Venezia to Roma: After one of those inexplicable nights of little sleep, I got up and faced the real task of packing. My small roll-aboard bag had weighed in at 9 kilos on the way out (over Alitalia’s 8 kilo limit, but no one noticed, so I took it on the plane). But now, after buying a ton of art books for my friend Renee (who was taking care of Terri), a few books for myself, a little rain coat, and three large disc sets, not to mention two small alabaster candlesticks and a tiny piece of crystal as a momento of Luciano and Colle di Val d’Elsa, my bag was now expanded to its full size, bulging at the seams, and weighing in at a very chunky 14 kilos. Yes, my bag gained 5 kilos!
After checking out, we rolled along to a water bus stop less than 100 meters away. However, that 100 meters quickly turned into 300 as we had to go around several buildings, through alleys, under construction… but we were finally on the boat and motoring along towards the San Lucia train station. The ride was a last long view of Venice, and we both stood there, staring at the lovely facades and the magical vista as they slipped past.
The train station was quite large and we ended up being so early that our train was not even on the board. I went off to buy our picnic lunch (we had picked up some fruit the evening before), and when I returned, I stayed with the bags so that David could go out and say farewell to the canals.
The train was one of those very high-speed modern trains, and every time it went into a tunnel (which was quite frequently), our ears felt like they would implode from the pressure. The train was very full, which was great to see. With just a few stops, it took less than 3.5 hours to zip all the way back down to Rome.
At Termini, I spent a frustrating 20 minutes trying to get our tickets to the airport for the next morning. The ticket machines were all in Italian, and I was trying to figure out what to do when a scruffy-looking guy approached to help. This is a classic tourist scam, but when the machine wouldn’t take my 50, he stuffed his own money in. “Break the 50 and pay me back,” he shrugged. No one would make change, so I was forced to buy an unwanted pastry (which got completely squished and required David to rinse out his travel bag!) before I could repay the fellow. “Something for me?” he asked. So I dumped some change on him. Not a scam at all; just a guy trying to hustle a few small tips by helping clueless tourists navigate the ticket machines.
Then it was off to our hotel. I had directions and I had map coordinates. What I was missing was a few critical pieces of information (such as the fact that it isn’t really a hotel, and that a different hotel name appears outside), causing us to trudge in a large, painful loop through a really scruffy part of city (what I think of as the “bad” side of Termini, near the University). What should have been a ten minute walk turned into an hour, and by the time we eventually found the place, we both needed to get cleaned up!
Then we were off again to take advantage of our last day in Rome. I had not been able to snag tickets to the Borghese Museum (one of my favorites), so we settled on the National Museum of Rome, which is right on the other side of Termini, and which houses some of the greatest Roman statues, mosaics, and frescos. I have never in my life seen such perfect mosaics, and the frescos were awesome. We particularly liked two very large bronzes, one of a battered boxer resting between rounds. Some of the female figures reminded me of Rodin’s work; nothing new under the sun, it seems.
After the intensity of this ancient art, we desperately needed a cold beer, and settled on a sidewalk bar where we could watch the evening traffic and the hustle and bustle of this crazy city.
Refreshed, we headed towards Trevi Fountain. Call it kitsch, call it a tourist trap, but there is still something so wonderfully whacky about Neptune rising from the waves that it is worth seeing. My navigation was OK on the large scale, but it took some help to fine-tune it (i.e., I was in the right general area, but completely lost!). But we found the neighborhood and the next thing we knew, there it was: that monstrous, ridiculous, completely overstated fountain shoved into this tiny piazza. It was already dark (best time to see it) and masses of tourists filled the area. We had a good gawk and then started thinking about dinner.
As usual, all the places around a site like that are very touristy. But after winding our way back and forth in these narrow streets, we stumbled across a place that was fabulous. They seated us down in the basement, and we had good service, excellent food, very drinkable house wine, and were quite happy. The ambiance of the cellar was great, and when we emerged after our meal, we were very surprised to discover that it was raining. Heavily. And our rain gear was back at the hotel, which was who knows how far away.
Rome has a whole substrata of street vendors, mostly East Indian (or so it appears). They spring forth magically from the very pavement at the first drop of rain, hawking folding umbrellas. We had to fight our way past dozens of these guys. Realizing that I would surely get us lost a dozen times on the long way back, and that we would be soaked to the skin in another few minutes, I flagged down a cab, and we rode back to our dumpy little not-a-real-hotel in style.
The next morning I was on my way by 6:00, and my dad followed on his own a few hours later. We both arrived to our various homes safely, suffering no more than the usual lines and travel aggrevations. I was greeted by my happy doggy, who spent the next day bringing me half-gnawed rawhide bones as a sign of her devotion.
Bella Italia. It was a spectacular trip, full of wonderful sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. We met lovely people, saw so much art and history that our brains couldn’t absorb any more, enjoyed achingly beautiful landscapes, marvelled at the clean cities and gracious citizens, and brought back a few choice treasures for ourselves and our loved ones. We patted dogs in seven different cities and towns, walked (by my estimate) 50 km, ate 5 kilos of pasta, drank a liter of espresso, 5 liters of wine, and 6 liters of beer. We got lost more times than I can count. We said grazie and per favore hundreds of times. I asked, “Dove e quie in mappa?” (very bad pigeon Italian for “where is this place on the map?”) many times. We laughed a lot. We talked about food and cooking a lot (I’ve even changed my method of cooking beans because of my father’s culinary tips). And we never got sick, had anything stolen, or even felt remotely threatened at any point. (OK, trying to cross those big streets in Rome is a bit scary, but…)
Now I can’t wait for a different travel adventure with my mom!
Life is short. The world is magical. Travel while you can.