. It was that morning that I realised I wouldn’t just be responsible for myself, but also for my work colleague who is younger, less experienced in travel, and just all around a bit dopey with no sense of urgency. Don’t worry, she agrees with all these things.

The feeling of pride and achievement didn’t really set in until we’d checked into our hostel and I lay on my bunk bed and took in a deep breath. I’d done it. I’d gone through the awful experience of airport security unscathed and I’d traveled to another country without any adults whilst also looking after another human. I’d gone on the metro, found the way to the hostel and walked through a city with luggage (a big fear of mine is getting mugged).

And then beyond that; I was able to find my way around a whole new city which was in a different language, tried new foods, met new people, slept in a room with strangers, made decisions for where to eat (because my friends can’t make decisions), and made sure my friend didn’t walk into the many bicycles around the city. I also counted her money for her, made sure she didn’t accidentally shop lift, checked her bag was closed, and got her to stop asking me permission to do something/go somewhere. I was an independent traveler and also a mum.

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I visited a beautiful city in a beautiful country, experienced something new, and looked after myself in a way I haven’t in a really long time. I felt strong, I felt independent, I felt capable. And that to me, is a success. So, while I may not have a top job in London, a fancy apartment, or a million followers on Instagram, I was able to sit on the night train back home and feel just as proud as the dads sat opposite me.

And don’t worry, there’ll be a guide to Copenhagen coming soon!

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This Time Next Year

I didn’t really know how to start this post. I was tagged by Alice at Ardently Alice (thankyou!), and I’ve only just realised that I do tend to think a lot about the future. I’ve been waiting for months for this year to end, to get to an important time to actually begin the rest of my life, and I’ve been doting on January 1st to actually get the ball rolling.

I’m very indecisive with what I want to do with my life, and it really shows with my ever-changing goals. You want to experience everything and anything, but there are always things that get in your way. Instead of focusing on the larger things, I wanted to talk about goals that signify a good change in my life; changes that make sure I do not ever look behind my shoulder at 2016.

Travel


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I’ve always wanted to travel, but the ways and means were always a tad difficult. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where family holidays aren’t exactly what I’m looking for in travel, and there are places that I will never see unless I just shut up and go. My mental health has always been something that has stunted my travel, including my confidence, but 2017 is the year of change and so this year blah blah travel

Move Out


I moved out once. It was really nice. I came home again, and I think it was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. I guess it depends on the person, but to me, once you’ve moved out, coming back is just not the same. I suddenly feel like I am too much for this unit; I am an adult in a setting where I am supposed to be a child, and it just does not fit anymore. I do not fit anymore, which is a sadder way to put it. I am so ready to fly the nest (for the second time) but this time for it to be permanent.

 Learn A Language


Honestly, this is not just a goal, but a dream.

Ever since I could talk, I’ve been in love with language. I was always a fast learner when it came to reading and writing and just breathing in English. And so, when I began high school and was introduced to French (and Welsh), I found I had a natural flair for this thing that I adored. I worked hard, becoming top of my class for both languages…until I moved back to England and was placed in a class with a horrible French teacher and never worked on my languages in school again.

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Now, my love has been rekindled, and if I’m going to be ambitious, I’ll just say I want to know them all. I want to be fluent in all languages. But, if I’m realistic, I’m already fairly alright with French, and I’m getting better at Spanish. I would love to spend a month or two in Spain or France to learn, as well as just using Duolingo!

Physical Health


I know, I’m being cliche, and I feel like I say this to myself every year. But, if I’m honest, I’m at my unhealthiest.

There was a point in my life where I used to go to the gym everyday, and while back then I had fewer responsibilities, I believe that the time to act is now. Even if it’s just little things like drinking more water, eating more fruit, going for walks. I need to do something because improving my physical health isn’t just about looking good anymore, I want to feel good; I want to feel less tired, more focused, stronger, happier.

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Wordless Wednesday // Wanderlust

Welcome to Wordless Wednesday, a new meme created by Grace over at kimmi.egg. It’s here we talk about anything but books, even just for a few minutes.

This week we’re talking about those beautiful places you want to go to but actually you’re stuck in a place that’s not there. Not there is where grey clouds and responsibilities lie, where dreams feel like nothing but a – well, dream.

For lovers of travel talk, here is my travel bucket list:

Paris, France

I have been to France a total of once. It rained a whole lot and for the most of it I queued to go up the Eiffel Tower. But what I really want to do is just walk around and breathe the city in. I’ve always dreamed of waking up in a fancy, Parisian hotel, donned a beautiful dress and just walked and bought pastries and read books on benches in parks. I’ve fallen in love with the language, and I’m ready to romanticize the shit out of this town once again, properly this time.

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Venice, Italy

I have recently fallen in love with fantasy. More specifically, Italian-themed historical, magical fantasy that depicts beautiful, rich cities with Italian food and architecture. Every time someone posts an Instagram of their trip to Venice, I weep. Why am not the one taking fancy Instagrams? Sailing on a gondola through the sunken streets? I know that if I leave it too long (and I mean really long) Venice will be completely underwater, so I really should hurry.

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Santorini, Greek Islands

This one feels out of character and in character for me. I am a lover of the beach and the sun. I have never been on a holiday where the walls were white washed and everything at night just glowed. I’ve seen vlogs of people’s Santorini holidays, of the sunset and the food and the gentle, calm atmosphere, and have fallen in deep, deep love. But at the same time, Santorini, like many of the places I’ve mentioned, have become touristy, with people piling onto platforms to get a good shot of the sun setting, and queueing to get into restaurants and cute bookshops. I feel, if I went here, I’d have to splurge to get the vacation I actually wanted.

Oia, Santorini

California, USA

Fun fact, I’ve never left the continent of Europe.

It’s expensive and it’s far, but California is a place that I feel doesn’t actually exist until I’ve been there. Every movie, show, and book is set there. There are songs constantly sun about it, and it seems every major event and all that’s happening is in California. I don’t just want to visit L.A, I want to visit San Francisco and the national parks too. I want to ride in a convertible through Beverly Hills and step along the walk of fame. I want to see and feel whatever people feel that makes the love this place so damn much. You could also say I have deep, deep FOMO.

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Seoul, Korea

I first started to properly know about this city when a friend of mine from uni introduced me to her massive obsession over Korean culture. She showed me boy bands and television shows that were steaming with references to the city, and eventually I just had to google it. Colourful, vibrant, and busy, Seoul has been one of the largest inspirations for the cities I write about in the novel I’m currently working on. Advertisements and billboards rule, where capitalism is at it’s peak. It’s a modern, technological beauty that I would love to visit one day, despite being on the other side of the world.

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