Thursday, January 28, 2010

Italy, Day 1: Airport and Rome

This is a repost of my 2007 trip to Italy with my mom, brother, sister and Aunt.
I slept on the couch at my Mom's house ... for about five hours. I had to get up at 3:45 a.m. to shower so we could be at the airport by 5 a.m. to catch our 7:30 a.m. flight to Rome! OK, to Dulles in Washington, DC.

Mom upgraded us from Economy to Economy Plus, a fact that will come into play in about, oh, 11 days. But for now, we were sitting in the International terminal, eating McDonald's breakfasts and getting ready for our first leg of the trip on the biggest airplane I've ever been on! It was a 777, and we had a comfortable extra 5 inches of leg room and a TV set in the seat in front of us.

I watched movies and read my Rick Steve's guidebook until we landed in DC, where we had a comfortably short wait until our next flight ... to Rome! We climbed aboard in the same comfortable seating and were served a delicious (well, for plane food) dinner. Katherine and I played Yatzee until we lost a die. Anthony spent the flight learning Italian--he's a language genious! Then everyone tried to get 7 hours of sleep, fairly unsuccessfully.

When we landed, I learned my first lesson about traveling with my family: No one knows what they are doing. Apparently it's not in their genes to read signs. I led the way to the first of many, many, many bathroom stops, and to passport control. Where I learned my first lesson about the Italian people: If you're nice to them, and make an effort, they'll be nice to you. Case in point: When the passport control guy handed me back my passport without a stamp, I smiled at him and asked him in pidgen Italian if he could please give me a stamp. He smiled back and gave me my stamp. When my Aunt Sugar didn't get her stamp, she said "What, I don't get a stamp?" and the same guy threw it back at her without a glance.

When we landed, we boarded a tour bus to our hotel (I promptly concussed myself by banging my head against a freakishly low ceiling on the bus, prompting a stream of curse words that the little old blind woman behind me had probably never heard before). We drove on to our hotel, me grinning like an idiot the whole time. I was in ROME. Everything was the same, but different: The cars were smaller, the graffitiw as in a language I couldn't understand, and all the stores were only slightly recognizable in my minimal Italian.

At the hotel, we stopped for lunch at a poolside bar (I had a delicious bruchetta ... mushroom, olive and tomato spreads on fresh toasted bread, yum!), and then the inexplicable happened: Mom, Katherine and Anthony decided to go take a nap. TAKE A NAP! I talked to the concierge and got a map from him, along with an estimate for a taxi downtown, grabbed Sugar and VERY excitedly headed to see the Pantheon. And as we were driving there, through streets and alleyways that looked like a Hollywood movie set of Rome Sidestreets, I marvelled at the fact that I could just decide, on a whim, to head to an ancient monument.

We walked around the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and the Campo d'Fiori. We walked down alleyways and sidestreets and stumbled on more ancient ruins. Finally, we called it an afternoon and took another taxi back to our hotel ... and I was able to negotiate a price completely in Italian with the driver! Those who know me may not be surprised that I had to rub our afternoon adventure in the faces of those who stayed behind. But come on! You can sleep at home!

That night, we had our first optional outing with the tour: A five-course dinner in a neighborhood of Rome called Trastevere, kind of an artists neighborhood. We had free-flowing wine, antipasti (meats, cheeses, the "pizza donuts" from Girls Next Door, a rice and potato dumpling sort of item, and lots more!), two kinds of pasta, three kinds of pizza, salad and dessert (the Italians sure know their ice cream. That's all I have to say). Then we had a walk through town and a moonlit drive through Rome, seeing all the sights lit up after dark. It was incredible, so beautiful (my favorite was a monument they call the "Wedding Cake," look it up, it's worth seeing), but I had been up for about 20 hours, and couldn't help nodding off between sights.

Oh, and I should say that on Day 1 we met our tour guide, Vincenzo. He was incredibly knowledgeable, about politics, hisotry, geography, culture, language ... everything! Plus, he was funny.

I'm pretty sure I blogged that day, and e-mailed Matt. Little did I know that was the last hotel with free internet access for the whole tour!

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