Wednesday, 2 November 2011 – Part III of IV
Woo woo! Pulling into Rome Termini station… After a quick “Cheerio” (and “thanks again”) to Mr. Brit, I couldn’t get off the train fast enough. Not only do I want to put as much distance as possible between myself and Angry Ticket Guy, I also need a restroom like nobody’s business. Yes, I should have gone on the train, but, after being the focus of that scene earlier, I didn’t want any curious eyes on me as I jostled down the aisle. Of course, the first restroom I see is closed. Onward and fast! I finally find one and realize it costs one Euro, the most expensive yet (yup, definitely should’ve gone on the train). But, whew, what a relief – worth the Euro in the end, no doubt.
I head off in search of the Metro, so I can take a subterranean ride across town to nearer my hotel. After a walk of what seems like miles, I finally find some little ticket machines (no actual booth) which are labeled only in Italian. I have some idea of my options but really can’t tell what I need to do for what. This must be a common obstacle for non-locals, because there is a crew of local, mostly older, women flanking the machines, who, having figured out how to use these unfriendly machines to their advantage, are only too eager to help get you on your way (for a price, as it turns out).
At this point, I am still a bit frazzled from the Angry Ticket Guy, the search for a loo and the Metro, and the fear I now associate with travel in Rome, so I am only too willing to take my chances with the little old scarf-shrouded gypsy-type who approaches me. (I’m not even sure I can credit my intuition about people with any guidance at this point; I am just plumb exhausted.) Fortunately, the woman knows her stuff. In mere seconds, she has asked (in hand signals and broken English) if I want the single ride, one-, three- or seven-day option, pushed the buttons in reaction to my reply, pointed out to me where to insert my coin and bill to get my 11 Euro three-day ticket and requested her one Euro fee. I figure it is well worth it; I’m not sure I’d have ever figured it out, and she got me on my way in a flash. Not to mention, I’d just paid an equal amount to enter a restroom and handle my business myself (HAH!). And the three-day pass itself is much less expensive than it was in Paris, which is fair given the underground system is much more limited in Rome (although I believe you may also be able to take the buses – I never even checked into that).
I head down into the shadowy depths and catch a Metro on the line heading in the general direction I need to go. I notice there is a Colosseo stop and, figuring this is an Italian representation for the Colosseum, decide that should get me close, given my hotel is only blocks from this ancient landmark that has intrigued me for so long. I realize, in the end, the directions I made start out someplace else, but I am most grateful for the error. I have yet to see any of Rome, given that I went directly from the train platform to the Metro, all inside the Termini facility. So, there can be no finer welcome to this amazing city than the one I get when I finally make my way up from the bowels of the city past the pizza ovens and shelves of Pringles (yes, who knew…Pringles are Rome’s snack of choice apparently), and out of the dingy station. As I walk out the doors, looming right in front of me in all its magnificence, is the Colosseum. It almost takes my breath away – Truly incredible!
While I am drawn to move closer, I also have a desperate desire to get settled into my hotel so I can fully relax as I explore the city. I know my hotel is within blocks of the Colosseum, so there will be plenty of opportunities to get closer over the next two days. With no idea where my hotel is from my current locale and without suitable directions, I decide to simply follow my gut again. My rolling garment bag in tow, I plod up a hill (Rome – the City of Seven Hills!), mesmerized immediately by the juxtaposition of modernity and pillars of ancient life, to reach a major intersection. To my left, the hill rises higher into a wooded area. To my right is an area of shops and eateries, so that’s where I head, just knowing I am headed in the right direction.
I cross over the road in front of me and then over the road to my right, where, lo and behold, I look up and get confirmation: literally, a sign – on the post, with an arrow indicating the direction to the police station on Via Marco Aurelio, which I immediately recognize from the address of my hotel, Hotel Romance. I continue on, over rough sidewalks and through construction zones, up and down through the various narrow little streets of this secluded neighborhood in the shadow of the Colosseum, in search of Via Marco Aurelio. Of course, it is the only street not clearly marked, but I turn where my gut indicates and (having seen the property numbering on adjacent streets) end up exactly at my hotel. This is quite a blessing because you could walk by the place 100 times and not notice it if you weren’t looking for it. There is only a teeny sign on the wall next to the door; other than that, there is nothing else to make it stand out from the other apparently mixed-use buildings on the street.
When I enter, I am overwhelmed at the ornate Renaissance-style elegance of the place, just from the lobby, and am amazed that I was able to procure a place of such unique style at a remarkably reasonable rate (an average of just over $100/night) and exactly where I wanted to stay in Rome. I wonder if perhaps it is all a façade and the rooms will be far less spectacular. This place, unlike the one in Paris, includes just about everything I could want in the room price – WiFi? Included. Breakfast? Included. Porter Service? Included. (Turns out, it was a newer property – the rate is now about double what I paid in Nov. 2011. And it looks more overdone, in a tacky way, on the current site – not so when I visited.)
When I approach the desk, the woman behind it (apparently in management) speaks impeccable English. As I check in, she summons Antony to see me to my room and tote my bags for me. The elevator is very small (two people and one bag is about the capacity), and travels quite slowly – good thing there are only 13 rooms here (my favorite number, for real). We reach the room, and he shows me how to work the entry and the lights (which happen to be just like in Milan). I can’t help but ask him where he was last night, when I couldn’t figure these things out in Milan. Wonder if he understood me… Then, I am horrified to realize I have no change for a tip after paying for the Metro ticket. The smallest I have is a ten Euro, and that would be beyond overkill. (That’s what happens when you’re used to hauling your own bags, I guess.) So, I figure Antony probably hates me, but he is still most pleasant, now and for the rest of my stay.
And I need not have worried about the room; it is absolutely gorgeous and a bit more spacious than I expected. The décor is, per their Web site, “Classical Baroque” – dark colors, flowery brocades, with gold rope tiebacks (tassels and all) and ornate “gilded” furnishings. But then you step into the high-tech age when you enter the bathroom. These Europeans love their moderniste facilities, it seems.
I decide to hand wash a few things and hang them to dry, unsure how long air drying will take here but remembering how long it took in Northampton. I don’t want to have to pack up damp things when I head out so I’d best get this out of the way first thing. Then, I change into different clothes (maybe all to “cleanse” my memories of the train fiasco so I can explore my long-awaited Rome with a sense of adventure removed of hesitance). I also organize a few things and briefly study a city map, then hop online for a quick post to Facebook and a peek at e-mail and booking.com (where I booked this room and several others). I finally have an e-mail from Bruce, after multiple queries, which basically just says he didn’t realize I could get a response. Not sure why I would ask a question if I couldn’t get a response, but…anyway. Bottom line, I still didn’t get my answers, so I ask again and also comment, “God Bless the US, best country in the world!” (obviously still working through my experience on the train since you normally wouldn’t hear anything remotely like this out of my mouth…or fingers as the case may be).
About 3 or 3:30, I decide to head out to explore – not too bad, given that my train arrived around 1 and I’ve already managed the Metro across town, the hunt for the hotel, check-in, hand laundry, map review and online updates. I head down in the elevator and, a few minutes later (or maybe not, but it is slow), head across the lobby for the door. There is no one at the desk, and, when I reach the door, I cannot get out; I am locked in. Turns out you have to be buzzed out, which I found out when the desk attendant returned. Once I got out the door, I couldn’t get it to latch closed – not sure what that was about…sure hope it’s not that hard to get back in later!
The streets here are crazy, and the hills are strenuous, but the city is absolutely incredible! I could take a picture of everything (in fact, I’m pretty sure I did)!! I am so glad I read the book Chris loaned me before my trip so I was prepared for the ruins just randomly interspersed with the modern city. (The book had a recent photo of the ruins with an overlay of an artist’s rendering of the same facility in full repair.) Even so, seeing is believing – beautiful, bright or pastel houses and apartments above or adjacent to exquisite remnants of times long past (Circus Maximus –pre-500 BC, Roman Forum – pre-700 BC, Colosseum – built 70 to 80 AD), with wide avenues and traffic circles filled with rushing scooters, minis, and wailing police vehicles weaving through it all, not to mention vast parks and public piazzas (plazas) placed along the way for moments of leisure (and passion, it seems).
Leaving the hotel, I head down the hill along Via Claudia which turns into Via della Navicella, away from my hotel’s Colisseum-related somewhat-touristy enclave. The hill is quite steep, with the base of ancient walls lining the way. I am on a back thoroughfare, and traffic seems to be picking up. Yet, a few steps off, and the roads become narrow lanes, with several structures in various states of repair, including a church (Santa Maria in Domnica) from another era perched right on the road’s edge. Next to the church is a gate (Portale ricomposto di villa Giustiniani alla via Flaminia) which I cannot resist entering. This is an entry point to Villa Celimontana, I now know.
The Villa Celimontana property includes the “casino” (small house, which I think is a cultural museum of some sort) and a park of some size, with paths among the trees lined with sculptures (including the obelisk, Obelisco di villa Celimontana), benches (one of which was occupied by a rather amorous couple who were oblivious to anyone or anything), an untended fountain (Fontana delle Divinita) now turned green (perhaps because it is November?) and beautiful views down over the hill, where flowering shrubs and towering trees adorn in every direction. I am quite certain I have never seen anything quite as awe-inspiring and peaceful, especially in the midst of a major metropolis. Hard to imagine all those tourists and racing vehicles are still just outside the gates – it is like being transported to another time and place. I make my way through the park and the paths and back to the gate, heading further down the hill along the tree-lined road. I do have some concern if I will be able to make it back up the hill, now that I’ve seen just how steep it is from the park’s overlook. But the weather is perfect, my body is thrilled to be out and moving after spending the better part of the last three days on a train, and the by now well-glued warrior boots are ready to roll.
At the base of the hill is a huge traffic circle (Piazza di Porta Metronia), whirling with traffic of all sorts. On the far side of the circle is what appears to be an ancient stone entryway leading into some more modern facility or neighborhood. I turn right, following the sidewalk (no desire at all to try crossing this traffic) and realize I am starting uphill already. I didn’t realize the “Seven Hills” were quite that close together (ha, ha). After a short walk, it almost seems like I am in the vicinity (again) of the hill I descended, and I surely don’t want to climb the hill I just came down, much less return to the hotel just yet. That wouldn’t be much of an exploration! (I told you the streets are crazy here…) After a couple tries at new paths that all seem to head the same general place, I end up in another residential-looking area with more ancient stone and park areas. I finally ask some people who are returning to their cars by the park for some general direction, but they aren’t much help so I turn back around.