Rome, day 1 of 3
Thu 30 Jul 2015 - Thu 30 Jul 2015
I said my goodbyes to my fellow students early this Thursday morning, then enjoyed efficient, uneventful German travel—a train from Essen to Dusseldorf, then a plane from Dusseldor—to Rome. The minute we landed, however, everything changed.
Rome’s Fiumicino airport (aka Leonardo Da Vinci airport) has suffered from a number of fires this year, including one the day before I landed. Apparently, this had resulted in our gate being closed (or burned down, they didn’t really say), but no one had told the pilots. In fact, the Rome airport seemed surprised that we had dropped down from the sky; we sat on the tarmac for half an hour while officials scrambled around for a place to put us. Finding none, they finally dispatched a couple of large buses; we deplaned right there and rode the buses to the terminal. I made some comment like, “Jeez, you’d think they’d know we were coming. This is a daily flight!” The lady sitting next to me laughed and said, “Well, that’s Rome for you.”
It was a long, hot ride on yet another train, but eventually I dragged myself to my hotel, checked in and dropped everything, resisted the desire to take a nap, and headed out to explore.
Just strolling down the street, suddenly there's this beautiful building, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
This guy was just hanging out on the curb, clipping his toenails... ??
Eventually, I took the metro (Rome has a surprisingly sparse metro system—is this a result of inefficient government, or the need to protect underground relics?) to the Spanish Steps. When I emerged, the hot, sunny day had broken into thunderstorms. The exit from the metro was actually blocked by people crowding around to get out of the rain, but I was so claustrophobic that I welcomed the opportunity to get away from the throng. Getting wet bothered me a lot less than being part of the herd. I snapped a few photos on the Steps and around Piazza di Spagna before the skies opened up again.
Looking up the wet steps.
Looking down the wet steps at my first Bernini fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia. Keats loved this fountain. Read about Keats and the reason why there's a shipwreck in a Piazza here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontana_della_Barcaccia
I paused for a selfie or two...
...and passed by the Keats-Shelley House before leaving Piazza di Spagna.
I wandered around, periodically checking my guidebook and snapping random photos. I stopped to get a shot of a famous restaurant’s sign, framing the photo to show the crazy street—typically Italian, it looks like a pedestrian zone to an American, but trust me, it’s not!—and the “old looking building” that was peeking through at the end of the street.
Imagine my surprise when I walked on and discovered that the “old looking building” was the Pantheon!
It was closed and I was ready for a good meal, so I allowed myself to be cajoled into one of the restaurants on a nearby side street. I was led to a small table by a slim young man with movie star looks and a quick smile. He looked me over and declared that it would be his pleasure to seat the “sexy lady.” His description of linguine with fresh portabella mushrooms and truffles sounded divine, but with that accent, he’d’ve been able to convince me to eat the tires off of my Pathfinder. I ordered the linguine with a white wine, and sat back.
The waiter stayed busy with his tables, winking at me every time he passed by. Once, he stopped to check on me by standing behind me and massaging my shoulders ever so slightly. I smiled and asked if there’d be an extra charge for that. He leaned over and said in my ear, in that delicious accent, “Oh Bella, you like that? You come see me later tonight, yes?”
The linguine arrived, and it was as delicious as promised. But I couldn’t eat more than a third of what was served—there was so much food! And between the lack of air-conditioning and the constant attention, I was uncomfortably hot, so I piled my hair on top of my head and held it there while fanning myself. “Are you hot?” said the lovely voice in my ear. “I shall cool you off…” And suddenly I had my own personal fan blowing cool air every so softly over my shoulders. He smiled, pulled out his card, and wrote his name on it: Giorgio.
“Ten tonight, yes? Is that how you say… ten?” He held up ten fingers to ensure that I understood what time he’d be off of work.
I was sticky sweaty, footsore, and deliriously tired, and ten o’clock was hours away; there was no chance that I’d be physically or mentally up to any kind of tangoing with Giorgio. I could barely speak as it was! I told him that tomorrow night would be better, and left… with a smile on my face.
I passed the Pantheon again, pausing to take in the atmosphere. It was the last few moments of twilight; the piazza was full of people just hanging out. Somewhere a guitarist played "Stairway to Heaven" while I stood by a horse-and-carriage taxi to wave at my mom, half a world away, via a webcam. It was surreal, and I loved every second of it.
Eventually my wandering found me in Piazza Navona, gazing at the incredible Fountain of the Four Rivers and other amazing art, and wandering around amongst artists and musicians and very happy people. I hadn’t yet learned how to take low-light photos with the iPhone, so they aren’t great.
More Bernini! I've always wanted to see this fountain. That's Sant'Agnese in the background.
This artist had music playing on his boombox, and sprayed his paint in time to the music. Literally performance art!
I watched these guys for a while. The sax player was awesome.
The relaxed, jubilant atmosphere was incredible. I tried to capture the moment with a couple of videos, but they are even darker than the photos, and my camera skills suck in general. Here’s one; hopefully the atmosphere can be conveyed even without light.
To get back to the hotel, I found a taxi. I always find taxi rides an interesting endeavor, and being in a taxi in Rome is a lot like being in a video game. An enjoyable way to end an amazing first day in a city I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to see.