It has been years since I have ventured overseas. And this is my first visit to Italy. I am so excited, although I don’t like to get excited because that generally means disappointment. I have always wanted to visit the Mediterranean and Rome was a dream from my childhood – thoughts of ancient civilizations, of great architectural feats as well as the natural beauty of the land. I am especially interested in seeing the ruins of Pompeii and the aqueducts of Rome. I would also like to see some of what I studied as a child: the Appian Way, Romulus and Remus, the Coliseum so that I can say to myself, “yes, I remember that.”
Everything has gone smoothly – up early, park and ride, take-off, landing, even the taxi ride into Rome. And here we are after leaving home at 5:30 am, in our hotel room by 1 pm the next day. It is now August 10, 2005.
We took Northwest Airlines to Detroit. It was an uneventful flight. The flight from Detroit to Rome was with KLM. What a great crew!! It was a very pleasant trip other than the poor child who was sick most of the flight. Why was he not administered gravol before the flight so he would be knocked out?
Our hotel is a little off the beaten path. It is located midway between the Vatican and the Tiber. (Now there is a name I recognize – the great Tiber)
The hotel is in a small, old unobtrusive building. It has one of those ‘one person and 1 piece of luggage’ elevators. Now if you have been in one you will understand what I am talking about. It does not do it justice to have to explain what it is like, so quaint. The main stair way is all marble. The inside of the hotel is finished in some sort of dark, exotic wood, very warm. The name of the hotel is Giuggioli Hotel, which you can look up at this site: http://romeby.com/giuggioli/index.html Other than the small room and tiny shower, which I understand is quite common in Europe; the lack of Internet service was highly inconvenient and disruptive, especially since we were counting on it based on their advertising. In fact though, finding Internet service in Italy was difficult, especially WiFi. We were happy with some of the features, which may or may not be commonplace. They had a key cardholder by the door, which controlled the power to the room. When we left we took the key card and that automatically shut all the power off and when we returned we put in the card and the power was back on including the lights just as though we had never left. This served to keep the card from getting lost as well as giving us light when we got back. The little balcony that overlooked the street and the neighbouring properties was a nice place to observe the goings on of the area, although not a lot was going on most of the time, as this was a very quiet neighbourhood. The large patio doors with shuttered doors allowed the daylight in and kept the room fresh. They also added coziness to the room.
Okay, I am set. We are off now to go for a walk around Rome. For our afternoon walk we visited La Scala di Spagna. We then walked down to the Piazza del Popolo. We stopped for a banana split and a coffee while the pigeons bobbed around us and we know how much I love birds. We then walked back to the hotel for a nap. By 9:00 pm it was time for dinner. We walked to a restaurant: Zigaetana Ristorante. It was absolutely magnificent and the ambiance was terrific. (ooops, forgot to take the picture before we ate) And we got there before the dinner crowd. By the time we were leaving the restaurant was just filling up. After dinner we did some window-shopping as we walked to St. Peter’s. We walked around to Castel Sant’Angelo. They let me in so I could use the washroom or toilet as they call it. We walked back towards the hotel, stopping at a gelateria then deciding that we had already eaten too much for the day we went to our room. We needed rest anyways for the next day.
We slept in. OMG. We almost didn’t make breakfast. The hotel served continental breakfast from 7 am to 10 am. We got to start the day with coffee Americana and cream filled croissants and buns with jam and juice. Talk about ‘wake me up’.
We set off for the city, stopping at the Piazza di Pantheon. Here we visited the Pantheon: such an incredible feat of engineering with its perfect semi-sphere dome and the eye at the top. This creates a timepiece of incredible accuracy.
We walked around the Piazza Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in the Area Argentina. This is where the mighty Ceasar was assasinated and now cats live here.
From there we walked to the Campo dei Fiori where we had lunch at a tiny alley diner with really great seafood. Unfortunately, I do not have the name of this restaurant but I do have a picture of the food. It was really great Rissoto with entire scampi cooked in it.
From here we walked back to the hotel via the footbridge: Ponte di S. Angelo and past the Castel Saint Angelo or Hadrian’s Tomb. Another naptime before heading out for dinner.
After waking we walked along the Via Cola di Rienzo, window-shopping to the Piazza Cavour. From there we caught a cab to the Trastevera, which means ‘across the Tiber’. The inhabitants of this area believe they are the most purely decended from the Romans. They are extremely cliquish to the point that they speak their own dialect of Italian. Before we went to dinner we visited Santa Maria in Trastevera. A church service was in progress. This is one of the two oldest churches in Rome. It seems that we are unable to say which of these two churches is actually older than the other.
We ate at a little outdoor restaurant, LaTana de Noantri that had great pasta and great company. We sat beside a young couple who ate and much more. The young girl kept knocking her breadsticks on the ground. After eating we stopped at an open-air market checking out the goods of vendors. Then we continued to walk all along the Tiber until we made our way back to the hotel. Do you get the impression that a trip to Rome is all about walking and eating?
We made it to the Continental breakfast but a little earlier. Our plans include a visit to the Forum and the Coliseum and so we need to be off a little earlier. We also need to find an Internet service where I could hook up and work or a phone that I could use to call work. I had some payroll issues to correct and I need to get hold of Christine. We took a taxi to the Piazza Paolo on the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle from where we walked back blocks to get to a Banco di Roma so that we could cash some traveller’s cheques. Now talk about security. You cannot get into a bank except through a ‘space door’. You must first ring a bell to open one side of this security door, which looks like a decontamination chamber. You then step in and the door closes behind you. They do not open the other side of the door until they deem you safe and thus allow you entry into the bank. At that point you must take a number and wait to be served. We probably would not have made it in except with the help of a kindly lady who showed us what to do. After getting our money we were allowed exit from the building in the same manner as we arrived. We walked back to Piazza Paolo to look for an Internet station but were advised that there was no WiFi available. We were fortunate enough to be overheard by a customer who informed us of a bar that had WiFi available, the Magnolia Bar. We need only buy a drink then hook up. This bar was supposedly located a few blocks away. We walked to the Campo dei Fiori where the bar was located to check it out and it truly was there and everything was as the lady had told us. Not to give you the impression that it is not always the case but you should watch when getting directions that sometimes left means right and right means left.
Okay, I am set. And we had a big day ahead of us. On the way up a hill we could se the Monument to Vitorrio Emannuel, the first King of Italy. We went to the Musei Capitolini, or Capitoline Museum, which is located on the spot where the Temple to Jupiter had been 1500 years ago. It was filled with centuries of artifacts and one could spend a full day in there with no problem. We did it in 3 ½ hours plus lunch in the cafeteria.
We then walked across the courtyard to Santa Maria Aracoeli. This church is reputedly one of the two oldest churches in Rome and may be dated as far back as 350 A.D. Now we are at the top of this hill that overlooks Rome. It is quite magnificent. This hill is the highest hill on the ‘Old City’ side of the Tiber. Now I am not saying this because of my aversion to stairs or my fear of heights but we had to walk down stairs to get to the street level. These were old stone stairs that were relatively steep and a very long ways down. Did I mention old and not necessarily slanted in the right direction?
After making it to street level we looked for a cab but there was none to be found. We were even waiting at the taxi stand. This of course, as I am now coming to understand Italian culture a little, means nothing. It was hot, we were tired and we just wanted to go home to take a nap so that we could be fresh for the evening. We were finally able to flag down a taxi and get back to the hotel.
We needed to get back to the hotel for clean up and to pick up our computers. Then off we went to the Magnolia Bar. We got to hook up to the Internet, almost like a much needed blood transfusion. Being out of touch with the world is very difficult. We got drinks served to us by a young girl from Yemen. They made great rum and coke. We ordered some Carbonara (this was very good) and some Bufalo Mozzarella with tomato slices. (That was really disgusting.) So, online I talked to Chris and Carol. It is somehow comforting to be in touch with home. I would like to say this was my favourite bar in all of Rome, or for that matter all of Italy. The people were exceptionally friendly and hip. The bar had great food and drinks and it had Internet.
So disappointing, we woke up and made it to the breakfast room only to have our favourite spot on the deck taken by some other travellers. (The deck will only hold one small table and two chairs.) Fine!!
Happily we ventured forth to the Coliseum, even with the morning’s disturbance. Oh, what wonders were awaiting us? We arrived by taxi to a mass of tourists, souvenir booths and gladiators with swords only to step in line to wait our turn at visiting this feat of engineering. Forty-five minutes later we could enjoy the splendour of it all. In the extreme heat of August we walked where mighty Romans had walked before us, looked down where man and animal battled and many lost their lives. We spent hours looking at an archeological exhibit displaying the mystery religious cults of ancient Greece and Rome. After leaving the Coliseum we went down to the Arch of Constantine. A wedding party was just arriving. What a perfect day for a wedding. Then we walked up to the Arch of Titus. A vendor trying to sell ‘straw hats’ accosted us. 20 Euros he said. 15 David said. No I said. 10 he said. 5 he said. Okay I said. So with my hat on head we walked into the Forum. The ground is all paving stones of irregular shapes and sizes with deep ruts from ancient carts. I was warned that good walking shoes were a necessity and that was true. It is hot, dry and dusty. This is a lot of history in one small area, too much to explain here. One could spend years.
From here we walked up the backside of the Capitoline Museum on a narrow back road and then down to the courtyard of the Capitoline. Again, we had to make it down stairs to the street level, however not as steep nor as long as the previous day.
We visited the Villa Giulia. After going through most of the Villa we decided to stop for a drink at the little bar just outside the garden. Posted just outside the dining area was a sign that gave notice of extra charges to sit and eat. The lady behind the counter was very adamant about that and yelled at would be patrons of this policy. We drank our soda and coffee quickly and quietly then left. The Villa is located in a huge park in a corner of the city and the hot languid day was perfect for a long peaceful walk through the park and gardens. All around were people picnicking and enjoying the beautiful setting. The sad part was how they had strewn garbage everywhere. Somewhere along the path we took we came across a little pond. People sat with their shoes off and dipped their feet in to cool off. David did the same. I watched. As we were leaving the park area I spotted a mobile bar and was just yearning for a hot dog so we stopped for a drink and a grilled wiener on a dry bun in the hot sun. The vendor was not happy at having to make it but it did taste good even without the relish, onions and cheese.
We were the first ones up for breakfast today but needed to be off quickly. We ate fast and then were on our way to Avis. It seems that today was a holiday: Ferie Agosto which is the August holiday that is celebrated similar to how we have Christmas Holidays in that everything is closed for a week and their celebrating lasts for the week. The streets were empty. It was a good thing because the Italians are crazy drivers and we wanted to make it to Sorrento. So, off we went on the infamous highway, Autostrada. Of course as everyone who knows David will attest, he has a problem of being directionally challenged. I was not afraid. We only had one slight navigational error, which actually turned out to be a bonus, as we had to travel back along the Amalfi coastline, where David says we were planning on travelling at some point anyways. What an absolutely incredible area. We journeyed to the mountain town of Ravello, which can boast among its inhabitants, Gore Vidal. It can also boast one of the best restaurants in Italy, Cumpa Cosimo, owned by Netta Buttone, the epitome of a wonderful Italian lady. The restaurant also had the best lemon liquoer that we tasted. From the restaurant we had to stay and visit as we had a little too much to drink. Visiting the town square we overlooked the water. The view is magnificent. We visited the Villa Rufolo with its splendid gardens and Castle, which was built by the Saracens. We then worked our way back down to the coast highway and somehow ended up at a parking lot. Oh, that would be another navigational error. Back on the highway again (and did I mention that this was a holiday week and there were people everywhere in this resort area?) winding through traffic on this two lane road with people parked on the shoulder of the road on either side and motorcycles dodging in and out of traffic and tour buses trying to make corners and people walking all over the road. What a mess! – Almost as bad as Tijuana. We finally arrived in Sorrento only to have to find the Villa Monica. We tried to find a gas station to see if we could get directions but did I mention that it was a holiday? We did after going through town twice make our way up a mountain along a long and winding road, up and up and up, until we got to a dead end and pipe barricade across half a lane with a sign that said Villa Monica up the lane. We saw a car squeeze through the barricade and thought we should try. It was a good thing as the Villa was much further up the mountain from there. All of this was well worth the effort as our balcony at the Villa Monica had an unimaginable view of Mt. Visuvius, the Gulf of Sorrento and Sorrento. The B&B was beautiful and Monica and Pasquale were both extremely hospitable. It was getting late so we settled in and then went halfway down the mountain to a restaurant. It must have been about 9 pm and the place was packed with people – lots of kids. We were seated and served by several young people as we watched two older women cooking in the kitchen. As usual with all the food we had so far, the meal was great except for some marinated salmon, which we assume must be an acquired taste. And as with most meals, time is not a concern so by the time we made it back to the Villa it was after 11 pm. We wanted to make it to Pompeii the next day.
We started the day with our continental breakfast of many rolls and pastries and coffee and juice. We enjoyed the sun and the view as we sat outside overlooking the city. Then off we went to view the remains of a once great city, Pompeii. After spending several hours looking over the many buildings in the heat of the day, we stopped for a little lunch at the café in the city then went off to finish with a few more areas of the city. We were tired and hungry as we left. Many of the tourists had left sometime before and it appeared we must have been among the last visitors for the day. The traffic though was still very busy as we left – it was stop and go. Now when a person leaves to go on holidays in a foreign country they are normally advised of precautions that they should take, such as photocopy your passport, don’t put all your money in one place, keep all important document on you not in your knapsack and the list goes on. Well, for years I did that and never had a problem… so then came lesson time. This was to be the day to live in history or is that infamy. Here we are sitting in our rental car in traffic in broad daylight and some guy comes and opens the car door and grabs my knapsack. In seconds he is off on a motorbike with everything, money, id, credit cards, camera, etc. I can’t even make it out of the car before he is on the bike and gone. And here I am robbed in Castellamare di Stabia with nothing to show who I am. After finding our way to the Polizia Stradale we try to inform them of the event only to find out they don’t speak any English. Did I mention it was a holiday? There is no one in the building who speaks English except this lady who happened to be in to report the theft of her cell phone. Talk about luck. This lady offers to help. She stayed with us through the entire ordeal of reporting the incident which took hours as we had to go to another building to visit with the Carabinieri. (Being a holiday there was limited staff and only certain people were allowed to take a report. The first station we went to sent us to the second station.) Throughout all of this the lady’s husband waited patiently and also helped stop my credit cards. Such wonderful people – I would have been lost without their help. It was very late by the time we headed for Sorrento and back to the Villa. We stopped and grabbed a pizza and headed back to our room. I was tired and miserable. I just wanted all of this to be over. We planned to get up early and call the Canadian Consulate in Naples.
We phoned the Canadian Consulate only to find they had an answering machine on. It was full. We decided to take the train up and visit the Consulate. After figuring out where the train station was and then how to buy tickets to get to Naples we rode a couple of hours to the train station, caught a cab to the Consulate only to find out it was actually closed for holidays. After the train ride we stopped at a grocer and picked up coolers and some prosciutto, cheese and bread and headed back to our room to plan on how to get to the Canadian Embassy in Rome. I phoned the Embassy and talked to a very pleasant young lady from Quebec who took my information and set an appointment for me at 11 am the following day. I was asked to bring anything that could identify me and that would be my DNA; I was robbed of everything. I would also need passport photos. We drove into Sorrento later that afternoon and got photos taken by a nice man for only five euros. What a deal and I was prepared to meet with the Embassy. We also stopped for dinner at a little restaurant that was too busy to keep anyone happy. We asked to sit inside and so were served by a very young waiter in a room that was almost empty. It was very pleasant.
Back at the Villa we did a last minute search on the Internet so that we would know exactly how to get to the Embassy. I didn’t want any glitches. With maps in hand we were set.
Getting up at 5:30 am we needed to be out of here by 6:30 am to make it to Rome with no time issues. Our drive up was without any major incidents until we got to the city. On the Grande Raccordo Anulare we missed the exit that we wanted or it may be that the exit doesn’t exist, as some of the maps we had encountered were a little funky. At any rate we ended up on the wrong side of the city and had to drive through the city to get to where we wanted to go. We amazingly found the Embassy without too much more difficulty and ended up at the office 15 minutes early. We were taken in and interviewed and fillled out the applications without any problem. The lady informed me that the pictures I had taken in Sorrento were not good enough and I would have to get new ones taken in Rome. Then if I returned them back to the office immediately I could be back at 2 pm and have my passport. That is exactly what we did and at just before 2 pm I had passport in hand. I was seriously impressed. And I was Me again.
We had some time before we could get into the apartment we had rented in Rome so we drove down the Appian Way to look for an aquaduct. That was one of the things I had really been interested in seeing. I was really surprised that there was no tourist site set up to view them as in my mind they were a wonder. We drove to a little town along the Appian Way. It was the cleanest place that we had come across – very impressive. We did a little walk around and stopped for ice cream and coffee. On the way back into Rome we looked to see if there was any spot we could stop and take pictures of the aquaduct and came across this driveway that led to an opening where I could see the aquaduct and almost touch it. We drove in only to find out that it was private property and the man who was there did not seem very impressed. Although when we asked to take pictures he was most gracious. He even took pictures of us infront of the aquaduct. Such wonderful people we have met in Italy. And this to me was incredible – to walk right up to the aquaduct and stand and have my picture taken right under it. How cool was that?
We then made our way into Rome to find the apartment and meet with the owner. It was right downtown in the midst of one-way streets and tiny, short alleys and was very difficult to find. When we did find it we were amazed. It was perfect. A couple of flights of marble stairs and we were in the cutest little apartment right in the heart of Rome. We should have been there for the whole week. It was located two short blocks from the Pantheon, which happened to be David’s favourite building in the whole world. Yes, the apartment was perfect. It was also just a few blocks from the Magnolia with its wifi and so did I say this apartment was perfect? There was a little supermarket just around the corner. One could stay there for some time and be happy.
We then had to take the car back to Avis. Everything there went great, also. We took a taxi back to the apartment, got settled and then went to the Magnolia for Internet update and dinner and a drink. We ended the day with a little shopping and a little more walking. We stopped in at the supermarket and bought food and drinks for the next couple of days. We froze the bottled water so we would have cold water on the rest of the tours. That would have been so nice to have on the previous trips.
Breakfast was at the Bar Orchidea and then off to shop. We found a great shop with great prices on shirts and Italian made Sports Jackets. It was a little difficult to find Italian souvenirs to take back home and a lot of the shops were closed for summer vacations but we were able to buy enough to take home. Back in the apartment we ate and with frozen bottled water we were off to St. Peter’s.
Breakfast was at the Bar Orchidea again. Packing was completed and we ran to the Tiber to throw coins in the river. We made it back to the apartment just in time to meet with the owner and lock up the apartment and we were on our way. It was Arrivaderci Roma and on to Amsterdam. After having gotten up at 9 am and getting in to Amsterdam at 10 pm we would have a 12 hour lay over before our 10 hour fight home. We planned on staying up the whole time so we could walk through the city. After landing in Amsterdam we headed out on the subway into the city. Unfortunately we did not consider that it was very late on a Saturday and everything except some eateries and bars were closed. But we did a nice tour of the canals, stopped in at a pub and then headed back to the airport. By now it was Sunday morning and we decided to take a nap. I slept for a bit but airport seating was not really a good place for me to sleep. I walked around the shops but with no money and no credit cards it was not that interesting, besides David was sleeping. I should have gotten a book as I had finished the book I had taken with me to Rome. It would be fine once I got on the plane because the motion, I am sure would get me to sleep.
Loading onto the plane was the most security conscious boarding I have experienced. After finishing with the regular security checks we enter into a second phase before actually being able to board. It was a good thing. Finally we are heading home. This was really a great experience but I am so glad to be heading home and am actually waiting to get back to work and peace and quiet. Italy was so intense and with the robbery, the unplanned excitement was enough for me.