When the alarm goes off at 4am


One eye peels open, glaring in the general direction of my alarm clock. Ugh. It’s still dark outside. Why did I set the alarm for 4am again?

Oh yeah. Because we’re going to Rome today.

After packing our day packs and eating breakfast, Arianna and I leave the house at 5am to pick up her two friends who are joining us, Elisa and Annalisa. We arrive just in time to catch the 5:30 bus. We’re scheduled to arrive in Rome a little after 9, so I use the time to catch up on lost sleep.

Once we’re off the bus, we head to the nearest metro station. After looking at the map, we decide to begin our trek through the city at the Colosseo and wing it from there. The metro reminds me of Boston and I feel quite at home underneath the city, even though I still can’t read the signs or the posters on the walls. Once at our stop, we lumber off of the train and climb the stairs to the exit. I catch glimpses of the Colosseum outside as we make our way to the door.

You know those moments when you see something for the first time and you just stand there and gape at it, pinching yourself every once in a while to make sure it’s real? Yeah. That happened. I mean, the thing is HUGE. Sure, I’ve seen it in pictures a thousand times, but you can’t understand the magnitude of something until you’re standing in its shadow, staring straight up at it.

My stomach reminds me that I haven’t fed it in a few hours, so the four of us navigate our way to an overlook with a cafe. Annalisa heads for the cafe while the rest of us unwrap the tinfoil covering our homemade breakfast sandwiches. We lean against the railing as we eat, soaking up the morning sunlight and the incredible panorama before us.

Then the real journey begins. We buy a map of Rome from a sidewalk vendor and start for Piazza Venezia after we finally orient ourselves with the map.

Anna figuring out our location.

Annalisa figuring out our location.

A fountain under construction that we passed on the way to Piazza Venezia.

A fountain under construction that we passed on the way to Piazza Venezia.

As we walk, I hear more English than Italian and it throws me off quite a bit. A family asks us for directions in English, then a couple of women ask us to take their picture. I almost have to remind myself to respond with “sure” instead of “sì.”

Next stop, Fontana di Trevi. For the largest Baroque fountain in the city (thanks, Wikipedia), the actual piazza is pretty small. Or maybe it just seems that way because there are so many people here. While we’re taking pictures, we hear several police whistles and watch a couple officers in uniform walk towards the fountain, motioning as if to say, “Get out of the fountain RIGHT NOW.” Curious, I look over and see a newlywed couple and their photographers near the base of the fountain. Apparently, they were trying to get a shot of the couple’s feet in the water, but it didn’t go over so well. Before we leave, Arianna hands me a coin so I can make a wish. Following tradition, we take turns standing next to the fountain and tossing the coins over our heads and into the water. And no, I’m not going to tell you what I wished for.

After that, we find the Piazza di Spagna and climb the stairs to the top. Arianna checks her watch and suggests we head towards the Vaticano so we can get there by noon. We skip down the stairs and walk down Via Condotti, a famous street in Rome that’s lined with designer shops. The road eventually leads us to the Palazzo di Giustizia where we cross the Fiume Tevere (Tiber River). From there, we can see San Pietro, the cathedral in the Vatican.

When we finally arrive in Vatican City, Annalisa, Arianna, and Elisa buy fedora hats from a street vendor. I watch as they haggle prices, talking the vendor down from 10 euros to 5. Apparently haggling is easy to do with the street vendors, but few tourists try it. Once we make it into the Piazza San Pietro (Saint Peter’s Square), Arianna tells me that  the Pope delivers a short sermon every Sunday around noon. We still have twenty minutes, but I’m surprised by how quickly the square fills with people. A few minutes before noon, a window opens and a red flag is unfurled. When Papa Francisco appears in the window a little later, the air fills with applause and excited cheering. He begins to address us, “Fratelli e sorelle. (Brothers and sisters).” I don’t understand much after that, but regardless, I still feel the sense of wonderment that comes when you know you’re having a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We spend the rest of the day doing what we do bestshopping. We wander into almost every shoe store we see and also spend some time looking for new sunglasses for Elisa. While we’re walking, Arianna stops in a local store and asks the owner where we should get gelato. At his suggestion, we walk further down the street to Pompi, a small store known for its gelato and tiramsù. And while I’ve said before that gelato is incredible, this stuff is divine. The dark chocolate melts in your mouth and drips down your throat, leaving behind a trail of contentment and happiness.

For the ride home, our seats are split up. I watch Arianna, Elisa, and Annalisa head to the second story of the bus where their seats are located before finding my own seat on the first floor. There’s a girl sitting in the seat next to mine, and as I motion that my seat is next to the window, she mumbles a quick “sorry” as she moves out of the way.

Wait. That was English.

I wait for her to sit down again before I ask, “Sorry, do you speak English?”

A look of relief crosses her face. She’s from Malaysia (apparently English is the spoken language there… something I didn’t know before) and attends a university in Australia, although she’s in Italy for a month studying law. She’s on her way back from a weekend at Disneyland in Paris. We talk for the next three hours about everythingbooks, culture, shopping, religion, meditation, my fiancé, families, dreams, traveling, Forever 21, movies, Harry Potter, K-mart. Literally, everything.

Half-way through the conversation, she pauses, “Wait, what’s your name?”

Oh, right. I guess we skipped that part. “I’m Susie.”

She laughs. “Me too! But I spell it S-u-z.”

It’s a small world after all.