Sleeping in the six berth cabin evoked a sense of claustrophobia/paranoia i never knew i had. The bald Italian Fabio-Cannavaro doppelganger perched like an owl across from me didn’t help either. I drifted in and out of sleep, as the train chugged across the French Alps. Everything is pretty much dead at night in Europe so there was nothing much to see through the window. The next time i woke, i was in Italy, Bologna to be exact. Another pit-stop en route to Rome.
The Italian owl was still in the exact same position as before. He pretty much didn’t sleep throughout the entire journey as i would later found out. Fatigue had set in so i pushed aside my paranoia and went back to sleep.
I managed to catch a few hours of shut-eye and awoke to an icy-cold morning. The train was on it’s home-stretch now, racing across frozen fields at breakneck speed to Rome.
The train came to a halt at Rome’s biggest train station- Roma Termini. Termini was huge and unlike Gare Du Nord, there was no main exit/entrance. It was surrounded on all sides by roads with multiple exits. I spent some time walking aimlessly in search of the most convenient exit. I finally gave up and headed to the nearest exit. I figured i would just wing it and wander my way to the hostel. There was a taxi stand outside the station and i was tempted for a moment to take one but since the hostel claimed it was a few minutes walk, i decided not to. An elderly man approached me sensing i was lost and asked me where i was going. I showed him the address and he offered to take me there by foot. The eternal rule that nothing in life(or Europe) is free is one that you should keep in mind at all times when travelling. After some elaborate hand actions and haggling, we agreed on a price of 10 euros. The elderly man must have been under the assumption that i paid him for his portering services as he continuously insisted on carrying my luggage which i repeatedly refused. I felt bad to have someone senior carry it for me plus i didn’t want the possibility of him running away it. The elderly man was incredibly nimble and quick for his age and we made it to the hostel in no time. True to it’s description on the website, it was a really just a few minutes walk from the station.
Unlike a conventional hostel which occupies an entire building, Hostel Michaelangelo only took up two floors of an old Roman townhouse.
The other levels were normal apartment units. The lobby of the building reminded me of a posh hotel from the 50s which had seen better days. There was a antique steel grilled elevator(the one you see in movies) but unfortunately it was under maintenance. The only way up was the stairs. I was greeted by Victor, the manager of the hostel at the top of the stairs. The first thing that struck me and my nose was the foul stench in the air which emanated from Victor. It was a pungent combination of what smelled like stale cigarettes and garlic. Thankfully Victor’s personality was far from foul. He was a gracious and accommodating host.
It was already noon by the time i settled in. Armed with a map from the hostel, i set out to explore the city. For my first meal in Italy, i had the quintessential Italian snack- PIZZA!
Fun Fact-One serving of Pizza in Italy is actually THREE SLICES. Talk about getting your money’s worth! A drink, a rice ball and three slices of Margherita only set me back 6 euros. My wallet was already in love with Rome!
I headed to the Colosseum after lunch and spent the afternoon exploring it together with the Roman forum. ( Unfortunately my pictures got wiped out when my hard disk crashed. They’re on Facebook though if you wanna take a look)
I spent the evening chilling at the Trevi Fountain. A stunning masterpiece especially at night. I got myself some gelato and idled my time away watching strangers make wishes followed by the customary backward toss of a dime.
On my way back to the hostel, the heavens opened up and it began to pour. I raced to the nearest building and took cover with a group of other umbrella-less people. It’s one thing to be drenched but a whole different experience to be drenched at 7 degrees with unrelenting gusts of wind. I was cold, wet and hungry. I regretted turning down the Bangladeshi peddler’s offer of an umbrella earlier when it was just drizzling. The rain showed no signs of letting up so it was gonna be a long wait. Just then, another Bangladeshi peddler walked by and i bought the overpriced umbrella out of necessity. I walked a bit but the rain still showed no sign of letting up and even with the umbrella i was still not spared from the storm’s fury. I quickly took cover at the nearest bus stop without the slightest cue of where i was or what bus to take. Luckily for me, Roma termini turned out to be more than a train station but also the terminus for most buses.
Here’s the thing about buses in Europe. Most people rarely pay and bus drivers don’t blink an eye if you don’t. I can’t blame them. The machine to buy a ticket is a piece of complicated technology and located in the middle of the bus instead of the front. I looked like an idiot trying to figure it out or maybe to the locals that i was dumb enough to pay. An kind man finally helped me and i got my ticket.
When i finally made it back to the hostel, i met my three roommates for the night. One was a Russian blonde who had a KGB vibe which immediately put me off. The other two were Brazilian; Close friends who had just finished an English term in Dublin. We both found out that neither of us had eaten so we headed out to grab a bite. They asked me if i had a cheap place to recommend and that was how i ended up at the same restaurant for the second time in a day. The pasta wasn’t as good as the pizza though but it was comforting enough to have something hot.