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Italy 2004 – Day 8

Florence to Rome

We got up when the alarm chimed and packed up our suitcases. I was surprised at how long it took to move items from our closet and drawers into our three suitcases and two carry-on bags. When we were done, we ate a big breakfast downstairs, checked out of the hotel and pulled our bags to the train station. The Florence train station is well above street level, but there are no ramps (other than the road) up to the platform area. We had to drag our heavy bags up 20 or so steps.

We arrived at the station in plenty of time. We waited about twenty minutes for our train to arrive. We boarded our car, putting the big bags on the rack at the end of the car and the smaller bags in the racks over our seats. The passenger in the seat across from me was a pretty, young, blonde woman who was traveling with her mother. They were speaking English with American accents, so we chatted with them a little bit. A little later, we were surprised to hear the young woman converse in Italian with the ticket taker. We asked her where she had learned it so well, and she said she had studied it in school and had “spent some time” in Italy when she was in high school.

I had expected the trip to Rome to take about 3 hours. I was surprised when we started pulling into the station at just after 11:30. The trip had taken only about 95 minutes. I bought a street map of Rome in the station, located our hotel – the Diana – and we headed out. The Diana was at least as close to this station as the Alba had been to the Florence station. The difference was that the Roma Termini station was at ground level, so we didn’t have to deal with steps.

The Hotel Diana

The Diana turned out to be a very nice hotel. The spacious lobby was nicely decorated. The man behind the front desk was friendly and spoke English well. Our room was ready, so we were able to check in and take our bags to our room right away. There were two elevators in the lobby, a large one facing the front entrance, and a smaller one around behind it. We took the smaller one, which, it turned out, opened onto the stairway, stopping halfway between floors.

Our room was slightly smaller than at the Alba, and it contained all the usual stuff: mini-bar, small desk, armoire, hotel safe, and king-size bed. The bathroom was modern with a nice shower. The only problem was that the shower door covered only half of the tub wall, and we had a hard time keeping water from leaking out onto the bathroom floor. One of the nicest features was the fully-opaque shutters over the window; the room was dark as night when we closed them.

Since we weren’t going to stay long, we only unpacked the clothes we would need for the next two days. After we had settled in the room, we headed out to run some errands. We needed to get our train tickets to Civitavecchia. We also wanted to find an internet point to get our e-mail.

We had originally planned to book a tour of Rome through our cruise company that would include a bus ride to Civitavecchia. I had called the tour agency from Florence, and he said they didn’t have the minimum number of participants yet. He asked me to call from Rome. The tour would cost $120 each. After considering if further we had decided to conduct our own tour and take the train from Rome to Civitavecchia. We walked up to the train station to buy tickets.

The lines at the ticket counters were quite long, so we opted for the automated ticket kiosks. When one opened up, we stepped up and started the process, using the touch screen. We started by choosing English, and the rest of it was pretty straightforward. When it came time to pay, though, I could not immediately determine which slot was the one for credit cards. As I looked at the various slots on the front of the machine, a nice Italian woman walked up and pointed to one of the slots. It took my card just fine. Then the woman held out her hand and in a sad voice started telling us something in Italian. The only word we really caught was bambino. We gathered the woman was one of the many train-station beggars asking for a handout. I told her “Gracie“, but didn’t give her any money. About that time, a little girl about 8 years old showed up on the other side of the kiosk asking for a handout. Fortunately, our ticket had printed, so we were able to grab it and get away from the growing crowd of “helpers.”

The train ticket had cost €8.20 for both us. Much better than the $240 we had expected to pay for the tour and transportation.

Our next task was to find an internet point – preferably one at which I could use my own laptop. We walked down a street away from the train station and Chris spotted a sign that said “Internet” and had an arrow pointing to the building on our right. We went into the door it pointed to only to find ourselves in an eyeglasses shop. We asked the proprietor “Internet?” and he said “Around the corner, second door on the left.”

We walked around the corner, but the second door on the left was a clothing store. The clerk there walked with us to the door and pointed to a place across the street – a laundry with internet terminals. There I asked if I could use my laptop, but the woman behind the counter didn’t understand. She showed us where to buy time on the terminals, though.

Chris spotted another internet point next door. We asked again about using our laptop, but the clerk said “No.” I decided to buy time at the first place and use the web to find a wireless access point in our area. While I was at it, I checked e-mail, sent a couple of quick messages using my @yahoo.com account. It turned out that the hotel across the street from the Diana provided a wireless network in its lobby.

On the way back to our hotel, we ate lunch at a tiny pizzeria that served pretty good pizza. We pointed to the pizzas we wanted, and the young man behind the counter weighed each piece and told us how much it would cost. Chris got 250 grams of tuna/artichoke/tomato pizza and I got 200 grams of sausage/pepperoni pizza. Chris hadn’t really meant to get that much when she pointed, but, because of all the veggies, I didn’t help her finish it. While we were ordering, my phone buzzed. Unfortunately, I managed to both answer and hang it up as I was pulling it from my pocket! I expected a call back right away, but none came.

Before heading back up to our room, I went into the hotel across the street and fired up the laptop. The wi-fi access would cost me €6.50 for an hour or €12.40 for 24 hours of access. I would try it out the next day.

We got back to our hotel room around 2:30. At 2:45, Theresa called again. She had tried to call back after I hung up on her, but couldn’t get through. She and Christian had just toured the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. They were walking back towards us, and we could meet them at the Spanish Steps at Piazza Spagna. Theresa told me how to take the Metro (Rome subway) from Piazza della Republica, just a couple of blocks away from the Diana. We would meet at 3:30 at the bottom of the stairs on the right side (looking at the stairs).

At the Metro station, we again walked up to an automated ticket terminal complete with touch screen. As I was studying our options, a helpful man came over to assist us. I was trying to buy a day pass, and he hit the button for one-way tickets. Remembering our experience at the train station, I said “No. I will do it.” He gave me a dirty look, but walked away. Once I had selected the right tickets, we discovered we didn’t have enough coins. Our smallest bill was a €20 bill. Since the machine would give no more than €4 change, it rejected our bill.

We walked over to the attendant’s booth and were shocked to see that the attendant was the man who had tried to help us before. He didn’t look too helpful any more. I showed him the €20 bill and he just shook his head and motioned outside. Rather than try to find change, we decided to just buy one-way tickets. We had enough change for them. Finally through the turnstiles, I walked by the attendant’s booth and said “Mi dispiace. Gracie.” (“I’m sorry. Thank you.”) with as humble a look as I could manage. He just smiled and said “OK” and waved me off. It seemed there were no hard feelings.

We got to the Spanish steps at 3:10 and watched the huge crowd milling around and sitting on the steps. For some reason (I can’t blame jet lag this time) we were looking at the wrong side of the steps – left instead of right. We stood next to a store window watching the steps and the crowd. I wandered up the steps to get some pictures. At 3:25, I realized we were on the wrong side and went to the other (right) side of the steps. There were Theresa and Christian waiting patiently.

We gathered up Chris and walked from Piazza Spagna over to the Trevi Fountain. Just like the Spanish Steps, the fountain plaza was packed with tourists. That didn’t stop us from taking our pictures in front of the fountain, though. We didn’t stick around, though, and quickly headed off toward the Pantheon. On the way, we passed through Piazza di Pietra, a quiet, shady plaza with ancient roman columns on one side. An elderly accordionist sat in the shade of the columns playing traditional Italian music. I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures of him and left a couple of euros in his hat.

Chris, Theresa, and Christian stood and talked while I took more pictures of the columns. In my photographic zeal, I missed quite a sight. When I got back to the others, Chris asked, “What did you think of that girl?” I hadn’t seen a girl, but they described a very attractive girl with a well-tanned back who had walked through the piazza. They knew her back was tanned because her shirt didn’t cover it. The shirt had ties at the neck and at the waist, but had no other fabric posterior to her shoulders. I’m sorry I missed that. Christian was glad he hadn’t.

Rome was hot and humid. We had walked quite a ways, so we stopped at an outdoor restaurant table and ordered two large bottles of mineral water (with gas). The waiter brought out two 1.5-liter bottles and asked what else we wanted. When we told him “Nothing” he looked incredulous and said “Just the water?” Yes, just the water. He looked pretty disappointed, but very few of the restaurant’s seats were occupied, so we didn’t feel bad. When he brought us the bill, for €8, I paid it and left a euro extra for the tip.

We finally made it to the Pantheon. It is an impressive temple, and its interior was refreshingly cool, even though it, too, was crowded. After we had looked around for a while, and I had taken a number of pictures, we continued on our way. Chris had to step into a shop on the way. She came out saying she had seen the cutest orange purse for only €5. She hadn’t bought it because she “didn’t need it.” Theresa talked her into returning to the store and buying the purse. Theresa is always willing to spend other people’s money!

Our last stop would be the Capitoline hill. As we arrived at the top of the long staircase leading to the Capitoline plaza, we saw chairs and a stage being set up. We also saw a bride and her father waiting to enter the plaza. What a place to have a wedding. And it looked like a doozy of an event.

We later discovered that the stage and the chairs weren’t for the wedding, though. In fact, we saw three different brides there within 15 minutes. We never did find out what the stage was for. From the west end of the plaza, we looked out over the Roman Forum. It was quite a ways below us, and it looked pretty crowded. We cleverly decided to come back early the next day to avoid the crowds.

It was nearly 5:30pm by the time we left the hill. As we walked back towards our hotels, we passed yet another wedding party. We walked up the long hill to the Diana, where we cooled off a bit before heading out to dinner. We checked Theresa and Christian’s guidebook for restaurant recommendations. I tried to call the nearest recommended place, but there was no answer. Around 6:30, we decided to walk in that direction, but keep our eyes open for other restaurants. It was still pretty early for dinner by Italian customs, so we did not know if we would find an open restaurant.

We didn’t get far. Just up the street from our hotel, we looked to the left and saw an open trattoria with tables on the street. We wandered up and looked at the menu. The prices and selection looked good enough, so we selected a table. The waiter was friendly and efficient. Chris ordered a pork chop, Theresa and I both ordered spaghetti carbonara, and Christian ordered the mixed meat plate. Chris’s pork chop was a little tough, and the house wine was dreadful. However, the spaghetti and Christian’s meats were very good.

Shortly after our food arrived, a man walked by selling roses. We had seen the practice before, and we had always been able to just wave the vendors off. This fellow was persistent, though. When we waved him off, he didn’t leave. Instead, he pushed the flowers closer to us – practically into our faces. We still said “No.” and he walked past. He wasn’t done yet, though. He just came back down the other side of the tables and pushed the flowers in Chris’s and Theresa’s faces. Finally the waiter yelled something at him and the flower vendor left us alone.

After dinner, we bought gelato on the corner across the street from the Diana. As we stood across the street eating our ice cream, a dirty, odorous, and very drunk man stumbled up and started yelling at us, shouting, “Fuck you!” over and over again. We managed to put some distance between him and us, and he wandered on. Very nice.

Before Theresa and Christian headed back to their hotel, they gave Chris their gelato spoons, and we agreed to meet at the Roman Forum the next morning at 7:00. We would meet under an arch we had been looking at from the Capitoline Hill. I would get there earlier and take pictures, then we would look for a geocache hidden in the forum.

It had been a long, hot day, and Chris and I were glad to be getting to bed at 9:30.

On their way back to their hotel, Theresa and Christian were “accosted” again. As they walked behind a shabbily-dressed man, he turned around and said “Don’t follow me. If you do, you’re following a dead man.” They took his advice without bothering to find out what he meant by his declaration.

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