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Report 981: The Old Man and Me - In Italy!

By Podie from Florida, Spring 2006

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Page 9 of 10: Trastevere and the Catacombs of San Sebastian

photo by Celeste Rubanick

Across the River Tevere

I woke up to our seventh day of blue skies and thanked God our weather had been so stupendous. We had both come prepared for rain, but I for one was thrilled that the rain gear had remained untouched!

Since I not had any red wine the night before, there was no head holding and groaning when I got up - just the thought that I was overdue to finish my shopping! So we bought silk scarves at the Campo and then spent our last leisurely morning at Bar Farnese, savoring the coffee and the International Herald Tribune's story about the world champion Gators!

This trip I had sworn we would visit Trastevere. I had heard it was great and also that it was a waste. It's neither, in my opinion. We enjoyed visiting Santa Maria of Trastevere, but since it wasn't time for us to eat or drink, there wasn't much else to do. I know the area is supposed to be hopping at night, but it was very, very quiet in late morning.

So we crossed back over the river and walked along Via Guilia, a very pretty street, and decided to try Armando al Pantheon for lunch. Luckily the 12 or so tables weren't yet full and we were seated immediately.

It was a very relaxing lunch, although both servers (I think one was Armando himself) appeared somewhat horrified that we didn't want wine! Still, we enjoyed our spaghetti arrabbiata and amatriciana, salads, coffee, decadent chocolate mousse, and a very strange but very good pudding-like tiramisu with blueberries. The lady fingers were bursting with liquor so obviously skipping the wine was a good idea! I thought E43 was very reasonable for such a touristy area.

It was time to go to the place I knew Rich would never forget.

The taxi stand at Largo Argentina was full of bored drivers and the first one snapped to attention as we arrived and said we wanted to go to the Catacombs of San Sebastian. The man smiled, got us in the taxi and knew enough English to point out places along the way. Even with heavy traffic that made it a 15 minute trip, the fare was only E10.50 and I was very glad we hadn't taken a bus.

However, about 300 French students sat on the ground in front of us and the door to San Sebastian, and it was starting to drizzle. A slight wind had picked up, too. We hurried inside to beat the student rush, bought our E10 tickets and waited on the bench for an English tour. It left in ten minutes with a large group of about 15 people.

When the tour guide stopped to give her first talk, she explained that she would speak more at the first stop inside, as she wanted to get underground before the "noisy students" entered the area. As we began walking downstairs, I heard someone else in the group translating to other members in German. Obviously, they'd rushed into the English group to avoid the students even though only one spoke English.

This was my second time at San Sebastian, and I was reminded that this was what I expected the Scavi Tour to be like. I could tell Rich was absolutely fascinated. The tour guide gathered us in one of the rooms used by grieving families and gave us some more history. As she was speaking, the German woman began interpreting for her group at the same time and the tour guide asked her to stop.

They grumbled loudly about this, but the rest of us obviously felt the same way. We weren't able to hear the guide while the German lady was repeating everything in German even though she was trying to be as quiet as possible. In addition, the students had entered the catacombs already and we wanted to keep one step ahead!

The tour was relatively brief, perhaps 30 minutes, but I was just as pleased with it as I had been the first time. Next time we'll visit San Callisto, but we knew it was closed on Wednesdays so San Sebastian was the best choice.

We saw them trying to keep the 300 French students quiet as we left, to no avail. It was interesting to see that whether they were French, Italian, Swiss, German, or British, the thousands of students we saw that week were very much the same in dress, demeanor and noise level!

As we had been warned, we had two options upon leaving - trying to grab a gypsy cab or one dropping off people at the catacombs, or take the bus. We had made friends with three people taking the bus, so I bought two tickets from the gift shop and we walked to the bus stop about half a mile away.

And waited. And waited. Meanwhile, a very nice couple from Canada joined us and told us the French airline people were going on strike the next day and they were worried since they had Air France reservations. I wondered momentarily if this would affect our departure on Delta, but figured Delta must know about it if we did.

The bus was crowded when we got on. I knew Rich's feet were killing him, but he had to stand and I'm sure he was dreaming of a comfortable taxi ride. The bus line (218) ended about one kilometer from the Colosseum, so we walked there and were lucky enough to grab a taxi being vacated. I heard Rich's sigh of relief as he sat down and knew our walking for the day - and this trip - was OVER.

We had decided that Arnaldo's (just out the front door) would be the place for our final dinner. I explained to Arnaldo in my limited Italian that we would be leaving tomorrow, and he understood, looking sad and wishing us a good trip. Then I showed him the "Best of Rome" book that named his restaurant as one of the ten most romantic (and I agree) and he was happy. I left the book in the apartment the next day for Massimo to explain that Arnaldo could keep it. He's such a nice man and terrific host.

The white wine, gnocchi, spaghetti, veal with oranges, veal cacciatora and sauteed vegetables for E50 were all delicious as usual. We returned to our apartment and packed, sorry to leave but now anxious to get home.

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