Two Birds, One Stone: The U.K. and Italy in a Week

I remember the days where visiting any countries in Europe were just thoughts that would never happen. It’s so easy to pack a few swimsuits, rompers and just head to a tropical island. But why isn’t it just as easy to pack a few light jackets, block heels and head to Europe?

Since our successfully planned and executed trip to Puerto Rico last year, Rookie virtually became my travel buddy. We were able to plan that trip with no issues or delays. Once we began itching for our next trip, we initially spoke Panama. I never really considered Panama when thinking about travel, but I was definitely open to exploring Central America. We looked up a few AirBnBs and flights, but the plan never came to fruition. Eventually, Rook texted me like, “Yo, we out to Rome.” I was like, “Rome? Let’s do it.”

The $420 roundtrip flight for 7 days was booked a few weeks after. So was the $460 AirBnB in Lazio, Italy- a city just 25 minutes outside of central Rome.

I was actually shocked to find that traveling to Europe wasn’t all that expensive. I’ve actually spent more on a roundtrip flight to the Dominican Republic during Christmas. There was a reason our flights were inexpensive, however. It would be our first time flying with layovers. The first layover was in the U.K. for 8.5 hours then we flew to Rome. Next layover was for our return flight, which made a 4.5 hour layover in North Carolina- a state I’ve never been to and was excited to see some of. I’ve never had a scheduled flight with layovers but I was open to it because we were going to spend enough time in the U.K. to visit London’s main attractions.

April 6th finally arrived and after running later than a pregnant woman’s menstrual, I made it through check-in and TSA in 10 minutes- shoutout to British Airways. I left my apartment about 1.5 hours before the flight and it was a rainy, traffic-filled Friday. I arrived to my gate when boarding had just commenced- what a relief.

British Airways has by far offered me the best in-flight experience. The captain didn’t do much talking until we were already about 10,000 feet north and the flight attendants spoiled us with liquor and food. I remember Rook yelling, “I love British Airways!” and sis, so do I. We finally arrived to London Heathrow Airport 7.5 hours later and nearly spent an hour getting dolled up for our day trip in the women’s restroom.

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The weather in the U.K. was exactly what I expected it to be- gloomy. I guess it adds to the aesthetic of what it’s supposed to be but once it started drizzling, my nose was not having it. I did learn that Great Britain is typically cloudy because of its location in the Warm Gulfstream. The combination of warm water flowing north and cooler air flowing south result in the cloud formation.

Our first stop was a breakfast and brunch spot, Duck and Waffle Local (which, if you know me, I obviously looked up on Yelp before going). Rook and I had an amazing and much needed English breakfast along with some decent water and cappuccinos.

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We visited one of the main streets in London, also known as the Piccadilly Circus for some sightseeing and I was quite pleased to see it reminded me of New York City. If you’re from NYC, you know there’s no place in the world like it, but some of the attractions in the city of Westminster were definitely a refresher.

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Of course we had to stop by Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards and take a nice, brisk walk through St. James’s park which eventually led us to Big Ben, the London Eye and a view of River Thames. I was actually a bit disappointed to see Big Ben wasn’t all that big. He was also surrounded by scaffolding and construction. Word around the street he won’t be open until 2021- welp.

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The city of Westminster and what I saw of the U.K. as a whole was very cute. Yes, that’s the word I’ll use to describe it because I literally kept saying that as we walked through the city. London is very posh and I really enjoyed people-watching as I walked. It wasn’t too much of a culture shock but it did have its obvious differences such as English accents and creepy silver-painted guys that appeared to be floating on the air. I wish the stay could have been longer but we did get to see everything we wanted (for the moment) and headed back to LHR on the Heathrow Express- a pretty modern train system. MTA, please take notes.

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I knew we were really in for the real deal once we boarded that 2.5 hour flight to Italy’s Fiumicino Aeroporti di Roma. Due to delays with security, we didn’t get to our AirBnB until 11pm that night. Not only were we exhausted from our earlier trip and taking the Trenitalia with our luggage, our AirBnB host decided it was presentation time once we arrived to the apartment. She went over transportation, nearby food and attractions with us but we were just ready for bed. At the moment it was like, thanks- but no thanks.

Our AirBnB was a bit further from the city than advertised but there were no worries for much longer after we rented our 2017 Jeep Renegade for the rest of the trip. The first bar we went to (and constantly gave it “clout”, as Rook and I kept referring to it) was a gay bar called Coming Out. The atmosphere was dope, so were our omelettes and mimosas that day. It was amazing to see that the legendary Colosseum was right across the street- something that really impressed me as it was cool to see the gay strip of bars is located right across the monument. Not something you will necessarily see somewhere in Times Square. I noticed Italy was very welcoming of the LGBTQ community which made me view the country in a more positive light.

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Rook and I made a shared Google Docs itinerary prior to our trip and made a few adjustments as we became more familiar with the country (we’re from New York, we can adapt to anywhere)! We initially planned to visit three other cities in Italy- Amalfi, Naples and Florence. We were the most psyched about Amalfi due to its beautiful coastline but unfortunately, plans changed when it was raining there for two days straight. Instead, we visited Naples, Montepulciano and explored Rome in most of its entirety. Naples was crazy!

I never knew how dangerous Naples was referred to until we experienced it. It was a fun kind of dangerous, though. We drove 2.5 hours to Naples and once we got to the city, we noticed the people who drove there were amongst the worst drivers in the world! There’s no such thing as merging and people will run you over if need be. Vespas find their way through little cracks in the street as if their drivers don’t have a life to live. A lot of the streets are also narrow, yet cars are allowed to pass through them. We had this running joke the whole trip about being pick-pocketed while simultaneously holding on to our bags for our dear lives. Not only were we being followed by this creepy guy, we managed to flee without twisting our ankles on the cobblestone floor nor getting ran over by a Vespa.

We ended up as what was dubbed by a local “the best pizzeria in Naples” and when we ate it…boy, did we agree. Instead of slices, you get a whole pie just for yourself. And in case you’re wondering- yes, I ate the whole thing.

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The only lousy part about my Naples pizza experience was the super unprofessional and sketchy waitress! First off, she wasn’t even in uniform- she was actually wearing her purse, a basic outfit and appeared as a customer when she first approached us. She barely understood the menu, was in a rush and sat with other customers while still trying to talk to us from another table. Like…is it your first day (or perhaps your last) day working here, ragazza?

Our schedules sort of went like this: tell each other we’re going to wake up early and leave the house by 10am, actually wake up at 11am and leave by 2pm, eat lunch, explore the main attractions in Rome, go back to our AirBnB to change clothes and head to the bars once again. Even on our travel days, we still couldn’t manage to get up early, but we made it happen!

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Due to our sadly canceled Amalfi trip, I suggested we visit a random town in the Tuscany region and we ended up in Montepulciano. It’s a beautiful town located on the mountains with scenic views. Montepulciano is known for its rich, bold and undiscovered wine. We stopped at a small, intimate wine bar for samples along with some tasty charcuterie. This felt like the true Italian experience- something necessary I wanted to get out of my trip.

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One thing about me as a traveler is I want to experience a country’s culture and not just visit tourist attractions. Rook and I did a great job with sorting out what we wanted to see, eat and experience. You can’t go to Italy without trying their authentic pizza, pasta, wine and gelato (carbs, anyone?). I was a bit hesitant about eating their pasta due to its high amount of carbs. However, I limited myself and did not eat pasta nor pizza in excess but still enjoyed the foods of the Italian cuisine.

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The best gelato I had in Italy was in Vatican City. Before our day trip to the Vatican, a local told us to grab some gelato from across the street and if I could go back and have another cone, I definitely would. Despite it being messy to eat, it was a great snack before we entered the holy area. The Vatican is even more beautiful in real life- it’s definitely a must-see when in Italy. We both made some quality prayers in silence during our visit.

One thing I prayed about was the abolishment of people literally smoking everywhere in Italy (and perhaps Europe as a whole). Most businesses permit it but it was definitely not something I was happy about. It’s like America has an obesity problem but Europe has a smoking problem- who wins? Luckily, there was no one smoking in Ice Bar Roma- a bar that is literally negative 5 degrees.

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I’ve always heard about Ice Bar but didn’t actually plan for it until Rook and I were walking through the narrow streets of Rome. For 15 Euros, you get a cape that shields you from the extreme temperature, entry to the ice bar and a free drink. We opted for the Blitzen bomb (Jagerbomb) and had a cool experience- no pun intended.

Later that day, we celebrated our final turn up night in Coming Out. A pole dancer was scheduled to perform that night and I thought it was just that until she grabbed me from my table and gave me a few lessons in front of all the patrons. Surprisingly, I wasn’t too shy but rather excited to learn something fun and unique in a different country. The crowd was uber supportive and even though I knocked down a chair while attempting to bust a pole move, I redid my poses and woke up with sore arms and chest the next day. Good times.

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We also had a fantastic karaoke night at Coming Out’s neighbor bar, My Bar. It had come to our attention that My Bar was missing some spice and Rook and I definitely brought it to the table. We requested a few Cardi B tracks and before you knew it, the New York came out of us. So good that one girl who was singing along to Cardi B’s “Money” was so off beat and still claimed she was from NYC. Her loyal friend called her out in front of everyone and reminded her she was from Texas. Nothing wrong with the big ‘ole Texas but watch out: people from New York are everywhere.

Rookie and I were basically the only people in England and Italy with curly afros- we barely related to anyone else’s hair while we were there. We often walked around with a sense of pride because we knew we were unique. Some stared in awe, others already had an artist in mind when they saw our hair. After our dinner at Ritorno al Passato, a fancy restaurant right in front of the Pantheon, we opted for gelato at Don Nino. As soon as we walked in, the two men working there instantly asked if we were Jamaican. After we said we were Dominican, they asked if we liked Tina Turner and started playing her music. We were certainly not offended but passed judgment on their ignorance. Some things are just stereotypical and delivery really matters. Thanks for the picturesque gelato.

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Being born and raised in a melting pot like New York City, everyone is so different that there isn’t necessarily a dominating kind. When I’m home, I never feel out of place because there is no “place.” Considering it was my first time traveling to another continent which has beauty standards that have affected our world for centuries, I got a taste of how people feel when they feel out of place in certain communities. No biggie- it just showed me that there are different responses to people from all places in the world; positive or negative.

One response I never got when asking people about their Eurotrips is that Europe uses different wall plugs than the U.S. (very random, but very important to know!). Be sure to buy an adapter beforehand or depend on your MacBook’s USB ports until it dies- womp. Withdrawing Euros at the airport is also strongly recommended as every transaction you make on your credit card is taxed with international fees. We actually spent more money on transportation (before renting the car) than anything else. If you’re a relatively new driver, I wouldn’t recommend driving for 2.5 hours on the highway like I did. My heart literally dropped every time someone didn’t signal or a large truck was next to me.

We survived, though. And that’s all that matters.

 

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