Our Vacation in Rome - Of Wonderful Fun, as well as Encounters with Cheats, Thieves, Friendly Transsexual Prostitutes, Homeless Beggars and So Much More!
Where Did the Inspiration for this Vacation Come from?
The Price of the Trip
Emirates as usual, gave us an incredible flight experience with good food, awesome in-flight entertainment with lots of recent movies to choose from, and attentive service from the flight attendants.
For the hotel, we enjoyed the room, as it was comfortable, had good restroom facilities and they clean the room daily. That's one of the things I absolutely love about staying in 4 and 5 star hotels - I get to come back every day to fresh towels and a magically made-up bed!
The only complaint I have is about the breakfast. Perhaps it's because I'm Singaporean and I'm not used to their style of breakfast, but the breakfast included in our stay is mostly different types of bread, some eggs, and cakes. AND... it is the same spread everyday - the same food that wasn't very delicious. Out of the 13 days, we stopped going for breakfast after 2 days because we were so bored of the food, haha! But in those 2 days that we went, Amilee made a toasted cheese and ham sandwich that saved the day! That was delicious :)
The Tourist Attractions
#1 - The Colosseum in Rome: This place is the reason why we came up with the idea of booking this vacation to Rome. We have this project called the "Seven Wonders of the World Tour", and we already went to the Great Wall of China in March 2014, so we decided that Rome's Colosseum would be the second destination in our tour!
When we arrived at the Colosseum, we were a little disappointed because it looked smaller in real-life than we thought it would be. It also looked worn-out and crumbling, not like in the movies haha! Amilee and I quickly took many photos with the blue sign to check the Colosseum off our Seven Wonders of the World Tour!
Unexpectedly, negative vibes started to rise up in us, and Amilee and I even had a mini argument which was due to my mistake but the negative feelings were intensified in that place. We believe that it is due to the presence of many evil spirits that linger in the Colosseum, probably the very ones who influenced the Romans to build it and make it a place of grizzly entertainment - a place where death and bloodshed were considered fun to watch. These spirits of rebellion, violence and anger are probably still residing there now. When we came back from the trip and asked some friends about their experience on their Rome vacations, some even admitted to quarreling while in the Colosseum too! We believe that this is no mere coincidence, but there are darker forces at work. Please note this down, and let me know if you ever experienced this while you were in the Colosseum!
What happened next made things more 'interesting'. Our Colosseum tour guide from "City Wonders Tour Company", Federico, an Italian woman in her mid-20's, abandoned us and went on with the group without even noticing that we were missing. We did not see where she went because we were busy having our little heated debate. This led to us missing out on the Roman Forum tour that was included in the package we bought, because the tickets were with Federico. We should have paid more attention to where she was, but I feel that it was wrong of her to leave us behind without even leaving some way for us to contact her or regroup with the tour. Ah well, it's over anyways! :)
#2 - The Vatican City: Did you watch "Angels and Demons", the movie adaptation of the best-selling fictional novel by Dan Brown? If you did, you'd be familiar with the Vatican City. We visited the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican museum and galleries, St. Peter's Basilica, and St. Peter's Square. Amilee and I were totally awed by Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel, of "The Creation of Adam" and of "The Last Judgement". As we are Christians, we are able to appreciate the significance and beauty to a greater extent in my opinion, of the masterpieces of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. He took years to paint those murals! Amazing indeed!
My honest opinion about the Vatican City? I don't agree with the Pope's exuberant spending to purchase so many sculptures to decorate the Vatican. Why does he need more when there are already so many?? In my opinion, it's just to show off. The vibes that I got when walking through the Vatican museums is that it's all about man glorifying man, and that God and Jesus Christ is just a periphery issue. There are expensive busts and full-length sculptures of popes all around, sculptures of many Pagan gods all around, and it just feels terribly wrong as a Christian visiting the place.
To make this clear, Catholicism and Christianity are two different beliefs! Please do not for one moment think that they are the same. That will be a topic for another day as it will take too long to describe all the differences in depth.
Overall, in my opinion, I feel that the Vatican City is an opulent display of wealth and power, but the focus is largely on man himself, not so much on God! I enjoyed appreciating the beauty of the sculptures and the art pieces, and it felt totally surreal to be standing in the middle of St. Peter's Square.
#3 - Poggio Il Castellare Winery in Tuscany: I would like to start by saying that Tuscany is a beautiful place! The scenery is so amazing that it feels like i'm in some sort of fantasy land where the grass is greener and the fruits are perfect and huge. We went on a Day Tour with "City Wonders Tour Company" and had a very friendly, honest, and professional guide called "Gio". She confidently taught us the history of the different places in Tuscany, and many of the taxi tips and advice were learnt from her! The activity that I found really memorable on the Tuscany Day Tour was the lunch at Poggio Il Castellare Winery. The owner of the winery is a middle-aged blonde Italian lady, and she together with her elderly mother, run the winery and organise the tours there. We enjoyed lunch there all home-cooked by the owner's mum, and amusingly, we were warned NOT TO ASK FOR CHEESE for our pasta. We were told that if we did, the owner would take that as an insult and start to scold us in Italian vulgarities. That's when I learned that Spaghetti is not meant to be eaten together with cheese because it masks the flavour of the tomato-based gravy. I also learnt that day that "Bruschetta" (an Italian dish of sliced bread with different types of gravy or sauce on top) is pronounced as 'Bruce-Cat-Ta', and not 'Bru-Shet-Ta'. I think many of us pronounced it wrongly too, haha!
The winery also served us 4 different home-made wines: 1 white wine, and 3 red wines. Each of the wines had a different grade, to be drunk for a different occasion, one as a casual drink over dinner, one to be drunk by itself, and one to go with steak. It was extremely interesting to learn all this. The top wine in my opinion, was the "Brunello". The Brunello is a red wine, that has a strong, intense flavor that overtakes your taste-buds upon pouring it onto your tongue, but as the intensity subsides when your saliva mixes with the red wine, it leaves a wonderful, fruity aftertaste. It is a really good wine! You can buy a bottle of Brunello there for 50 euros! It's costly, but once you've tried it, I think you'll agree that it's very worth it! After sampling the wines, Amilee and I felt 'high', our faces were red and flushed, and I was laughing to myself for no reason, whereas she was talking about random stuff. It can be fun to drink to the point of lightness and joy, but it becomes un-fun when drunkenness kicks in and you start vomiting! Fortunately, we did not become drunk, and the 'high' subsided after an hour or so. That was fun! We are not wine-drinkers, but vacations like that are all about experiencing fun peak-life moments aren't they? :)
#4 - Capri, Italy: Capri is a beautiful place that you must visit! We also booked a Capri Day Tour from "City Wonders Tour Company" and sat a bus to Naples, before taking a ferry from Naples to Capri. After the long journey, it was a breathtaking sight to see the beautiful seaside island of Capri with its colourful small buildings all concentrated in the center of the island!
Capri sells their local liquor made with Lemon-extract, and it's called "Limoncello". It is a frightfully disgusting drink in my opinion, which smells okay, but tastes like our Singaporean "Mama Lemon Dish-washing Fluid"!! Don't be fooled by its innocent fruit-juice-like look. It tastes terrible. I would recommend that you never order this drink, ever.
Capri has some souvenir shops around the island and they sell beautiful blue-and-white coloured pottery and crockery with lemon designs. They are extremely artistic and pretty and I would highly recommend that you buy some if you like a fresh-looking plate that increases your appetite just by you taking one look at it!
We took a Capri Boat Tour of the Island and snapped many beautiful photos, and got to see the beautiful natural scenery of the island. The green of the trees and bushes is just so green, and the blue of the water is just so deep blue. No wonder Giorgio Armani has a house there!!
When we were sitting in the tour van heading back to the docks to take our ferry back to Naples, we passed-by a road called "Mamma Mia Point", and there we saw a GIGANTIC DOUBLE RAINBOW. The craziest part is that we could see where the rainbow started in the water, and where it ended on the island, in the midst of the buildings. Unfortunately, no there was no pot of gold in my knowledge, but the treasure is just seeing that while on vacation overseas. You don't see things like that in Singapore! It's one thing to describe it like that, but you really have to be there to know what I'm talking about. You have to go to Capri, stand there, and take in that magnificent miracle of God.
Must-Try Food -
Pizza: Amazing authentic taste with melt-in-your-mouth cheese, fresh tomato bases and thin crusts! The best pizzeria we ate at is called "Habemus Pizza" located near Ottaviano Metro Station, and it's extremely affordable - 1.50 euros for a big slice of pizza!
Gelato: The best ice-cream I've ever eaten! Make sure you try the Pistachio flavour. It's good at all ice-cream parlours! All the fruit flavours taste extremely fresh as well, as if you're really eating the fruit itself. The milk used in the Gelato makes them extremely creamy yet light. Surprisingly, the prices for Gelato are very affordable! The average price is 2 euros for 2 flavours. You can find a nice ice-cream parlour near Termini Metro Station called "Cafe Moreno". We ate there a couple of times and really like their ice cream!
Pasta: The Spaghetti in Rome is slightly harder and more chewy than the type found in restaurants in Singapore. The tomato-based pastas in Rome are extremely delicious because the sauce is so fresh, and also, I love tomato!
Beef Steak: The steak found in restaurants in Rome are very unique in terms of cooking style. It looks completely different from those served in USA and in Singapore. You'll know what I mean when you scroll down and see the photo of it. But! It tastes amazing too.
Tiramisu: This dessert in Rome tastes so amazing! The creamy, frothy top layer is deliciously-sweet, combined with the spongy cake bottom infused with a hint of alcohol, this is the only dessert you should put on weight for, haha!
Our Favourite Restaurant...... *drumroll* .... is Cleopatra Restaurant (next to Hotel Domidea!)
Cleopatra Restaurant: They serve amazing food, both Italian and Arabic food dishes. We love their falafel, hummus, TIRAMISU (You must try this!), SPAGHETTI ALA VONGOLE (You must eat this!). Surprisingly, the best Italian food we ate in Rome is found at an Egyptian-themed Arabic Restaurant. Hahaha! But seriously, the food is amazing and the prices are reasonable. If you go there on a Friday night, there will be live performances of Egyptian music accompanied by belly-dancers.
The following photos are the notable foods that I want to show you, and also, please prepare a box of tissues because you'll be drooling...
WARNING: Do not view the below if you're hungry right now, or if it's midnight or past it. I do not want you to come complaining to me that my blog post made you hungry at inconvenient timings! Haha!
I want to talk about three types of people that we encountered: Transsexual (Looks like a woman now but is really a man) Prostitutes, Homeless Beggars and Thieves!
Transsexual Prostitutes: Around the area where we stayed in Rome, which is Tor Sapienza area, there is a big parking area for cars that is usually empty in the daytime. At night, we pass-by this place while on the way back to our hotel. It's a curious sight - you will see cars circling around, almost like a circus performance, and some cars will be parked there, but always a great distance away from other cars. This is actually a place where men who drive go to look for prostitutes for a one-night stand. Most of these 'women', are either men dressed as women (Amilee could discern that that still had their male organ intact), or transsexuals. These prostitutes usually stand by the roads in the cover of the night, flirtatiously wave their hands, blowing kisses, or making suggestive hand signals to men who happen to drive by in the cars.
Yes and you might have guessed correctly, the cars parked at the parking area are parked there, but there are two people inside the cars - the customer and the product. The customers are there to be pleased.
It was pretty creepy on one of the nights where Amilee and I were walking back to the hotel in the darkness because it was past 11pm and there were no more buses in operation. We walked quite a distance, and passed-by some of these prostitutes. They had thick make-up on to hide the fact that most of them were men, and they looked extremely mismatched because their female clothing could not hide their male body statures. At one road near our hotel area, there were three of them operating independently of each other, and when we walked near, they started to wave and walk towards us. It was extremely unnerving as they kinda looked like Joker's female sidekicks (like Harlequinn).
We actually encountered one friendly prostitute who gave us road directions. We were waiting for the bus at a bus stop that was no longer in operation and he/she pointed at the next-nearest bus stop for us.
I feel pity for these folk as they are victims of society, and they would not have to engage in that profession if they weren't in dire straits and at a loss of what to do when society rejects them and deems them as outcasts.
Homeless Beggars, and Thieves: At Termini Metro Station area and the area near the Colosseum, it is a common sight to see beggars that set up their space by a wall, using a piece of dirty cardboard to mark their territory, and beg for change or donations. They choose places like these where there is massive human traffic, and hope for a generous tourist or passer-by to drop a coin or sometimes dollar notes into their cups. We saw acts of human kindness whereby some young Italians bought food and distributed these dry-foods to the beggars and showed them concern and human-touch. I feel that giving food is a good idea because there is nothing they can do with it except to eat it. If you give them money, i'm not even sure if the money is going to them, or to devious syndicates that possibly made slaves out of these people to beg for money that eventually is stashed into their lumps of filthy lucre.
An old man walked past our table while we were dining at an Italian restaurant in that same area. He had a huge trail of urine stain on his long pants. He had long, messy white hair and he looked a little dazed. He smelled of a mixture of urine in a dirty toilet and dry garbage that has been festering for weeks. We felt sorry for him, but we totally lost our appetites after seeing and smelling him.
Talking about thieves, Amilee and I almost got robbed/pick-pocketed on two different incidents. Thank God that the thieves failed!
The first incident happened when we were chilling at the McDonald's outlet at Termini Metro Station area. While we were chatting, a tall, slender Italian man with short hair and a messy mustache and beard stubble came to sit down at the table on our right. Somewhere into my conversation with Amilee, we were laughing, and suddenly I saw Amilee turn her head violently to her right. Out of nowhere, she started to shout at that man, "You! What are you doing??" I saw that the man had a big jacket draped over his legs and he seemed to be very nervous. At once, Amilee grabbed the jacket from him forcefully, uncovering her white backpack underneath the jacket! The thief had tried to use the jacket as a cover to either steal Amilee's entire bag, or to take certain valuables out of the bag without us noticing. The man started saying in a shaky voice, "Mine, mine.." pointing at the jacket which was now in Amilee's hand. She then grabbed her backpack towards herself, and threw the jacket at the man in disgust. "WHY ARE YOU SHAKING?!" she shouted at him, and I could see that he was indeed trembling in fear, as the sunglasses that he held in his hand were vibrating due to his entire body trembling. "Thief! Burn in hell! Fire of God upon you demon, in Jesus's name!" Amilee shouted, as the man quickly walked off in shame and fear, with the entire McDonald's customers all staring at us and at him. How could an Asian lady, small in stature, cause an Italian man almost twice her size to tremble in fear? Amilee and I believe that God had our backs and he must have seen or felt something that caused him to be so fearful. After the whole incident, Amilee told me that someone called her and told her to turn her head to the right while we were talking, just in time to see the thief trying to steal her items. Just coincidence, or divine intervention? You decide. :)
The second close encounter with thieves is also at Termini Metro Station area. It was nighttime and we were walking towards the tram station, and on our left, we saw a big group of men who looked either Indian or Arabian. Amilee and I were just walking, when suddenly, I felt an interest to turn to my left. When I turned my head, I saw a shocking sight. One of the guys had his hand almost inside Amilee's white backpack, and the zip to the main compartment was half open! Upon seeing that I noticed his pick-pocketing attempt, he quickly turned and walked back to the big group of men and gave up trying to steal our items. It was only then did I manage to piece together things that he belonged to that gang, and that all those guys knew each other. This was another instance of what we believe to be God's divine protection. When I turned to look at the pickpocket, I did not have a fierce or threatening look on my face. It was just an innocent, nonchalant look, but yet the guy looked so shocked and intimidated. His conscience must have seared his heart at that moment because such a big group of them with hardly anyone else around the area, they could have easily robbed us and there was probably nothing we could do about it, unless we wanted to be stupid enough to risk our lives just to reclaim some replaceable items.
Truly, thank God for His grace and protection on us!
The Modes of Transport Within the City as a Tourist
Taxi: One thing to note about taking the taxi is that some taxi drivers will try to cheat an unsuspecting tourist, by rigging the settings which affects the speed on which the price increases over time. When an old taxi driver cheated us by doing that, the same distance traveled from Hotel Domidea to Termini Station which we go to daily, cost about 2 euros more than it should. We blessed the old man and did that because if he wasn't struggling financially, he wouldn't have to do that.
Upon boarding the taxi, take note that the "TARIFFA" setting should be set at "1", not "2", not "3", because it affects the speed at which the price increases over time. After 15 euros, we noticed that without fail, the number will change to "2", and that's alright because it's probably supposed to.
We also met a kind taxi driver who lent us his mobile phone to call our hotel, and another one who took a very quick route back to the hotel from Termini Station. Not all of them are cheats and sinister, there are also the honest ones who are just looking to make ends meet of course!
For Bus, Tram and Metro: One thing to note is that for the Bus, Tram and Metro, you can purchase a ticket at the Metro Station that allows you to take those three modes of transportation for a whole week! That is very worth it for tourists that are staying in Rome for a week or more. You can choose from per ride, per day, three days, or one week. Per ride is about 1.50 euros, whereas the 'one week ticket' is about 32 euros. Assuming that you will ride the bus, tram and metro a total of 8 times on average per day (based on our experience), you will be saving a lot of money by purchasing the 'one week ticket'.
Bus: It's quite funny that when we were first learning how the bus works to get to Termini Station, we asked one of the local Italian guys for help and it happened that he was taking the same bus as us, bus number 543. So when the bus arrived, he waved for us to get on as he couldn't speak English, and he also signaled to us that "don't bother paying, no need". Being confused and lost, because there is no machine to buy tickets from at the bus stops or on the bus itself, we just sat down, feeling like we did something naughty lol. Amilee suggested that what he did could be out of hospitality for us because we were tourists, whereas I feel that he suggested that we do that because he himself doesn't bother to pay for tickets. Anyways, after that incident, we bought a ticket at Termini Station, the "One week ticket", so we were perfectly good citizens after that, haha!
Tram: Oh, on one of the days where we took the tram after taking a bus on our usual route to Termini Station, the police were conducting a random spot-check. At one of the bus stops, four police officers boarded the tram and started to ask all of us for our tickets. One African man was unable to produce a ticket and kept trying to pretend to be searching for his ticket when it was so obvious that he didn't have one. In the end, about two stops later, the police officer escorted him off the tram to probably fine him. I did not expect that they would have these spot-checks as usually the system is based on 'trust'. What I mean is that the tram operator doesn't even pay attention to whether the passengers coming on-board are inserting their tickets into the ticket scanning-machine or not. Many of the passengers that I observed did not even scan their tickets and were most likely abusing the trust system to enjoy free rides. I feel sorry for them as they wouldn't have to go to such lengths to save money if they were financially-stable. They have probably developed a scarcity mindset due to their experience of always lacking money. Nevertheless, Amilee and I were thankful that we obeyed the law and had tickets.
Metro: The Metro is very... might I say, user-friendly. There are only two different lines - the 'Orange Line' and the 'Blue Line'. Both lines go up and down and the Metro trains come very frequently. This makes riding the Metro trains very easy and non-confusing. The Metro trains are situated underground and the stations are quite warm, dusty and crowded. I was sneezing non-stop because the air was very dusty and musty, probably due to the stations being underground.
The Metro trains themselves are quite modern, and similar to that of the MRTs (Mass Rapid Transport) trains in Singapore. The interior is air-conditioned, modern and well-lit, whereas most of the Metro trains' exterior coats are vandalised with graffiti art.
The Religious Beliefs
Our favourite shopping district in Rome is called "Piazza del Popolo". It's called "The People's Square" in English. It is a short walk away from Flaminio Metro Station or Spagna Metro Station. There you will find rows and rows of high-end fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Chanel, Roberto Cavalli, Fossil, Coach and many more! The prices of the items are much more affordable than the same items sold in Singapore probably because many of these brands originate from Europe and many in Italy! Shipping fees are lower to ship within Europe of course, and tourists get VAT (Value-Added Tax) Tax Refunds at the airport with a minimum spending of 150 euros per receipt.
When shopping there, you will notice that there are many restaurants and cafes there too, for tourists to rest and relax after shopping for the entire day. The prices at these eateries will definitely be higher than eateries in other areas because it is a tourist-destination, but if you're okay with paying a little more for convenience, the food and drinks are pretty decent and you can rest your tired feet before heading back to your hotel with your victory spoils for the day!
There is also an outlet mall that is on the Southern outskirt of Rome called "Castel Romano Shopping Outlet". You can find the same fashion brands there at even more discounted prices! We bought many things there too, haha! You can actually buy a ticket for the shuttle bus services and there are a few timeslots you can choose from everyday, so that you can head back to Termini Metro Station area after you're done with shopping for the day.
I bought a nice bangle for my mother at Coach, and a small pouch at Louis Vuitton for my dad, and also a nice backpack at Calvin Klein Jeans for my younger brother. Amilee also bought some nice things for her mother. We are so blessed to be able to pamper our family and loved ones with quality gifts to show our love and appreciate for their love for us!
The Airport in Rome
On the day of departure from Rome, we took a cab (55 euros from Hotel Domidea to the airport - about 45 mins drive) there and again we faced throngs of tourists going through the procedures to go home. Because Amilee and I shopped a lot, we were excited to claim the tax refunds that were promised to us. Little did we expect that the process would be so tedious. It seems like they want to purposely make the process troublesome so that tourists will not want to claim the tax refund. Please check with the airport staff how to go about doing it, so that you will not waste your time running around in circles like we did!
The lady at the information counter whom we asked for directions to the tax refund booth was quite rude to us in answering as well. I think they probably are so jaded and bored with their jobs there!
Overall, our experience at the Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy was not a pleasant one. It's when things like that happen that I'm especially thankful to be a Singaporean because we have the World's Leading Airport - Singapore Changi Airport that is super clean, very efficient, and the directions are clear and easy to follow!
Amilee's Parting Rome Thoughts
The shopping was awesome, the prices were great. What wasn't so great was the tax refund process!
So I was advised that there was a 12% tax return on all purchases above 155 euros, thus I proceeded to make sure I spent more than 155 euros on each retail outlet I visited. I figured, how great of the government to grace us with that!
To my disappointment, not only were we required to go through many unnecessary steps to get the tax refund, my suitcase was also opened up, my Louis Vuitton and Prada items searched with grubby hands! Those rough inconsiderate hands not only left my entire suitcase in an UTTER CRAZY mess, I also found an expensive leather watch missing when I got back to Singapore.
So much for the tax refund huh?! Kanasai…
However, I believe not every hand at the tax refund office is grubby and dirty, so do shop when you go to Rome!
My advice is, to place all bought items for the tax refund in one suitcase and check that one in at the conveyor belt for tax refunds for them to look through ( since it’s a ‘law’ so we have to comply. Where do you think the term, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” came from?)
Alternatively, you could also put it all in the carry on and then go to the tax refund office that’s past immigration to collect the tax refunds in cash.
Whatever it is, for first timers, it’s always a headache as they do not give proper or clear instructions. Once we get past the first hurdle, I believe what comes afterwards, will surely be unbeatab-ly amazing!
- Em :)
WOW, if you are reading this line right now, you either skimmed through the whole post which I took many hours to put together, or you really finished reading the entire post. Either way, congratulations for finishing it!
I sincerely hope that this post, "Our Vacation in Rome - Of Wonderful Fun, as well as Encounters with Cheats, Thieves, Friendly Transsexual Prostitutes, Homeless Beggars and So Much More!" was of some value to you and that it can help you by providing tips and advice when you plan for a vacation to Rome in the future, or otherwise, bring back fond memories of your vacation to Rome in the past!
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Be blessed and walk in divine favor,
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