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Report 1247: A Not-So-Slow First Trip to Italy and Budapest

By andasamo from Nova Scotia, Canada, Spring 2006

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Page 4 of 14: Rome . . . Three Travellers, Three Coins in a Fountain ...

photo by Unknown American tourist

My mom, sister and I in Piazza Navona

The three of us caught a late afternoon flight to Rome. We joined the “line” at customs, only to gradually find ourselves mysteriously at the back of the pack and realize there was no line at all, just a crowd of people jostling their way to the front! Oh well, it didn’t take that long and we were through. Next we had to get to Hotel Lancelot, a few blocks from the Colosseum. I’d tentatively booked a spot with a transfer company but we never did find them. We thought about taking the express train, but it was getting late so we opted for a taxi. I’d heard that red lights and stop signs don’t mean a thing in Rome, but hadn’t believed just how true that is. Our driver flew through intersections, sped around corners and generally seemed to disregard anything resembling road rules. What could we do, but put our faith in his driving, sit back and enjoy the wild ride!

We were expected and warmly greeted at the Hotel Lancelot. After checking in, we went for a stroll (the hotel staff told us that we need not fear for our physical safety in Rome, even walking at night – but be very aware of pickpockets!) and a bite of supper at a crowded little trattoria a couple blocks from the hotel. The place was full (jam packed in fact), but the proprietor (a woman named Luzzi with dyed red hair and cigarette in hand) was not about to let us slip away. In a flash, she got a table setup and herded us in. So we had minestrone di pasta and beer, scrunched in a corner by the kitchen door, with the waitresses having to lift dishes over our heads to get past us. There was a large group of young people nearby who seemed to be celebrating some occasion – it was like watching a movie scene, with spontaneous singing, clapping and loud, laughing conversation. What a glorious introduction to the Eternal City!

On our first full day in Rome, we eagerly headed off to the Colosseum, long a source of interest for us all, especially L. The sun was blazing, which was oh so appropriate since all stories seem to mention the sun beating down on the spectators. During our stay in Rome, we felt as though we developed an intimate relationship with the Colosseum: every time we headed out, we would circle at least once around the structure, marveling at its immensity and history. Next we moved on to the Forum, guidebook in hand. After walking around for some time trying unsuccessfully to identify the ruins from the book’s descriptions, we realized we were on the Palatine, not in the Forum – duh! But we were glad of our mistake because we wouldn’t have seen the Palatine otherwise, and we all agreed that it is well worth a visit. It is a lovely oasis amidst the heat and stone of the city.

Eventually we wound around to the Farnese gardens, with their fabulous view of the Forum, and then on down into the Forum itself. We were past the Arch of Titus and on the way down into the site when a man yelled at us to stop, asking didn’t we hear him whistling? In surprise, we said yes, but had no idea the whistles were directed at us (which was entirely true – we’d never encountered this practice of blowing whistles at people in tourist attractions.) No matter, we would return tomorrow to walk in the footsteps of the Caesars.

After supper, Mom decided to retire early and catch up on the news while L and I went for an evening stroll. One of the hotel owners mapped us out an amazing route for our walk that evening, and also for the next day. (Complete with walking instructions – “stroll confidently at a leisurely pace, the cars will flow around you; do not run or pause or you will mess up the traffic pattern.” Needless to say, this was a bit daunting but we tried our best!)

First we walked to the Trevi Fountain, where L and I threw in our coins (who can resist?) and sat for a while admiring the play of light and water over the stone. Then we made our way to Via Condotti to approach the Spanish Steps. I’d long wondered how a set of steps could possibly be such a huge attraction, but now I know! We lounged around a la Keats and Shelley until the flower man drove us away – what is up with those dudes? They are the same guys who peddle umbrellas when it’s raining. (Someone told us it is an extortion scheme run by the Mafia, but that seems a bit far-fetched ... makes for an interesting story though!) Up, up, up the steps we climbed and then continued along to Pincio. We had the terrace to ourselves as we gazed out over the lights of Rome. L and I could have lingered for hours, one minute laughing with glee, the next quiet with disbelief - can we really be in ROME? Down the switchback streets to the Piazza del Popolo, which was nearly deserted and quite marvelous. The streets were quiet and bathed in a golden glow – we felt the night was ours and were intoxicated just by being there! Back along Via del Corso to the hotel for a sound sleep.

Next morning, we set out to see the Forum – this time successful. Standing in front of Caesar’s temple and soaking up the centuries of history and culture was a dream come true. Perhaps because we are from the “new country,” Mom, L and I are all drawn to ancient places. The sun was again blinding – Mom had a bit of a reaction and her eyes got red and puffy, but fortunately she recovered when we reached the Vatican. Quick jaunt over to the train station to buy tickets for our day trip to Florence tomorrow and then we took the Metro to San Pietro for our Vatican tour. Liz, our Irish tour guide from Angel Tours Rome, was very entertaining and shared many fascinating tidbits. (Did you know that every Dec 22, the shadow of the obelisk falls over the Capricorn marker in the square?)

As millions before us, and as expected, we were amazed and enthralled by the Sistine Chapel, although this was the most crowded spot of our entire trip. Unexpected delights were the Raphael Rooms (love the School of Athens), the Gallery of Maps and the Gallery of Tapestries (the Christ who seems to twist when you walk by is most impressive). After the Vatican museums, we moved on to the Basilica. The Pieta is so fluid and graceful, how I wish I could have admired it from all sides instead of from the front only through the glass. The basilica itself is breathtaking – its immense dimensions make it hard to gain perspective. We couldn't resist joining the line to rub the foot of St. Peter (which is probably a sacrilege since we’re not Catholic), lingered awestruck by the architecture and glory for quite a while, then back out into the sun and grabbed a quick bite of pizza.

Our route back to the hotel took us past the Castel San Angelo, along the Tiber and across the Ponte Umberto I, to Piazza Navone, where we stopped to admire the Four Rivers fountain. The Pantheon was next and is simply gorgeous (one quickly runs out of new adjectives in Italy!) I was enchanted with the birds to be seen wheeling overhead through the open dome. The acoustics are amazing, there was almost a continual hum yet hushed at the same time ... very cool. Stood in awe before the tomb of Raphael. Next was St. Ignazio di Loyola church with its surprise ceiling. We then slipped back over to the Trevi Fountain so Mom could see it (she wasn’t with us the previous evening). She too threw her coin and our return journey was guaranteed (I can believe that if I want to!) All this walking and overwhelming beauty had tired us out – we could not manage anything more than take out pizza and went back to our room to mull over the day and call it a night.

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