We looked like a couple of old men wrapped up in our hostel sheets on a Friday night in Rome. A full day of rain was behind us and we were spending our third consecutive night sleeping in a hostel. I had decided to pinch a few euros and ignore the luxury of a two person room, opting instead for an eight person dorm at some party hostel north of the Termini Station. The place was called Hotel Allesandro and its claim to fame was intoxicating foreigners and setting them loose on the streets of Rome for one forgettable weekend. There we were grumbling and writing away in our bunk beds, laughter and techno echoing through the halls below, when the door opened up and a tall American lad came into the room to join his much shorter friend lying on the bottom bunk across from us.
“The vibe’s really sick down there. They got flip cup and everything,” the tall one said.
Being the incredulous one, the short American asked, “They got flip cup?”
The two were sipping from their own individual wine bottles as they talked for an excruciatingly long period of time about beer, the subtle intricacies of drinking, hazing rituals which had resulted in expulsion from an unmentioned fraternity, the girls who were too stupid to text them back, and the eternal burning question as to whether or not Vatican City is a country or a city.
“I’ve been wondering for…like…five years,” the short one said, burping as he took another slug from his wine bottle.
“Think about it Ethan, it’s a city. Stupid. Why would they call it a city if it’s a country?” The taller one replied.
The tall one was spinning around the room trying to find the right lighting to take his dorm room selfie.
“You want to go to the Colosseum tomorrow?” the tall one asked.
Ethan was looking at his phone, “Why dude? The Colosseum is stupid.”
“No way man. ‘Gladiator’ is like my favorite movie,” the tall one said, “My dad needs to give me another three-hundred euros; I really want to get a sword.”
The short one slammed his phone down and leapt to his feet asking, “They sell swords at the Colosseum?”
They took up the entire room when they talked as if the whole world was just their playground. The short one eventually tried to start a conversation with Jason and I but there wasn’t much common ground other than fact that all of our passports were the same color.
“Isn’t it so annoying,” he asked, “how nobody here speaks English?”
Jason and I had a good laugh at this one, we shrugged our shoulders sarcastically and said almost in unison, “We are in Italy.”
After getting properly drunk, the two decided to head out into the streets to “raise chaos” as they called it. This involved blacking out at a night club, looking for Molly, smashing wine bottles in the street, harassing the locals, puking in doorways, pissing their pants, and losing a passport somewhere along the way. It was a process they had repeated in Paris, Amsterdam, and now Rome. These were the people who scratch their initials on Roman columns and important ruins so that for the rest of history they’ll be remembered as assholes.
The next day the streets were swarming with tourists of all ages and all nationalities who were piling onto tour buses en route to the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Obelisks, and the other notable sites of Rome. As Jason and I pushed past a cavalcade of suitcases on wheels I wondered how much of the city an average visitor sees. The hotels and hostels in Rome are almost entirely centralized to one region conveniently located within walking distance of the train and bus stations. One doesn’t need to walk far to find a restaurant, bar, or cafe that advertises wifi and an international staff and menu. There’s no need to learn the language, interact with anyone that isn’t getting paid to be polite, and a visitor doesn’t even need to taste the local cuisine. The only requirement in Rome is loose money and our wallets had gone Puritan. Since the buses and trams in Rome are free, Jason and I decided to see the quintessential parts of the city only to discover the huge crowds of people and the entry fees everywhere we went. The churches were mostly free and we visited a great deal of other impressive sites, but as for the Vatican and the Colosseum we were only able to gaze up at the outer walls. It was incredible to see the lines of people waiting to get in to these places. They must have been waiting out in the sun for five hours, moving a few feet every so often, all crowded around their tour guides as the selfie stick army accosted them from every direction. Rome had become an amusement park where the lines were long, the food was overpriced, and nobody looked particularly thrilled to be there.
In the end, we did end up making a few friends. There were a couple of pretty German women at a hostels that we spent the night talking with and a radical local named Fabio we met on Couchsurfing. Fabio took us to some of the lesser known parts of Rome and showed us the secret graffiti spots.
In the end we learned that if you go to Rome without money and without a plan, you better know someone who lives there otherwise you’ll wander around all day looking for a place to sleep, get ripped off, and overpay for pizza.
We bought our bus tickets to the airport and stood in a confused line of people who were all trying to figure out the impossible transportation system. A few passengers missed their bus, we barely made ours, and with a salty kiss goodbye we flew to Malta.