ROME (from The Italia Diary)
Arriving from JFK we walk to the front of the taxi line and in no time are riding very fast toward Rome. Our hotel, IQ is steps from the Opera House and a supposed fifteen minutes from The Spanish Steps. We would learn what that means in Italy time soon. The boutique hotel was all about their breakfast, vending machines (espresso, beer, and wine), and their internet tracking. For a country so lax on security it was a surprise to find that they track who, what, where, and when logging on to the internet.
With multiple maps and books in hand we head off toward The Spanish Steps. We are lost within minutes. Not “we missed a street” lost. We have lost all sense of direction lost. We hail a taxi and she drives us (fast) to The Spanish Steps. We take pictures and then find a wine bar where I attempt to practice my Italian and order a Cappuccino and two glasses of wine. “Un Cappuccino y due biccheire vino de bianco?” It is an utter failure; the waiter corrects every word and repeats my order in English. I have a minor anxiety attach, drink my wine, and grade myself an F.
Next we walk to Trevi Fountain, getting turned around only once, making the ten minute walk into an easy twenty minutes, looking for taxis along the way. Pictures are taken and coins are flipped into the postcard worthy fountain. Something we learn quickly is that wherever there is water or a fountain of some sort they have you flipping coins “in hopes you will come back soon”. It’s like a tourism tax. We are hungry so we find a local pizzeria that caters to tourists and allows me to rape their language as we order wine and pizza. What’s nice about ordering a Margarita Pizza in Italian is that it translates to Margarita Pizza! After a liter of wine and so-so tourist pizza and meeting many other Americans who also found the touristy pizza joint we attempt to find the Hard Rock Café, because we have a pin collector in the family. For those of you not familiar with Hard Rock pin collectors it’s a lot like a crack addict, the one exception being you don’t get a moment of “AH!”. We walk and walk. We are lost, again. We pass a street named Cappuccino four times until we finally find the HRC, go in buy the pin and leave.
We are lost again, looking for The Spanish Steps where we have a dinner reservation at Il Palazetto, a restaurant with a prime location looking over (almost hanging over) the steps. The food is horrid and the service was horrid. If it wasn’t for the expensive bill we would not have even known we had just been at a great restaurant. For a city known for their great food, we are off to a bad start to say the least.
It’s around 11pm when we head back to the hotel. There isn’t a lot of overflowing late night bars, but rather restaurants with late dinners. At the hotel we hit the vending machines for cold beers and relax on the terrace next to other Americans and a large group of Asians that appeared to have spent their whole vacation on the terrace. The beers are good, but we are tired from a long day of travel so we call it a night.
The next morning we wake up late which means there will not be any breakfast. All I hear about is the Italy hotel breakfast and now I am unable to partake. Instead we take a taxi to The Coliseum where I grab a Mars bar and cram it in my mouth before we get to the line. Ever watch the “Travel Secrets” show on television? Well, here’s a secret: Buy your tickets online prior. You walk right in, no wait, no hassle. It felt like the red carpet treatment. Of course that is if the red carpet contains people wearing brown nylon fanny packs and white tennis shoes bumping into you on both sides. Inside we do the self-guided audio tour which uses the word “speculation” a lot when describing what had occurred inside the arena.
Standing inside The Coliseum is the equivalent of wrapping yourself in a history book. It’s remarkable and you can envision the battles and crowds from thousands of years ago “performing” below. We stop at the gift shop and I’m surprised to not find any books titled THE ART OF FIGHTING TO THE DEATH or TOP 100 COLISEUM BATTLES: The Real UFC. Famished from the lack of food, heat, and many staircases we B-Line to a pizzeria located across the street from The Coliseum. I will repeat that. We B-Line to a pizzeria located across the street from The Coliseum. No surprise here. Worse pizza ever, cardboard covered with zebra feces would have (probably) tasted about the same. I’m sure it is in all of the guide books and all over the internet not to eat here, but it was close (and we were starving). You know what else they tell you not to do? That’s right, get pictures with the Gladiators out front of the Coliseum and we did that too. At this point we are 30 minutes from getting pick-pocketed and becoming another tourist statistic. Living on the edge in Rome: Eating shitty pizza and getting pictures with middle age men dressed up as Gladiators.
Next stop is across the street, the Roman Forum and ruins. This is a good time to point out it is about 90 degrees outside and have already spent approximately 40 Euro on water alone so when we walk 1 kilometer out of our way, it didn’t go unnoticed and our bodies began to question the Coliseum pizza we ate not long ago. We briskly walk through the ruins, get lost trying to find the exit, and then once we exit are unable to locate the direction of our next stop, the Santa Maria chapel and the Mouth of Truth. We are lost and luckily we find a taxi. The taxis versus water expenses at this point are surprisingly close. At Santa Maria there is this large ugly looking face with an open mouth that will bite off your hand if tell or think of a lie. SPOILER ALERT! It’s not true, (trust me). After, we don’t even think about trying to walk to our next stop, hail a taxi and we are off to see The Pantheon. The driver leaves us off three blocks away and we are lost again, luckily we ask – Do’ve Pantheon?, they point, we ask again – Do’ve Pantheon?, they point some more, and we wind up inside The Pantheon and piazza full of restaurants. We sit down at a table outside at a restaurant and drink Cappuccino and eat chocolate cake. Rome, a place where you do crazy things, for example: sipping coffee and eating cake when it’s 90 degrees outside. Inside The Pantheon is impressive and so is the number of tourists as I become the Oreo cookie trapped between two giant black fanny packs.
Wandering around, lost, we stumble into Obika and have a snack of pasta, cheese, tomatoes, and wine. With a slight wine buzz we walk through the shopping area an land inside Piazza Navona, a giant square closed off by chapels, restaurants, and a miraculous sculptured art piece in the center that shows many looking away and/or covering their eyes. I’m going to assume they are trying to shield themselves from the 90 degree heat. Chianti, Pinot Grigio, and Prosecco are had not necessarily in this order, but in abundance. Searching for food we find a small restaurant with an angry waiter who becomes upset when we decide to not order any food and just order more wine. At the moment we decided not to eat the waiter had the look that if a bear would attack he would break its neck without hesitation. It’s important to note that there are two tables open and that there is a local next to us demanding Cognac be poured onto his Gelato dessert. These two items are not related, but important to note. The angry waiter runs back and forth; yelling and pointing and more yelling. He is upset with out table, with the six person table and everyone else. Another American couple sits next to us and I share my wine, this takes the air out of our waiter. He is now laughing in amazement. We finish out glasses and leave to find a tourist restaurant that has pictures of pastas and faded chicken on a board out front. We have another sub-par meal and then considering the non-typical day we’ve had we taxi it over to The Ice Club, a bar made purely from ice. It is a Sunday, and no one is in the ice bar, except us. We drink vodka. This is okay. More drinks and then vending machine beer at the hotel. Tomorrow will be a time for cleansing.
I am not Catholic. I was not raised Catholic, but I am (as we all are) very aware of the Pope. I mostly think about the Pope Mobile, the vehicle with bullet proof glass he is paraded around in. That and I think a lot about his different hats. It is a lot of hats for a man of any sexual orientation. I am just saying. Today is Pope Day!
We begin with the hotel breakfast. After rave reviews I am left with a sub-par feeling which is no surprise at this point in the trip. When you walk away saying “the pears were excellent” you know you didn’t have a great breakfast. The hotel arranges for a taxi to pull up and we are off to Vatican City. Here’s a secret: The Vatican Museum is far from the Vatican Chapel. Here’s another secret: You can get your tickets ahead of time and walk right in, avoiding lines that could take hours (if lucky) to wait in and get through. Once we arrive the “F Bomb Challenge” begins. The record is the Notre Dame church in Paris. Annoyed by tourists, Beth dropped an F Bomb within minutes. Today it would take approximately ten minutes, but to be fair we were outside so we’ll have to consult the Price is Right rules to see if this counts.
Inside the Vatican Museum the walls and ceilings are covered with paintings and art and gorgeous rugs and statures of past Popes. There are several gift shops along the way and even a cafeteria that advertises a daily chicken special (Pope’s Pollo?). We continue our March toward Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel mural. Since you start at the top it seems like you are in a basement once you reach the Sistine Chapel. It is dark and quiet and no photos are allowed. Here’s a secret: Take a photo without flash and the worse is someone yelling “No Foto!” Of course, it is dark so it would probably not turn out that well anyway. The mural itself, well it’s one of those things you really need to see in person. You’re welcome for the insight. Silence is the rule and if it becomes too loud there is a person responsible for SHOOSHING the crowd. Lucky for him the chapel is well preserved, it may be tough to find work unless he likes libraries or moves to New York City to work at Burp Castle bar in the East Village.
Between the Museum and Vatican Chapel we go through several souvenir shops looking for Pope hats and Pope mobiles. We strike out in both areas; however, we did see one store front that displayed about a dozen different races of baby Jesus. Not quite a Pope hat, but not a bad find. Inside the Vatican Chapel you are not allowed to have exposed shoulders or knees. The amusing part of this is that you have to go through a very long security line, and then another line before they turn you away. Add 90 degree heat and you actually see people lose feeling in their face when they are told they will not be allowed in. Once inside I am looking for people falling to their knees, a sign, or anything. Instead I count 9 out of 10 people in front of me wearing white sneakers. A new world record. Exiting the chapel we pass the Swiss guards and look up to where we believe the Pope lives. What does he do all day? Does he watch the news? Does he watch Cosby Show reruns? Does he have a special Pope Stocking he wears on his head when he sleeps at night. I am left with more questions that answers as we depart the Vatican.
It’s a quick 5 minute discussion (in a shaded area) to decide that we will take a taxi to an area known as Trastevere, an area with ivy lined streets, for lunch. We stop at a restaurant named Good and have lasagna and pasta and it was here we finally have our good Italy meal (not fantastic, but “good”). This of course does not include the meal we had at the chain Obika or the McDonald’s chicken wrap incident which we are not allowed to discuss at this time. We drink wine and then cross the bridge back into the city and have more wine and then go to the hotel Rafael’s where we go to their terrace and look out onto the city of Rome and drink Prosecco followed by more Prosecco and then more walking around the winding streets where any right or left turn leads to another historic looking street that contains a Pizzeria, a Café, another Pizzeria, and another Café.
Dinner is at Enoteca Antica where we have pizza and pasta, again, and the food is okay to good and there is someone who at first appears to be someone, but must not be because he is sitting with his back to the crowd. The night is finished strolling around the outer area of the Spanish Steps, taking in one final breath of Rome, and then back to the hotel to prepare for an early train to Florence.
David S. Grant is the author of several books. His latest, The Italia Diary: A Travel Narrative with Inspired Fiction will be available shortly. For more information go to http://www.fearandloathingtravel.com and http://www.davidsgrant.com.