21st century Rome exists like a time capsule. Ancient ruins are dotted all throughout the modern city. At 496 square miles, Rome is arguably the largest open-air museum in the world. I knew immediately upon arrival that the Eternal City would be nothing like Paris. We flew in late, arriving shortly after midnight. Ryanair, a budget airline got us there for a mere 20 euros each. Thanks to a competitive market, air travel’s become the cheapest way to travel Europe, by far. I only wish the same was true for the states. My first experience with budget airlines was actually better than I expected. Our bus to the small airport, which was a couple hours out of Paris in the French countryside, got delayed by traffic. Justin and I were racing to check in as soon as we pulled up. When the airport security first saw our massively overstuffed backpacks they were quick to dismiss our carry-ons as too large. Getting them checked would cost an extra 30 euros each. Justin was quick to relent, worried we’d miss our flight. Always the thrifty one, I fought back. “It’s flexible,” I explained. “We can take out a few bits of clothing and I’ll stuff them in my purse.” I tried to take a jacket and put it over my sweater to emphasis my commitment to not spending the extra money. I imagine we looked a bit frantic, covered in sweat and the multiples layers of clothes we’d worn to keep our bags as small as possible. Thankfully, the man took mercy on us and let us pass. The airport was more like a small hanger, with only four gates and a two small shops along the back. Our panicked race to the gate hadn’t been necessary. We ended up waiting another half hour just to board. Used to big city airports, it surprised me that we boarded the plane outside on the terminal. I guess that’s a budget airline, no frills, no fanciness. It was just plain blue leather seats and old carpeted floors. A flight at it’s most basic, no blankets or hi-tech TVs. After a short two hour flight, we arrived in the Eternal City. We booked an Airbnb in an area on the edge of Rome called Serpentara. Popular myth says the name comes from the large number of snakes in the area. Thankfully, we never saw a single one. It was 1 a.m. by the time we got to the bus stop and started waiting for the one that would take us to Serpentara. We waited almost an hour before realizing the bus we needed had stopped running, forcing us to take an unfortunately pricey taxi instead. Despite the late hour our host Francesco, a young Italian man with curly hair, olive skin and a wide smile greeted us at the door. The place is rented out by an older Italian man named Komm. He lives elsewhere and we only met him once briefly. The apartment had three rooms, two of them shared and new guests were coming in and out daily. I’ve never stayed in a hostel, but I assume it would be very similar. I don’t know the exact arrangement, but it seemed Francesco was able to stay in the apartment in exchange for his services as host. I was surprised that he didn’t have his own room, depending on the number of guests, he’d occasionally end up sleeping on the floor. At first we didn’t know what to make of him. He speaks english well enough to get by, but is far from fluent. We frequently caught him dancing in the kitchen shirtless. More than once we were awoken by his early morning singing, sometimes songs, sometimes unintelligible hums and sounds. To make up for the language barrier, but also just as a joke he often mimed for us. He once danced the electric slide into our room and then did the classic bit where you pretend to walk down stairs. It all made a lot more sense when we learned he’s in training to become a clown. When he said his favorite movies are anything with Jim Carrey or Charlie Chaplin, I finally understood him. The place itself was nice enough, but definitely a downgrade from Paris and the entire floor we had to ourselves. It was certainly best suited for young people. There was no AC (though that’s actually very common in Italy), a single working shower for all the guests (sometimes 10 or more at a time), and a toilet that almost always refused to flush. The place was cheap and for us it was good enough. About halfway through our stay we were joined by two college students from the U.K., Becky and Miles. Miles is 20 and currently studying english literature at Cambridge. Becky is a year older and studying linguistics. She just came back from Russia, where she’s lived for the past two years. Both were incredibly funny and smart and we hit it off immediately. For the second half of our stay we all roamed the city together. I loved hearing them talk about their experiences as college students in the UK, which were both similar to ours and completely different. I was sad to say goodbye. In a blink we were packing up our stuff and moving on the next stop, Sicily.

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