Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rome


Easter holiday in Rome! My first time there, Pam and Maggie have been before. In fact it's Maggie's third time to Italy. How did she become so well-traveled?

Here's my journal from the trip...

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Rome.

A fast departure from Trondheim. I returned from a teacher course in Heimdal, picking up the family at 3:10. Plan was to leave no later than 3:15, but we we’re on the road until 3:22. Traffic was thick and it took longer than expected to get out of town, but we made it to the airport at 4:00, 1 hour 15 minutes before departure. I left the van outside and we went directly to check it, I then parked the van while the rest of the family went through security. We made the flight in good time.

We arrived at Funiocimi at 11:30 pm and a taxi was waiting for us with Pam’s name on a sign. He drove us directly to our apartment and gave us an envelope with keys and instructions. Nice! We were inside just past midnight, ready for a soft landing.

The apartment is nice, but the soft landing didn’t include soft beds. “This bed is a like a stone slab with springs” says Peter. I agree. It is soothing falling asleep to sounds of the city, though.

In the morning we head out on foot. We’ve got about a half hour walk to the apartment rental office to pay. Along the way we stop for breakfast at a pastry shop just two blocks from our apartment. We make note of a tiny grocery store next door, and buy fruit from a street vendor. The walk is longer than expected, the sights along this street not nearly as interesting as things we will see later in the trip.

We get lost and ask a pastor for directions. He seems very kind. We were not very lost. We find the office and pay. 1070 euros for the apartment for 7 days, 35 euros for internet (which turns out to be extrememly slow and crappy), 67 for the taxi ride here, 57 for the taxi ride back to the airport Thursday morning, and 28 euros for Rome’s tourism tax.

The lady at the rental office recommends a restaurant we will later visit, and advises that transportation workers are on strike today so we can’t take any buses or the metro and warns that hop-on hop-off tour buses will be very crowded. We decide to just walk around today and see what we can see.

We head out again and ashamedly stop at a McDonalds. Peter needs food and is allergic to most normal food. We then hike down Sentralia. No, Capitale. No, something with a grand name like that. Pam does some shopping while Peter and I slowly die outside on the sidewalk.

Anna buys “splat pigs” from street vendor. He wants to sell her 2 for 5 euros. We offer 3 for 5 and he jumps on it. Should have offered 1 euro. Anna is thrilled. We pass 7 other splat pig vendors on the street – this must be the spring of the splat pigs because we will see this everywhere on this trip.

We walk to a big monument for Vesuivus or something like that, then hike down towards the colleseum. Peter sees a gladiaotr helmut he must have. 100 euros. No, too much. We see another at the next vendor. 120 euros. I offer 50. We settle on 60. Peter is now the happiest boy in Rome.

We work our way towards the Colleseum. It’s amazing to be standing in front of this thing, but our joy is dampened by the crowds and the constant press of street vendors. Our legs are tired and we don’t want to take the tour today, so we decide to walk back to the apartment to rest. The walk is longer than we thought. Anna has a blister. Pam is in pain. We get home late afternoon and crash.

I play with Anna and Peter in the park across the street. We have a good time. Peter tries to scale the ancient city wall the runs along the park and falls. Good thing the ground is soft!

A little later we go down to the grocery store and buy cheese and olives, cereal and milk, bread and shampoo and cookies and wine.

We then go to dinner at a college student-type restaurant, Pizzarito Pastarito. The food is just okay.

In the evening we eat snacks inside, drink some wine and watch terrible Italian TV. Sirens have been going outside constantly for hours. Nearly every 5 minutes an ambulance or police car drives by. In the pauses, car alarms go off. Good god, have we rented an apartment next to the hospital? It’s comical at first but grows annoying. Despite the commontion, I’m asleep by 9 pm.

Saturday

We sleep in late, all of us are tired and sore and feeling like we didn’t do enough on our first day. So off to the Metro station. It takes some thinking and poring over the maps and signs, but I figure out which trains to take and feeling a little proud we head down to the subway, take the A train to Termini and switch to the B train to Colleseum. OK, not very complicated system, but I’m still proud.

We get out right outside the Colleseum. So much better than walking! A tour guide approaches us. “2 hour wait in the regular line to pay 12 euros” he tells us, “ 30 euros each to have a guided tour and go right inside!” We tell him no thank you – I don’t think it’s wise to take the first offer with no comparison. The next guide tells us the line would take 1.5 hours (a more honest estimate?) but his group will take us inside for 27 euros each, and since we live in the EU Peter and Maggie are 15 euros and Anna is free. 87 euros is much better than 150. We go with this group instead.

It is a bit of confusion and stress getting with the group and pressing through the crowd to get inside. I am comforted only by the thought that these guides do this every day and that in Italy confusion and stress are normal. Inside we go, past the long cue outside into the entrance chamber where the cue continues a loooooong time. I can see that 1.5 hour wait is no exaggeration.

 The Colleseum is cool. It’s awesome to be looking over the system of walls and chambers and elevators beneath the arena floor and imagining animals and props rising through the floor in a spectacular show. Gladiator games happened here for 300 years. 700,000 people died in this arena. We learn a lot about life at this time and then explore on our own for a few minutes before exiting and meeting our guide for part 2 of our tour: the Pallisades.

Maggie and Peter are bored so we let them go explore the Pallisades on their own while Pam, Anna and I take the tour. This is a really awesome site with lots of gardens and greenery. It just feels good. I have several aaaaaahhhh! moments seeing parts of the ruins of this palace and especially the forum. Rome was truly spectacular in its day.

We meet up with the kids at 2 pm and feeling hungry we go to a restaurant recommended by the lady at the apartment rental place. The restuarant is small and very busy, service takes a long time but the food is really excellent. Pam says it’s so good it makes her feel like our food yesterday was terrible.

We try to catch a taxi home without luck and end up walking back to the apartment. We play in the park again. Come evening we go to a sushi restaurant next door. They have all you can eat sushi for 20 euros where you order from a menu whatever you want, including tempura or edemame. We aren’t that hungry though so we just sit at the non-stop sushi conveyor belt and eat plates of sushi at 3 euros a plate.

No sirens tonight, at least very few. Tonight I’m again asleep at 9 pm.

Sunday

Armed with maps and bus routes, we head out to take public transport to Gladiator School! We walk 400 m down to the bus stop, buy bus tickets, and after some head scratching find the right bus stop. We wait for 30 minutes. The bus is supposed to run every 20 minutes on Sunday and we begin to wonder if there is a strike hangover. Worrying about arriving late to our gladiator training, we take the taxi. We need two taxis because we are 5 people. Still, it is just 10 euros for each ride, much cheaper than I thought.
Gladiator school! Pam ordered this as a surprise for us. What fun! We are in a reconstruction of an ancient Roman training camp. Our trainer, Hermes, comes out with a wolf. We are joined by two other families, both from the U.S. Peter makes fast friends with a boy his age from Chicago. We dress in tunics and first go into their museum, a very nice collection of arms and armor and paraphenalia from ancient times. He explains battle tactics, armor, weaponry, encampments, and so on, and we get to try on various types of armor.

Then off to be begin training, first with some gruelling warm up activities running an obstacle course and doing push-ups, then training on a device with rotating arms where we must duck and jump. It is fun!

Back to the arena we learn sword techniques, 5 kinds of strikes and 5 kinds of defenses. We begin to use these on each other when we are interrupted – the Roman legion has arrived!

20 Roman legionniers march in wearing full armor and weaponry carrying flags. As they carry on some kind of ceremony, the owner explains that in April they have a reenactment of battles and 3000 people come from all over the world to participate. This group is training for the event and it is lucky we get to see them here today. We take photos. Then the barbarians arrive in creative savage attire! What fun. They give us a show with a barbarian battle. These events use up some of our training time – we do not do some of the events he told us we would earlier, but it doesn’t matter in the least, this is a fantastic bonus!



Afterwards we go directly to fighting eaching one on one with Hermes as the judge, fighting to 5 points. We are now Roman gladiators. If we win 30 battles then we are free citizens or we can choose to be professional gladiators and popular celebrities. We get cerificates with our gladiator names on them: I am Crixus, Peter is Serpentius, Maggie is Flamme, Anna is Scorpia, Pam is Nemesis.

What fun! They order a taxi for us and we head off to the Pantheon. We see inside that and explore the streets in central Rome. It is wonderful here in the center. Next time we need to have an apartment right here in the heart of the city. We eat ice cream, shop, and then have lunch at Dakotas, a Rome interpretation of an American restaurant, filled with Route 66 type memoriabilia blended with Roman extravangance. The food is cheap and entirely okay, the atmosphere lively.

We find some kind of palace and then the fountain treves or something like that. After lookin at a dozen shops for swords, we find the right place with the right prices and all the kids get swords. Peter gets a gladius, Maggie a dagger, and Anna gets two wooden swords like we used in training and we practice fighting in a courtyard, drawing the attention of other tourists. Oh so happy!

We get tired and Anna gets grumpy, and so we try to find a bus. Unsuccessful, we head towards a monument where we know a bus line connects. It is a long walk and we make a wrong turn. Pam and Maggie and Peter go into a book store while I sit outside with grumpy Anna. We see a bus go by with a number that matches the bus stop near our apartment! What luck, we are very close!

We get on the bus – it is so packed we are struggling to breath! The bus takes a long time, but we get there.

There is a market set up along our street, we browse the booths and I buy some homemade pasta from a booth that we cook for dinner.

Again, an early night. I wake in the night to hear pouring rain. Will it be a wet day tomorrow?

Monday

Up early. We send the kids down to the pastry shop to get breakfast treats, and then set off down the street. We reach the taxi stand and decide to take a taxi, the first one holds 5 passengers. It is 10 euros to go down to Campo de Fiori, an open air market. Bus would cost 6 euros, it is so much better to take the taxi. When I think that 10 euros is 80 kroner, I can’t believe it. A short taxi ride in Trondheim would run 200 kr. Even though Rome is expensive, it’s not Norway expensive.

The market is fun. We buy dried fruits for our picnic tomorrow, bags of colorful pasta for gifts, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, vegetables to snack on. 

We wander south, across the river, into Trastevere. There are some fun shops here. Pam does a little shopping, I sample some food from a tasty looking shop with Anna. We end up in Piazza del Santa Maria, and there is a big church here. We poke our heads inside.

Wow! This place is awesome. Despite all of the artwork on the walls and ceiling, my eyes are drawn to the floor. The geometric patterns are stunning, probably my favorite thing I’ve seen in Rome so far. If we had these on the floor of my church when I was little, I would’ve gotten a whole lot more out of my church experience. No wonder ancient Romans were so clever – when you’re surrounded by great ideas like this you can’t help but think about smart things!

We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant, and it rained while we ate. The rain had stopped by the time we came out, wonderful timing! We did some more shopping. We found another church, Santa Cecilia, which wasn’t as good as Santa Maria but had some interesting features, including a skull and crossbones on the front entraceway.

We decided we were tired now and headed back across the river towards the nearest subway station, a route that happily took us along Circus Maximus.

We took the Metro home, an easy ride, and Maggie and I went to the grocery store to buy fixin’s for dinner. Pasta with pesto sauce, salad and sausage for dinner, with water, coke and red wine. Now we’re chillin’ watching Italian TV and playing games.

Tuesday 26 March

After a leisurely morning we headed out. Forecast calls for rain and it looked like it. We went into the subway. Getting into the car, a girl stopped in the entranceway, making it hard to get in. We had to push our way past. She had three sisters. The mom pushed in, then all five grabbed the door as it closed and forced it open, stepping out. The door closed and the car began rolling away. “My wallet’s gone,” Pam said. Gypsies. We’d been robbed. They unzipped Pam’s purse and took her wallet while her hand was on top of her purse. They got 4 bus tickets, 200 kroner cash (about $30), her credit cards and drivers license, and the wallet itself. Her money was in a different pocket in her purse. Her smartphone and ipad, also in her purse, were untouched. As soon as we were off the subway, we called both banks and canceled the credit cards. We got off much easier than we could have. Ugh.

Outside the train station, we bought tickets for the hop-on, hop-off tour bus. As we were waiting in line for the next bus, it started raining. I had an umbrella and a rain hat. Three vendors showed up instantly peddling umbrellas. We bought another for 5 euros. Street peddlers can be handy sometimes.

The bus tour, “The Blue Line”, was mediocre. Interesting stories on the headphones, followed by 10 minutes of silence. They could have easily filled the blank spots with more stories. Traffic was bad and the rain came pouring down. We sat on the top of the double decker bus for a better view. There was a canopy over the top, but it got cold. Pam, Anna and I had to eventually move downstairs to the inside section to be warm. Most of what we drove past we had already seen, the parts we hadn’t seen weren’t all that interesting, especially from the bus, and we weren’t about to go out in the rain.

Finally, at the last stop before returning to the train station we got off the bus hungry and cold. We went to the first restaurant, a very authentic place filled with Italien businessmen on lunch break. The food was great. They started us with foccacia right out of the wood burning oven with a pleasant smoky flavor. Then bread and oil and vinegar. I got pizza with thin strips of a kind of cured ham, mushrooms, artichokes, black olives, and a hardboiled egg in the middle. And a 0,66 liter beer. With a cappacino afterwards. Exceptionally good food.

Finally we were warm again. It was still raining and the Metro station was right outside, so we just took the subway back home again, arriving at 3:00. Just before we got home, the sun came out.

We’ve been relaxing and napping, and now Anna and Pam have gone shopping. Tomorrow it supposed to be sunny and so we will have a picnic at a famous garden. Tonight if we get hungry again we’ll do all-you-can-eat sushi.

Internet in the apartment is very crappy. I complained about it yesterday to the company and tomorrow they’re coming over to refund our money for the internet. I can’t even use the 3G network unless I change carriers to one I can barely get on this side of town. We connect with I WIND which can’t give us cellular data traffic for some reason. I TIM can do it but we only get one bar on this side of town. It reminds me of when cellular first came to Bellingham 10 years ago and we had spotty coverage over the area. Since we moved to Norway, cellular coverage is excellent everywhere we go, even in the middle of 3 km long tunnels. Good infrastructure back there. Here in Italy... not so good.

Wednesday

Today we packed picnic materials and took the Metro to Villa Borghese, a big park on the other side of town. On our way in we spotted a Da Vinci museum and went it to see. The museum was filled with models built from Leonardo's designs. Very cool! Up to the park, there was some kind of filming going on with hundreds of people in colorful costumes. No idea what it was. In the part we rented electric carts and drove all around, finding a nice spot for lunch. Afterwards we walked around town, finding a very nice shopping street. Gelato = good. Shopping = bad. OK, Pam was very happy with the shopping. Me, not so much. I hung outside the shops with the kids and we watched street performers, a group of performance artists in costumes that made them look like they had no heads, and a spray paint artist. Finally we caught a taxi back to our apartment and ate up all of our remaining food. Tomorrow we return home.

Thursday

Cleaning and packing this morning, and a brief trip to the grocery store to buy a load of parmesan cheese to take home. The taxi arrived right on time to take us to the airport. It's a good deal at 57 euros. The train would cost 12.50 euros each, or 72.50 euros total for a whole lot of hassle.

We had a lot of waiting at airports today. 2 hours in Rome and 5 hours in Amsterdam. We arrived at night back in Trondheim to ice and cold. It felt nice to speak Norwegian again, comfortable and familiar. The car started up just fine and we made it home safe and sound.

Rome was interesting! It was also crowded and chaotic. Maybe I've gotten used to quiet orderly life in Norway. Next time we go to Italy I think we'll spend less time in cities and more time out in the country, drinking wine.

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