Ciao Roma!

I’m an #Avgeek to an extent. I read the frequent flyer forums like FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com and take advantage of the amazing deals people find on there to do most of my traveling. If not for FT or MP I wouldn’t be able to volunteer internationally, it’s as simple as that. But where I differ from other Mileage Runners out there is that I actually get out of the airport and check out the place I’ve flown into on a layover. The trip to marshal Spa 24h was a perfect example of this, where I attempted to stop over in Rome on a few hour layover. And spend a night in Chicago on the way home.

While I’m sure others would be weary of attempting a sightseeing tour of Rome after arriving at 7am and connecting to a 3pm flight, but I went for it. The Leonardo da Vinci airport is about an hour away from Rome using public transport, and at that hour of the morning rush hour traffic is guaranteed. However I got pretty lucky and made it to the city by 9am, by the time the flight arrived at the gate and I cleared customs it was 8am. The beauty of the bus ride is that it was great for sightseeing in air conditioned environment. For one, it passed right by the Colosseum (both on the way there and back along with a number of other historic sites that I know little about). But seeing that the Colosseum is in a hilly area I changed my plans of staring my tour from there and instead took the metro a few stops from Termini stations to Piazza di Spagna.

ciao roma spanish steps piazza di spagna

Took a quick shot with the famous Spanish steps, and continued in the direction of the Pantheon.

ciao roma citroen mitsubishi electric police car

Along the way spotted a cool police car, a badge engineered Citroen version of a Mitsubishi electric city car. (which always looked like a four door version of the Smart ForTwo from Mercedes-Benz… and knowing that Daimler-Benz was a stakeholder in Mitsubishi when this car was designed, I’m sure there was some collaboration).

Before I could reach the Pantheon I stumbled into a neat gelato store which offered some much needed relief for the rising temps outside, both with the air conditioner and delicious gelato. Rome went up to 36 Celcius during my visit and I was melting while running around for the three hours I spend in the city… my jeans were soaking wet.

ciao roma pantheon

After the obligatory selfie at the Pantheon I followed advice from a fellow FT’er from Germany to check out the classic salumeria in the square for a sample of their prosciutto and panini. It was delicious! I tend to compare foodie places to something I’m already familiar with, and my regular lunch place outside the office: Cosmo’s salumeria in Hackensack, NJ offers comparable experience as the authentic spot in Rome. I was very pleased discovering that.

ciao roma salumeria pantheon

While making my way towards Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum I spotted a familiar car badge engineered to represent the home country.

ciao roma lancia thema

This Chrysler 300 was wearing a Lancia badge which calls it Thema. And the limo driver behind the wheel did a great job trying to avoid me running after it with my cell phone camera.

Eventually I made it to the Roman Forum, which was incredible.

ciao roma roman forum

These are several thousand year old ruins from the peak of Roman Empire. The sense of history is overwhelming in Rome, I highly recommend it for anyone even remotely interested in discovering things you learn in history books… experienced in real life.

The final stop on my tour was of course the Colosseum.

rome road trip

My plans did include a visit to the Vatican, but with my flight departing late from NYC and arriving slightly behind schedule after catching up some time in the air, there just wasn’t enough time to venture across the river. So I left it for next time. Rome definitely deserves another, longer visit in the future!

With buses running only twice an hour between Termini and FCO I decided to leave Rome at noon to make sure I don’t jeopardize my flight at 3pm. Of course once I arrived at the airport the sightseeing didn’t stop as I was pretty impressed with the Automotive dining options there.

ciao roma mercedes-benz cafe pizza fco

Yes, there is a Mercedes-Benz Cafe in the terminal. Conveniently it was right next to my departure gate for Brussels. And as much as I was craving the authentic thin crust pizza sold by the slice on a beautifully crafted long plate adorning the Mercedes-Benz star, I was not at all hungry and still had most of my panini and prosciutto left to finish. So I took the picture instead of buying more food.

I used my Delta Sky Miles frequent flyer program miles to book the flight to Brussels via Rome on Alitalia. On the way home I used American AAdvantage miles to fly Finnair via Helsinki. But the NYC flight was completely sold out, so I finagled a routing via Chicago and American was kind enough to throw in a freebie leg from Chicago to NY which was a day after arrival. That gave me a couple of hours in the evening and almost the whole day next day to explore Chicago downtown. Which I totally turned into a Foodie Tour while sightseeing.

chicago deep dish pizza

First stop on the itinerary was Giordano’s deep dish pizza the evening of my arrival. It was delicious. Absolutely delicious. Though at $18 quite pricey and way too big for me to finish at around 10pm at night. But it was so good.

The next morning the foodie tour continued. I made a list of about five places that I had to sample, Chicago Hot Dogs was represented by a few iconic places. There was a joint selling Chicago style fries with cheddar cheese which was not my favorite especially after being on a fry diet in Belgium for a week. But the hot dog places rocked.

chicago hot dog double

I followed the Chicago River as I visited one eating establishment after another and really enjoyed the Rivewark, Michigan Avenue and Millenium Mile. I’ve been to Chicago a few times before, but somehow I never managed to find the famous Bean until this time. It was hiding from me in plain sight:

chicago road trip

What an impressive piece of art work. And I was super glad to finally discover it for myself with the obligatory selfie to keep for my memory.

The two side trips on this Motorsport Road Trip were as exciting to me as the Spa 24h race. I love taking advantage of opportunities to see something that I would otherwise not have a chance to experience. I always tried in the past to piggyback a visit to Thailand whenever working Singapore or Malaysia events. And I’m especially looking forward to visiting the Cook Islands on my next trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Bon voyage everyone! Happy Travels…