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Italy 2004 – Day 9

Rome

I got up at 5:30 and asked Chris if she wanted to come with me to the Forum. She didn’t.

I walked down via Cavour to the Forum, about three quarters of a mile. All of the gates to the forum were closed and locked, so I set up the tripod and took pictures from outside. I also got some nice pictures of the Coliseum as the sky was lightening. Just before 7:00, I saw Theresa and Christian about 100 yards away heading toward our meeting place. I whistled, but they didn’t respond. Theresa had heard me, but she couldn’t pinpoint the direction, so she didn’t see me.

I continued to take pictures as I headed to the meeting spot, getting there right at 7:00. A sign on the gate there said it would open at 9:00. Since we couldn’t get in to look for the geocache, we took some more pictures from the street, then walked back up via Cavour toward our hotels. The room rates at our hotels included breakfast, so we split up to eat the food we had already paid for. We would meet again at the forum at 10:00.

Back at the room, I roused Chris and we went downstairs for breakfast. We were very pleasantly surprised to find that the buffet included hot dishes: scrambled eggs and bacon. We enjoyed our first hot breakfast in over a week. On our way out, Chris took a couple of packaged foods for later: a rice cake for her and something called “Fitnessbröt” for me. We figured the Fitnessbröt was like a power bar.

Once again, we walked to the forum. Theresa and Christian were there shortly after 10:00. The place was already getting crowded and there were many large tour groups scattered around the ruins. I set up my GPS to locate the geocache and we headed in. After a couple of false starts, I managed to zero in on a likely hiding spot. I pretended to be taking close-up pictures of the ruins as I searched for the cache’s hiding spot, finding it after a couple of minutes. It was well-hidden.

I removed the cache as surreptitiously as I could and took it some distance away to open it. I left a note in the cache, took out a couple of small items, and left a travel bug that had wanted to come to Rome. Using the camera for cover again, I replaced the cache and re-hid it.

We continued through the forum heading toward the Coliseum. When we got there, there was a line of people waiting to get inside. The tour guides standing near the line were pretty aggressive. Their main pitch seemed to be that they could get you to the head of the line quickly. They claimed that the wait was an hour once we got past the security check. We decided to chance it, since the tour would cost each of us €8.

In ten minutes we were past the security checkpoint and into the line for tickets. A display next to the queue told us the wait was twenty minutes. It looked like the tour guides were exaggerating the wait, and we had made the right decision. As we waited in line, we noticed a middle-aged couple sidling up the right side of the line. The group in front of us was large and spread out, so the couple couldn’t get past them. They stopped and broke in line right in front of us. When we noticed another couple trying the same thing, we spread out, stopping them behind us.

The main line split into four smaller lines when we approached the ticket windows. Theresa and Christian got into one line and Chris and I got into another. Our line moved more quickly, so Christian handed us money for their tickets and got out of their line. The couple who had broken line in front of us were doing the same thing in their ticket line. They just wandered past the people standing in it and seeped into the line just before the ticket window. I couldn’t believe what jerks they were being.

The Coliseum was every bit as impressive as I thought it would be. Its sheer size is impressive enough. On top of that, I could feel the history of it. It was quite easy to imagine the stands packed with Roman citizens cheering in blood lust. Part of the amphitheater floor has been reconstructed, and I could visualize combatants warily coming out onto the field and engaging each other. We toured the upper and lower levels of the stands. It would have been great to walk the hallways below the field level, but they were off-limits. We all took lots of pictures trying to capture that sense of age and history.

Theresa, Christian and I took a break while Chris browsed through the gift shop. She found the merchandise to be overpriced, and there were very few items that seemed unique to the Coliseum. She found the same to be true of another gift shop on the other side of the Coliseum, so she did not buy anything.

When we were done with our tour, we sat in the shade of the Coliseum walls to cool off and plan our next moves. Chris handed me the Fitnessbröt from our breakfast buffet. I opened it up and took a big bite. I’m not sure what I expected it to taste like, but it didn’t. It was ghastly, putrid, rotten, and horrible. It took all my regard for etiquette not to spit it out. I managed to chew and swallow the bite I had taken – with the help of a swig from our water bottle. Next I popped a piece of mint chewing gum into my mouth to get rid of the taste. I threw the remainder of that “food” into the nearest trashcan.

Chris and I were hot, tired, and weary of crowds. We decided to return to our hotel while Theresa and Christian headed on to Circus Maximus. There was something about a manhole cover that Christian wanted to look at…

Chris and I discovered a Metro station across the street from the Coliseum. After we took some pictures from the plaza atop the station, we bought two one-way tickets and rode back to Roma Termini. Much nicer than walking. We each bought a sandwich at a café near the train station and ate them there. Foot-sore, we went back to the hotel.

There was an internet point next to the hotel. We went inside to see if I would be able to use my laptop there. The proprietor spoke only Italian, but I think he understood what I was saying. He said it was possible and started to show us where to hook up. I didn’t have the computer with me, so I told him “Piu tardi” (“later”). He indicated that he was closing for siesta and would open again at 3:00.

Chris relaxed in the room and I headed across the street to the Metropole Starhotel to use its wireless internet access. I wasn’t convinced I would be able to hook up at the internet point, and I didn’t really want to wait until 3:00. I set up my computer in the breakfast room/bar area, bought an hour of internet access and spent 40 minutes on the web. I checked e-mail, looked up the schedule for the Sistine Chapel, logged our geocache and surfed for a while.

When I got back to the Diana, I found Chris reading in the lobby. Housekeeping had come to clean the room while she was there, so she had grabbed a book and come down. We went back up to the room, where housekeeping had finished their work. Since we were both very tired, we took a nap, taking advantage of the very-effective shutters in our window.

After our nap, we showered and read until nearly 6:00. Theresa and Christian were coming then, and we figured the easiest thing would be to meet them in the lobby. They arrived a few minutes after we sat down, and we decided to get a drink in the rooftop bar of the Diana. We hopped into the elevator and rode to the top floor, where we got out and saw no sign of the roof, a restaurant, or a bar. Confused we rode back down to the lobby. We were about to ask for directions at the desk, when Chris pointed out a sign that said “Bar/Restaurant” and pointed toward the rear elevator.

We piled into that smaller lift and found a button marked “Bar/Restaurant”, which one of us pushed. This time we had better luck, as the door opened onto the roof. We were the only guests there. Chris, Christian, and I each ordered a glass of wine, and Theresa ordered water. We sat at a table with a view of the Vatican and enjoyed the cooling evening.

The Hotel Elide

At this point, I should digress and tell you a little about Theresa and Christian’s hotel. They were staying at the Elide a couple blocks away, very near Piazza della Republica. They were paying only €80 per night – an excellent price in Rome. Their room was not quite so big as ours, but still had a king-size bed. In all, the accommodations were pretty much to their liking. The odd thing about the place was the manager. Theresa had corresponded with him via e-mail before their arrival. She had needed to remind him to send her a confirmation of their reservation, since he had forgotten. That lapse proved to be fairly typical of his behavior. Theresa and Christian described him as “laid back.” Nothing seemed to be terribly urgent with him.

On the previous evening, Theresa had tried to call me to confirm our meeting place. However she had not been able to get an outside line. She called the desk to see what was wrong, and the manager simply told her the line wasn’t working. Nothing about when it might be fixed. She asked if other people (meaning us) could call into the hotel. The answer was “It is just the phone line.” Since I didn’t try to call her, we don’t know if that meant “Yes” or “No.”

Before Theresa and Christian came to meet us for dinner, they had tried to settle their bill. They would be leaving before the desk opened the next morning. When they handed the manager their VISA card, he said “Oh. The machine is broken. It is being fixed, and we expect to have it back on Tuesday. Can you pay in cash?” Fortunately, they could. They just needed to hit a bancomat and get the euros they needed.

We had noticed the day before that many restaurants would be closed on Sunday – chiuso domenico. Theresa and Christian asked their hotel manager for recommendations. He pulled out several restaurant business cards. He handed them one saying “This is very good.”

“Is it open on Sunday?” they asked.

“Oh. No. Here is one. It is open on Sunday” he replied, handing them another card.

Theresa looked at it, noted the phrase “chiuso domenico” at the bottom and pointed it out. “Oh. This one is open on Sunday” he said again and handed over a third card. Since this one did not say “chiuso domenico“, they took it and came to meet us. The name of the restaurant was Al Boschetto, named for the street it was on. We walked to it, and – sure enough – it was open. At least, it would be at 7:30. The street door was open to a small foyer, and the inside door of the foyer was also open. As we were standing there talking, a waiter came out and, without a word to us, closed the inside foyer door. It was only 7:10, so we walked around the block.

Theresa stopped into a shoe store and bought a pair of boots in a style she had been wanting. By the time we got back to the restaurant, it was nearly 7:30. The foyer door was still closed, so we waited. Other groups showed up over the next 5 minutes, then a young woman – apparently an employee – walked past us into the restaurant. A few moments later, the waiter came out, looked at us as if we were crazy for standing around outside, and ushered us into the restaurant.

We took a table in the restaurant’s courtyard garden. When we placed our order, Theresa told the waiter that Giuseppe at Elide had recommended the restaurant. Giuseppe had intimated that that bit of news would get us a discount. As far as we could tell, it just got us some small aperitifs – which Theresa couldn’t drink and I didn’t like.

We ordered our meals. I wasn’t very hungry, so I just ordered a salad and secondo. Everyone else ordered primi piattisecondi, and salads. I should have specified that I wanted mine served with everyone else’s secondi. Instead, my salad and grilled veal were served at the same time as everyone else’s pasta. Even though I ate slowly, I was finished well before the others. The veal was very good, though, and Chris gave me some of her stewed beef (which she received even though she had ordered beef caciatori). Theresa and Christian both enjoyed their meals. Despite the odd service, we did have a good time.

When we were done, we all walked back to the Diana. We opted not to have gelato, and we weren’t accosted by any lunatics. We said good-bye to each other in the hotel lobby, and wished Theresa and Christian a good flight back to North Carolina the next day.

Despite our nap in the afternoon, Chris and I were still tired, so we went right to bed, reading for just a while before turning off the light and falling quickly asleep.


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