Matt’s parents came to visit us before we left for vacation, so we had a fun night with them before it was time for them to take us to the airport on Wednesday afternoon. I ran out of work frantically around noon, leaving Joe to figure out my job. We packed the last of our stuff and re-weighed the bags, since they had to be under 44 pounds on the EasyJet leg of our flights.
My parents stopped over briefly to wish us a good trip, and then it was time to go. We threw everything in the car, and stopped at Ryan and Chris’ along the way to drop off some food and a baby sweater, because she was being induced that weekend!
Security was easy thanks to the frequent traveler line; I had even managed to get my backpack in my (gigantic) suitcase, so my only carry-on was my purse. We found the G concourse completely remodeled and fancy, and you can even buy beer at the kiosks now! We grabbed a few snacks for the trip, then went to the Mill City Tavern. We had time to kill, and they were serving classic cocktails in the airport. While we sat there, ESPN announced that Junior Seau had died.
We boarded our flight early and were seated in Economy Comfort seats. For $60/seat, we had extra legroom, leaning-back room, and free drinks for the trip. Totally worth it, especially when we’d only paid $420 total for the tickets. I ordered a gin and Fresca, which I would not really recommend to anyone.
The plane took off, and we searched for a movie to watch. We started Columbiana, timing it so we could watch at the same time. The video and sound kept cutting out, to the point it was nearly impossible to watch. They rebooted the system, but that didn’t help much either. We finished it anyway.
I was served a vegetarian meal and a gin and tonic, and did the sudoku that came with my dinner.
After dinner, they lowered the lights and we tried to sleep with about 5.5 hours left in the flight. Matt spend the entire time listening to Frank Turner and old episodes of his podcast. I kept dozing off and then waking up from sounds around us. I gave up trying to sleep with about a hour and a half left, and took the Italian language lessons on my television. I dozed some more, and the sun started coming up halfway over the UK.
They served us breakfast with about an hour left. We landed early at Charles De Gaulle, around 7am. It was very, very foggy in Paris.
We got off the plane, used our first stinky French bathroom, and waited for our bags. I got 200 euros from the ATM, and then we looked for the bus to Orly. I asked the information desk while Matt got cash, and we were on our way to the bus stop.
We weren’t prepared for how cold it was in Paris. I was in a tshirt and capris, so I opened my suitcase and got out a hoodie. The bus arrived after 20 minutes or so, and we got on with about 15 other people. We made a stop at the other terminal, left the airport grounds, and immediately found ourselves in Paris traffic at 8am.
The bus practically crawled to Orly. And though it was a gigantic bus on the order of the Greyhound, that didn’t stop the driver from doing things like exiting into neighborhoods, taking side streets, and hopping back on the highway to skip three cars. We knew it was at least an hour-long ride, so the extra slowness didn’t make it that much worse. We had intentionally scheduled a flight that gave us plenty of time for delays.
It was our first time in France, so we stared out the window looking for notable signs, such as crowds of people in berets carrying baguettes. We didn’t see that, but we did see a Citroen factory. (The first store we saw from the highway was IKEA, actually.) Also, we noticed that every surface along the way was covered in graffiti.
We got to Orly 90 minutes later, and followed the EasyJet signs to the basement of the terminal. We checked in with a friendly gate agent, and were relieved that our suitcases came in under 20kg. (Delta and most other airlines allow 50lb, so the 44lb limit for the first half of our vacation was a big challenge. The luggage scale was a lifesaver.)
We headed up to the concourse to find some food and kill time between flights. The store we stopped into had nothing vegetarian except salad, but I was fine with that. I got that and water, and Matt got a sandwich. We found a little table to eat at, and attempted to find some wifi to let people know we’d arrived. There were a bunch of networks, but none of them were free. (We would soon learn that was the case throughout most of Europe.)
We still had some time, so we went to a cafe and got beers. It was 10:45 in the morning, but our sleep-deprived brains thought it was almost 4am. While we sat there, we noticed a few people carrying baguettes around, even as carry-ons (our favorite was a guy in a Derrick Rose jersey). THE STEREOTYPE WAS TRUE!!
There were police in fatigues walking around with machine guns, which was unnerving. We noticed that French people barely seemed to notice people around them, too. Just like Minnesota!
We went through security, which was nowhere near as thorough as in the US, then headed to our gate. We sat there for a few minutes, and when the gate agents arrived, people started standing and lining up. The agents set up two signs, one for Speedy Boarding (where you can pay $79/person to board first and get your pick of the seats) and the other one for those of us who chose to take our chances with the rabble. It was still an hour before takeoff, but apparently queuing up was the thing to do. (This is #2 on the list of things we’d soon find out was consistently true in Europe.)
We finally boarded, and noticed that the exit row was open. The flight attendant had said we could sit anywhere, so we decided to take it. They came around and asked us to put our bags in the overhead for that row, but otherwise it was fine. (We were nowhere near functional enough to want to do anything on the flight anyway.) A very fidgety lady came and set next to me, and I started to nod off right after we were in the air.
I had been worried that EasyJet would be on the order of RyanAir, which I’d read many horror stories about. It ended up being really awesome, even on a full flight. You just have to make sure to get there early and make sure your bags fit their standards (they’re strict about the size of roller bags as carry-ons, and luggage weight). They charge for pop and snacks on the plane, but that’s more than made up for by the price; they’re way cheaper than the other options. Our flight from Paris to Rome was $150RT.
Halfway to Rome, the pilot pointed out the Costa Concordia laying on its side next to the island where it had run aground. Shortly before landing, the flight attendants came around selling tickets for the bus to Rome, so we bought a couple. (Having taken both the bus and Leonardo Express train, I would recommend the train… it’s way faster. But we didn’t know that yet.) We picked up our bags, then rolled out to the very full bus and got on. It took about an hour to get to Rome, and they dropped people off near the Vatican first before heading to Roma Termini. It was slow, but we got to see a lot of the city along the way, and would recognize things again later.
The bus pulled up next to Termini (the main train station in Rome), and everyone on the bus seemed very confused about what was going on; the bus driver didn’t announce it, so nobody knew we were there. We figured it was the place, so we got off and picked up our bags from the driver.
We crossed the street, stopped to look at the map with our hotel on it, and headed off that direction. The cobblestones weren’t great, but we only had about five blocks to go. Rome was much warmer than Paris, too, so we were at least dressed appropriately for that.
We found Hotel Cambridge, and had to haul our suitcases up a half-flight of stairs to get to the lobby. Our room was small and not at all fancy, but it was clean, and that’s all we cared about. We unpacked a little for the short time we were staying, then laid down to nap. It was 4pm in Rome, or 9am our time.
After the best hour-and-a-half nap of our lives, we got up and went to go see some of Rome. The hotel advertised free wifi, so we went to get the password from the front desk. While we were waiting, we watched a couple of guys kneeling on the floor of the lobby with a tiny black and white TV in a plastic bag, testing to see if it worked. From there, we headed back toward Roma Termini so we could walk through the station and know what to expect the next day when we were taking the train to Civitavecchia.
We’d seen Bourdain’s show about Rome recently, and he couldn’t say enough bad things about Termini. Personally, I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. The place is awesome, and I loved it immediately.
We walked through the station and headed toward Trevi Fountain. I had a map I’d printed off the internet, since we knew we probably couldn’t rely on our phones for directions. Roman streets were as confusing as expected, but we followed landmarks and finally found a plaza with a fountain we thought might be it. It turned out to be the Fontana Dei Dioscure instead, but that was alright. We were wandering around Rome on the longest day of our lives, and no matter what we saw, it was exciting.
We found a scary-looking alley that ended up being one of the many staircases all over Rome. It had a drinking fountain near the bottom; they were everywhere, too. (It’s very convenient when it’s warm. We needed them.)
We found Il Vittoriano, which was GIGANTIC. On the way there, we passed several sidewalk restaurants, and the majority of people sitting there were drinking negronis. At that point, we knew that’s what we needed: food and negronis on a patio in Rome. That seemed perfect.
We passed one end of the Pantheon on the way back, and stopped to take pictures. Then we went to a place we’d seen along the way called Rockodile, and the specials met our approval (they were typically Italian, and they had a vegetarian dish). We got a table out front, ordered Negronis, and it was indeed perfect. (Rockodile was very interesting, too… they had traditional food and drinks, and also bro-bar-style shots and a dance floor.)
I ordered the vegetable risotto, and Matt ordered carbonara. The server ended up bringing him vegetable lasagna instead, and apologized that she had screwed up his order of meat lasagna. He hadn’t order that at all, but he didn’t care because it was awesome. Plus she said she was going to bring us grappa shots to make up for it. We ordered a couple more negronis as well, which she brought right away without the grappa.
We finished dinner and were sitting with our drinks, wondering if she’d forgotten the shots. Suddenly they appeared, and we were especially happy to be in Rome right then. We went in to pay our tab, used their bathrooms, and headed back in the direction of our hotel.
We headed down Via Nazionale, which is a huge street lined with fancy stores and souvenir shops. We wanted to find a liquor store where we could pick up prosecco to bring with us on the cruise ship the next day, so we walked down a side street and found a combination liquor, sandwich, coffee, and gelato store. (Places like that are called ‘bars’, and they’re everywhere in Rome.) We decided to get negronis since we were there, so we ordered them at the bar, and the server said we could get a table outside and he would bring them to us. He brought them out in wine glasses with fancy garnishes, and we sat there watching traffic go by and being very happy about Rome. It seemed like a really great city to just hang out in.
A very persistent Senegalese guy came by and tried to sell us the last of the wood carvings he had, but we finally convinced him we weren’t buying. Another guy came by later with the same exact carvings and did the same thing, too. We went into the liquor store side and bought a couple of bottles of Prosecco and to-go beers, then headed toward Termini, so we could cut through on the way to the hotel.
By the time we got there, we decided that another negroni was a GREAT idea. Termini conveniently has a bar right inside the door, so we stopped there and ordered. The guy said they were out of Campari (gasp!), so Matt ordered Fernet instead, before I even had time to react. We were still carrying the beers we were drinking, so then we ended up juggling our bag of prosecco, beer bottles, and shots of Fernet in tiny paper espresso cups.
And that’s how we ended up sitting on the floor of the train station on our first night in Rome, doing shots of Fernet. Welcome to Europe!