Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

On September 18, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

We hit the ground running in Rome and haven’t stopped yet. (As proof, it’s 2:06 AM when Oren started writing this blog post.) Our flight touched down at 8:15 Monday morning, and after a couple quick stops at Roma Termini to store our luggage and get a SIM card for our phone, we were on our way to the Colosseum. (The flight itself was uneventful, except for the overweight man to my right who monopolized our shared armrest and the toddler behind Cassie who decided to practice his corner kick non-stop on the back of her chair.)

colosseum rome


We could’ve taken the metro for a quick ride to the Colosseum, but walked instead, soaking up as much of the Italian culture and language is we could in our first 20 minutes in Rome. We learned two critical words immediately: Grazie and Nutella.


Even from a distance, the size of the Colosseum is breathtaking, especially for something built 2,000 years ago. It is as beautiful as it is complex. Above ground are the arches that support the massive structure and seats. Below ground are the intricate pathways that led gladiators and animals into battle. It’s easy to imagine the roaring crowd, cheering on the warriors and thirsting for the mixture of sport and death that played out on the Colosseum floor.

History radiates from every building and every street in this area. Nearby is Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, steeped in millenia of history. In America, if something is 300 years old, it’s considered historically significant. Here, if it’s only 300 years old, it’s junk – not even worth a footnote in Frommer’s. The stories of past centuries echo off the walls and cascade down the streets. You don’t see history in Rome as much as you feel it surrounding you. You breathe it in with each step as you walk through the capital of the Roman empire. The structures that still stand – the Colosseum, the Forum – are a testament to the greatness of Ceasar’s realm.

By this point, we were exhausted and jet-lagged on our first day of travel. Given the lack of sleep we got on the flight, we were at a solid 26 hours without sleep. If we had any idea at that moment that we wouldn’t sleep for another nine hours, we might’ve simply collapsed. But we didn’t know that, so we kept moving.

We took a few back roads to the Pantheon, intentionally avoiding the clogged tourist streets. We got happily lost once or twice and wandered around Rome for a bit, drinking in the culture and the coffee. (Starbucks take note. The coffee here puts your $18 latte to shame.) It’s comforting to know that in Rome, you can always find an equally lost English-speaking tourist who can help you find your way. Or you both get lost together, which is just as fun.

Our route brought us to the Pantheon from the rear. This building holds a special place in Oren’s heart, because the Rotunda at the University of Virginia is based on the Pantheon. But as much as he loves UVA, the Jeffersonian imitation doesn’t quite compare to the real thing. The beauty of the Pantheon is worth looking at from every angle – outside and inside, close up and far away. The piazza out front is a great place to sit and admire, while every square inch of the interior is stunning in its detail and elegance.

pantheon rome


Then we headed for the Trevi fountain. It is, without a doubt, worth seeing (and we can’t wait to come back and see it at night). What caught our attention as much as the fountain was the number of people that fit onto the steps of the fountain. The population density here rivaled our flight to Rome (which we roughly calculated at 30,000/mile squared). We’d imagine this would be a great place for pickpockets, which we haven’t run into yet. At least not that we know of… not missing anything. Yet.

We wrapped up our day with a walk through some of the famous Piazzas here – Popolo, Spagna, Republicca, and San Pietro – and a look at the Spanish steps, which is apparently the afternoon meeting spot for half of Rome.


Finally, after 31 hours without sleep, it was time to meet our couchsurfing host. (Cassie recenty went to Vegas, so she was used to sacrificing sleep for a good time.) Gianfranco picked us up near the Colosseum along with another couchsurfer he hosted – Louise from France. The four of us sandwiched ourselves and our luggage into one of those cute, tiny European cars and headed for Gianfranco’s apartment near Castelnuovo – a small town outside of Rome built around a castle.

The night was about to begin. Sleep would have to wait.

We picked up pizza to go and met Gianfranco’s friends at their house way off the beaten path. (To be fair, everything looks way off the beaten path when you’re speeding around small, unlit roads in a foreign country.) Out came fresh pasta and beer to go with small rectangles of pizza (which we couldn’t help but notice were “sliced” with scissors – how un-American). We were strangers here, but we were welcomed as friends. By the end of the night, we were part of la famiglia.

Gianfranco pulled out a guitar and started singing. Soon the guitar was passed around the table – anyone who wanted could sing and strum. When you finished your song, you recharged with some beer and pizza. Then you played again. The day was special for so many reasons – our first day of travel, seeing the Colosseum, etc. – but the night was magical.

couchsurfing Rome

Gianfranco and his guitar

For just a little bit longer, Cassie and I were able to put off sleep. We were sitting with six people we’d never met, and we were all laughing and singing as if we’d been friends for years. Language barriers fell away. Nationalities didn’t matter. We all had one thing in common at this very moment – we were all happy, enjoying every moment in our present company.

When Monday finally turned into Tuesday, we called it a night and headed back to Gianfranco’s home. We hadn’t slept in 35 hours, and we were still fighting jet-lag. But our first day in Italy was without equal – a day we will never forget, and a night that will always be special to us.

We were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.

4 Responses to “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day”

  • I love this story! Your hosts sounds wonderful – you really lucked out.

    Enjoy the rest of our trip and happy Couchsurfing!

  • Sounds like you’re having a great time – you’re about 5 days behind me and my friends (Rome, then Florence). You’ll never forget this trip – looking forward to the blog entries.

  • Off to a great start. I can relate to your holding off sleep to take in the sights. The best part of the trip is meeting wonderful people and finding that we have more in common with each other than not. Looking forward to your upcoming posts.

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