Rome- the Eternal City. I was fairly nervous arriving in Rome. Like I pointed out in my last post, I have very limited experience traveling Europe. And the experience I do have comes from 14 years ago. I know how to travel in Africa, where you use filtered water to brush your teeth and take bus taxis that break down several times during one’s trip. Europe is different.
I arrived in jeans, a three quarter-sleeved shirt and a thin sweater. I was also wearing some new Nike sneakers I’d been given a couple days before. They are the minimalist sneakers, intended to be worn without socks. Unfortunately, as I was just breaking these shoes in, they’d given me a massive blister on my right Achilles heel. It had already popped and the shoe continued to rub it until it bled. I was limping on my way out of the airport. I knew I needed some new shoes ASAP. Aside from these sneakers, I had two pair of flip-flops. And it was 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.8 Celsius). Flip flops were not going to cut it.
I arrived at my hostel, Orsa Maggiore (the Great Bear). It is close to Vatican City and is housed in a former convent. The hostel is for women only. I was placed in a room with
three beds. After a quick lunch in the cafeteria downstairs, I passed out. I was cold, tired and sore. I slept most of the afternoon until my Indian roommate returned from her day in the city. We hit it off and decided to visit the Pantheon and have dinner together.
We made it to the Piazza Navona where we stopped for a coffee. Both of us had read that it annoyed Italians immensely when foreigners drink coffee in the evening without eating a meal first, so we relished the chance to display our irritating foreignness. From there we leisurely walked to the Pantheon,
one of the best-preserved ancient Roman buildings (126AD). It has been in continuous use since it’s completion, which accounts for its preservation. We arrived about 10 minutes after it closed its doors but we were able to admire the exterior. It is really quite impressive.
I continued to limp along the rest of the night, looking for an open shoe store or a pharmacy, neither of which I found.
The following morning I had a Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica tour scheduled. The thought of putting my sneakers back on sent shivers down my spine. I would not be able to make the two-kilometer walk to the Vatican. So I put on the only other shoes I had…flip-flops. Also it’s the Vatican, right? And the Pope was supposed to be doing his popely duties in St. Peter’s Square. I wanted to look respectful and not like a complete scrub. I put on an African wrap skirt, a solid black shirt and a thin gray sweater with a black shawl that I wore as a scarf. Remember, it is cold.
I left a couple hours early in the hopes of finding some presentable shoes on the way. No luck. I walked all through the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica looking like a moron. Scarf, sweater, arms wrapped around myself to ward off the chill and…flip-flops.
The tour was wonderful and the things I saw were beautiful. You can read more about them on TripAdvisor. But this post is not about that; it’s about me and my feet. After the tour, I typed “shoe store” into Google and followed the dotted blue line on my phone to a shop that was closed for lunch. I waited next door at the McDonalds where I was very excited to indulge in a frappe. But they didn’t have any. They had an entire café full of Italian mini-coffees but no frappes. I got one of their tiny little coffees of which they are so proud.
An hour or so later I walked to the shoe store. There is a large display of shoes behind a Plexiglas window but once I walked into the store there were about five styles of shoes. I stood there looking at these shoes, three attendants looked at me. No one approached me. The room was quite small. The four of us filled it snuggly yet no one offered to help me. I looked at the lady and pointed outside, miming that I wanted to try a shoe that was in the display case. I pointed to a pair of black, leather woven flats. They looked practical, comfortable and cute. I told her my European size, tried them on and bought them. Outside there was a street sock vendor so I stocked up on socks for these new shoes and my sneakers. I was ready for a night on the town.
Fortunately, I also passed a pharmacy on the way home and found bandages just for foot blisters. They had all kinds for every place one could possibly have a blister. I found the band-aids specifically for the Achilles heel. All the instructions were in Italian so I depended completely on the picture. At the counter, the cashier rang up the bandages. Eleven euros! What??? There were six bandages total in the package. Six. For eleven euros. They better have magical healing powers. But I kept a very composed exterior as I handed over the proper amount of cash. Ladida…I buy 11 euro band-aids all the time.
That night I washed my blister and stuck on the bandage. I put on my little stockings and my flats. I’d decided to visit a restaurant that was 0.2 miles from my hostel. It was highly rated on TripAdvisor. By the time I’d reached the road from my hostel, I knew I’d made a mistake. The shoes were rubbing right underneath where I had placed the band-aid and the stockings I’d purchased were making the shoes slip right off my feet so I kind of had to drag them along the ground with a weird limp to ease the rubbing. Once again, I looked like a complete crazy person, shuffling down the street with a strange limp-hobble.
My dining experience was interesting. The restaurant was small and diners were placed very close to one another, with only a tiny space (not enough to squeeze through) between tables. I was sat next to two American couples, probably all in their 60’s. One of the ladies fancied herself an Italian speaker. I feigned disinterest, while I fiddled on my phone but I couldn’t help but overhear as she translated the menu for her friends.
“Oh, spiedini, that’s a type of pasta. See, it’s listed under the ‘second plates’”. I had a suspicion she was incorrect because I’d noticed that the primero plato was always a type of pasta and the segundo plato was meat. I looked it up on Google. Spiedini means “skewers”. The menu item was skewers of fish but she translated it as fish pasta.
The server approached and she ordered for everyone by saying, “Me gusta…” and finished with “gracias”. The server rattled off some things in Italian and when she left the lady said, “You say a couple words in Italian and these people think you’re fluent.” Oh…my. In case you, my reader, are confused, this woman was speaking Spanish, not Italian. And I am quite sure the server was under no impression that she was a fluent Italian speaker. She was probably just making fun of her. Oh, my country people. There is a reason we have the reputation we do.
The next day I had determined to visit the Colosseum and Roman Forum. According to Google maps it was an hour walk away. In the morning I put on a new band-aid (since the previous one had been ruined by my new shoes) and socks. I chose to wear my elephant Ali Baba pants that I’d bought in Tanzania. I pulled the elastic legs down to my sneakers covering my legs from the chill. They were really comfortable, but once again, I stood out. Roman women, at least in the cold, were bedecked in black and jean. Asian tourists wore the only bright colors I’d seen in two days. The last thing I wanted to do was stand out, but what could I do?
I walked to the Roman Forum, arriving early enough that I had it almost completely to myself for at least the first half hour. I downloaded an App that would tell me about everything I was seeing. After two hours in the Forum and Palatine Hill, I walked right next door to the Colosseum. I was not lucky here- it was packed with people. And soon after I exited, it began to rain. My feet and back were killing me. But I knew there was a shopping district in Rome and I was in desperate need of some warmer clothes and closed-toed shoes I could actually walk in.
Once again Google saved the day and I came across the Via del Corso where I was able to buy jeggings. That’s right. Jean leggings. Judge if you must, but I love them. The next dressing room I visited, I took the opportunity to change into my jeggings so I looked like a halfway normal person. From there I found a faux leather jacket. All Roman women, and men for that matter, were sporting leather jackets. But I could hardly afford the 200€ real lamb leather jacket, even though it’s an excellent price for the quality. But my faux leather looks awesome and cost only 30€.
From there I thought I’d get some authentic tall, Italian-made leather boots. I went into a little boutique and asked to see some boots. They were beautiful and soft. And they only went up to my ankle. That’s right, I could not pull the boot past my ankle. Apparently I have colossal calves. Guys, really, I’m not fat. I’m pretty normal. But I guess I have giant calves! Next time you see me, don’t look. Just forget I told you this.
The store clerk told me that I should walk in heels for three hours every day like Italian women and then I might develop the toned, slim calves necessary to fit into these Italian boots. Well, that’s snobby. You try walking around in heels on Clove Island. Oh wait, island women do it all the time…whatever. I refuse! I decided to try a different store. No. Every…single…store. It was so embarrassing. I have tall boots in the States! They fit! I had to settle for ankle boots from Bata, a Swiss company. Bleh.
From there I walked home. I walked twelve miles that day. And I am such an old person. Every bit of my body hurt. My feet are swollen and red. My toenails are black from bruises. I have at least five blisters, but only two of them are painful. My back hurts. And since I’ve been in Naples, I also bought an ankle brace because my left ankle feels like it is going to crack in half. I am falling apart. Seriously, though.
But Rome was awesome!