Thursday, October 23, 2008

Viva Italia Recap #1

So, I've finally gotten enough past forgetting my camera on Air India (partially due to Steffi Smith, one of the nicest people I've ever met, "donating" some of her Italy photos to us) to write my first Italian honeymoon blog post. I'm rather sick still over the loss of our photos, but reminders from friends and family that either that "things could be worse" or "at least you still have the memories" have reminded me we're still very lucky.

Because our 7:45pm direct flight to Rome on Thursday, October 9 was [thankfully] uneventful, I'll begin our trip with our first day in Italy.

We landed in Italy's capital city, Rome, at around 11:15am ("Italian" time) on Friday, following a direct Delta flight from Atlanta. Customs and passport control were both simpler and quicker than I'd imagined. While Dan was a little nervous about us making it to our driver in time, we grabbed our luggage off the conveyer belts and walked toward the arrivals area without incident. Yes, you read that correctly; the lodging Dan arranged through Cross-Pollinate arranged for a vehicle and driver to meet us at the airport. 

I wish I had a photo of the early 30's Italian gentleman holding a sign that said "Mallory" amidst probably a hundred other people lifting handwritten and professionally printed signage. (If you wonder why I don't have this photo, refer to my introductory sentence.) After feeling thrilled to find our driver, we made our way to a compact car parked just outside the baggage claim. 

What was likely a 20 minute ride felt more like an hour because of the sites and city life we passed by.  Views of the Colosseum and ruins blended with Ikea advertisements with Italian copy. Our driver spoke limited English, which was fine and expected, but knew where we were going, partially thanks to the Tom Tom situated on his dashboard. 

We were dropped off on what seemed like an alleyway. In retrospect, we understand that many of the "streets" are barely the size of alleyways because the city wasn't built for cars. I wish I could tell you the exact address of the place where we stayed, as it was in a lovely neighborhood—but I can tell you it was near a major street called "Nazionale" and was a short walking distance from the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum and  the Vittorio Emanuele monument

After we jumped out of the car and paid our driver, we prepared to wait a few minutes outside of the bed and breakfast. After all, we'd arrived about an hour early. After about two and a half hours of being hesitant to leave the B&B's entrance to avoid missing our contact, Dan decided to find a phone and give a guy named "Benji" a ring. The public phone he tried was not so much really there—so luckily an Irish pub down the way let him borrow its phone. I tried to wake from my over-the-counter sleep aid-induced haze by sipping a sugar-free Red Bull while Dan hunted down a working phone.

Within minutes, Benji arrived and was apologizing for the wait. He mentioned that he'd been at the place earlier but didn't see us. He let us into the building, showed us our room, explained breakfast and reinforced the best practice of locking all the doors. Our room wasn't amazing and we couldn't access the elevator (thus braved the three floor commute a few times a day) but I wouldn't have traded it's simplicity and shabby chic-ness for anything; the neighborhood was quaint, safe, not particularly touristy, etc. We also didn't think 90 euros a night was anything to complain about.

Seeing in that it was about 2pm in Rome and our bodies were confused but hungry and curious, we made our way to a street that was home to several cafes and restaurants (or "ristorante" in Italian). Before finding the best place to grab a bite, we stopped by the Vodafone location Benji marked on a Rome map. Dan was smart to bring an unlocked phone, so we were able to purchase a SIM card and a few dollars' worth of phone credits. This phone came in handy later for calling Benji (he'd given us the wrong key to the B&B) and contacting the manager/owner of our B&B in Florence. 

We were surprised to find several of the shops were closed for two hours each afternoon, what seemed to be a normal and expected part of the personal and commercial parts of the culture. After walking only a few more blocks down toward Nazionale, we decided on this one little place because of its simple menu and outside seating. Our "snack" consisted of a shared thin crust pizza with artichokes, olives and prosciutto with a Peroni (Italian beer) for each of us. Upon the waiter's insistence, we shared a bowl of true, rich, mascarpone-enriched tiramisu. We thought an espresso each might help us pep up a bit, but this was to no avail. Our "snack" set us back 24 euros*, which we didn't think was too bad. Unfortunately, I think I took a photo of the restaurant name instead of writing it down. 

While we would have liked to have executed grand plans on our first afternoon in the "Eternal City," our bodies were struggling. A two hour nap gave us the energy we needed to go out and enjoy a nice dinner at La Taverna dei Monti (at Via del Boschetto), an approachable yet Italian-frequented restaurant near our B&B. We did something we did several times throughout the trip, splitting a pasta dish, a meat dish and a dessert. An affordable and tasty chianti was a good match for our fettuccine with porcini mushrooms, sliced (nearly rare) fillet (served with arugula, fresh parmesan and lemon-infused olive oil) and pineapple sorbet served in a frozen pineapple. Fifty two euros for dinner. Luckily for us, being neither picky eaters, we could rather freely point to menu items and say, "sure, we'll try that."

(Speaking of dinner, we were told later to be wary of handwritten bills and the specific amounts charged per item, as some shops to try to take advantage of tourists. We heard you can call out the "scam" to your waiter and they'll fix it. Luckily, we don't think we encountered this on our trip. We did have a few restaurants that charged "service charges" or "covers," but in each instance, the charge was plainly stated on the menu or on signage upon entering.)

Over dinner, we reflected on our first day of travels and how lucky we were to be starting the trip of a lifetime. Before heading "home," we navigated ourselves to the Trevi Fountain. It was here that I learned how gullible of a tourist I was. Dan warned me earlier in the day not to accept roses from street vendors no matter what they said. When a guy approached me then insisted I take the roses he was offering for free because I was beautiful, I felt so flattered. But then when we went to walk away, he demanded we give him some money. I decided a good compromise was giving him 2 euros and giving back two of the flowers, which doesn't make any sense now (or even later that night). It was at this moment that I realized seeing a tourist carrying roses is the same as spotting a sucker.

picture from Wikipedia member Hisham Besheer (April 2008)

I digress. Back to the Trevi Fountain. Wow! I don't even know how to begin the description. The incredible "water feature" was finished in 1762 and seems to be popular to locals and tourists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We sat for probably 20 to 30 minutes, admiring the craftsmanship and artistic vision of the piece. 

After walking back and before falling sleep, we pulled out our map and decided on a wake up time and travel route to ensure that we made it to our Vatican Museum tour in plenty of time. 

A great start to a great vacation... 

*During the time of our visit, the euro was converting to about $0.735 in American money. We took the advice of friends and online reading. Instead of exchanging American cash for euros, we found ATMs that accepted American bank cards (they should read "Cirrus"). This was less expensive than paying a conversion fee to change currencies. 

1 comment:

Mb said...

What an awesome post!!! Definitely looking forward to more recaps.