All roads lead to Rome… except for those in the Americas. And Australia. And Greenland. Etc, etc, etc.
But before getting to Rome, what better way to truly appreciate its immense global and cultural significance than first visiting a city that is… marginally less significant?
Thus, Bologna!
No, not the nasty mystery lunch meat, the city in Italy. We had a few days before we needed to be in Rome, and at first were planning to stop by Florence, which I’ve heard is very beautiful. But there was a rideshare leaving from Bologna to Rome when we needed it, so… Although Florence is on the way from Bologna, so maybe he could have just picked us up on the way…
I just like to pretend I don’t have those after-the-fact-better-ideas.
We faced the typical situation of “hello, we are in this city, now where shall we rest our sweet heads tonight?” situation upon arriving in Bologna, except this time it was early afternoon, not 8pm. We would have gotten to Bologna earlier but there were long, long lines to book tickets at the Venice train station, and only one person behind the desk. One poor, poor person who was probably supposed to have had a lunch break by then.
Once in Bologna we discovered an espresso bar with free wifi (Italy is fantastic for coffee, you can find espressos/lattes everywhere for about one euro). We hadn’t heard back from any of the CSers, so we rattled and creaked our luggage to a B in town. As in, a B&B called a B&B, that did not serve breakfast. It was really just an Italian grandma, that had decided to make money by hosting people in some of her apartment’s bedrooms. She spoke no Italian whatsoever but chattered away to us as if we understood what she was saying. We eventually figured eveything out and had an exchange of euros, towels, the wifi code, and keys. We walked to a nearby grocery store for some ice cream cones (we weren’t that hungry, so skipped straight to dessert), and relaxed that night watching a Romcom.
The next day our ride wasn’t until the evening, so we headed out to see eveything of interest in the great city of Bologna. Actually, we were just focused on finding food first. It was Sunday, so most places in town were closed. We stopped to peruse a few places that were too expensive, and it wasn’t until past 11am that we spotted a good place to eat. We bought a delicious pastry at a bakery, for breakfast, then crossed the street to eat lunch at a Chinese restaurant that was really reasonably priced. It was run by a small Chinese family of parents and their daughter. The daughter was our server and we struck up a great conversation with her. She had a beautiful, radiating smile and gave our morning a great start. Her parents had owned the restaurant for 20 years, and she had started helping out as soon as she was old enough. Even though she couldn’t go where or do what she wanted, she had no bitterness, but was content with helping out her family. We exchanged info and invited her to come to Seattle someday, since her parents were talking about retiring soon.

We then continued on our city tour…but Bologna seems to have even less to see than Aalborg, which is amazing. We did have some gelato – the prices here for ice cream are twice as much as Germany, but here you get portions twice as big – and found two towers, big landmarks for the town. I choose to pay €3 to climb to the top while Olivia decided to wait for me at the bottom, at a coffeeshop.
It was about 500 stairs to the top and took a while because only one person can fit on the stairs at a time, so you have to stop at the corners and wait for people to pass. The view at the top was beautiful, a dizzying sea of brick red at the tower’s foot, that changed to the rolling Italian hills, dotted with villas and cypress trees, in the distance.
Reunited at the bottom, we wiled away the couple remaining hours until we had to drag ourselves away to meet up with our ride to Rome.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try Spaghetti Bolognese in the place of its origin during our short stay. Missed one of the two things to do in Bologna, drat. I’ll just have to go back..

Since everyone in Rome was on holiday, we couldn’t find a couchsurfer at home and able to host. But we were able to find a place owned by a CSer for only €15 each a night. From there it took us only about 20 minutes to travel into the city center on a very old, rickety tram.
The unique thing about visiting Rome is that it was really the one place we visited on this trip where our sandals could walk where Paul’s sandals walked… beyond just seeing Christian artifacts and catacombs, for the first time we slipped into the outskirts of Bible lands. And that was neat to think about.
We spent three whole days in Rome and saw all the highlights – the Coloseum, the Pantheon, an overlook of the city, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Stairs – and we spent an entire day in the Vatican City. The line into the Basilica was long and wound in a circle all around the huge courtyard, but it moved quickly. Italy is the first place we’ve been that has signs about what you are allowed to wear in churches – but the Basilica was the first place I’ve seen that enforced those rules. Your shoulders and knees had to be covered to enter. They also asked for silence, but obviously with the whole church packed, that wasn’t going to happen.
All of the ornate, lofty churches I’ve seen on this trip have been blurring together, but I think I can say that the Basilica is probably the largest and most lavishly decorated place of worship I have seen so far (To get an idea of just how big it is, click here). My favorite part was definitely the Pieta, by Michelangelo.
We then headed to the Vatican Museum, and it only took us 20 minutes in line to get in. The main attraction in the museum is the Sistine Chapel, and the museum is nicely laid out so that you walk through most of the museum in a loop to the Chapel. The Chapel is nicely simple, besides the paintings, so that you can give them your full attention until your neck gets too sore to look up… I don’t know when they were restored but they were in better condition than I’d been expecting. My favorite of the paintings is definitely the classic, of God reaching towards Adam…
We had a great time at the place we were staying in Rome. It is always a nice change to have a kitchen and to be able to buy groceries, not to mention cheaper! We would eat lunches out, usually pizza, and cook up some pesto pasta when we got back.
In Rome the street vendors are much more pushy as they try to sell water, hats, parasols, and other trinkets. This is also the first city where we really have to be more careful with our bags, as thieves abound. I felt someone try to unzip my backpack once as we were walking between metros and turned fast, but he slipped into the crowd. It was a good reminder to be careful.
On our last night in the city we met up with a couple from France/Germany that were renting the other spare room in the flat. We walked to a few churches, watched one of the street spray paint artists, and ate dinner at one of the streetside cafes.
The next day we left the “Capital of the World” for northern Italy, cooler weather, and some more – mmm – pasta!