All Roads Lead to Rome (Unpopular Opinion: Rome is Overrated)

Last year, we went to Italy for a 10 day vacation, the last 5 days of which were spent in Rome. And we need to talk about Rome. I wanted to write a wonderful piece on how to save money in town, and all the things to do in Rome, a review of the Roma pass and more. But I find that I can’t write that post because there is something that is in the way and its because I didn’t like Rome.
This has to be an unpopular opinion and I certainly didn’t expect to have this opinion. I expected to fall in love with Rome. But the truth is that from the first moment we arrived in Rome I wished we had never left Tuscany. I suffered through the 5 days we spent there, trying to make the best of it. But I didn’t like it. I want to try to explain why.

So many people

What its really like to visit the Vatican

I purposefully picked October because I had heard that going in the summer or near a holiday would cause Rome to be so crowded that you could not enjoy it. October was perfect for the weather, the crowds not so much. I cannot imagine what the crowds are like in the summer or around holidays because everything was so crowded that I felt like I was in a herd of cattle wherever I went. The online boards I read told me to not go on a Wednesday or the weekend, so I went on a Tuesday. They also said to go to the vatican in the afternoon since there are more tour groups in the morning and its supposed to be less crowded. Less crowded by what standards I ask? I have never seen so many people in my life.

Very crowded hallway
This many people in this small space cannot be safe

My advice is just don’t go to the Vatican. I don’t see how you can enjoy anything. People ask me about the Sistine Chapel since now I’ve seen it. My advice? Don’t go see it. Its not worth it. The Vatican museum was so full of people that you cannot even walk around full stride without people being EVERYWHERE! And then the Sistine Chapel itself was the worst of it. The entire place was packed to the brim with people standing shoulder to shoulder. There are benches along the walls but since there are so many people you have such a slim chance of getting one of those. Have these people ever heard of fire codes? It cannot be safe to have that many people stuffed into a room. Now the art itself is pretty nice but you soon develop a horrible crank in your neck from trying to stare straight up at the ceiling while passerby step on your toes. You might come prepared with your earbuds to have an audio guide explain the room to you so you know what you are looking at, but good luck hearing it. With that many people in a room the constant murmuring and loud talking of all the Asians who can’t read the English signs telling you “No talking! Quiet! Silence!”, broken up occasionally by the loud yelling of the Vatican officials yelling “Silence!”, good luck hearing that audio guide. To be frank it just wasn’t worth it. Italy is filled with elaborately painted ceilings, the Sistine Chapel just isn’t that different.

The line to St. Peter's Basilica, taken from where we were in line, which was not the back
The line to St. Peter’s Basilica, taken from where we were in line, which was not the back

Moving onto St. Peter’s Basilica itself…. I personally say that I completely agree with Michelangelo on this one. They shouldn’t have put that baroque facade on the front of St. Peters. It makes the dome less impressive. Even though St. Peter’s is larger than the dome in Florence it doesn’t look as impressive since its in the distance being dwarfed by that baroque facade. To actually get into St. Peters you have to wait in a really long line. It wasn’t that bad the day we went and the line was only an hour. Even more annoying than standing in line was the annoying street salesmen who constantly came up to you trying to talk you into buying their overpriced tours! We had to keep asking them to leave us alone! Then there is the actual basilica itself, it is very very big inside. And very beautiful. I can see why people might have a religious experience being in there. But I myself could not have a religious experience. I was too distracted by the hoards of people all over the cathedral to really take in the sanctity of the place. It was beautiful and big but I have to say that there were other cathedrals in Rome that I found just as beautiful that I actually enjoyed way more because I was able to relax and take them in without crowds of people.

Inside St. Peter's
Inside St. Peter’s…the crowds just won’t stop

There was not actually that much history to be found in Rome

I find the history of Rome to be completely fascinating and I was looking forward to seeing it all where it happened. The political struggles of the ancient Roman empire and the rule of the Vatican are some of the most engaging periods in history and I thought I would learn tons about the ancient world and the church. What greeted me was a sprawling dirty city with periodic ancient ruins. Even though I could go see the ruins and sites that were thousands of years old there was very little information that was given. Even on the tours I went on, I was left learning very little and not understanding the political and social factors around what happened. Everything was presented in a shallow, lighthearted way. An example of this was the Colosseum. I found the way it was presented slightly offensive. It was shown as one huge fun thing and oh! look Gladiators. I personally do not find gladiators to be amusing. I find the amount of death that happened there for amusement to be disturbing and not a lighthearted matter at all.

Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill

The city is difficult to navigate

We had maps and we wanted to take public transportation around the city but I found that the metro doesn’t actually go very near a lot of the things that you actually want to see. The metro entrances were sometimes far away and the signs for how to get to the metro were not clear. Granted, some of that may be soon be fixed by them building a third metro line. I also found the city itself often confusing to navigate by walking. One afternoon we spent almost an hour trying to figure out how to enter a garden that just had a huge wall between it and the rest of the city with no identifiable entrances. Anyway I haven’t had the same experience in other cities.

This caterpillar seems happy enough on Palatine Hill

Other general grievances

The bathroom situation there need some serious explaining. About 80% of the toilets I encountered in public had some sort of toilet seat issue going on. Either the toilet seat was broken, removed, or just completely missing. This seemed to happen almost everywhere I went. It seemed to occur in both male and female bathrooms and in free public WCs and in fancy restaurants. Everywhere I went I encountered this strange phenomenon of missing and broken toilet seats. And the fact that there was a small minority of toilets with toilet seats still intact assured me that it wasn’t that toilet seats just aren’t a thing there, so I’m perplexed.

Trevi Fountain cleaning
If you get to the Trevi Fountain really early you’ll beat the crowds, but also the fountain won’t be on and the cleaning guys won’t let you near it

But the most annoying part of Rome were the street vendors. Especially the ones around the Colosseum and the Vatican. They were beyond pushy or persistent in trying to sell their crap. At first we were polite with a simple “no, thank you” and trying to walk away from them but over time I became more aggravated by them. Many of these vendors try to act like they are “officials” wearing vests and attempting to order people around. We even had some yelling at us that “We were going the wrong way”, as he tried to bar our way from walking down the sidewalk. I lost my patience and compassion with him since he had no way to know if we were “going the wrong way” since he didn’t know where we were going! These street vendors we encountered that behaved this way were not Italian and they did not speak Italian, they only yelled at us English. I just pretended to not understand them and tried to ignore them. Others on forums suggest to just ignore them, not make eye contact, etc. but those tactics just didn’t work on these people. They would literally run after you in the street! It made it difficult to enjoy being out and about.

Finally, a little bit of positivity

Overall, I am glad that I have been to Rome, but I wish that I had spent less time there. It just wasn’t my kind of city. Rome can be overrated if you go where the crowds go and try to tick off some prescribed list on what you have to see. My most interesting and fun times in Rome were when we just wandered around. My advice is to stay somewhere close to the sights, only go see what is important to you and skip the “Must-sees” and also don’t expect too much. After all, it is just a city. And to end this article here is a list of stuff in Rome I did enjoy!

  • Tiramisu
  • Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Pantheon
  • Appian way
  • The Roman Forum
  • Paprika Chips
  • Olive Trees
  • Beautiful Cathedrals on almost corner
  • The sunsets
bird on a column
Maybe Rome isn’t all bad…

A Week in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island in the Caribbean. One of the best things about Puerto Rico is that since it is a U.S. territory, American citizens can travel there without having to get a passport. This was one of the reasons that we decided to visit last year. We spent 7 days on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. I decided to focus the trip on San Juan mostly. When I travel I like to have a more authentic experience and get a good idea of where I am visiting but we also wanted a little bit of a romantic getaway so we wanted to spoil ourselves just a little while still saving money. Here is our itinerary that allowed us see the best of Puerto Rico in just 7 days.

Day 1:

Arrive in San Juan Puerto Rico. To save money we took the bus from the airport to the old town San Juan. It was only 75¢ each!!!

Villa Herencia
Villa Herencia

The bus dropped us off near the port where the cruise ships dock and we had to walk the rest of the way to get to our hotel in the old town.
Warning: It is hot and old San Juan is sorta hilly, and the streets are narrow and cobblestone. Be conscious of this if you go. We stayed at this little boutique hotel in old San Juan for the first half of our trip called the Villa Herencia. Villa Herencia is located right near the old gate to the city and is also right near the cathedral. It was a good and mostly quiet part of the city.

After getting settled in we went and had a dinner of strawberry daiquiris made from fresh fruit and my first taste mofongo! Mofongo is a type of plantain dish that is served in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are all about some plantains. Then it was a walk around the city where we felt the sea breeze and we took a walk along the Paseo de la Princesa. The Paseo de la Princesa is a beautiful walk outside of the old city walls.

Day 2:

We woke up bright and early ready to see more of old San Juan. We were feeling so bright eyed and bushy tailed that we decided to take the scenic route to the Castle. We walked along the water on a walkway to the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. This is a long walk when its hot. Bring some water. The walk is a beautiful view of the ocean and it is nice to watch the ships come in.

Path to the Castle

We got to the Castillo San Felipe on the top of the hill where we bought tickets for the castle. The castle is pretty awesome and dates back several hundred years. If you’re a sucker for old stuff and history like me then you’ll love it. I recommend you go early in the day. It is very hot in the middle of the day and there is no air conditioning. I think everyone except me likes to sleep in on vacation because there was hardly anybody there until 10am. But at 10am the sun got hotter and the tourists started pouring in and it got crowded. We left soon thereafter to go take a break out of the sun and grab lunch at a local spot where we had some more plantains but this time it was plantain chips.

After lunch we headed to the Castillo San Cristóbal which you get into for no additional cost if you go on the same day as the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. We just presented our entry ticket and they let us right on in. This castle is a little more modern and you can see where the U.S. government used this as a lookout in WWII. There is also a small museum that has air conditioning. One of the cool things that were on the grounds were the iguanas. There were just iguanas chilling on the grass when we went.

Day 3:

On Day 3 we woke up to rain clouds. Between rain storms we went to the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. It is a cool graveyard right by the sea beside the Castillo San Felipe. If you have time its interesting to check out. During the day we checked out several museums in Old San Juan and visited the cathedral while eating even more plantains.

San Juan cathedral

Day 4:

By day 4 I had had enough of Old San Juan and it was time to move on. After looking at the prices for tours around the island we decided to get a rental car. Tours to El Yunque Rainforest or Farjado were several hundred dollars per person whereas we could get a rental car for much less adn go wherever we liked. We got Progressive to pick us up! I had always seen on thee commercials that they would pick you up, and they will. We picked up our rental car and drove about an hour out of San Juan to the El Yunque Rainforest This is the only rainforest that is part of the U.S. park system. Definitely check it out. After checking out the park visitor’s center we hiked a trail to a waterfall and chilled on the rocks at the waterfall for awhile.

El Yunque has cool slugs

After that we got back in the car and drove along Highway 3 to Luquillo and stopped on the side of the road at the Luquillo Kiosks for some dinner. These are just some stands and kiosks that are in a little strip along the road beside the beach. We just walked up and down and bought little bits of food from different vendors because we wanted to try everything. You can get cheap authentic Puerto Rico food here.

El Yunque Rainforest


We then got back in the car to drive to Fajardo Bay to visit the BioBay. Puerto Rico is home to 3 of the world’s bioluminescent bays with the Fajardo Bio luminescent Bay being the most easily accessible to people vacationing on the northern part of the island. These bays are home to tiny microorganisms known as dinoflagellates that glow when they are disturbed in the water. As a result when a paddle go in the water and moves around the water will appear to glow where it is disturbed.

The Fajardo bay is protected and you cannot swim in the bay and you must go with a tour group. I’m usually all about saving money but I had to grit and fork over the money to go on this tour for about $100 per person. I didn’t want to miss out of glowing bioluminescent bays. Most of the tour groups take 2 groups each night, one earlier as the sun is setting and then one later on. I had chosen to go on the earlier one and had picked the night that the moon was supposed to be darkest.

To get to the bay you have to kayak through the mangroves. Prior to this I had thought I was bad at kayaking. However after meeting the others in my group and seeing their complete failure to go forward in one direction in a kayak I have concluded I’m not that bad at kayaking. Fortunately the sun was till setting while we were going through the mangroves so we could see where we were going.

Once we got to the bay we had to wait for the sun to completely set and for it to get dark. I had tried not to get too excited about the glow since I had heard the Fajardo bay wasn’t as bright as the one at Vieques. But as it got darker I started to see the flickering glow in the water. You can put your hand in for a second and splash around and the you’ll see the glow for a second like tiny fireflies. I found myself enchanted by these strange creatures in this bay. I found myself wondering what the people who first saw this thought. Did they think it was magic? I was reluctant to leave even though I was exhausted from hiking all day when it was time to paddle back out of the bay. Just as a warning, paddling through the mangroves in the dark is sort of terrifying. Its very hard to see where you are going (because its night time) and the people in front of us kept stopping, causing boats to crash into them and a bunch of boats would pile up together.

Day 5:

On day 5 we woke up early again to drive 2 hours west from San Juan to Camuy Caves. I had heard that you have to get there early or it could be so crowded that you wouldn’t be given admission. I’m not sure what that was based on because we got there around 11 and it wasn’t crowded at all. We bought our tickets and waited for the next tour group to start. It was about a 20 minute wait. Then we got our headsets and got on this little caravan trailer to be pulled to the caves. The headset tells you about everything that is going on.

As we got closer to the caves I felt like I was journeying to another planet. It started to feel like I was in the movie Avatar. I felt this even more when we actually got in the caves. They were absolutely astonishing. Completely worth the 2 hour drive to get there. The tour itself was about an hour long and you are escorted through by your tour guide and you also have your headset to tell you about different sites as you got to them. These caves were so gorgeous I really felt I was someplace magical. While we were in there we found the fountain of youth! (At least the tour guide said it was) I’m not convinced it was the actual fountain of youth but I was thirsty and daring so I drank from it. (I’ll let you know in 10 years if it really was the fountain of youth!)

Camuy Caves

After the caves we decided to head to the Arecibo telescope. The Arecibo telescope is really a humongous dish that is in the valley of these mountains in Puerto Rico. You’ve probably seen it in a couple of movies such as the 1995 James Bond movie or the movie Contact (1997). Until fairly recently it was the largest single dish radio telescope in the world. The coolest part is that scientists have been using it to talk to aliens! Well, send messages to aliens, no alien has talked back yet (that we know of). Still very cool. It was pretty crowded when we went so we had to park outside the of the entrance and hike up the mountain to get to the museum so be prepared to hike. Also we had to turn off our phones while we there. Which was just as well because our phones were roaming pretty badly and killing our batteries.

Note: This awesome telescope collapsed in 2020 and is no longer open.

Arecibo Telescope

There’s nothing like driving around the small winding mountain roads that makes me so grateful for the wide spacious roads that I normally get to drive on. We got a bit lost on the way back from the Arecibo telescope , partially due to the fact that our phones were dead and partially due to the fact that all the signs were in Español. As we found the main roads again we found ourselves next to a grocery store! I love going to grocery stores in foreign countries (ok, Puerto Rico is technically a U.S. Territory). You always get to see cool products and stock up on authentic local snacks for a fraction of the price that you pay at all the tourist destinations. We stocked up on snacks for the rest of the trip and headed back to San Juan to check into our resort.

Days 6 & 7:

We spent the last 2 1/2 days of our vacation at the Caribe Hilton resort. After days and days of going nonstop we needed a few days of rest and restoration. This place was pretty awesome with a private beach area and a garden with iguanas and birds. At the end of the dock they even had a coral reef you could look down at! It was pretty amazing. We spent days lounging around being “normal” tourists (except for the cheap snacks we had in our room we got from the grocery store, banana juice anyone?) I’m normally not a hug fan of resorts because I get bored so easily but it was the perfect way to end our vacation in Puerto Rico!

Resort view

Time to go home!

At the end of week it was time to go home and back to our normal lives. But our journey through Puerto Rico was amazing. As an update, this trip was taken shortly before the hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico. I am supremely grateful that I had the opportunity to see such a beautiful place before the disaster hit. I hope they are able to restore it to all of its glory and it looks like they are slowly but surely on track to do just that.