Saturday, October 2, 2010
Day 1: Rome - Fantastic even if you are exhausted
Months of planning have paid off wonderfully - I mean from the absolute get go. Let's just forget about the flight - let's face it, no flight on Air Sardine Can is going to be good. I had rather intimate contact all night with my seat mate - a pleasant woman originally from South Carolina. I very much enjoyed the constant announcements in 3 languages. Who doesn't want duty free at 2 AM?
Passport Control in Italy is somewhat hysterical. It involved a couple of guys who I assume work for the Italian government waving everyone in and not even looking at our passports. There's something to be said for their lack of paranoia.
Once we landed, the only real frustration came with learning how to dial a phone in Italy. It didn't help that Dave's super cool fancy iPhone doesn't seem to like to work in airports. It wouldn't work at Pearson (my excellently built in Waterloo, Canadian technology BlackBerry worked just fine at Pearson, thank you very much!) and it wouldn't work in Rome until we left the airport.
We had pre-arranged a limo through a company Adele found - www.romeshuttlelimousine.com - for the price of a cab ride, we had enjoyed the luxury of a Mercedes. Excellent find - thank you Adele.
Our driver turned out to be an incredibly charming older gentleman who could not stop telling us how lovely we were. First thing I noticed about Italian men is how fabulously they dress. Everyone in a suit. Bellissimo. Anyway, turns out that my Italian was much better than his English - so it was great practice. His compliments and the obvious fact that he understood me, has given me the confidence to speak Italian. Take that critical Italian relatives.
Our apartment in Rome is fantastic. This was another happy find thanks to Patti's friend Bruce. We are about 3 blocks from The Vatican. Not only is it convenient for sightseeing, but if one of us kills the other, we are mere steps away from forgiveness.
Once we participated in a vigorous nap to try to keep us from drooling in our exhaustion, we hit the streets. A keen sense of observation is needed to keep from being killed by mopeds. Aggressive does not even begin to describe the driving style. For the highway portion of our journey I thought I could drive here, no big deal. As soon as we hit the city any delusions I may have had disappeared completely.
We especially enjoyed watching people park. Romans take parallel parking to a whole new level. 25 manoeuvres back and forth are required because that's what you have to do when working with less than one inch in front and back to get your car in. Earlier in the day I thought an Alpha Romeo driver was crazy for trying to get in to a spot that seemed to have less than a foot of clearance from a BMW - turns out that was plenty of room.
At the end of the night we watched a Mini driver use tactile method of getting in to a spot. By tactile, I mean hit the car in front and then the car in back over and over again until he was good and wedged in. When he was "done", the woman rolled down her window and said "Is it ok?" We responded by shrugging our shoulders and saying "I guess so". She then looked worried and pointed to the car in front "Is that your car?" When we said no, she responded "Va bene, allora." I have no idea how they're going to get out. They didn't seem too worried. Perhaps just get a group of guys to pick up and move the SMART car in front of them up the street a few feet. I'm sure it happens.
The sightseeing highlights of the day included St Peter's Square (we haven't ventured inside yet), the narrow and winding streets around the Piazza Navona, and watching the sunset by one of the bridges to Castel Sant'Angelo. I remember being fascinated by this ancient fortress and dungeon when I was a child. It was satisfying to be up close to it and to cross the bridge.
Dave was taken by the architecture immediately. Turn a corner, there's another beautiful monument, church or piece of history. He openly appreciated how understated the Italians are about everything (that's sarcasm, for the sarcastically impaired). He's also lucky that he didn't get smacked when he touched one of those dudes dressed as a statue in Piazza Navona.
Because it's Saturday there were weddings all over the place. There were a few wedding parties near the Castel having their picture taken (hmmm, is that a dungeon you are posing next to in your wedding garb? Interesting choice.)
We had dinner at this great accidental little find on Via d. Pace called La Focaccio. We shared Buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto as well as a great pizza with prosciutto, artichoke and hard boiled eggs on the topping. Fabulous. It only cost us 23 Euros - a mere 7 Euros more than our coffee and cookie treat by the Vatican. The place was crowded with tourists and locals alike. We sat outside and watched the world go by - including another wedding!
The coolest about coming back to Italy after 25 years absence is something completely unexpected. I felt instantly at home. The smell of coffee, the passionate conversations, the hilarious expressions in Italian - all the things I grew up with in an Italian household are all around me. I heard people say things my grandfather or aunt used to say. Italy has changed significantly since my parents left in 1950, but somethings just remain the same. Especially that everyone talks with their hands. I belong here!
I hope my writing gets better as I get more sleep.