Sunday, 8 July 2012

July 6/7 in Rome

Piazza Navona

The Pantheon

Victor Emmanuel Monument - Soldiers on Guard
Our first two days in Rome have yielded some surprises and some predictable experiences.
We remembered from when we were in Rome on a guided tour in 1986 that the traffic is a nightmare. Drivers regard signs and lights as optional and pedestrians are fair game if they have the audacity to step into the street, even at a crosswalk or on a green light. The hotel we stayed at for the first night had arranged a driver to pick us up at the airport and deliver us to the Hotel Teatro de Pompeo. Sandro, whose size would qualify him as a lineman with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, met us as arranged and led us to his blue Mercedes. The air-conditioning was a welcome relief from the heat that hit us as we stepped out of the terminal. Sandro attempted twice to get through a barrier without putting in his parking ticket--in fact he backed out of one line and attempted another. He had a remote control which he seemed reluctant to use to lift the barrier. After a couple of false starts we left the airport and hit the autostrade whereupon the speedometer quickly reached 140 kpm--at one time it topped 160--and we were on our way into Rome. Lanes, where they exist, on the streets are merely guidelines and Sandro slid into narrow spaces behind and beside buses with cm to spare. Once we realized that his driving was the norm, we relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
The staff at the hotel couldn't have been nicer. Like much of Rome, it is build over centuries of rubble from previous civilizations. In fact, the hotel is on the foundation of Pompeii's theatre.  We purchased a cheap mobile phone to use in Italy, but of course the instructions were in Italian. The desk clerk set up and activated the phone for us. Had it been left to John to perform the task, the phone would have ended up ground underfoot in frustration. The clerk programmed the phone to give instructions in English, so I think we are okay. He kindly told us to come back if we had any problems with the phone or if we needed any other kind of assistance.   He typifies the kind and friendly people we have met. Interestingly, the least helpful and friendly people we've met work for the Italian Tourist Bureau just off Piazza Navona. Yesterday, we visited the Borghese Gallery (hands down one of the great art galleries in the world) and thought we'd economize and take the bus. Where better to get advice than the Tourist Office, right? The woman who ostensibly helped us mentioned the bus number (116) and pointed in the general direction off to her right when we asked where the bus stop was. Long story made short--when it came time to catch the bus we were unable to find the bus stop or to spot a #116 bus. Her directions when she pointed to her right were intended only in the most vague sense, meaning the bus stop could be 10 metres away or 500 or half way to the Borghese for all we knew. One must have reservations to gain admittance and you are assigned a specific time to be there (30 minutes before the  appointed time to pick up your ticket). Frantically looking for the bus stop while closely keeping track of the time, we finally hailed a taxi and rode in air-conditioned style to the Gallery. The lesson learned? Ask people on the street for information and avoid the official tourist people who are, like so many Italian workers, guaranteed a lifetime job and cannot be fired for any reason. No wonder their economy is in such a mess.
The hotel is 50 meters from our apartment, so on Saturday morning we rolled our suitcases over the cobbled streets to 8B via Chiavari where Massimo's (our landlord) Philipino caretaker Ronnie and his wife Jinki showed us where to leave our bags. The building is 800 years old. Needless to say, that means the walls are thick, a factor that insulates us (partially) from the intense heat of Rome. The forecast indicates the temperatures will be +30 every day of our stay. One merely learns to cope! At outdoor restaurants the management has large fans placed near some of the tables. A pump sprays a fine mist of water in front of the fan blades which distribute it onto patrons. For the most part it is a futile exercise since the mist evaporates in the dry heat almost before it reaches the person it is intended for.
Campo di Fiore is a wonderful area of Rome. It is central and has an amazing range of restaurants. The square itself is a thriving market during the day and becomes a mecca for tourists and locals at night when all the stalls are taken down. We bought fresh fruit there yesterday--sensational cherries and peaches. We also bought olives and cheese in the local supermarket which is not 50 metres from our front door.
We are attempting to blend in a bit--Cathy more successfully that I--by learning and using a few Italian phrases.
We'll keep you posted in the coming days on some of our experiences.
Arriverdici from Rome.

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