It was almost ten years ago. A lifetime has happened in between and yet, it’s as though it happened mere months ago. I had travelled widely with my family, spent six weeks in France on exchange and three weeks playing netball and attempting-to-avoid-looking-like-an-absolute-numpty-whilst-chasing-a-soccer-ball-around England, Scotland and France; but what I count as the true beginning of my adventurous aspirations is my grand European adventure that began on the carbohydrate-lined streets of Rome.
The adventure begins
Long-haul flight to London. I don’t think there is another phrase capable of eliciting quite so much dread and eagerness in equal measure. Alas, that was where our grand adventure was to begin, so we had to prepare for a journey lasting almost as long as a Star Wars marathon.
I recall heading for the gates of no return and waving enthusiastically to my parents, who looked less than impressed at how jubilant my sister and I seemed at leaving them behind for five weeks…obviously not the case. *Love you mum and dad!*
After four days in London rife with touristic adventures to London Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and, of course, Pret a Manger, it was time to trade in the characteristic chimes of Westminster for the promise of prosciutto. Oh yes, I would go all the way to Italy purely for prosciutto.
Note: Setting an alarm for 2am is only ever acceptable when travel is involved. So, a pair of bleary-eyed but eager travellers disembarked at Fiumicino airport, boarded an express train to Termini station and landed on the doorstep of Pensione Cathrine.
Getting in was like trying to enter Fort Knox…
The simple life
These days I am not opposed to a little luxury. Let’s be honest; once you’re pushing 30, it’s acceptable to spring for the flat sheet. At the age of 19, however, my tastes were somewhat less refined.
A room just big enough for a double bed, a purely-decorative television and a heater which seemingly wasn’t aware that it was the height of winter were all that welcomed us. It was one of the simplest rooms I have ever stayed in, and one I will never forget.
The one where the shower flooded and threatened to convert our room into an indoor swimming pool. Where we passed around a hairdryer to keep warm. Where a French couple smiled warmly every morning as I bustled around them in the intimate breakfast nook (read: a small table with croissants and hazelnut spread). The place whose doors were armed with such complex locks that slight inebriation was the key to cracking the code. It was perfect.
After settling in, we did what any savvy traveller in Italy would do. We went in search of food. What we found was what makes travel so priceless…
Rodolfo: the hundred-year-old waiter who was actively practising the art of seduction. Despite the near-decade that has passed, I can still see his tender, aged face in my mind. He would go on to dictate many of our daily itineraries, as we sought alternate routes to avoid his relentless invitations for an after-work rendezvous. Ah Rodolfo.
The Colosseum will probably always be one of my favourite sites
On the doorstep of history
What amazed me most then, and even now, was the proximity to history in Rome. After a morning spent exploring the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome, a short stroll down the street placed us in the shadow of one of the most famous landmarks in the world.
The Roman Forum rises amidst the ruins in the centre of the city of Rome. By comparison, the city of Melbourne is home to a building that often tops the list of the ugliest ever seen. So proud.
As we dodged the photogenic gladiators in search of our guide, the Colosseum loomed large in front of us, unveiling the heart of Rome. Personally, I am a huge advocate of guided tours. They provide the lyrics to the music dancing before your eyes; the words for the pages of a picture book.
Having taken a trip back to Imperial Rome, it was time for me to take a big step forward in my life. A step over to Via Cavour for my maiden prosciutto and mozzarella experience. My cheese obsession can probably be traced back to this very moment.
A few steps down the street to the Roman Forum
We came, we saw, we crawled
When a spunky Brit invites you on a pub crawl in Rome, you go. So, we went…and the spunky Brit was nowhere to be found. We crawled to three pubs and the most exclusive club in Rome; Alien. Then, in the wee hours, we crawled home.
My fondest memory of that night was arriving home to the realisation that I had very responsibly locked my backpack…with the key inside. With my best MacGyver impression, I sliced into the pack with a bottle opener. Well, you live and you learn.
Memories to last a lifetime
When asked about my favourite city, Rome is often front of mind. From bustling crowds on the Spanish Steps to the coin-filled waters of the Trevi Fountain, this city had character in spades.
As my first real foray into the world of independent travel, Rome opened my eyes to the sites to be seen, the friends to be made and the experiences to be had.
It ignited my love of travel, and today, the flame still burns bright.
Making friends on our very first pub crawl
5 life lessons
#1: You can trade in a gym session for a day guided by Italian street signs.
#2: Don’t forget your adaptor. Writing home that your very first purchase was an adaptor will elicit confusion and judgement.
#3: Disney films are a great hangover cure, no matter where in the world you are. (Hercules, in case you were wondering.)
#4: Gelati can and should be eaten in winter. You just need gloves.
#5: Even after a decade, you will still remember the song that played on repeat in Termini station.
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