The Retirees Go Abroad – Roma, the Eternal City.

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I arrived home (Long Eaton) on October 13 after the Long Commute back to Australia to prepare for our trip to Roma in 3 days time.

However before travelling, there is time for a little more renovation then the morning working bee at the church. A few minutes to pack then we are on the bus to the airport, picked up our Euros at the airport which we had booked on line then through security and having breakfast at the airport. That simple.

The flight was uneventful and arriving at the airport was surprising because it was so small. Ryanair tends to use the secondary airports. The main international airport Leonardo da Vinci International Airport is Italy’s chief airport and is commonly known as “Fiumicino Airport”, as it is located within the nearby Commune of Fiumicino, south-west of Rome. However we flew into Rome Ciampino Airport which is a joint civilian and military airport. It is commonly referred to as “Ciampino Airport”, as it is located beside Ciampino, south-east of Rome. Collected our luggage and then went out to find a way of getting to our hotel. Hello what’s this? A chauffeur with a notice board reading “Senor and Senora Young”. That us Kerry cries. What a pleasant surprise. No worrying about how to get there just jump on board the chauffeur driven van and we are there at the hotel.

We booked in and thanked the receptionist for sending the chauffeur. “No Senor we did not send the chauffeur perhaps the agency”. The penny drops. Kerry looks at me and says she must have booked it with our flight. Later we check and sure enough for a little extra we had booked the chauffeur. Well worth the cost.

Now a little bit of history courtesy of Wikipedia to set the scene.

“Rome is the capital of Italy and also of the Province of Rome and of the region of Lazio. With 2.9 million residents in 1,285.3 km2 (496.3 sq. mi), it is also the country’s largest and most populated commune and fourth-most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. The urban area of Rome extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of around 3.8 million. Between 3.2 and 4.2 million people live in Rome metropolitan area. The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of Tiber River. Vatican City is an independent country within the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years, since its legendary founding in 753 BC. Rome is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. It is referred to as “The Eternal City” (Latin: Roma Aeterna), a central notion in ancient Roman culture. In the ancient world it was successively the capital city of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Western civilization. Since the 1st century AD, Rome has been considered the seat of the Papacy and 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, almost all the popes since Nicholas V (1422–55) pursued coherently along four hundred years an architectonic and urbanistic program aimed to make of the city the world`s artistic and cultural centre. Due to that, Rome became first one of the major centres of the Italian Renaissance along with Florence, and then the birthplace of Baroque style. Famous artists and architects, such as – to name just a few – Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini, made the city the centre of their activity, creating masterpieces like St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael Rooms and St. Peter’s Square.”

So after 2,500 years of history I was excited that in one place I might see pieces of those parts which influenced the Western world as we know it today. Even with this knowledge I was surprised (both pleasantly and not so pleasantly) with what we discovered.

Now the hotel was not what we expected. When booking the hotel we knew that it was 3 star but we did not ask what the standard of a star might be. The hotel looked uninviting with rubbish bins at the front spilling onto the road part of the road did not have kerb and channel and parts of it looked abandoned. From reception we were told to find our room we had to go outside up a flight of stairs through the door and our room was 101. A little unusual but we did this and got lost because the door looked for all the world to be a service door not the entrance to a set of hotel rooms.

The building containing the hotel is built in a “U” shape and has a deck between the two small towers, a ramp at the open end going down to the bus stop and a wall and covered walkway at the other end making the bottom of the “U”. We walked out onto the deck but could not find any door that would give entrance to the hotel. Ultimately we tried the service door and “Voila” we found the room. The room was basic like a prison cell is basic (the air conditioning does not work until the ambient temperature is unbearable), the shower leaked, the floor tiled throughout and the furniture spartan.

Now to travel to the old city of Rome we had to catch a bus to the Metro then into Rome. It is a bit like living at Redland Bay catching a bus to Carindale and then into the city. After a few times this became routine and we would travel with the Italians going to and from work each day.

On the positive side the cost to use the bus, train, tram and the Metro (all on the one ticket) was 1.50 euro per 100 minutes (we needed about 20 minutes on a good day and 1 hour on a bad day to get into Rome). The bus stopped immediately outside the hotel except on Domenica (Sunday) when we had to walk down to the main road about 500 metres away. There is a trick to all this. Don’t catch the bus to Grotto Celoni but catch the one to Anangina but it is hard to tell when both buses are a 507 and the bus destination is shown as Anangina even though it is going to Grotto Celoni. So on our first attempt we ended up at Grotto Celoni and had to catch the 511 back to Anangina.

When you get to Anagina, after witnessing the most fluid abuse of road rules by every driver on the road, you arrive at a bus station that must collect people from miles around as there are row upon row of stops and the enterprising Italians have set up a market which operates from 5.30am (when the Metro opens) to God only knows what time (it seems to vary) but you know when they have left because every bit of packaging and rubbish lies scattered around. On top of this is the car parking which never seems empty and in fact is supplemented by the illegal use of road side gateways and double parking. There was even a burnt out van there which seemed to the Italians no more unusual than the thousands of people making their way to the Metro.

There are only two Metro lines. The A line from Anangina (Yes we were at the end of the line in the south) and Battistini in the north and the B line from – well we did not use it much but it generally runs east west intersecting with the A line at Terminii (which is also a bus station and Rail head).

There was the ever present para military Carabinieri, the local Polizi, then someone else in uniform all carrying guns and walking around importantly. Even more ever present were the beggars and the street sellers (it felt like Nadi in Fiji). Some definitely would not take no for an answer.

Our first trip into the city was to collect our Omnia passes. If travelling to Rome these are well worth looking into. I suspect this is actually owned and operated by the Vatican because at one site we got a sales pitch for Christianity. Have a look on the web site http://www.romeandvaticanpass.com.

There are two collection points and because we were unfamiliar with Rome we chose the one closest to us at Piazza San Giovanni as it seemed easier than the other at the Vatican. Well of course it wasn’t. After taking the bus to the Grotto instead of Anangina we went the wrong way many times before understanding how street directions work in Rome. The collection point was inside a door unmarked with any identification but next door to the “mother church” St John’s Lateran. We probably spent an hour trying to locate this place and when I said to the guy at the office “well we passed the first test – we found you” I got a surly grin and he launched into explaining how the passes operated.

We decided that our official visit would start the next day as the passes are for 3 days and once you start using them (even if it is a minute to midnight) that counts as your first day. We knew that there was very little to go back to at the hotel, so we took to the Metro and made our way to the Spanish Steps (we will talk more about these later). Crowds of tourist awaited us (and this was the low season) and we wandered in the general direction of the river just to see what we could see. In this area the roads are unofficial malls but of course the cars and scooters did not stop weaving their way through pedestrians. From Piazza Spagna we strolled down Via Condotti into Via Tomacelli where, to Kerry’s delight, we found the Magnum Shop. Here they take an ordinary magnum ice cream and make it decadent. Words cannot describe the result so I will leave it to the photos.

After tasting the delights of the Magnum shop we continued our stroll down to Ponte Cavour. The sun was setting and we took photos and decided it was time to make our way home. However we could not go back the way we came we had to go a different way. With the benefit of a street map I can say that we got lost but saw the Palace Borghese, some other Piazzas, some other churches, missed the Fontana de Trevi, and stumbled upon the Metro in Piazza Barberini. I doubt we could ever find that path again. It was now passed 8.00pm and no dinner yet.

So we returned to our hotel along with the thousands of workers going home (yes even at this hour the Metro was packed) and experienced an attempted pick pocketing in the Metro. These were kids. One blocked my way and whilst I tried to push past him the other sought to lift my wallet. I was lucky and they failed but the lesson is not to carry a wallet in a pocket and be aware that pick pockets are there you just don’t realise it until too late. When we reached the bus station at Anagina the traffic was horrendous and the bus crawled its way back to our hotel.

We arrived back at the hotel around 9.00pm not having any plans about dinner. In fact I thought we were going to bed hungry. But like a star in the night the lights of the Jolly Pizza shone brightly at us as we walked up the ramp to the back of the hotel. The Jolly Pizza is a crude little eatery which serves good tasty food at reasonable prices and has a nonchalant atmosphere (basically they ignore you except when serving you and they carry on with the life of making and delivering large numbers of pizzas ordered by telephone). My first attempt at ordering was a shambles. We ended up sharing a pasta dish and finishing with two nutella crepes instead of one. Oh well at least we were not hungry and this little gem was to become a regular place to eat. After returning we fitted into the routine and appeared to be accepted as part of the furniture.

So that was our first day. We learnt a lot. Took some pictures. Planned the next few days adventures and then off to bed.

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