I arrived in Rome on October 5 after two long flights–Vancouver Toronto and then Toronto to Rome. The Vancouver flight was late getting into Toronto which meant a very long sprint to the international terminal. I just made it! The extensive selection of in flight entertainment these days makes flying less boring and distracts from the grumbling stomach. In an almost 9 hour flight we got one very small portion of chicken with rice and then 7 hours later a muffin wrapped in plastic. It was edible – just! Ah – Air Canada never changes.
But I arrived unscathed and made it through the various hoops in record time. At passport control, they just waved me through – they didn’t even look at my passport much less stamp it. I had asked the hotel to book a taxi service for me and what a great idea that was! A dapper guy in a suit was standing at the exit and holding up a card with my name on it. He whisked away my bag and minutes later I was installed in the back seat of a very nicely appointed limo on my way into Rome. The trip took almost an hour with the traffic and the cost? Fifty euros which believe me is a bargain. I heard from the people that run the hotel that some guests have been rooked for up to 180 euros for the trip although technically taxis aren’t supposed to charge more than 40. Anyway, I highly recommend getting the “meet and greet” service. After 13 hours of flying and no sleep, it was worth every cent.
My hotel, Deko Roma, is a small guest house on the second floor of a very nice 19th Century building close to the Via Veneto and the Borghese Gardens. It’s a perfect location and very safe. Last night I strolled around the neighborhood and felt as safe as if I was walking down Windjammer on Bowen!
Maybe safer – no bears!
My first lunch after arriving in Rome was at a local place recommended by the hotel. Ah – the first taste of Italy – three exquisite, crunchy, oily crustinis spread with a spicy tomato sauce followed by a massive salad of adorable little creamy boccoccinis, fresh mushrooms, plump shrimp and lots of peppery tasting greens. Even the bottle of water with gaz tasted better than soda water back home. I don’t know what they do to it but it’s like drinking silk.
I had a booking for 2 pm at the Vatican Museum so after getting into my room and taking a much needed shower, I ventured forth down the Via Veneto to the Metro. I love traveling! For a euro I was whisked four stops and was within a few blocks of the Vatican. Unfortunately, I was in a hurry to get there for the 2 pm entrance and couldn’t stop at all the lovely looking clothing and shoe stores lining the street leading from the Metro. The fashions look just wonderful and the prices are definitely not outrageous. Not cheap, certainly, but not unaffordable. But I will save shopping until Florence. I do have my heart set on maybe getting a pair of Italian shoes.
The long walk around the huge high walls enclosing the Vatican to the entranceway took forever. I remember back in 1994 when we went to the Vatican with Julia (age 8). By the time we actually got into the museum after an interminable wait outside the walls (before the days of reservations!) she was in tears poor kid. Can’t say I blame her. By the time I made it through the museum I wasn’t feeling too cheerful either!
Of course the Vatican Museum is amazing but it’s also very hot and very crowded! The highlight came right at the beginning when I was still feeling pretty chirpy after my great lunch and shower. My main reason for coming to the Vatican this time was to see paintings from the 14th Century when my novel is set. I spent so long in the two dimly lit rooms containing the collection of 14th Century panels that I’m sure the guard thought I was casing the joint for an international art heist. I was really excited to actually see the panels that I’ve been reading about. Many of the panels are really small – like about 12″ by 8″. I almost wanted to reach out, grab one, and shove it my bag! Now that I’ve actually seen a typical panel painting of the period, a plot point I’ve been struggling with is becoming clearer. Phew… it’s a relief to discover that what I’d hoped was the case really is.
While I was lurking in the medieval rooms, I tried listening in on the various English tours going through. It’s tricky — you don’t want to look like you’re eavesdropping but you have to get close enough to hear. I picked up a few things.
After seeing what I’d come to the Vatican to see, I foolishly decided to take a quick spin around the rest of the museum to check out the Sistine Chapel. I’ve seen it a few times before but hey, when in Rome. Unfortunately, you cannot just take a quick spin through the Vatican Museum! You follow endless signs to the Cappella Sistina through room after room after room after long, long corridor after staircase up, staircase down, outside balcony, more staircases, another couple of dozen corridors….. It takes FOREVER!!! Which of course is OK since you are looking at some pretty great stuff on the way but I confess that the lack of sleep and the crowds did start getting to me. It’s not like I could just zip through. It was more like a slow, sweaty shuffle along with hordes of people all with ear buds in their ears and vacant looks on their faces. Many of the tour guides speak sotto voce into a small microphone while their charges listen to what they are saying on their ear buds. It makes for a quieter visit and sometimes I could walk right next to a guide and eavesdrop.
At one point in one of the endless rooms is a very comprehensive selection of contemporary art including a very nice Francis Bacon. However, by that point, I was too exhausted to look and so trudged valiantly on past the 152nd Cappella Sistina sign.
And then finally I entered the chapel and joined the thousands of people all getting neck strain. This time I actually listened to my handy Rick Steves app that is a recording of Rick describing various sites around Europe – including, of course, the Sistine Chapel. I must say I learning something and it was pretty enjoyable to actually know what I was looking at. According to Rick, Michelangelo painted the ceiling while standing on the scaffolding – not lying down a la Charlton Heston. The man must have had neck muscles of steel.
Exiting the Vatican Museum takes almost as long as going through it. They sure like to take you on long, circuitous walks. Perhaps it’s penance. Who knows? But finally I emerged onto the street and headed for the taxi stand. I figured I would splurge on door to door service. The taxi driver informed me that the ride to the hotel (not that far away) would cost 28 euros. I found a new lease on life as energy coursed from my wallet through to my legs. I walked briskly away from the taxi stand and towards the 1 euro Metro. I mean really!
After a well earned nap in my beautifully appointed room, I was again human and ready for dinner! The restaurant Il Pomadorino was all that you think of in an Italian restaurant — huge open kitchen, yellow walls, hanging hams, pizza and pasta, and wine. I had a 1/4 pichet of red wine (it tasted so Italian!) and a heaping plate of risotto alla pescatora – which turned out to the risotto with seafood. Very tasty and just the ticket. I topped off the meal with a creamy cappuccino. What is it about cappuccino in Italy — it just tastes so wonderful! It’s creamy and fluffy and creamy and not bitter and creamy. I could drink it forever.
The evening ended with a stroll through a warm evening down Via Veneto and a stop into a bookstore to buy Boccaccio’s Decameron (research!), a novel by an Italian writer that is supposed to be good, and an Italian-english phrase book to supplement my iPhone apps. Finally, my first gelato in Italy (pistachio – very green) and to bed.