We jumped on the opportunity to see a European soccer match when Ryan’s company offered us tickets to see AS Roma versus Barcelona, currently one of the best teams in Europe. The match was held in Rome a mere two days after we moved into our home in in Strettoia, Tuscany.
Instead of driving South again after our long trip, we took the high speed train from Florence to Pisa in the morning in order to make the 8 PM game. Unfortunately for us, the high speed train was not so speedy that day. Instead of the expected one and a half hours, it took us four and a half hours due to delays along the track. It pretty much wiped out our plans to sight-see during the day before the match. At least the train was clean and comfortable!
Once we arrived, we headed to our hotel, about another 40 minutes from the train station (We chose a hotel close to the stadium because we were told it is very difficult to get home by cab after the game and your best bet would be to walk). After reviving ourselves a bit after our frustrating journey, we headed to the central Rome area to buy some AS Roma gear and eat dinner before the game.
I had visited Rome back in 2008, and recall it being hot, crowded, and overwhelming. Luckily, it was not too hot but it was definitely packed. We started in the Piazza del Popolo, the starting point for all of the shopping streets. I forgot how lively Rome was, especially after being in small coastal towns, and was disappointed that we didn’t have time to see more (it is our plan to return in a couple months when the crowds die down.) I recall walking down the street and catching the scent of leather and new shoes wafting from the stores. We were able to find AS Roma gear at a Nike store, because as Ryan insisted, it would be a crime to go to a game without wearing red and white.
We had just enough time to catch an early dinner at a restaurant Ryan found in the area using Tripadvisor. We were the only ones there albeit a couple from downstate Illinois, whom we ended up talking with the entire meal. At that point, I also realized how much of a mess we looked; Ryan’s hair was unkempt, I was in need of a shower, and bags weighed down our eyes. Remember that we were in Southern Italy two days before and I had driven all the way to Tuscany and then back to Rome in 36 hours.
Despite the pleasant company, the food was sub-optimal. We split a lasagna with truffle sauce and a spaghetti carbonara, both which sounded promising. They came out drenched in heavy sauces reminiscent of Italian restaurants in the U.S. and a far cry from the light and fresh pastas we had experienced in other restaurants. Even with all that sauce, the lasagna was average and the carbonara tasteless amidst lifeless noodles. The lamb we shared afterwards was also dry. I guess that is what you get for going to a touristy restaurant in central Rome. It is a misconception that all the pizza and pasta in Italy is excellent. The truth is, most places along the piazzas and touristy strips are going to be overpriced, very average, and geared to Western taste rather than authentic Italian flavors.
Cutting it close on time, we took an uber taxi to the game. Ryan had received an email with instructions with how to receive his tickets. They were very vague, however, and the driver had to drop us off about a mile away from the stadium because the roads were all closed off to pedestrians. Since Ryan’s company has equity in AS Roma, we would be sitting in a VIP area. This required us to collect our tickets by the tennis club, according to the instructions, but it was completely closed off. We found a man dressed in a suit blocking what looked like a VIP area, and Ryan explained his situation in broken Italian with English dropped in, finally resorting to “I own the team,” which somehow got us past the door. All I know this would have never happened in the US.
We were finally ushered into a huge reception area filled with hundreds of people dressed in trendy attire (i.e. men in jackets, woman in heels). There was buffet getting cleaned up and drinks were abundant. Clearly we had missed the memo on the dress code. No one was wearing jerseys in this section, which consisted of the team owners and other wealthy Italians with the equivalent of “box seats’ in the US.
Regardless, our seats were incredible, as you can see from the photos. Center field, only several rows back from the sidelines. I had never been to a soccer game before, but you can tell how patriotic and dedicated the fans were by the chanting and full force singing of the national anthem. Even though AS Roma was the underdog in this game, they played very well and actually ended the game with a tie. Although I am not typically a fan of watching the entirety of sports game, I thought the match was fast-paced (the game is only one hour and forty minutes) and a unique experience.
Upon the game’s final minutes, we left the stadium trying to avoid the mass exodus of fans. The walk to our hotel was about an hour in the middle of the night, so you can say we slept pretty soundly that night. We hope to return to another one of AS Roma’s matches during our time in Italy, especially now that we know about the special VIP amenities available to us!