Sunday, May 9, 2010

Romancing the Rome

Although our room was tiny at the River Palace Hotel in Rome, the real value was in the black out shades. With no set plans for the morning, other than doing our laundry, (I know- our first morning in the Eternal City and we are washing our undies, because we are out) we were able to sleep in a bit for the first time on this trip. We slept in until 9:30 and then had to scurry to get ready and go down for breakfast before they stopped serving. Every place we have stayed has had breakfast included with the room, and that’s been a life-saver.
Life saver may be an exaggeration, but it has been convenient. I am pretty sick of muesli and yogurt now.

After breakfast we did a little game-planning for our time in Rome and booked a tour for later that afternoon of some of the ancient Roman sites (they’re all ancient, but some are ancienter than others) like the Colosseum, the Forum, where Julius Caesar was killed, the Arch of Constantine, etc., and then we headed out to do laundry.

We had a false-start with a nearby laundromat that turned out not to be a self-serve laundromat (that was an awkward, translation-plagued conversation), we jumped on the metro for a laundromat near Vatican City. We found it without incident and the guy running it was a lot of help. We hung out for the next hour (catching up on the blog to pass the time).

I don’t know if we should admit that we wasted an hour of time in a laundromat 2 blocks away from the Vatican and all its sites. What can I say? It has been a long trip and we needed a little down time. The Indian laundry house was the perfect place.

While sitting inside, we heard a big crash right in the street right out front. We looked out to see that two scooters had crashed into each other. One rider was up and about, but the woman on the other scooter was still on the ground. We hear a lot of sirens in Rome (and everywhere else we’ve been for that matter), but it sure did take a long time for the ambulance to finally arrive.(Enough time that we were able to fold and pack all of our laundry and leave before the ambulance arrived. I think it was lost in the crazy streets.)

The guy running the laundromat said she was going to be ok. (For sure take the word of the laundry-man.) It’s a common occurrence with how crowded and crazy the streets are. With our clean laundry in tow, we headed back to the hotel to catch our tour.

It turns out that a lot of the tours are closed on Wednesdays for some reason, but we found one that the hotel recommended. Most of the tours we were looking at had about 8-12 people per tour, so that’s what we were expecting. They picked us up in a shuttle bus, and took us across town to their headquarters where they loaded us on a ginormous bus along with about 55 others. About 12 of them were French speaking and had their own guide, but we were pretty disappointed to be in such a big group. The tour was overpriced and just ok, but we wished we had just gone on our own with the Rick Steves audio guides we had downloaded to our ipods back hom

Side note- every large tour group we had seen up to that point was one we swore we would never go on. Following behind someone carrying an umbrella while talking into a microphone so we could listen to the remote headset around our necks. Slick system, but not our cup of tea. It was a learning experience. Plus we were kind of tired of being our self-guided selves. We wanted someone else to tell us what we didn’t know – which is a lot!

Interesting facts we learned on the tour: Not many gladiators actually got killed in the Colosseum. It turns out it was big business to care for and train the gladiators, and the managers didn’t want their investments killed so quickly, so the weapons were pretty dull and they were trained just to maim the other person. So much more civilized. They also got good medical care. They would get knocked out with opium before surgeries.

And gladiators were like rock stars who had to use a private tunnel entrance to keep all of the crazy “Fans” from touching them. Just like modern day stars.

At the end of the tour we ditched the tour bus and kept touring on our own. We made our way over to the Pantheon. This is a seriously old building. It is the only building in Rome to have been in continuous use since [like a bigillion years ago] We also learned that the Romans were great recyclers. Some emperor or ruler would have a massive bronze statue of themselves (or some other building) erected and the next guy in charge would melt (or tear) it down to make his own or to make weapons. That’s why there aren’t a lot of bronze statues left, even though they were so prevalent during that time period.

Ian just got hi-jacked because he is totally confusing days and sites and information. But he can tell you every Gelato flavor he has had since we landed.

After the Pantheon highlights were the Trevi fountain – huge and packed with tourists- and the Spanish Steps – huge and packed with tourists. The beauty of the steps was that we arrived just as the sun was setting. We climbed to the top, dodging the pushy rose sellers, as we went. We arrived at the top and staked out a place to take in all of Rome;s rooftops and many domes while the sun set behind the hills to the west. It was just lovely.

We eventually made it back to our room to change and get ready for dinner. Another day where the rain threatened but never ruined our plans. While still home Ian had been sent a list of reviews of restaurants in Rome. The reviews were done by a student in Rome who fancied himself some kind of epicurean. I only read one of the reviews before we left and it mentioned a gnocchi with gorgonzola, prosciutto, and black truffle dish as one of the most memorable he had ever eaten. So we were off to find Pietros.

We broke down and took a taxi to dinner. I was pretty sure our cab driver was either lost or driving some totally indirect route to jack up the fare since I could clearly see from the map that there was a road that went straight to the area the restaurant was in. So, here I was trying to give the taxi driver (who had GPS and didn’t speak much English) directions to a place I’d never been. Turns out that straight road was one-way in the other direction and he was right after all. Go figure. (yeah- that was classic. Ian trying to tell the local, experienced driver armed with GPS that he was obviously going the wrong way. Laughable!)

Dinner was the highlight of my day (besides spending more time with Kitty of course). Keep it coming! Pietros was on a tiny street with a tiny sign and tiny door (OK- normal size door) and it was tiny. Only 7 tables! Simone, who runs the place, greeted us at the door with a handshake and very warm welcome. There was only one other couple in the place. Simone was also our waitress. She explained at the beginning (in a thick Italian accent) “If youa donta lika, youa donta pay.” We paid for everything. From the fried mozzarella stuffed zucchini flowers to the asparagus with lemon and parmesan – everything was delicious. And the host made the meal even better. Simone had us sign a little book with our address so she could send us a Christmas card.

The clouds came back during dinner and it rained a bit while we ate, but stopped by the time we were done (which had to be close to midnight) and since we were so full, we decided to walk back to the hotel. The walk back was a little surreal. Just strolling through Rome with Kitty in the middle of the night, after such a fun evening. Perfect.

Perfect until I stepped in something slimy in my new Italian shoes. A few steps later when we saw more piles of slimy stuff we realized that Romans don’t always pick up their dogs business. Yep- pretty sick.

Oh- and Ian forgot to mention that he totally fell for one of the pushy flower guys cunning tactics. I think he was all caught up in the moment – having read about a meal in another country, eaten said meal that exceeded expectations, walking through a romantic city just after the rain…. So the guy gives me the long stemmed rose and I say “No Grazie” as always. He keeps persisting. I do too. But he tells Ian “gratis” which means free. Ian thinks- oh I like free and takes the flower. Then the guys says “Kiss her” and so Ian does, thanks the man and is giddy like a school girl as we walk away. 10 seconds later the guy turns around, follows us and let’s Ian know that yes the flower was free, but 50 cents for the kiss. So the man got his money and we laughed about it the rest of the way home (as long as I didn’t think about the poop on my shoe).

Girls, we're super excited to see you soon. Can't wait.


The Washer
The Loader

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