WHEN IN ROME....EXPLORE AS ROMANS DO: MY EXPERIENCE WITH SCOOTEROMA.

When I decided that I would be re-visiting Rome, I knew that I had to find a different way to see the city than I had before. I had been to Rome twice, and it was the second visit that made me fall in love...I couldn't even imagine what the third visit would bring!

And then I found ScooteRoma.

Yes, it is exactly what you are thinking. I fully committed to the Roman way of life, and decided to explore the city by scooter ("motorino" if you are Italian). As a note, if you are feeling nervous, they have more than just scooter tours! I actually found them through their adorable instagram account that I highly recommend you follow just for kicks.

What I discovered in my three hours with ScooteRoma, is that you can explore all corners of the city efficiently (and without further eviscerating my feet). I loved the thrill of weaving in and out of cars (I truly didn't think that I would), rushing through alley ways, and navigating to the front of traffic by snaking through traffic. Considering that I had to buy new sandals on the way to meet Mimmo (my Roman tour guide) because my feet were hurting so much, this relaxing ride was more than welcome.

Mimmo met me at a central spot and had my helmet ready to go. He was nice enough, not only to wait for me as I arrived flustered and late, but to also stop for coffee at a fantastically local cafe mid-tour and provided me with some sugary treats to fuel my adventures. A cappuccino and cream filled pastry was exactly what I needed to set the tone for my day whipping through the city's streets!

I had planned on walking to the Piazzale Garibaldi to get a view of the city..but Mimmo checked it off my list without even knowing. He took me to the "secret" spots, while also passing through the popular Roman landscapes. I was able to see the Roman forum, the "keyhole" to Rome, the orange garden in Parco Savello, and (what felt like thousands) more in between.

There are tours, and then there are tours...this my friends, is worth it. I'm not all for following a tour guide holding an umbrella upside down to mark where they are in the crowds. I can assure you that ScooteRoma provides a more intimate way to see Rome in a way that a Roman would every single day.

So why not hop on?!

THE TOP 5 WAYS TO FALL IN LOVE WITH ROME

When I first visited Rome, I enjoyed my time, and was happy to have spent a two day whirlwind tour discovering the city. However, to tell you the truth, I was a little less than enthused about this famous place that is known for ancient ruins, lively piazzas, and ornate Renaissance churches.

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I don't think I'm alone in this perception, either. I have heard many a tourist say that Rome was great to see, but it wouldn't be making a reappearance on future itineraries and I never disagreed with this train of thought until 2013.

If you've read my blog before, you may have seen my post on studying abroad. During this time, our class traveled all over Italy and crammed as much historical information into our brains (and pizza into our faces) as possible. During my short stint to Rome, I decided that I was okay with not returning. It wasn't until 2013, when I went on a trip to Italy with my parents, that I truly fell in love with Rome.

What changed my mind? Well, a myriad of things, but mainly I revisited Rome and decided to take the non-whirlwind approach. We saw the city markets, cooked in the apartment, took tours from locals, and just experienced Rome as the Romans do. Basically, we found our way in the experiential travel world.

If you've thought that a trip to Rome could easily be trumped by a trip to Florence, Bologna, or Venice, I'm here to share how to make it a better competitor, and maybe even a top choice when planning your next jaunt to the boot-shaped country.

My family on an Easitalytour at the Coliseum

My family on an Easitalytour at the Coliseum

  1. Rent an apartment. I personally have never lived in a hotel (after all, we are not all Chuck Bass) and I don't anticipate that I ever will. To experience the local culture, one must live like a local, and an apartment is a great way to feel settled, have a kitchen, and experience what it is like to have a "home" in the city that you are visiting. My favorite sites are AirBnB, HomeAway, OneFineStay, and VRBO (although, many cities have great local options, as well). 
  2. Stay for 3+ nights. I think that many people treat Rome like they do Paris: simply, a stopover en route to the next place. However, if you limit your time, you are limiting your experience. Here's the thing...it's hard to find the balance of seeing multiple places and spending quality time in each location. I suggest three nights per city to give it a fighting chance for your love.
  3. Take a tour. Don't love being in a blob of humans with one person leading with a funny umbrella sticking up in the air? Join the crowd (not literally). Rome has some great tours that are individualized that can allow for you to really see what you want to see, and how you want to see it. My favorites are Easitalytours and Scooteroma. Easitalytours provides an English (or Italian) speaking tour guide who is beyond knowledgeable on Rome's history, art, and culture. We spent a half day meandering through the wonders of Rome without having to use a map and learning the tricks of navigating through town. Our tour guide also served as an enthusiastic photographer when we got to the most picturesque locations. Scooteroma is a unique option that allows you to ride or drive a scooter through Rome on a designated path. Romans love their scooters and this is a great (and fast) way to see the city through a local's eyes.
  4. Test out your culinary skills. Don't forget that an apartment comes with a kitchen! The market in Campo di Fiori sells an array of fruits, vegetables, oils, spices, and even flowers (if you are wanting to make your place extra cozy). Take an early morning walk through the piazza, grab a cappucino, and start shopping. There is nothing to help you experience a city like haggling with a street vendor! You will probably save some money and have a great memory of creating your own version of Italian cuisine.
  5. Roam...in Rome. Like every city, there are different neighborhoods with varying cultures. This is no different in Rome. If you stick to the normal path, you will see normal Roman things (and probably a lot of that will be touristy since this is quite the hub of tourism for Italy). Put on your walking shoes and start to explore the nooks and crannies of Rome. If you are like me and you err on the side of caution, ask your waiter, tour guide or temporary landlord where they would eat, walk, and explore their own city. Your experience will be unique, you may get lost, but the adventure is all in the journey (and worst case scenario, they have Uber to bail you out).
Having a nightcap in front of the Pantheon

Having a nightcap in front of the Pantheon

I hope that if you didn't love Rome the first time, you may give it another shot! I can't wait to go back, eat some Cacio e Pepe, zoom around on a scooter, and drink a spritz in front of the Pantheon!

 

MMM....JUST TASTE THE CULTURE!

I was once at a meeting where they asked everyone to write their name on their name plate and draw an image that depicted a "fun fact" about themselves. Now, I feel like this is never an easy question. No one wants to come off as boring, or "braggy," or, in a worst case scenario, share something that makes you unique but takes a negative turn (you know, there's always one).

Churros in Madrid

Churros in Madrid

I was struggling to find what made me different from every other unique person in the room. While I was staring blankly at my name plate, my boss said "I know something for you....it's easy." My interest was peaked. "You like food more than anyone I have every met." It's true...I do. I think about it constantly, I talk about it way too much, and I plan my meals endlessly to make sure that I am maxing out my "tasty" quotient for each day. In fact, I had sent no less than five emails to my boss and co-worker on restaurant options within reasonable taxi distance from our conference. What's a hungry girl to do? We were in Nashville, where there are TONS of options (shout out to the AMAZING 5th & Taylor). I couldn't fathom leaving without getting to know the city, and I feel like getting to know a culture largely comes from tasting the cuisine.

pizza in Rome

pizza in Rome

So that leads me to how I start to plan every trip. The food. For example, have you ever heard of a trip to Italy that didn't mention pasta, pizza, or gelato? If you have, I want to shake your hand because you are in a small group, my friend!

I truly believe that taste is the most powerful of the senses (obviously along with smell, since it is such a contributing factor). It has the power to create a memory that you think back on, and all too often, make an audible reaction...."mmmm."

Heavenly ceviche on the beach of Mexico

Heavenly ceviche on the beach of Mexico

Yes, I'm that girl that will lust after meals past. I can remember my first taste of Spaghetti Nonna Rosa at Il Gatto e la Volpe in Florence, the bittersweet and acidic medley of the ceviche at Coqui Coqui in Tulum, eating the crispy greasiness of fried zucchini flowers in actual Roman ruins at Costanza's in Rome, and the hearty taste of stuffed tomatoes that I couldn't get enough of while sitting under a canopy of grape clusters in Paxos, Greece (kicking myself for not getting the name of the place!).

I'm still not satisfied...each delicious meal intensifies my desire to try yet another place, another meal, and another specialty (am I right, Hunger Diaries? She just gets me). My food bucket list contains Bolognese in Bologna, pizza in Naples, pho in Vietnam, perogies in Poland...and so so many more!

I've never considered myself an adventurous eater, but apparently I am more so than the "average bear." I like to try the local specialties. If the local specialty is rabbit, I guess I'm getting rabbit. How can I understand how people of another culture live their day to day, if I stick with what I could/would order back in Florida? My one exception is mussels....I CANNOT get enough mussels, particularly when in a seaside town!

I assure you that I learned about my love for researching the best places to eat (and I'm not talking fancy...I mean quality) by getting burned a time or two. One situation sticks out like a sore thumb. Just like many tourists, I fell victim to getting lured in by a sidewalk restaurant promoter promising great things. When the meal came out, there were vegetables that looked like they were dumped straight from a Green Giant bag. No offense to Green Giant, but if I wanted frozen veggies, I'd go to the nearest Publix. My meal that night fed a stray dog...the term "doggy bag" has never been more literal.

The moral of the story: I will search tirelessly looking for that perfect meal that captures all facets of a destination. It takes time..boy, does it take time...but no matter way, it is better than chasing down stray dogs.

THE DANGERS OF STUDYING ABROAD

My mom cried. She thought I might die in a terrorist attack. I reiterated that I wanted to go to Europe, not the Middle East. In our current day reality, this may have been a threat that I would have put some legitimate thought into. However, my concern would have been fleeting and regardless, I still would have boarded that plane.

To back up a bit, I went to Florida State University (Go ‘Noles!). During freshman orientation, there are tons of break-out sessions that upcoming freshman can attend to find out how to maximize on their college years. I was eighteen, fresh-faced, naïve about the world, and had never traveled outside the country. Despite my mom’s comment that day as I peeled off to attend the informational session on the study abroad programs (“I’m not paying for that…I’ll go to another session), I went and listened to what the advisors had to say. Come Hell or high water, I was going to spend a semester overseas!

My mom was telling the truth. She didn’t pay for me to study abroad (which, of course, I did not initially believe since she was always willing to invest in anything academically focused). This is not to paint a negative picture about my mom at all, in fact quite the opposite. I learned more from her telling me “no,” than I ever would have if she had just agreed that my parents would foot the bill. Because my parents weren’t paying, I decided that I needed a loan. I didn’t know about terms, or interest rates, but I applied, I got approved, I signed my name on the dotted line, put my name in the hat for a summer in Italy, and got into the program.

9 years later, I came back to visit the FSU campus in Florence

9 years later, I came back to visit the FSU campus in Florence

So that was that. I was going to Italy! Now it was time to plan! I needed to get my passport, a student visa, luggage, books for classes, adaptors, and every other thing I was informed that I needed for the upcoming summer semester. Months, and a lot of checklists later, I rolled up to the American Airlines check-in counter with two HUGE suitcases, both weighing in at the maximum threshold. I looked like I was moving permanently, instead of just attending six weeks of classes.

I connected through Charlotte International Airport and met up with one of my best friends from my freshman dorm who had lived in Italy as a child while her dad was in the Navy (coincidentally, I ended up marrying he brother, so now she is my sister in-law and her father is my now father-in-law). We flew side-by-side across the ocean, and landed to find that our luggage didn’t make the trip. We ended up spending the first two days wearing our new classmates’ clothes, using their cosmetics, and not caring one bit. We were in ITALY!

Kalee and our first day in Italy in front of the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Kalee and our first day in Italy in front of the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Upon initial arrival, we all checked into our apartments. Somehow, we had thirteen students in one tiny, lackluster, poorly plumbed, and incredibly perfect apartment. We decided to have a “roomie” dinner where we all ended up enjoying too much wine, making our 8 AM orientation less-enticing than it would have been if we had solely suffered from an overdose of jet lag. I remember walking around that morning and seeing the Baptistery the first time and knowing that something in me had changed on a molecular level.

I spent the next six weeks wandering the streets of Florence. Every moment that I wasn’t in class, I was perusing the shops, drinking wine in the piazzas, and exalting the artwork that decorated the streets. As an outsider, I couldn’t imagine that Florentines ever become numb to the rich beauty of their city. In walking to a restaurant, you pass multiple Renaissance art pieces, monuments, and landmarks. Florence has a wealth of history, and I was cashing in all my chips to see it all before I left in June.

Our weekends contained trips to Rome, the Tuscan countryside, the Amalfi coast, Milan, Venice, and a myriad of small towns that create the allure that Italy has to offer its residents and tourists. Every town, every meal, every breath abroad changed my perspective on life and my expectation of what it was to “travel.”

The dangers of studying abroad were not imminent, physical, terrorism-rated, nor did they appear to be obvious, at first. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I was at risk of at any time during my semester in Italy. To clarify, nothing about my study abroad experience was actually dangerous or even slightly risky. However, the emotional danger was the fact that I was officially afflicted with a permanent case of wanderlust.

finally convinced my mom to visit Florence with me in 2014

finally convinced my mom to visit Florence with me in 2014

Travel in itself was not the problem. The conundrum was that anytime I was not traveling, I was either daydreaming about where I can visit next, or I found myself researching the next item to check off my bucket list. I have reason to believe that I am not alone in this. In fact, I now tend to see a lot of study abroad alums posting recent pictures of their excursions to Europe, further validating my perspective.

So here I am ten years later. I wish that everyone could have the pivotal experience that I was able to participate in during the summer of 2005, but I realize that is far from a reality. However, I can help others feel the same emotions that I had during those six weeks that I spent in Italy. This is exactly why Explorateur Travel exists. My goals include providing all aspects of experiential travel for those who want to “feel” the place that they are visiting. The focus is not merely to book travel, but to plan those small details that invoke an intense and permanent connection with the vacation destination.