October 7, 2012

The Roman Empire - Day 1

On Saturday (September 29th), we left the sea (and hopefully the mosquitoes) and the rental car behind and boarded a train for Rome. It was with a bit of relief that I returned the rental car -- now somebody else could chauffeur me around! We took a regional train from Sorrento to Naples, then switched to the national rail system there for our train to Rome.

Although we certainly don't go out of our way to look like tourists (maybe it was my Dad's white socks and sneakers?), we kind of got scammed in the Naples train station. We were walking rather quickly on the platform towards our designated car when an older gentleman ran up to us and started telling us we had to hurry and began grabbing our bags. When he first grabbed my suitcase, I said "no, I don't need any help" and then I looked to see if he was an employee of the railroad. He grabbed my train ticket and examined it in an "official-looking way" and said "no, it's OK" like he worked there. So we let him escort us and our baggage (him doing the baggage escorting part) to our reserved seats. Interestingly enough, this train's second class seats were all in little compartments of 6-seats each, with baggage stowage above the seats.

He first gets Dad and Joan situated as they were in the "cabin" in front of ours, then gets our luggage stowed in our cabin, then as I suspected, demanded payment. Damn it, I knew I was getting scammed! So standing there like a stupid American who should know better, I dig out some money for him. This "gentleman" and I agree on a price (20 Euros for the 4 suitcases he hauled) and he tried to increase this price even more when he didn't want to give me change from my 50 Euros note. He finally gave me my 30 Euros change, but rather reluctantly. I just knew I should have been more insistent on the train platform and instead, I just conceded.

The trip to Rome was just a little more than two hours. The train was hot and sticky with no real air conditioning and little air coming through the windows. It was a rather miserable ride. We all were kind of spoiled by our first train trip from Venice to Bologna, which was on one of Trenitalia's "Eurostar" trains (same price of 9 Euros per ticket), but this train (and others before it) was on what I suspect is an older train.

When we arrived at Rome's Termini station, the other three ladies sharing our compartment didn't disembark and instead of perhaps MOVING so we could easily grab our bags from the storage above, they just simply sat there and stared at us while we tried to quickly get our bags and get off the train (the train was bound for Milan). This was proving a bit difficult as we were like salmon swimming upstream against a tide of new passengers boarding the train. You would think common courtesy would occur and NEW passengers would have stepped aside so we could get off that damn train! But no, why would they do that?

We had already agreed to take a taxi from the station to our Rome apartment as we didn't have an easy and direct route using public transportation. It was probably the best 20 Euros we ever spent. It was actually much cheaper than we were expecting, so I gave our very nice driver a 10 Euros tip for his help with our luggage. Within a couple of minutes of our arrival, Paolo, the owner of the apartment had arrived.

Situated in a 1950's era apartment building, our apartment is a 3-bedroom, 1 bath apartment with multiple balconies on the first floor (second floor for us Americans). Dad and Joan were happy there was an elevator! After a brief tour of the apartment and exchange of monies, Paolo offered to take April and I on a driving tour of the neighborhood to show us important points of interest (like supermarkets, best gelato stores, bus stops, etc.). That was very nice of him and we appreciated the nice introduction to our new neighborhood that we would call home for the next 13 days.

We all get our things settled, Dad gets his ice cube tray filled (thinking ahead to cocktail hour) and April and I do some meal planning so we can head off to the supermarket. We were looking forward to doing some grocery shopping as the market was actually quite large, especially compared to the markets we had been shopping at the previous 3 weeks. I was really craving Mexican food and I was hopeful that I might find somewhat of an "ethnic" aisle there.

The supermarket was marvelous. Funny to be so excited about a supermarket. I almost cried when I found flour tortillas. I was hoping for corn tortillas, but flour would do! I also found salsa and fresh jalapenos! Oh joy!!!! Together with some ground beef, red chile pepper seasoning, onions and garlic, I was able to pass off a pretty decent soft taco (or burrito) for our dinner that evening. It was a wonderful change of pace from our steady diet of Italian food.

After our day of travel, a belly full of soft tacos, we all just wanted to sit around and be lazy, so we did. We'll start our exploration of Rome in the morning.

The next morning, the skies were gray with the threat of rain. Wait, it's not Wednesday, it's Sunday! Armed with our umbrellas, we walked to the nearby Metro station.

This was a cute advertisement in the metro station. Maybe I'll dress Bud like that for Halloween?

We were going to spend most of the day on one of those hop-on/hop-off buses so we could get an overview of Rome and reduce the amount of walking for Dad and Joan.

By the time we got off the Metro, it had started to rain outside. We were hoping that the bus would have available seating "down below" but that didn't happen. So we were forced to sit in the open top part, where the seats all featured a nice puddle where you have to sit. I had no choice but to use my map as my seat cushion, but I still got wet and probably looked like I had peed my pants!
Our plan was to do a "lap" on the bus, then decide where we wanted to get off to do some exploration. Unfortunately, the weather never cleared up, only rained harder, so that wasn't going to happen today.
Rome is the capital of Italy and has about 2.8 million residents in the metropolitan area. It is also the fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. Rome is referred to as "The Eternal City", a notion expressed by ancient Roman poets and writers.
Rome's history spans more than two and a half thousand years, since its founding in 753 BC, with the union of rural villages. It was the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, which was the dominant power in Western Europe and the lands bordering the Mediterranean for over seven hundred years from the 1st century BC until the 7th century AD and the city is regarded as one of the birthplaces of western civilization.

Since the 1st century AD, Rome has been the seat of the Papacy and, after the end of Byzantine domination, in the 8th century it became the capital of the Papal States, which lasted until 1870. In 1871 Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, and in 1946 that of the Italian Republic.

After the Middle Ages, Rome was ruled by popes such as Alexander VI and Leo X, who transformed the city into one of the major centers of the Italian Renaissance, along with Florence. The current version of St Peter's Basilica was built and the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michelangelo. Famous artists and architects, such as Bramante, Bernini and Raphael resided for some time in Rome, contributing to its Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Clearly that's a lot of history to cover, so we're going to be very busy exploring this city! For now, I'll just provide some photos of some of the sights we saw from the bus and talk about some of these monuments in another blog post.
St Peter's Basilica

By the time we had finished the bus loop, it was really pouring, so we got off the bus and found a nice, indoor tratorria for lunch. As a nice change of pace, their daily special was roasted chicken with potatoes, which we all ordered and it was delicious!
And that's a wrap on our first day in Rome.

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